Everyone has imagined how excited people would be if alien life were finally discovered. You’ve all seen those movies where one day a huge spaceship breaks through the clouds and imposes its presence on the world. I, for one, sometimes think what it would be like if I’m driving down the interstate and suddenly this enormous mothership slowly looms over the horizon. I’d hunch over my steering wheel and look up at the sky in shock, but then I’d immediately get mad at the other drivers because they would all pull over, or stop right there on the road, just so they can get out and look at it. “Come on, people. I’ve got places to be. Yeah, there’s a spaceship; let’s move on. I have to be at work in, like, five minutes.” Well, that’s if the aliens came knocking on our door. In reality, there are a few ways that scientists search for extraterrestrial life, e.g., searching for radio signals, laser signals, or evidence of neutrinos. And now we can add one more new way to search for alien life: analyzing for something called “dimers.”
“NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter’s watery moon”
(Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)
On March 4, 2014 Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, released a statement which includes, “In the coming year, we’ll build on our nation’s record of breathtaking and compelling scientific discoveries and achievements in space, with science missions that will reach far into our solar system, reveal unknown aspects of our universe and provide critical knowledge about our home planet. It includes funding for missions to Mars and the formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”
It looks as though we may finally go to a ‘local’ body that will hold many surprises and in astronomical distances Europa is so very close.
Europa is just begging us to visit and the Europa Clipper is one mission.
This artist’s impression of Europa makes the place look more exotic than Mars.
(Credit: Chris Weeks)
Have you ever heard of the exoplanet, Tau Boötis b? Well, it was discovered back in 1996 and is one of the closest exoplanets to us. Tau Boötis b is about 51-light-years away and is considered to be a “hot Jupiter” because it is a gas giant orbiting close to its parent star. Now, with the advances in techniques used to scan planetary atmospheres, something else has been discovered about Tau Boötis b: the fact that it has water vapor.
…715 new planets… orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much
like our own solar system. Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than
Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. …To verify this bounty
of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at
NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif…used a technique called
verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability.
…Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates.
Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.
This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In
our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the
planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together
whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion
and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are
gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through
multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way
multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.
“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then
thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said
Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in
bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable
bonanza of new worlds.”
…Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their
sun’s habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface
temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.
…This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to
nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us
one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.
The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal
and are available for download at:
It’s a happy Valentines Day on the surface of Mars. Thanks to the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team we can check out a collection of heart-shaped surface features.
Back in 1960, Astronomer Frank Drake started scanning two sun-like stars with an 85-foot wide antennae in West Virginia. His goal: search for signs of life. Over the past 50 years, thanks to the advantage of significant advances in electronics, digital technology, and some help from other people, that search has really ramped up. This month, Seth Shostak of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, CA, claims it is now estimated that by 2040 enough star systems will have been scanned to have discovered alien-produced electromagnetic signals.
Besides the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest celestial body. It’s so bright that you can even see it during the daytime. Tomorrow morning, and the rest of the week, you can see Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise. That is, if it is a clear sky when you go out. Depending on where you are, Venus is about two fists above the horizon.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High
Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013. Researchers used HiRISE to examine
this site because the orbiter’s Context Camera had revealed a change in
appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the
formation of the crater between those observations.(NASA)
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
In order to test whether or not a satellite could withstand the sound blast of a launcher as it takes off and flies through the atmosphere, the scientists at the European Space Agency have developed a sound system so extreme it may be able to kill a human being if they stood in front of it.
A little while ago I blogged about the mysterious donut-like object that suddenly appeared on the surface of Mars at the base of the Opportunity rover. NASA concluded that it was only a rock and probably got there by being kicked up from one of Opportunity’s wheels while it moved from point A to point B. Well, now NASA has a lawsuit brought against them by someone that thinks the object is more than meets the eye and he wants the investigation to go further.