NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON The partisanship surrounding space exploration and the retrenching of U.S. space policy are part of a more general trend: the decline of science in the United States. As its interest in science wanes, the country loses ground to the rest of the industrialized world in every measure of technological proficiency.
Weird Radio Signals Detected from Nearby Red Dwarf Star By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer | July 17, 2017 02:33pm ET
Strange radio signals have been spotted coming from the vicinity of a nearby star — but don't get your hopes up that aliens are responsible.
On May 12, the 1,000-foot-wide (305 meters) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected "some very peculiar signals" apparently emanating from Ross 128, a red dwarf star that lies just 11 light-years from Earth.
"The signals consisted of broadband quasi-periodic nonpolarized pulses with very strong dispersion-like features," Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, wrote in a statement late last week.
"We believe that the signals are not local radio frequency interferences (RFI) since they are unique to Ross 128, and observations of other stars immediately before and after did not show anything similar," he added.
The three leading explanations for the signals, Mendez wrote, are solar flare-like emissions from Ross 128, emissions from some other object in the same field of view and a burst of some sort from a satellite orbiting high above Earth.
Each of these hypotheses has its issues, he said. For example, solar flares of the type that could be responsible generally occur at lower frequencies. In addition, Mendez wrote, there aren't a lot of other objects in the Ross 128 field of view, "and we have never seen satellites emit bursts like that." But if you're getting the urge to invoke E.T., temper it: "In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations," Mendez wrote.
Figuring out the signal's source will require more data, and Mendez and his team already have some in hand. The researchers carried out a successful observation of Ross 128 — as well as of Barnard's Star, a red dwarf located just 6 light-years from Earth — using the Arecibo dish yesterday (July 16), Mendez announced on Twitter yesterday. (These Arecibo observations are all part of a campaign to better understand the radiation and magnetic environments of red dwarfs, and to look for signs of undiscovered planets orbiting them, Mendez explained in his statement about the Ross 128 signals.)
Other research teams are following up as well. For example, scientists with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute have already begun observing Ross 128 with the Allen Telescope Array, a network of 42 radio dishes in northern California, said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute.
Like Mendez, Shostak said that aliens are unlikely to be the cause of the Ross 128 signal.
"It does look like the kind of broadband interference that you get in SETI experiments," Shostak told Space.com.
But that doesn't mean the ET hypothesis should be dismissed, he stressed.
"The historic lesson is clear — these things pop up, and you have to follow them up, because you never know what's going to be the real one, or even if there will ever be a real one," Shostak told Space.com.
"Following up is mandatory."
Mars covered in toxic chemicals that can wipe out living organisms, tests reveal
Discovery has major implications for hunt for alien life on the red planet as it means any evidence is likely to be buried deep underground
Ian Sample Science editor Thursday 6 July 2017 09.00 EDT
Mars is bathed in ultra violet light which turns the Martial soil sterile. Photograph: Reuters
From The Guardian: The chances of anything coming from Mars have taken a downward turn with the finding that the surface of the red planet contains a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals that can wipe out living organisms.
Experiments with compounds found in the Martian soil show that they are turned into potent bactericides by the ultraviolet light that bathes the planet, effectively sterilising the upper layers of the dusty landscape.
The discovery has wide-ranging implications for the hunt for alien life on the fourth rock from the sun and suggests that missions will have to dig deep underground to find past or present life if it lurks there. The most hospitable environment may lie two or three metres beneath the surface where the soil and any organisms are shielded from intense radiation. “At those depths, it’s possible Martian life may survive,” said Jennifer Wadsworth, a postgraduate astrobiologist at Edinburgh University.
Wadsworth’s research was driven by the discovery of powerful oxidants known as perchlorates in the Martian soil some years back. Hints of perchlorates first showed up in tests performed by Nasa’s Viking lander missions 40 years ago, but were confirmed recently by the space agency’s Phoenix lander and Mars rover, Curiosity. In 2015, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted signs of perchlorates in what appeared to be wet and briny streaks that seeped down Martian gullies and crater walls.
Many scientists suspected that perchlorates would be toxic for microbial Martians, but in theory at least, alien bacteria might find a way to use the chemicals as an energy source. If life could thrive in perchlorate-rich brines, then aliens might be thriving in the damp patches on Mars.
Working with Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at Edinburgh, Wadsworth looked at what happened to Bacillus subtilis, a common soil bacterium and regular Earthly contaminant found on space probes, when it was mixed with magnesium perchlorate and blasted with ultraviolet rays similar to those witnessed on Mars. She found that the bugs were wiped out twice as fast when perchlorate was present. Other perchlorates found on Mars had a similar bactericidal effect.
Further tests found that the UV rays broke down the perchlorate into other chemicals, namely hypochlorite and chlorite, and it is these that appear to be so destructive to the bacteria.
The scientists followed-up with another round of experiments that looked at the toxic effects of iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide, which are also found in Martian soil. These tests yielded even more bad news for microscopic Martians: when the bacteria were hit with UV rays in the presence of perchlorates, iron oxide and peroxide, the bugs were killed 11 times faster than with perchlorates alone. Writing in Scientific Reports, the researchers say that the inhospitable conditions on Mars are caused by a “toxic cocktail of oxidants, iron oxides, perchlorates and UV irradiation.”[...]
Is there alien life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus? International Business Times 05 JUL 2017 AT 13:52 ET
From Raw Story: Things just got a little more complicated for the scientists searching our outer solar system for alien life, after the discovery that an organic molecule was probably created by a process in outer space rather than an extraterrestrial creature on one of Saturn’s moons.
The icy world Enceladus has been a point of excitement for astronomers since NASA’s Cassini space probe sent back data suggesting it has a heat source and a liquid ocean below its surface, both of which would be necessary to sustain life as we understand it. Cassini has flown through a plume spurting off Enceladus — probably created as material from its underground ocean spills through cracks in its surface ice — into space and detected hydrogen, water, carbon dioxide, methane and other molecules. There was also a similar amount of methanol as can be found in Earth’s oceans.
But new observations that detected the organic molecule methanol around that moon probably are not the byproduct of a living creature there, according to the Royal Astronomical Society. Rather the methanol “suggests that material spewed from Enceladus undertakes a complex chemical journey once vented into space.”
The research was presented at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting 2017, running through July 6 in Hull, England. It represented the first time a telescope on the ground, rather than equipment in space, detected a molecule from Enceladus, the RAS said, and the scientists found a lot of it too.
The telescope was the Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Millimeter Range’s 30-meter radio telescope in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Scientists have detected methanol in a plume coming off of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, but its source is unclear. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
In Enceladus’ southern latitudes there are blue stripes from fractures in its south polar region. Photo: NASA/JPL
Between when the plumes shoot into space and that material feeds into Saturn’s E-ring, there are processes going on that remain to be investigated and understood.
“Recent discoveries that icy moons in our outer solar system could host oceans of liquid water and ingredients for life have sparked exciting possibilities for their habitability,” Cardiff University’s Emily Drabek-Maunder said in the society’s statement. “But in this case, our findings suggest that that methanol is being created by further chemical reactions once the plume is ejected into space, making it unlikely it is an indication for life on Enceladus.”
The methanol potentially could be appearing in such large quantities in the space around Enceladus, higher than the content of the plumes themselves, because a cloud of gas that the moon expelled was trapped by the magnetic field of Saturn or because has of the planet’s E-ring has spread out, according to the RAS.
“This study suggests a degree of caution needs to be taken when reporting on the presence of molecules that could be interpreted as evidence for life,” researcher Dave Clements, from Imperial College, said in the statement. NASA is preparing to dig deeper into icy worlds like Enceladus to search for solid clues of aliens on the moon. The space agency has worked on a fleet of robots that could melt or drill through ice and collect samples. Those robot prototypes also have wheels that can grip the ice to safely traverse it and are built to withstand the frigid temperatures and extreme radiation they would encounter on such a place.
Hari Nayar, who led the robotics research for NASA, said earlier this year, “One of the most exciting places we can go is deep into subsurface oceans — but doing so requires new technologies that don’t exist yet.”
NASA is researching ways to bounce asteroids away from Earth International Business Times 03 JUL 2017 AT 13:25 ET
From Raw Story: Asteroids are one of space’s many dangers, but an upcoming NASA project looks to prevent major ones from heading in Earth’s direction.
NASA is starting development and design on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a project that will look for ways to deflect asteroids before they reach Earth, according to an agency release.
“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique -- striking the asteroid to shift its orbit -- to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said in a statement. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”
For DART, NASA wants to target the Didymos asteroid body, a twin system that is expected to make a distant approach near Earth in 2022 and 2024. The body consists of asteroid Didymos A, around 780 meters in size, and Didymos B, which is around 160 meters wide. According to NASA, DART wants to target only Didymos B.
As part of DART, the craft would fly towards Didymos and use an on-board targeting system to launch itself at Didymos B at a speed of around 3.7 miles per second. From the test, NASA wants to see how effective DART could be at preventing future larger asteroids. NASA believes that while the impact would only affect the velocity of the asteroid by a small margin, doing this early enough could alter its trajectory enough when it gets closer to Earth. (video)
In a release, Andy Cheng, DART co-leader from Johns Hopkins University, said the project is vitally important to developing future ways to protect to Earth.
“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” Cheng said. “Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.”
The project also comes alongside NASA’s new Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which was launched to help NASA develop and prepare ways to prevent or avoid the threat that a potential impact could cause. The agency has also been working on ways to digitally simulate potential asteroid impacts in order to learn about their possible scale and effects. NASA has recently focused on simulating a 2013 asteroid impact on the Russian city of Chelyabinsk to learn more about asteroid destruction and changes when they transition through the atmosphere.
Close Encounter With Jupiter's 'Red Spot' Is Imminent Juno spacecraft will 'dive' into celestial storm on July 10
By Linda Hervieux, Newser Staff Posted Jul 3, 2017 10:00 AM CDT
(Newser) – NASA's Juno spacecraft will celebrate its first birthday circling Jupiter with the first close-up early next week of the gassy planet's Great Red Spot, Phys.org reports. The "spot" is actually an epic, 10,000-mile-wide storm that has likely been swirling above our solar system's biggest planet for centuries. Jupiter's most famous weather phenomenon is 3.5 times the size of Earth, notes the International Business Times. After flying over Jupiter's iconic cloud belt a handful of times over the past year, Juno is set to "dive" into the storm on July 10 at 9:55pm EDT, says Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, per NASA. The purpose is "to see how deep the roots of this storm go, and help us understand how this giant storm works and what makes it so special," he notes. Juno will hover about 5,600 miles above the maelstrom's crimson clouds.
"Each new orbit brings us closer to the heart of Jupiter's radiation belt," adds NASA's Rick Nybakken, per Phys.org. He adds that so far Juno has tolerated a pounding by electrons "better than we could have ever imagined." With eight instruments and a color JunoCam, the craft's data collection will be boosted by detailed images obtained in May by two powerful telescopes in Hawaii pointed at Jupiter. The Great Red Spot, which has been regularly observed since 1830, has fascinated earthlings ever since and "is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter," says Bolton. Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun, is essentially a giant gas bag composed of substances like hydrogen and helium. After a five-year, 1.8-billion-mile journey, Juno entered the planet's orbit on July 4, 2016. (Jupiter also has a Great Cold Spot.)
The Amazing Fate of the First Stars By Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience | June 29, 2017 01:00pm ET
Sagittarius A*. This image was taken with NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Ellipses indicate light echoes. Credit: NASA
From Space.com: When astronomers gaze at the center of the Milky Way, some 27,000 light years from our Solar System, a jumble of gas and dust obscures their view. Bursting through the mess, however, is a radio signal, immensely powerful, and keenly focused, unlike anything else in our galaxy. Astronomers are now very certain that the signal emanates from Sagittarius A*, an immense black hole 44 million kilometers in diameter (a little less than the closest distance from the Sun to Mercury) with a mass of four million Suns. Pretty much everything in our galaxy revolves around this gargantuan object.
But more amazing than Sagittarius A* itself is the story of how it came to be. What follows consists of learned speculation, inferences, and hypotheticals based on astronomical observations and cosmological theory. None of it has actually been seen... yet.
Long ago, perhaps just a hundred million years after the Big Bang, the first stars formed. Born within the thick, gassy soup of the early Universe, these stars fed on the pristine hydrogen and helium from the Big Bang itself. Because there was so much elemental fuel, they gorged themselves into behemoths, growing hundreds of times more massive than our Sun, and far larger than any even the largest stars that exist today. They burned bright, but died young, living as few as two million years. For comparison, stars like our Sun persist for billions of years.
But though deceased, these first stars were not finished affecting the Universe. In fact, they may litter the cosmos today, albeit in an unrecognizable form.
"These enormous stars are... thought to have left behind enormous black holes when they died..." Lehman College astrophysicist Matt O'Dowd explained on a recent episode of PBS Space Time. "Clusters of giant stars become clusters of giant black holes, which, in turn, would merge into monsters of thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses. Now, these were probably the seeds of the so-called supermassive black holes, with millions to billions of times the mass of the sun, that we find lurking in the centers of galaxies." So Sagittarius A*, essentially the heart of our galaxy, may be the blackened husk of some of the first stars in the Universe. The other two trillion galaxies in the Universe may also have formed around their remains. There is a very good chance that this tale is true, but that is not enough. Actually seeing is infinitely better than simply believing. Scientists know this, which is why astronomers are busy building the telescopes of the future that could allow us to test cosmologists' theories.
The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is now just a little over a year away. At least one group of astronomers is hopeful that its gaze will be far-reaching enough to directly detect the Universe's first stars. Doing so could bring the story of Sagittarius A* firmly into the realm of non-fiction, or it could tell us something completely unexpected. Whatever we end up seeing, it's sure to be awe-inspiring.
NASA's Kepler mission finds 10 Earth-size exoplanets, 209 others Ashley Strickland-Profile-Image By Ashley Strickland, CNN Updated 2:04 PM ET, Mon June 19, 2017
(CNN)The NASA Kepler mission has discovered 219 more exoplanets, including 10 Earth-size planets, program scientist Mario Perez said Monday at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
Ten of the planets are potentially rocky, close to the size of Earth and within the habitable zone of the stars they orbit -- meaning they could support liquid water on their surface, Perez explained.
"The Kepler data set is unique, as it is the only one containing a population of these near-Earth analogs: planets with roughly the same size and orbit as Earth," he said.
With the addition of this latest release, Kepler has now identified 4,034 planet candidates, and 2,335 of them have been confirmed as exoplanets. The mission has also found 50 candidates similar in size to Earth, with more than 30 of them confirmed.
Of the 10 newly discovered Earth-size planets, one is the closest to Earth in size and the distance to its host star. But researchers don't know much more than that. In comparison, our solar system looks like it has three planets in the habitable zone of the sun: Mars, Venus and Earth. "I would only want to live on one of those," said Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist.
Distant black hole collision deletes two suns’ worth of mass from the universe The gravitational wave observatory LIGO picked up on the reverberation from 3 billion light years away
KEITH A. SPENCER
From Salon: Did you feel the universe shake on January 4, 2017? That was just two suns’ worth of mass being converted into gravitational waves, the shockwave from which vibrated everything on the planet by about the width of a single particle.
Okay, so maybe your body is not sensitive enough to pick up on subatomic vibrations, but the gravitational wave telescope known as LIGO – an acronym for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory – heard it loud and clear. The merger of two black holes some three billion light-years hence released such a stunningly powerful gravitational wave that the U.S.-based observatory was able to pick up on the collision, despite its incredible distance from Earth. This marks only the third binary black hole merger signal that has been detected by the still-nascent LIGO observatory.
The results of this extragalactic black hole collision were published in the American Physical Society’s Physical Review Letters journal last week. Until the past decade, the notion of a gravitational wave observatory was but a pipe dream. It took years of trial and error to get the two twin observatories, located in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, online and sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves. That’s because gravity is such a weak force that even the most powerful gravitational waves may only move the Earth by the width of a proton or less.
LIGO works by shining a laser down a very long corridor and bouncing it off mirrors multiple times, then observing how it “wiggles” — through which scientists can infer if gravitational waves distorted the laser ever so slightly as the waves passed through. By having two labs (soon three, as an Italian collaboration is set to join) separated by thousands of miles, scientists can watch gravitational waves pass through the Earth as they move between the labs, which allows for a rough pinpointing of location. January’s particular gravitational wave “arrived at Hanford ~3 milliseconds before Livingston,” as the paper’s authors wrote.
The gravitational wave observatory has long been considered a holy grail of sort in astronomy because it completes the trifecta of observational information available to astronomers: gravity, neutrino, and light. While observatories that detect various wavelengths of light have long existed, in the past twenty years they’ve been complemented by neutrino detectors, such as the Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array at the South Pole. LIGO marks the first successful gravitational wave observatory of its kind.
Jupiter Now Has 69 Moons Our local gas giant has two more natural satellites added to its roster By Caleb A. Scharf on June 12, 2017
From Scientific American: The planet Jupiter is a beast: Three-hundred-and-seventeen times the mass of the Earth, mostly made of metallic hydrogen, and at the center of an astonishing collective of orbiting natural bodies.
In fact, Jupiter's satellites form a shrunken version of a full planetary system: from the tightly bound larger Galilean moons (orbiting in their Laplacian mean-motion resonances, akin to places like TRAPPIST-1) to the remarkable array of smaller moonlets that encircle this world out to more than 30 million kilometers.
These bodies circle Jupiter in anywhere from about 7 hours to an astonishing 1,000 days.
Until recently the cataloged satellites totaled 67 in number. But only the innermost 15 of these orbit Jupiter in a prograde sense (in the direction of the planet's spin). The rest are retrograde, and are likely captured objects - other pieces of the solar system's solid inventory that strayed into Jupiter's gravitational grasp.
That population of outer moons is mostly small stuff, only a few are 20-60 kilometers in diameter, most are barely 1-2 kilometers in size, and increasingly difficult to spot.
Now astronomers Scott Sheppard, David Tholen, and Chadwick Trujillo have added two more; bringing Jupiter's moon count to 69.
These additions are also about 1-2 km in size, and were spotted in images that were part of a survey for much more distant objects out in the Kuiper Belt. Jupiter just happened to be conveniently close in the sky at the time. The moons are S/2016 J1 and S/2017 J1, and are about 21 million km and 24 million km from Jupiter.
By themselves these small satellites don't amount to much. But they are a vivid reminder of the sheer abundance of material out there in our solar system, and of Jupiter's royal gravitational status.
Hubble Space Telescope spots ‘Vermin Galaxy’ International Business Times 03 JUN 2017 AT 09:23 ET
Vermin Galaxy (NASA)
From Raw Story: From the treasure trove of images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the space agency released an image Friday that shows a distant galaxy as it begins it transit behind a star that lies much closer to Earth. The transit is of significance because it allows scientists to study the star HD 107146, which is very similar to the sun.
HD 107146 is about 90 light-years away from Earth, and its physical properties are very similar to the sun. It has a mass of about 1.09 suns, and its size is about 99 percent that of the sun. But compared to the 4.6 billion years the sun has been around, this star is a youngster whose age is between 80 and 200 million years only. It also has a circumstellar disk of orbiting debris that appears as the numerous jagged spikes in the Hubble image. Given the star’s similarities to the sun, this disk — visible to us face-on — could be similar to the asteroids and the Kuiper belt in our solar system.
The “Vermin Galaxy” — which NASA said was a nickname coined by some astronomers to display their annoyance at its presence — is much farther away in space, compared to HD 107146. The pairing of the star and the galaxy was first observed by Hubble in 2004, and then again in 2011, and the latter image is the one NASA released Friday. A 2009 paper, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggested the presence of a planet at an orbital distance of 45-75 times the distance between Earth and the sun.
An image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows the "Vermin Galaxy" starting its transit behind the star HD 107146. Photo: ESA/Hubble & NASA
In the image, the galaxy appears as the bright smudge near the lower right corner, while the green circle in the center marks the location of the star. The large and orange concentric circle around the star indicates the circumstellar debris. The light from the star has been blocked in this image; otherwise, its surroundings and the faint galaxy would not be visible.
The transit of the galaxy behind HD 107146 will be complete only by 2020, which is when it will be fully obscured by the star. Transits are valuable to study distant objects, because they cause, even when not complete, a change in the light that is observed by our instruments.
“Light from the galaxy will pass through the star’s debris disks before reaching our telescopes, allowing us to study the properties of the light and how it changes, and thus infer the characteristics of the disk itself,” NASA explained in a statement, which was put together by the European Space Agency (ESA) and accompanied the image.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a collaboration between NASA and ESA, and has been operational since 1990. Its successor, the far more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, is being developed by NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, and is scheduled for an October 2018 launch.
Black hole collision confirms another part of Einstein’s theory of relativity Los Angeles Times 01 JUN 2017 AT 18:23 ET
Two black holes collide (University of Glasgow)
From Raw Story: Scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, have detected the signal from a cataclysmic collision between two black holes that lie 3 billion light-years away — much farther than the previous two discoveries.
The findings, described in a paper accepted to Physical Review Letters, cement the idea that gravitational-wave astronomy — a whole new way to observe some of the most powerful events in the universe — is here to stay.
"We're really moving from novelty to new observational science — a new astronomy of gravitational waves," said MIT's David Shoemaker, spokesman for the LIGO scientific collaboration.
The new signal, called GW170104, was picked up in the early morning hours of Jan. 4 by the twin L-shaped detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. The ripple was triggered as two black holes, spinning around slowly toward one another, finally succumbed to each other's gravitational tug — and merged. The collision resulted in the creation of a new, single black hole.
Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time, caused by objects accelerating or decelerating through space. Their existence was predicted more than a century ago by Albert Einstein as part of his general theory of relativity, but they were thought to be so faint as to be virtually undetectable.
LIGO changed that. Last year the collaboration announced that its twin detectors had picked up a passing distortion in late 2015 caused by two black holes crashing into one another. A second soon followed. With the third find announced Thursday, scientists are finally moving LIGO's work from the examination of singular curiosities to demographic studies of the sky's invisible denizens. And already, this third discovery is revealing that there may be some diversity in this mysterious cosmic population.
This merger between a binary pair of black holes happened around 3 billion light-years away—much farther than the first two finds (which lay around 1.3 and 1.4 billion light-years from us, respectively). The two black holes appear to have held 31.2 and 19.4 solar masses respectively, and when they coalesced the new singularity weighed in at about 49 solar masses.
This puts the merger right in the middle of the same weight class as the previous two black hole mergers — a class that scientists had not expected to encounter. Most black holes, they had figured, were the corpses of dead stars and significantly smaller, on the order of a few times the mass of the sun. Others were supermassive, holding millions or even billions of solar masses, and anchored the hearts of galaxies (just as one does at the center of our Milky Way). Many LIGO researchers thought they'd start to see some of those smaller singularities.
These intermediate black holes, however, are starting to look increasingly common.
"It clearly establishes a new population of black holes that were not known before LIGO discovered them," said LIGO scientific collaboration member Bangalore Sathyaprakash of Penn State and Cardiff University.
The new merger does have one key difference, however. In the previous two events, the paired black holes seemed to have spins that were aligned. This is consistent with one theory of their formation, which assumes that the stars that became these black holes are born, and die, in pairs.
But in the new find, the black holes' spins were apparently not aligned with one another — favoring another theory that says the black holes may actually pair up much later in their life histories.
Both theories may explain a slice of the black hole binary population, said LIGO Executive Director David Reitze of Caltech — but the question is how big each slice is. The answer could help scientists understand the complexities of both stellar and black hole formation.
The findings also allowed scientists to probe the limits of Einstein's theory of general relativity further by looking to see whether the gravitational waves underwent dispersion — a bending of the wavelengths that happens when a wave passes through a physical medium. Einstein's theories forbid this from happening to gravitational waves, and so far LIGO's measurements have yet to contradict them.
Scientists hope to eventually see more than just black hole mergers, Reitze said. The next big class of events would be binary neutron star mergers — in part because these events could be seen with both LIGO and traditional telescopes.
In the meantime, LIGO is set to wrap up its current observing run in late summer — right around the time that the European Virgo detector is set to go online. With a little bit of overlap between the two runs, and a little bit of luck, the two detectors just might be able to see the same events — which would allow scientists to get even better measurements of these violent cosmic phenomena.
Mars was habitable between 3.8 & 3.1 billion years ago Newsweek 01 JUN 2017 AT 14:53 ET
From Raw Story: Mars would have had conditions right for life to survive for around 700,000 years, between 3.8 and 3.1 billion years ago, scientists have discovered.
By analyzing rocks from the Gale crater—a 96 mile wide depression that was once a vast lake—scientists have shown the conditions on Mars over various periods. Their research, published in the journal Science, reveals how the climate changed from a cold one to a warm, temperate one in which life may have thrived.
Study author Joel Hurowitz tells Newsweek the Gale crater is ideal for studying Mars’s ancient climate, and that evidence collected by NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which is located there, is increasingly showing what conditions would have been like in the past.
“One of the things we’re really learning from Gale crater is that Mars—in its ancient geological history — really was home to environments that were very Earth-like in their quality. We’re talking about a lake that was being fed by freshwater rivers, it was a standing body of water that was there for a long period of time that had lake chemistry very similar to what we see on Earth.
“This idea that Mars in its early history might have been a more Earth-like place—we’re demonstrating one the ground that this really was the case. We can place ourselves onto the surface of another planet and imagine what it would be like at one time in its history—and it would’ve looked quite similar to what Earth looks like.”
n the latest study, the team looked at rocks gathered by Curiosity over the 1,300 days it has been there. Samples were gathered from various depths, providing the researchers with the opportunity to track changes in the chemical and mineral compositions. This allowed them to reconstruct the conditions in the lake when the rocks would have formed.
Findings showed Mars’s climate underwent two major transitions. It started off very cold, and then warmed up to temperate conditions. Eventually, around 3.8 billion years ago, it dried up as the planet lost its atmosphere to space.
“We don’t understand rock chemistry quite as well as on Earth, so it’s difficult to ascribe a specific climate condition,” Hurowitz says. “If we were looking at the same rock chemistry on Earth, we would probably be comfortable saying some of the rocks were probably deposited in conditions consistent with a glaciated landscape, while some of the others might be more consistent with a temperate climate. We can say it’s colder and warmer, but exactly what the climate condition was is a little more difficult.”
While the team could not say exactly when these changes took place, it allowed them to narrow down the time frame during which the Gale crater would have had conditions that could support life. In the study, they narrow this down to between 3.8 and 3.1 billion years ago.
“What the study establishes is that there were places on Mars in its ancient history that had all of the necessary components for life to take hold and survive in those environments,” he says. “Mars had all the necessary ingredients to provide an environment where life as we know it would be perfectly happy living in.”
Having more evidence to show Mars could have been habitable for a prolonged period in its history helps scientists consider what sort of climate the planet must have had in order for a lake to exist in the Gale crater. “In my mind, that means a more earth-like climate than what we see on the surface of Mars today,” Hurowitz says.
As Curiosity continues to make its way up the Gale crater, scientists will get even more opportunity to analyze its rocks and get a better understanding of Mars’s geological and climatic history.
“It’s’ a real opportunity to study the long-term climate history of another planet,” Hurowitz says. “It provides us with guideposts for the right types of environments to go looking for biosignatures on the surface of Mars when we land there with future missions. We’re learning a lot about the nature of ancient environments on Mars—and where the right places might be to look at in more detail in the search for evidence of life on Mars."
Light from a distant quasar passes through intervening gas clouds in galaxies and in intergalactic space. These clouds of primeval hydrogen subtract specific colors from the beam. The resulting ‘absorption spectrum’ can help determine the distances and chemical composition of the invisible clouds. NASA/STScI
New Horizons is past Pluto, but it is not forgotten, and not done beaming back fascinating science. In January 2019 it will blaze past and image an example of the mysterious Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNO) that litter the outer edge of the solar system by the millions. It is these objects which have suggested the presence of an unseen Planet Nine.
The Universe has two trillion more galaxies than astronomers thought Hubble telescope images from deep space were collected over 20 years to solve the puzzle the cosmos harbors
From The Guardian: There are a dizzying two trillion galaxies in the Universe, up to 20 times more than previously thought, astronomers reported on Thursday.
The surprising find, based on 3D modeling of images collected over 20 years by the Hubble Space Telescope, was published in the Astronomical Journal.
Scientists have puzzled over how many galaxies the cosmos harbors at least since US astronomer Edwin Hubble showed in 1924 that Andromeda, a neighboring galaxy, was not part of our own Milky Way.
But even in the era of modern astronomy, getting an accurate tally has proven difficult.
To begin with, there is only part of the cosmos where light given off by distant objects has had time to reach Earth.
The rest is effectively beyond our reach.
And even within this “observable Universe”, current technology only allows us to glimpse 10% of what is out there, according to the new findings.
“It boggles the mind that over 90% of the galaxies in the Universe have yet to be studied,” commented Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham, who led the study.
“Who knows what interesting properties we will find when we observe these galaxies with the next generation of telescopes,” he said in a statement.
Using deep space images from Hubble, Conselice and his team painstakingly converted them into 3D to measure the number of galaxies at different times in the history of the Universe.
The analysis reached back more than 13bn years – very near the time of the “Big Bang” thought to have given birth to the Universe.
A galaxy is a system of millions or billions or stars, held together by gravity, with planetary systems within them.
Using new mathematical models, the astronomers were able to infer the number of “invisible” galaxies beyond the reach of telescopes, leading to the surprising realization that the vast majority are too faint and far away to be seen.
When the Universe was only a few billion years old, there were ten times as many galaxies in a given volume of space than there are today, the findings suggest.
This in turn suggests that “significant evolution must have occurred to reduce their number through extensive merging of systems”.
Kepler Finds 1,284 New Exoplanets
From NY Times: Planets keep falling out of the sky for Kepler.
Astronomers operating NASA’s planet-finding spacecraft announced on Tuesday that they had validated the planethood of 1,284 new candidates from Kepler’s voluminous catalog of potential exoplanets, bringing the total of planets Kepler has discovered to more than 2,000.
All of them orbit stars in a patch of sky on the Cygnus-Lyra border, where Kepler, launched in 2009, spent four years staring at 150,00 stars looking for the characteristic dimming when planets crossed their faces. About two dozen of the planets found so far occupy the so-called Goldilocks zones of their stars where liquid surface water and perhaps “Life as We Think We Know It” could exist.
Extrapolating these results to the entire galaxy, Natalie Batalha, a Kepler mission scientist from Ames Research Center, said there could be 10 billion roughly Earth-size stars in the galaxy within their stars’ habitable zones. The nearest habitable planet, she estimated, could be as close as 11 light-years.
The Kepler team, she said, is now approaching in the next year or two the closeout of their mission to determine the frequency of Earth-size planets in the universe. They will be passing the baton to future missions like NASA’s TESS, which will search for planets around nearby bright stars, starting in 2017.
Currently designated 2015 RR245, the giant ball of ice and rock lies nine billion kilometres away in the the most distant reaches of the solar system
From The Guardian: A dwarf planet half the size of Britain has been found tumbling through space in the most distant reaches of the solar system.
The giant ball of rock and ice lies nine billion kilometres away on an orbit that swings far beyond the realm of Neptune, the most remote of the fully-fledged planets in our cosmic vicinity.
Astronomers first noticed the new world when it appeared as a bright spot moving slowly across a sequence of images taken in September 2015 by a telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii for the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS).
“It was really remarkable to see how bright this object was,” said Michele Bannister, an astronomer on the team at the University of Victoria, Canada. “It’s far brighter than the objects we normally find.”
In a formal note released on Monday, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) designated the dwarf planet 2015 RR245. The name will be replaced when astronomers come up with a better one.
While discussions have begun about possible names for the object, Bannister said it was too early to share them. The scientists can propose a name only when the dwarf planet’s orbit has been observed for several years and its trajectory more clearly defined. The name will then be voted on by an IAU committee. “As long as the proposal is reasonable and a bit mythological, it’s generally fine,” Bannister said.
In an act of linguistic gymnastics, the IAU created the term “dwarf planet” in 2006 to describe heavenly bodies that it decided were not proper planets. Pluto became the first dwarf planet that year, when IAU members voted to demote it from full planetary status. A dwarf planet must circle the sun and be large enough to be rendered spherical by its own gravity.