ESA launches world’s first mission to explore the "atmospheres of hundreds of planets"

March 23, 2018 by  
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Behold a brand new era of space exploration. The European Space Agency (ESA) just selected the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission from three candidates to launch what Nature describes as the “world’s first space telescope dedicated to studying the atmospheres of exoplanets.” The four-year, $552 million will launch on the Ariane 6 rocket in 2028. The agency said we’ve found thousands of exoplanets with a massive range of sizes, masses, and orbits, but we haven’t uncovered a pattern connecting such characteristics to the parent star’s nature. “In particular, there is a gap in our knowledge of how the planet’s chemistry is linked to the environment where it formed, or whether the type of host star drives the physics and chemistry of the planet’s evolution,” according to ESA. Related: Kepler data reveals 20 potential habitable worlds ESA plans to zero in on hot and warm planets, “ranging from super-Earths to gas giants orbiting close to their parent stars.” Nature said a spectograph will scrutinize light filtering through an exoplanet’s atmosphere while it passes by its host star, “revealing chemical fingerprints of gases that shroud the body.” ARIEL could detect signs of water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide, and also measure exotic metallic compounds. ESA says such findings could help place an exoplanet in context of a host star’s chemical environment. ESA Director of Science Günther Hasinger said in the statement, “ARIEL is a logical next step in exoplanet science, allowing us to progress on key science questions regarding their formation and evolution, while also helping us to understand Earth’s place in the universe .” + ESA’s Next Space Mission to Focus on Nature of Exoplanets Via Nature Images via ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO and NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

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ESA launches world’s first mission to explore the "atmospheres of hundreds of planets"

Astronomers discover that exoplanet WASP-12b is "darker than asphalt"

September 21, 2017 by  
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Astronomers recently discovered an exoplanet they’ve been studying since 2008 is pitch black, reflecting almost no light . The new findings could change what the researchers previously hypothesized about WASP-12b’s atmosphere . Taylor Bell, a master’s student at McGill University, described the exoplanet as darker than fresh asphalt . There’s a pitch black planet out there in space . An international group of astronomers utilized the Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to measure the albedo – or how much light a planet reflects – of WASP-12b. The exoplanet’s albedo is incredibly low, which reportedly surprised the researchers. WASP-12b is two times less reflective than Earth’s Moon . Related: First hints of water detected on Earth-sized TRAPPIST-1 planets Why should we care about an exoplanet’s albedo? It can tell us about the planet’s atmosphere: scientists now think WASP-12b’s atmosphere is comprised of helium and atomic hydrogen. Bell said in a statement, “The low albedo shows we still have a lot to learn about WASP-12b and other similar exoplanets.” WASP-12b is classified as a hot Jupiter, and has a radius almost double Jupiter’s. Its daylight side has a surface temperature of around 2,600 degrees Celsius – and the high temperature may offer an explanation for the low albedo. “There are other hot Jupiters that have been found to be remarkably black, but they are much cooler than WASP-12b,” Bell said. “For those planets, it is suggested that things like clouds and alkali metals are the reason for the absorption of light, but those don’t work for WASP-12b because it is so incredibly hot.” 14 researchers were involved in the work, from institutions in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The Astrophysical Journal Letters published the study earlier this month. Via Hubble Space Telescope Images via NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI) ; and NASA & ESA

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Astronomers discover that exoplanet WASP-12b is "darker than asphalt"

Newly discovered exoplanet may be the best place to search for extraterrestrial life

April 19, 2017 by  
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Today researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian made an exciting announcement: a newly discovered planet may be the best candidate yet for finding life outside of our solar system. Earlier this year, scientists identified seven planets orbiting a star that looked ideally-placed for hosting life, but we really don’t know enough about those planets to say with any real conviction. On the other hand, LHS 1140b is close enough that we have more data, which gives it even more potential as a site for alien life. Researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian say that LHS 1140b stands out because of its dimensions. “What really sets this planet apart from others that have been discovered is that we know the mass and the radius of the planet,” said Jason Dittmann, a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics . The exoplanet is in the Cetus constellation, which is relatively close at just 40 light years away. Related: Astronomers Reveal the Most Livable, Earth-Like Planet Ever Discovered LHS 1140b is large enough to have the gravity it needs to have an atmosphere, and it orbits a star right within the habitable zone. It also has a circular orbit, which means it is a safer place for life to form since there are fewer collisions and extremes compared to planets with oblong orbits. The exoplanet is closer to its star than Earth, with an orbit of just 25 days, but its star is much cooler than our own. The findings were published in the journal Nature , and scientists hope to gather more info soon about the exoplanet with future studies using new James Webb telescope technology . Via Cnet

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Newly discovered planet with three suns has triple sunsets and sunrises

July 8, 2016 by  
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Somewhere out in the universe is an exoplanet with not one, not two, but three suns. A team led by astronomers from the University of Arizona used the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s Very Large Telescope to find HD 131399Ab , an exoplanet in what’s called a triple-star system. The cool space discovery could mean there are more planets in multi-star systems than we thought. HD 131399Ab is not the first planet discovered with three suns , but it is one that is more likely to remain in its orbit. Normally when astronomers find planets with three suns, the planet’s orbit is unstable and it’s ” quickly ejected ” from the triple-star system. HD 131399Ab is different: it’s the ” first planet ever found in a wide orbit inside a triple-star system .” The astronomers say this orbit ” can be stable ” but they need to do more research to determine if the orbit will continue to be stable long-term. Related: Astronomers just discovered an alien planet with three suns that shouldn’t exist There are some interesting weather patterns on HD 131399Ab too: it either exists in a state of constant daylight or has triple sunsets and sunrises each day, depending on the season. But if we could stand on the planet, we’d only ever experience one or the other because HD 131399Ab’s seasons are longer than human lifetimes. HD 131399Ab is also one of the youngest exoplanets we’ve ever found at just around 16 million years old, compared to Earth’s estimated 4.5 billion years. It’s around 320 light-years away from us. The astronomers published a paper detailing the discovery recently in Science . Along with astronomers from the European Southern Observatory and the University of Arizona, the team included researchers from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland and the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble in France. University of Arizona PhD student Kevin Wagner, who is the lead author on the paper, said in an ESO press release , “It is not clear how this planet ended up on its wide orbit in this extreme system, and we can’t say yet what this means for our broader understanding of the types of planetary systems, but it shows that there is more variety out there than many would have deemed possible. What we do know is that planets in multi-star systems…are potentially just as numerous as planets in single-star systems.” + European Southern Observatory Images courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser and ESO

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11 green building materials that are way better than concrete

July 8, 2016 by  
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1. Straw Bales Rather than relying on new research and technology, straw bale building hearkens back to the days when homes were built from natural, locally-occurring materials. Straw bales are used to create a home’s walls inside of a frame, replacing other building materials such as concrete, wood, gypsum, plaster, fiberglass, or stone. When properly sealed, straw bales naturally provide very high levels of insulation for a hot or cold climate, and are not only affordable but sustainable as straw is a rapidly renewable resource. ®Flickr/Willie Angus 2. Grasscrete As its name might indicate, grasscrete is a method of laying concrete flooring, walkways, sidewalks, and driveways in such a manner that there are open patterns allowing grass or other flora to grow. While this provides the benefit of reducing concrete usage overall, there’s also another important perk — improved stormwater absorption and drainage. 3. Rammed Earth What’s more natural than the dirt under your feet? In fact, walls that have a similar feel to concrete can actually be created with nothing more than dirt tamped down very tightly in wooden forms. Rammed earth is a technology that has been used by human civilization for thousands of years, and can last a very long time. Modern rammed earth buildings can be made safer by use of rebar or bamboo, and mechanical tampers reduce the amount of labor required to create sturdy walls. 4. HempCrete HempCrete is just what it sounds like – a concrete like material created from the woody inner fibers of the hemp plant. The hemp fibers are bound with lime to create concrete-like shapes that are strong and light.  HempCrete blocks are super-lightweight, which can also dramatically reduce the energy used to transport the blocks, and hemp itself is a fast-growing, renewable resource. ®Flickr/Carolina Zuluaga 5. Bamboo Bamboo might seem trendy, but it has actually been a locally-sourced building material in some regions of the world for millennia. What makes bamboo such a promising building material for modern buildings is its combination of tensile strength , light weight, and fast-growing renewable nature. Used for framing buildings and shelters, bamboo can replace expensive and heavy imported materials and provide an alternative to concrete and rebar construction, especially in difficult-to reach areas, post-disaster rebuilding, and low-income areas with access to natural locally-sourced bamboo. 6. Recycled Plastic Instead of mining, extracting, and milling new components, researchers are creating concrete that includes ground up recycled plastics and trash, which not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but reduces weight and provides a new use for landfill-clogging plastic waste. 7. Wood Plain old wood still retains many advantages over more industrial building materials like concrete or steel. Not only do trees absorb CO2 as they grow, they require much less energy-intensive methods to process into construction products. Properly managed forests are also renewable and can ensure a biodiverse habitat. RELATED: Energy efficient timber cabin in Norway 8. Mycelium Mycelium is a crazy futuristic building material that’s actually totally natural – it comprises the root structure of fungi and mushrooms. Mycelium can be encouraged to grow around a composite of other natural materials, like ground up straw, in molds or forms, then air-dried to create lightweight and strong bricks or other shapes. ®Flickr/Zack Detailer 9. Ferrock Ferrock is a new material being researched that uses recycled materials including steel dust from the steel industry to create a concrete-like building material that is even stronger than concrete . What’s more, this unique material actually absorbs and traps carbon dioxide as part of its drying and hardening process – making it not only less CO2 intensive than traditional concrete, but actually carbon neutral. ®Flickr/Alan Stark 10. AshCrete AshCrete is a concrete alternative that uses fly ash instead of traditional cement.  By using fly ash, a by-product of burning coal, 97 percent of traditional components in concrete can be replaced with recycled material. ®Public Domain Pictures 11. Timbercrete Timbercrete is an interesting building material made of sawdust and concrete mixed together. Since it is lighter than concrete, it reduces transportation emissions, and the sawdust both reuses a waste product and replaces some of the energy-intensive components of traditional concrete. Timbercrete can be formed into traditional shapes such as blocks, bricks, and pavers.

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New Hubble images finally reveal what the Crab Nebula hides in its core

July 8, 2016 by  
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Legions of scientists have studied and taken images of the Crab Nebula — in fact, it’s one of the most-studied object in space. But until now, astronomers have never been able to glimpse the object at the heart of the massive gas cloud. Until now. New Hubble images have revealed a fast-moving neutron star at the heart of the nebula. The Crab Nebula , which lies 6500 light years away from Earth, was created by a supernova long ago. A massive star in the Taurus constellation exploded at immense speeds, creating the expanding cloud of gas we see today, called a supernova remnant. Most images of the nebula focus on the intense colors and shapes of the nebula’s outer filaments, but what’s going on in the heart of the cloud may be even more interesting. It turns out that when the original star making up the nebula exploded, it left behind its inner core, a strange and exotic object known as a neutron star . While this star has roughly the same mass as our sun, it only measures a few tens of kilometers across — an incredible density made possible by the compression of the subatomic particles that make up the star. Until now, it’s been almost impossible to capture this star’s movement on camera due to its high speed: it rotates approximately 30 times per second. Related: NASA captures shockwave of a massive supernova for the first time ever To capture the neutron star, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to take three high-resolution images about 10 years apart each. Those images were combined together to create a sort of time-lapse showing bright “ripples” in the center of the nebula; bands of light are actually caused by the radiation of electrons spiraling through the star’s magnetic field at nearly the speed of light. This isn’t the first time the Crab Nebula has made history . The supernova explosion that created the cloud was one of the first such events in recorded human history.  In the year 1045, astronomers in Japan and China noticed a bright new star in the night sky said to be nearly as bright as the moon. That bright light was caused by the distant explosion, and over the next several years it gradually faded until it was invisible to the naked eye. Luckily, it’s still possible to see with the help of the Hubble . Via Gizmodo Images via ESA/Hubble  

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New Hubble images finally reveal what the Crab Nebula hides in its core

Nearby Earth-like planet could be the ‘most important’ find in modern astronomy

November 12, 2015 by  
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Scientists are studying a rocky Earth-like planet closely orbiting another star in our solar system, and they say it could be “the most important planet ever found outside the solar system,” the Guardian reports . Located in the Vela constellation in our southern skies, GJ 1132b may not have a very exciting name, but measurements detailing its atmosphere, surface winds and chemical composition could lead to groundbreaking new insights. Read the rest of Nearby Earth-like planet could be the ‘most important’ find in modern astronomy

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