August 28, 2013 |
Using data from the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, astronomers have discovered a telltale "flicker" pattern in a distant star's light -- an interstellar Morse code that reveals hidden but crucial information about its mass and volume. Their quick scientific trick, described last week in the journal Nature, could improve estimates of stars' sizes by three times or more -- and thus, improve estimates of exoplanets' sizes as well. Pinning down stellar sizes using starlight is surprisingly difficult.
August 19, 2013 |
Astronomers have discovered a planet that circles its star once every 8.5 hours, giving it one of the shortest orbital periods ever seen. It's an exciting find, but not for the usual reasons. Much of the search for exoplanets focuses on seeking out Earth-like worlds that can maintain liquid water on their surface -- and thus, the thinking goes, possibly harbor life. Kepler 78b, as the new planet has been named, is not such a place. The researchers who reported its discovery, based at MIT and other universities, said in a statement Monday that the small planet is about 40 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the sun and that temperatures on its surface could reach more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
August 15, 2013 |
NASA scientists said Thursday that the agency will no longer attempt to restore full function to the exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope , which has been hobbled since the spring. A three-month effort to return the craft to working order , completed just last week, was unsuccessful, said Kepler deputy project manager Charles Sobeck during a phone call with reporters. Reaction wheels that help the craft focus on far-off stars “are sufficiently damaged that they cannot sustain spacecraft pointing control for any extended period of time,” he said, adding that the space agency will now focus on figuring out how it might still use the telescope with only two fully functioning reaction wheels.
August 9, 2013 |
Planetary scientists dream of sending a geologist to Mars to study its rocks by hand. Until then, they have to settle for examining meteorites - chunks of the Red Planet that land on Earth after hurtling through space and surviving the searing fall through our atmosphere. Though a little banged up, these meteorites provide a vital up-close view of our rust-hued neighbor. But it can be hard for geologists to interpret what they see when they can't agree how old a rock is. Conflicting age estimates for certain rocks differ by up to 4 billion years - the vast majority of Mars' planetary existence.
July 11, 2013 |
Hubble has three more years to live, and NASA's making the most of them. The latest from our favorite space telescope: a cobalt blue planet from the class known as "hot Jupiters. " NASA said Wednesday morning in an announcement that the planet, 63 light-years from Earth, would look like a deep blue dot if we were close enough to view it directly. What causes the blue color of planet HD 189733b? It's likely glass, NASA explains, raining in the atmosphere. Sideways. Yes, you read that right.
July 6, 2013
Re "Why the gloom and doom?," Opinion, July 2 Faced with the statement that the physical environment of Earth is being ruined beyond repair, Jonah Goldberg argues that human society and its achievements have made great strides, improving daily life for the world's inhabitants. Well, yes, but people will not always "live longer, eat better [and] have more leisure time" as they do now if drought, floods, crop failures and the like continue to wreck the planet. It's rather like arguing that, yes, the passenger jet you're on may be in a death spiral, but have you considered how much more comfortable the seats are compared to the planes of yesteryear?
July 1, 2013 |
Looking for life beyond Earth? You now have twice as many planets to explore. According to a study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, there may be as many as 60 billion exoplanets in the so-called habitable zone around their stars - double what was previously thought. Why the jump? Because a team of scientists from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University has created a 3-D model of how clouds would affect temperatures on alien worlds. To be in a habitable zone, a planet needs to be just the right distance from its star so that liquid water (considered a requisite for life as we know it)
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June 30, 2013 |
British futurist James Martin, who predicted the ubiquity of computers and foretold the rise of the Internet in "The Wired Society," a 1978 book that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, has died near his private island in Bermuda. He was 79. Authorities in the British territory said Thursday that an autopsy is pending for Martin, whose body was found by a kayaker in waters near the author's home. Police have said they do not believe a crime is involved. While on sabbatical from IBM in 1977, Martin made his first million dollars traveling the world and lecturing business executives on the coming computer revolution.
June 26, 2013 |
Astronomers peering at stellar data from the Kepler space telescope have discovered a surprising find: two planets smaller than Neptune that appear to have formed even in the harsh, unwelcoming environment of a star cluster. The discovery, published in the journal Nature, may show that planetary systems are more robust - and far more common - than previously thought. Such a planetary find has long been thought extremely unlikely because star clusters are thought to be very hostile places for a planet to survive.
June 25, 2013 |
Gliese 667C might be the dimmest of a stellar threesome, but it's got something its two brighter companions don't: a trio of super-Earths circling around the star's skinny habitable zone, where the planets could potentially be capable of supporting life. For astronomers, the record-breaking trio are the crown jewels of a planetary system containing as many as seven possible planets (though researchers say the evidence is currently strongest for just five of them). The three lie inside the habitable zone, a Goldilocks region where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water -- a necessary ingredient for life.