Kepler Discovers More Exoplanets / Scientists Classify Types of Planets

Posted June 22nd, 2017 at 10:29 am (UTC-4)
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For the first four years of its primary mission, the Kepler space telescope observed a set starfield located in the constellation Cygnus (left). Since 2014 the Kepler telescope has been taking data on its extended second mission, observing fields on the plane of the ecliptic of our galaxy (right). (NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel)

For the first four years of its primary mission, the Kepler space telescope observed a set starfield located in the constellation Cygnus (left). Since 2014 the Kepler telescope has been taking data on its extended second mission, observing fields on the plane of the ecliptic of our galaxy (right).
(NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel)

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission recently released what it calls the most comprehensive and detailed catalog of candidate exoplanets.

Exoplanets or extrasolar planets are planetary bodies that exist outside of our solar system.

The new and final Kepler catalog from data gathered from the spacecraft’s initial patch of sky view within the Cygnus constellation includes 219 new planet candidates.

Ten of the new candidates are said to be near-Earth sized and are orbiting within its star’s habitable or Goldilocks zone, which is an orbital region where it’s not too hot nor too cold and where liquid water could be found on the surface of a planet.

For the first four years of its primary mission, the Kepler space telescope observed a set starfield located in the constellation Cygnus (left). Since 2014 the Kepler telescope has been taking data on its extended second mission, observing fields on the plane of the ecliptic of our galaxy (right). (NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel)

For the first four years of its primary mission, the Kepler space telescope observed a set starfield located in the constellation Cygnus (left). Since 2014 the Kepler telescope has been taking data on its extended second mission, observing fields on the plane of the ecliptic of our galaxy (right). (NASA/Ames Research Center/Wendy Stenzel)

With the 219 planets that have been added to the new catalog, Kepler’s count of candidate exoplanets it has found is now at 4,034.

Of them, NASA says 2,335 have been verified or confirmed as actual exoplanets.

Among the planet candidates, about 50 are said to be near-Earth sized and also reside in its star’s habitable zone. More than 30 of the 50 have been verified, said the space agency.

The new catalog of extrasolar planets was built with data collected during the first four years of the Kepler mission, which began on May 12, 2009.

NASA says the data used to put the new catalog together is also available to the public in the space agency’s Exoplanet Archive.

Serious technical problems in 2012 and 2013 threatened to end Kepler’s mission.

So instead of giving up on Kepler, NASA proposed a modification and extension of its mission called K2 that has been operating since.

So far, the K2 mission has spotted 520 exoplanet candidates with 148 of them confirmed discoveries.

The technique used by the Kepler spacecraft to look for planets beyond our solar system is known as the transit method.

Above Video: Kepler measures the brightness of stars. The data will look like an EKG showing the heart beat. Whenever a planet passes in front of its parent star as viewed from the spacecraft, a tiny pulse or beat is produced. (NASA Ames Research Center)

With this system, astronomers point their telescopes at a star and any slight and temporary dip in its brightness could indicate an object such as a planet is passing in front of it.

Along with extra-solar planet candidates found by the Kepler and K2 missions, the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia also lists additionally confirmed exoplanets that were discovered with other means and methods, bringing the total number of confirmed exoplanets to about 3,500.

With the release of the new exoplanet catalog, there is a new international study, led by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) who have used methods similar to how biologists identify new species of animals to classify these confirmed planets.

This sketch illustrates a family tree of exoplanets. Planets are born out of swirling disks of gas and dust called protoplanetary disks. (NASA/Kepler/Caltech (T. Pyle))

This sketch illustrates a family tree of exoplanets. Planets are born out of swirling disks of gas and dust called protoplanetary disks. (NASA/Kepler/Caltech (T. Pyle))

According to the study, most planets found so far in the Milky Way Galaxy fall into two categories and that nearly every star has at least one planet larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

They are either rocky, like Earth, with sizes nearly 2 times that of our planet or are gas-covered worlds, like the four outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, that are between 2 to 3.5 times the size of Earth but are smaller than Neptune.

Ironically in our own solar system, the scientists say there aren’t any planets that are sized between Earth and Neptune.

The Caltech team used data gathered by the W. M. Keck Observatory, atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii and NASA’s Kepler mission to make their findings.

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.

Einstein Proven Correct; Gravitational Waves Detected; Super Hot Planet

Posted June 8th, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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This illustration reveals how the gravity of a white dwarf star warps space and bends the light of a distant star behind it. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

This illustration reveals how the gravity of a white dwarf star warps space and bends the light of a distant star behind it. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

Einstein Theory Confirmed Again

In his 1915 Theory of General Relativity, physicist Albert Einstein proposed that mass can bend space time.

And he predicted that when a distant star’s light passed by a large object en route to the observer, the object’s gravity can bend and brighten the starlight like a magnifying lens.

This effect, called gravitational lensing, was confirmed in 1919 by English astrophysicist Arthur Eddington after observing a solar eclipse.

Nearly 100 years later, a group of astronomers have confirmed Einstein’s theory once again, after successfully replicating Eddington’s experiment with the Hubble Space Telescope.

The researchers used gravitational lensing to precisely calculate the mass of a white dwarf star some 17 to 19 light years away.

Called Stein 2051B, the white dwarf, which are the the remains of a burnt out regular star were measured to have a mass equal to about 68 percent of our sun.

This illustration reveals how the gravity of a white dwarf star warps space and bends the light of a distant star behind it. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)) European Southern Observatory's ALMA has observed stars at a very early stage in their formation and found traces of methyl isocyanate — a chemical building block of life. This image shows the spectacular region of star formation where methyl isocyanate was found. The insert shows the molecular structure of this chemical. (ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/L. Calçada)

This image shows the region of star formation where traces of a chemical building block of life were found. The insert shows the molecular structure of this chemical. (ESO/Digitized Sky Survey)

Second Organic Compound in Young Star System Found

Two teams of astronomers recently detected traces of methyl isocyanate, one of the chemical building blocks of life, within clouds of dust and gas surrounding several still forming stars in a protostar system nearly 430 light years away.

According to Niels Ligterink and Audrey Coutens, two of the researchers, methyl isocyanate is a member of a family of organic molecules that synthesizes peptides and amino acids.

These molecules, when they’re in the form of proteins, are considered by scientists to be the biological basis for life as we know it.

In 2012 scientists also found a simple form of sugar called glycolaldehyde in the cloud of gas and dust in this protostar system.

The astronomers who discovered both organic compounds used the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile.

This animation shows the progression of NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) investigation for the mission's first three years following its restart in December 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/PSI)

This animation shows the progression of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) investigation for the mission’s first three years following its restart in December 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/PSI)

NEOWISE Mission Discovers 97 New Near Earth Objects

The Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer or NEOWISE is NASA’s near-earth object hunting spacecraft.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which recently released the third year of the mission’s survey data, says, over the past year, NEOWISE has found 97 celestial objects that were previously unknown.

Of the 97 the space agency says, 28 were near-Earth objects, 64 were asteroids from the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, and 5 were comets.

The NEOWISE mission has categorized 693 near-Earth object since was relaunched in December 2013 with 114 of them being newly found objects.

Over year three of the mission, the spacecraft collected more than 2.6 million images of the sky.

Along with images gathered in the first two years, NEOWISE has captured a total of almost 8 million sets of images.

Artist illustration of star KELT-9 and its ultrahot planet KELT-9b. (Robert Hurt / NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist illustration of star KELT-9 and its ultrahot planet KELT-9b. (Robert Hurt / NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Exoplanet Found That’s Hotter Than Most Stars

An international team of astronomers have discovered an exoplanet they say is hotter than most stars.

Called KELT-9b, it is a gas-giant planet that has 2.8 times the mass than Jupiter, but is only has half its density.

The enormous planet is tidally locked with its sun, like the moon is with Earth.  This means that it has permanent day and night sides.

The astronomers found the day side of KELT-9b has a peak temperature of a little more than forty-three hundred degrees Celsius, which is only about two-thousand degrees cooler than our own sun.

The planet orbits close to it sun KELT-9, which the astronomers say is more than twice as large and about twice as hot as our sun.

A year on the planet is only 1.5 Earth days.

KELT-9b receives so much ultra-violet radiation from its sun that astronomers think may be evaporating away, producing a glowing gas comet-like tail.

Aerial view of LIGO Observatory in Hanford, Washington (LIGO Laboratory)

Aerial view of LIGO Observatory in Hanford, Washington (LIGO Laboratory)

LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves for Third Time

Scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory or LIGO have announced that they made a third detection of gravitational waves, which are described as ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

The latest observations of gravitational waves were detected on January 4, 2017 at LIGO’s two detector sites, in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.

As with the previous two detections, scientists say that the gravitational waves were generated after the violent fusion of two black holes.

It was calculated that the black hole merger took place about 3 billion years ago.

The fusion of the two black holes has produced one that has a mass forty-times that of our sun.

The two previous detection of gravitational waves took place in December 2016 and September 2016.

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves more than a hundred years ago in his theory of General Relativity.

NASA plans to send a spacecraft to within 6.5 million kilometers of the sun's surface next summer. Here’s an artistic rendering of the Parker Solar Probe heading toward the Sun. On May 31, the spacecraft was named to honor astrophysics Eugene Parker who discovered the solar wind in 1958. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory).

Here’s an artistic rendering of the Parker Solar Probe heading toward the Sun.  (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory).

NASA Will Send Probe to the Sun

NASA plans to send a space probe to within 6.5 kilometers of the sun’s surface sometime between next July and August, making it mankind’s first mission to a star.

The spacecraft which had been named the Solar Probe Plus was recently renamed the Parker Solar Probe, in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who is credited with discovering the solar wind in 1958.

The solar wind is a stream of plasma made of highly charged particles that flows into space from the sun.

Scientists say the solar wind moves through space at speeds of from 10 to 900 kilometers per second with temperatures that can reach nearly million degrees Celsius.

The space agency says the spacecraft will provide scientists with fresh data on the sun’s activity and will help space weather forecasters make more accurate predictions on events that impact life on Earth.

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.

May 2017 – Science Images

Posted June 1st, 2017 at 6:11 pm (UTC-4)
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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space on May 25 as the moon passed in front of the sun. NASA says the moon covered about 89 percent of the sun at the peak of the eclipse. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space on May 25 as the moon passed in front of the sun. NASA says the moon covered about 89 percent of the sun at the peak of the eclipse. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

Richard Browning of technology startup Gravity flies in his Iron Man-like jet suit called "Daedalus" at Henstridge airfield in Somerset, England on 5/25/17. (Reuters)

Richard Browning of technology startup Gravity flies in his Iron Man-like jet suit called “Daedalus” at Henstridge airfield in Somerset, England on 5/25/17. (Reuters)

Astronaut Jack Fischer waves while attached to the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory during a spacewalk with fellow Astronaut and ISS Expedition 51 Commander, Peggy Whitson on May 23. The two conducted the EVA to replace a failed data relay box and install a pair wireless antennas. (NASA)

Astronaut Jack Fischer waves while attached to the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory during a spacewalk with fellow Astronaut and ISS Expedition 51 Commander, Peggy Whitson on May 23. The two conducted the EVA to replace a failed data relay box and install a pair wireless antennas. (NASA)

Students from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech, watch the launch of a Black Brant IX sounding rocket with their Mars rover concepts aboard on May 16 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA/Allison Stancil).

Students from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech, watch the launch of a Black Brant IX sounding rocket with their Mars rover concepts aboard on May 16 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA/Allison Stancil).

On May 25, NASA released this image of Jupiter’s South Pole snapped by its Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 52,000 kilometers. Images taken by the spacecraft’s JunoCam on three separate passes were combined to show all areas in daylight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles)

On May 25, NASA released this image of Jupiter’s South Pole snapped by its Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 52,000 kilometers. Images taken by the spacecraft’s JunoCam on three separate passes were combined to show all areas in daylight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles)

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory released this artist's conception of a newly-discovered secondary supermassive black hole orbiting the main, central supermassive black hole of galaxy Cygnus A on May 23. The discovery was made by scientists using the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array or VLA in New Mexico. (Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) released this artist’s conception of a newly-discovered secondary supermassive black hole orbiting the main, central supermassive black hole of galaxy Cygnus A on May 23. The discovery was made by scientists using the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array or VLA in New Mexico. (Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

French designer Gael Langevin stands behind the InMoov robot after he unveiled it May 26 at a technology fair in Bucharest, Romania. Langevin says the robot can be programmed to speak English, Spanish, French, Russian and Dutch, with a basic model costing about 1,500 euros. An entertainer seen standing on the left of the robot holds a sign that reads "The robots are among us". (AP)

French designer Gael Langevin stands behind the InMoov robot after he unveiled it May 26 at a technology fair in Bucharest, Romania. Langevin says the robot can be programmed to speak English, Spanish, French, Russian and Dutch, with a basic model costing about 1,500 euros. An entertainer seen standing on the left of the robot holds a sign that reads “The robots are among us”. (AP)

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet Tweeted this photo of northern Europe he snapped from the International Space Station on May 9. Up in the top right corner you can see an aurora. (ESA/NASA)

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet Tweeted this photo of northern Europe he snapped from the International Space Station on May 9. Up in the top right corner, you can see an aurora. (ESA/NASA)

Images released by NASA on May 24 show how the color of Saturn’s North Pole region changed between June 2013 and April 2017. The space agency’s Cassini spacecraft grabbed the images as Saturn’s northern hemisphere headed toward summer solstice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton Univ.)

Images released by NASA on May 24 show how the color of Saturn’s North Pole region changed between June 2013 and April 2017. The space agency’s Cassini spacecraft grabbed the images as Saturn’s northern hemisphere headed toward summer solstice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton Univ.)

NASA plans to send a spacecraft to within 6.5 million kilometers of the sun's surface next summer. Here’s an artistic rendering of the Parker Solar Probe heading toward the Sun. On May 31, the spacecraft was named to honor astrophysics Eugene Parker who discovered the solar wind in 1958. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory).

NASA plans to send a spacecraft to within 6.5 million kilometers of the sun’s surface next summer. Here’s an artistic rendering of the Parker Solar Probe heading toward the Sun. On May 31, the spacecraft was named to honor astrophysics Eugene Parker who discovered the solar wind in 1958. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory).

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 Create Largest 3D Map of the Universe

Posted May 24th, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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A slice through largest-ever three-dimensional map of the Universe. Earth is at the left, and distances to galaxies and quasars are labelled by the lookback time to the objects (lookback time means how long the light from an object has been traveling to reach us here on Earth). The locations of quasars (galaxies with supermassive black holes) are shown by the red dots, and nearer galaxies mapped by SDSS are also shown (yellow). The right-hand edge of the map is the limit of the observable Universe, from which we see the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) – the light “left over” from the Big Bang. The bulk of the empty space in between the quasars and the edge of the observable universe are from the “dark ages”, prior to the formation of most stars, galaxies, or quasars. (Anand Raichoor, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland and the SDSS collaboration)

A slice through largest-ever three-dimensional map of the Universe. Earth can be seen on the left, and distances to galaxies and quasars are labelled by the lookback time to the objects (how long light from an object has been traveling to reach Earth). Locations of quasars are shown by the red dots, and nearer galaxies mapped by SDSS are also shown in yellow. The right side of the map is the limit of the observable Universe, from which we see the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) – remains of the Big Bang. Most of the space in between the quasars and the edge of the observable universe are from before most stars, galaxies, or quasars were formed. (Anand Raichoor, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland and the SDSS collaboration)

A team of astronomers working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) created the largest ever three-dimensional map of the universe.

Released along with an accompanying study, the astronomers say the new map is the first to exclusively use the positions of quasars to chart the significant structures of the Universe.

“Because quasars are so bright, we can see them all the way across the Universe,” said study co-leader Ashley Ross, from Ohio State University in a press release. “That makes them the ideal objects to use to make the biggest map yet,” he added.

Quasars are large compacted masses surrounding enormous black holes at the center of distant galaxies. They discharge an incredible amount of energy in the form of visible light or infrared radiation.

Quasars go through periods of extreme brightness which can last anywhere from 10 to 100 million years.

These distant dazzling objects are generated when vast amounts of matter and energy fall into the giant black hole. Material from the surrounding accretion disk is pulled in so eagerly by the black hole’s gravity that it reaches incredibly high temperatures, which in turn produces a bright glow.

The study’s other co-leader, Gongbo Zhao, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences says the quasars are so distant that their light was first generated between three to seven billion years after the big bang (13.8 billion years ago) a long time before Earth was formed (about 4.5 billion years ago).

Artist’s impression of a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun. (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser via Wikimedia Commons)

Artist’s impression of a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun. (ESO/M. Kornmesser via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Extended Baryon Oscilliation Survey (Eboss), used the Sloan Foundation’s main 2.5 meter telescope, located at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, to observe and measure the 3D positions of a large amount of quasars.

The survey measured more than 147,000 quasars in just the first two years of the project.

These observations provided the team with information of the quasars’ distances, which was used to mark their positions on the three-dimensional map of the universe.

“Our results are consistent with Einstein’s theory of General Relativity” said Hector Gil-Marin, a researcher from the Laboratory of Nuclear Physics and High Energies in Paris who took on important segments of the analysis.

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.

#1 Cause of Death; More Sleep=Less Pain?; Look Younger – Don’t Smile

Posted May 17th, 2017 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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(Pixabay)

(Pixabay)

Cardiovascular Disease #1 Cause of World’s Deaths 

A new 25 year global study suggests cardiovascular diseases is now the cause of one third of all deaths throughout the world.

The study reports that in 2015 nearly 18 million people worldwide died from this family of illnesses, which includes heart attack, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease as well as stroke.

More than 400 million individuals globally are living with a cardiovascular disease.

The report lists people living in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania have the greatest number of cardiovascular deaths.

The study also indicated the 20 year decline in CVD deaths in countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan and those in Western Europe have begun to ease off and plateau.

(Photo: photos.com)

(Photo: photos.com)

Getting More Sleep Could Help Ease Pain

If you’re in pain and need some relief, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital propose that instead of reaching for a pain pill you just may need more sleep.

Based on experiments with mice, they say that enhanced alertness can mean less sensitivity to pain.

The researchers, who detailed their findings in the Journal Nature Medicine, also suggest that in the absence of adequate sleep, improved alertness through caffeine use, for example, could also help make you feel better.

In their experiments on mice, the scientists gauged the effects of sleep loss on how sensitive the animals were to both painful and non-painful stimulation.

After testing usual pain blockers like ibuprofen, and then stimulant agents like caffeine, the researchers say they were able to find how alertness played a role in lowering the sensitivity of the mice to pain.

NASA celebrated the 15th Anniversary of its Chandra X-ray Observatory on July 23, 2014 by releasing some newly processed images of objects out in the cosmos. Here is G292.0+1.8 the remnants of supernova, which is a star that exploded. (NASA)

NASA celebrated the 15th Anniversary of its Chandra X-ray Observatory on July 23, 2014 by releasing some newly processed images of objects out in the cosmos. Here is G292.0+1.8 the remnants of supernova, which is a star that exploded. (NASA)

Distance Supernova Can Doom Earth Has Doubled

In 2016, scientists released a pair of studies that provided evidence that the Earth and the moon were showered with bits of star material long ago from a nearby supernova, or several supernovas, about 2 and a half million years ago.

The researchers placed the exploding star or stars at a distance of about 300 light years away from us.

Now, a new study, proposes the stars actually exploded about half that distance or 150 light years away.

Study authors say while a star exploding from such a distance today could cause some effects to Earth, it wouldn’t cause the kind of serious damage that could, for example, touch off mass extinctions.

The distance a supernova could spell disaster to our planet’s living creatures is estimated to be about 25 light years from Earth.

However, the new study also suggests that an exploding star at twice that distance, between 40 and 50 light years away, could also spell doom.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments intended to gauge age perception based on facial expressions. Forty student participants were shown images of people smiling, with neutral expressions and surprised looks. (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Researchers conducted a series of experiments intended to gauge age perception based on facial expressions. Forty student participants were shown images of people smiling, with neutral expressions and surprised looks. (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Want to Look Younger?  Don’t Smile

If you want to look younger, a new study’s advice is – don’t smile.

While common knowledge suggests smiling exudes a more youthful appearance, research conducted by Ben-Gurion University and Western University in Canada provides scientific evidence that the opposite is true.

A study outlining the findings show that people flashing a big smile are thought by others to be older than people who don’t smile or even look surprised.

The researchers gathered 40 university students and showed them images of people’s faces with smiling, non-smiling and surprised expressions.

They were asked to rank them from youngest to oldest looking.

The students rated smiling faces as the oldest, followed by images of non-smiling faces. Faces with surprised expressions were ranked as the youngest.

The study suggests that smiling forms wrinkle lines around the eyes, making the person look older. On the other hand someone making a surprised face pulls facial skin backward, eliminating the wrinkles.

On March 8, 2015, Jupiter’s moon Europa passed in front of Io, allowing detailed mapping of the bright volcanic crater called Loki Patera - upper left. (Katherine de Kleer)

On March 8, 2015, Jupiter’s moon Europa passed in front of Io, allowing detailed mapping of the bright volcanic crater called Loki Patera (Katherine de Kleer)

Astronomers Spot Waves of Lava on Jupiter Moon Io

Astronomers used a rare lunar alignment to see waves of lava flowing within the largest and most active volcanic sites on Jupiter’s moon, Io, which also happens to be the most volcanically active body in the entire solar system.

On March 8, 2015, ice-covered Europa, another of the giant planet’s moons, passed directly in front of Io, blocking out its light.

This allowed the astronomers to accurately observe heat produced by Io’s volcanoes within infrared wavelengths.

Observational data showed a steady increase of surface temperatures on the huge lake of molten lava that gathers within the crater.

The researchers say this suggests the lava had overturned within the lake in two waves, traveling west to east at about a kilometer per day.

One of the more popular explanations for this area on Io to brighten and dim is caused by overturning lava.

“Neo” skull of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. The skull has been painstakingly reconstructed, providing a much more complete portrait of the early hominin. (John Hawks CC-BY)

“Neo” skull of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. The skull has been painstakingly reconstructed, providing a much more complete portrait of the early hominin. (John Hawks CC-BY)

Scientists Find More Remains of Human Ancestor

A team of anthropologists, exploring a cave system in South Africa, has found more fossilized remains of a closely related modern human ancestor.

The scientists say that it’s possible the new hominin species may have even lived along with the earliest modern humans and probably other hominin species over 200,000 years ago.

This newfound relative species is called Homo naledi.

Anthropologist and research team leader John Hawks, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that the discovery included the remains of three juvenile and adults that includes a complete skull.

Finding the gathering of remains leads Hawks to think that the Homo naledi used dark, remote places to store its dead. This behavior is something he says suggests great intelligence and possibly the first stirrings of culture.

This animation dissolves between two different views of hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster. The first is Chandra's best view of hot gas in the central region of the Perseus cluster and the larger image incorporates additional data over a wider field of view. The wave is marked by the upward-arcing curve near the bottom, centered at about 7 o'clock. (NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al. and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Stephen Walker et al)

This animation with two different views of hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster. The first is Chandra’s best view of hot gas in the central region of the Perseus cluster and the larger image incorporates additional data over a wider field of view.  (NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al. and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Stephen Walker et al)

Huge Gas Wave Discovered in Galaxy Cluster

Scientists recently discovered a huge wave of hot gas rolling through the Perseus Galaxy Cluster some 240 million light years away, in the constellation Perseus.

Using a combination of data gathered by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and ground based radio telescope arrays along with computer simulations, the scientists have determined that this wave of hot gas spans some 200,000 light-years, which makes it about twice the size of our own Milky Way galaxy.

The researchers say the wave was set off when a smaller galaxy cluster with about a tenth the mass of the Perseus cluster happened to brush by it billions of years ago.

The team’s lead scientist, Stephen Walker of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said that Perseus is one of the most massive of nearby galaxy clusters.

It is also the brightest cluster when observed at x-ray wavelengths, so data from Chandra was able to provide the scientists with unparalleled detail.

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.

Solar System Mimics Ours; The Big Empty; Closest Human Relative?

Posted May 3rd, 2017 at 5:33 pm (UTC-4)
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An artist's illustration of the epsilon Eridani system showing Epsilon Eridani b, right foreground, a Jupiter-mass planet orbiting its parent star at the outside edge of an asteroid belt. In the background can be seen another narrow asteroid or comet belt plus an outermost belt similar in size to our solar system's Kuiper Belt. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

An artist’s illustration of the epsilon Eridani system showing Epsilon Eridani b, right foreground, a Jupiter-mass planet orbiting its parent star at the outside edge of an asteroid belt. In the background can be seen another narrow asteroid or comet belt plus an outermost belt similar in size to our solar system’s Kuiper Belt. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Nearby Planetary System Mimics our Solar System

A group of scientists using NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA recently completed a study that confirmed their previous findings of a young and nearby planetary system.

The researchers found that the system surrounding the star Epsilon Eridani, which is about 10.5 light years away from our sun but is 3/5 its age, has an architecture that resembles our own solar system.

Our solar system has the asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt, two circumstellar disks filled with various debris such as asteroids, comets, and other objects.

The research team found and then confirmed that the Epsilon Eridani system also has two debris disks circling in similar positions and distances as those in our own planetary system.

The researchers also found evidence that a planet with about the same mass as Jupiter circles its star at a distance similar to our giant planet to the Sun.

Bonobo (Psych USD via Creative Commons)

Bonobo (Psych USD via Creative Commons)

Bonobo May Be Human’s Closest Living Relative

A new study suggests that we modern humans may be more closely related anatomically to a species of great apes called the bonobo than the chimpanzee.

Researchers from Howard University and George Washington University, two Washington, DC universities made their findings after examining and comparing the muscular systems of the three species.

Past research including a gene sequencing conducted back in 2012 found that both chimpanzees and bonobos share 99% of our DNA.

Bernard Wood, from George Washington University, is one of the three authors of the study.

He says that bonobos are the closest we can get to a living ancestor since the team’s research found bonobo muscles have changed the least.

Scientists think that modern human split from the common chimpanzee/bonobo lineage about 8 million years ago with the two great ape species splitting about 2 million years ago.

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft above Saturn's northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Big Empty Between Saturn and Its Rings

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are calling the roughly 2,000-kilometer-wide gap between Saturn and its innermost set of rings “the big empty” after the space agency’s Cassini spacecraft found the region to be relatively free of dust particles.

NASA says data gathered by the space probe during its recent inaugural “dive” through this gap has pleased its engineers while perplexing scientists who study the rings of Saturn.

Expecting the area to be filled with dust particles, the Cassini team had to configure the spacecraft for the dive so that its saucer-shaped main antenna could be used to protect its delicate observational instruments.

Finding it relatively dust free will allow NASA to more freely use Cassini’s observational instruments for the remaining planned dives through the gap.

A part of the Cassini Mission’s “Grand Finale”, the series of plunges through this area is scheduled to run once a week before the spacecraft is sent crashing into Saturn on September 15, 2017.

Human blood types (Public Domain via pixabay)

Heart Trouble Risk for Those with Non-Type-O Blood

Here’s some troubling news for people who have anything but type O blood.

According to a new study, if your blood type happens to be either type A, B or AB, you’re at a higher risk of heart attack.

The study’s findings are based on an analysis of reports of cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction or heart attack, coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease and heart failure.

The reports were divided into two groups; those with Type-O blood and those with other blood group types.

The study found that odds of non-O-blood type carriers, experiencing all types of coronary events were significantly higher than the group with type O blood.

But the analysis also reveals that when it came to fatal coronary events, there was no significant difference between people with type O and non-O blood groups.

Artist impression of the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs (NASA)

Artist impression of the asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs (NASA)

What Would Kill More People in an Asteroid Strike?

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program says that there is a less than .01 percent chance of a potentially hazardous asteroid hitting our planet within the next 100 years.

A new British study examines how lives would be lost due to any of the effects related to asteroid impacts.

Using computer simulations of varying sized asteroid impacts, the study suggests that 60 percent of all lives lost would be due to wind blasts and shockwaves.

The researchers explain that violent shock waves, which can cause internal organs to burst, are created by a sharp increase atmospheric pressure following an impact.

The powerful wind blasts would be strong enough to fling human bodies and crush forests.

The study finds only asteroids at least 18 meters wide were lethal.

Fortunately, most of the asteroids that reach Earth burn up in the atmosphere before impact.

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.

Space Junk Jeopardizes Earth’s Space Environment

Posted April 24th, 2017 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

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)
1 comment

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)
2 comments

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.