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How Many Earths? | New Scientist.

How Many Earths? | New Scientist. | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Looking up at the night sky, it's hard not to wonder how many other Planets might be circling those pinpricks of light – and how many are home to beings gazing back at us.

Today, we are starting to get a handle on the number of roughly Earth-sized exoplanets that might be suitable for life.

 

How to spot a Planet

We can take a good guess at the number of alien Earths thanks to NASA's Kepler space telescope.

When a Planet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks some of the star's light. The Kepler telescope looked for distant worlds by measuring this dip in stars' glow.

 
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Number of Confirmed Alien Planets Nears 1,000 (Unconfirmed 3,500)

Number of Confirmed Alien Planets Nears 1,000 (Unconfirmed 3,500) | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Just two decades after discovering the first world beyond our solar system, astronomers are closing in on alien Planet No. 1,000.

 

Four of the five main databases that catalog the discoveries of exoplanets  now list more than 900 confirmed alien worlds, and two of them peg the tally at 986 as of today (Sept. 26). So the 1,000th exoplanet may be announced in a matter of days or weeks, depending on which list you prefer.

 

That's a lot of progress since 1992, when researchers detected two Planets orbiting a rotating neutron star, or pulsar, about 1,000 light-years from Earth. Confirmation of the first alien world circling a "normal" star like our sun did not come until 1995.

 

And the discoveries will keep pouring in, as astronomers continue to hone their techniques and sift through the data returned by instruments on the ground and in space.

 

The biggest numbers in the near future should come from NASA'sKepler space telescope, which racked up many finds before being hobbled in May of this year when the second of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed.

 

Kepler has identified 3,588 Planet candidates to date. Just 151 of these worlds have been confirmed so far, but mission scientists have said they expect at least 90 percent will end up being the real deal.

 

But even these numbers, as impressive as they are, represent just the tip of our Milky Way galaxy's immense planetary iceberg. Kepler studied a tiny patch of sky, after all, and it only spotted planets that happened to cross their stars' faces from the instrument's perspective.

 

Many more Planets are thus out there, zipping undetected around their parent stars. Indeed, a team of researchers estimated last year that every Milky Way star hosts, on average, 1.6 worlds — meaning that our galaxy perhaps harbors 160 billion planets.

 

And those are just the worlds with obvious parent stars. In 2011, a different research team calculated that "rogue Planets" (which cruise through space unbound to a star) may outnumber "normal" exoplanets by 50 percent or so.

 

Nailing down the numbers is of obvious interest, but what astronomers really want is a better understanding of the nature and diversity of alien worlds.

And it's becoming more and more apparent that this diversity is stunning. Scientists have found exoplanets as light and airy as Styrofoam, for example, and others as dense as iron. They've also discovered a number of worlds that appear to orbit in their stars' habitable zone — that just-right range of distances that could support the existence of liquid water and thus, perhaps, life as we know it.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Herschel helps to find elusive signals from the early Universe

Herschel helps to find elusive signals from the early Universe | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Using a telescope in Antarctica and ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have made the first detection of a subtle twist in the relic radiation from the Big Bang, paving the way towards revealing the first moments of the Universe’s existence.

 

The elusive signal was found in the way the first light in the Universe has been deflected during its journey to Earth by intervening galaxy clusters and dark matter, an invisible substance that is detected only indirectly through its gravitational influence.

 

The discovery points the way towards finding evidence for gravitational waves born during the Universe’s rapid ‘inflation’ phase, a crucial result keenly anticipated from ESA’s Planck mission.

 

The relic radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB – was imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. Today, some 13.8 billion years later, we see it as a sky filled with radio waves at a temperature of just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

 

Tiny variations in this temperature – around a few tens of millionths of a degree – reveal density fluctuations in the early Universe corresponding to the seeds of galaxies and stars we see today. The most detailed all-sky map of temperature variations in the background was revealed by Planck in March.

 

But the CMB also contains a wealth of other information. A small fraction of the light is polarised, like the light we can see using polarised glasses. This polarised light has two distinct patterns: E-modes and B-modes.

 

E-modes were first found in 2002 with a ground-based telescope. B-modes, however, are potentially much more exciting to cosmologists, although much harder to detect.

 

They can arise in two ways. The first involves adding a twist to the light as it crosses the Universe and is deflected by galaxies and dark matter – a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

 

The second has its roots buried deep in the mechanics of a very rapid phase of enormous expansion of the Universe, which cosmologists believe happened just a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang – ‘inflation’.

 

The new study has combined data from the South Pole Telescope and Herschel to make the first detection of B-mode polarisation in the CMB due to gravitational lensing.

 

“This measurement was made possible by a clever and unique combination of ground-based observations from the South Pole Telescope – which measured the light from the Big Bang – with space-based observations from Herschel, which is sensitive to the galaxies that trace the dark matter which caused the gravitational lensing,” says Joaquin Vieira, of the California Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the Herschel survey used in the study.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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It's bigger on the inside: Tardis regions in spacetime and the expanding universe.

It's bigger on the inside: Tardis regions in spacetime and the expanding universe. | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Fans of Doctor Who will be very familiar with the stupefied phrase uttered by all new visitors to his Tardis: "It's...bigger...on the inside." As it turns out, this apparently irrational idea may have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe. A team of cosmologists in Finland and Poland propose that the observed acceleration of the expansion of the universe, usually explained by dark energy or modified laws of gravity, may actually be the result of regions of spacetime that are larger on the inside than they appear from the outside. The researchers have dubbed these "Tardis regions."

 

Perhaps the most surprising cosmological observation of the past few decades was the 1998 discovery by Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess, that the expansion of the universe has been accelerating for the past five billion years. This result, which won the 2011 Nobel Prize, was quickly corroborated by observation of independent phenomena such as the cosmic background radiation.

 

Why the acceleration is occurring is not currently understood, although it can be described. In terms of conventional cosmological theory, it calls for the existence of a "dark energy," an energy field permeating the universe. However, because gravity attracts normal mass-energy, dark energy would have to have a negative energy density, something unknown as yet in nature. In addition, roughly 75 percent of the contents of the universe have to be made up of dark energy to get the observed acceleration of expansion. Even though dark energy provides a reasonable description of the universal acceleration, its value as an explanation is still controversial. Many have the gut reaction that dark energy is too strange to be true.

 

Professors Rasanen, and Szybkab, of the University of Helsinki and the Jagellonian University at Krakow, together with Rasanen's graduate student Mikko Lavinto, decided to investigate another possibility.

 

The "standard cosmological model," which is the framework within which accelerated expansion requires dark energy, was developed in the 1920s and 1930s. The FLRW metric (named for Friedmann, Lemaître, Robertson and Walker, the major contributors) is an exact solution to Einstein's equations. It describes a strictly homogeneous, isotropic universe that can be expanding or contracting.

 

Strict homogeneity and strict isotropy means that the universe described by an FLRW metric looks the same at a given time from every point in space, at whatever distance or orientation you look. This is a universe in which galaxies, clusters of galaxies, sheets, walls, filaments, and voids do not exist. Not, then, very much like our own Universe, which appears to be rather homogeneous and isotropic when you look at distances greater than about a gigaparsec, but closer in it is nothing of the sort.

 

Rasanen's research team decided to examine a model universe having a structure closer to ours, in an attempt to look for alternate explanations of the accelerating expansion we see. They took an FLRW metric filled with a uniform density of dust, and converted it into a Swiss cheese model but cutting random holes in it. This has the effect of making the model inhomogeneous and non-isotropic (except very far away), and hence the Swiss cheese model looks more like our own Universe, save for the fact that our Universe does not seem to be full of holes.

 

While Swiss cheese is delicious, a universe with holes is not. To rectify this, Rasanen's team filled in the holes with plugs made from dust-filled exact solutions of Einstein's equation. These plugs are a reasonable model of the region near a sizable body, such as a galaxy. By putting the plugs in the holes, and then smoothing the intersections between them, they obtained a rather uniform spacetime with a lot of smaller blobs of matter dispersed throughout it – a (very) simple analog to the structure of the universe in which we live.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Companies Selling Balloon Rides Into Outer Space - ABC News

Companies Selling Balloon Rides Into Outer Space - ABC News | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
ABC News
Companies Selling Balloon Rides Into Outer Space
ABC News
Starting in 2016, World View Enterprises of Arizona hopes to send six passengers at a time up 19 miles to the edge of space, aboard helium-filled balloons.
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Hubble Spots Ancient Galaxy From Dawn of Time - Discovery News

Hubble Spots Ancient Galaxy From Dawn of Time - Discovery News | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Hubble Spots Ancient Galaxy From Dawn of Time
Discovery News
This image from the Hubble Space Telescope CANDELS survey highlights the most distant galaxy in the universe with a definitively measured distance, dubbed z8_GND_5296.
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Biggest Star Ever Found Is Ripping Apart (Photo) - Space.com

Biggest Star Ever Found Is Ripping Apart (Photo) - Space.com | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Space.com
Biggest Star Ever Found Is Ripping Apart (Photo)
Space.com
The largest star ever discovered may give scientists a better sense of how massive, dying stars seed the universe with the ingredients for rocky Planets and even life.

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Meteorite Study Suggests Mars Atmosphere Trapped in Rocks, Not Lost in Space - Space.com

Meteorite Study Suggests Mars Atmosphere Trapped in Rocks, Not Lost in Space - Space.com | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Space.com
Meteorite Study Suggests Mars Atmosphere Trapped in Rocks, Not Lost in Space
Space.com
The atmosphere of Mars may not have escaped into space billions of years ago, scientists say.
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Universe's Loneliest Planet Discovered Floating Aimlessly - IBTimes.co.uk

Universe's Loneliest Planet Discovered Floating Aimlessly - IBTimes.co.uk | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
IBTimes.co.uk
Universe's Loneliest Planet Discovered Floating Aimlessly
IBTimes.co.uk
The loneliest planet in the universe has been floating around in space with no star to orbit.
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Europe Launches Space Metal 3D Printing Project

Europe Launches Space Metal 3D Printing Project | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

The European Space Agency has rolled out a new initiative to refine 3D printing techniques to make space-grade metal parts.

 

The project, called AMAZE, aims to spur innovations that could one day allow astronauts to print their own metal tools aboard the International Space Station or let engineers on the ground to print entire satellites.

 

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, builds solid objects from a series of layers, typically by melting powder or wire materials. This technique can produce complex structures with more flexibility and less waste than traditional manufacturing, which could translate into big cost and time savings.

 

 


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Visitors From Outer Space

Visitors From Outer Space | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Comets are some of the longest objects in the solar system. their tails can spread million of miles into the sky.
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A discussion of month names for the 24 month Martial Calendar.

A discussion of month names for the 24 month Martial Calendar. | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Mars One Project Forum Community for Enthusiasts.

 

I spotted this on mars-one-blog, a discussion of month names for the 24 month Martial Calendar:
Armstrong, Asimov, Babage, Copernicus, DaVinci, Darwin, Einstein, Faraday, Feynman, Galileo, Hawking, Heinlein, Hubble, Keppler, Lowell, Maxwell, Newton, Pascal, Planck, Rutherford, Sagan, Teller, Tesla, Wright.

I think Turing would be a better selection than Teller. Both were geniuses, both helped win WWII, neither had anything in particular to do with Mars, but I think Turing sends a better message.

The killer idea, though was auctioning off the names to make money... The third name on that list, Ka-Shing, was particularly ironic.

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Found: Planets Skimming a Star’s Surface

Found: Planets Skimming a Star’s Surface | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

A new Planet-hunting survey has revealed planetary candidates with orbital periods as short as four hours and so close to their host stars that they are nearly skimming the stellar surface.


Via Michele Diodati
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Iowa State astronomer helps research team see misaligned Planets in distant system

Iowa State astronomer helps research team see misaligned Planets in distant system | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, an international team of astronomers has discovered a distant planetary system featuring multiple Planets orbiting at a severe tilt to their host star. Such tilted orbits had been found in planetary systems featuring a “hot Jupiter,” a giant Planet in a close orbit to its host star. But, until now, they hadn’t been observed in multiplanetary systems without such a big interloping Planet.


Via Michele Diodati
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Trojan asteroid in Uranus' orbit: Planets are 'playing ball' with it

Trojan asteroid in Uranus' orbit: Planets are 'playing ball' with it | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Planetary scientists have detected a Trojan -- an asteroid-like object that shares a planet's orbit -- circling the sun ahead of Uranus.

 

The discovery of 2011 QF99, the first of its kind for the ice giant planet, was reported Thursday in the journal Science. According to first author Mike Alexandersen, a doctoral student in astronomy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, it happened almost by accident.

 

Alexandersen wasn't looking for a Trojan. Nor was he studying Uranus. He and his colleagues were surveying the transneptunian region of the outer solar system, hoping to see what kinds of orbits the objects there followed. (The transneptunian region is more or less the same thing as the Kuiper Belt. Studying the patterns of the icy orbits in the region helps scientists understand how the solar system formed, 4.5 billion years ago.)

 

Studying images snapped using the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope during 2011 and 2012, Alexandersen and the team noticed one object that was moving across the field of vision more quickly than the others, an indication that it must have been closer to Earth than the rest.

 

That wasn't a surprise, but seeing an object that moved the way 2011 QF99 did was a shocker. The scientists had expected to see objects known as Centaurs, which often move inward into the solar system along quirky paths. But over the course of a year of observations they realized that this space rock was traveling in an orbit very much like that of Uranus, which made it seem more like a Trojan, gravitationally bound to its planet. The mysterious object also oscillated the same way a Trojan would.

 

"It was, in fact, a Trojan," said Alexandersen, who added that the team "were certainly not anticipating finding something as cool as this."

 

UCLA planetary scientist David Jewitt, who is credited withdetecting the first Kuiper Belt object in 1992, said that the transneptunian region is the source of all sorts objects hurtling about the solar system, providing an Armada-like "rain of stuff" cascading inward toward the sun.  As they move through the solar system, these objects get caught up in planets' gravity, either getting hurled away or thrown further inward. 

 

Chunks that float around in the zone of the giant planets are called Centaurs; those that make it into the inner solar system, heating and vaporizing in the sun's heat, are known as comets. Trojans are the bits that get captured in particular locations in a planet's orbit where gravity from the sun and gravity from the planet interact to lock them in place. 

 

Some Trojans, around Mars, Neptune and especially Jupiter, are permanently bound to their planets, and have been for billions of years.  Others, like 2011 QF99 and Earth's Trojan 2010 TK7, are only temporarily trapped in their orbits.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Super-Earth Planet Is More Like Super-Venus, NASA Says - Space.com

Super-Earth Planet Is More Like Super-Venus, NASA Says - Space.com | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Space.com
Super-Earth Planet Is More Like Super-Venus, NASA Says
Space.com
An alien planet declared a super-Earth by NASA might not be so habitable after all.
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Largest Structures in the Universe Reveal a Mystery --"An Unseen Mass" - The Daily Galaxy (blog)

Largest Structures in the Universe Reveal a Mystery --"An Unseen Mass" - The Daily Galaxy (blog) | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Largest Structures in the Universe Reveal a Mystery --"An Unseen Mass"
The Daily Galaxy (blog)
The reality of superclusters was not apparent until the 1980s, when new telescopes and sensors could produce three-dimensional maps of the Universe.
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The Discovery of Planets with 2 Suns: Scientific American

The Discovery of Planets with 2 Suns: Scientific American | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
Astronomers are discovering distant planets that orbit two-star systems, uncovering bizarre and wondrous worlds unlike anything in our solar system (The Discovery of Planets with Two Suns (preview) http://t.co/dXbLKWMBMP)...
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Quantum black hole study opens bridge to another universe.

Quantum black hole study opens bridge to another universe. | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

Physicists have long thought that the singularities associated with gravity (like the inside of a black hole) should vanish in a quantum theory of gravity. It now appears that this may indeed be the case. Researchers in Uruguay and Louisiana have just published a description of a quantum black hole using loop quantum gravity in which the predictions of physics-ending singularities vanish, and are replaced by bridges to another universe. Singularities, such as the infinitely strong crushing forces at the center of a black hole, in a physical theory are bad. What they tell you is that your description of the universe fails miserably to explain what happens as you approach the singularity. Tricks can sometimes resolve what appears to be singular behavior, but essential singularities are signs of a failure of the physical description itself.

 

General relativity has been summed up by the late John Wheeler's phrase: "Spacetime tells matter how to move, matter tells spacetime how to curve." Relativity is riddled with essential singularities, because gravity is both attractive and nonlinear – curvature in the presence of mass tends to lead to more curvature, eventually leading to trouble.

 

The result is rather similar to a PA system on the verge of producing a feedback whistle. If you whisper into the microphone (small gravitational fields) the positive feedback isn't enough to send the PA into oscillation, but talking at a normal volume (larger gravitational fields) produces that horrible howl. Whispering is the comparable to the familiar actions of gravity that keep the planets and stars in their courses. The howl is the process that eventually leads to a singularity as the end result of gravitational collapse.

 

Let's follow this analogy a bit further. On a PA system, the volume of the feedback is limited by the power capacity of the amplifier, so it can't reach truly destructive levels (other than to our eardrums.) However, gravity as described by general relativity doesn't have such a limit. Since gravity is always attractive, and eventually becomes stronger than all the (known) forces that normally give volume to matter, there is nothing to keep gravitational collapse from proceeding until the curvature of the spacetime tends toward infinity – i.e. a singularity.

 

Remember that this is the prediction of the classical theory of gravity, general relativity. Classical physical theories contain no fundamental limitation on mass-energy density or on the size of spacetime curvature. While this may be (and probably is) incorrect, we rarely run into a problem caused by this error, so have largely ignored the problem for centuries.

 

Then along came gravitational collapse and black holes. First proposed by geologist John Mitchell in 1783, a black hole is a region of spacetime from which gravity prevents anything, even light, from escaping.

 

Black holes are formed when large stars run out of fuel. When a star's core cools, the star shrinks. As the star's layers fall inward, they are compressed by the unbalanced force of gravity, and heat up until a new balance is established. This can only go on so long, as the star (on average) gets smaller at each step of the process of collapse. Eventually the heating driven by this gravitational collapse becomes too small to hold the star up.

 

At this point, the size of the star depends mostly on its mass, as the force of gravity is only balanced by the ability of the star's material to resist pressure. If a star is heavy enough (8-10 times the mass of our Sun), there is no known source of material pressure which is large enough to resist gravity. In that case, the star collapses without end, and forms a black hole, from which even light cannot escape.

 

Black holes really began to be understood in the late 1950s, when David Finkelstein, then a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, found that the odd behavior at the Schwartzchild radius was actually "... a perfect unidirectional membrane: causal influences can cross it but only in one direction." In other words, what falls into a black hole stays there.


Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc, John Purificati, Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Astronomers Detect 1st Primordial Light of the Universe - The Daily Galaxy (blog)

Astronomers Detect 1st Primordial Light of the Universe - The Daily Galaxy (blog) | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it
UPI.com
Astronomers Detect 1st Primordial Light of the Universe
The Daily Galaxy (blog)
The journey of light from the very early universe to modern telescopes is long and winding.
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Cygnus completes maiden visit to space station | Spaceflight Now.

Cygnus completes maiden visit to space station | Spaceflight Now. | Space & Beyond. | Scoop.it

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo ship completed its first visit to the International Space Station on Tuesday, departing the complex after a highly successful test flight as workers load the second Cygnus spacecraft with supplies for another mission in December.

 

At the controls of the International Space Station's robot arm, astronauts Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg oversaw Tuesday's departure.

 


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