Tag: space

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.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

China’s Tiangong-1 Space Station Will Fall From The Sky Within Weeks

China’s first space station is expected to come crashing down to Earth within weeks, but scientists have not been able to predict where the 8.5-tonne module will hit.

The US-funded Aerospace Corporation estimates Tiangong-1 will re-enter the atmosphere during the first week of April, give or take a week.

The European Space Agency says the module will come down between 24 March and 19 April.

In 2016 China admitted it had lost control of Tiangong-1 and would be unable to perform a controlled re-entry.

The statement from Aerospace said there was “a chance that a small amount of debris” from the module will survive re-entry and hit the Earth.

Aerospace warned that the space station might be carrying a highly toxic and corrosive fuel called hydrazine on board.

The report includes a map showing the module is expected to re-enter somewhere between 43° north and 43° south latitudes.

The chances of re-entry are slightly higher in northern China, the Middle East, central Italy, northern Spain and the northern states of the US, New Zealand, Tasmania, parts of South America and southern Africa.

However, Aerospace insisted the chance of debris hitting anyone living in these nations was tiny.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Astronomers Found Evidence For A ‘Dark’ Gravitational Force That Might Fix Einstein’s Most Famous Theory

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts so much about the universe at large, including the existence of gravitational lenses or “Einstein rings.”

And yet his famous equations struggle to fully explain such objects.

While general relativity says a strong source of gravity — like the sun— will warp the fabric of space, bend light from a distant object, and magnify it to an observer, very big objects like galaxies and galaxy clusters make gravitational lenses that are theoretically too strong.

General relativity also can’t fully explain the spinning motions of galaxies and their stars.

That’s why most physicists think as much as 80% of the mass in the universe is dark matter: invisible mass that hangs out at the edges of galaxies.

Dark matter might be made of hard-to-detect particles, or perhaps an unfathomable number of tiny black holes. But we have yet to find smoking-gun evidence of either.

However, a contentious theory by Erik Verlinde at the University of Amsterdam suggests dark matter may not be matter at all.

What’s more, astronomers say his idea “is remarkable” in its ability to explain the behavior of more than 33,000 galaxies that they studied.

This does not mean we can completely exclude dark matter, because there are still many observations that Verlinde’s theory cannot yet explain,” study leader and physicist Margot Brouwer said in a YouTube video about the research.

However it is a very exciting and promising first step.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

According To Some Research, Earth’s Nearest Dwarf Planet Ceres Is Still Evolving And May Have Its Own Water Cycle

It may be the largest object in the asteroid belt that sits beyond Mars, but the dwarf planet Ceres has been surprising scientists ever since it was discovered.

The latest findings suggests that water – one of the key ingredients for life – is present across the entire surface of the rocky planetoid.

What’s more, the distribution of these icy patches suggests the dwarf is still evolving suggesting it may have its own water cycle beneath the surface.

Ceres is of particular interest to scientists because it is the closest dwarf planet to Earth and may play host to the building blocks needed for alien life.

NASA’s Dawn probe has been mapping the object since 2015 and, in a new study, experts used images captured by the craft to study chemicals on Ceres’ surface.

Specifically it looked at carbonates, compounds that have previously been detected by Dawn, which are thought to be strong indicators of liquid water.

Researchers at Italy’s Institute of Astrophysics and Space Planetology in Rome used the probe’s visible-infrared mapping spectrometer to anaylse the planet.

They found that sodium carbonates, salts of carbonic acid, can be found across the entire observed surface of Ceres. The camera reads the chemical spectrum of compounds found far below the planet’s exterior to identify them.

Some carbonate patches, which are as long as a kilometre-wide (0.6 miles), featured sodium carbonate in its hydrated form.

This could only occur around liquid water, suggesting the dwarf planet has a subsurface ocean.

The distribution of these icy patches across Ceres suggests the dwarf planet is still evolving and may have its own subsurface water cycle, researchers found. To measure these icy patches, scientists looked at how carbonates (green and purple) were distributed across Ceres.

The Italian team, led by Dr Filippo Carrozzo, wrote in their paper: “Hydrated sodium carbonates could form early in a global ocean in equilibrium with the altered rocky phase and be incorporated in Ceres’ crust upon freezing of that ocean.

The chemicals could have formed as recently as a few million years ago, the researchers said.

Because they haven’t yet dehydrated, scientists suggest the planet must still be spewing water from its surface and hence is still evolving.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate were found by the team around craters with domes or mounds.

Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

Patches of hydrated sodium carbonate (green and red) were found around craters with domes or mounds by the team. Some craters showed unique characteristics, such as floor fractures, that the authors say indicate areas where water had been ejected.

The researchers also focused on patches of ice covering the walls of Ceres’s Jugling impact crater.

The crater, found on Ceres’s southern hemisphere, is shadowy, dark and unlike other northern hemisphere craters where water ice has previously been found.

To better understand Juling’s water ice features, the Italian team analysed light spectrum data previously obtained by the Dawn mission.

Specifically, they compared how the amount of ice on the crater’s walls has changed over time as the sun shone on different regions.

Their results showed a clear increase of the area covered by the crater’s ice-rich wall as time progressed.

According to the authors, the trend between ice abundance and solar flux suggests that seasonal cycles of water are responsible for the observed increase.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

Why Sun’s Atmosphere Is So Freaking Hot?

This false-color temperature map shows solar active region AR10923, observed close to center of the sun’s disk. Blue regions indicate plasma near 10 million degrees Kelvin.

Small, sudden bursts of heat and energy, called nanoflares, are responsible for the million-degree temperature of the sun’s tenuous atmosphere, a new study reveals.

The mystery of why temperatures in the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, soar to several million degrees Kelvin (K) much hotter than temperatures nearer the sun’s surface has puzzled scientists for decades.

Why is the sun’s corona so darned hot?” said study member James Klimchuk of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

To answer this question, Klimchuk and colleagues constructed a theoretical model of the nanoflares, which are components of the loops of hot gas that arch high above the solar surface to make up the corona.

Coronal loops are the fundamental building blocks of the corona,” Klilmchuk said. “Their shape is defined by the magnetic field, which guides the hot flowing gases called plasma.

These loops are made up of bundles of smaller, individual magnetic tubes or strands that can have temperatures reaching several million degrees Kelvin (K), even though the sun’s surface is only 5,700 degrees K (9,800 Fahrenheit).

Nanoflares are small, sudden bursts of energy that happen within these thin magnetic tubes in the corona.

Unlike the bigger solar flares, which can be viewed through satellites and ground-based telescopes and can disrupt electronics and communications networks on Earth, nanoflares are so small that they cannot be resolved individually, so until now, no direct evidence of nanoflares was seen.

Only see the combined effect of many of them occurring at about the same time is visible.

Klimchuk’s model tries to pin down exactly what happens when these nanoflares erupt.

he ultra-hot plasma cools very quickly, however, which explains why it is so faint and has been so difficult to detect until now.

The energy lost from the cooling conducts down to the comparatively cooler solar surface.

The gas there at the surface is heated to about 1 million degrees K and expands upward to become the 1 million degree component of the corona that has been observed for many years.

Klimchuk presented the findings on August 6 at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

Titan Could Have “Crystals” On Its Surface That Can Support Alien Life

Scientists say there may be crystals on Titan that could provide food for some forms of alien life, according to a study published in the journal ACS Earth and Space Chemistry.

Known as “co-crystals”, they are thought to be the result of ammonia and acetylene creating a salt-like compound, caused by Titan’s methane rain and ethane flooding.

Co-crystals are basically salts that are made of two or more molecular compounds. This allows for some unique properties, such as a different melting point to the original compounds.

However, there is some disagreement over what exactly one is.

The importance of these co-crystals is that they could provide food on Titan’s surface for microbial life.

Some composed of benzene and ethane have been proposed before, but this new type of co-crystal forms more quickly and should be able to survive Titan’s weather.

These co-crystals, or ‘organic minerals’, are an exciting new class of compounds for Titan’s surface,” Morgan Cable from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the study’s lead author said.

The crystals would be extremely small, just a few microns in size – which is smaller than the width of human hair.

They may grow larger under the right conditions, with Cable noting they could look like fresh snow. What’s more, they could be food for certain types of microbes.

Titan has been a bit of a hot topic lately, with NASA currently considering sending a quadcopter to the surface, flying over the ground to study dozens of sites – including the moon’s lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons.

It would launch in 2025 and arrive in 2034.

A recent study also found that Titan’s oceans may be suitable for a submarine at some point in future.

Replicating the temperature and pressure of Titan in the lab, they found that despite the tough conditions, we could feasibly explore these regions.

Titan is the only place other than Earth with known bodies of liquid on its surface. Coupled with its thick atmosphere, it looks like quite an enticing environment for life in one form or another.

Whether it’s truly habitable we might not know for a while, but perhaps these crystals on the surface could help play a part.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

Professor Stephen Hawking, Renowned Scientist, Dies At 76

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76.

Hawking, who was a professor at the University of Cambridge, made several discoveries in the field of physics, mathematics and cosmology that raised his profile internationally.

Cambridge University confirmed Hawking’s death.

His better-known works involve black holes and the theory of relativity. He also wrote a number of popular science books, including “A Brief History of Time.

Hawking suffered for most of his life from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The condition causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to degenerate.

ALS typically kills sufferers within the first few years, but Hawking survived the disease for decades. His early encounter with the disease during his younger years was depicted in the film “The Theory of Everything” in 2014.

In recent months, Hawking warned vocally about the dangers posed by artificial intelligence. Last year, he said A.I. could be the “worst event in the history of our civilization.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Here’s How To Send Your Name Hurtling Into The Sun This Year

If you’ve ever wanted to send a part of you hurtling into the Sun, this is your lucky day. NASA is offering you the chance to send your name rocketing towards our favorite ball of gas aboard the Parker Solar Probe.

The $1.5-billion mission will be the first-ever probe to “touch” the Sun, traveling directly into its atmosphere later this year.

The mission will go seven times closer to the Sun than any other man-made object, in order to study its atmosphere.

It’ll go hurtling towards the center of our solar system at speeds of 700,000 kilometers per hour. “That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, in one second,” NASA wrote.

Your name, if you fancy it, will be included on a memory card within the probe’s payload, traveling at speeds previously unknown to any of your nametags.

The mission will study how energy and heat move through the solar corona. By studying the Sun – the only star available for us to study up close – scientists also hope to learn more about stars throughout the Universe.

The probe will seek to discover what accelerates solar wind and solar energetic particles, which NASA says it has sought answers to for over 60 years.

Now with thermal engineering advances, NASA is finally able to send a probe that can withstand the immense heat.

At its closest approach, the probe will face temperatures of 1,370°C (2,500°F), but the probe’s solar shields will astonishingly keep the payload at around room temperature.

So your name will stay cool, don’t worry. Unless it’s something like “Nigel”, which has never been cool in the first place.

The initiative of sending your name along for the ride, dubbed “Hot Ticket“, was launched this week by Star Trek actor and musical legend William Shatner.

The first-ever spacecraft to the Sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, will launch this year on a course to orbit through the heat of our star’s corona, where temperatures are greater than 1 million degrees,” Shatner said in a video launching the project.

The spacecraft will also carry my name to the Sun, and your name, and the names of everyone who wants to join this voyage of extreme exploration.

In order to get your name aboard the probe, it really is as simple as applying. Just go to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe website and enter your details before April 27, 2018.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Google Discovers New Planet Which Proves Solar System Is Not Unique

The Kepler-90 star system has eight planets, like our own

Google has previously discovered lost tribes, missing ships and even a forgotten forest. But now it has also found two entire planets.

The technology giant used one its algorithms to sift through thousands of signals sent back to Earth by Nasa’s Kepler space telescope.

One of the new planets was found hiding in the Kepler-90 star system, which is around 2,200 light years away from Earth.

The discovery is important because it takes the number of planets in the star system up to eight, the same as our own Solar System. It is the first time that any system has been found to have as many planets ours.

Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and Nasa Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas, Austin, said: “The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system.

You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer.

“There is a lot of unexplored real estate in Kepler-90 system and it would almost be surprising if there were not more planets in the system.”

The planet Kepler-90i, is a small rocky planet, which orbits so close to its star that the surface temperature is a ‘scorchingly hot’ 800F (426C). It orbits its own sun once every 14 days.

The Google team applied a neural network to scan weak signals discovered by the Kepler exoplanet-hunting telescope which had been missed by humans.

Kepler has already discovered more than 2,500 exoplanets and 1,000 more which are suspected.

The telescope spent four years scanning 150,000 stars looking for dips in their brightness which might suggest an orbiting planet was passing in front.

Although the observation mission ended in 2013, the spacecraft recorded so much data during its four year mission that scientists expect will be crunching the data for many years to come.

The new planet Kepler-90i is about 30 per cent larger than Earth and very hot.

Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google AI in Mountain View, California, who made the discovery, said the algorithm was so simple that it only took two hours to train to spot exoplanets.

Test of the neural network correctly identified true planets and false positives 96 percent of the time. They have promised to release all of the code so that amateurs can train computers to hunt for their own exoplanets.

Machine learning will become increasingly important for keeping pace with all this data and will help us make more discoveries than ever before,” said Mr Shallue.

This is really exciting discovery and a successful proof of concept in using neural networks to find planets even in challenging situations where signals are very weak.

We plan to search all 150,000 stars, we hope using our technique we will be able to find lots of planets including planets like Earth.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

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.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science