Posted: October 18th, 2012 | Author: Michael Courtenay | Filed under: Astronomy, Cankler Science News, Favorite New Thought, From The Web | Tags: 55 Cancri e, American Astronomical Society, astronomy, Diamonds in the Sky, ESO HARP, European Southern Observatory, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie, La Silla Chile, Martian Weather, NASA, PH1, planet hunters, Planetary Science Institute, PSI, Rihanna's Latest Single Diamonds, University of California, Yale University | No Comments »
WOW, isn’t really a word, it’s more like a thoughtfilled sound, in this case it’s the one I made looking back over this past month of astronomical discoveries. From a diamond encrusted jewel to a new earth sized planet a stones throw from our own blue planet.
News from skywatchers has boomed out through September and October this year, with clever astronomers and planetary scientists pushing the boundaries of computer climate modelling, forecasting weather, climatic change and glacial movements on Mars that just might have valid predictors for climate change on Earth.
A new planet, the closest yet outside our solar system and just an astronomical stone’s throw away at four light years,and according to scientists, seriously raising the chances of finding a habitable planet in Earth’s neighbourhood. Researchers say the new planet is too close to its sun to support any known forms of life, with a surface temperature estimated at 1,200 degrees Celsius.
Previous studies suggest that when one planet is discovered orbiting a sun, there are usually others in the same system. The new Earth-sized planet, announced in science journal Nature by Stephane Udry and Xavier Dumusque at the Geneva Observatory, orbits one of the suns in Alpha Centauri, only 40 trillion kilometres away, visible to the naked eye – though we’d suggest you wear clothes while backyard stargazing – The planet was discovered using the HARPS instrument on a telescope at the ESO’s – European Southern Observatory - La Silla site in Chile. :: Read the full article »»»»
Posted: February 26th, 2012 | Author: Michael Courtenay | Filed under: Astrobiology, Astronomy, Astrophysical, Cankler Science News | Tags: Astobiology, astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth's Atmosphere, Earthshine, Science News, University of Melbourne | No Comments »
Scientists have developed a new method to study reflected light from the Earth that can correctly measure the amount of cloud cover, ocean and vegetation on our planet. The research, reported in the journal Nature, will allow astronomers to eventually study the atmospheric and surface features of planets in other solar systems. Scientists including Dr Michael Sterzik from the European Southern Observatory in Chile used spectroscopy and light polarisation to look for chemical bio-signatures in Earthshine – sunlight reflected by the Earth onto the surface of the Moon and back again.
Light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere contains a tell-tale spectrum revealing the elements within the gas. It is also strongly polarised by scattering from air molecules, aerosols and cloud particles, and by reflection off the oceans and land. By combining these characteristics in a technique called spectropolarimetry, Sterzik and colleagues successfully obtained information about the Earth from reflected light that wouldn’t be achieved by normal spectroscopic readings alone. Read the full article »»»»
Posted: February 12th, 2012 | Author: Michael Courtenay | Filed under: Applied Science, Astronomy, Cankler Science News | Tags: astronomy, Chile, ESO, European Southern Observatory, Paranal, Very Large Telescope, Virtual Telescope, VLT | No Comments »
ESO – European Southern Observatory – astronomers in Chile have created the world’s largest virtual optical telescope by using a special technique to combine images from the four most powerful devices as if they were one. ”This weekend we managed to finish the process (of merging the images) after almost a year,” says Jean-Philippe Berger, a scientist at the European Southern Observatory which operates the Very Large Telescope array – VLT – in Chile’s high northern desert. For the first time, we made scientific observations through this new instrument, and we can say that it can be used.”
The ESO’s VLT complex in Paranal includes four large optical telescopes, each of which are about 30 metres high and have mirrors eight metres in diameter. The astronomers brought together the signals received by the four telescopes thanks to a technique known as interferometry, which combines the images from the four to achieve a higher resolution image. This creates a virtual mirror which is the equivalent of 130 metres in diameter and, according to Berger, improves the resolution and the ability to “zoom” in on the cosmos. Read the full article »»»»
Posted: July 20th, 2011 | Author: Michael Courtenay | Filed under: Applied Science, Astronomy, Cankler, Michael Courtenay, Physics, Science | Tags: astronomy, Cankler, Cassini, Michael Courtenay, NASA, Saturns Überstorm, science | Comments Off
Imagine getting caught in a thunderstorm that’s 8 times wider than Earth, with discharges of lightning 10,000 times more powerful than normal, flashing 10 times per second at its peak. Now imagine that this storm is just getting warmed up. One of the most violent weather events we’ve ever witnessed in the Solar System began to erupt on Saturn last December and is still enthralling astronomers, the British journal Nature reports. According to Nature, Lightning discharges in Saturn’s atmosphere emit radio waves with intensities about 10,000 times stronger than those of their terrestrial counterparts. These radio waves are the characteristic features of lightning from thunderstorms on Saturn, which last for days to months. Convective storms about 2,000 kilometres in size have been observed in recent years at planetocentric latitude 35° south (corresponding to a planetographic latitude of 41° south). Here we report observations of a giant thunderstorm at planetocentric latitude 35° north that reached a latitudinal extension of 10,000 kilometres—comparable in size to a ‘Great White Spot about three weeks after it started in early December 2010. The visible plume consists of high-altitude clouds that overshoot the outermost ammonia cloud layer owing to strong vertical convection, as is typical for thunderstorms. The flash rates of this storm are about an order of magnitude higher than previous ones, and peak rates larger than ten per second were recorded. This main storm developed an elongated eastward tail with additional but weaker storm cells that wrapped around the whole planet by February 2011. Unlike storms on Earth, the total power of this storm is comparable to Saturn’s total emitted power. The appearance of such storms in the northern hemisphere could be related to the change of seasons, given that Saturn experienced vernal equinox in August 2009. Read the full article »»»»
Posted: July 9th, 2011 | Author: Buster Cookson | Filed under: Astronomy, Cankler, Physics, Protoscience, Science | Tags: astronomy, astrophysics mystery, Berkeley University, brown dwarf, Buddha's Brother, Cankler, Dr Don Pettit, Dr Geoffrey Marcy, dwarf star, International Space Station, Penn State University, Planet Formation, planet hunters, science, Square Kilometre Array | Comments Off
How did this rocky outpost of life we call ‘Earth’ form, what process is capable of turning space dust and rubble into this picturesque blue planet we call home. Science has a fairly good understanding of the beginning and end of the life-cycle of solar systems and their planets but the middle bit is still a huge mystery. How we go from a dusty cloud to what we on Earth a used to seeing, a working solar system that’s the question. A number of recent discoveries are helping us shape our understanding of this process, the formation of planets. Central to this new understanding is the information being collected by many radio telescopes and satellites. With these new modern tools we are seeing for the first time this process in action. Discoveries are also being made in unexpected places, theories are being expanded or replaced faster than ever.
One of the greatest mysteries and hardest to observe processes is the earliest stage of planet formation, how that initial clumping of dust occurs, starting the snow ball rolling. Discoveries often happen in funny and unexpected ways. This discovered was made by a mad scientists experimenting on the International Space Station – ISS -. Dr Don Pettit - NASA Astronaut - had become famous for his hands on experiments in zero gravity. Pettit filmed everyday things in zero gravity, with a desire to simply learn about this new set of rules, the laws of zero-gravity. Many of the experiments exhibited unexpected behaviour, pleasant surprises that are helping us define our understanding of space. This discovery almost went unnoticed until fellow NASA scientist Dr Stanley Love was watching some of Pettit’s video’s of plastic bags filled with salt. The salt inside the bag clumped almost instantly once Pettit stopped shaking it. The shaking caused the dust to bump into each other, building up a static charge which caused them to be attracted – electrostatic coalescence – once clumped together surface tension took over to hold it all together. Again Pettite has some interesting video to demonstrate this point, an interesting experiment with corn candy. Very cool video by the way. When particles bump around in space the impacts cause an exchange of electrons this along with a complete lack of ground to discharge static it just builds up, this coupled with the fact that static works very differently in space than it does on Earth may be the basis for a solution to this mysterious part of the plant formation process. Read the full article »»»»
Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Author: Michael Courtenay | Filed under: Applied Science, Astronomy, Blip, Cankler, Michael Courtenay, Protoscience | Tags: astronomy, Cankler, Erich Karkoschka, Michael Courtenay, neptune, protoscience, science, University of Arizona | Comments Off
For some of us the working week is a real hardship, Mondayitis, 8 hour days and a fatiguing stretch to Friday. Spare a thought for those poor Neptunian workers, where Monday to Friday takes a little over 2 Earth years to get through. On the upside a long weekend would stretch to 18 months!? Next week, Neptune will complete its very first full orbit of the Sun since it’s discovery in 1846. 165 years to make a complete orbit, now that puts a whole new spin on leap years.
Astronomers had pegged Neptune days – the farthest planet in our solar system – at 16 hours and 6 minutes. A in a new paper published in Icarus, Erich Karkoschka, a planetary scientist with the University of Arizona, now predicts a Neptune day at 15 hours, 57 minutes and 59 seconds. Calculating day lengths for neighboring planets like Mars is an ease, scientists simply look at their surfaces, in photos or radar images, and track the motion of identifiable geographic features. Unfortunately Neptune is made up mostly of dense gas cloud, there is no visible surface. The only visible features are storms. Until now, the best estimate of the planet’s day length came from radio signals measured during a 1989 passing of NASA’s Voyager 2. This method has proven to be almost completely inaccurate and intil recently was observed as a best guestimation.
“The best analogue is clouds moving over a mountain, each cloud moves, so if you track them you don’t get the rotation. But the feature as a whole remains stable“ Karkoschka. Calculating a planetary rotation-rate to such precision isn’t just interesting information, there are definite practical applications. “It constrains models of Neptune’s interior,if you know how fast the planet rotates, you can determine the mass distribution inside” Read the full article »»»»
Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: Buster Cookson | Filed under: Astronomy, Cankler, Protoscience, Science | Tags: astronomy, Cankler, Genesis, Genesis spacecraft, highpants, Isotope, Legrange Point L1, Loneliest stars, NASA, Nebula, Nitrogen, Nuetrons, Oxygen, protoscience, science, Sun | Comments Off
After much number crunching and analysis NASA boffins have announced the Sun is not our Father. Data returned by NASA’s Genesis space craft and analysed around the world suggests that Sun and Earth were formed separately. Like a giant paternity test scientists studied matter collected from the oldest part of the Sun and compared it to samples from the Earth. Sorry Sun you ARE NOT the Father, time for some more tests.
“We found that Earth, the moon, as well as Martian and other meteorites which are samples of asteroids, have a lower concentration of the O-16 than does the sun,” said Kevin McKeegan, “The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun — just how and why remains to be discovered.”
Planets like people have various markers that can be used to establish heritage, similar to the way we use DNA. In two separate studies Oxygen and Nitrogen were used in just this way. In the tiny world of atoms there are different flavours, or isotopes of common atoms. Just the slightest variation in the building blocks is enough. O-16 is a flavour of Oxygen that has 16 neutrons – neutrons are atom building blocks, – a sub-atomic particle – and the most common isotope of oxygen, nearly 100% of oxygen is of the O-16 kind. There is also a very small amount of O-17 and O-18, again the variation being caused by a different number of neutrons. Nitrogen is the same with N-14 being the most common and N-15 being very rare. When studying the ratio’s of these atoms present in the sun and planets scientists found the ratio’s of the Sun varied from those of the Earth, Mars and asteroids.
The Sun’s corona is thought to be completely unchanged from its original chemical make-up, when it was still a dusty nebulas. This is the perfect place to find a parents DNA sample or scientific baseline. NASA sent the Genesis spacecraft to do its bidding on August 8, 2001. Launched from Cape Canaveral Genesis was placed into halo orbit around the sun. Placed at just the right distance between the sun and the earth where the gravity of both is cancelled out. This equilibrium point is the Legrange Point L1. From this orbit satellites can sit indefinitely collecting data and samples blasted off by the suns fiery corona. Between 2001 and 2004 Genesis sat patiently collecting matter from the sun as it’s blasted free. The samples were then sent back to Earth in a return capsule, which unfortunately crashed into the Utah desert after the parachute failed. The surviving samples along with others samples collected from the Earth, Moon, Mars and meteorites, were divided up and sent to various groups around the world for study.
Nebula’s are great clouds of matter in deep space that are the birth place of sun’s and solar systems. In these clouds gravity works its wonders and solar systems are formed. After millions of years a ball of matter and gas emerges from the Nebula, Gravity will slowly draw it together untill the sun begins to burn – fusion reactions begin,. Planets form once the remaining matter condenses into a disk around the sun, looking like Saturn’s rings. This ring will eventually form the planets. This is just one form of Nebula – Latin for cloud - of which some are remnants of Supernova. New discoveries won’t really effect our understanding of Nebula, the discoveries relates to what happens when they leave home.
Recently there have been a number of other discoveries that also point to the fact that planets are mobile and their attachment to stars is fluid. While it may be easy to think of a planet and sun being locked in orbit, a permanent thing seems to be incorrect. The recent discovery of large numbers of free roaming – Loneliest Planets – suggests that planets are often knocked out of their original orbits. Blue straggler stars known for looking much younger than other surrounding stars were recently found to line the central bulge of the Milky Way. While the title ‘Alien Invader Stars’ is a headline grabber the story itself relates to the fact that there are star clusters from other galaxies in the Milky Way. All of these things are highlighting the very dynamic nature of planets, stars and galaxies.
While we are probably not related to the Sun it is after all the only one we have. Evidence is suggesting the Earth has been through some interesting events in its deep past, bouncing round the galaxy like a gap year student, what adventures did we get up to ? Unfortunately this is one of those discoveries that raises more questions than it answers. Where did we start off? Did we steal someone’s seat here at the Suns table ?. A curious mind could very easily get carried away with this train of thought, it is very primal after all.