SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Race to explore moon
Radhakrishna Rao
In recent years, moon, earth’s natural satellite and the closest neighbour, has emerged as a favourite target of space exploring nations, including India. In fact, the availability of helium, considered a rich and clean source of energy as well as silicon that can be used to tap solar energy along with the water in the form of ice on the lunar surface have all gone to induce a strong desire in man to colonise the moon and use it as a base for interplanetary expeditions. A lunar base is considered a first vital step towards undertaking a manned mission to Mars.

Trends
Ancient glider
Looks like Mother Nature beat the Wright Brothers to the punch. About 125 million years before the two airmen lifted off at Kitty Hawk in their biplane, a 1-meter-long dinosaur was swooping from tree to tree with the same arrangement of wings, a new study suggests.

  • Laser diode

  • Mirror images

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL
The girth of a grown up man increases or decreases but the height remains the same. Why?
The height of a man and the length of his limbs depend on the dimensions of the bone structure he acquires by the time he is grown up. Our genes have determined that this structure should remain fixed after maturity.

 


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Race to explore moon
Radhakrishna Rao

In recent years, moon, earth’s natural satellite and the closest neighbour, has emerged as a favourite target of space exploring nations, including India. In fact, the availability of helium, considered a rich and clean source of energy as well as silicon that can be used to tap solar energy along with the water in the form of ice on the lunar surface have all gone to induce a strong desire in man to colonise the moon and use it as a base for interplanetary expeditions. A lunar base is considered a first vital step towards undertaking a manned mission to Mars.

The US as part of its long-term space vision has unveiled a plan for a permanent base on the moon by 2024. And sometime during this year, Selene, the lunar orbiter from Japan, will help shed fresh light on the origin and evolution as well as tectonics of the moon.

This would be followed by yet another Japanese lunar mission Lunar A which will be launched in 2010 with the objective of observing lunar quakes and to find out whether moon has a core.

On the other hand, China’s Chang’e moon orbiter slated for launch in the first half of this year will help explore the chemistry and geology of the lunar surface. Further, the American Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter slated for a takeoff in 2008 will make a detailed mapping of the lunar surface and identify sites for the futuristic landing missions.

In the meantime, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)is busy preparing for the launch of India’s first ever scientific mission to moon Chandrayaan-1 in 2008. The data collected by the Indian moon orbiter is expected to shed fresh light on the history and evolution of moon.

An augmented version of India’s space workhorse, the four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) featuring alternate liquid and solid fuel stages will launch the 525-kg. Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

In addition to the five Indian made scientific payloads, Chandrayaan-1 will also carry payloads contributed by the European Space Agency (ESA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Bulgaria. And in order to help ISRO acquire expertise in building a futuristic moon roving vehicle, Chandryaan-1 will also feature a technological payload in the form of Moon Impact Probe (MIP). As envisaged now, the 29-kg. MIP will detach itself from Chandrayaan-1 and crashland on the lunar surface.

According to sources in ISRO, the mission goal of Chandrayaan-1 is to carry out systematic mapping of the mineral and chemical resources on the surface of the moon .The five Indian scientific payloads onboard the Indian moon orbiter will be used for taking pictures of the moon terrain, survey mineral resources, study gravity and analyse the chemical nature of the lunar surface.

The ESA payload to be incorporated into Chandrayaan-1 comprises a low energy x-ray spectrometer, a near infrared spectrometer and a sub kev atom reflecting analyzer. Bulgaria on its part will make available a radiation dose monitor.

ISRO has hinted that Chandrayaan-1I mission that would follow Chandrayaan-1 will carry a moon rover that will land on the lunar surface, move around, pick soil and rock samples and carry out chemical analysis before sending data to the ground receiving station.

The Chandrayaan-11 mission is expected to be launched in 2010 or 2011. This rover planned to run on solar power will be designed for a lifespan of one month. And at the Nov. 7 brain storming session organised by ISRO in Bangalore, the possibility of launching a manned mission to moon was discussed in depth. However, for a manned mission to moon, ISRO would need to build a heavy lift off vehicle that is far more powerful than the existing range of vehicle developed and operated by ISRO. Of course, for the proposed manned mission to low earth orbit, ISRO plans to deploy GSLV-MKII or GSLV-MKIII .


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Trends

Ancient glider

Looks like Mother Nature beat the Wright Brothers to the punch. About 125 million years before the two airmen lifted off at Kitty Hawk in their biplane, a 1-meter-long dinosaur was swooping from tree to tree with the same arrangement of wings, a new study suggests.

Four years ago, paleontologists described a species of feathered dinosaur from China that they named Microraptor gui.

A series of long feathers on the creature's legs and feet led those scientists to speculate that the dinosaur splayed its hind limbs to create an extra, hind set of wings.

Other researchers cast doubt on that idea, noting that hip joints permitting such flexibility aren't found in any related dinosaur.

Laser diode

A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara led by Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize, has reported a major breakthrough in laser diode development.

The researchers, from the Solid State Lighting and Display Center in UCSB's College of Engineering, have achieved lasing operation in nonpolar gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors and demonstrated the world's first nonpolar blue-violet laser diodes.

The nonpolar blue-violet laser diodes have numerous commercial applications, including high-density optical data storage for high definition displays and video, optical sensing, and medical applications.

Because of the shorter wavelength of emission in these devices, they can accommodate higher densities of optical storage than conventional red-laser based systems.

Mirror images

Elephants have joined a small, elite group of species-including humans, great apes and dolphins-that have the ability to recognise themselves in the mirror, according to a new finding by researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York.

This newly found presence of mirror self-recognition in elephants, previously predicted due to their well-known social complexity, is thought to relate to empathetic tendencies and the ability to distinguish oneself from others, a characteristic that evolved independently in several branches of animals, including primates such as humans. 


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THIS UNIVERSE
PROF YASH PAL

The girth of a grown up man increases or decreases but the height remains the same. Why?

The height of a man and the length of his limbs depend on the dimensions of the bone structure he acquires by the time he is grown up. Our genes have determined that this structure should remain fixed after maturity.

This is the steel structure around which the architecture of the body is built. Flesh, sinews and muscles are tied to and are draped over that frame. The draping of the basic structure can be smart and tight or loose and flabby, depending on our ways of living, eating and physical activity.

We are lucky that at least some aspects of architectural dimensions are well controlled. You must know that our brain size also does not change with age.

If the skull size also increased or decreased like our girth, life would become a bit hazardous. Lengthening or contraction of noses or jaws would make things unpleasant.

We are punished for the follies of our living but a limit has been placed on the severity of this punishment.

You can, of course, ask me why our bone dimensions are not as susceptible to our ways of living. I do not know the answer except to say that while the dimensions may not be susceptible, their health is.

The process of evolution must have made this choice as best for survival. The changing radius of the fat around our middle, as you call it, keeps reminding us of the style of our living.

Incidentally, some environmental conditions do have an impact on the height of a human. When people spend long periods of time in weightless condition during space flight their height is seen to increase a little.

This is believed to be due to expansion of the discs separating different vertebrae in our backbone. These discs are not made of the same material as bone; they provide flexibility and shock absorbing capability to the backbone.


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