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Dec 10, 2018, 08:46 PM
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Author Topic: NEWS ON SPACE AND OUR PLANETARY SYSTEM  (Read 436094 times)
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« Reply #1545 on: Dec 08, 2017, 05:34 AM »

5 reasons why India, China and other nations are planning to set foot on the moon

A space race is emerging among governments and private enterprises across the world

By Marc Norman, Penelope King

No human has been to the Moon since 1972 and only 12 people have ever done it – all of them American men.

But that list could soon be getting a lot longer.

Why the Moon? Haven't we already been there, done that? Well, yes. But now there are new reasons motivating countries to reach the Moon.

Human and other missions to the Moon are planned by India, China and Russia, as well as Japan and Europe. South Korea and North Korea are also looking towards the Moon.

Even NASA seems to be getting its mojo back, recently announcing a revamped vision for a Deep Space Gateway that includes a port of call at the Moon en route to Mars and beyond. Elon Musk has also called for a Moon base.

Private companies are vying for a slice of the Moon pie, lured by Google's multi-million dollar XPRIZE that challenges entrants to develop low-cost methods for robotic space exploration.

A space race of sorts seems to back on in earnest, for five reasons.

Reason 1: a vision for innovation

In the past and still now, one reason that space attracts interest and investment is that humans seem driven to explore and push the limits, physically and viscerally.

But space also acts as a unifying force, providing a clear vision that pushes technology and innovation forwards.

After several decades of relative neglect, space exploration is again seen as driving technology, inspiring engagement with science and engineering, and creating national pride. The program at the recent International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide captured that sentiment.

These motivators are seen as especially important by emerging economies like India, China and Russia, which means that more established players like Europe and the USA have to work harder keep up.

The recent announcement that Australia will have a space agency is expected to create new opportunities for this country.

Reason 2: economic and geopolitical advantages

Paradoxically, exploration of the Moon builds both international cooperation and competition.

Even if they don't have their own space program, countries can develop instruments to fly on spacecraft that are built and launched by other nations. For example, India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft carried instruments from Sweden, Germany, UK, Bulgaria, and the US to the Moon. This helps mesh economies and provides strong motivation to keep the peace.

Economic and geopolitical competition occurs because the Moon is seen as unclaimed territory. No country is allowed to own the Moon, at least according to a 1967 UN Treaty that has agreement from over 100 countries.

Nonetheless, there are incentives to place a claim on the Moon. For example, helium-3 (an isotope of the element helium) is abundant on the Moon, but rare on Earth. It is a potential fuel for nuclear fusion, a potentially unlimited and non-polluting source of energy. China, in particular, has stated a strong interest in lunar helium-3.

The situation appears similar to that of Antarctica in the 1950s, when the continent was subdivided by the 12 countries that had active scientific programs in the region at the time. Sending a spacecraft to the Moon – even if it fails prematurely like India's Chandrayaan-1 – may provide a compelling case for recognition if the Moon were ever to be carved up into zones of research and economic development.

Russia, China, Japan, Europe and the USA landed (or crashed) spacecraft on the Moon in the decades after Apollo.

Reason 3: an easy target

Growing space agencies need successful missions, and the Moon is a tempting target. Radio communication over the relatively short distance between the Earth and Moon (384,400 km) is almost instantaneous (1-2 sec). Between Earth and Mars, two-way communication times can be the better part of an hour.

The low gravity and lack of an atmosphere on the Moon also simplifies operations for orbiters and landers.

The Russian Luna missions showed that it is technically feasible to apply robotics to bring samples from the Moon to Earth. China aims to launch a robotic mission to the Moon in the next 1-2 years to fetch samples. If successful, these will be the first samples brought back from the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976.

Reason 4: new discoveries

Despite decades of observations, each new mission to the Moon produces new discoveries.
China spacecraft launch

Japan's Selene spacecraft and India's Chandrayaan-1 mission discovered new distributions of minerals on the Moon, and probed regions of potential resources.

An exciting discovery has been the presence of water ice and other organic compounds in permanently shadowed regions of the Moon that never see sunlight. If present in sufficient quantities, water ice on the Moon could be used as a resource for generating fuel or supporting human habitation. This would be a major advantage for future missions considering the cost of carrying water from the Earth to the Moon.

Although immense engineering advances are needed to recover these resources from environments as cold as -250℃, such challenges drive new technologies.

Reason 5: we learn about Earth

Aside from the practicalities, exploration of the Moon has revealed completely new ideas about the origin of the Solar system.

Prior to the Apollo missions, planets were thought to form over long periods of time by the slow agglomeration of dusty particles. Moon rocks returned to Earth by the Apollo missions changed that idea literally overnight. We now know that gigantic collisions between planets were common, and one such collision of a Mars-size planet with the Earth probably formed the Moon (animation).

We've also learned that the dark circular features on the Moon are scars of impacting asteroids stirred up by shifts in the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn.

Future studies of the Moon will undoubtedly lead to even deeper insights into the origin of the Earth, our home planet.

Space exploration is not only about "out there". Travel to the Moon creates jobs, technical innovations and new discoveries that improve the lives of all of us "down here".

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« Reply #1546 on: Dec 09, 2017, 06:23 AM »

Astronomers just discovered a supermassive black hole from the dawn of the universe

Popular Science
09 Dec 2017 at 22:30 ET       

And it's much bigger than we expected.

There was a bang. A big one. It was the beginning of everything, but for several hundred million years, all was darkness. Then, lights started flickering to life, stars and gases and galaxies all coming online.

One of the brightest lights during that dawn had a dark and hungry hole at its heart. More massive than 800 million suns, the black hole existed just 690 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was still an infant.

Researchers, including Eduardo Bañados, reported the existence of the black hole and it’s accompanying bright quasar in a paper in Nature this week. The astronomers were looking for evidence of black holes in these early days of the universe, but they were still surprised at the sheer size of this one, named J1342+0928.

Black holes are points in the universe where gravity is so intense that nothing can escape. Not rocks, not gas, not even light. Near large black holes, surrounding material swirls around to form something called an accretion disk. Material in the disk spins at thousands of miles per second, heating up as it moves and slams into other bits of dusts and gas, all riding the same frantic carousel toward doom.

The material itself spins down into the black hole, never to be seen again, but its jostling releases energy that heads out into the universe in the form of immensely bright heat and light. That light made the quasar that Bañados and his co-authors were able to detect, which they used to estimate J1342+0928's surprising mass.

Bañados says that a typical black hole, forming as a star collapses, might have the mass of 50 to 100 suns. “If you make it grow, feed it material like gas from its surroundings and let it grow for 690 million years, you wouldn’t be able to reach the size of this supermassive black hole,” Bañados says.

To figure out how this black hole could have gotten so large so quickly, observational astronomers like Bañados must team up with theoretical astronomers and astrophysicists. In the process, they’re also looking into ever-so-slightly broader questions, like the evolution of everything. “This object is so distant and so luminous that it provides a laboratory to study the early universe,” Bañados says.

Bañados has discovered about half of the most distant quasars on record, but this one—while not the most massive—is the furthest of them all. Because light takes time to travel, the more distant an object is, the earlier back in history we're peering when we look at it. So this object comes from earlier in the universe's lifespan than any of the others scientists have observed.

“This record is nice, but we’re not doing this for the record,” Bañados says. “This is so mature that I would be very surprised if this is the first quasar ever formed. I hope we or someone else will break this record soon.”

This particular quasar is so bright that it outshines the galaxy where it’s located—it’s 1000 times more luminous. And it’s not like that galaxy is a slouch either, even though the quasar at its heart drowns it out in both the optical and ultraviolet wavelengths of light. Fortunately, if you look at the galaxy in longer wavelengths, you can start to see some details. Bañados is a co-author on another paper that came out this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters that focuses on the galaxy around the black hole. They the galaxy was positively choked with interstellar dust, producing somewhere around 100 new solar masses (the mass of our star) per year. Our galaxy only makes about one solar mass per year.

They were also able to detect something about the neighborhood of space around the black hole, finding that about half of the area had un-ionized hydrogen (which would have blocked out light, leading to those first few hundreds of millions of years of darkness in the universe) and half had ionized hydrogen, indicating that this black hole could have existed at the time when the universe switched from being dominated by the former to the latter.

“How this happened and when this happened have fundamental implications for the evolution of the universe later on,” Bañados says. “But we need to find and keep searching for more objects even further away and try to repeat that experiment.”

Luckily, there are now more opportunities to look into those universal origins. In 2018, Bañados and other researchers around the world will use a variety of telescopes to explore this object more thoroughly and look for others in the night sky.

“We’re a very fortunate generation,” Bañados says. “We’re the first human beings to have the technology to study and characterize in detail some of the first galaxies and black holes that formed in the universe. If that's not fascinating, I don’t know what is.

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« Reply #1547 on: Dec 11, 2017, 05:52 AM »

‘Potentially dangerous’ asteroid will fly by Earth before Christmas

International Business Times

A giant asteroid will fly precariously close to Earth mid-December. The object named 3200 Phaethon will come about 6.4 million miles from Earth, and within about 2 million miles of Earth's orbit. In fact, the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Minor Planet Center has categorized 3200 Phaethon as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).

This asteroid is named after Greek God Phaetheon, son of Helios (god of the Sun), who according to mythology, set Earth ablaze. The giant asteroid, which measures 3.1 miles across, is set to fly really close to us and has got astronomers interested.

It was first discovered way back in 1983, and its most recent pass of Earth came in 2007 where it was measured to be at a distance of roughly 11.2 million miles from our planet. This was considered pretty close back in 2007 but still fell under the distance bracket which was not a reason for alarm. This time, the asteroid will fly by at 6.4 million miles which is almost half the measured distance of 2007. So this object is steadily getting closer and this story is headed exactly where your conspiracy-fuelled imagination is taking you, right now.

The fly-by is estimated to happen just days before the annual Geminids meteor shower, which is expected to be active between Dec. 4 and Dec. 16. The estimated peak of the shower will be on Dec. 13-14. The Geminids sky event is quite unique, as it is the only meteor shower with a parent that is not a comet but an object that seems to be the mysterious, 3200 Phaethon asteroid.

Though it is technically classified as an asteroid, there are still questions as to the origins of the heavenly body. There have been several questions regarding why an asteroid causes a meteor shower which was never heard of before the discovery of 3200 Phaethon. Questions regarding the composition of this space rock have been raised and the fly-by in December will be a great opportunity to study this rock up-close.

Current theories on the origin of this asteroid are that the Phaethon broke off from another space object and ejects meteoroids as a result or that perhaps it collided with another object thousands of years ago. There was also the theory that perhaps Phaethon is a dead comet that once had ice. However, none of the theories hold up to the current data that they have.

According to NASA, it’s technically defined as an asteroid, in fact, the first ever to be discovered by satellite. But it’s also the parent object that produces a unique meteor shower called the Geminids, something asteroids are incapable of producing. Other theories say that it’s a dead comet, or a rock comet.

According to a press release by NASA about the 2007 flyby, the asteroid is usually too dim for the naked eye, but a good target for amateur telescopes equipped with CCD cameras. It is potentially detectable for three weeks, but will be at its brightest between Dec. 11-21.

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« Reply #1548 on: Dec 12, 2017, 05:22 AM »

NASA and Google to announce huge Kepler discovery

12 Dec 2017 at 08:24 ET   

NASA has called a press conference to reveal a breakthrough discovery from its alien-hunting Kepler telescope. The discovery was driven by Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence software.

The announcement will be live-streamed on NASA’s website, according to a press release. It will take place Thursday, December 14 at 1 p.m. EST.
Kepler’s missions

The Kepler telescope—which launched in 2009—has discovered thousands of planets outside of our solar system. “Thanks to Kepler’s treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky,” the press release states.

Kepler’s original mission was completed in 2012. It confirmed the existence of 2,337 exoplanets and 4,496 possible candidates.

Thirty exoplanets exist in habitable zones. This means they are the right distance from their neighboring stars to host extraterrestrial life.

In 2014, Kepler began a new exoplanet-hunting mission: K2. This has confirmed the existence of 178 exoplanets to date, with 515 further potential planets. K2 is also “introducing new research opportunities to study young stars, supernovae and other cosmic phenomena,” according to the press release.

Experts from NASA and Google will be on hand to explain the latest breakthrough. Attendees will include Paul Hertz, the director of NASA’s Astrophysics division in Washington D.C., as well as Christopher Shallue from Google. Shallue is a senior research software engineer at Google Brain—the tech giant’s machine intelligence research team.

Google Brain is responsible for research which helps robots pick up sand and teaches machines to be fair.

Cagey on the details, NASA’s press release states that machine learning “demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data.”

Exactly what this new method of combing has revealed, we will have to wait until Thursday to see.

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« Reply #1549 on: Dec 13, 2017, 05:18 AM »

Astronomers to check interstellar body for signs of alien technology

Green Bank telescope in West Virginia will listen for radio signals from ‘Oumuamua, an object from another solar system

Ian Sample Science editor
13 December 2017 19.51 GMT

Astronomers are to use one of the world’s largest telescopes to check a mysterious object that is speeding through the solar system for signs of alien technology.

The Green Bank telescope in West Virginia will listen for radio signals being broadcast from a cigar-shaped body which was first spotted in the solar system in October. The body arrived from interstellar space and reached a peak speed of 196,000 mph as it swept past the sun.

Scientists on the Breakthrough Listen project, which searches for evidence of alien civilisations, said the Green Bank telescope would monitor the object, named ‘Oumuamua, from Wednesday. The first phase of observations is expected to last 10 hours and will tune in to four different radio transmission bands.

“Most likely it is of natural origin, but because it is so peculiar, we would like to check if it has any sign of artificial origin, such as radio emissions,” said Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project. “If we do detect a signal that appears artificial in origin, we’ll know immediately.”

The interstellar body, the first to be seen in the solar system, was initially spotted by researchers on the Pan-Starrs telescope, which the University of Hawaii uses to scan the heavens for killer asteroids. Named after the Hawaiian word for “messenger”, the body was picked up as it swept past Earth at 85 times the distance to the moon.

While many astronomers believe the object is an interstellar asteroid, its elongated shape is unlike anything seen in the asteroid belt in our own solar system. Early observations of ‘Oumuamua show that it is about 400m long but only one tenth as wide. “It’s curious that the first object we see from outside the solar system looks like that,” said Loeb.

The object’s orbit

The body is now about twice as far from Earth as the sun, but from that distance the Green Bank telescope can still detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone. Loeb said that while he did not expect Green Bank to detect an alien transmission, it was worth checking.

“The chances that we’ll hear something are very small, but if we do, we will report it immediately and then try to interpret it,” Loeb said. “It would be prudent just to check and look for signals. Even if we find an artefact that was left over and there are no signs of life on it, that would be the greatest thrill I can imagine having in my lifetime. It’s really one of the fundamental questions in science, perhaps the most fundamental: are we alone?”

The Breakthrough Listen project was launched at the Royal Society in London in 2015, when the Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking announced the effort to listen for signs of life on planets that orbit the million stars closest to Earth. The $100m project is funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, and has secured time on telescopes in the US and Australia to search for alien civilisations.

Astronomers do not have good ideas about how such elongated objects could be created in asteroid belts. By studying ‘Oumuamua more closely, they hope to learn how they might form and whether there are others in the solar system that have so far gone unnoticed. “If it’s of natural origin, there should be many more of them,” Loeb said.

Previous work on the body found it to be extremely dark red, absorbing about 96% of light that falls on it. The colour is associated with carbon-based molecules on comets and asteroids.

If, as expected, the telescope fails to pick up any intelligent broadcasts from ‘Oumuamua, the observations are still expected to aid scientists in understanding the body. Other signals detected by the Green Bank telescope could shed light on whether the object is shrouded in a comet-like cloud of gas, and reveal whether it is carrying water and ice through the solar system.

• This article was amended on 12 December 2017. A caption was edited to clarify the photograph shows an artist’s impression of the asteroid.

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« Reply #1550 on: Dec 14, 2017, 05:43 AM »

Here is why seeing Earth from space is the key to the future

International Business Times
14 Dec 2017 at 08:16 ET   

Nearly 50 years ago, an event occurred that fundamentally changed the way we see ourselves — an event that in spite of forever changing the course of human history, is one that has for the most part been forgotten.

The story begins on the winter morning of Dec. 21, 1968 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atop the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status, the Saturn V, sat Apollo 8 with its three-astronaut crew: Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders.

The aim of the mission: to be the first crewed spacecraft to reach and orbit the Moon, and of course, return safely to Earth.

Three days later, on Christmas Eve in 1968 — when Apollo 8 came out from behind the Moon on its fourth orbit — the crew witnessed something never before seen by human eyes. Commander Borman was the first to see the amazing sight and called in excitement to the others, taking a black-and-white photo as he did. In the ensuing scramble, Anders took a more famous color photo that has come to be known as Earthrise.

"Earthrise" taken by Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. Photo: Bill Anders/NASA

The Earthrise photograph is arguably the most influential photograph ever taken.

This image revolutionized how we see the world — how we see ourselves — with its simple message: We are one people traveling on one planet toward one common future. Unfortunately, the significance and meaning of this image has, for the most part, been forgotten.
Experiencing the Orbital Perspective

Forty years after that first Earthrise, I was also able to view our home planet from space.

The digital clock in the center of Discovery’s control panel, right in front of me, counted down to within a minute. As it reached below ten seconds, I prepared for the main engines to light. Once the main engines spun up to full power and the solid rocket boosters fired, I felt as if the entire space shuttle had just been released from a giant slingshot.

On that first day in space, the most spectacular moment was when I looked out the window for the first time. When I was able to unstrap and get out of my seat — after my tasks were finished and I was able to really take a look at our planet — it was just absolutely breathtaking.

The first thing that struck me was how thin the atmosphere appeared. I realized in that moment that this paper-thin layer keeps every living thing on Earth alive.

You can’t help falling in love with the beauty of Earth. It’s a constant dance of light, colors and motion. And what's really amazing — and beautiful — is watching the colors change on the Earth; watching thunderstorms casting long shadows across the horizon; and watching the clouds turn to pink and red, and then grey and finally black.

I watched the Earth come alive as we passed into the dark side of the orbit and watched all the lights of the cities and towns — all the evidence of human activity — all of a sudden come to life, making the Earth appear as a living breathing, organism. I saw the paparazzi-like flashes of lightning storms and dancing curtains of auroras that felt so close I could reach out and touch them. It was really beautiful to see.
Our Fragile Oasis

What I experienced in space was an immense gratitude for the opportunity to see Earth from that vantage point as well as for the gift of the planet we’ve been given. And in some way that I can’t fully explain, being physically detached from Earth made me feel deeply interconnected with everyone on it.

This feeling of interconnectedness became real to me on my second mission to space, during which I spent half of 2011 aboard the International Space Station. It was a mission that started with a launch from Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

An astronaut is pictured working with Earth shown in the background. Photo: Ron Garan/NASA

The International Space Station is not only an amazing technical accomplishment — probably the most complex structure ever built — but also one of the most amazing examples of international cooperation.

Fifteen nations — some that have not always been the best of friends, some who were on opposite sides of the Cold War, and some who were on opposing sides of the space race — found a way to set aside their differences and achieve something amazing in space. I wondered what the world would be like if we could overcome our cultural barriers to collaboration. How many fewer problems we would all face if we could figure out how to have the same level of cooperation in our interactions on Earth’s surface.

I was born in the year that Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, at the height of the Cold War. Fifty years later, almost to the day — and from the very same launch pad from which Gagarin launched — I too launched into space on a craft bearing his name as a fully integrated member of a Russian spacecraft crew with a couple of couple Russian military officers. As we stood at the base of the rocket that would take us to space on a cold April evening at a previously top-secret Soviet military installation, I looked up at the rocket and saw an American flag displayed side-by-side with a Russian flag.

You have to realize that for the first 15 years of my adult life, I trained to fight the Russians, who were America’s most threatening enemy at the time. I served as a Cold War fighter pilot stationed in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I also fought in combat in another part of the world and saw first-hand the horrors of war. Back then, I was operating with a two-dimensional mentality of us vs. them. Unfortunately, this is still the primary operating system of our planet.
Humanity Is at a Critical Point in History

The Earthrise image captured by the Apollo 8 astronauts shows that we are one people traveling through the universe together on one planet toward one shared destiny. From this perspective, you can’t see nation-states. All you see is the fragile oasis that is our home planet Earth.

But the way that we’re currently operating, our business decisions and political motives are based on a two-dimensional map. We live as though everything, including the very life support systems of our planet, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the global economy — but they’re not.

Earth from space. Photo: Mike Fossum/NASA

Instead, we must create and build a future that is based on the image of Earthrise.

The image itself embodies three key pillars: interdependence, long-term thinking and profound collaboration. All are wrapped in a blanket of empathy and compassion. We cannot continue as a species with a two-dimensional map as our model. Humanity is at a critical point in history.
The Time for Change Is Now

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Earthrise. We are bringing together a group of astronauts from all around the world who have seen the Earth from the Orbital Perspective to form the core of an international coalition called Constellation to reimagine the next 50 years.

Constellation is framing the story as a 100-year journey through space, one that started on Dec. 24, 1968, when we first saw the whole planet hanging in the blackness of space. It’s also a journey to 2068, the 100-year anniversary of Earthrise. We are asking people to co-imagine what the world should look like, what principles we as a society want to be governed by in 50 years. What’s the basic operating system of our planet in 2068? And what’s the roadmap to get to this positive visionary future?

Next September, we are going to bring the message of a possible Earthrise future to world leaders gathered at the U.N. General Assembly. We are also taking this message to people and organizations around the world. We are looking to make massive course corrections to the very trajectory of our society.

I want to offer readers a challenge: I ask you to look for solutions that embody the three key values of Earthrise: interdependence, long-term thinking and profound collaboration. Interdependence is the understanding that what happens on one side of our planet affects everywhere else. Long-term thinking moves away from a time horizon that considers only the next shareholder report or election cycle and starts to think multi-generationally. And one of the key requirements enabling profound collaboration is openness and transparency, as well as the willingness to share data.

With these principles in place, we can propel real solutions that will help create a better world in 2068. We have the capacity for so much when we work together on a visionary future that we can all believe in.

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« Reply #1551 on: Dec 15, 2017, 05:05 AM »

Tiny Moon May Orbit Distant Object That NASA’s New Horizons Probe Will Visit

DEC. 15, 2017
NY Times

In just over a year, a NASA spacecraft will visit a tiny world at the edge of the solar system. Now that tiny object appears to have an even tinier moon, scientists announced on Tuesday.

The object, known as 2014 MU69, is small, no more than 20 miles wide, but planetary scientists hope that it will turn out to be an ancient and pristine fragment from the earliest days of the solar system.

The moon, if it exists, might be about three miles wide, circling at a distance of about 120 miles from MU69, completing an orbit every two to four weeks, estimated Marc W. Buie, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

He cautioned that the findings were tentative. “The story could change next week,” he said.

Dr. Buie and others working on NASA’s New Horizons mission provided an update on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting here.

New Horizons flew past Pluto two years ago, sending back spectacular views that revealed a world with soaring mountains of ice, smooth plains and maybe even an subsurface ocean of liquid water.

New Horizon’s work is not yet done. Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper belt, a ring of icy debris beyond Neptune. After the Pluto flyby, mission managers shifted the spacecraft’s trajectory toward MU69, located a billion miles beyond Pluto.

New Horizons will zip past MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

MU69 is so small that it can be seen only by the Hubble Space Telescope and then only as a faint point of light. But by happenstance, it passed in front of three stars within a few weeks this summer.

Members of the New Horizons team crisscrossed oceans and continents, hoping to observe these occultations when the stars briefly vanished as MU69 passed in front of them.

Eventually their efforts enabled Dr. Buie to piece together hints of MU69’s shape — not circular but perhaps elongated like a potato or two separate objects in close orbit around each other.

But the story still was not quite right.

During an attempt in July to view an occultation from NASA’s Sofia observatory, a modified 747 jet that carries a 100-inch telescope, the astronomers did not see anything definitive, but there was a suggestive blip. Perhaps Sofia’s path just grazed the shadow.

But whatever Sofia observed was not quite in the same position as where MU69 turned out to be during successful observations in Argentina a week later. Even in the successful observations, MU69 was slightly off from the predicted location.

That might have been a consequence of uncertainties in the positions of the background stars. When Dr. Buie received an update of the star catalog — a compendium of Milky Way stars produced by a European Space Agency mission called Gaia — he reran his calculations.

The discrepancy was even larger, too large for him to reconcile. Then he realized that Sofia may have detected a second object: a moon, which could explain the discrepancies.

That could be the first of the surprises to come.

If there were just one moon, said S. Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, “then it’s kind of a needle in a haystack, and it would be unlikely that Sofia would just happen to trip over it. So this might be the harbinger. It might be a hint there’s actually a swarm of satellites around MU69.”

The presence of a moon would also add complications; its gravitational pull would cause MU69 to wobble, and the mission managers will have to adjust the observations to make sure the instruments are pointed in the right direction. But that will all have to be done in the days just before the flyby.

“That’s going to make the last few days of 2018 very exciting,” said John Spencer, the mission’s deputy project scientist.

MU69 will pass in front of a star one more time, in August next year, allowing the New Horizons team one last chance before the flyby to catch a glimpse of the object and what could be its moon.

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« Reply #1552 on: Dec 16, 2017, 06:03 AM »

Nasa find first alien solar system with as many planets as our own

Kepler scientists team up with Google AI specialists to detect eighth planet orbiting distant star

Ian Sample Science editor
16 December 2017 08.37 GMT

Scientists on Nasa’s Kepler mission have spotted an eighth planet around a distant star, making it the first alien solar system known to host as many planets as our own.

The newfound world orbits a star named Kepler 90 which is larger and hotter than the sun and lies 2,500 light years from Earth in the constellation of Draco.

Known as Kepler 90i, the freshly-discovered world is smallest of the eight now known to circle the star, and while it is probably rocky, it is a third larger than Earth and searingly hot at more than 420C.

“This ties Kepler 90 with our own solar system for having the most known planets,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington DC.

Researchers on the Kepler planet-hunting telescope discovered Kepler 90i when they teamed up with artificial intelligence specialists at Google to analyse data collected by the space-based observatory.

The Kepler telescope hunts for alien worlds by detecting the shadows planets cast as they orbit their parent stars. When a planet passes in front of its star, the telescope detects a minuscule dimming in light, which for an Earth-sized planet circling a sun-like star, can mean a fall in luminosity of a mere 0.01%.

Kepler has observed 150,000 stars to date and already discovered more than 4,000 candidate planets, of which about 2,300 have been confirmed. Astronomers now suspect at least one planet orbits every star in the sky.

For all their success with Kepler, Nasa scientists knew that more planets lay hidden in the telescope’s observations, but the signals were so weak they were difficult to spot. This is where Google’s AI researchers came in. By training a neural network to learn what bona fide signals of distant planets looked like, Christopher Shallue, a Google researcher, helped Nasa to scour Kepler’s observations of 670 stars for planets that had previously been missed.

The search turned up two new planets around different stars, Kepler 90i, and another world named Kepler 80g, the sixth planet now known to orbit its star. The scientists now plan to search Kepler’s data on all 150,000 stars for other missed planets. A research paper on the findings will be published by the Astronomical Journal.

Suzanne Aigrain, an astrophysicist at Oxford University who was not involved with the research, said: “What is perhaps most exciting is that they are able to find planets that were previously missed, suggesting there are more yet to be found using this approach.”

Earlier this year, Kepler scientists announced the discovery of 219 more candidate planets, of which 10 appeared to be about the same size and temperature as Earth.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_HRh0ZynjE

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« Reply #1553 on: Dec 18, 2017, 05:09 AM »

WATCH: US Naval officers reveal 2004 encounter with possible UFO in extraordinary New York Times interview

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
18 Dec 2017 at 13:06 ET                   

In an interview with the New York Times, two former US Naval pilots described an encounter with what they believed to be a UFO during an exercise in 2004 that left one pilot saying he “felt weirded out” right after.

According to Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight, they were 100 miles out into the Pacific  when they were hailed by radio by an operations officer aboard the U.S.S. Princeton wanting  to know if they were carrying weapons.

The two men recall that they were told, “Well, we’ve got a real-world vector for you,” with the radio operator informing them that the Princeton had been tracking a mysterious aircraft which appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, before plummeting towards the sea and hovering at  20,000 feet.

Asked to investigate the pilots searched for the object, finding it and describing it as “an aircraft of some kind — whitish — that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. The craft was jumping around erratically, staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction,” according to Fravor.

Fravor stated that, as he approached the object, “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” adding he was “pretty weirded out.”

The two pilots had other encounter with the object before it once again pulled away.

Fravor recalled that he told another pilot about the encounter, explaining to him, “I have no idea what I saw. It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s,” before adding: “I want to fly one.”

You can read the whole interview here

Video below provided U.S. Department of Defense: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000005607812/look-at-that-thing-us-navy-jet-encounters-unknown-object.html?action=click&gtype=vhs&version=vhs-heading&module=vhs&region=title-area&cview=true&t=9

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« Reply #1554 on: Dec 19, 2017, 05:16 AM »

Origin of life could lie within Mars’s crust

19 Dec 2017 at 12:35 ET

Scientists may have been searching for Martian life in the wrong place, according to a new article published in Nature Geoscience. Instead of combing the Red Planet’s surface, research should dig deep within the crust itself.

Far older and more stable than our own planet’s subsurface, scientists from Hong Kong, Hungary and the U.S. think it could teach us about the origin of life on Earth.
Digging deep into the past

At some point in the distant past, non-living matter gave rise to living matter. Scientists around the world are searching for an explanation to this fundamental process. Digging is one of scientists’ favorite ways to learn about the past. Whether it’s ancient buildings, extinct animals or early human tools, soil holds a record of history.

For something as old as the origin of life, however, our planet’s geological record is not nearly well enough preserved, the authors write. Because of this, the search for the origin of life on Earth—or the planet’s “abiogenesis”—broadly takes place in laboratories.

“The fundamental question of how abiogenesis occurred on Earth may only be answerable through finding better-preserved ‘cradle of life’ chemical systems beyond Earth,” authors of the new article write. “Such an approach might actually teach us more about the origin of life. Because the chemical signatures from the dawn of life have been entirely obliterated on Earth, finding these clues on Mars, a unique site within the solar system, would provide an invaluable window into our own history.”
Development of life

On Earth, photosynthesis—the conversion of light into nutrients—fuels a large portion of developing life. On Mars, however, the frozen desert surface exposed to over a billion years of intense radiation may never have been able to host photosynthetic life.

“Mars is not Earth,” the authors explain. “We must recognize that our entire perspective on how life has evolved and how evidence of life is preserved is colored by the fact that we live on a planet where photosynthesis evolved.”

Some of Earth’s early life has been traced to damp, warm sites underground. It is these locations on Mars, the authors argue, that might be the best place to look for non-photosynthetic life. In 2008, NASA’s Spirit Rover found evidence of almost pure opaline silica in the Red Planet’s Gustav crater. This is mineral evidence, the authors write, of wet, warm sites below the surface of Mars.

“The subsurface—from meters to kilometers (feet to miles) in depth—is potentially the largest, longest-lived and most stable habitable environment on Mars,” they report.
New exploration approaches required

At present, Martian exploration strategies usually target the planet’s surface alone for evidence of life. While some drilling has taken place, this has been relatively shallow. The Mars Curiosity rover, for example, has previously drilled into surface rock to collect samples. It cannot, however, drill very deep into the planet’s crust.

In fact, its drill is currently out of action following technological problems last year.

This kind of surface-focused approach could be mistaken, the authors write. Given the dim prospect for photosynthesis on Mars, the fingerprints of primitive life on Mars may well linger below the surface. By digging deeper, scientists may be more likely to find preserved markers of life.

“With all of this in mind,” the authors write, “It seems time to reconsider the current Mars exploration philosophy.”

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« Reply #1555 on: Dec 20, 2017, 05:10 AM »

Is our galaxy a galactic outlier? The Milky Way may not be as 'typical' as we thought

Many models for understanding the universe rely on galaxies behaving in a similar fashion to the Milky Way.

By Aristos Georgiou

The Milky Way, home to our Solar System and the Earth, is the most studied galaxy in the Universe, but it might not be as 'typical' as previously thought, according to new research.

Our galaxy is orbited by several smaller satellite galaxies that have proven useful objects of study for astronomers, helping them to understand the workings of the Milky Way itself.

However, early results from the Satellites Around Galactic Analogs (SAGA) Survey suggest that the Milky Way's satellites are unusually tranquil and inert when compared to other comparable galaxy systems, whose satellites actively pump out new stars.

This is significant, the researchers say, because most models we have for understanding the wider universe rely on galaxies behaving in a similar fashion to the Milky Way.

"We use the Milky Way and its surroundings to study absolutely everything," said Marla Geha, lead author of the paper, from Yale University. "Hundreds of studies come out every year about dark matter, cosmology, star formation, and galaxy formation, using the Milky Way as a guide. But it's possible that the Milky Way is an outlier."

Though the SAGA team say they need to collect much more data though to confirm that the Milky Way is indeed atypical, their work is already causing debate.

The goal of the SAGA survey is to identify and analyse 100 so-called 'sibling' galaxy systems, which resemble the Milky Way and its network of orbiting satellite galaxies.

"Our work puts the Milky Way into a broader context," said Risa Wechsler, a SAGA researcher from Stanford University. "The SAGA Survey will provide a critical new understanding of galaxy formation and of the nature of dark matter."

"I really want to know the answer to whether the Milky Way is unique, or totally normal," Geha said. "By studying our siblings, we learn more about ourselves.

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« Reply #1556 on: Dec 21, 2017, 05:25 AM »

NASA Identified Unknown Organisms at Space Station

21 Dec 2017 at 17:27 ET   

Astronomers at the International Space Station successfully sequenced the genes of three unknown organisms and correctly identified them without sending the samples back to Earth. The work, part of a project known as Genes in Space-3, makes identifying life on foreign planets (through their DNA) and treating sick astronauts aboard the space station closer to reality.

Related: ISS: Watch NASA Astronauts Make Pizza for Move Night in Space

The process was not easy, but scientists cracked the code by separating out DNA and making copies that could be studied. This information was then used to determine the genetic make-up of the samples so scientists could correctly determine what the unknown microbes were.

The research took place entirely on the orbiting lab, and came together in two separate process. First, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and her team collected microorganisms. Then, they created multiple samples using a process known as polymerase chain reaction. This common technique involves making new DNA strands from old ones in order to produce potentially billions of copies of a particular section of DNA.

Using their samples, scientists then transferred bacteria colonies from petri dishes into test tubes, a first for researchers in space. They sequenced DNA to determine the exact order of nucleotides, the genetic building blocks, of each. This information allowed the scientists to identify the organisms, which were previously unknown.

As NASA explained in their original announcement in April, the success was attributed to combining two techniques that were not previously used together: miniPCR, a device that allowed the team to duplicate the samples, and the MinION, a handheld machine used to sequence DNA.

“What the coupling of these different devices is doing is allowing us to take the lab to the samples, instead of us having to bring the samples to the lab,” Aaron Burton, NASA biochemist and researcher, said in a statement.

    For the first time, unknown microbes have been identified on @Space_Station, without needing to be sent back to Earth for sequencing. Watch how scientists overcame #HurricaneHarvey to complete this experiment, and what it means for space exploration. https://t.co/uK8uZVfe0Z pic.twitter.com/4cNeOj0HRQ
    — ISS Research (@ISS_Research) December 19, 2017

Making the research even more significant is that the team performed the feat during Hurricane Harvey. Researcher Sarah Wallace was on the ground at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and provided support and coaching to Whitson throughout the endeavor, which was almost stopped short due to the storm. But the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama successfully connected Wallace to Whitson via cell phone when communication at the Johnson Space Center was inhibited. According to NASA, Wallace's team helped analyze and ID what the samples were.

Eventually, the samples made it back to earth, where researchers verified that the results determined in space were in fact accurate.

“We did it. Everything worked perfectly,” said microbiologist and researcher Sarah Stahl, in a statement.

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« Reply #1557 on: Dec 22, 2017, 05:19 AM »

Spooky skull-shaped asteroid will haunt Earth in 2018

22 Dec 2017 at 16:20 ET

Alas, poor 2015 TB145, which by a twist of fate immediately and irrevocably became nicknamed the "Halloween asteroid" after its skull-like form skimmed 300,000 miles away from Earth on October 31, 2015. That's just a little bit farther away from Earth than the distance at which the moon orbits us. But one visit wasn't enough for this space rock, which will visit our neighborhood again next November.

The asteroid's fly by in 2015 allowed scientists to become more familiar with its infinite scientific jests, like the fact that it measures between about 2,100 feet across. That plus its orbital path makes it a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, living up to its spooky nickname.

They also tried to pin down more clues to the asteroid's life. Much of the secret to studying asteroids lies in catching its flashes of reflected light. That lets scientists estimate, for example, at what speed it is rotating as it hurtles through space—likely about once every three hours in this object's case, although some data suggests it may be more like once every five hours.

Those flashes were few and far between, however, since the surface of 2015 TB145 is painted thick with molecules that reflect only 5 or 6 percent of the light that hits it. “This means that it is very dark, only slightly more reflective than charcoal,” Pablo Santos-Sanz, an astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, told Spanish news agency SINC.

They also got a sense of the object's path, determining that it traces an oval between perilously near the sun (closer even than Mercury orbits it) and out past Jupiter. Even though 2015 marked the first time scientists spotted it, they believe it's an ancient object.

Read more: Panspermia: Mysterious Asteroid 'Oumuamua Could Be a Galactic Bus Carrying Life Between Solar Systems

But then, just two weeks after scientists began studying it, 2015 TB145 slipped out of range of telescopes, putting an end to its gibes and gambols. The asteroid was first spotted by Pan-STARRS, a Hawaiian telescope that two years later caught scientists' first glimpse of a similar object that hailed from another solar system.

But unlike so many other skull-shaped objects, 2015 TB145 is far from dead: Scientists have also figured out that 2015 TB145 is doomed to visit Earth again next November, when it will skim past Earth at about a quarter of the distance as that to the sun. Astronomers are now gearing up to meet it again to gain a still better sense of what's happening on this giant cosmic skull.

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« Reply #1558 on: Dec 26, 2017, 05:17 AM »

How did water on Mars disappear?

International Business Times
26 Dec 2017 at 06:37 ET     

Our efforts to put humans on Mars has been gathering steam. Big private space technology companies have been gearing up efforts to reach deep space of which Mars will be the first stop. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, along with several other private superpowers like Virgin Galactic and Blur Origin have ramped up their efforts to be the ones to make this possible.

But, along the way we are making some fascinating findings about our red neighbor that could help us understand it better before we head there. Now, scientists from Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences have published a study that said water on Mars did not evaporate or just disappear but is hiding in the rocks.

The discussion of Mars’s life holding capacity often starts with whether the planet has water. Since we found the first signs of ice and established that Mars could have held frozen or liquid water in the past, we have been trying to figure out where it all went.

New research published in the journal Nature suggests that the Martian surface acted like a sponge and absorbed all the flowing water on Mars, causing rocks to oxidize and give the planet the barren landscape we now see.

Previous research by the team pointed to a collapse in the magnetic field in the red planet’s past which resulted in the loss of water to space. They thought high-intensity solar winds could have carried the water away or it could just be laying low in as an icy core.

The team looked to study if the rocks on Mars absorbed water like on Earth and also analyze the role of the Martian surface in the eventual disappearance of water from the planet.

The team assessed the role rock temperature, sub-surface pressure, and general Martian make-up, have on the planetary surfaces.

The results revealed that the basalt rocks found on Mars can hold approximately 25 percent more water than rocks on Earth. This, as a result, drew the water from the Martian surface into its interior.

“People have thought about this question for a long time, but never tested the theory of the water being absorbed as a result of simple rock reactions. There are pockets of evidence that together, leads us to believe that a different reaction is needed to oxidize the Martian mantle. For instance, Martian meteorites are chemically reduced compared to the surface rocks, and compositionally look very different. One reason for this, and why Mars lost all of its water, could be in its mineralogy,” said Jon Wade, NERC Research Fellow in Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences. He was also the lead author of the study.

The basaltic crust on Mars was formed by water reacting with the freshly erupted lava. This resulted in the rocks absorbing the water, which reacted with the rocks to form a variety of water-bearing minerals.

“Mars is much smaller than Earth, with a different temperature profile and higher iron content of its silicate mantle. These are only subtle distinctions but they cause significant effects that, over time, add up. They made the surface of Mars more prone to reaction with surface water and able to form minerals that contain water. Because of these factors the planet's geological chemistry naturally drags water down into the mantle, whereas on early Earth hydrated rocks tended to float until they dehydrate,” he said in a press release on the University of Oxford website.

The team showed that studying the chemical composition of a planet is essential in determining the future and past of the planet. The study of minerals present in rocks shows us the slow chemical reactions the planet underwent during evolution.

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« Reply #1559 on: Dec 27, 2017, 05:14 AM »

What scientists have learned 4 months after the eclipse

27 Dec 2017 at 17:33 ET 

This year, eclipse fever swept over Americans eager to see a cross-country phenomenon as the moon blotted out the sun, leaving a brilliant halo of light hanging over a sudden midday darkness. Plenty of scientists also caught eclipse fever, but their excitement was a little more targeted: The alignment of Earth, moon and sun offers a precious window in which they can gather measurements that are usually impossible to make.

Total solar eclipses themselves are actually quite common, occurring about once every 18 months. But this particular eclipse was unusual in that throughout most of its duration, it was visible over American land. For amateurs, that meant it was much cheaper to travel to than many eclipses are, but for scientists, it meant they could watch the eclipse from land without blinking for about an hour and a half all told.

And four months later, we're finally starting to see some results from the huge range of projects that aimed to tap into the opportunity offered by the eclipse.

One of those projects used telescopes perched on board two converted airplanes to chase the sun's outermost layer, the corona, for a total of about seven minutes. The corona usually isn't visible, but it's all that's left to see after the layer that produces most of the sun's light, the photosphere, is blocked by the moon. The shaky footage those telescopes produced is now letting scientists study giant magnetic waves that ripple out through the corona. The corona was a popular target during the eclipse, and other projects looked at changes in temperature and speed within the corona.

Other projects were faster to get results, like a project that sent high-altitude balloons up to study eclipse changes to the atmosphere. That data has told scientists that the very bottom of Earth's atmosphere sinks during an eclipse the same way it sinks overnight. Within a few months, that same project could also tell us how well equipped terrestrial bacteria are to colonize Mars, which turns out to look quite like Earth's stratosphere but darker—precisely what happens during an eclipse.

Read more: How the Moon Was Formed: Scientists Blame Giant Impact With a Rock Smaller Than Mars

Another type of experiment looked at how changes in the charged particles of the upper atmosphere affected communications. That's a model of sorts for less predictable changes, like those caused by solar flares, which means the August observations could help make satellite-based communications more reliable.

And of course, as  Newsweek reported Monday, the eclipse also produced a phenomenon scientists had never seen before, wake-like bow waves rippling out across the planet's upper atmosphere. Chances are, even that discovery will be eclipsed by what we have left to learn from August's incredible celestial alignment. 

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