28 Mar 2012

Artists impression showing a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc.  The brightest star is red dwarf Gliese 667 C part of a triple star system.  The other stars are Gliese 667 A and B.  Estimates show there are tens of billions of rocky worlds around faint red dwarf stars in the Milk Way.  (CREDIT:  ESO/L. Calcada)

A new study has shown that in our Milky Way galaxy alone, there should be billions of habitable, rocky planets around faint red stars called red dwarfs.  These red dwarfs are thought to make up about 80% of the stars in our galaxy.

Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory telescope observed 102 of the most common stars, red dwarfs, in our galaxy over six years.  They came up with an estimate of the planets in the habitable zones around each star.

About 40 percent of the red dwarfs have super-Earths.  These are planets with masses between one and ten times the mass of Earth.  These planets exist in the "just right zone" where they aren't too close or too far from their host star and where liquid water can exist. 

160 billion red dwarfs, the fainter and cooler/longer lasting stars than the Sun exist in the Milky Way according to research team leader Xavier Bonfils.  Bonfils is of the University of Grenoble in France.  He stated, ''Because red dwarfs are so common this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone."  There are probably 100 of these super-Earths within 30 light years of Earth, he said.

The problem with red dwarfs is that they have eruptions and flares.  The x-rays and ultraviolet radiation released by these stars may reduce the chances of life existing there, the researchers indicated.

One planet in the study, is closest to our own, that of Gliese 667 Cc.  Gliese 667 Cc is about four times the mass of the Earth.  The new findings will be described in the a paper published in an upcoming issue of the journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

Over the course of 16 years, astronomers have now detected 763 extra-solar planets (outside our solar system), many of them have massive planets like Jupiter or Saturn, more than 100 times the size of Earth.  These planetary giants, however, are rarely found around red dwarfs.

Now that we have identified these potential life harboring planets, the next step is to use instruments to determine the compositions of the atmospheres on these alien worlds.  These findings continue to change how we look at our small blue globe in this very large universe.

Source:  smh.com.au, space.com

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27 Mar 2012

A high school student team which has developed an Aquatic Thermoelectric Generator to produce energy from heat.  (Credit:  NCIIA)

A group of San Jose, California high school students has come up with a way to utilize swimming pools as a source of electricity to power schools, homes and businesses.

Their solution relies on thermoelectric panels that can harness the temperature difference between a hot surface and the cold water.  This could be expanded into huge floating farms of these devices, possibly powering entire coastal towns.  

27 Mar 2012

Surface of Saturns moon Enceladus.  The south polar terrain has blue fractures and many folds and ridges.  This view taken from many false-color frames on the Cassini spacecraft.  (Credit:  NASA/JPL)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is about to make its lowest pass over the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus, entering an area where icy particles and water vapor spray out from its surface.  At the closest approach at 11:30 a.m. PDT (2:30 p.m. EDT) March 27, it will be about 46 miles (74 kilometers) in altitude.

Cassini will attempt to sample particles from the jets using its ion and neutral mass spectrometer.  Scientists will use these tools to analyze the data to learn more about the composition, density and variability of the plume.  NASA was able to revive the Cassini plasma spectrometer, now they can analyze Saturn's magnetic and plasma environment near Enceladus and sample the plume material as well.  The team will use the composite infrared spectrometer to look for hot spots on Enceladus and the cameras will take pictures. 

26 Mar 2012

The Gist

Human tumors transplanted into lab mice disappeared or shrank when scientists treated the mice with a single antibody, this according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.  A protein flag (CD47) on the cancer cells is masked, which protects them from macrophages and other cells in the immune system.  The findings were done with human breast, ovarian, colon, bladder, brain, liver and prostate cancer samples. 

26 Mar 2012

A collection of images showing asteroids and comets that have been inspected by spacecraft as of 2010  (Credit:  Emily Lakdawala)

In what is yet another example of an asteroid close encounter, 2 small asteroids zipped between the moon and Earth and were only discovered last weekend.  They came by one after the other.  One early in the day March 26th, the second at 1:09 p.m. EDT (1709 GMT), according to astronomers with the NASA's Asteroid Watch program.  Both were small, under 10 meters and posed no risk.

Asteroid 2012 FP35 came within 96,000 miles (154,000 km) of Earth.  It is just under 30 feet (9 meters) wide, the size of a tour bus.

The second one called 2012 FS35 came within 36,000 miles (58,000 km) as it zoomed by.  This asteroid is nearly 10 feet (3 meters) wide, or the size of a small car.

They both came within the orbit of the moon, which circles the earth at around 238,000 miles (382,900 km).

Due to their small size and the fact they wouldn't survive going through the Earth's atmosphere they were quickly dismissed as threats.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

So once again another set of asteroids zip between the Earth and moon, only detected at a time when it would be too late to do anything about it, if they were a real threat.  In a recent topic about a possible comet threat in 2013 (2012 DA14), it was determined if the comet were to become a threat, it would take 2 years to ready a spacecraft to do anything about the issue.  This certainly shows the importance of an early warning system, particularly one deployed in space and also the space program in general.  It's only a matter of time, if we don't put these systems into place and get necessary funding, before a close call becomes a direct and unavoidable hit.

Source:  space.com

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26 Mar 2012

An Antarctic ice berg.  Global ice melting is on an unprecedented level particularly at the poles.  (Image Credit:  Enrique Mendez)

If you like warmer weather, more of it may be on the way.  Scientists are stating that by 2050 the global average temperatures will be between 1.4°C and 3°C (between 2.5°F and 5.5°F) higher than the average temperatures from 1960 through 1990. 

A Complex Model

Climate prediction is a very complex thing to compute and with many people's ways of life hedging on such predictions, from farmers to policy-makers, there is much pressure to get the numbers correct.  In this latest calculation many thousands of personal computers were used to refine the numbers.

Dan Rowlands, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom stated, "We've shown that basically we can find a much larger warming by 2050 than we had previously anticipated.  This level of warming has not necessarily been seen by a complex climate model before."    

24 Mar 2012

Amateur astrophotographer Wayne Jaeschke of Pennsylvania captured an image of this 'terminator projection' rising from the edge of the Martian disk at the 1 o'clock position March 22.  For more info see Exosky.net, Jaeschke's website.  South is up, north on the bottom.

Mars has returned to our evening skies as it does every two years.  This time it is getting even more attention and buzz than it normally would. Amateur astronomer Wayne Jaeschke of West Chester Pennsylvania noticed an unusual protrusion in the planet's southern hemisphere, preceding the sunrise terminator.

He first noticed this formation on the evening of March 20th.  Jaeschke alerted the international Mars observing community about the odd "extension" at 190.5° east, 43.7° south, just before the area that rotates into daylight.  The odd feature was visible in all color-filtered exposures from near-infrared to blue light.  Jaeschke produced the animation below.  

23 Mar 2012

The historic launch of the first commercially built space capsule sent to the International Space Station (ISS) is to occur April 30th.  SpaceX, a California based commercial company is going to launch the unmanned Dragon spacecraft on a demonstration flight to ISS at 12:22 p.m. EDT (1622 GMT) on April 30th as of right now.

Originally this mission was to occur in early February but had to be delayed for further testing.

The Dragon capsule will sit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.  If SpaceX succeeds, they will become the first private company to dock with the International Space Station.

The ISS crew will grab onto the Dragon capsule as it nears the station using the space stations robotic arm.  It will connect on the Harmony node, an Earth facing portion of ISS. 

Dragon had been successfully launched in December 2010.  It orbited twice before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.  That marked the first time a private company launched a vehicle into orbit and returned it safely.

SpaceX also hopes to use a version of the Dragon capsule to transport paying customers to low orbit.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

This launch and docking will be a momentous occasion for spaceflight, possibly ranking as high as the first space flights from 50 years ago.  The importance of the privatization of space can not be underestimated.  It is both necessary and inevitable.  We simply can't rely on the government for funding and development of space exploration.  Space exploration should be both a private and government funded effort.  This means organizations like NASA should continue to work with private companies to help accelerate our development of space technology and reach for the stars, which is ultimately humanity's destiny.


As of 4/24/12, the SpaceX launch of the Dragon Capsule to ISS has been delayed at least a week, possibly as late as May 7th.  They required more time to finish hardware testing and review data for the docking.

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