Tag: NASA

Gravity Power

 

newtonThe genius of Isaac Newton, who in the 17th  century defined gravity and produced a universal law of gravitation laid down the foundations for scientists, theoretical physicists such as Einstein.

Gravity Power

Gravity is pervasive, it affects and influences us all on our planet, in our solar system  and in our universe.

einstein1Astronomy is a hobby/interest of mine I like to learn all about what happens in the cosmos and how our space probes/telescopes are unlocking secrets preciously hidden to us.   Below Ben Gilliland excellently explains how gravity helps  push back the frontiers of space

WE ARE USED TO THINKING OF SPACE FLIGHT as a struggle against gravity. After all, it takes vast, towering rockets filled with hundreds of tonnes of explosive liquids and gases just to give a light-aircraft-sized vehicle enough thrust to break free of the bonds of Earth’s gravity.

Even if you are lucky enough make it into space, there are still endless gravitational hurdles to overcome. Contrary to what Sir Isaac Newton believed, gravity isn’t caused by two massive objects pulling on one-another. Instead, gravity is a by-product of the dents and distortions made by massive objects in the fabric of the Universe. A truly massive object, like a planet, makes a pretty big dent and, when a less massive object, like a spacecraft, strays too close it finds itself ‘falling’ into that dent – it might look as if the spacecraft is being ‘pulled’ towards the planet, but really it is ‘falling’ towards it.

The Solar System is littered with these gravitational pitfalls – a satellite falls towards the Earth, the Earth falls towards the Sun and, in turn, the Sun falls towards the centre of the Milky Way. The only way to stop this fall from becoming a direct plunge is to move through space fast enough to ensure your momentum keeps you aloft.

You can think of the Sun’s gravity as being a little like a wine glass. If you drop an olive into the glass, it will fall straight to the bottom, but, if you spin the glass, you can give the olive enough momentum to roll around the sides without falling in (like a planet orbiting the Sun). Decrease the momentum and its orbit will fall closer; increase it and its orbit moves further away. If you continue to increase the speed, eventually the olive will move so fast that it will achieve ‘escape velocity’ and fly from the glass.

A spacecraft leaving Earth has been given enough momentum to escape Earth’s gravity wine glass, but, if it wants to travel into deep space, it has to find enough momentum to escape the Sun’s gravitational dent. Using rockets isn’t practical because they’d need so much heavy fuel it would be prohibitively expensive to just leave the Earth –so scientists came up with a clever trick called a ‘gravity assist’ manoeuvre,

Also known as the ‘slingshot’ manoeuvre, the technique was first used successfully 40 years ago this week, by Nasa’s Mariner 10 Mercury probe. Instead of struggling against the gravitational pull of the planets, during a gravity assist, a spacecraft uses a planet’s gravity (or a series of planets) to give it a speed boost. By falling towards a planet that is falling towards the Sun, a spacecraft can ‘steal’ enough momentum to travel against the Sun’s gravitational pull.

So you could say that spaceflight isn’t flying at all: it’s just falling, with style.

 

 

A spacecraft leaving Earth has been given enough momentum to escape Earth’s gravity wine glass, but, if it wants to travel into deep space, it has to find enough momentum to escape the Sun’s gravitational dent. Using rockets isn’t practical because they’d need so much heavy fuel it would be prohibitively expensive to just leave the Earth –so scientists came up with a clever trick called a ‘gravity assist’ manoeuvre,

Also known as the ‘slingshot’ manoeuvre, the technique was first used successfully 40 years ago this week, by Nasa’s Mariner 10 Mercury probe. Instead of struggling against the gravitational pull of the planets, during a gravity assist, a spacecraft uses a planet’s gravity (or a series of planets) to give it a speed boost. By falling towards a planet that is falling towards the Sun, a spacecraft can ‘steal’ enough momentum to travel against the Sun’s gravitational pull.

So you could say that spaceflight isn’t flying at all: it’s just falling, with style.

Planet-hunter Plato the choice

With the exciting prospect of many new planets out side of our own home solar system  being found, we need more probes to zero in extra solar  planets (exoplanets) that orbit their parent sun in the habitable zone (also known as the Goldilocks Zone-not too hot, not too cold) where liquid water may exists  and being the main precursor  to life.

The BBC science news reports:

A telescope to find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System is the hot favourite for selection as Europe’s next medium-class science mission.

Known as Plato, the concept was chosen by an expert panel as the standout candidate in a competition run by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Impression of Plato concept by Thales Alenia Space

  • Design calls for a suite of 34 telescopes to be mounted on one satellite
  • Mission should confirm and characterise hundreds of rocky worlds
  • Would have the sensitivity also to detect the planets’ moons and rings
  • Intricate measurements of the host stars would yield key information
  • To launch from French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket in 2023/2024
  • Plato would be stationed 1.5m km from Earth on its “nightside”

 

The Paris-based organisation’s Science Policy Committee will now have the final say at its meeting in February.

If given the go-ahead, Plato would probably not launch until 2024.

The name of the mission is an acronym that stands for PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars.

It is not really one telescope but rather a suite of 34 telescopes mounted on a single satellite.

The intention is for Plato to sweep about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars.

It would monitor these stars for the tell-tale tiny dips in light that occur when planets move across their faces.

Critically, Plato would be tuned to seek out rocky worlds orbiting in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.

A fundamental part of its quest would be to perform an intricate study of the host stars themselves, using their pulsations to probe their structure and properties.

Such observations, referred to as astroseismology, would provide key, complementary information for the proper characterisation of the rocky worlds.

Although, other missions have pursued this kind of science before, Plato is described as a major leap forward in capability.

The hope is that it could find really promising targets for follow-up by the big ground-based telescopes due to come online in the next decade.

These facilities, which will have primary mirrors measuring tens of metres in diameter, should be able to examine the atmospheres of distant worlds for possible life signatures.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, due for launch at the end of this decade, would likely still be working in 2024/2025 and could also pursue Plato’s discoveries.

Artist's impression of an exoplanetThe goal is to find planets like the Earth, not just in terms of their size but in their potential for habitability

Plato has spent the past two years in an assessment process that has pitted it against four other concepts.

All were vying for the third medium-class launch opportunity to be offered under Esa’s so-called Cosmic Vision programme, which defines the organisation’s space science priorities.

“Medium class” means a cost to the agency of no more than about 600m euros (£490m; $820m), although following the practice of previous missions this does not include the budget for instruments.

These are usually provided directly by Esa’s national member agencies and mean the final price tag can approach one billion euros.

All the competitors were invited to make a final presentation to representatives of the scientific community, industry, and national member agencies on 21 January. This was followed by closed-session discussions by two working groups, which rated the quality of the missions.

Exoplanets

Artist's impression of an exoplanet
  • Planets beyond our Solar System are often given the term ‘exoplanet’
  • More than 1,000 have been detected to date using several techniques
  • But many of these worlds are large planets believed to resemble Jupiter or Neptune
  • Many gas giants have been found to be orbiting very close to their stars
  • It has prompted new ideas to describe the formation and evolution of solar systems

Their recommendations were then passed to Esa’s top space science advisory committee (SSAC) to make an evaluation.

It proposed that Plato be carried forward as the mission of choice, and this preference has now been sent on by Esa’s executive to the SPC. The committee has the prerogative of “selection” at its 19 February gathering, and could still reject Plato – but this would be a major surprise.

The final green light is known as “adoption” in Esa-speak. This is unlikely to happen until 2015, after member states have made firm commitments on their participation and an industrial team to build the satellite has been identified.

One big industrial contribution from the UK seems assured. This would be the camera detector at the base of the telescope suite.

Supplied by e2v in Chelmsford, the array of more than 130 charge-coupled devices would be 0.9 square metres in area.

This would make it the largest camera system ever flown in space, and twice the size of the array e2v produced for Esa’s recently launched Gaia telescope.

The first two medium-class missions to be selected under Esa’s Cosmic Vision programme in 2011 were Solar Orbiter, a space telescope to study the Sun, to launch in 2017; and Euclid, a telescope to investigate “dark energy”, to fly in 2020.

The American space agency (Nasa) plans a similar mission to Plato calledTess (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) in 2017, but the specifications mean that its rocky worlds will probably be in closer orbits around lower-mass stars than the discoveries made by the European project. In other words, the Plato planets are more likely to be in the habitable zones of more Sun-like stars.

Mining Asteroids A New Venture

Asteroid Mining Asteroids A New Venture

 

Mining for minerals, precious stones and metals from our small planet earth has been undertaken by humans since around 4000 BC, when our stone age ancestors mined stone such as flint to make axes and tools. Since then we have plundered our planet for any mineral that could be used for fuel, manufacturing for most of what we use today including ever increasing demands electronic goods, smartphones, tablets computers  and jewellery.

Our earth has only a finite amount of these resources in terms of  minerals and metals which are  becoming scarcer and harder to mine, alternative sources are now being looked at beyond our pale blue dot of a planet!

Asteroids which orbit our sun and sometimes wander close (not too close we hope) to earth are thought to contain an abundance of the stuff we need.

With more nations and private enterprises now launching  space craft and looking to develop  fast evolving space related technology, instead of visiting these heavenly bodies to  map, take amazing  photos and get the odd sample, these new space industries want to mine asteroids. Instead of the famous Californian Gold Rush of the mid 1800s and misquote  “There’s gold in them thar hills”.   We may say there is gold and more in them space rocks.

The BBC reported that a new venture is joining the effort to extract mineral resources on asteroids.

The announcement of plans by Deep Space Industries to exploit the rare metals present in the space rocks turns asteroid mining into a two-horse race.

The other venture, Planetary Resources, went public with its proposals last year.

Advocates of asteroid mining hope it could turn into a trillion-dollar business, but some scientists are highly sceptical of the idea.

Deep Space Industries wants to send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the Solar System to hunt for resources.

These spacecraft, which the company has dubbed “Fireflies”, would use low-cost CubeSat components and benefit from discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.

The Fireflies would have a mass of about 55 lb (25 kg) and be launched for the first time in 2015 on journeys of two to six months.

The company then wants to launch bigger spacecraft – which it calls “Dragonflies” – for round-trip visits that bring back samples.

These expeditions would take two to four years, depending on the target, and would return 60 to 150 lbs of material from target asteroids.

Arkyd Planetary Resources was the first firm to announce asteroid mining proposals

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said the company’s chief executive David Gump.

“More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century – a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century.”

Asteroids could yield precious minerals such as gold, platinum and rare-Earth metals. But some are also thought to harbour water ice, which could be used as a raw material for the manufacture of rocket propellant or even breathable air.

The other firm in the mining race, Planetary Resources, has backing from several billionaire investors, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, software executive Charles Simonyi and film maker James Cameron.

That company wants to start by launching orbiting telescopes that would identify suitable asteroid targets for mineral exploitation.

However, some scientists struggle to see how cost-effective asteroid mining could be, even with the high value of gold and platinum.

Also what percentage of asteroids would contain material worth mining?

They point out that an upcoming Nasa mission to return just 60g (two ounces) of material from an asteroid will cost about $1bn.

Science & Space Highlights 2013

Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away if your car could go straight upwards.
– Sir Fred Hoyle

Science & Space Highlights 2013

My favourite daily newspaper (excellent as it is free too 🙂 ) is The Metro which I read on weekdays on my early morning commute to work.  Ben Gilliland produces an interesting , humorous & easy to understand updates and topics in the science world. Here are the highlights of 2013.

IT IS the start of a new year; 2013 is behind us and all eyes are looking towards the year ahead. It is a time to cast out the old and welcome in the new. But before we push 2013 into our collective wheelie bins to fester with turkey bones, congealed gravy and unrealised dreams, let us take one final look at the year on whose shoulders 2014 will stand. Like one of those chocolate selection boxes that are ubiquitous to the festive season, 2013 was a year packed with tasty morsels of sciencey goodness. We have reviewed the pictorial insert and (avoiding the whisky liqueur centres) selected a few of our favourites… [*The decision to run with a 2013 retrospective was in no way influenced by the author’s desire for two weeks off during the Christmas period. The fact that this piece could be prepared in advance is entirely coincidental]

  Thanks to Nasa’s Kepler space observatory, 2013 was a bumper year for exoplanets. On January 2, a study by astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) revealed that the Milky Way contains at least one planet for every star – meaning that our galaxy is home to at least 100-400 billion exoplanets (although there is likely to be many more). Just five days later, another report, from astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, estimated that there are ‘at least 17 billion’ Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way. On November 4, a study from the University of California (also based on Kepler data) reported that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of their host stars (the region around a star where conditions make the existence of liquid water possible). Of that number, the report estimated that as many as 11billion may be orbiting Sun-like stars – with the nearest such planet located just 12 light-years away.

Launched in 2009 along with the Herschel space telescope, the European Space Agency’s Planck cosmology probe was designed to map the Universe’s first light – the radiation after-glow of the Big Bang. On March 21, the mission’s all-sky map of this a Space was released. The exquisitely-detailed map revealed the tiny temperature variations that were present when the Universe was just 380,000 years old. Although they vary by less than a hundred millionth of a degree, these fluctuations in the density and temperature of the young Universe would form the seeds of the stars and galaxies that inhabit the cosmos today. Planck’s results confirmed many aspects of ‘Big Bang’ theory – including so-called ‘cosmic inflation’ (a period of exponential expansion thought to have occurred in the first fraction of a second of the Universe’s existence). It revealed the Universe to be slightly older than previously though (by about 80million years) and that it contains a little less of the mysterious dark energy (68.3%) thought to be driving the expansion of the cosmos and a little more of the ninja-like dark matter (26.8%) that interacts with the cosmos through gravity alone and a little more of the ordinary matter (4.9%) that makes up you, me and the stars and planets.
Farewell Planck

On October 3, after more than four years of sky mapping, the last of Planck’s instruments ran out the helium coolant they needed to operate. Six days later, the craft was moved out its operating position and placed into a ‘graveyard orbit’ around the Sun. Finally, on October 21, Planck was given the command to power down for good.

On April 29, another iconic ESA spacecraft, the Herschel Space Observatory, exhausted the last of its 2,300-litre supply of liquid helium coolant – marking the end of more than three years of stunning observations. Designed to see the Universe in the dust-piercing far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Herschel gave us stunning images of the intricate networks of gas and dust from which stars are born. It identified star-forming regions in the most distant galaxies – revealing that, even in the early Universe, stars were formed at prodigious rates. In all, Herschel made over 35,000 scientific observations and collected more that 25,000 hours-worth of science data.


If you’ve been following the progress of Nasa’s veteran space probe, Voyager 1, you may have noticed that it seems to have ‘left the Solar System’ more than once. In September, Nasa announced that, on August 25, the craft had at last (for certain this time) become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System behind and pass into interstellar space. Launched in 1977 for a ‘grand tour’ of the planets, Voyager 1 covered an astonishing 19 billion km (about 121 Astronomical Units, or AU) of space before it passed beyond the reach of the solar wind and departed the Solar System. Of course, another definition would put the edge of the Solar System at the point where the Sun’s gravitational influence ends – a distance of about 63,200 AU – meaning Voyager won’t truly leave for another 17,000 years or so. If mankind is ever going to colonise Mars, we’ll need a steady supply of water.

On September 26, Nasa announced that their Curiosity rover had detected ‘abundant, easily accessible’ water in the Martian soil. The robotic explorer had found that the red surface of Mars contains about two per cent water by weight – meaning that future colonists could (in theory) extract about a litre of water from every cubic foot of Martian dirt. Then, in December, a study of images taken by Nasa‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was released that hinted that there might still be liquid water flowing near the Red Planet’s equator. The images showed dark lines, called ‘recurring slope lineae’, which might be formed when water ice at high altitudes melted during the Martian summer and flowed down hill.

The Sun powers our existence here on Earth through the energy released by nuclear fusion in its core and it has long been a dream that we will one day recreate this process here on Earth. On October 7, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California announced that they had taken a significant step towards that dream. Using a technique called ‘Inertial Confinement Fusion’, they zapped a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel with the combined might of 192 laser beams – heating it 100 million degrees and initiating fusion. Significantly, for the first time, the reaction liberated more energy than was needed to initiate it. The amount of energy was tiny, but it showed that cheap, clean, fusion energy might one day be a reality.

Neutrinos are virtually massless particles that flood the cosmos, but have no electric charge so pass through the Universe (and through stars, planet and you) oblivious to, and unaffected by their surroundings. On November 22, scientists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, an ice-entombed telescope in Antarctica, said they had detected high-energy neutrinos from beyond the Solar System for the first time. The neutrino’s ability to pass through space unsullied by their surroundings means that, unlike the electromagnetic radiation most telescopes look for, none of the information they carry is lost or corrupted. The discovery has been hailed by astronomers as opening up a ‘new era of astronomy’.

A mission that could revolutionise our knowledge about our home galaxy was launched on December 19. One of the most ambitious space-charting missions ever conceived, ESA’s Gaia space craft will map the precise location, composition, brightness and age of a billion stars. It’s near-billion pixel camera (the most powerful ever flown into space) will create an ultra-precise 3D map of our corner of the Milky Way. By pinpointing the position and motions of the stars, the map can be used to chart how the Milky Way is evolving (by fast-forwarding their motions) and how it first evolved (by rewinding them).

Photos of little Brothers Earth and Moon from Big Brother Saturn

The planet Saturn is one of my favourite planets especially to view with a modest size telescope.

I have enjoyed viewing  it with my telescope in the past

Through my scope It it is wonderful greenish pink with the awesome ring system

Nasa has just  released photos of the Earth and Moon taken on 19 July 2013 from the Cassini spacecraft  nearly a billion miles away (i.5 million Kms). Cassini has beeing studying and sending back amazing photos of the gas giant, it’s rings and fascinating moons

Scientists wanted to pay homage and so replicate  the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” image of earth captured by the Voyager 1 probe in 1990.

This was the first time people knew in advance that their long distance picture was being taken.

As part of the event launched by Nasa, people were asked to wave in what Carolyn Porco, who leads Cassini’s camera team, described as an “interplanetary cosmic photo session”.

Earth and MoonSay cheese: the Earth and the Moon pictured from a billion miles away 🙂

“It thrills me no end that people all over the world took a break from their normal activities to go outside and celebrate the interplanetary salute between robot and maker that these images represent,” said Dr Porco, from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The wide-angle image is part of a larger mosaic – or multi-image portrait – that imaging scientists are putting together of the entire Saturn system.

Pictures of Earth from the outer Solar System are rare because, from that distance, Earth is very close to the bright Sun.

Just as a person can damage their retina by looking directly at the Sun, a camera’s sensitive detectors can be damaged by the bright rays.

These images were taken when the sun had moved behind the planet Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view, blocking out most of the light.

 

The pale blue dot of earth a billion miles away below righ under part of Saturn's fabulous rings

The pale blue dot of earth a billion miles away below right- under part of Saturn’s fabulous rings

 

 

 

 

 

Gamma Ray Gold Bursting from Space

Atronomers & astrophysicists once again are excited; this time at the discovery of what appears to be two super dense neutron stars colliding. Such collsions may also create Black Holes

Dr Edo  Berger’s and his  team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics studied the radiation and spectra emating from  GRB (gamma ray burst) designated GRB 130603B which was detected by NASA’s Swift satellite on June 3, 2013.  This GRB lies at a  distance of 3.9 billion light-years from Earth and is one of the nearest GRB events seen to date.

GRB 130603B observations provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements, including gold.

The amount of gold created in this event could be  perhaps 10 times the moon’s mass in gold, Berger said. The gold out there could be worth around $10 octillion. (That’s $100 trillion squared). A cool piece of  ‘Black Hole’ bling 😉

The scientists have calculated that about one-hundredth of a solar mass of material was ejected by the gamma-ray burst, some of which was gold.

All the gold on earth and  in the cosmos might have come from such gamma-ray bursts.

The burst coming from the collision of two neutron stars — each roughly the size of a medium sized city  and filled with 1.5 times the mass of the sun — an impact that produced a black hole and the lethal(if close by)  incredibly intense bright burst of gamma rays that was picked up by the Swift Satellite

To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff,” Dr Berger concluded 🙂

Gamma-Ray Burst -GRB 130603B

Gold Giving Gamma-Ray Burst -GRB 130603B Below is a fun & informative guide for the creation of the yearned for yellow metal- by Ben Gilliland

Kepler telescope discovers two of the ‘most Earth-like’ worlds found so far

Artist's impression of Kepler-62 system

Artist’s impression: The outermost pair are the smallest exoplanets yet found in a host star’s habitable zone

As Astronomy is a keen interest of mine, I found the lastest BBC  science item fascinating, we are steps nearer to discovering life outside of our home solar system.

(By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News)

The search for a far-off twin of Earth has turned up two of the most intriguing candidates yet.

Scientists say these new worlds are the right size and distance from their parent star, so that you might expect to find liquid water on their surface.

It is impossible to know for sure. Being 1,200 light-years away (7054350447820329 miles!),  they are beyond detailed inspection by current telescope technology.

“They are the best candidates found to date for habitable planets,” stated Bill Borucki, who leads the team working on the US space agency Nasa’s orbiting Kepler telescope.

The prolific observatory has so far confirmed the existence of more than 100 new worlds beyond our Solar System since its launch in 2009.

The two now being highlighted were actually found in a group of five planets circling a star that is slightly smaller, cooler and older than our own Sun. Called Kepler-62, this star is located in the Constellation Lyra.

The two planets go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f

Its two outermost worlds go by the names Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f.

They are what one might term “super-Earths” because their dimensions are somewhat larger than our home planet – about one-and-a-half-times the Earth’s diameter.

Nonetheless, their size, the researchers say, still suggests that they are either rocky, like Earth, or composed mostly of ice. Certainly, they would appear to be too small to be gaseous worlds, like a Neptune or a Jupiter.

Many assumptions

Planets 62e and 62f also happen to sit a sufficient distance from their host star that they receive a very tolerable amount of energy. They are neither too hot, nor too cold; a region of space around a star sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone”.

Kepler Mission

An illustration of Kepler
  • Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescopeis on a mission to find Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars
  • It works by detecting periodic variations in the brightness of stars caused by orbitingexoplanets passing in front of them
  • In January 2013, astronomers used Kepler’s data to estimate that there are at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy

Given the right kind of atmosphere, it is therefore reasonable to speculate, says the team, that they might be able to sustain water in a liquid state – a generally accepted precondition for life.

“Statements about a planet’s habitability always depend on assumptions,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, an expert on the likely atmospheres of “exoplanets” and a member of the discovery group.

“Let us assume that the planets Kepler-62e and -62f are indeed rocky, as their radius would indicate. Let us further assume that they have water and their atmospheric composition is similar to that of Earth, dominated by nitrogen, and containing water and carbon dioxide,” the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg researcher went on.

“In that case, both planets could have liquid water on their surface: Kepler-62f gets less radiation energy from its host star than the Earth from the Sun and therefore needs more greenhouse gases, for Instance more carbon dioxide, than Earth to remain unfrozen.

“Kepler-62e is closer to its star, and needs an increased cloud cover – sufficient to reflect some of the star’s radiation – to allow for liquid water on its surface.”

Key signatures

None of this can be confirmed – not with today’s technology. But with future telescopes, scientists say it may be possible to see past the blinding glare of the parent star to pick out just the faint light passing through a small world’s atmosphere or even reflected off its surface.

This would permit the detection of chemical signatures associated with specific atmospheric gases and perhaps even some surface processes. Researchers have spoken in the past of trying to detect a marker for chlorophyll, the pigment in plants that plays a critical role in photosynthesis.

Dr Suzanne Aigrain is a lecturer in astrophysics at the University of Oxford.

She said ground-based experiments and space missions planned in the next few years would give more detailed information on distant planets like those announced by the Kepler team.

Astronomers would like to pin down the masses of the planets (information difficult to acquire with Kepler), as well as getting that data on atmospheric composition.

Dr Aigrain told BBC News: “What we do next is we try to find more systems like these; we try to measure the frequency of these systems; and we try to characterise individual systems and individual planets in more detail.

“That involves measuring their masses and their radii, and if possible getting an idea of what’s in their atmospheres. But this is a very challenging task.”

Kepler meanwhile will just keep counting planets beyond our Solar System.

It is equipped with the largest camera ever launched into space. It senses the presence of planets by looking for a tiny “shadowing” effect when one of them passes in front of its parent star.

Planets graphic

 

Saturn’s Super Storm

Saturn is a jewel of a planet in our solar system, it’s magnificent ring system has beguiled astronomers since Galileo in 1610 turned his telescope to an object  1,200,000,000 km = 745,645,430 miles away which appeared  slightly bulged, later telescopes resolved this bulge in to images of the fabulous ring system.

The images of the storm were captured on 27 November 2012 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft  (named after Giovanni Domenico Cassini 1625-1712 an Italian/French mathematician, astronomer, engineer, and astrologer who discovered a large gap in Saturns rings  named in his honour the’ Cassini Division’).

Using an  infrared filter, the camera peers into the storm’s sinister eye from 361,000 kilometres away. The spacecraft observed in infrared wavelengths, which can peer through the top layer of clouds to reveal the complex texture beneath.

It appears to be a tropical storm on earth, moving menacingly over the ocean ready to wreak havoc and destruction when it hits land.

This dramatic 1,000mile-wide storm cloud is a swirling vortex at the North pole of saturn, where winds can reach speeds of 1,100mph.

 The images beamed back to Earth also show how the eye of the storm lies at the centre of Saturn’s mysterious Northern hexagon – an apparently persisting cloud pattern that is shaped like a regular hexagon.

The straight sides of the northern polar hexagon – which was discovered by the Voyager explorations – are each approximately 8,600miles long; bigger than the diameter of the Earth.

The feature does not shift in longitude like the other clouds in the visible atmosphere, and rotates around the north pole, completing one rotation in little over 10.5 hours.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter.

The planet’s diameter is about nine times that of Earth and is just over 95 times bigger than Earth by volume.

Hurricane on Saturn

Hurricane on Saturn

 

The storm viewed further out from Saturn's northern hemisphere

The storm viewed further out from Saturn’s northern hemisphere

Saturn in it's glory,A timy distant Earth can be seen too can you spot it?

Saturn in it’s glory A panoramic photo, a tiny distant Earth can be seen too, can you spot it?

 

Cassini probe  approaching Saturn

Cassini probe approaching Saturn

 

NASA – Q&A

Frequently Asked Questions

Beyond 2012: Why the World Won’t End
11.13.12

Dec. 21, 2012, won’t be the end of the world as we know, however, it will be another winter solstice.

Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the claims behind the end of the world quickly unravel when pinned down to the 2012 timeline.

Below, NASA Scientists answer questions on the following 2012 topics:

  • End of the World
  • ‘Prediction’ Origins
  • Mayan Calendar
  • Total Blackout
  • Planetary Alignment
  • Nibiru/Planet X Eris
  • Polar Shift
  • Meteor Strike
  • NASA Science
  • Solar Storms

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Question (Q): Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.

 Answer (A):The world will not end in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.


Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?

 A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.


Q: Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?

 A: Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.


Q: Is NASA predicting a “total blackout” of Earth on Dec. 23 to Dec. 25?

 A: Absolutely not. Neither NASA nor any other scientific organization is predicting such a blackout. The false reports on this issue claim that some sort of “alignment of the Universe” will cause a blackout. There is no such alignment (see next question). Some versions of this rumor cite an emergency preparedness message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. This is simply a message encouraging people to be prepared for emergencies, recorded as part of a wider government preparedness campaign. It never mentions a blackout.
›Watch the Video


Q: Could planets align in a way that impacts Earth?

 A: There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. One major alignment occurred in 1962, for example, and two others happened during 1982 and 2000. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.
› More about alignment

“There apparently is a great deal of interest in celestial bodies, and their locations and trajectories at the end of the calendar year 2012. Now, I for one love a good book or movie as much as the next guy. But the stuff flying around through cyberspace, TV and the movies is not based on science. There is even a fake NASA news release out there…”
– Don Yeomans, NASA senior research scientist

Q: Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?

 A: Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.


Q: What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the Earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours?

 A: A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-switch to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. Scientists believe a magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia.
› More about polar shift


Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?

 A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA Near-Earth Object Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.


Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of the world ending in 2012?

 A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.
› Why you need not fear a supernova
› About super volcanoes


Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?

 A: Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.
› Video: Solar Storms
› More about solar storms

Pluto A Plea

Hi folks since my Blog on 11 November about NASA’s  New Horizon Probe en route  to disputed and downgraded and downhearted planet Pluto..A message has been received…

We agree Pluto was originally named as a proper planet and should remain one.

 

Pluto..a plea!

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