April 18, 2011
Astronomers Can Tune in to Radio Auroras to Find Exoplanets
A new way of finding exoplanets may have been discovered. Scientists at the University of Leicester have shown that emissions from the radio aura of planets that are similar to Jupiter and Saturn should be detectable by radio telescopes, allowing astronomers detect the planet. This new method looks for radio waves associated with auroras generated by interactions with ionised gas escaping from the volcanic moons and may be able to detect planets that are similar to the Jupiter and Saturn like systems. The radio waves could be detected by radio telescopes, such as LOFAR, which is currently being built and will be completed later this year. Most of the extrasolar planets that have been found to date are large and orbit close to their star. This is because the transit and Doppler shift detection methods work well for planets that orbit close to their star. However, this new method could detect planets that orbit as far out as Pluto. I think this is a very interesting new method for looking for exoplanets, because it would allow scientists to find planets that are further out, greatly increasing the amount of exoplanets found.
Shocking Environments of Hot Jupiters
Following up our discussion in lecture about exoplanets and finding extra-terrestrial life, I came upon this article about "Hot Jupiters." Recall that we believe "Hot Jupiters" are similar to Jovian planets, as they are massive and similarly composed, however, they are similar to Terrestrial planets in that they are very close to their stars. Our best guess for why they reside so close lies in the idea of forming outside the frost line, but migrating in towards the star. Observations of WASP-12, a "Hot Jupiter" planet observed by the SuperWASP project show that these planets may be more unique than we once thought. This planet may have a planetary shock similar to the "bow-shock" that protects Earth's atmosphere. Remember that Earth is the only planet in our solar system to meet the requirements for a magnetic field, however, WASP-12 could potentially have its own magnetosphere. This discovery does not mean WASP-12 could support life, as the environment is far too hot, but it does open up the chance of a distant planet having a magnetic field and should help us to identify habitable zones of where we could find life in the future.
Full article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110418084015.htm
April 17, 2011
WISE Delivers Millions of Galaxies, Stars, Asteroids
Finally, NASA has created a compilation of data, accessible to the public, of the millions of galaxies, stars and asteroids that have been discovered. This is the first time that a large amount of date collected by WISE (NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) is being open to the public and not just the scientists that are affiliated with the project. There is a flood of photos released, taken by the prolific sky-mapping telescope that ended its mission this year in February. So, there will be thousands of astronomers and citizens at home, sifting through large amounts of data. Launched on Dec 14 2009, WISE scanned the skies from the polar orbit and collected more than 2.7 million images. The discoveries included 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and 133 near-Earth objects, those asteroids and comets with orbits that come within 28 million miles of Earth's path around the sun.
Researchers are expecting that the broadened exposure of the photos will enable a new wave of scientific discoveries. The complete survey along with processed data will be available in Spring 2012.
I think that giving access to the public is both dangerous and revolutionary but will in any case definitely spark a lot of attention. Citizens will look to disprove the existence of certain comets or objects in space etc. But in any case, I think that the best way that astronomers can use this database is to focus their research on the near earth objects, which have a greater chance of collision with the Earth and as a result, prepare mitigation actions.
More at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414165126.htm
Europa Helps Astronomers Penetrate Jupiter’s Lost Belt
This article explores the mysterious area that is Jupiter’s South Equatorial Belt. Normally, this area would be explored using thermal IR senses that break through cloud cover. The goal of the observation was to observe Jupiter and its numerous gaseous layers, all with various heat and reflectivity levels. But because Jupiter is so bright, it is nearly impossible to use the typical means of observation (infrared imaging). Astronomers needed something that was much brighter and was also close to Jupiter in the sky. On November 30, 2010, the moon Europa was positioned exactly right to serve in that purpose. This method is extremely impressive, as the process was very difficult and timing had to be precise.
The full article can be found at: http://www.keckobservatory.org/news/europa_helps_astronomers_penetrate_jupiters_lost_belt/
Organics on Mars?
The basis of this article is that the Phoenix lander may have evidence supporting the existence of organic molecules on Mars. For the past 30 years, we have assumed there to be no organics at all, following the Viking lander's gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer experiment. The experiment started by heating the Martian soil sample to 500C, high enough to dissociate any organic molecules present and detect their constituents as gases. The only thing this experiment found, however, was chlorine compounds, thought to be remnants of cleaning fluid from Earth. The Phoenix's discovery of perchlorate at the Martian north pole challenges this long held assumption. Apparently, when heated, perchlorate dissociates into compounds that destroy organic molecules, explaining the results of the Viking's findings back in the '70s. I don't think this is reason to assume Mars has organics, but rather it just negates the negative findings of the Viking mission. The 2011 launch of the Curiosity Rover is going to search again for organics by introducing liquid water to the soil sample. This could be an important mission if it can detect simple organics like DNA or RNA or simple proteins.
April 15, 2011
Stars Born 200 Million Years After Big Bang
The article talks about an exciting discovery that astronomers have recently made using Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. They recently found a very young galaxy with stars that appear to have formed just 200 million years after the big bang. The galaxy while being so young in the Universe was observed with great clarity due to a magnifying effect of the cluster of galaxies in front of it.
I found this article interesting because it really allows us a clear picture of what the universe may have been like eons ago. It also brings many theories into question of perhaps how soon galaxies were created after the Big Bang. With some hope, it could give us a much improved understanding of how the early Universe has evolved from the "dark ages" to a period of light.
By locating such galaxies that formed so soon after the Big bang, it helps constrain and give meaning to the period of reionization. The article goes on to say that it's likely various other galaxies contributed to this reionization period but are too faint to locate with the same telescoping mechanism instead of gravitational lensing.
The full article can be seen here:
April 14, 2011
Star Formation Linked to Sonic Booms
Through studying three nearby interstellar clouds (IC5146, Aquila and Polaris), a team of scientists at ESA's Herschel space observatory discovered tangled gaseous filaments with uniform widths inside the clouds. After studying 90 filaments, the team observed that they all shared the same width of about .3 light years across. Although the filaments may vary in length and density, the observation of uniform widths calls for investigation. The uniform widths within the gaseous filaments suggest that there may be a connection between slow shock waves of interstellar turbulence (equivalent to sonic booms) throughout our galaxy that may initiate star formation within interstellar clouds. Although these filaments have been observed before, no one has been able to obtain a clear enough image to describe the size of each filament. The connection between uniformly sized filaments and star formation used to be unclear but this exciting discovery shows us that we may be able to predict and actually view star formation as it occurs.
The full article can be found at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110413101751.htm
April 11, 2011
Titan May Not Have Ice Volcanoes
Just recently, a new data analysis from the Cassini spacecraft has indicated that Titan may have a cool interior rather than being capable of having ice volcanoes like originally thought. Like we know from class, Titan is unique because it is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere. One goal of theb Cassini mission was to find out what is maintaining this dense nitrogen atmosphere. However, geophysicists and gravity experts are now coming to the conclusion that Titan's surface features are affected by weather rather than internal forces. What does this mean for the possibility of life on Titan? It's not good news since this eliminates a possible source of energy for life.
To read the whole article, go to http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110408102443.htm
NASA's Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft Arrives in Florida
On April 8th, the solar-powered spacecraft Juno, which was created by NASA, arrived in Florida in order to begin the final preparations it needs before being launched into space this summer. The purpose of Juno's mission is to orbit Jupiter's poles 33 times in hopes of learning more about the structure, atmosphere, and magnetosphere of Jupiter which is one of the gas giants. Juno is supposed to be carried by the United Launch Alliance V rocket into space. The expected launch is August 5th; however, the window extends through August 26th. The rocket will be launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
I think that it is important that this mission is aimed to learn more about the gas giants such as Jupiter because we do not know a large amount of information about the gas giants already.
The full article can be found at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110410211919.htm
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the First Man in Space
Russia is celebrating the 50th anniversary of man's first journey into space. Fifty years ago, 27 year-old Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted off in a rocket to experience space for 108 minutes. And through this nearly 2 hours of zero gravity, full of glitches that included a break in communications, Mr. Gagarin became a national hero and an icon in space travel.
In his honour, people from across Russia are remembering both him and the Soviet Space Program. Students in Krasnoyarsk even launched self-made rockets.
I believe that this article shows how much mankind has improved their abilities to go to space. We have an International Space Station, where numerous astronauts are staying as I am writing this, many countries have their own space programs, and America looks forward to seeing a manned space trip to Mars in the 2030's. Obama, in his speech at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010 stated "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it." I can only wonder where we will go in the future as our knowledge and technology improve.
For the article as well as the full details of Yuri Gagarin's journey into space, please look at this link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1375437/Rock-roll-Students-celebrate-anniversary-man-space--Russian-Yuri-Gagarin.html#
April 10, 2011
Last Wednesday, April 6th, the “Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, completed its first science flight”. SOFIA used an instrument called GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) to sort light into colors so that they could be analyzed. GREAT uses infrared radiation to get this data. Similar to how we did in a previous lab, the scientists analyzing these colors are using the information to try to figure out the “physical processes and chemical conditions in the stellar nurserie.” Basically, this whole process will give new insight to people about how stars are formed, ultimately telling us something about our universe. It is also very interesting to know that this is a project that NASA is collaborating on with the German Aerospace Center.
Newly Discovered Asteroid is Earth's Companion
Astronomers have found a 200-400 meter wide asteroid to have been following Earth in its orbit for at least a quarter million years. The asteroid's average distance from the Sun is identical to that of Earth's and it is known to be the largest of Earth's so-called "horseshoe" asteroids which mimic closely to the orbital motion of our planet around the Sun and appear to trace out a horseshoe shape in space. The asteroid takes 175 years to move from one end of the horseshoe to the next and it is now currently near the end of the horseshoe, trailing Earth. However, even though its orbit is remarkably similar to Earth's, it keeps well away from the Earth and has never came closer to our planet than 50 times the distance to our moon in several hundred thousand years. Multiple hypotheses are being made by astronomers to figure out exactly how the asteroid came into this horseshoe shaped orbit around Earth.
More can be read at:
NASA's Kepler Helps Astronomers Update Census of Sun-Like Stars
NASA's Kepler Mission has saw changes in the brightness of about 500 stars that are similar to the Sun! This observation is allowing scientists to learn more about how stars evolve and the "nature" of them. This could help us learn more about our star the Sun, which could be interesting and useful. Scientists want to learn more about the composition of stars and about the detailed properties such as mass and age. They are in hopes to find more earth-like planets around these Sun-like stars and learn more about the correlation.
The more we can make correlations with similar objects like stars and planets the closer we will be to discovering life in another solar system, or planet. Each time astronomers make new observations and discoveries like this discovery by Kepler Mission I think the closer we are to finding life elsewhere which is awesome! The better our technology gets the better of a chance we will find life! Astronomy has come such a long way and it is only making more moves each day to new amazing discoveries.
For whole article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110407141330.htm
Newly Merged Black Hole Eagerly Shreds Stars
Black holes can collide with each other and form an even larger black hole which can be a "monster" that eats up a numerous amount of stars. A black hole can eat up these stars through its crazy gravitational power. When two black holes are going to collide the gravitational power sends out waves and the waves are extended strongly in one specific direction leaving a weaker gravitational side. The unequal balance of gravity pushes the blackhole in the opposite direction (towards the weaker side) and allows the black hole to take off eating up all of the other stars. While the black hole is eating up the stars it is glowing brighter than a star! Scientists today are studying the kick of black holes to learn more about "cosmic expansion" which could unveil important information!
This is very interesting yet kind of scary! Black holes are so aggressive and when they come together with one another it is a wicked event!
For the whole article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110408124301.htm
April 09, 2011
Frozen comet had a watery past, University of Arizona scientists find
For the first time, scientists have found convincing evidence of liquid water in a comet, shattering the current paradigm that comets never get warm enough to melt the ice that makes up the bulk of their material.
Eve Berger from UA and her colleagues from Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. made the discovery analyzing dust grains brought back to Earth from comet 81P/Wild 2 as part of the Stardust mission. Launched in 1999, the Stardust spacecraft scooped up tiny particles released from the comet's surface in 2004 and brought them back to Earth in a capsule that landed in Utah 2 years later.
"In our samples, we found minerals that formed in the presence of liquid water," Berger said. "At some point in its history, the comet must have harbored pockets of water."
Finding liquid water is always an important discovery, especially on a comet. This could possibly mean that comets are transporting liquid water from place to place.
To read more go to: http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/News/2011/04/Frozen%20comet%20had%20a%20watery%20past%20University%20of%20Arizona%20scientists%20find.aspx
NASA Telescope Ferrets out Planet-Hunting Targets
This article actually ties in with what we did in discussion last week. It explains steps NASA is taking to find stars that could potentially be the center for new planets. With the current telescope technology, astronomers are focusing on bright, young stars that emit a lot of X-rays. But, now they want to focus more on dimmer newborn stars to see if planets have formed there. They have started to use UV telescopes to find the stars since they are too dim to find with conventional telescopes. The reason the astronomers are looking for this particular type of star is because their lack of brightness will allow astronomers to see the plants shine through. As of right now, the close-ups planets that they have been able to image are slightly fuzzy but are still full of information. It reflects what we learned in discussion with having billions of planets out there, and maybe one day we will find life.
A Moon so Rare and Lucky
As we have learned earlier in the semester, our moon was formed after another huge object collided with our own Earth some 30 to 50 million years after our Sun was born. While many of us may overlook this outside nightlight, we should really take the time to recognize how lucky we this moon. The type of collision that formed our moon is more rare than we might suspect.
According to the article, "Unlocking The Mystery Of The Moon Astrophysicists Search Skies For A Moon Like Earth's" (Science Daily), the Spitzer Space Telescope has helped us to see that our moon is the only one that was formed due to a collision like this, in our Solar System. The telescope looks for dust that would have been left over from other collisions. It has found that no dust surrounds any of the other stars in our Solar System.
Because this type of event is so rare, astrophysicists predict that only 5-10% of all moons in the universe may have been formed this way. As we learn more about the moon and our dependence on it, it is important that we appreciate how rare and lucky we really are!
Here's the link;
April 07, 2011
Possibly Two Billion "Alien Earths"
Figured this would be really relevant to us, especially since we just covered the Drake equation in section this week.
From observing, not any equation, the estimate to how many Earth like planets that may exist in our galaxy alone exceed TWO BILLION. This number is huge! Think of the possibilities.
If this many Earth-like planets exist in habitable zones (zones where liquid water is possible) the chances for alien life enormous. And.. possibly, intelligent life. This is the estimate for our galaxy alone, and there are 50 billion other galaxies.
I STRONGLY encourage anyone that reads this post to also read the article. It's truly amazing.
Two Dead Stars to Experience Rebirth
Astronomers have discovered a pair of white dwarfs, dead stars, that are orbiting each other once every 39 minutes. As these stars move around one another, they slowly lose orbital energy, causing the distance between to decrease. Eventually, in 39 million years the white dwarfs will collide, and when they do a new, live star will be born out of the two dead stars. Since both stars' masses are much smaller than the Sun's, the pair is not massive enough to cause a supernova, and instead will combine into one body. The white dwarfs are thought to be made of helium, and therefore when they combine the fusion of helium will begin, powering the new star.
April 06, 2011
Basically, there is new evidence that there is more than one universe and we may even be the result of another universe. The connections are all made in this video.
It's truly awesome, and unimaginable. Really reminds me of the "being in a locker" scene from MIB II.
Regardless, very cool video.
Liquid water found in comet?
For the first time, scientists may have found liquid water in a comet; this discovery, if valid, nullifies the previous conception that comets never get warm enough to melt the ice that makes up the majority of the object. This discovery was made by Eve Berger, and her colleagues, by analyzing dust grains that were brought back to Earth from a comet known as Wild-2. The Stardust mission, launching in 1999, scooped up tiny particles released from the comet's surface in 2004, and then landed in 2006 in Utah. The team found minerals that had to have formed in the presence of water, implying that at some point the comet "must have harbored pockets of water."
I find this discovery quite remarkable. Although comets could never serve as a habitable planet for humans to live on one day, it is still hopeful that we are making new, impressive discoveries about the presence of liquid water in outer space. The more we can learn about our solar system and space itself, the closer we are to discovering an alternate planet for humans to inhabit.
For more details and information on this discovery, see this article:
New Questions Raised in Mars' Geomorphology
A study done by the Universitat Autònoma Barcelona (UAB) on subterranean springs in the central pre-Pyrenees of Catalonia has revealed new findings into the formation of the Martian terrain. Several previous studies had been conducted, comparing various features of Earth to several of Mars' geological formations. However, this new research focuses on the study of geological records originated by ancient karstic springs. It specifically studies forms dating back over 250,000 years -- tufa mounds -- which are practically unknown in Europe, having been until now only described in Australia.
Read more at:
Huge New Rocket
California, 2013, a huge privately owned rocket will be launched into space. This rocket will be the most powerful since man went to the moon. The name of the rocket is Heavy Falcon, where this came from is a mystery even to those building it..
Owned by Space X, Heavy Falcon may soon sell seats to NASA astronauts, taking them to space stations orbiting Earth. Still, the launch by the private company will be much cheaper than any of NASA's recent expenditures.
Essentially, using this private company would allow NASA to send astronauts to space stations AND possibly explore new areas in which we have never sent human beings. It would work in the way that NASA would no longer have to spend any resources (other than the cost of the seats) to send their astronauts to space stations. Instead they could completely focus on sending astronauts to nearby asteroids and possibly even Mars.
In my opinion, this really opens up a whole new chance for space exploration. I believe that NASA has the capability, but not the time or resources to send people to places that we have yet to visit. However, they have to spend so much time and money to get people back up to the space stations that they are unable to provide attention elsewhere. Where this will take us is anyone's guess, but I expect that it may just lead us to one day visiting Mars.
More Information: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110406/ap_on_sc/us_sci_space_x_rocket
Forensic Sleuthing Ties Ring Ripples to Impacts
With new spacecrafts up in space, scientists have discovered new evidence about the rings of the jovian planets. They have found that impacts can alter the rings of the planets and that they can use the rings to date back when the impacts occurred. This is very interesting because we can use it like "fingerprints" and discovered what happened over time.
Full text: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/cassini20110331.html
April 05, 2011
New Mineral Found in Meteorite
Scientists have discovered a new mineral, Wassonite, in a meteorite dated to 4.5 billion years ago, the beginning of Earth. The mineral was discovered in a meteorite found upon the return of the first Apollo lunar samples in 1969. It is thought to have originated between Mars and Jupiter.
Interestingly, added to the mineral list now exceeding 4,500, Wassonite is composed of only sulfur and titanium. What sets it apart is its unique crystal structure that had yet to be observed. Wassonite is less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair, and "would have been impossible to discover without NASA's transmission electron microscope." Until recently, minerals like Wassonite were undetectable.
Using data taken from analyzing Wassonite, scientists are able to learn even more about the Earth's origin and the events occurring at that time.
April 04, 2011
Mariner 10 is in a new resonant state that swings it by Mercury once every Earth year, on April 1st. No Joke!
On April 1the Mercury MESSENGER was taking some of its first images from Mercury’s orbit when it captured a photo of Mariner 10. Mariner 10 is the old spacecraft that flew by Mercury three times in 1974 and 1975 before communication with the probe was lost.
It was first thought of that it could not be Mariner 10 because it was not suppose to be around Mercury at this time. “Mariner 10 and Mercury were in a resonant state that brought the spacecraft by the planet once every two Mercury years. By my calculation, this appearance is 23 days early.”
Minutes later they calculated that Mariner 10 appeared to be in a new resonant state, one synchronous with Earth’s period. The ancient spacecraft is now in an orbit that swings it by Mercury once every Earth year, on April 1st.
This is a pretty cool discovery by the Messenger and a comical one since it was on April Fools day. Although we would much rather find more important information with the pictures from Messenger, I thought it was interesting to think about how things we send up to space can become a permanent fixture in resonance.
Metals Found In Moon Water
Water ice was discovered recently at the bottom of a crater near the moon's south pole. The water was found with metallic elements like magnesium, mercury, calcium, and a little bit of silver. Sodium was recently added to the mixture of the discovery.
These recent discoveries are extremely crucial, because significant deposits of water on the moon were not thought to exist, or to be extremely rare. As we've learned in class, intense asteroid bombardment, the Sun's radiation, and weak gravity have left the moon with almost no atmosphere. The surface is extremely dry and barren. However, due to the moon's angle to the Sun, scientists were able to theorize that deep craters near the lunar poles would be in constant shadow, and thus be very cold. These craters would be able to trap ice.
A satellite that landed on the moon in 2009 revealed that a large amount of water in fact exists in this region, along with these trace amounts of metallic elements among others.
Recently, surprisingly large amounts of sodium were discovered amongst this mixture, baffling scientists as to where this element could have possibly come from.
Interesting find, especially considering we're now learning about the necessities of life to form. The water's there; wonder if there's a chance that any traces of organic compounds or amino acids might exist in/around the water. What does this mean for the possibilities of life? Especially sine the moon is so desolate?
Read more here:
April 03, 2011
World's Largest Radio Telescope to be Built Could Reveal Important Information About Dark Matter
Production of the Square Kilometre Array(SKA) telescope is going to start soon and will be finished and operational by 2024.
This will be the largest radio telescope ever built. It will offer 50 times better sensitivity and 100 times better resolution than any radio telescope ever made.
It will be a network of about 3000 radio telescopes, each transmitting 20 GB of data a second, connected by a super computer.
SKA is expected to reveal information about dark matter, the creation of the universe, and possibly help us contact other intelligent life.
Contaminated White Dwarfs a Sign of Past Terrestrial Planets
This article is somewhat contradictory to the last entry. It says that terrestrial planets may not be found so easily around white dwarfs and that if they do exist, they probably don't support life. However, it's possible that solar systems like ours have existed in the past around these white dwarfs. Normally, white dwarfs contain only hydrogen and helium, but sometimes heavier elements like calcium are mixed in there. Where did these elements come from? Most likely from dust from asteroids that are leftover pieces of building blocks for terrestrial planets. This dust rains down on the white dwarf, adding new elements to it. These elements can be found by studying the infrared radiation of the star, and by knowing which elements exist there, we can know determine whether or terrestrial planets exist or have existed around the star that could be like the planets in our own solar system. This dust orbits around the star because the asteroids that used to be there were pulled apart by the tidal forces from the star.
Although it is interesting to determine where solar systems like ours have existed in the distant past, it seems slightly irrelevant if we cannot determine if the terrestrial planets that existed around these white dwarfs were like our own, and especially Earth. Perhaps there may be a way to determine if life had existed there before?