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Posts Tagged ‘Earth’

Lost in Space: A Starless Planet Floats Alone

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 15, 2012


SSPL / GETTY IMAGES This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf surrounded by a swirling disk of planet-building dust. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope spotted such a disk around a surprisingly low-mass brown dwarf, or "failed star."

SSPL / GETTY IMAGES This artist’s concept shows a brown dwarf surrounded by a swirling disk of planet-building dust. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope spotted such a disk around a surprisingly low-mass brown dwarf, or “failed star.”

Just 20 years ago, astronomers imagined that planets beyond the Solar System would be more or less like the ones we know: small, rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars orbiting relatively close to their stars, and big, gassy ones like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, farther away. (Even then, Pluto was recognized as an oddball, though it hadn’t been demoted yet.) Then the first actual exoplanet was discovered, and it turned out to be a big, gaseous world orbiting ridiculously close to its star. Dozens of others very much like it soon turned up, and the astronomers’ preconceptions were abruptly laid to rest.

(PhotosWindow on Infinity: Pictures from Space)

But at least these so-called “hot Jupiters” actually orbited a star. Not so for a new planet just reported in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The object, known only as CFBDSIR2149, appears to be a planet from four to seven times as massive as Jupiter, floating along with a cluster of stars known as the AB Doradus Moving Group — but tethered to no one star in particular.

That’s the only reason the planet was spotted at all, in fact. If it were orbiting a star, the parent sun’s bright glare would make even a huge planet tough to discern. It would be like trying to see a candle sitting next to a  searchlight. The team of French and Canadian astronomers who made the discovery weren’t looking for planets in any case. They were looking for brown dwarfs, objects too big to be classified as planets, but too small to ignite the nuclear reactions that would qualify them as full-blown stars.

(MoreThe Very First Stars)

But when CFBDSIR2149 showed up in the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea, says co-discoverer Etienne Artigau, of the University of Montreal, “we saw that it was very red compared with the typical brown dwarf.” That meant it was relatively cool. It could still be a brown dwarf, but it would have to be billions of years old to have lost so much of its internal heat. If the object were very young, its temperature ruled it out as a brown dwarf at all. In general, says Artigau, “it would not be a trivial thing to distinguish an old, massive object from a young, small one.” Read the rest of this entry »

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How Earth Formed: Prevailing Theory Is Flawed, Study Suggests

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 19, 2012

Earth Hot Formation

‘Blue Marble’ gets a makeover–Earth’s formation was actually much hotter than previously thought.


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Earth probably formed in a hotter, drier part of the solar system than previously thought, which could explain our planet’s puzzling shortage of water, a new study reports.

Our newly forming solar system‘s “snow line” — the zone beyond which icy compounds could condense 4.5 billion years ago — was actually much farther away from the sun than prevailing theory predicts, according to the study.

“Unlike the standard accretion-disk model, the snow line in our analysis never migrates inside Earth’s orbit,” co-author Mario Livio, of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, said in a statement.

“Instead, it remains farther from the sun than the orbit of Earth, which explains why our Earth is a dry planet,” Livio added. “In fact, our model predicts that the other innermost planets — Mercury, Venus and Mars— are also relatively dry. ” [A Photo Tour of the Planets]

Earth a dry planet?

Referring to Earth — with its vast oceans, huge rivers and polar ice caps — as a dry planet may sound strange. But water makes up less than 1 percent of our planet’s mass, and much of that material was likely delivered by comets and asteroids after Earth’s formation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Asteroid Telescope: Scientists Unveil Plan To Protect Earth From Rogue Space Rocks

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 29, 2012

By ALICIA CHANG AP Share on Google+

Asteroid Telescope

LOS ANGELES — Who will protect us from a killer asteroid? A team of ex-NASA astronauts and scientists thinks it’s up to them.

In a bold plan unveiled Thursday, the group wants to launch its own space telescope to spot and track small and mid-sized space rocks capable of wiping out a city or continent. With that information, they could sound early warnings if a rogue asteroid appeared headed toward our planet.

So far, the idea from the B612 Foundation is on paper only.

Such an effort would cost upward of several hundred million dollars, and the group plans to start fundraising. Behind the nonprofit are a space shuttle astronaut, Apollo 9 astronaut, former Mars czar, deep space mission manager along with other non-NASA types.

Asteroids are leftovers from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago. Most reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but some get nudged into Earth’s neighborhood.

NASA and a network of astronomers routinely scan the skies for these near-Earth objects. And they’ve found 90 percent of the biggest threats – asteroids at least two-thirds of a mile across that are considered major killers. Scientists believe it was a 6-mile-wide asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Read the rest of this entry »

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GJ1214b, New ‘Water World’ Planet Confirmed By Hubble Telescope

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on February 22, 2012

Astronomers have identified a new category of planet which is dominated by water.

GJ1214b, which was discovered in 2009, is a “water world” enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere, researchers using Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescopehave confirmed.

The watery planet exists in a solar system known to already contain rocky, terrestrial worlds (like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars), gas giants (including Jupiter and Saturn) and ice giants like Uranus and Neptune.

Planets orbiting distant stars come in an even wider variety, including lava worlds and “hot Jupiters”.

Zachory Berta, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA), said: “GJ1214b is like no planet we know of. A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”

GJ1214b was discovered in 2009 by the ground-based MEarth (pronounced “mirth”) Project, which is led by CfA’s David Charbonneau. This super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs almost 7 times as much. It orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles, giving it an estimated temperature of 450° Fahrenheit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Looking to the Stars: NASA Touts ‘Beautiful’ Meteor Shower Wednesday

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on January 3, 2012


NASA / MEO / B. COOKE False-color image of a rare early Quadrantid, captured by a NASA meteor camera in 2010.

Heads up for stargazers: an annual meteor shower early Wednesday morning promises a “brief, beautiful show” worth waking – or staying – up for this year.

The Quadrantids, a little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, should peak for a few hours after 3 a.m. on Jan. 4. The agency has billed it as “an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.” (Alas, it will only be visible from the northern hemisphere.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Scientists Discover a Diamond as Big as a Planet

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 26, 2011


Back in the 1920s, the great Jazz Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald published a story titled The Diamond as Big as the Ritz —

An artist's conception of the pulsar PSR J1719-1438 (bright dot, center) and the Jupiter-mass planet that orbits it (smaller dot, with the orbit traced by a dashed line) Swinburne Astronomy Productions

the Ritz-Carlton hotel, that is, which even in those pre-high-rise days was a pretty hefty chunk of real estate. Fitzgerald wasn’t a science-fiction writer, so he didn’t have to explain how such a thing could possibly exist. Lucky thing too since it couldn’t. Not on earth, anyway.

But the universe is a vast and strange place, where all sorts of seemingly impossible things happen routinely. Still, a paper just published in Science seems to teeter on the edge of utter fantasy: 20 trillion miles away lies a star more massive than the sun but only 15 miles across, spinning around more than 100 times a second — and orbiting that star is a diamond the size, not of a mere luxury hotel, but of the planet Jupiter. Oh, and the diamond used to be a star too, before it turned into a planet.(See photos of the universe, to scale.)

Surprisingly, perhaps, most of that story is old news to astronomers. The fast-spinning star is a pulsar, a superdense chunk of matter left over when a massive star explodes, then collapses in on itself. If what’s left over weighs more than three times as much as the sun, it collapses forever, forming a black hole. But if it’s a bit smaller, it turns into a whirling neutron star whose intense magnetic field generates a beacon of radio waves that sweeps across the universe like the beam of a lighthouse — in this case, flashing more than 10,000 times every minute. When pulsars, as they became named, were discovered in the 1960s, they were nicknamed LGM for “little green men.” Nobody could imagine a natural force that could generate such a rapid, precisely timed series of radio blasts.

The natural explanation wasn’t long in coming though, and astronomers have since found hundreds upon hundreds of pulsars. They’ve also found that slight variations in the timing of the pulses can be indirect evidence for objects orbiting a pulsar. The gravitational pull of, say, a planet, will make the radio flashes arrive closer together, then farther apart, then closer, in a regularly changing rhythm. In fact, the first planets ever discovered beyond our solar system were found this way in 1992, but thanks to the intense radiation coming off a pulsar, there’s no chance life could exist on them.

All of this has long since become a standard part of astronomy textbooks. What’s not standard at all is the idea of a star actually turning into a planet — but that, says Matthew Bailes, astronomer at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology and lead author of the Science paper, isn’t as crazy as it sounds. He suggests that originally this odd couple was a pair of ordinary stars orbiting each other. One was more or less like the sun, the other perhaps 10 times as massive. The bigger star exploded, leaving behind a neutron star. Meanwhile, the sunlike star aged in the normal way, eventually swelling, blowing off its outer layers and collapsing to the white hot ember known as a white dwarf star. That’s just what will happen to our sun in 5 billion years or so. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Diamond Planet’ Found Near Star

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 26, 2011

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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Nepali Researcher Lujendra Ojha: Briny water may be at work in seasonal flows on Mars

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 7, 2011

Dark, finger-like features that appear and extend down some Martian slopes during the warmest months of the Mars year may show activity of salty water on Mars. They fade in winter, then recur the next spring. Repeated observations by the HiRISE camera currently orbiting Mars aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have tracked seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere. Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers.

“The best explanation we have for these observations so far is flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and the lead author of a report about the recurring flows published on August 5 by the journal Science.

Other explanations remain possible, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternative hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the temperature at which water freezes. Some sites with the dark flows get warm enough to keep water liquid if it is about as salty as Earth‘s oceans, but temperatures in those areas would not melt pure water ice. Sites with liquid brines could be important to future studies of whether life exists on Mars and to understanding the history of water.

The features are only about 0.5 to 5 yards or meters wide, with lengths up to hundreds of meters. That is much narrower than previously reported gullies on Martian slopes. They have been seen in only about one percent as many locations as larger Mars gullies, but some of those locations display more than 1,000 individual flows. Also, while gullies are abundant on cold, pole-facing slopes, these dark flows are not.

The team first discovered the strange features after University of Arizona student Lujendra Ojha, at the time a junior majoring in geophysics, used a change detection algorithm capable of identifying subtle changes occurring on the Martian surface over time in image pairs during an independent study project.

“I was baffled when I first saw those features in the images after I had run them through my algorithm,” said Ojha, who is a co-author on the Science publication. “We soon realized they were different from slope streaks that had been observed before. These are highly seasonal, and we observed some of them had grown by more than 200 meters in a matter of just two Earth months.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Probe finds liquid water clues on Mars

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 4, 2011


A NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars has discovered evidence of liquid water flowing through its soil, increasing the prospects for finding Martian life. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe spotted seasonal changes in the landscape in warmer regions of the red planet at mid latitudes.

 Orbital imagery combined with 3-D modelling shows seasonal flows   imagery combined with 3-D modelling shows seasonal flows (NASA)

Dark, finger-like patterns recorded by its HiRISE camera on martian slopes are most likely to be caused by salty water, or brine, running within it. Expert geologists reckon that is the best explanation to fit the evidence they have collected, though they warn it is not conclusive proof.

The discovery, published in the leading journal Science, was heralded by a special press conference called by NASA tonight. One of the four scientists on the panel was Professor Lisa Pratt, of Indiana University, a leading expert in finding life deep underground on Earth and on Mars.

Her special interests are life in desert-like conditions, salty lakes, and evaluating how life might evolve on a planet like Mars with very limited water. Saltiness lowers the temperature at which water freezes. Sites with liquid brines could therefore be important to future studies of whether life exists on Mars. Read the rest of this entry »

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Black Hole Drinks 140 Trillion Earths’ Worth of Water

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 27, 2011


We don’t think of the universe as a terribly wet place, but in fact, there’s water out in space pretty much everywhere you

This artist's concept illustrates a quasar, or feeding black hole, where astronomers discovered huge amounts of water vapor. NASA / ESA

look. A few billion years ago, Mars was awash in the stuff, with rivers scouring twisted channels en route to ancient seas. The Solar System from Jupiter outward would be an interplanetary water park if most of the H2O out there weren’t frozen. Saturn’s rings are made mostly of trillions of chunks of ice. The comets are mostly ice. So is Pluto. Jupiter’s moon Europa has a thick shell of ice surrounding a salty ocean, kept warm by the little world’s internal heat. Saturn’s moon Eceladus spews its own subsurface water into space in titanic geysers that form a ring of vapor that surrounds Saturn itself. Uranus and Neptune are known to planetary scientists simply as “ice giants.”

And it doesn’t stop in our own solar system. Water — solid, liquid or vaporous — has been turning up for years, all over the cosmos. So it takes a pretty impressive discovery to put space water in the headlines. But “impressive” may be an understatement for what two international teams of astronomers have turned up. Peering out to the very edges of the visible universe, both groups have detected a cloud of water vapor weighing in at a mind-bending 140 trillion times the mass of the world’s oceans, swirling around a giant black hole 20 billion times the mass of the Sun.

To be precise, the water vapor is mixed with dust and other gases, including carbon monoxide, forming a cloud hundreds of light-years across. (The star closest to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is less than four light-years away.) The cloud is so enormous that while it’s incredibly massive, it’s also vanishingly sparse: the thinnest morning fog is hundreds of trillions of times denser.

Most surprising of all perhaps, is the fact that finding such an immense reservoir of water, lurking in the cosmos just 1.6 billion years or so after the Big Bang, makes perfect sense. Hydrogen has always been the most common element in the universe. Oxygen is less common, but there’s still plenty of it, and the two love to combine whenever they get the chance. And in fact, previous observations had turned up water from only about a billion years later in the life of the cosmos. Earthly astronomers have previously used water vapor swirling around a black hole to try and understand the mysterious dark energy that pervades the cosmos. Read the rest of this entry »

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New Pluto Moon Discovered By Hubble Space Telescope

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 21, 2011

Ok our solar system became richer then.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 12, 2011

[1] If you are right handed, you will tend to chew your food on the right side of your mouth. If you are left handed, you will tend to chew your food on the left side of your mouth.

[2] To make half a kilo of honey, bees must collect nectar from over 2 million individual flowers

[3] Heroin is the brand name of morphine once marketed by ‘Bayer’.

[4] Communications giant Nokia was founded in 1865 as a wood-pulp mill by Fredrik Idestam.

[5] Tourists visiting Iceland should know that tipping at a restaurant is considered an insult! In America tipping is forced upon customer at 15 to 18%.

[6] People in nudist colonies play volleyball more than any other sport.

[7] Albert Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel in 1952, but he declined.

[8] Astronauts can’t belch – there is no gravity to separate liquid from gas in their stomachs. 

[9] Ancient Roman, Chinese and German societies often used urine as mouthwash. 

[10] The average person who stops smoking requires one hour less sleep a night. 

[11] The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. In the Renaissance era, it was fashion to shave them off! 

[12] Because of the speed at which Earth moves around the Sun, it is impossible for a solar eclipse to last more than 7 minutes and 58 seconds.  Read the rest of this entry »

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The end of the Space Age

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 30, 2011

Inner space is useful. Outer space is history

HOW big is the Earth? Any encyclopedia will give you an answer: its equatorial diameter is 12,756km, or, for those who prefer to think that way, 7,926 miles. Ah, but then there is the atmosphere. Should that count? Perhaps the planet’s true diameter is actually nearer 13,000km, including all its air. But even that may no longer be an adequate measure. For the Earth now reaches farther still. The vacuum surrounding it buzzes with artificial satellites, forming a sort of technosphere beyond the atmosphere. Most of these satellites circle only a few hundred kilometres above the planet’s solid surface. Many, though, form a ring like Saturn’s at a distance of 36,000km, the place at which an object takes 24 hours to orbit the Earth and thus hovers continuously over the same point of the planet.

Viewed this way, the Earth is quite a lot larger than the traditional textbook answer. And viewed this way, the Space Age has been a roaring success. Telecommunications, weather forecasting, agriculture, forestry and even the search for minerals have all been revolutionised. So has warfare. No power can any longer mobilise its armed forces in secret. The exact location of every building on the planet can be known. And satellite-based global-positioning systems will guide a smart bomb to that location on demand. Read the rest of this entry »

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Headin’ Out: NASA Aims for Jupiter, Mars and the Moon

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on June 29, 2011


Like pretty much every other agency in the government, NASA is likely to be hurting for money over the next few years.

The Mars rover Curiosity, photographed at its testing facility Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena, California NASA / JPL-Caltech

The end of the Space Shuttle program, which comes with Atlantis’ final flight next month, will free up some cash. But at best, NASA’s budget will be flat in 2012, and given the mood in Congress, “at best” isn’t something to count on. And thanks to the cost overruns plaguing the yet-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, the agency’s science programs are especially vulnerable to cuts.

But that’s down the road. For now, things are positively hopping at the Kennedy Space Center. Last week, a brand-new Mars rover, named Curiosity, arrived at Cape Canaveral to be prepared for launch this coming November. But long before that — as early as August 5, if conditions are right — a new probe called Juno will be on its way to Jupiter, followed by the GRAIL mission in September, designed to study the Moon’s gravity field in unprecedented detail.(See pictures of NASA’s new Mars rover.)

Of the three, Curiosity is sure to make the biggest public splash. Ever since Sojourner, NASA’s first Mars rover, transfixed the world as it rolled around the Red Planet during the July 4th holiday in 1997, people have gone slightly mad over these adorable, self-propelled explorers — and after Spirit and Opportunity followed in 2004, the word “plucky” became a space cliche.

All three rovers did spectacular science as well, studying the mineralogy and topography of Mars in astonishing detail, and establishing beyond a doubt that water once flowed and pooled on the planet’s surface. The six-wheeled Curiosity will be about the size of a small car (think a Mini Cooper with many millions of dollars of instruments attached) compared to the golf cart-sized Spirit and Opportunity and the microwave oven-sized Sojourner. One thing Curiousity’s bulk will buy it is range — far greater than that of the other rovers, partly thanks to a nuclear power source in place of solar panels. That also means that the rover won’t have to slow down during the relatively dim Martian winter or worry about dust cutting down on the panels’ efficiency at any time of year.(See pictures of the rovers’ five-year history.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Scientists To Drill Deeper Than Ever Before, Hope To Sample Mantle

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on March 25, 2011

Let’s wait and see.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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