Google maps the solar system for armchair space travelers

October 17, 2017 by  
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Google has recently added 12 celestial bodies to its Google Maps application. Although armchair space travelers have been able to virtually cruise around the Moon and Mars for years, the list of planets and moons to discover now includes Mercury, Venus, the dwarf planets of Ceres and Pluto, six of Saturn’s moons, and three moons of Jupiter, including Io and Europa. The additional content would not have been possible without Cassini, the recently deceased spacecraft that captured hundreds of thousands of images as it traveled the galaxy over the past two decades. To compile these digital versions of objects in our solar system, the team at Google Maps used images captured by NASA, ESA, and other space agencies and combined them to create a seamless scrollable map, if enough high quality images were available, or a general overview of the planet or moon. Through these maps, earthbound space travelers can explore the mountains , valleys, and wide open plains of planets like Mars or moons like Titan. To reach the outer space section of Google Maps, all you have to do is zoom out far enough from Earth. Related: Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is almost ready to launch into outer space Many of the images used to create the Google Maps of our solar system were gathered through the Cassini-Huygens mission, commonly referred to as Cassini for the Cassini orbiter probe which traveled from Earth to Saturn. Huygens refers to the Huygens lander, which achieved the first landing ever in the outer solar system when it arrived on Saturn’s moon of Titan in 2005. In its 20-year flight,  Cassini  captured countless, invaluable photographs of the solar system and was widely recognized as a “mission of firsts” for the way in which its discoveries revolutionized the way we understand our solar system. Thanks for  Cassini, Google’s Maps are filled with breathtaking images for people to explore from wherever there is Internet access. Via New Atlas and Google Images via Google Maps

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Google maps the solar system for armchair space travelers

Scientists locate half of the universe’s missing ordinary matter

October 10, 2017 by  
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Scientists have discovered the location of the universe’s missing matter, the other half of ordinary matter that could not be previously observed but which scientists knew to exist. Two independent teams of astronomers, one at  the Institute of Space Astrophysics (IAS)  in Orsay, France and the other from the University of Edinburgh, have recently released studies that outline how they may have uncovered this missing matter and where it may be. Spoiler alert: it isn’t between the cushions of your couch. Both teams concluded that the universe’s previously astray ordinary matter can be located in the filaments of hot dispersed gas between galaxies . The teams’ work focused on the universe’s ordinary matter, matter composed of protons, neutrons and electrons, as opposed to mysterious dark matter , which make up most of the known universe. Up until these studies were released, we knew approximately how much ordinary matter existed in the universe, but we did not know where this matter was found. Now that it has been accounted for, scientists can feel more confident in their work. “This goes a long way toward showing that many of our ideas of how galaxies form and how structures form over the history of the universe are pretty much correct,” said Ralph Kraft, a professor at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts . Related: Scientists say ice may fizz and bubble like champagne when floating in outer space Although strands of baryon, the ordinary-matter holding gas linking galaxies, were thought to exist, the phenomenon was not observable through X-ray telescopes . To solve this challenge, both teams incorporated the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect, which occurs when enduring light from the Big Bang travels through hot gas. This interaction leaves behind markers of the gas that can be captured and studied. Using data from over 1 million pairs of galaxies, both teams discovered that the baryon gas strands were three to six times denser than normal matter in the universe. This breakthrough confirms what scientists have suspected for decades. “Everybody sort of knows that it has to be there,” said Professor Kraft, “but this is the first time that somebody – two different groups, no less – has come up with a definitive detection.” Via Futurism Images via NASA (1)

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Scientists locate half of the universe’s missing ordinary matter

Scientists say ice may fizz and bubble like champagne when floating in outer space

October 5, 2017 by  
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A group of scientists now believe that ice fizzes and bubbles like champagne when floating in outer space . This discovery was made when researchers at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan first created a mixture of three substances commonly found on comets and interstellar clouds from which stars form: water, ammonia, and methanol. Next, the team exposed this mixture to ultraviolet radiation to imitate the harsh environment beyond the atmosphere. As the ice temperature increased to -213 degrees Celsius, it started to crack, but at only five degrees beyond, bubbles began to form and pop within the ice. This bubbling ceased when the ice warmed to -123 degrees Celsius, and returned to its fully solid form. When the experiment was repeated under different circumstances, the ice’s behavior changed substantially. There were fewer bubbles in ice with less amounts of ammonia and methanol; without UV radiation, there were no bubbles at all. When exposed to radiation, the scientists noticed an increase in hydrogen gas. This suggests that the ice bubbles are formed by hydrogen, which had split off from the methane and ammonia molecules under radiation. In addition to its unusual bubbling, space ice also assumes the viscous quality of refrigerated honey at temperatures between ?185° C and ?161° C. Related: New NASA discovery hints at water elsewhere in the solar system Previous experiments, such as those conducted by Cornelia Meinert of the University Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and her colleagues, have shown that irradiated ice contains a large amount of organic molecules, including ribose, an essential ingredient in DNA . Previously, skeptics of life within space argued that the complex molecules essential for life may have been contamination. “Now [these new results are] helping us argue that at this very low temperature, the small precursor molecules can actually react with each other,” said Meinert, who was not involved in the new experiment. “This is supporting the idea that all these organic molecules can form in the ice, and might also be present in comets.” Via Science News Images via Hubble ESA/Flickr and Science News

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Scientists say ice may fizz and bubble like champagne when floating in outer space

Astronomers observe an object in space unlike anything they’ve seen before

September 22, 2017 by  
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Astronomers recently observed a type of object in space unlike anything we’ve come across before. 288P is a binary asteroid – or two asteroids orbiting one other – that has features similar to a comet , like a long tail and bright coma, or cloud of dust and gas surrounding a comet’s nucleus. It is the first binary asteroid we’ve ever found that can also be classified as a comet. Scientists learned of 288P’s existence in 2011, but they weren’t able to really scrutinize the binary asteroid – it was too far away – until recently when it came a little closer to Earth. Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope , a group of scientists led by Jessica Agarwal at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany were able to get a better look at the strange system. Related: Astronomers discover that exoplanet WASP-12b is “darker than asphalt” 288P is a main-belt comet as it’s located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter . Each of the two pieces that make up 288P are about 0.6 miles in diameter, and the research institute said they are unusually far apart: they’re orbiting one another at a distance of around 62 miles. The astronomers also observed ongoing activity in 288P. Agarwal said, “We detected strong indications of the sublimation of water ice due to the increased solar heating – similar to how the tail of a comet is created.” 288P has probably been a binary system for just around 5,000 years. And according to Hubble’s website, we’re not likely to find any more objects like 288P for a long time, since finding the binary main-belt comet “included a lot of luck.” The journal Nature published the research online earlier this week. Agarwal was joined by four other researchers from institutions in the United States. Via Hubble Space Telescope and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research Images via ESA/Hubble, L. Calçada and ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

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Astronomers observe an object in space unlike anything they’ve seen before

Nicaragua joins Paris Accord, leaving the US and Syria as lone dissenters

September 22, 2017 by  
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Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has announced plans to sign the Paris Accord, leaving President Trump alone with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as the two remaining national heads refusing to support the international agreement. In December of 2015, the leaders of nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce global greenhouse emissions and prevent climate change from worsening – including former president Barack Obama. But Trump refused has reneged on that commitment, formerly claiming climate change is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese. According to a report by Managua-based television station 100% Noticias, Ortega said on September 18, “We will soon adhere, we will sign the Paris Agreement. We have already had meetings addressing the issue and we have already programmed the accession.” The Central American nation originally opposed signing the Paris Accord because the goals in the text “did not go far enough.” To elaborate, it had been confirmed by scientists that emissions levels from some of the top polluters — including the US, EU, China, and India — were not low enough to prevent sea levels from rising or to keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. As a result, Nicaragua abstained. President Trump has said he will withdraw the US from the historic accord. Despite receiving an environmental encyclical from the Pope himself and being informed by a variety of scientists about the dangers of climate change , he said the action for the US by an executive order which Obama signed while in office puts American workers in the steel, coal and other manufacturing industries at an “economic disadvantage.” Related: Hundreds of Dead Sea Turtles Wash Up on Nicaragua’s West Coast Nicaragua has been a haven for renewable energy . More than half of the country’s energy is sourced from geothermic, wind, solar and wave energy. Nicaragua plans to increase that to 90 percent by 2020. The World Bank referred to the country as “a renewable energy paradise” four years ago. Because the agreement will not go into effect until 2020, Nicaragua has until then to draft a required national action plan and to formalize it into law. No date has yet been set for the signing. Via The Independent Images via Pixabay

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Scientists find a massive black hole swirling in the Milky Way

September 6, 2017 by  
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Scientists from Keio University in Japan have unveiled the best evidence we have for an intermediate-mass black hole – and it’s right in our Milky Way . Intermediate-mass black holes have eluded astronomers , who have found hints of both star-sized black holes and supermassive black holes . But the discovery of the mid-sized black hole could help scientists understand why supermassive black holes grow so immense. The formation of supermassive black holes has been a mystery for astronomers, but this new study might provide an explanation for how they form. The researchers from Japan said in their research that mid-sized black holes could merge to form supermassive black holes, but there’s been little evidence for the existence of intermediate-mass black holes – until now. Related: Supermassive black holes offer hint at structure of the universe Last year, a team led by Tomoharu Oka of Keio University reported a strange cloud of molecular gas, dubbed CO-0.40-0.22, in our Milky Way. A team also led by Oka then scrutinized the cloud with instruments such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and found a dense clump of gas near the cloud’s center, and a nearby radio wave source, CO-0.40-0.22*, that has similarities to the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*. According to Oka, the similarity “supports the notion that CO-0.40-0.22* is an intermediate-mass black hole.” Scientists have expressed excitement about the discovery; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology astronomer Kevin Schawinski told Science Magazine, “It’s a very careful paper and they have gorgeous data. It’s the most promising evidence so far.” If CO-0.40-0.22* is verified as a black hole, its presence could offer support to the idea our galaxy has gotten bigger by cannibalizing smaller neighboring galaxies. The Japanese scientists think CO-0.40-0.22* could be a former dwarf galaxy core that could have been absorbed into the Milky Way, and could one day be subsumed by Sagittarius A*. The journal Nature Astronomy published the study online this week. Via Keio University , Science Magazine , and ScienceAlert Images via Keio University and NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Spectacular mountain-like Valley breaks ground in Amsterdam

September 6, 2017 by  
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A jagged mountain-like mass is turning up on Amsterdam’s pancake-flat landscape. MVRDV recently broke ground on Valley, a 75,000-square-meter mixed-use development that looks like a cluster of mountain peaks covered in greenery. Located in Amsterdam’s Central Business District Zuidas, the competition-winning design for OVG Real Estate will aim for BREEAM-NL Excellent rating and comprise apartments, offices, underground parking, a sky bar, and various retail and cultural facilities. Selected as the competition winner by the Municipality of Amsterdam in 2015, the stunning Valley project seeks to transform the quickly developing Zuidas area into a more livable and complete urban quarter. The green-terraced towers are designed as three mountain-like peaks of varied heights that soar to a maximum of 100 meters. The Valley will include 196 apartments, seven stories of office space, a three-story underground parking garage with 375 parking spots, and a variety of retail and cultural options on the lower floors. The publicly accessible Sky bar, which spans two stories, will offer panoramic views across the city. “Valley combines residential apartments with a green environment that offers panoramic views of Amsterdam”, says Winy Maas, MVRDV co-founder. “A lively plinth offering a range of commercial activities has some offices above and is topped finally with residences. The carving out of the resulting block ensures that it becomes less introverted than existing buildings in the Zuidas. There will be many terraces, both private and public, filled with people, flowers, plants and outdoor seating.” Related: BIG unveils lush mountain-like terraced building infused with nature The jagged building will be clad in natural stone and the layout informed by digital tools to optimize access to natural daylight and views, while preserving privacy. Due to the unique layout, no two apartments will be alike. MVRDV collaborated with award-winning garden designer Piet Oudolf and Deltavormgroep on the landscape design, which features an abundance of outdoor space and landscaped terraces. The publicly accessible central valley-area—from which the project derives its name—spreads across the fourth and fifth floor between the towers’ residential and commercial areas and will have an attractive year-round green appearance. + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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Spectacular mountain-like Valley breaks ground in Amsterdam

Florence is the largest asteroid to pass Earth in a century

September 1, 2017 by  
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Though the American eclipse may have come and gone, the skies above Earth never cease to amaze with new interstellar events. Early this morning, according to NASA, Florence became the largest asteroid to approach our planet in over a century. The asteroid measures 2.7 miles (4.4 km) in diameter and passed by from the relative proximity of 4.4 million miles (7 million km) away from Earth, roughly 18 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon. Although other asteroids have traveled closer to Earth in the past, none were as massive as Florence, the largest near-Earth asteroid ever tracked by NASA. Florence, like all asteroids in our solar system , formed out of the debris left behind after the formation of the planets and the sun . It was originally discovered by Schelte “Bobby” Bus at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia in 1981 and named after Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing and pioneering statistician and social reformer. Florence’s trip near Earth, its closest since 1890, provided scientists with a unique opportunity to study the ancient asteroid. Related: Astrophysicist warns asteroid strike is not a matter of if, but when NASA researchers used deep space radar to study the size, shape, rotation, surface features, and determine the precise path of the asteroid. Amateur astronomers also observed the asteroid, which was relatively easy to spot since it reflects 20 percent of sunlight that reaches its surface, in contrast to only 12 percent reflection from the Moon . Scientists project that Florence will not come this close to Earth again until 2500. Via BBC Images via NASA (1) , (2)

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Florence is the largest asteroid to pass Earth in a century

First hints of water detected on Earth-sized TRAPPIST-1 planets

September 1, 2017 by  
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Water could be present on some of the Earth-sized planets orbiting the dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, according to work from an international group of astronomers. They utilized the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to estimate substantial amounts of water could be present in the outer planets, including three in the habitable zone. This boosts the possibility those planets are livable. Astronomer Vincent Bourrier of the Observatoire de l’Université de Genève led an international team that included scientists from NASA and MIT to attempt to determine if there’s water 40 light-years away on the seven Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a system which claims the biggest number of Earth-sized planets we’ve found to date. These researchers used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph on Hubble to scrutinize how much ultraviolet radiation the TRAPPIST-1 planets receive. Related: NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system Bourrier said ultraviolet starlight can break water vapor into oxygen and hydrogen . And those elements can escape as ultraviolet rays with more energy to heat a planet’s upper atmosphere. It’s possible for Hubble to detect escaped hydrogen gas, which can act as a “possible indicator of atmospheric water vapor,” according to the statement on the research. Some of the outer planets, including e, f, and g, could have water on their surfaces. During the last eight billion years, the inner planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system “could have lost more than 20 Earth-oceans-worth of water,” according to the statement. But the outer planets might have not lost that much, suggesting they could have retained water. While the hints are exciting, the scientists say we can’t draw any final conclusions quite yet. Bourrier said in the statement, “While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations at all wavelengths to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and their potential habitability.” Via Hubble Space Telescope Images via ESO/N.Bartmann/spaceengine.org and NASA/R. Hurt/T.Pyle

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Scientists observe ‘diamond rain’ similar to that found on icy giant planets

August 24, 2017 by  
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You may have heard that icy planets like Neptune and Uranus experience diamond rain. But now, scientists have been able to mimic conditions of those planets and observe diamond rain at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Since it’s difficult for us at this point to directly observe the interiors of these planets, such research could help scientists better understand and classify worlds. For a long time, scientists have hypothesized that diamond rain arises over 5,000 miles below the surface of planets like Neptune and Uranus. In this recent experiment, a group of researchers simulated the conditions of these planets “by creating shock waves in plastic with an intense optical laser ” in the laboratory , according to a recent press release. They were able to observe that almost every carbon atom of the plastic was incorporated into diamond structures. The diamonds were tiny – only around a few nanometers wide – but on Uranus and Neptune, the researchers think the falling diamonds could weigh millions of carats. Related: Mysterious object near Neptune just made space a lot weirder Study lead author Dominik Kraus of research center Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf said in a statement, “We can’t go inside the planets and look at them, so these laboratory experiments complement satellite and telescope observations.” The scientists think diamond rain could produce an energy source, generating heat as it falls. Beyond observing a neat phenomenon, the experiment could help scientists learn about how elements mix together under pressure in the interiors of planets, providing them with more information on a planet’s defining features. These researchers plan to apply their methods to study the processes of other planets as well. Nature Astronomy published the study online this week. 23 scientists of institutions in Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom contributed to the research. Via SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Images via Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

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Scientists observe ‘diamond rain’ similar to that found on icy giant planets

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