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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

India Launches Space Probe to Mars

BBC News reports:

India has successfully launched a spacecraft to the Red Planet - with the aim of becoming the fourth space agency to reach Mars. 
The Mars Orbiter Mission took off at 09:08 GMT from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the country's east coast.

Its mission will include:

... searching for the signature of methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere, which has previously been detected from Martian orbit and telescopes on Earth. However, Nasa's Curiosity rover recently failed to find the gas in its measurements of atmospheric gases. 
CH4 has a short lifetime in the Martian atmosphere, meaning that some source on the Red Planet must replenish it. Intriguingly, some 95% of atmospheric methane on Earth is produced by microbes, which has led some to propose the possibility of a biosphere deep beneath the Martian surface. But the gas can be produced by geological processes too, most notably by volcanism. 
Definitive conclusions are likely to be elusive, but the spacecraft's Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) instrument will aim to make measurements and map any potential sources of methane "plumes". 
The spacecraft will also examine the rate of loss of atmospheric gases to outer space. This could provide insights into the planet's history; billions of years ago, the envelope of gases around Mars is thought to have been more substantial.
Although I've read elsewhere some criticism that India is "wasting money" that could be used to feed the poor, I think the proper perspective is that India is developing technology and infrastructure that will improve its economy and technological innovation that will have a greater impact in the future. An example of "give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

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