Space Junk Jeopardizes Earth’s Space Environment

Posted April 24th, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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Computer generated image of Earth's orbitral debis. View is from a distant oblique vantage point to provide a good view of the object population in the geosynchronous region - around 35,785 km altitude. (NASA)

Computer generated image of Earth’s orbitral debis. View is from a distant oblique vantage point to provide a good view of the object population in the geosynchronous region – around 35,785 km altitude. (NASA)

Scientists estimate that there are some 750,000 pieces of space junk circling Earth, millions more if you count fragments smaller than 1 centimeter.

Think about it: Mankind has sent thousands of rockets into space since the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957.

While a number of space vehicles are still in active orbit around our planet, many have since dropped from orbit and destroyed by the burning friction of reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Some of that falling debris fell to Earth in chunks.

Delta 2nd Stage Stainless Steel Cylindrical Propellant Tank; landed in Georgetown, TX (Photo: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office)

Delta 2nd Stage Stainless Steel Cylindrical Propellant Tank; landed in Georgetown, TX (NASA Orbital Debris Program Office)

To make matters worse, over the years satellites have exploded, collided, or simply just disintegrated, leaving a thick trail of fragments.

According to NASA, most of the space junk is located within 2,000 kilometers above Earth.

Small but potentially deadly

Some pieces of space junk are as small as a fleck of paint.

But despite its tiny size, a fleck of paint flying at average impact speeds of 10 kilometers per second could still severely damage an active spacecraft or even worse, an astronaut performing extravehicular activity (EVA) also known as a spacewalk.

The 2013 film “Gravity”, stars Sandra Bullock as an astronaut aboard a space shuttle, shows a fictional but terrifying worst case scenario of the effects of space junk.

In the movie, a Russian satellite explodes, hurling fast moving chunks of debris that destroys her spacecraft.  Her character was outside the spacecraft performing an EVA at the time of the catastrophic collision.

The film follows her struggle to survive and return to Earth aboard a Chinese capsule that had been docked at a space station before it too was destroyed by space junk.

This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Sandra Bullock in a scene from "Gravity." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, File)

This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Sandra Bullock in a scene from “Gravity.” (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, File)

Tracking space trash

In recent years a number of space agencies around the world have called for tackling the growing problem of space debris.

In the United States, NASA’s Orbital Debris Program (ODP) at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, keeps an eye on the ever-expanding junkyard of space.

Large pieces of space junk, more than 10 centimeters, are routinely tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network.

Founded in 1993, the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) is an intergovernmental agency that coordinates the efforts of space agencies from around the world to deal with issues related to both natural and man-made space debris.

The European Space Agency (ESA) recently hosted 350 participants at the European Conference on Space Debris in Germany.

Conference participants stressed an urgent need for coordinated international action.

A tiny piece of space junk (a paint fleck) damaged the window of the space shuttle during the STS-7 mission (Photo: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office)

A tiny piece of space junk (a paint fleck) damaged the window of the space shuttle during the STS-7 mission (NASA Orbital Debris Program Office)

Adding to the clutter

Meanwhile, Hugh Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at Southampton University in the UK, told conference participants the launch of the first ‘mega-constellations’ of tiny communications satellites, called CubeSats, within the next year will increase the risk to Earth’s space environment unless action is taken to reduce their impact.

As part of efforts to provide high-speed internet throughout the world, Boeing, OneWeb and SpaceX are among several companies that have submitted plans to launch constellations of 720 to 4,425 of these tiny CubeSats as early as next year.

A team of engineers using the University of Southampton’s space debris model and its high performance computing facility were able to simulate the impact and effects of the deployment of large groups of CubeSats and small satellites over a 200-year period.

Their model showed the CubeSats would cause a 50% jump in the number of disastrous collisions that could result in serious consequences for other satellites.

The engineers’ suggested solutions include:

  • Decreasing the time that satellites spend in low Earth orbit after the end of their mission.
  • Making satellites smaller and more lightweight
  • Adding propulsion systems and other features to small satellites
  • Extending a satellite’s active lifespan to reduce the number that would need to be launched.
  • Deploying missions to remove faulty satellites from orbit
Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Dark Matter Imaged; Shoe-String Theory; Metal in Mars Atmosphere

Posted April 14th, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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Dark matter filaments bridge the space between galaxies in this false colour map. The lbright galaxies are shown ‌in white and the presence of a dark matter filament bridging is shown in red. (S. Epps & M. Hudson/University of Waterloo)

Dark matter filaments bridge the space between galaxies in this false color map. The bright galaxies are shown ‌in white and the presence of a dark matter filament bridging is shown in red. (S. Epps & M. Hudson/University of Waterloo)

Dark Matter Filaments of Cosmic Web Imaged

Two Canadian researchers say that they have constructed a composite image of dark matter filaments that make up what cosmologists call the cosmic web.

Scientists have been finding evidence that our universe may be anything but random and that everything is actually organized and connected to each other like an enormous spider web.

The researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada used a special technique called weak gravitational lensing to make their findings.

After gathering a number gravitational lensed images of more than 23,000 galaxy pairs, the scientists were able to create a composite image, they say, shows the presence of dark matter between the galaxy pairs.

The Canadian duo found that the dark matter filament bridges are strongest between galaxy systems that are less than 40 million light-years apart.

An overhead view of how to tie the weak knot (left) and the strong knot (right). The two knots only differ in the relative tying of the second trefoil to the first trefoil (panels b and c). After the loops are pulled out (indicated by the white arrows), the weak and strong knots become the prototypical false and square knots. (University of California, Berkeley)

An overhead view of how to tie the weak knot (left) and the strong knot (right). (University of California, Berkeley)

Shoe-String Theory

A new study concerning string theory was recently released by mechanical engineers at University of California, Berkeley.

Before you think this concerns a quantum or particle physics hypothesis, this study concerns shoe strings or why our shoe laces manage to keep getting untied.

They found out that the failure of a shoelace knot takes place in just seconds and is set-off by a series of complex force reactions that act like an invisible hand.

These forces loosen the knot and then tug on the free ends of the laces until they become undone.

While tying shoe laces as tightly as possible will still result in the knot becoming untied eventually, doing so, at least, will give you more time before you have to stop and re-tie your shoes.

Personally, giving my shoe laces a double-bow seems to keep them secure.

An illustration of the MAVEN spacecraft. Image courtesy of NASA.

An illustration of the MAVEN spacecraft. (NASA)

MAVEN Finds Metal in Martian Atmosphere

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, which has been circling Mars since September 2014, has detected metal in the Martian atmosphere.

Joseph Grebowsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is co-author of a study that details the discovery.

He says the orbiting space probe made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metallic ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth.

Grebowsky explains that because these metallic ions can last a long time and be carried far from the region of their origin, by winds and electric fields, they can be used to convey motion in the Martian ionosphere, in a way similar to how a lofted leaf can reveal wind direction.

Scientists say that the metal comes from a constant barrage of tiny meteoroids that fall onto Mars.

MAVEN recently helped researchers determine that the solar wind and radiation were the culprits behind stripping the once rich and thick atmosphere from Mars billions of years ago.

A second Great Spot has been discovered on Jupiter. Scientists say it was created by the powerful energies exerted by the giant planet’s polar aurorae. (Joseph DePasquale, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Chandra X-ray Center)

A second Great Spot has been discovered on Jupiter. Scientists say it was created by the powerful energies exerted by the giant planet’s polar aurorae. (Joseph DePasquale, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Chandra X-ray Center)

Scientists Find Great Cold Spot on Jupiter

A team of astronomers discovered another Great Spot on Jupiter that rivals the size of the giant planet’s iconic Great Red Spot.

The Great Red Spot is actually an ongoing high-pressure storm raging in its atmosphere with winds that can reach speeds of 430 to 680 kilometers per hour.

The new discovery is called the Great Cold Spot, because scientists think it’s about 200 Kelvin cooler than the surrounding atmosphere, which they say can vary between 426 and 726 degrees Celsius.

The researchers say the Great Cold Spot was created by the effects of the giant planet’s magnetic field.

They add that Jupiter’s polar aurorae pours energy, in the form of heat that swirls around the planet, into its atmosphere. This in turn forms a region of cooling.

Compared to the slowly changing Great Red Spot, the researchers say the Great Cold Spot is much more unstable and can dramatically change size and shape in only a few days or weeks.

Artist’s impression of the Venus-like Kepler-1649b exoplanet orbiting an M-class star 219 light-years from Earth. (Danielle Futselaar)

Artist’s impression of the Venus-like Kepler-1649b exoplanet orbiting an M-class star 219 light-years from Earth. (Danielle Futselaar)

Exoplanet Twin of Venus Discovered

Though a number of the exoplanets found so far have been compared to Earth, astronomers say they have found what could a twin of Earth’s neighbor, Venus.

The exoplanet is about 219 light-years away, slightly larger than Earth and orbits a dim and cool M dwarf star that’s one-fifth the diameter of our sun.

The planet, called Kepler 1649b appears to orbit tight and close to its host star and completes an orbit around it in only nine days.

Although its star is much weaker than our sun, since Kepler 1649b orbits so close, it receives 2.3 times the solar radiant energy than Earth.

While some recent exoplanet discoveries have uncovered Earth-like planets orbiting an M dwarf stars this new discovery suggests that some of these planets could very well be more like Venus.

This is an illustration of what the land bridge connecting Britain to Europe may have looked like before the formation of the Dover Strait. (Imperial College London/Chase Stone)

This is an illustration of what the land bridge connecting Britain to Europe may have looked like before the formation of the Dover Strait. (Imperial College London/Chase Stone)

First Brexit Physically Separated UK from France

Debate continues over the impact of the split of the UK from the European Union, known as Brexit.

But this isn’t the first time Britain separated from Europe.

Scientists say that when Earth was in the midst of an ice age, some 450,000 years ago, the English Channel which today separates Great Britain from France was dry land.

A new study is providing evidence that Great Britain was physically separated from France in two stages.

First they found that a lake which formed in front of a retreating ice sheet as it melted overflowed a natural dam-like structure that ran between the two countries along the Dover strait.

The spill was followed by what was described as a catastrophic megaflood which caused the structure to eventually fail allowing even more water to flow into the English Channel.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Researchers Doubt the Existence of Dark Energy

Posted April 10th, 2017 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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Timeline of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Timeline of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

According to NASA, the universe is composed of three things. About 4.6% of it is normal (visible) matter, 24% is dark matter and the remaining 71.4% is made up of dark energy.

In other words, hypothetically speaking, around 95% of everything in the universe can’t even be seen.

Now a Hungarian and American team of scientists have created a model of the universe that suggests dark energy may not exist at all. Their findings are detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A still from an animation that shows the expansion of the universe in the standard 'Lambda Cold Dark Matter' cosmology, which includes dark energy (top left panel, red), the new Avera model, that considers the structure of the universe and eliminates the need for dark energy (top middle panel, blue), and the Einstein-de Sitter cosmology, the original model without dark energy (top right panel, green). (István Csabai et al.)

A still from an animation that shows the expansion of the universe in the standard ‘Lambda Cold Dark Matter’ cosmology, which includes dark energy (top left panel, red), the new Avera model, that considers the structure of the universe and eliminates the need for dark energy (top middle panel, blue), and the Einstein-de Sitter cosmology, the original model without dark energy (top right panel, green). (István Csabai et al.)

Uneven expansion

The scientists suggest that standard models of our universe fail to explain its changing structure and depend on mathematical approximations to Einstein’s equations.  Once this is taken into consideration, the researchers assert that the need for the use of mysterious dark energy disappears.

To develop their findings, the researchers used a computer simulation that modeled the effect gravity has on the allocation of millions of particles of dark matter.  With the simulation, they were able to reconstruct the evolution of the universe.

The researchers suggest that, unlike conventional simulations that show a smoothly and evenly expanding universe, taking into account the changing structure of the universe allowed them to develop a new model that shows various regions of space expanding at different rates.

They found that averaging the various expansion rates supported and was consistent with current observations, which suggests that there’s an overall acceleration in the expansion of the universe.

The Big Bang theory says the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state (bottom) and continues to expand today (top) (Wikimedia Commons)

The Big Bang theory says the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state (bottom) and continues to expand today (top) (Wikimedia Commons)

Dark roots

The idea of the mysterious entities dark matter and dark energy may be traced to when Albert Einstein developed his theory of General Relativity over 100 years ago.

Einstein, along with many of his colleagues, initially thought that the universe remained static or stationary.

But the calculations Einstein made as he developed his famous theory suggested quite the opposite: that the universe had to be either expanding or collapsing.

So to explain how the universe can remain static — despite his own evidence of the contrary — Einstein developed a mathematical fix he called the “cosmological constant”.

In the 1920’s, Georges Lemaitre, a Roman Catholic priest, astronomer and professor of physics at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven; and Edwin Hubble, namesake of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, published papers that provided evidence of an expanding universe.

In 1931, after working with Willem de Sitter, a theoretical physicist and astronomer, Einstein finally agreed that the universe was indeed expanding.

Albert Einstein (circa 1921) theorized that the universe expands, but such expansion slows over time. Recent observations indicate that the opposite may be true that the universe if expanding at an faster rate. (Photo: Creative Commons/Wikipedia)

Albert Einstein- circa 1921 (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)

Scientists introduced the concept of the mysterious dark energy as the force that drives this expansion of the universe.

Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for their 1998 discovery that the universe was not only expanding but the rate of expansion is actually accelerating.

The trio of scientists discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe after observing a distant supernovae.

They theorized that this accelerating expansion of the universe was due to the power of the mysterious, unexplained “dark energy”.

Dr. László Dobos of the Eötvös Loránd University is one of the co-authors of the new study. While he acknowledges that the expansion universe is accelerating Dobos notes, “at the same time we rely on coarse approximations to Einstein’s equations which may introduce serious side-effects, such as the need for dark energy, in the models designed to fit the observational data.”

The researchers assert that if their findings are upheld, it could significantly impact current models of the universe and perhaps alter the direction of physics research.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

New Horizons Journey; Wrong Way Asteroid; Ring Around Mars?

Posted April 4th, 2017 at 3:45 pm (UTC-4)
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In preparation for the New Horizons flyby of 2014 MU69 (in yellow diamond) on Jan. 1, 2019, the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took a series of 10-second exposures of the background star field near the location of its target Kuiper Belt object. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

The New Horizons spacecraft took a series of exposures of the background star field near the location of its target Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. (yellow diamond). (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

New Horizons Halfway to Next Flyby Destination

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft provided scientists an amazing once in a lifetime look at the distant dwarf planet Pluto as it flew by it in July 2015.

Along with spectacular images of Pluto the spacecraft also sent back those of Pluto’s five moons including high definition shots of Charon its largest and Nix one it’s smaller satellites.

The spacecraft also observed a dozen objects in the Kuiper Belt a distant region of our solar system filled with objects made of ice and rock.

After the fly-by New Horizons has continued on the path for its next fly-by destination a Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69 some 1.6 billion kilometers from Pluto.

Officials with the New Horizons mission report that the spacecraft has recently reached its important halfway point between Pluto and MU69 and will be put into a 157 day hibernation period.

New Horizons is expected to conduct its flyby of 2014 MU 69 sometime in January 2019.

Asteroid Bee-Zed avoids colliding with Jupiter and with the Trojan asteroids with every wrong-way pass it makes. (Western University (Canada), Athabaskan University, Large Binocular Telescope Observatory)

Wrong Way Asteroid

Astronomers recently discovered an asteroid that is traveling in an orbit that’s the exact opposite of 99.9 percent of the planets and asteroids in our solar system.

Jupiter shares its orbital path with 6,000 asteroids called Trojan asteroids. All are rotating in the same direction.

The wrong way asteroid dubbed 2015 BZ509 or just BZ for short also shares Jupiter’s orbit too, but it travels in orbit like a car going the wrong way on a busy one way street.

You would think that BZ would have been smashed to bits by now by the solar system’s largest planet.

But, a new study shows, the wayward rock has been able to safely maintain its odd travel path thanks to Jupiter’s gravitational influence which helps it to weave in and out of danger’s way.

Calculations by the study’s research team indicate that 2015 BZ509 will be able to safely maintain its dangerous orbit for the next million years at least.

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left). (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Solar Wind and Radiation Stripped Mars of Its Atmosphere

NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission spacecraft was sent to the Red Planet with a goal of finding out what happened to the Martian atmosphere.

Several studies suggest that a little over 4 billion years ago, Mars had a thick, rich atmosphere, oceans of flowing water on its surface.  All of which could have possibly supported life.

Today however, the Red Planet is pretty much cold and desert like and surrounded by a very thin atmosphere.

New results of studies made from data gathered by MAVEN points the finger of blame on solar wind and radiation as the culprits behind stripping the atmosphere from Mars.

MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky, from the University of Colorado, Boulder says their new research has found that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space.

Designers Want to Dangle Building from Space

Here’s an idea for a new kind of building that is out of this world. WAY out of this world.

An architecture firm called Clouds Architecture Office has an idea to build a skyscraper that is actually more like a ground scraper.

Called the Analemma Tower, their idea calls for snagging a large asteroid, putting it into orbit, and then using the space rock to tether and anchor the giant building with a high strength cable.

The system being considered for use is referred to as a Universal Orbital Support System (UOSS).

That’s right – it’s a building, dangled from outer space.

If you think this sounds crazy, maybe it is, but remember that Clouds AO is the same company that has already won a NASA competition to design living quarters on Mars.

For the Analemma Tower, occupants would be able to enter and exit the building at various surface transfer points located on high hills and mountains here on Earth along the tower’s orbital path.

Aboriginal elder and Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter lies alongside a 1.75 meter footprint of a sauropod dinosaur track. Said to be the largest dinosaur track that had been found so far, it was discovered along with the footprints of 21 other dinosaur species on the coast of Northwestern Australia. (Damian Kelly-University of Queensland via Reuters)

Aboriginal elder and Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter lies alongside a 1.75 meter footprint of a sauropod dinosaur track found on the coast of Northwestern Australia. (Damian Kelly-University of Queensland via Reuters)

Dinosaur Leaves BIG Footprint

Investigations by a team of paleontologists from two Australian universities have revealed a bonanza of diverse dinosaur footprints.

The scientists found 21 tracks made by different species of dinosaurs along a 25-kilometer area of coastline in northwestern Australia, they’ve called “Australia’s Jurassic Park”.

Among the tracks are also what is considered to be some of the largest dinosaur tracks ever documented.

The researchers say that some of the footprints, made by members of dinosaur group called the sauropod, are around 1.7 meters long.

Among the tracks include those from five different types of predatory dinosaurs, six from herbivorous sauropods, four from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armored dinosaurs.

Color image of Martian moon Phobos (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Color image of Martian moon Phobos (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Ring Around Mars

When we think of planets in our solar system surrounded by rings most of us, of course, think of Saturn.

In a new NASA funded study, scientists at Indiana’s Purdue University theorize that our planetary neighbor, Mars, also had rings at one time during its history and may have them again sometime in the future.

The scientists created and studied a model that proposes a good amount of material blown into space after an asteroid or other celestial body slammed into the red planet went on to form a planetary ring.

The study suggests that later, as the ring material spread further out in space, it gathered to create a moon.

Meanwhile scientists are also saying the Martian moon Phobos is getting closer to the planet.

The model proposes that in perhaps 70 million years the moon will break apart and become a new set of rings for the Red Planet.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

March 2017 Science Images

Posted March 31st, 2017 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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Engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of a giant bank of xenon short-arc lamps at the DLR German national aeronautics and space research center in Germany. When switched on, what is being called the world’s largest artificial sun creates combined intensity that's 10,000x stronger than sun's light on Earth's surface and produces temperatures of around 2,982° Celsius. The photo was taken on 3/21/17 (AP)

Engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of a giant bank of xenon short-arc lamps at the DLR German national aeronautics and space research center in Germany. When switched on, what is being called the world’s largest artificial sun creates combined intensity that’s 10,000x stronger than sun’s light on Earth’s surface and produces temperatures of around 2,982° Celsius. The photo was taken on 3/21/17 (AP)

Taken on 3/9/17, here’s a photo of a telescope at the Oukaimeden Observatory, located in the High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech, Morocco. Using a robotic telescope this observatory was participated in the recent discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star. Scientists say that some of exoplanets could support life. (AP)

Taken on 3/9/17, here’s a photo of a telescope at the Oukaimeden Observatory, located in the High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech, Morocco. Using a robotic telescope this observatory participated in the recent discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star. Scientists say that some of the exoplanets could support life. (AP)

This image, released by NASA on 3/30/17, shows the Was 49 system, a large disk galaxy, merging with a much smaller "dwarf" galaxy Was 49b. The image was compiled using observations from the Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope in Happy Jack, Arizona. The same color filters used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey was used to help create the image. (DCT/NRL)

This image, released by NASA on 3/30/17, shows the Was 49 system, a large disk galaxy, merging with a much smaller “dwarf” galaxy, Was 49b. The image was compiled using observations from the Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope in Happy Jack, Arizona. The same color filters used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey were used to help create the image. (DCT/NRL)

In a photo taken 3/26/17, Aboriginal elder and Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter lies alongside a 1.75 meter footprint of a sauropod dinosaur track. Said to be the largest dinosaur track that had been found so far, it was discovered along with the footprints of 21 other dinosaur species on the coast of Northwestern Australia. (Damian Kelly-University of Queensland via Reuters)

In a photo taken 3/26/17, Aboriginal elder and Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter lies alongside a 1.75 meter footprint of a sauropod dinosaur track. Said to be the largest dinosaur track  found so far, it was discovered along with the footprints of 21 other dinosaur species on the coast of Northwestern Australia. (Damian Kelly-University of Queensland via Reuters)

The Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) is in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm during its relocation and attachment to the International Space Station’s Harmony module on 3/26/17. The relocation readies the PMA-3 for the future installation of the new International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) which will accommodate commercial crew vehicle dockings and provide the pressurized interface between the station and the adapter. (NASA)

The Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 (PMA-3) is in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm during its relocation and attachment to the International Space Station’s Harmony module on 3/26/17. The relocation readies the PMA-3 for the future installation of the new International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3) which will accommodate commercial crew vehicle dockings and provide the pressurized interface between the station and the adapter. (NASA)

Here’s a shot of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis as seen over the skies of Bilfrost, Western Iceland on 3/1/17. The auroras are created as a result of collisions between particles in the Earth's atmosphere and charged particles released by the sun and carried by the solar wind. (AP)

Here’s a shot of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, as seen over the skies of Bilfrost, Western Iceland on 3/1/17. The auroras are created as a result of collisions between particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released by the sun and carried by the solar wind. (AP)

Two of the raised treads on the left middle wheel of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover broke during the first quarter of 2017. You can especially see one that’s partially detached at the top of the wheel. The photo was taken 3/19/17 with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera that’s attached to on the rover's arm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Two of the raised treads on the left middle wheel of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover broke during the first quarter of 2017. You can especially see one that’s partially detached at the top of the wheel. The photo was taken 3/19/17 with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera that’s attached to on the rover’s arm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This is a photo of a wave colored with dark green algae washes on the beach of Bandar al-Jissah, Oman. All across Earth, algae blooms such as this have wrecked local ecosystems. According to a U.N. science agency the algae’s toxins have permeated entire marine food chains and have, in rare cases, killed people, according to a U.N. science agency. (AP)

This is a photo of a wave colored with dark green algae crashing on the beach of Bandar al-Jissah, Oman. All across Earth, algae blooms such as this have wrecked local ecosystems. According to a U.N. science agency, the algae’s toxins have permeated entire marine food chains and have, in rare cases, killed people. (AP)

This image, taken on 3/27/17, by the JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft, focuses on a swirling storm just south of one of the white oval storms on Jupiter. NASA says at the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 20,000 kilometers from the planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major)

This image, taken on 3/27/17 by the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft, focuses on a swirling storm just south of one of the white oval storms on Jupiter. NASA says at the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 20,000 kilometers from the planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major)

French President Francois Hollande stands beside Leenby the robot. Photo was taken on 3/21/17 at the launch of French strategy in artificial intelligence at the Cite des Sciences in Paris. The museum is the largest science museum in Europe. (AP)

French President Francois Hollande stands beside Leenby the robot. The photo was taken on 3/21/17 at  the Cite des Sciences in Paris. The museum is the largest science museum in Europe. (AP)

 

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Astronomers Find Newborn Stars Near Supermassive Black Hole

Posted March 27th, 2017 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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Artist’s impression of a galaxy forming stars within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at its core. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Artist’s impression of a galaxy forming stars within powerful outflows of material blasted out from supermassive black holes at its core. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

A star being consumed by a black hole may seem quite common.  But, news of stars being formed alongside a black hole could be something to notice!

But that’s just what a UK-led group of astronomers say they recently discovered.

While they were studying the ongoing collision of two galaxies, known jointly as IRAS F23128-5919, the researchers found what they say are the first confirmed observations of stars forming inside the blasts of material that pour out from a supermassive black hole located at the center of one of the galaxies.

These colliding galaxies are located about 600 million light-years from Earth.

The astronomers provide the details of their discovery and findings in a study recently published in the journal Nature.

As a black hole devours a star or other cosmic object, it heats gas in the surrounding area.

But, a black hole, despite its voracious appetite, can gobble up only so much incoming material at one time.

What remains is blown out from the abyss with powerful and dense winds, and goes on to form a ring of material surrounding the black hole called an accretion disk.

When the black hole gets hungry again, its tremendous gravity pulls material from this accretion disk into its event horizon, or the point where nothing, not even light can escape its powerful gravity.

The Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), an extremely powerful and innovative 3D spectrograph with a wide field of view is attached to ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT). (ESO)

The Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), an extremely powerful and innovative 3D spectrograph with a wide field of view is attached to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). (ESO)

The team of scientists studied the newborn stars with spectroscopic instruments called the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) and X-shooter mounted on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile.

The researchers say the newborn stars they discovered in this turbulent environment are less than ten million years old.

An initial data analysis suggests that the stars are hotter and brighter than other stars that are born in less hostile surroundings such as in the galactic disk itself.

The scientists say they were also were able to establish the motion and velocity of the stars, noting that most of the observed newborn stars are moving away from the galaxy’s center at tremendous speed.

However, study co-author Helen Russell from the Institute of Astronomy at the UK’s University of Cambridge says new stars that form in the winds closest to the center of the galaxy might slow down in their movements, and perhaps even travel backwards toward the black hole.

She also notes that the stars formed farther out from the galactic center not only don’t decelerate, but can even fly out of the galaxy altogether.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Insight Into Planetary Evolution – Dark Matter Rare in Old Galaxies

Posted March 17th, 2017 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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Simulated image of the HD 106906 stellar debris disk, showing a ring of rocky planet-forming material. (Erika Nesvold/Carnegie Institution for Science)

Simulated image of the HD 106906 stellar debris disk, showing a ring of rocky planet-forming material. (Erika Nesvold/Carnegie Institution for Science)

Scientists Gain New Insight into Planetary Evolution

Scientists recently gained new insight into the evolution of planet formation by creating and studying a model of a fairly young solar system 300 light years from Earth.

The nearly 13 million year-old planetary system circles a star known as HD 106906.

The system features a surrounding planet forming debris disk and one giant planet that orbits it from a distance that is at least 650 times as far as Earth is to the sun.

The planet, discovered by an international team of scientists in 2014, is thought to have a mass that’s 11 times greater than Jupiter and takes 1,500 years to make one complete solar orbit.

The scientists created a model of the system that examined the gravitational influence the planet would have on the structure of the debris disk.

The model suggests that the solitary planet likely formed outside of the disk rather than inside the disk and moving out to its current location.

Comparison of rotating disc galaxies in the distant Universe and the present day. (ESO)

Comparison of rotating disc galaxies in the distant Universe and the present day. (ESO)

Ancient Galaxies Have Very Little Dark Matter

New observations by an international team of astronomers’ show that huge galaxies created some 10 billion years ago, during a peak in galaxy formation, were comprised of mostly baryonic or normal matter and very little of the mysterious dark matter that tends to dominate much younger galaxies.

The astronomers led by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics made their findings after measuring the rotation of six massive and distant star-forming galaxies.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope, the group of scientists said they found that the outer regions of these old galaxies rotated much slower than areas closer to their cores.

That’s different than much younger spiral galaxies.

The astronomers think this difference suggests that there is less dark matter present in the ancient galaxies than had been expected.

Artist illustration of a white dwarf in dangerously close orbit around a black hole. (NASA)

Artist illustration of a white dwarf in dangerously close orbit around a black hole. (NASA)

Star in Close Dance with Black Hole Spotted

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NuSTAR X-ray space telescope as well as the Australia Telescope Compact Array say they have found evidence of the tightest orbit of a companion star around a black hole.

The star, a white dwarf is said to circle the black hole at a rate of 2 times an hour from a distance equal to 2.5 times the separation between the Earth and the moon.

The black hole/white dwarf system was identified as X9 and is located a Milky Way globular star cluster nearly 15,000 light-years from Earth.

The scientists say the white dwarf is so close to the cosmic abyss that stellar material is being stripped away and dumped into a disk of matter surrounding the black hole before it’s pulled in by the tremendous gravity.

While they don’t think the white dwarf is in danger of falling in or being torn apart by the black hole, the researchers say its fate is uncertain.

Itching is a highly contagious behavior. When we see someone scratch, we're likely to scratch, too. New research from the Washington University Center for the Study of Itch shows contagious itching is hardwired in the brain. (Michael Worful)

Itching is a highly contagious behavior. When we see someone scratch, we’re likely to scratch, too. New research from the Washington University Center for the Study of Itch shows contagious itching is hardwired in the brain. (Michael Worful)

Contagious Itching or Scratching Hardwired in Brain

When we see someone yawn or scratch an itch, sometimes we can’t help but respond in kind.

Scientists call this socially contagious behavior.

For years, many scientists have thought that this behavior was an empathic or psychological response.

A new study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine proposes that the mimicked scratching response is controlled by chemicals released in the brain.

In the study, researchers showed mice videos of other mice scratching themselves.  The scientists noticed that the videos evoked a similar behavior in the live mice.

The scientists found that whenever a mouse saw another one scratch, a chemical called GRP would be released by a part of its brain that controls wake/sleep functions.

When the researchers blocked the GRP in the mouse brain, they found that mice would no longer mimic scratching behavior as observed in video.

An artist's illustration of a light-sail powered by a radio beam (red) generated on the surface of a planet. The leakage from such beams as they sweep across the sky would appear as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), similar to the new population of sources that was discovered recently at cosmological distances. (M. Weiss/CfA)

An artist’s illustration of a light-sail powered by a radio beam (red) generated on the surface of a planet. The leakage from such beams as they sweep across the sky would appear as Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), similar to the new population of sources that was discovered recently at cosmological distances. (M. Weiss/CfA)

Could Fast Radio Bursts Be Powering Alien Probes?

The latest astronomical phenomenon to pique the interest of scientists is called the fast radio burst.

Fast radio bursts or FRB’s are just that; very fast, lasting less than 5 milliseconds, but brilliant and powerful pulses of electromagnetic energy at radio wavelengths.

Now, a new study authored by scientists at Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests that these fast radio bursts just might be the result of advanced alien technology.

They theorize these FRB’s could very well be energy leakage from planet-sized transmitters powering interstellar probes in distant galaxies.

One of the researchers says an artificial origin of these FRB’s is worth considering and examining since scientists haven’t been able to find any possible natural source.

Scientists think the Fast Radio Bursts originate millions or even billions of light-years away.

Rattlesnake (Creative Commons @ Flickr)

Rattlesnake (Creative Commons @ Flickr)

Cheaper and More Effective Snake Bite Treatment

According to the World Health Organization at least 100,000 of the nearly 5 million estimated annual victims of snake bite die.

About 300,000 more people suffer from amputations and other permanent disabilities related to snake bites.

Today’s venomous snake bite treatment involves a slow and very expensive intravenous infusion of anti-venom.

Right now these anti-venom treatments are very specific to certain snake types and stop the damage effected by only a small number of species.

University of California at Irvine chemists say they have come up with a way that could, someday, be a cheaper and more effective way to counter deadly snake venom.

The researchers say they focused on families of proteins common to many serpents and created a polymer material that keeps toxins from bursting cell membranes and causing widespread destruction.

Artist's concept of an atom chip for use by NASA's Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) aboard the International Space Station. CAL will use lasers to cool atoms to ultracold temperatures. (NASA)

Artist’s concept of an atom chip for use by NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) aboard the International Space Station. CAL will use lasers to cool atoms to ultracold temperatures. (NASA)

NASA Readies Coolest Spot in the Universe

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is preparing to send an ice chest-sized experiment to the International Space Station that will produce the coolest spot in the universe.

Called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) the experiment is a suite of instruments that include lasers, a vacuum chamber and an electromagnetic “knife”.

CAL’s instruments have been designed to freeze atoms of gas down to just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero or -273.15 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is more than 100 million times colder than what can be found in deep space.

It’s thought that the CAL experiment could help improve various technologies such as sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks that spacecraft use for navigation.

It could also provide new insight into dark energy which scientists theorize comprises 68 percent of the universe.

CAL is set to go up to the ISS this August.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

NASA Prevents Space Wreck; Black Hole Winds; Oldest Fossils Found

Posted March 3rd, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora" on Mars. (University of Colorado)

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. (University of Colorado)

NASA Prevents a Wreck at Mars

The folks at NASA’s MAVEN program recently had to give their spacecraft a small unscheduled course correction so that it wouldn’t smash into Mars’s moon Phobos.

The spacecraft that’s been circling the Red Planet for a little over two years conducted a motor burn that give it a slight bump, about .4 meter per second in speed.

That minor maneuver however is keeping the spacecraft from smashing into the Martian moon sometime around March 6, 2017.

MAVEN instead will miss crossing into the path of Phobos by 2 and a half minutes.

NASA reports that this has been the only collision avoidance operation the spacecraft conducted since arriving at Mars in September 2014.

According to the space agency, MAVEN, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, has been studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and how they interact with both the Sun and its solar wind.

This artist's concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with X-ray emission emanating from its inner region (pink) and ultrafast winds (light purple lines) streaming from the surrounding disk. (ESA)

This artist’s concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with X-ray emission emanating from its inner region (pink) and ultrafast winds (light purple lines) streaming from the surrounding disk. (ESA)

Winds from Black Hole Blow Very Hot and Then Cold

Black holes are regions of space with such incredible gravitational pull that not even light can escape them.

Circling the black holes are disks of dust and gas they feed on called accretion disks.

While black holes may have a voracious appetite, scientists say they can only consume so much at one time.

Because of this, black holes have been known to be sloppy eaters tossing out quick moving streams of hot gas winds that can blow throughout their host galaxies.

Scientists studying data from NASA’s NuSTAR telescope and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton telescope have just found that these winds can get incredibly hot and then cool down within just a few hours.

The researchers who say these winds travel at a quarter of the speed of light and contain a vast amount of matter, can actually disturb star formation within the black hole’s host galaxy.

An image of a protoplanetary disk, made using results from the new model, after the formation of a spontaneous dust trap, visible as a bright dust ring. Gas is depicted in blue and dust in red. (Jean-Francois Gonzalez)

An image of a protoplanetary disk, made using results from the new model, after the formation of a spontaneous dust trap, visible as a bright dust ring. Gas is depicted in blue and dust in red.
(Jean-Francois Gonzalez)

Planet Formation Missing Link Found?

A new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that scientists have found the proverbial “missing link” in the formation of planets.

The study provides an explanation of how dust left over from star formation gathers or accretes materials that eventually go on to form planets and planetary systems.

A new theory developed by the scientists from various numerical simulations and analytical calculations explains the progression from dust particles into pebbles then into what will become the building blocks of planets.

Gas also left over from star formation moves the particles around, which could prevent them from accreting.

But research suggests that high pressure regions called “dust traps” form to slow the dust particles enough so that they can join together and grow into larger objects.

These “dust traps” are also said to prevent the growing objects from being fragmented by other particles.

Haematite tubes from the hydrothermal vent deposits in Quebec, Canada that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. The remains are at least 3,770 million years old. (Matthew Dodd, UCL)

Haematite tubes from the hydrothermal vent deposits in Quebec, Canada that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. The remains are at least 3,770 million years old. (Matthew Dodd, UCL)

Scientists Find World’s Oldest Fossils

An international team of researchers say they’ve found the world’s oldest fossils.

In a study published by the journal “Nature”, the researchers say they discovered the remains of microorganisms dating back some 3.8 billion years ago.

They say their finding provides direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.

What they actually found, encased in layers of quartz, are some miniscule filaments and tubes that were formed by the ancient bacteria.

They assert that the microorganisms lived on iron in which the scientists think was once part of the iron-rich deep-sea hydrothermal system.

Study first author Matthew Dodd from the UK’s University College London says that the discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after Earth formed 4.54 billion years ago.

Record-breaking pulsar, identified as NGC 5907 X-1. The image includes X-ray emission data (blue/white) from ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, and optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (galaxy and foreground stars). Inset shows the X-ray pulsation of the spinning neutron star. (ESA/XMM-Newton; NASA/Chandra and SDSS)

Record-breaking pulsar – NGC 5907 X-1. The image includes X-ray emission data (blue/white) from ESA’s XMM-Newton space telescope and NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, and optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (galaxy and foreground stars). Inset shows the X-ray pulsation of the spinning neutron star. (ESA/XMM-Newton; NASA/Chandra and SDSS)

Astronomers Spot Record Setting Pulsar

The European Space Agency says an international group of astronomers has discovered a record setting pulsar some 50 million light-years from Earth.

Using data gathered by the space agency’s XXM-Newton x-ray space observatory and archival data from NASA’s NuStar x-ray space telescope, the scientists say the pulsar is the most distant and the brightest of its kind that’s been detected so far.

The pulsar is called NGC 5907 X-1. ESA says that every second it pumps out the same amount of energy released by our Sun in 3.5 years.

A pulsar is a type of neutron star, which is the collapsed core of a star that exploded in a massive supernova.

What makes it a pulsar is that this neutron star also pumps out two rotating and pulsing symmetrical beams of electromagnetic radiation that shine so brightly scientists call them cosmic lighthouses.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

February 2017 Science Images

Posted March 1st, 2017 at 4:30 pm (UTC-4)
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Artist imagery of the surface of exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f one of 7 planets discovered orbiting a nearby star that was announced on 2/22/17. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist imagery of the surface of exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f one of seven planets discovered orbiting a nearby star that was announced on 2/22/17. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In this photo taken 2/3/17, a student looks up at the moon through a telescope, during a visit by The Traveling Telescope at St Andrew's School near Molo in Kenya's Rift Valley. The Traveling Telescope visits some of the country's most remote areas with telescopes and virtual reality goggles. (AP)

In this photo taken 2/3/17, a student, at St Andrew’s School near Molo in Kenya’s Rift Valley, looks up at the moon through a telescope, during a visit by The Traveling Telescope . The Traveling Telescope visits some of the country’s most remote areas with telescopes and virtual reality goggles. (AP)

As NASA's Juno spacecraft flew directly over Jupiter's South Pole on 2/2/17 its JunoCam took this image from an altitude of about 101,000 kilometers above the cloud tops. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/John Landino)

As NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew directly over Jupiter’s South Pole on 2/2/17 and with its JunoCam took this image from an altitude of about 101,000 kilometers above the cloud tops. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/John Landino)

A replica of the 'Maria' a robot that was designed and featured in Fritz Lang's classic science fiction motion picture Metropolis is shown on display, during a press preview for the Robots exhibition held at the Science Museum in London, 2/7/17. (AP)

A replica of the ‘Maria’ a robot that was designed and featured in Fritz Lang’s classic science fiction motion picture “Metropolis” is shown on display, during a press preview for the Robots exhibition at the Science Museum in London, 2/7/17. (AP)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft snapped this enhanced color composite image of an area around the Ernutet crater on the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn scientists say that the red areas in this photo, released 2/16/17 could be evidence of organic material. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft snapped this enhanced color composite image of an area around the Ernutet crater on the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn scientists say that the red areas in this photo, released 2/16/17, could be evidence of organic material. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This photograph released by Indian Space Research Organization shows its polar satellite launch vehicle lifting off from a launch pad on 2/15/17. The Indian space agency sent a record 104 satellites on single rocket into space. (Indian Space Research Organization via AP)

This photograph released by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) shows its polar satellite launch vehicle lifting off from a launch pad on 2/15/17. The Indian space agency sent a record 104 satellites on single rocket into space. (Indian Space Research Organization via AP)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft got this image of Saturn’s North Pole. You can see clouds churning around it driven by the fast winds of the ringed planet. You can also see some of the planet’s moons and small particles that form its ring. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft got this image of Saturn’s North Pole. You can see clouds churning around it driven by the fast winds of the ringed planet. You can also see some of the planet’s moons and small particles that form its ring. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

An employee works on an artificial heart valve at a research and technology plant of the "Planar" corporation in Minsk, Belarus on 2/22/17. (Reuters)

An employee works on an artificial heart valve at a research and technology plant of the “Planar” corporation in Minsk, Belarus on 2/22/17. (Reuters)

Animated sequence from NASA’s Curiosity Rover of a dust-carrying whirlwind, called a dust devil making way across the Martian landscape at Gale Crater on, Sol 1597 or 2/1/17. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Animated sequence from NASA’s Curiosity Rover of a dust-carrying whirlwind, called a dust devil making way across the Martian landscape at Gale Crater on, Sol 1597 or 2/1/17. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

A rooftop is covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 2/14/17, in New York City, you can see the Manhattan skyline is at top. According to the New York City Mayor’s office, these new panels will generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. (AP)

A rooftop is covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 2/14/17, in New York City, you can see the Manhattan skyline is at top. According to the New York City Mayor’s office, these new panels will generate 1.1 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. (AP)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Exoplanet Bonanza; Good Sleep = Less Stress; Help Find Planet 9

Posted February 23rd, 2017 at 4:25 pm (UTC-4)
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This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

7 Earth-Like Planets Found Orbiting Single Star

Scientists using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have found the largest group of earth-like planets circling a single star.

A total of seven planets were observed orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a star located only about 40 light years from Earth.

The discovery also set a record for the number of planets that were found in a star’s habitable zone.

The habitable zone is an area surrounding a star where any orbiting planets could have liquid water on its surface, something that’s essential to support life.

“The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of ‘if’, but when,” says NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen speaking at a press conference announcing the discovery.

The head of the space agency’s Science Mission Directorate also says scientists believe that around every star there could one, seven or more planets that could have a chance at becoming a habitable ecosystem.

Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

Good Sleep = Less Stress – Less Stress = Good Sleep

According to the US National Institutes of Health, getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental and physical health, as well as your safety and quality of life.

Not getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can put you at risk for medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Penn State researchers have found in two studies that there’s a cycle of how the caliber and amount of sleep is affected by and can affect daily stressors.

Penn State’s Orfeu Buxton, senior author of the two studies, says having a day that’s less stressful and conflict filled day is followed by a night where it’s easier to get to sleep. And in turn having a good night of sleep is more likely to be followed by a day with less stress and conflict.

He suggests that sleep is a powerful source of resilience to help get through difficult times.

Computer monitor displaying the dreaded 'Blue Screen of Death' after malfunction. (Michael Ocampo via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Computer monitor displaying the dreaded ‘Blue Screen of Death’ after malfunction.
(Michael Ocampo via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Cosmic Rays May Crash Your Electronic Gear

You’ve been on your computer for a couple of hours working on an important paper and then boom – your computer crashes leaving you with that dreaded ‘blue screen of death’ on your monitor.

You may think this is due to a poorly written program or some other computer glitch, but new research suggests the problem may originate in deep space.

Bharat Bhuva from Vanderbilt University, says in a press release that in many cases, problems with our electronic devices may be caused by streams of electrically charged particles produced by cosmic rays.

While millions of these particles strike your body every second, they have no known harmful effects on living creatures.

However, Bhuva says a portion of these particles can carry enough energy to affect microelectronic circuitry.

He says fortunately makers of critical electronic devices such those used in aviation and medicine are all aware of this problem and working on measures to address it.

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

NASA Challenges Citizen Scientists to Find Planet 9

Back in January 2016, two astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) provided evidence of a giant planet traveling in an odd, drawn-out orbit in the far reaches of the solar system.

The evidence for its existence is based on the gravitational influence Planet 9 seems to have on several minor planet sized objects beyond the orbit of the solar system’s farthest planet Neptune.

Astronomers around the world have been actively scanning the skies since the discovery was announced, hoping to spot the humongous planet.

NASA is now seeking the help of citizen scientists to locate Planet 9 with the launch of a new website – Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.

The website features brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer or WISE mission.

The address for the new NASA website is www.backyardworlds.org

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.