Science This Week | Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft enters lunar orbit and more

Bengaluru: An illustration shows India’s third Moon mission’s ‘Chandrayaan-3’ spacecraft was successfully inserted into the lunar orbit, in Bengaluru, Saturday, August 5, 2023. The required manoeuvre was done from an ISRO facility in the city.

Bengaluru: An illustration shows India’s third Moon mission’s ‘Chandrayaan-3’ spacecraft was successfully inserted into the lunar orbit, in Bengaluru, Saturday, August 5, 2023. The required manoeuvre was done from an ISRO facility in the city.
| Photo Credit: PTI

This week has seen a lot of new findings and discoveries in the field of science. From NASA restoring contact with Voyager 2 to finding out more about the abilities of a newly-found superconductor material, find this week’s top science-related news here.

Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft enters lunar orbit

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on August 5 completed the Lunar-Orbit Insertion (LOI) to successfully put the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft into the moon’s orbit. The LOI manoeuvre was performed from ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bengaluru. LOI manoeuvre commenced at 7 p.m. ISRO also shared a message from the satellite to its centres, which read, ”Mission Operations Complex, ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, this is Chandrayaan-3. I am feeling lunar gravity.”

NASA restores contact with Voyager 2 spacecraft after mistake led to weeks of silence

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft was back chatting it up on Friday after flight controllers corrected a mistake that had led to weeks of silence. Hurtling ever deeper into interstellar space billions of miles away, Voyager 2 stopped communicating two weeks ago. Controllers sent the wrong command to the 46-year-old spacecraft and tilted its antenna away from Earth. On Wednesday, NASA’s Deep Space Network sent a new command in hopes of repointing the antenna, using the highest-powered transmitter at the huge radio dish antenna in Australia. Voyager 2’s antenna needed to be shifted a mere 2 degrees. It took more than 18 hours for the command to reach Voyager 2 — more than 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometres) away — and another 18 hours to hear back. The long shot paid off. On Friday, the spacecraft started returning data again, according to officials at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

There is a new app to catch a supernova

A team of researchers led by Ashish Mahabal, an astronomer and the lead computational and data scientist at the Center for Data Driven Discovery, California Institute of Technology, has developed an app that allows anyone with a smartphone to ‘hunt’ for transients. The app uses the open-source Sky Map and adds data daily from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF)’s robotic telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. Palomar is also home to one of the oldest, largest, and most powerful telescopes in the world: the 200-inch Hale reflector. The ZTF scans the entire northern sky every two days and uses the data to make large area sky maps that have important applications in tracking near-earth asteroids and studying supernovae. The new app, called ZARTH, short for ‘ZTF Augmented Reality Transient Hunter’, is built along the lines of the augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go. Its USP is that it allows the user to do serious science while playing a game.

Making sense of the room-temperature superconductor claim from South Korea

A group of scientists from South Korea has recently reported about a superconductor at room temperature and pressure. The material is a copper-doped lead apatite, a type of phosphate mineral. The South Korean group’s new work occurred in a rather unexpected material called an apatite. Apatites are minerals that have a phosphate scaffold with a tetrahedral, or pyramidal, motif: one phosphorus atom is surrounded by four oxygen atoms. Other atoms can sit in between these pyramids; different apatites have different properties based on which atoms these are. The novelty of the Korean group’s work is to start with lead apatite, obtained by filling the space between the phosphate pyramids with lead and oxygen ions. Then, some of the lead atoms are replaced with those of copper. This process is called a substitution. The group reported that at 10% copper substitution, the wonder material LK-99 arises: copper-substituted lead appetite. The group subjected this material to a variety of tests and claimed that it has essentially zero resistance to the flow of an electric current.

President of Stanford University, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, resigns

The president of Stanford University, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, resigned from his post and will be stepping down on August 31 after an investigation found evidence of “manipulation of research data” in widely-cited papers in which he was the principal author. According to The Stanford Daily, the university’s news outlet, the investigation found that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne failed to correct mistakes in several scientific papers published over the years. The investigation also found that his lab fostered an unhealthy lab dynamic where Dr. Tessier-Lavigne would reward ‘winners’ while marginalising or shunning ‘losers’. Dr. Tessier-Lavigne who is a neuroscientist has been the president of Stanford University for the last seven years.

Modern antidepressants can reduce risk of depressive relapse for bipolar patients: Study

A new international study led by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and NIMHANS has found that treatment with modern antidepressants can help prevent patients with Bipolar I disorder from relapsing into a depressive episode. Bipolar disorder, earlier known as manic-depressive disorder, is prevalent in about 1% of the population and tends to be a lifelong illness. Stating that bipolar depression can be severe and is often associated with high suicide risk. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 3, challenge current clinical practice guidelines, and could change how bipolar depression is managed globally, the head of the Department of Psychiatry and OCD Clinic at NIMHANS said.

Massive extinct whale ‘may be heaviest animal that ever lived’

There could be a new contender for heaviest animal to ever live. While today’s blue whale has long held the title, scientists have dug up fossils from an ancient giant that could tip the scales. Researchers described the species — named Perucetus colossus, or “the colossal whale from Peru”. Each vertebra weighs over 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and its ribs measure nearly 5 feet (1.4 metres) long. The bones were discovered more than a decade ago by Mario Urbina from the University of San Marcos’ Natural History Museum in Lima. An international team spent years digging them out from the side of a steep, rocky slope in the Ica desert, a region in Peru that was once underwater and is known for its rich marine fossils. The results: 13 vertebrae from the whale’s backbone, four ribs and a hip bone.

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