Science & Technology Current Affairs - 2019

Science & Technology Current Affairs 2019-2020 category comprises current affairs with all important national / international updates in science and tech and events for the year 2019-2020 for UPSC, States, Civil services, SSC and other competitive examinations of India and States.

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LESA: ESA tests device to rescue injured astronauts

European Space Agency (ESA) recently tested a device called Evacuation System Assembly (or LESA), which is designed to assist in astronaut rescue missions on the surface of Moon. As per ESA, it is world’s 1st device aimed to help future incapacitated astronauts.

About LESA

Among other preparations for NASA’s 2024 Moon mission (Artemis Mission), scientists are testing the Lunar Evacuation System Assembly, or LESA device.

It is developed by European Space Agency (ESA), an intergovernmental organisation of 22 member states dedicated to space exploration.

Feature: LESA is a pyramid-like structure. It is designed in a way to be deployed just by a single astronaut in lunar gravity to rescue an incapacitated crew mate.

Need: On mission Astronauts wear Extravehicular Activities (EVA) suits that are bulky, heavy due to which they do not allow for a full range of movement. Thus while wearing an EVA suit, there is no way that an astronaut could carry their fallen crewmate over their shoulder.

Testing: NASA astronauts are testing LESA under sea. This is because, with its rocky, sandy terrain and warm salty water, the bottom of ocean floor bears much more similarity with lunar surface.

Significance:

In order to rescue a fallen colleague, LESA can be operated just by a single astronaut thus ensuring a rapid and safe rescue.

LESA can be transported like a golf caddy and placed close to the fallen astronaut, hence enabling an astronaut to lift their crewmate onto a mobile stretcher in less than 10 minutes, before carrying them to safety of a nearby pressurised lander.

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NASA’s Mars Rover detects High Levels of Methane

The Curiosity Rover of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an independent federal agency of United States has found the largest amount of methane ever measured during its mission on Red Planet (Mars).

Key Highlights

Methane Level: Although Methane has been detected by the Curiosity team many times over the course of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program but this time unusually high’ levels of methane- about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv) were reported. 1 ppbv means that if we take a volume of air on Mars then 1 billionth of volume of air is methane.

Findings: Curiosity Rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer came up with Methane level findings. The Sample Analysis at Mars team has also organised a different experiment to gather more information on what might be a transient plume.

Why Finding Methane is Important?

Finding such high level of methane is exciting because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth, thus it may help scientist to look for possibility of life outside Earth.

Dilemma: The methane on Red Planet can also be created through interactions between rocks and water and since Curiosity does not have instruments that can definitively say what exactly is the source of methane, or even if it is coming from a local source within Gale Crater or elsewhere on planet, it becomes impossible to tell if methane source is either biology or geology, or whether it is even ancient or modern.

Scientists Study: Several previous research papers have documented how background levels of methane gas seem to rise and fall seasonally. They have also noted sudden spikes of methane gas, but again scientist team knows very little about how long these transient plumes last or why they are different from seasonal patterns.

Way Forward

Scientists involved in Curiosity Mission needs time to analyse these clues and conduct many more methane observations. They also need time to collaborate with other science teams such as with European Space Agency’s (ESA) Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been in its science orbit for just above 1 year.

Combining previous observations and current measurements from surface and from orbit could help scientists locate sources of gas on red planet and understand how long it lasts in Martian atmosphere.

About Curiosity Rover

It is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission.

It is a car-sized rover designed to explore a crater on Mars called Gale.

It was launched on 26 November 2011, and landed on Aeolis Palus inside Gale crater on Mars on August 2012.

Although the planned mission lifespan for Curiosity rover once it lands on Mars is 1 Martian year (i.e. 687 days) however in December 2012 curiosity’s 2 year mission was extended indefinitely and rover is still operational as of 25 June 2019.

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