Georgia McCafferty reports: The two finds, one planet at the edge of our solar system and one just beyond, have both been hailed as major scientific advances.
“One of the goals of astronomy and astrophysics and finding these planets is firstly to really find another Earth. And part of the reason of finding another Earth is that we ultimately do want to find life in the universe. It’s a question that weighs on everyone’s mind.”
Commenting on one of the planets, Brad Tucker, an astronomer from Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, Australia who was not involved in the research, said it “probably gives us the best chance for life outside our solar system right now.”
“One of the goals of astronomy and astrophysics and finding these planets is firstly to really find another Earth,” he added. “And part of the reason of finding another Earth is that we ultimately do want to find life in the universe. It’s a question that weighs on everyone’s mind.”
Lying on the edge of our solar system, a new, rocky planet close to the size of Earth and named GJ 1132b, is the discovery that holds the most potential for finding new life to date, according to astronomers.
The scientists who discovered it it said its small size and proximity — it’s three times closer than any other similar object found orbiting a star — “bodes well for studies of the planet’s atmosphere,” according to their report in the journal, Nature.
“By being able to find evidence of these smaller, more inner planets, these rocky planets that we have in our solar system, we’re really realizing that the planets are probably in the trillions in our galaxy alone.”
“GJ 1132b (is) arguably the most important planet ever found outside the solar system,” Drake Deming, an astronomer at the University of Maryland said in an accompanying letter in the journal. He added that it’s proximity will “allow astronomers to study the planet with unprecedented fidelity.”
“It’s more habitable, it’s less harsh and this gives us a good strong chance of actually finding life or something as opposed to the other Earth-like planets found to date.”
Found moving across a “red dwarf” star that is only a fifth of the size of the world’s sun, the planet has a radius only 16% larger than Earth’s, and has surface temperatures that reach 260 degrees Celsius. Although that’s too hot to retain liquid water or sustain life as we know it, Tucker said it was cool enough to support some of the basic building blocks of life, and possibly support life forms like bacteria. Read the rest of this entry »
Cold Sun Rising
Sam Khoury writes: The sun will go into “hibernation” mode around 2030, and it has already started to get sleepy. At the Royal Astronomical Society’s annual meeting in July, Professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University in the UK confirmed it – the sun will begin its Maunder Minimum (Grand Solar Minimum) in 15 years. Other scientists had suggested years ago that this change was imminent, but Zharkova’s model is said to have near-perfect accuracy.
So what is a “solar minimum”?
Our sun doesn’t maintain a constant intensity. Instead, it cycles in spans of approximately 11 years. When it’s at its maximum, it has the highest number of sunspots on its surface in that particular cycle. When it’s at its minimum, it has almost none. When there are more sunspots, the sun is brighter. When there are fewer, the sun radiates less heat toward Earth.
But that’s not the only cooling effect of a solar minimum. A dim sun doesn’t deflect cosmic rays away from Earth as efficiently as a bright sun. So, when these rays enter our atmosphere, they seed clouds, which in turn cool our planet even more and increase precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail.
Since the early 1800s we have enjoyed healthy solar cycles and the rich agriculture and mild northern temperatures that they guarantee. During the Middle Ages, however, Earth felt the impact of four solar minimums over the course of 400 years.
The last Maunder Minimum and its accompanying mini-Ice Age saw the most consistent cold, continuing into the early 1800s.
The last time we became concerned about cooler temperatures – possibly dangerously cooler – was in the 1970s. Global temperatures have declined since the 1940s, as measured by Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The PDO Index is a recurring pattern of ocean-atmosphere climate variability centred over the Pacific Ocean. Determined by deep currents, it is said to shift between warm and cool modes. Some scientists worried that it might stay cool and drag down the Atlantic Decadal Oscillation with it, spurring a new Ice Age. The fear was exacerbated by the fact that Earth has been in the current inter-glacial period for 10,000 years (depending on how the starting point is gauged).
If Earth were to enter the next Ice Age too quickly, glaciers could advance much further south, rainforests could turn into savannah, and sea levels could drop dramatically, causing havoc.
The BBC, all three major American TV networks, Time magazine and the New York Times all ran feature stories highlighting the scare. Fortunately, by 1978 the PDO Index shifted back to warm and the fear abated.
By the 1990s the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had formed the “97 per cent consensus”. The consensus was that Earth was warming more than it should, not just due to natural causes but also human activity. This was termed Anthropogenic Global Warming. The culprit was identified as carbon dioxide generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Read the rest of this entry »
[PHOTO] President Ronald Reagan Addressing NASA Employees During NASA’s 25th Anniversary CelebrationPosted: November 10, 2015
President Ronald Reagan addressed NASA employees during NASA’s 25th Anniversary celebration at the National Air and Space Museum, October 19, 1983. On stage, around the cake (left to right) are: astronauts Guion Bluford and Dale Gardner (hidden); Dr. William Thornton; Daniel Brandenstein; Richard Truly (hidden); James M. Beggs, NASA Administrator; Dr. Norman Thagard; President Ronald Reagan; John Fabian; Frederick Hauck; David Walker; Dr. Rhea Seddon; Ellison Onizuka; Dr. Anna Fisher; Dr. Steven Hawley.
In recognition of the 15th anniversary of the arrival of the first Expedition crew to the International Space Station, the six crewmembers currently serving aboard the orbital outpost talked to the media about the fifteen uninterrupted years of human presence aboard the station. Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) participated in the news conference.
“We choose to go to the Moon”
As we sit at the precipice of a new era of exploration, I thought it appropriate to revisit the original inspiration and rationale for the first lunar exploration program as so eloquently stated by John F. Kennedy. The original speech by JFK was held in Houston, TX at the Rice Stadium in the fall of 1962.
“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” Read the rest of this entry »
On October 27, 1961, the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Nation marked a high point in the 3-year-old Saturn development program when the first Saturn vehicle flew a flawless 215-mile ballistic trajectory from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The 162-foot-tall rocket weighed 925,000 pounds and employed a dummy second stage.
“The central bulge of the Milky Way is thought to consist of vast numbers of old stars. But the VISTA data has revealed something new — and very young by astronomical standards!”
Astronomers using the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory have discovered a previously unknown component of the Milky Way. By mapping out the locations of a class of stars that vary in brightness called Cepheids, a disc of young stars buried behind thick dust clouds in the central bulge has been found.
“All of the 35 classical Cepheids discovered are less than 100 million years old. The youngest Cepheid may even be only around 25 million years old, although we cannot exclude the possible presence of even younger and brighter Cepheids.”
The Vista Variables in the Vía Láctea Survey (VVV)  ESO public survey is using the VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory to take multiple images at different times of the central parts of the galaxy at infrared wavelengths . It is discovering huge numbers of new objects, including variable stars, clusters and exploding stars (see related articles).
A team of astronomers, led by Istvan Dékány of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, has now used data from this survey, taken between 2010 and 2014, to make a remarkable discovery — a previously unknown component of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
“The central bulge of the Milky Way is thought to consist of vast numbers of old stars. But the VISTA data has revealed something new — and very young by astronomical standards!” says Istvan Dékány, lead author of the new study.
Analysing data from the survey, the astronomers found 655 candidate variable stars of a type called Cepheids. These stars expand and contract periodically, taking anything from a few days to months to complete a cycle and changing significantly in brightness as they do so.
The time taken for a Cepheid to brighten and fade again is longer for those that are brighter and shorter for the dimmer ones. This remarkably precise relationship, which was discovered in 1908 by American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt, makes the study of Cepheids one of the most effective ways to measure the distances to, and map the positions of, distant objects in the Milky Way and beyond.
But there is a catch — Cepheids are not all the same — they come in two main classes, one much younger than the other. Out of their sample of 655 the team identified 35 stars as belonging to a sub-group called classical Cepheids — young bright stars, very different from the usual, much more elderly, residents of the central bulge of the Milky Way. Read the rest of this entry »
Among Darwin’s many papers, one thing the digitizers have found, curiously enough, is artwork drawn by his children, often on pages of Darwin’s manuscripts.
Darwin had no real use for the original manuscript once galley proofs came back from the publisher. So one can imagine father Charles giving his kids the only worthwhile paper in the house to draw on. It seems flippant now, but at the time, it was perfectly normal.
According to the New Yorker, they’ve found 57 drawings in total, nine of them on the back of pages from Origin of Species. Only 45 manuscript pages out of 600 from that book survive, and those nine are because of his kids. You can find a whole section at the Darwin Manuscripts project website dedicated to the drawings of the Darwin kids.
Researchers surmise that the majority of the art comes from three of the 10 children, Francis, George, and Horace, all of whom went into the sciences as adults. The illustrations are colorful and witty, drawn in pencil and sometimes colored in watercolor. Read the rest of this entry »
How scary are your jack-o’-lanterns? Scarier than you think, according to the Energy Department, which is claiming the holiday squash is responsible for unleashing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere…(read more)
Source: Washington Times
For the first time ever, a virtual reality recording system will be flown in space. The project, announced by Deep Space Industries (DSI), will use a spherical video capture system to create a virtual reality float-through tour of the International Space Station‘s science lab.
Feeding into the exciting growth of VR systems created by Oculus Rift, Sony, and Samsung, this project, initiated by DSI, is a cooperative effort with Thrillbox, and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), managers of the ISS U.S.
National Laboratory. This innovative partnership will allow, for the first time, anyone with a VR headset to have a fully immersive astronaut experience aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, CASIS will use the spherical video to familiarize potential researchers with the scientific facilities on the ISS National Lab.
“The space station is packed with equipment, literally in every direction. Gear is built into the walls, embedded in the floor, and tucked into the ceiling,” said
David Gump, DSI Vice-Chair. “The spherical video captured during a float through will enable people to look everywhere, as they would if they were up in the station themselves.”
Deep Space Industries began the project as an early step in developing VR systems to be used for exploring and mining asteroids, and brought in Thrillbox to focus on distributing the captured images to the greatest number of people.
The partnership between Thrillbox and DSI provides the right combination of expertise in space operations and virtual reality, creating a successful project that provides value for CASIS and offers a unique experience to consumers.
The ISS Floating Tour, in addition to being an amazing experience for high-end devices such as the upcoming retail Oculus Rift and PlayStation headsets, also will be viewable on high-resolution smartphones and tablets.
“As excitement about spherical video spreads to more people, Thrillbox is providing a universal player for web sites and personal computers that delivers a sophisticated way to handle this new format,” said Benjamin Durham, CEO of Thrillbox. “The partnership with DSI will allow us to distribute this unique space experience to consumers around the world.”
A video capture rig with multiple cameras covering a spherical field of view will provide a “you-are-there” experience never before available. In addition to entertaining consumers, this detailed video will be used by CASIS for educating potential researchers and potentially by NASA for familiarizing future ISS crews with the ever-changing internal arrangement of the station’s gear and supplies. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will do its deepest-ever dive through an active plume on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Scientists believe that an ocean beneath Enceladus’s crust might have the ingredients needed to support life.
Ben Lovejoy reports: While we can’t say for sure that an Apple Car will ever go on sale, it’s a certainty by this point that the company is devoting substantial development resources to the project. Tim Cook said recently that there would be “massive change” in the car industry, and that “autonomous driving becomes much more important.”
But as a recent opinion piece on sister site Electrek argued, and Elon Musk warned, actually manufacturing a car is massively more complex than making consumer electronics devices. Apple will therefore be looking for partners to pull together different elements of the car. Re/code has put together an interesting look at the most likely candidates …
None of the companies would comment on any conversations they have with the Cupertino giant about their own cars. None of them flat-out denied those conversations, either. Google, Tesla and Apple all declined to comment.
The list below is not exhaustive. Yet after conversations with nearly a dozen manufacturers, industry experts and tech companies involved in the world of self-driving cars, Re/code assembled a portrait of the leading, innovative companies and critical dynamics in the autonomous industry.
The exterior of the car could, it suggests, be made by five companies: Roush, Delphi, Edison2, Atieva and Renovo Motors. The first of those, Roush, is a Michigan-based “boutique automotive supplier” which already has one key claim to credibility in the field: it assembled the exterior for Google’s prototype self-driving cars.
Renovo recently teamed-up with engineers from Stanford University to create a self-driving electric DeLorean capable of donuts and drifting. While it was of course a PR stunt, you need some impressive tech to pull it off. Read the rest of this entry »