Freakish wonders of the universe

The universe is full of deep mysteries and even the fraction of what we know is too fascinating for words. This month let's take a look at some of the amazing yet scary inhabitants out there.

I'm coming to visit you

Black holes form when huge stars collapse and grow, taking up other objects around them. Think of them as giant invisible blenders that can tear apart planets even thousands of miles away. There aren't black holes anywhere close to our solar system, but did you know that they can actually travel through space? And scarier still, rapidly-moving black holes cannot be detected! Scientists have assured us that space is a big place and black holes are quite rare - so sit back and relax!

A big show off!

Ever heard of gamma ray bursts? Well, they are considered as the brightest electromagnetic events to occur in the universe, so much so, that they can be seen billions of miles away! Are you also wondering how powerful they are? Apparently they emit as much energy in a few seconds that our sun can in 10 billion years! We're glad that, like black holes, they are rare and far, far away from us.

Lone travellers

We imagine planets going around a star, endlessly orbiting it as long as they live. It turns out that not all planets exist this way. Astronomers have discovered a few Jupiter-sized planets drifting alone, without a place to call home or a star as a boss. They are thought to have been ejected out of their star system due to some massive explosion event. As long as they are not on a trajectory towards Earth, it's dreamy fun to think about these lonely nomadic travellers.

What a blast!

Earth is like a magnet but its magnetic field is quite weak; an MRI machine can produce a magnetic field thousand times stronger. Since we can put our head in through the MRI machine, we can obviously put up with that magnetic field. But imagine a magnetic field that is a trillion times stronger than that of Earth. That's the

kind of power that a magnetar possesses! Come within 1000 kilometres of a magnetar and the very molecules that make you up can dissolve! Here's a fun fact to freak you out in 2004, a magnetar located halfway across the Milky Way (500 quadrillion kilometres away) quaked and its effect was felt on the Earth's upper atmosphere!

Mission Impossible

What if you stepped too close to a black hole but not quite? That's exactly what hypervelocity stars did! They bolted away from the black hole at superfast speed. Hypervelocity stars were originally binary stars, of which one was captured and gobbled up by the black hole at the centre of our galaxy while the other lucky star was sent rocketing off at a very high speed, obviously very, very glad to escape.

Picture Credit : Google 

What happened after Mangalyaan entered Martian orbit?

It made history! On 24 September 2014, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Mars mission, Mangalyaan, settled into its elliptical orbit around Mars as planned, with 40 kg of fuel to spare, 20 kg in excess of what was needed to complete its six-month planned mission!

Though over the next couple of months, the orbiter completed its mission objectives, it had enough fuel to remain operational, and its mission was extended. It continues to collect and transmit data to date, even on its seventh year in Mars orbit! Over this period, thanks to its autonomous functioning capabilities, Mangalyaan overcame an extended communications “blackout” in 2015 when Mars went out of the Earth’s sight behind the Sun in a solar conjunction, and a communications “whiteout” in 2016 when the Earth came in between the Sun and Mars with the solar radiation making it difficult for the spacecraft to receive signals from the Earth. Mangalyaan’s contribution to advancing the Indian space mission has been acknowledged in a unique way - a sketch of the spacecraft that features on the new Indian 2,000-Rupee note! It was also listed as one of the 25 best inventions of 2014 in Time magazine.

Picture Credit : Google

What were the major phases of the Mangalyaan mission?

Have you seen a film hero leap out of a moving car, and dash across the platform to board a running train? Don’t ever do it, because nothing can be more dangerous! For our spacecraft, they have no other choice. Because both their home and destination planets are racing around the Sun without ever stopping! To execute such a terrifying transit, different spacecraft use different manoeuvres. Mangalyaan did it in three phases - geocentric, heliocentric and areocentric phases.

In the first phase, Mangalyaan was carried by its rocket into an orbit around the Earth. Then by firing the spacecraft’s main engine in seven, carefully-planned stages, Mangalyaan’s orbit was made more and more elliptical, until it broke free of the Earth’s gravitational pull. The final firing launched Mangalyaan on a Sun-centric curved path to Mars, tangential to both planets. This space cruise stage from the Earth to Mars formed the second phase of the mission. The third phase began about ten months later with a precisely-timed manoeuvre, called Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI). The engines were fired once again to reduce the velocity of Mangalyaan just enough so that the gravitational field of Mars would pull the spacecraft into an orbit around it.

Picture Credit : Google

What were the mission objectives of Mangalyaan? What were the challenges Mangalyaan was designed to overcome?

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), or Mangalyaan, was not just a scientific mission. It was also a chance to showcase the capabilities of Indian-made spacecraft, rockets and other instruments in the field of space technology!

As a technology demonstrator, Mangalyaan was to successfully cover all stages of an interplanetary journey - first go around the Earth in increasingly elliptical orbits, then cruise through space for the planned number of days, reach Mars and fall into an orbit around the planet, and continue orbiting it for the mission duration. The second goal of Mangalyaan was to image Mars, and collect data about its atmosphere and mineral composition. For this, Mangalyaan carried five payloads - Mars Colour Camera (MCC), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA), and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).

While designing Mangalyaan, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) planned for all challenges it could foresee. Its engine was designed to restart smoothly after its ten-month space cruise.

Another aspect taken care of was the deep space communication system. The large distances separating the Earth and Mars mean that the Round-Trip Light Time, or RTLT (the time taken for a signal from Earth to travel to a spacecraft and back), will be anywhere between 6 and 43 minutes! So, it was also designed to independently manage many in-flight situations!

Picture Credit : Google

What makes Mangalyaan unique?

On 24 September 2014, India joined the exclusive club of nations with a presence on a planet other than the Earth. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) first interplanetary attempt - Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan made it possible!

Built in a record time of just 15 months, Mangalyaan was launched on 5 November 2013 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota Range (SHAR), Andhra Pradesh. The rocket used for lift-off was a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The total project expense came only to around Rs.450 crores, a fraction of what it cost other nations to deploy a Mars orbiter, making Mangalyaan the least-expensive mission to Mars!

The success of Mangalyaan gave us a lot more “firsts” - it made India the first country in Asia with a presence on Mars, and the first nation in the world to succeed in a Mars mission at the very first attempt. Also, ISRO is the fourth space agency to reach Mars after the Soviet Union (present-day Russia), the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Picture Credit : Google