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"

New periodic table sorts 3,700 known exoplanets into 18 categories

November 17, 2017 by  
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A new Periodic Table of Exoplanets guides scientists and science fans alike through over 3,700 known exoplanets, including those that may host life . To organize the thousands of worlds identified since the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, astronomer Abel Méndez? of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico created a chart that sorts the exoplanets into 18 distinct categories. “We know of over 3,700 planets around other stars. They are very diverse,” Méndez? said in an interview with Gizmodo . “We can roughly classify them by their size and temperature. Only warm planets with the right size, similar to Earth, might provide some of the conditions for extraterrestrial life.” At the most general level, exoplanets , or planets beyond our solar system, are categorized based on distance from the star around which they orbit and their temperature. This places them in one of three zones: Hot Zone, Warm Zone, or Cold Zone. The exoplanets are also distinguished by size and composition (rocky “terran” planets vs. gas giants like Neptune and Jupiter ). As in the actual periodic table, each exoplanet category has a number assigned to it, which indicates how many of a particular kind of planet have been discovered. Related: Scientists discover new Earth-like planet only 11 light years away According to the Periodic Table of Exoplanets, there are 53 known exoplanets with the appropriate size, temperature and features such as liquid water and a stable atmosphere to potentially host life as we know it. “Unfortunately, we don’t know yet if they also have the right amount of water (e.g. oceans ) or the right atmosphere for life too,” said Méndez?. As for the disproportionate number of hot planets on the Table, Méndez? explained that this is due to the relative ease of discovery for hot planets and not necessarily because there are more of them. At the top right corner of the Table, a chart indicates the number of stellar systems and the number of known exoplanets for each system. To Méndez, the possibilities are endless. “I’m overwhelmed by the number and diversity of planets in the stars around us. So many places to explore in our own Solar System , but much more is waiting for us beyond,” Méndez? told Gizmodo . “I won’t be very surprised by another planet with life, Earth is the example that this is possible. I will be more surprised by something we haven’t seen before.” Via Gizmodo Images via  Planetary Habitability Laboratory/University of Puerto Rico at Aricebo and NASA

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New periodic table sorts 3,700 known exoplanets into 18 categories

This solar-powered floating farm combines agriculture and dining under one roof

November 17, 2017 by  
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As urban farming becomes increasingly popular, people are finding new, unexpected ways of incorporating agriculture into cities. From rooftops and community gardens, urban farming has descended to waterways and lakes – as in this solar-powered floating farm that doubles as a restaurant. Lotus is designed to grow fresh produce with a vertical hydroponic garden and then serve it in indoor and outdoor dining areas where visitors can enjoy waterside views and learn more about the production of the food. Lotus is a future-oriented farming system that aims to solve problems relating to the production, sale and distribution of crops and produce in urban areas. Its design also addresses the issue of global warming exacerbated by increased emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. Related: Could solar-powered floating farms provide enough food for the entire world? Designers Taeung Kim, Sunae Shin, Sungho An, Seungjun Lee & Mirae Park conceived the structure for client HYDROKOREA, and they were recognized by this year’s K-Design Award – an international design contest held by DESIGNSORI . Via Yanko Design

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This solar-powered floating farm combines agriculture and dining under one roof

Earth-like planet with atmosphere discovered just 39 light years away

April 10, 2017 by  
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In a development that has astronomers giddy with excitement, a new study published in Astronomical Journal has confirmed the existence of the first “Earth-like” planet with an atmosphere. The planet, known only as GJ 1132b, is about the size of Earth, with the same small, rocky composition as our own. Unlike our solar system , GJ 1132b orbits a dim red dwarf star so close to its sun that its atmosphere is likely more like Venus than Earth. Not only is the average temperature of the planet likely about 700 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s also probably tidally locked – which means that gravity causes one side of the planet to constantly face its star, while the other side is in a state of permanent night. The exoplanet was first discovered in 2015, but the existence of an atmosphere wasn’t certain until very recently. It’s unclear exactly what the planet’s atmosphere is made of, although it’s likely to be rich in either water vapor or methane. Further observations will have to be done to clarify. Related: Astronomers announce the closest earth-like planet is just a star away Though the exoplanet is clearly unsuitable for human life, the discovery has some far-reaching implications. Exoplanets orbiting red dwarves appear to be incredibly common throughout the known universe, so there could potentially be a huge number of planets with atmospheres that might harbor life. Via the Washington Post Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system

February 22, 2017 by  
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In a press conference today, NASA scientists revealed an extraordinary new discovery – the first known system of seven rocky, Earth-sized planets orbiting a single star. Three out of the seven planets are situated at the perfect distance from the sun to potentially harbor liquid water , making them habitable for life as we know it. This is the largest number of habitable-zone planets ever found around a single star outside our own solar system . It’s important to note that simply because these planets could potentially hold liquid water doesn’t mean that they do – but the likelihood is higher given their location. The planets are orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, located about 40 light years (or 235 trillion miles) from Earth in the Aquarius constellation. The system is named after the TRAPPIST ( The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope ), located in an observatory in Chile. In May 2016, TRAPPIST researchers announced they’d discovered three planets in the system. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was able to confirm those exoplanets’ existence and that of four additional planets. The results of NASA’s study have been published in the journal Nature today. Related: Astronomers just discovered an alien planet with three suns that shouldn’t exist What’s especially interesting about the TRAPPIST-1 system is how different its habitable zone is from that of systems like our own. Because the star is much cooler than our sun, planets much closer to the sun than Earth could potentially have liquid water. In fact, all seven of TRAPPIST-1’s planets are closer to the star than Mercury is to our own sun, and each of the planets are so close to one another they would appear in one another’s skies the same way the moon appears in ours. NASA scientists also speculate the planets may be tidally locked , so that the same side of the planet is always facing the star, casting one half of the planet in permanent daylight and the other in perpetual night. This could cause weather patterns unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on Earth, and extreme differences in temperature from one side to the other. The Spitzer telescope was able to detect the presence of the planets by observing the infrared wavelengths emitted by the star over a period of 500 hours. Each time a planet crossed in front of the star, the telescope could detect changes in the star’s brightness. NASA also followed up with a study using the Hubble Space Telescope to determine whether the planets were rocky, or likely had a “puffy” atmosphere like those of our own system’s gas giants. There’s still much about these planets we simply do not know, but studies will continue to help NASA learn more about them. Right now, the Kepler space telescope is also recording observations about the system, which will reveal more properties about the exoplanets in March. NASA’s new James Webb Telescope will also be pointed toward TRAPPIST-1 after its launch in 2018, and will analyze the planets’ temperature, surface pressure, and atmospheric makeup – all key factors that will reveal whether these worlds can actually sustain life. Via NASA Images via NASA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnKFaAS30X8

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NASA discovers 7 Earth-sized planets outside our solar system

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