With the launch of TESS, NASA will boost its search for exoplanets

illustration of TESS telescpope

NASA is stepping up its search for planets outside our solar system. Its next exoplanet hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is due to launch from Cape Canaveral on the evening of April 16.

Following the Kepler space telescope’s discovery of more than 5,000 possible exoplanets since 2009, TESS will continue the galactic census — flagging more planetary candidates for further study.

Astronomers expect TESS to find about 20,000 planets in its first two years in operation, focusing on nearby, bright stars that will be easy for other telescopes to investigate later. About 500 of those expected exoplanets would be less than twice the size of Earth — and therefore may be good places to look for life.

NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS

SMALL BUT MIGHTY NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS, is only 1.5 meters tall (shown here with engineers). Its size is partly due to the fact that it was designed to launch on NASA’s small Taurus rocket, but will instead launch on a larger SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 16.

ORBITAL ATK

The TESS mission is “a whole new opening for exoplanet studies,” MIT astronomer Sara Seager, TESS’ deputy science director, said during a news conference describing the upcoming launch.

TESS will be the first NASA science mission launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will trace an unusual, elliptical path between Earth and the moon that will enable it to observe at least 85 percent of the sky — 350 times as much sky as Kepler saw.

Most of the planets found by Kepler orbit stars 1,000 light-years away or farther. TESS will focus on 200,000 stars that are a few hundred light-years away at most, and shine between 30 to 100 times brighter on average than Kepler’s.

The brighter the star, the easier it is to determine its planet’s characteristics, such as its mass and whether it has an atmosphere, Seager says. “Photons are our currency — the more, the better,” she says.

That follow-up will help TESS avoid some of Kepler’s pitfalls. Because Kepler’s stars were so far and so dim, some of its planet candidates were confirmed as actual planets only by statistics rather than by other telescopes. And not all those confirmations may stick. A recent paper posted at arXiv.org showed that Kepler 452b, an Earth-sized planet that orbits a sunlike star at the same distance Earth orbits the sun, may be a mirage (SN: 8/22/15, p. 16). Many of TESS’ planets won’t face the same uncertainty.

the TESS sattelite

COASTING IN SPACE The TESS satellite’s unusual 13.7-day orbit uses the moon’s gravity to stabilize it, so it needs little fuel. During the part of the orbit colored blue, TESS will observe the sky. During the part marked in orange, it will transmit data back to Earth. The gray ring marks the moon’s orbit.

NASA

But the way TESS will search for exoplanets is the same as Kepler: The satellite will watch stars for signs of dimming, which can indicate that a planet is transiting, or crossing in front of, the star. Measuring how much starlight is blocked can tell astronomers the size of the planet.

Once TESS finds a planet, astronomers will need more information to understand its qualities, such as whether it’s rocky or gassy (SN Online: 6/19/17). For that, other telescopes will follow up. Ground-based telescopes will measure the gravitational tug of a planet on its host star to learn the planet’s density, which is a clue to its composition. Astronomers plan to measure masses for at least 50 TESS planets that are smaller than Neptune in the hopes that many of them will have rocky, and therefore potentially habitable, surfaces.

Undiscovered country

Before TESS, most known planets were more than 1,000 light-years away, with a few closer than 30 light-years (a parsec is 3.26 light-years). TESS (orange circles) will fill in the gap. The size of the circles represents how easy the planets are to find.

graph showing where TESS will be able to detect planets
ZACH BERTA-THOMPSON

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled to launch in 2020, will then check some of those planets for signs of life (SN: 4/30/16, p. 32).

“This is one of the major questions that TESS is intended to answer: Where will we be pointing Webb?” said the mission’s principal investigator, MIT astronomer George Ricker, at the press conference. Webb will peer at the starlight filtering through planetary atmospheres to try to detect molecules that could be produced by something living on the surface.

It will take a few months for TESS to swing into its regular orbit before it begins collecting data. At that point, it will be able to use the moon’s gravity to stabilize itself for decades in orbit without using extra fuel. The mission is set to last two years, but could continue taking data almost indefinitely.

“TESS is not going to be limited by any expendable or other aspects,” Ricker said. “It will be basically limited by how long NASA has the patience to fund the mission.”

[“Source-sciencenews”]

Will Need Government Incentives To Fulfil India’s EV Dream: Maruti Suzuki

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India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzukisaid today that government incentives will be needed to make electric vehicles (EVs) affordable as the country moves towards the eco-friendly solution for mobility. The company, which plans to launch its first EV in India by 2020, also said it will conduct a study to find consumer insights to prepare for the journey. Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) Chairman RC Bhargava said affordability is a major challenge that EVs will face and for them to be successful, focus has to be on manufacturing of batteries and other components within the country to bring down cost.

Maruti Suzuki

Maruti Suzuki Cars

  • Baleno

  • Vitara Brezza

  • Swift

  • Alto 800

  • Dzire

  • Celerio

  • Wagon R

  • Ignis

  • Ertiga

  • Celerio X

  • Omni

  • S-Cross

  • Eeco

  • Ciaz

  • Alto K10

  • Gypsy

“I think it will be required… My gut feeling is that yes, some kind of intervention would be required but I don’t know to what extent,” he told reporters when asked if government incentives would be needed to support electric vehicles transition in India.

Also Read: Maruti Suzuki Studying Market For Electric Vehicles

As electric vehicles are a new development for the Indian auto industry it would be difficult to say in details how much government support would be needed, he added. The company will conduct a study to understand more about consumer insights on electric vehicles, which will also help in estimating how much of government support will be needed, he said.

“Before that I can’t really say with any kind of confidence that this the kind of government intervention is required,” Bhargava said.

The aim of the study would be to find out as to what is the ground reality, where people park their cars and charging infrastructure and what is their thinking about EVs, he said. “It will gauge what average consumer thinks about EVs. This survey is going to provide us the first reliable data from the ground. We will start it within two to three weeks and by about end of February we would have some authentic basis to answer queries on EVs,” Bhargava said.

Stressing on the need for cost of electric cars to be within the reach of consumers, he said, “75 per cent of cars are small cars. How to make small cars electrified and affordable?

“I think this is one of the challenges which we will have to face because making an affordable large car is different from making an affordable small car. We need to keep that in mind. So what kind of government support, policy is required needs to be worked out.”

The government has set eyes on 100 per cent EVs for public mobility and 40 per cent electric for personal mobility by 2030. In a white paper submitted to the government, auto industry body SIAM had proposed 40 per cent of all new vehicles sold in the country to be electric by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2047.

When asked about MSI’s EV launch plans, he Bhargava said the first one will hit the market by 2020 and the company will also set up charging stations. On the future of conventional internal combustion (IC) engine vehicles, he said it will continue to grow.

The company has done an assessment, assuming an annual growth rate of 8 per cent between now and 2030, that 71 million cars will be sold, of which 14.4 million will be electric and 56.6 million will be IC vehicles, he said. “So, conventional cars will continue to be four times that of electrics,” he added.

[“Source-ndtv”]

Netflix’s Bright Is a Will Smith Action Flick, and Nothing More

Netflix's Bright Is a Will Smith Action Flick, and Nothing More

Will Smith and Joel Edgerton in a still from Netflix’s Bright

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Bright hits Netflix on December 22
  • The film stars Will Smith, Joel Edgerton
  • David Ayer (Suicide Squad) is the director

Netflix has made a name for itself in the television department over the last few years, thanks to the likes of Stranger Things, BoJack Horseman, and the various Marvelshows. But it doesn’t have that kind of credibility on the movies front yet, where it’s fighting studios with much deeper pockets, and also always pushes for a same-day release on its platform as in theatres. 2017 has been a big year for Netflix though, with the Cannes-premiere of Korean adventure Okja, the major deal for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and now the release of its most expensive film to date, Bright.

The film takes place in an alternate reality where humans, orcs, elves, and fairies have lived beside each other since the beginning of time. Will Smith stars as a human LAPD cop named Ward, who’s been reluctantly paired with an orc cop named Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton, due to a diversity hire programme initiated by the department. This bit is slightly reminiscent of Zootopia’s opening, which also features a diversity-hire police officer, and both films talk about society judging individuals on their appearances, rather than seeing them for who they really are.

But following two cops is also reminiscent of most films written and/or directed by David Ayer – he’s best known as the man behind last year’s dumpster-fire Suicide Squad (which also starred Smith) – whose background as a naval officer has seen him pen or helm several movies about law officers, starting with his Hollywood-breakout Training Day in 2001, lean years in between that gave us Dark Blue, S.W.A.T. (both in 2003), and Street Kings (2008), followed by his most critically-acclaimed venture, End of Watch, in 2012. Each of those films have also incorporated street gangs, morally dubious cops, and flashy gun violence.

The first official trailer for Netflix’s Bright

Bright is similar in that regard, embedding real-world LA crime problems and the distrust of police into its narrative, but it’s also got fantasy boots to fill. That means weaving in lore about an almost mythical past that saw humans, orcs and elves at each other’s throats two millennia ago, which involved a Dark Lord, powerful beings, and magical items. The plot riffs on Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in a foregrounding way, just enough to convince you that stranger things have happened, but is still restricted to give Smith’s character – a human – a fighting chance.

The premise of Bright centres on a young elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry), one of a select titular few who has the ability to hold and use a magic wand – an object that can grant wishes, (seemingly) has the power of a nuclear weapon, and kills any non-Bright who holds it – and ends up in the custody of Ward and Jakoby after they are dispatched to an address. Ward’s call for backup from his precinct doesn’t go as planned, and he’s forced to go on the run with Jakoby and Tikka to keep the wand away from the hands of literally everyone: corrupt cops, street thugs, and criminal organisations.

That gives Ayer the licence to stage his film like a video game, comprising of ridiculous shootout routines one after the another where the fleeing trio is always under-powered, be it a car chase, bar evacuation, dance club hold-up, gas station face-off, or a fist-fight in an apartment. Through it all, the film explores the budding friendship between Ward and Jaokoby, spliced with gallows-type humour – Smith is natural at infusing comedy into the direst of moments, and he keeps denying that they’re becoming friends – and intercut with scenes that develop Bright’s fantasy world.

bright netflix noomi rapace Bright Netflix

Noomia Rapace as Leilah in a still from Netflix’s Bright
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

That involves introducing Noomi Rapace as Leilah, a dark elf who is part of an Illuminati-type group that’s trying to bring back a Dark Lord, alongside some of her expert close-quarters combat followers, plus two detectives who work for the FBI’s magic division, an elf (Édgar Ramírez) and a human (Ike Barinholtz), who are supposed to be in-charge of any wand-related troubles. The latter two are there to service the lore and hence don’t feature much, but even though Rapace is supposed to be the main villain, she’s hardly part of the film.

Bright’s choice to feature Ward as the chief protagonist and keep Jakoby as his sidekick in-training is also misguided. Zootopia worked precisely because it chose to stick with the diversity hire, the one’s who discriminated against. Jakoby is hated by his own kind because he’s not Blooded – having a pair of lower jaw teeth that jut out like fangs – and works with humans in the police force. Orcs look down on him, and humans revile him for belonging to another side, assuming he’s orc first and cop second.

Bright instead follows his slightly specist partner, Smith’s Ward. He isn’t as open about his distaste for working with an orc unlike some of his co-workers, but that doesn’t mean Ward doesn’t repeatedly try to get rid of Jakoby in the early going. Ward and Jakoby’s relationship is also tainted by an earlier event, and the film would benefit if it gave more emphasis to Edgerton’s orc. That would allow the film to be more powerful in what it’s trying to convey, but Bright fails to understand that.

One big obvious reason would be Smith’s casting, who is a much more recognisable star. Edgerton has as much screen presence as Smith, but Jakoby doesn’t get the necessary build up moments that help you connect and relate with the character. Those are reserved for Ward, whose family and background situation is given ample time in the opening minutes.

bright netflix edgerton fry smith Bright Netflix

Joel Edgerton as Jakoby, Lucy Fry as Tikka, and Will Smith as Ward in a still from Netflix’s Bright
Photo Credit: Matt Kennedy/Netflix

The film also grapples with a lot of social themes, which aren’t really addressed. There are multiple parallels and allegories here, but in many ways, the problems faced by African-Americans today have been grafted onto orcs. They have it much worse in the film in many ways, being openly reviled in a way that wouldn’t fly in our version of 2017. At the same time, the film’s actual African-Americans don’t seem to have it any better than our reality, implying that humans have kept themselves divided through the ages, even while living alongside two other sentient species on Earth.

Mistrust, class struggles, and social mobility appear to be important themes for Bright in the early going, and it indulges the idea of exploring the symptoms and consequences of that for the first half hour. But it eventually gives that up, and turns into a Will Smith-movie, which is to say a generic guns-blazing action thriller. Bright could make for a fascinating Netflix TV series if it was more interested and serious about its themes, but Ayer doesn’t seem to have those ambitions. It also doesn’t help that his vision for gun violence resembles that of a 7-year-old, with characters needlessly emptying entire cartridges as scare tactics, causing more pain for the set designer than our protagonists.

After an opening half-hour that gave us hope that the film wouldn’t descend into a bullet-a-minute adventure unlike some of Ayer’s previous dubious work – the posters designed by Netflix are putting Suicide Squad front and centre, which is hilarious and sad because it depletes confidence, instead of inspiring any – Bright turns into a chase story that keeps throwing new unimaginative problems at our heroes, and never bothers to deepen any of its themes and allegories.

It’s perfectly happy in being a big budgeted action flick – Netflix reportedly spent $90 million (about Rs. 577 crore) to produce it – but it doesn’t have the goofy swagger of Men in Black, nor the grittiness of End of Watch, and ends up just wallowing without saying much.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Gujarat Election Insights: Why the fight in north Gujarat will be a tough one for BJP

Supporters wear mask of PM Modi during an election campaign rally in support of BJP candidates, in Sanand. (PTI File Photo)Supporters wear mask of PM Modi during an election campaign rally in support of BJP candidates, in Sanand. (PTI File Photo)
Unlike south and central Gujarat, the story is different in north Gujarat, here the Congress fared better than the BJP in the 2012 assembly elections. Of the 32 seats in the region, the Congress won 17 seats, two more than the BJP.

Can the BJP fare better this time? An analysis of how north Gujarat voted in the 2012 assembly elections coupled with the new political forces in the state throw some insights in what to expect this time round.

2012 Assembly Results: Victory Margins In North Gujarat

north gujarat (1)

First, the Patel factor: Patels are a prominent community in north Gujarat and unlike south and central Gujarat, they have given Hardik Patel and his Patidar agitation unprecedented support. That’s a traditional BJP vote that can be expected to move away.

Next the Thakor vote. Thakors, who comprise of about half the OBC population in the state, are concentrated in north Gujarat. The rise of Alpesh Thakor and his joining hands with the Congress is again expected to influence polling in several north Gujarat districts like Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, Kheda, Mehsana, Anand, Patan, Gandhinagar and Aravalli.

How The Thakor’s Voted In North Gujarat In 2012

thakor

Third, the Dalit vote. Mehsana is Jignesh Mevani’s home ground – his family originates from Meu village in the district. Further, Mevani, is contesting as an independent from Vadgam, a reserved seat for scheduled castes (SCs), in Banaskantha district, and has open support from Congress. Both the Dalit vote and the OBC vote can be expected to move his way giving a further boost to the Congress in north Gujarat.

The fourth deciding factor will be tribal seats in north Gujarat. It almost entirely voted for the Congress in 2012. Though BJP has been going all out to woo them, this is unlikely that a shift will be able to swing the vote their way.

Finally, unlike 2012, in 2017 there is no Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) to split the votes.

What does this translate to? Expect a prickly battle, but chances are that new alliances may help the Congress strengthen its presence here.
[“Source-timesofindia”]