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Update March, 2020

Thailand News
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Science & Technology
Update by Thanaphon Paewsoongnern
Science & Technology

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presides over the opening of Galaxy Forum Southeast Asia 2020 Thailand


HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presides over the opening of Galaxy Forum Southeast Asia 2020 Thailand at the Princess Sirindhorn AstroPark in Mae Rim district, Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai - At 9:13 a.m. on Tuesday (March 3), Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn proceeded to the Princess Sirindhorn AstroPark in Mae Rim district, Chiang Mai province, to preside over the opening of the Galaxy Forum Southeast Asia 2020 Thailand. The event was jointly organized by the International Training Centre in Astronomy (ITCA) under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA), the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

The forum was held to develop knowledge of astronomy; astrophysics; galaxy research; space exploration; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and related aspects of culture and tradition among school and university students, teachers and members of the public.

Her Royal Highness attended various lectures, such as a lecture on the first photograph of a supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy M87. The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope. Other topics at the forum included astronomy in Asia, using astronomical knowledge as a tool for innovation and placing a telescope on the moon.

The first Galaxy Forum took place in 2008 at Silicon Valley in the United States. It has been held 96 times in 26 countries. Thailand previously hosted the Galaxy Forum in 2015 at the Science Center for Education in Bangkok.

At this year’s forum, highlights included an exhibition presented by ITCA. Its training center is located in the Princess Sirindhorn AstroPark. It was set up to strengthen ties between the Thai government and UNESCO. The center provides information about astronomy, science, technology and innovation and other related topics. ITCA aims to strengthen developing and underdeveloped countries worldwide, including UNESCO member states, in accordance with government policies and the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN).

On this occasion, the ILOA director presented a wooden plaque engraved with the forum’s symbol to Her Royal Highness. The Princess also received a photograph of galaxy NGC 891 from the NARIT chairperson. The photo was taken by the princess, using a telescope, when she presided over the official opening of the Princess Sirindhorn AstroPark on January 27 this year. (NNT)

A year of surprising science from NASA’s InSight Mars mission

In this artist’s concept of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet’s subsurface can be seen below and dust devils can be seen in the background. Credits: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter

A new understanding of Mars is beginning to emerge, thanks to the first year of NASA’s InSight lander mission. Findings described in a set of six papers published this month reveal a planet alive with quakes, dust devils and strange magnetic pulses.

Five of the papers were published in Nature. An additional paper in Nature Geoscience details the InSight spacecraft’s landing site, a shallow crater nicknamed “Homestead hollow” in a region called Elysium Planitia.

InSight is the first mission dedicated to looking deep beneath the Martian surface. Among its science tools are a seismometer for detecting quakes, sensors for gauging wind and air pressure, a magnetometer, and a heat flow probe designed to take the planet’s temperature.

While the team continues to work on getting the probe into the Martian surface as intended, the ultra-sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), has enabled scientists to “hear” multiple trembling events from hundreds to thousands of miles away.

Seismic waves are affected by the materials they move through, giving scientists a way to study the composition of the planet’s inner structure. Mars can help the team better understand how all rocky planets, including Earth, first formed.


Mars trembles more often — but also more mildly — than expected. SEIS has found more than 450 seismic signals to date, the vast majority of which are probably quakes (as opposed to data noise created by environmental factors, like wind). The largest quake was about magnitude 4.0 in size — not quite large enough to travel down below the crust into the planet’s lower mantle and core. Those are “the juiciest parts of the apple” when it comes to studying the planet’s inner structure, said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at JPL.

Scientists are ready for more: It took months after InSight’s landing in November 2018 before they recorded the first seismic event. By the end of 2019, SEIS was detecting about two seismic signals a day, suggesting that InSight just happened to touch down at a particularly quiet time. Scientists still have their fingers crossed for “the Big One.”

Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles. A pair of quakes was strongly linked to one such region, Cerberus Fossae, where scientists see boulders that may have been shaken down cliff sides. Ancient floods there carved channels nearly 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) long. Lava flows then seeped into those channels within the past 10 million years — the blink of an eye in geologic time.

Some of these young lava flows show signs of having been fractured by quakes less than 2 million years ago. “It’s just about the youngest tectonic feature on the planet,” said planetary geologist Matt Golombek of JPL. “The fact that we’re seeing evidence of shaking in this region isn’t a surprise, but it’s very cool.”

At the Surface

Billions of years ago, Mars had a magnetic field. It is no longer present, but it left ghosts behind, magnetizing ancient rocks that are now between 200 feet (61 meters) to several miles below ground. InSight is equipped with a magnetometer — the first on the surface of Mars to detect magnetic signals.

The magnetometer has found that the signals at Homestead hollow are 10 times stronger than what was predicted based on data from orbiting spacecraft that study the area. The measurements of these orbiters are averaged over a couple of hundred miles, whereas InSight’s measurements are more local.

Because most surface rocks at InSight’s location are too young to have been magnetized by the planet’s former field, “this magnetism must be coming from ancient rocks underground,” said Catherine Johnson, a planetary scientist at the University of British Columbia and the Planetary Science Institute. “We’re combining these data with what we know from seismology and geology to understand the magnetized layers below InSight. How strong or deep would they have to be for us to detect this field?”

In addition, scientists are intrigued by how these signals change over time. The measurements vary by day and night; they also tend to pulse around midnight. Theories are still being formed as to what causes such changes, but one possibility is that they’re related to the solar wind interacting with the Martian atmosphere

In the Wind

InSight measures wind speed, direction and air pressure nearly continuously, offering more data than previous landed missions. The spacecraft’s weather sensors have detected thousands of passing whirlwinds, which are called dust devils when they pick up grit and become visible. “This site has more whirlwinds than any other place we’ve landed on Mars while carrying weather sensors,” said Aymeric Spiga, an atmospheric scientist at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Despite all that activity and frequent imaging, InSight’s cameras have yet to see dust devils. But SEIS can feel these whirlwinds pulling on the surface like a giant vacuum cleaner. “Whirlwinds are perfect for subsurface seismic exploration,” said Philippe Lognonné of Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), principal investigator of SEIS.

Still to Come:
The Core

InSight has two radios: one for regularly sending and receiving data, and a more powerful radio designed to measure the “wobble” of Mars as it spins. This X-band radio, also known as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), can eventually reveal whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid. A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would.

This first year of data is just a start. Watching over a full Martian year (two Earth years) will give scientists a much better idea of the size and speed of the planet’s wobble.


Martian probe < >

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) < >

Ancient flood-carved channels < https://images.nasa. gov/details-PIA17876 >

InSight weather sensors < >

The two largest quakes detected by NASA’s InSight appear to have originated in a region of Mars called Cerberus Fossae. Scientists previously spotted signs of tectonic activity here, including landslides. This image was taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA CubeSats play big role in lunar exploration

Capstone above the moon: Illustration of the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE). Credits: NASA.

Space vehicle above the moon: Illustration of Lunar Flashlight. Credits: NASA.


They might be small, but they’re also mighty. Very small and innovative spacecraft called CubeSats are poised to play a role in NASA’s Artemis program, which will return humans to the Moon by 2024.

Advancements in consumer electronics and miniaturized sensors enable small spacecraft to be powerful tools for space exploration.

“A number of things have coalesced to create what is termed the SmallSat and CubeSat revolution,” says Christopher Baker, Small Spacecraft Technology program executive within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “Part of it has been the availability of commercial, off-the-shelf components that have incredible processing power, are very small and function on low electrical power.”

CubeSats also offer frequent, flexible, low-cost access to space, while the schedule from conception to launch of these diminutive spacecraft can be fast-paced. They allow you to do things that previously would not have been possible with a large, monolithic spacecraft, Baker observes.

Laser-pulsing probe

“In the case of lunar exploration, CubeSats are proving themselves to be increasingly capable platforms to precede human explorers on the Moon and Mars,” Baker points out.

One precursor mission is Lunar Flashlight, a very small 6-unit satellite (12 by 24 by 36 centimeters) developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The measurements, led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will locate ice deposits in the Moon’s permanently shadowed craters—called cold traps—and estimate the size and composition of those possible frozen reservoirs. The CubeSat uses an optical receiver aligned with four lasers that sequentially pulse the lunar landscape to look for water ice and other volatiles associated with lunar cold traps.

By mapping the lunar South Pole, the same region where NASA plans to land Artemis astronauts, data collected by Lunar Flashlight will help inform and target future missions. Furthermore, knowing the concentration of water-ice in cold traps could influence where to set up a lunar base since the water can be mined and processed to churn out Moon-made rocket fuel and drinking water.

“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to establish a long-term, sustainable human presence on the Moon. To achieve that vision, we need to use the resources that are available in-situ to the greatest extent practical,” Baker says. “How much ice is within the permanently shadowed regions, what is its composition, and how deep does it go? We’ve started to understand these things with different orbital instruments and now we need to find out more about what’s there.”

To achieve this, more knowledge on lunar ice is sought from missions like Lunar Flashlight as well as rover prospecting missions.

While Lunar Flashlight will help identify surface ice/frost in the permanently shadowed regions, other missions will need to determine the depth of any deposits below. Snagging that data could be done by a rover or another satellite equipped with ground penetrating radar.

Pathfinder mission

Another pathfinder project representing a rapid lunar flight demonstration is the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment. Tagged as CAPSTONE for short, this low-cost CubeSat is about the size of a small microwave oven.

CAPSTONE will demonstrate many firsts, starting with its launch from Earth aboard a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in early 2021. The company’s Photon platform will give CAPSTONE a boost, putting the CubeSat on its trajectory to cislunar space.

CAPSTONE is to be positioned in the same lunar orbit targeted for Gateway—the lunar outpost astronauts will visit before descending to the surface of the Moon in a landing system as part of the Artemis program.

Operating in what’s called a near rectilinear halo orbit, a highly elliptical orbit over the Moon’s poles, CAPSTONE will rotate together with the Moon as it orbits Earth and will pass as close as 1,000 miles and as far as 43,500 miles from the lunar surface.

Orbital dynamics

As the inaugural mission to this unique cislunar orbit, which is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, CAPSTONE will demonstrate how to enter into and function in this special orbit as well as test a new navigation capability.

“The dynamics of that orbit have been modeled on the ground, but no spacecraft has been placed there. We want to measure what it takes to get into and remain in that orbit,” Baker explains. “It doesn’t take a lot of energy to get into a near rectilinear halo orbit. Therefore, it doesn’t take a lot of energy to get out of that orbit. So how do you stay there? CAPSTONE will advise us on how much fuel is going to be expended by Gateway to maintain that orbit,” he adds.

An additional CAPSTONE task is use of an onboard communications system capable of determining how far the CubeSat is from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and how fast the distance between the two is changing. This software demonstration of spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation could allow future missions to pinpoint their place in space without having to rely exclusively on tracking from Earth.

“We’re hoping to see a proliferation of these small missions. Not all of them are going to be able to talk at once with our Deep Space Network,” Baker explains. NASA’s Deep Space Network is a powerful system of large radio dishes for commanding, tracking and monitoring the health and safety of spacecraft at many distant planetary locales.

Near-term future

Looking to the near-term future of CubeSats, Baker comments that they are at their best when they are being used for targeted objectives. That said, however, CubeSats can also work together in distributed missions, or swarms. You can have multiple CubeSats operating in the same or compatible orbits then later synthesize the data collected by the individual spacecraft.

Baker envisions an expanding role for small, economical missions. He sees their utility as a quick reaction tool, so when an unknown comes up, researchers can immediately and responsively target a mission to gather that data.

“From a small spacecraft technology perspective, one of the things that I really like doing is finding the mission that someone says can’t be done…then trying to figure out how to do it,” Baker says. “Frankly, given the pace of the small spacecraft community, our academic and industry partners, there may well be an underestimation of what we can accomplish in the next five years.”

ONWR hastens drought fighting operations

The drought disaster this year seems to be lasting longer, as the rainy season is expected to arrive late. Given this forecast, the Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR) has stepped up its plans to mitigate the disaster, while keeping an eye on possible seawater intrusion into the Chao Phraya River.

In their latest meeting, the ONWR has acknowledged a forecast from the Meteorological Department expecting the rainy season this year to arrive 1-2 weeks late, in late May, thus requiring enhanced drought mitigation plans to ensure water availability in the community.

The ONWR currently has some 3,000 drought fighting projects for the 2019-2020 dry season, including the construction of groundwater wells, surface water sources allocation, waterworks systems restoration, raw water pipe laying, and pumping station construction.

The office has urged contractors and related agencies who have already received their budget to push forward the operations, as well as prepare water delivery plans before the rainy season arrives. Delivery plans need to be confirmed for 12 lowland areas along Chao Phraya River, and the Bang Rakam field used for water retention, in order for villagers to prepare themselves accordingly.

On the issue of seawater intrusion into the Chao Phraya River, the ONWR has been supervising the transfer of freshwater from Mae Khlong River Basin into the Chao Phraya River in order to lock out seawater surges. This method has proven successful in helping reduce the water discharge from upcountry into the Chao Phraya Dam.

Even so, the situation continues to register higher than standard saline levels during some periods, including 9th-11th March when sea water levels will rise. During these times, water pump capacity will be reduced, and raw water drawn from the Chao Phraya River will be mixed with fresh reserve water, causing the saline level to be well within the standard for acceptable consumption. (NNT)


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presides over the opening of Galaxy Forum Southeast Asia 2020 Thailand

A year of surprising science from NASA’s InSight Mars mission

NASA CubeSats play big role in lunar exploration

ONWR hastens drought fighting operations