Tag: Planets

‘Diamonds From The Sky’ Approach Turns CO2 Into Valuable Products

Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials.

Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric COdirectly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

The team will present brand-new research on this new CO2 capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS is the world’s largest scientific society.

The national meeting, which takes place here through Thursday, features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University.

“Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported.

Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, Ph.D., and graduate student Jessica Stuart, says their research could shift CO2from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibers.

Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.”

That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide.

At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers.

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New Telescope In Chile Unveils Stunning First Images

The first released VST image shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula, as it has never been seen before. This vast region of gas, dust and hot young stars lies in the heart of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer)

A new state-of-the-art telescope has snapped its first impressive images of the southern sky over the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) is the latest addition to the European Southern Observatory’s network of telescopes at Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

The first image released from the VST shows the spectacular star-forming region Messier 17, also known as the Omega nebula or the Swan nebula, as it has never been seen before.

This nebula, full of gas, dust and hot young stars, lies in the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation of Sagittarius.

The VST’s field of view is so large that is able to observe the entire nebula, including its fainter outer parts.

The second of the newly released images is a portrait of the star cluster Omega Centauri in unprecedented detail. Omega Centauri is the largest globular cluster in the sky and the VST’s view includes about 300,000 stars.

ESO’s new telescope

The VST is a 2.6-meter telescope with a 268-megapixel camera, called OmegaCAM, at its core. The visible-light telescope is designed to map the sky both quickly and with precise image quality.

The VST is a wide-field survey telescope with a field of view twice as broad as the full moon. It is the largest telescope in the world designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light.

ESO officials oversee many telescopes based at three observing sites in Chile’s high Atacama Desert. In addition to the telescopes atop the summit of Cerro Paranal, the observatory has sites at La Silla and Chajnantor.

Mapping the cosmos

Over the next five years, the VST and its OmegaCAM will make three detailed surveys of the southern sky, and the data will be made public for astronomers around the world to analyze.

The KIDS survey will image several regions of the sky away from the Milky Way. The study aims to further astronomers’ understanding of dark matter, dark energy and galaxy evolution, and find many new galaxy clusters.

The VST ATLAS survey will cover a larger area of sky and focus on understanding dark energy and supporting more detailed studies using the VLT and other telescopes.

The third survey, VPHAS+, will image the central plane of the Milky Way to map the structure of the galactic disc and its star formation history.

VPHAS+ will yield a catalogue of around 500 million objects and is expected to discover many new examples of unusual stars at all stages of their evolution.

The VST project is a joint venture between ESO and the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Naples, Italy.

TRAPPIST-1 Planets Probably Rich In Water

Planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1, just 40 light-years from Earth, were first detected by the TRAPPIST-South telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in 2016.

In the following year further observations from ground-based telescopes, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, revealed that there were no fewer than seven planets in the system, each roughly the same size as the Earth.

They are named TRAPPIST-1b,c,d,e,f,g and h, with increasing distance from the central star.

Further observations have now been made, both from telescopes on the ground, including the nearly-complete SPECULOOS facility at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, and from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Kepler Space Telescope.

A team of scientists led by Simon Grimm at the University of Bern in Switzerland have now applied very complex computer modelling methods to all the available data and have determined the planets’ densities with much better precision than was possible before.

Simon Grimm explains how the masses are found: “The TRAPPIST-1 planets are so close together that they interfere with each other gravitationally, so the times when they pass in front of the star shift slightly.

“These shifts depend on the planets’ masses, their distances and other orbital parameters. With a computer model, we simulate the planets’ orbits until the calculated transits agree with the observed values, and hence derive the planetary masses.”

Team member Eric Agol comments on the significance: “A goal of exoplanet studies for some time has been to probe the composition of planets that are Earth-like in size and temperature.

“The discovery of TRAPPIST-1 and the capabilities of ESO’s facilities in Chile and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope in orbit have made this possible — giving us our first glimpse of what Earth-sized exoplanets are made of!

The measurements of the densities, when combined with models of the planets’ compositions, strongly suggest that the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets are not barren rocky worlds.

They seem to contain significant amounts of volatile material, probably water, amounting to up to 5% the planet’s mass in some cases — a huge amount; by comparison the Earth has only about 0.02% water by mass!

TRAPPIST-1b and c, the innermost planets, are likely to have rocky cores and be surrounded by atmospheres much thicker than Earth’s.

TRAPPIST-1d, meanwhile, is the lightest of the planets at about 30 percent the mass of Earth. Scientists are uncertain whether it has a large atmosphere, an ocean or an ice layer.

Scientists were surprised that TRAPPIST-1e is the only planet in the system slightly denser than Earth, suggesting that it may have a denser iron core and that it does not necessarily have a thick atmosphere, ocean or ice layer.

It is mysterious that TRAPPIST-1e appears to be so much rockier in its composition than the rest of the planets.

In terms of size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star, this is the planet that is most similar to Earth.

TRAPPIST-1f, g and h are far enough from the host star that water could be frozen into ice across their surfaces.

If they have thin atmospheres, they would be unlikely to contain the heavy molecules that we find on Earth, such as carbon dioxide.

Astronomers are also working hard to search for further planets around faint red stars like TRAPPIST-1. As team member Michaël Gillon explains: “This result highlights the huge interest of exploring nearby ultracool dwarf stars — like TRAPPIST-1 — for transiting terrestrial planets.

“This is exactly the goal of SPECULOOS, our new exoplanet search that is about to start operations at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.

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Pictures Show A Mysterious Planet Get More Surreal Over Time

Since entering orbit on July 4 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been revealing a world coated in curling clouds that loop and spiral around one another, creating filigreed bands speckled with roiling oval storms.

Some of these storms dapple the planet’s previously unseen poles, and they all join the best known of the Jovian tempests, a splotch called the Great Red Spot that stretches more than an Earth across.

The new images “look like Van Gogh paintings,” says Juno’s principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute.

I kind of expected some of this, because a long time ago, Voyager took pictures, and other spacecraft that have gone near Jupiter have taken some images, but they’re usually global ones and boy, when you get close, and you see these swirls, they look like art.

These stunning clouds are produced by Jupiter’s incredibly complex atmospheric dynamics—things like winds and turbulence—combined with certain chemistries that produce their vibrant colours.

But the precise reason why Jupiter alone is so fantastically painted isn’t clear.

You don’t see that on Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune for some reason,” Bolton says. “Maybe what you’re seeing is the fact that Jupiter is so big that it has triggered some other special dynamics that are star-like, to some extent.”

Streams of clouds spin off a rotating, oval-shaped cloud system in the Jovian southern hemisphere. Citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko reconstructed the colour and cropped the image, which was taken on February 2 from just 9,000 miles above the storm.

Juno is doing more than simply ogling this magnificent planetscape.

Designed to tease out the intricacies of Jupiter’s innards, the spacecraft carries eight instruments that monitor the planet’s gravity, auroras, atmosphere, magnetosphere, cloud depths, and electric fields.

Together, they should help scientists learn more about the planet’s origins and what, exactly, lies beneath those clouds—straight down to the planet’s heart, which could be made from heavy elements or rock wrapped in a fluid form of metallic hydrogen.

So far, though, seeing the planet’s poles for the first time has been one of the highlights of the mission.

This close-up view of Jupiter, taken from a mere 5,400 miles away, captures the turbulent region just west of the Great Red Spot. Citizen scientist Sergey Dushkin processed and cropped the image to draw viewers’ eyes to the dynamic clouds.

These regions are strikingly different from equatorial Jupiter, with a blue tinge, numerous cyclones, and a lack of distinct cloudy bands.

On March 27, Juno swung low over Jupiter during its fourth science orbit, coming within 2,700 miles of those magnificent cloud tops. Images from that orbit will be released soon.

And over its next set of orbits, Juno will continue focusing on Jupiter’s deep atmosphere and interior structure, gathering data that scientists will eventually combine into a global view of this mysterious world.

Until then, we can bask in the beauty of the biggest planet in the solar system.

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Venus May Once Have Been Habitable, According To NASA

Venus – a hellish planet with an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, almost no water and temperatures of more than 460 degrees Celsius – may once have been habitable, according to Nasa scientists.

Researchers used climate models to calculate that Venus might have had a shallow ocean of liquid water and temperatures that could have allowed life to exist for up to two billion years of its early history.

The atmosphere is 90 times as thick as the air on Earth and scientists had thought this was largely caused by the difference between the two planets’ rate of spin.

A day on Venus lasts 117 Earth days because it spins on its axis at a much slower rate. But recent research showed that Venus could have had an atmosphere similar to the Earth’s today.

The first signs that Venus once had an ocean were discovered by NASA’s Pioneer mission in the 1980s.

Venus is closer to the sun than Earth and receives far more sunlight.

This caused the ocean to evaporate, water-vapour molecules were broken apart into hydrogen and oxygen by ultraviolet radiation and the hydrogen escaped to space.

With no water left on the surface, carbon dioxide built up in the atmosphere and led to a runaway greenhouse gas effect that created present searing heat.

A map of Venus’s surface based on imagery collected by Magellan, Pioneer Venus, and Venera 13 and 14 .

Michael Way, a researcher at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, said: “Many of the same tools we use to model climate change on Earth can be adapted to study climates on other planets, both past and present.

Colleague Anthony Del Genio added: “In the GISS model’s simulation, Venus’ slow spin exposes its dayside to the sun for almost two months at a time.

In a statement, Nasa said it was thought that Venus may have had more land than Earth. One of the factors they had to take into consideration was the ancient sun was up to 30 per cent dimmer.

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A Time Lapse Sequence At Jupiter’s South Pole


This series of images captures cloud patterns near Jupiter’s south pole, looking up towards the planet’s equator.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft took the color-enhanced time-lapse sequence of images during its eleventh close flyby of the gas giant planet on Feb. 7 between 7:21 a.m. and 8:01 a.m. PST (10:21 a.m. and 11:01 a.m. EST).

At the time, the spacecraft was between 85,292 to 124,856 miles (137,264 to 200,937 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet with the images centered on latitudes from 84.1 to 75.5 degrees south.

At first glance, the series might appear to be the same image repeated. But closer inspection reveals slight changes, which are most easily noticed by comparing the far left image with the far right image.

Directly, the images show Jupiter.

But, through slight variations in the images, they indirectly capture the motion of the Juno spacecraft itself, once again swinging around a giant planet hundreds of millions of miles from Earth.

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager.

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The Mars 2020 Rover (collab with Fraser Cain)

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The Mars Curiosity Rover is one of the most successful planetary missions of all time. Here’s how NASA plans to follow that up – the Mars 2020 Rover


Science Objective A: Explore once potentially-habitable areas

Science Objective B: Seek bio signatures

Science Objective C: Sample Caching

Science Objective D: Demonstrate in-situ resource utilization.

And here are the instruments that will make that possible. It contains 2 cameras on the probe’s mast, one called Mastcam-Z, which is the main “eye” for the rover.

It can take 360 degree panoramic 3D views with an advanced zoom that can see something the size of a housefly from the distance of a soccer field. And the second camera is called SuperCam.

This can actually do a spectrographic analysis of a rock’s chemical makeup from over 20 feet away by burning a hole in the rock as small as the point of a pencil.

This was developed in conjunction with a team from France. PIXL, or Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry will examine rock and soil samples for signs of ancient microbial life and can take extremely close up images of soil samples down to the size of a grain of salt. MEDA, the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer is a contribution from a team in Spain, it’s a tiny weather lab that measures wind speed, temperature and humidity and also gathers data about dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.

RIMFAX, the Radar Imager for Mars Subsurface Experiment from Norway is basically like a sonogram that see tens of meters below the ground and detect elements down to the centimeter. This will help find underground water and ice on Mars. The aptly named SHERLOC, or Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals is a big sciency way of saying it looks for signs of ancient life with UV light, much like forensic investigators at crime scenes.

Hence, Sherlock. But SHERLOC will carry a couple of interesting things with it, one is a Mars meteorite for calibration purposes.

There’s a handful of meteorites found here on Earth that we know were once a part of Mars that were blasted away in an asteroid impact, then travelled through the solar system and eventually landed on Earth.

SHERLOC is going to carry a piece of one of those meteorites to use to calibrate its laser on the Martian surface, which means this will be the first time a piece of martian rock will be returned to Mars. The other thing is it will be carrying samples of materials that may be used to make Martian spacesuits, to see how well they fare in the Martian environment. And last but definitely not least is MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment.

This is the module that will be testing in situ resource utilization techniques in the hopes of turning the CO2 in the martian atmosphere into oxygen, just like a tree. The rover will also contain a special microphone, giving us the first sound recordings from the surface of Mars.

A New Study Suggests That As A Star Begins To Die And Slowly Expands Outward, It Would Temporarily Light Up As It Eats The Worlds It Hosts

600 light years away, in the constellation of Auriga, there is a star in some ways similar to our Sun. It’s a shade hotter (by about 800° C), more massive, and older.

Oddly, it appears to be laced with heavy elements: more oxygen, aluminum, and so on, than might be expected. A puzzle.

Then, last year, it was discovered that this star had a planet orbiting it. A project called WASP – Wide Area Search for Planets, a UK telescope system that searches for exoplanets — noticed that the star underwent periodic dips in its light.

This indicates that a planet circles the star, and when the planet gets between the star and us, it blocks a tiny fraction of the starlight.

The planet is a weirdo, for many reasons… but it won’t be weird for too much longer. That’s because the star is eating it.

OK, first, the planet. Called WASP 12b, it was instantly pegged as an oddball. The orbit is only 1.1 days long! Compare that to our own 365 day orbit, or even Mercury’s 88 days to circle the Sun.

This incredibly short orbital period means this planet is practically touching the surface of its star as it sweeps around at over 220 km/sec!

That also means it must be very hot; models indicate that the temperature at its cloud tops would be in excess of 2200°C.

Not only that, but other numbers were odd, too. WASP 12b was found to be a bit more massive and bigger than Jupiter; about 1.8 times its size and 1.4 times its mass.

That’s too big! Models indicate that planets this massive have a funny state of matter in them; they are so compressible that if you add mass, the planet doesn’t really get bigger, it just gets denser.

In other words, you could double Jupiter’s mass and its size wouldn’t increase appreciably, but since the mass goes up, so would its density.

But WASP 12b isn’t like that. In fact, it has a lower density than Jupiter, and is a lot bigger! Something must be going on… and when you see a lot of weird things all sitting in one place, it makes sense to assume they’re connected.

In this case it’s true: that planet is freaking hot, and that’s at the heart of this mess. Heating a planet that much would not exactly be conducive to its well-being.

When you heat a gas it expands, which would explain WASP 12b’s big size. It’s puffy! But being all bloated that close to a star turns out to be bad for your health.

Astronomers used Hubble to observe the planet in the ultraviolet and found clear signs of all sorts of heavy elements, including sodium, tin, aluminum, magnesium, and manganese, as well as, weirdly, ytterbium*.

Moreover, they could tell from the data that these elements existed in a cloud surrounding the planet, like an extended atmosphere going outward for hundreds of thousands of kilometers.

This explains the peculiar high abundance of heavy metals in the star I mentioned at the beginning of this post; they come from the planet! But not for long.

Given the mass of the planet and the density of the stream, it looks like it has roughly ten million years left. At that point, supper’s over: there won’t be anything left for the star to eat.

In reality it’s hard to say exactly what will happen; there may be a rocky/metal core to the planet that will survive. But even that is so close to the star that it will be a molten blob of goo.

The way orbits work, the way the dance of gravity plays out over time, the planet itself may actually be drawn inexorably closer to its star. Remember, too, the star is old, and will soon start to expand into a red giant.

So the planet is falling and the star is rising; eventually the two will meet and the planet will meet a fiery death.

All in all, it sucks to be WASP 12b.

But it’s cool to be an astronomer!

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Pass it on: New Scientist

What Would Life Be Like On The TRAPPIST-1 Planets?

The TRAPPIST-1 system is home to seven planets that are about the size of Earth and potentially just the right temperature to support life.

So how would life on these alien worlds be different than life on Earth? Here are some of the major differences.

Amazing night-sky views

Perhaps one of the most dramatic things that visitors to the TRAPPIST-1 system would notice is the view of the other six planets in the sky.

In some cases, a neighboring planet might appear twice as large as the full moon seen from Earth.

All seven of the known planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system orbit closer to their star than Mercury orbits the sun.

The innermost planet and the outermost planet are almost 30 times closer together than Earth and Venus at their largest separation.

The reason these seven planetary siblings can fit into such tight orbits is because their parent star is an ultracool dwarf star. It’s about 2,000 times dimmer than the sun, and only slightly larger than the planet Jupiter.

Three of the known planets orbit the star in what’s known as the “habitable zone,” or the region around a star where the planet could have a surface temperature right for liquid water.

The position of the habitable zone is different around each star — on a very dim star like TRAPPIST-1, which radiates significantly less heat than the sun, the habitable zone lies much closer to the star.

But there’s no guarantee that a planet in the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1 can host liquid water on its surface.

Without an atmosphere, water won’t remain a liquid in space. For example, on comets, water ice sublimates directly into a vapor when it is heated by the sun.

Perpetual twilight

Even though the seven known planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system orbit extremely close to their parent star, the natural lighting on these planets would seem very dim to a human visitor.

Ultracool dwarf stars produce significantly less radiation than sun-like stars, and most of TRAPPIST-1’s light is radiated in the infrared wavelengths rather than visible wavelengths, according to Amaury Triaud of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England, a co-author on the paper describing the discovery.

Short years, eternal days (and nights)

The TRAPPIST-1 planets take almost no time at all to make one complete orbit around their parent star. Six of the planets make a complete an orbit in anywhere from 1.5 to 12.4 days.

That means one “year” (or what scientists call the orbital period) on most of these planets is less than two weeks on Earth. But the orbital period of these planets is slightly upset by their neighbors.

Even though the years are short in the TRAPPIST-1 system, the days would be very long — almost eternal, because the according to the scientists behind the discovery, it’s very likely the seven planets are tidally locked, meaning that one side of each planet is always facing the star.

The moon is tidally locked to Earth, which is we see only one side of our lunar companion (at least from the ground).

There’s some debate about whether or not a tidally locked planet could host life.

Some tidally locked planets might be uninhabitable because the side facing the star would become extremely hot, while the other side would grow extremely cold.

But some models show that if the planet’s atmosphere can dissipate heat across the planet’s surface, then life could still find a welcoming home there.

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NASA Planning A 2069 Mission To Look For Life On Newly Discovered Earth-Like Planets

NASA is reportedly planning an interstellar mission to search for life outside our solar system in the three-star Alpha Centauri system.

The mission is as yet unnamed and the technology required to get a craft there does not exist yet, but the projected launch date would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first moon landing.

The ambitious mission would require a craft that would need to travel at a minimum of 10 per cent of the speed of light.

The Alpha Centauri constellation is 4.4 light years away, and even if a record-breaking tenth of the speed of light could be achieved, the system would still be a 44-year trip, reaching our nearest neighbor by 2113.

NASA is said to be considering sending tiny probes powered by lasers which in theory may be able to reach a quarter of the speed of light.

Other techniques under consideration include harnessing nuclear reactions, or through collisions between antimatter and matter, the magazine reported.

There is already a known exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri star system, Proxima Centauri b, which orbits a red dwarf star.

However, it has not been considered a perfect location for finding alien life, as the star throws out bursts of radiation that make the conditions inhospitable.

So far humans have only made one spacecraft that has successfully left our solar system – the Voyager 1 craft.

Which was launched in 1977 and despite the limitations of the technology it was equipped with, provided astonishing new insights into the planets and moons within our own solar system.

However, it was never designed to be an interstellar craft.

NASA’s announcement follows an admission from the former head of the Pentagon’s secret UFO-hunting bureau that he believes “we may not be alone”, and said he had seen compelling evidence to support the idea of alien life.

As the first alien rock to travel here from another star, it was immediately recognized as highly unusual – but as scientists learn more about the object, they are discovering how strange it actually is.

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