Pluto Flyby Data Feed Complete; Nearby Exoplanet May Have Oceans

Posted October 28th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-5)
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NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on 7/14/15. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15.  (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizon’s Sends Final Data of Pluto Flyby

The final bits of data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby of Pluto were received this week by its mission operations center at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

More than 50 gigabytes of observational data was stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since the flyby.

The data has been sent back to Earth in increments over a 15 month period.

Mission officials say part of an observation sequence of Pluto and its largest moon Charon were included in the final data feed.

Traveling at light speed the data made the nearly 50 billion kilometer trip in about five hours.

After conducting a final verification of all received data, mission team members will clear space on the spacecraft’s digital recorders to make room for new data that will be gathered in its upcoming exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

El Nino May Have Helped Settle South Pacific Islands

A team of scientists have found evidence that ancient Pacific sailors took advantage of various climate patterns such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation to travel to and settle on remote islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean some thirty four hundred years ago.

Using computer simulations and climatic data, the researchers found that the mariners who traveled over thousands of kilometers of ocean had to overcome strong currents and hazardous weather to reach the islands.

The researcher’s findings also provided some idea of the point where the sailors began their voyages.

They found that people who settled Western Micronesia probably came from near the Maluku or Spice Islands.

Those who made East Polynesia their new home probably came from Samoa. And, settlers of Hawaii and New Zealand may have come from the Marquesas or Society Islands.

The researchers are still trying to determine exactly what caused the island settlers to leave their original homes.

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. You can also see the better known double star Alpha Centauri AB in the image. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of the exoplanet, which is only 4.2 light years away from Earth on 8/24/16. The planet orbits its star within the habitable zone, where the temperature is said to be suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.  (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

New Findings on Closest Exoplanet to Earth

Back in late August, a team of astronomers announced that they had discovered a small planet orbiting in the habitable, or so-called “Goldilocks” zone of its star, Proxima Centauri, which is a little more than 4 light years away, making it the closest exoplanet to Earth.

A new study expands on the original findings with more details and suggests conditions on Proxima B actually increase the odds of it being habitable.

The researchers say that the nearby exoplanet could be an ocean planet, covered with the same kind of subsurface oceans detected inside a couple of moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Although the exoplanet orbits its star from a relatively close distance, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, and not as bright as our sun, so its habitable zone is closer than it would be for stars like our sun.

The study also finds that the planet has a substantial metal core, and is about 30 percent more massive than Earth.

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Air Pollution and Street Noise Linked to High Blood Pressure

Health issues from asthma, lung cancer, heart disease to reproductive and developmental disorders have long been linked to air pollution.

A new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that air pollution can also be connected to an increased prevalence of high blood pressure.

The study followed over 41,000 people in five countries for five to nine years and investigated the health effects not only air pollution, but also traffic noise.

The research indicates that one additional adult per 100 of the same age group who live in the most polluted areas develops high blood pressure that those who live in less polluted areas.

The study also shows that six percent of those who live on streets with average night time noise levels of 50 decibels or more had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who live on streets with night time noise levels that were lower.

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. The brightness of the planet's faint rings and dark moons has been enhanced for visibility. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Old Data Reveals Possible Mini-Moons Circling Uranus

Data gathered in 1986 by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft is still helping scientists make new discoveries.

University of Idaho researchers say they have found signs of two previously unseen tiny moons or moonlets in the rings of Uranus after studying information from the space probe’s flyby of the planet 30 years ago.

It’s thought the two possible moonlets are between 2 to 7 kilometers in radius, which are smaller than any of the known moons Uranus, but are about the same size as small of the identified moons of Saturn.

The researchers say they found signs of the tiny moons after they noticed that the amount of material in two of the planet’s rings varied occasionally.

Similar observations of Saturn’s rings also revealed similar moon like objects too.

In the 1970’s, rings were found to encircle not only Saturn, but all four of the solar system’s outer gas giant planets including Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

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.

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