The Earth-like planets orbiting this star could hold 250 times more water than Earth

April 27, 2018 by  
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Recent research suggests that some of the Earth-size planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 could carry more water than our own planet. TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool red dwarf discovered in 1999, and its planets were first documented within the past few years. Scientists have measured the density of TRAPPIST-1’s planets and concluded that the mass of some of these planets may be composed of five percent water – roughly 250 times the amount of water found in our planet’s oceans. Stars such as TRAPPIST-1 are of particular interest to astronomers because their size and faintness allows for more in-depth study of orbiting planets. Through the European Union-funded SPECULOOS project, scientists have been able to focus on these planets as they search for life beyond Earth . Researchers have also observed differences based on the planets’ distance from their sun. For example, planets closest to TRAPPIST-1 may contain thick, steamy atmospheres while outer planets may be covered in ice. Perhaps most importantly, astronomers have concluded that the lack of a hydrogen -rich atmosphere on three planets indicates that they are not gaseous and therefore much more likely candidates for harboring extraterrestrial life. Related: Two Trappist-1 planets are highly likely to be habitable The intensive study of the TRAPPIST-1 system is only in its early stages. In 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be capable of detecting possible molecules of biological origin. “In the temperate – and potentially habitable – Earth-size regime, SPECULOOS’s detection potential should be significantly better,” Dr. Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège, Belgium told Science Magazine . “The next years are going to be very exciting!” Gillon plans on expanding the observation of Earth-like planets by searching through 1,000 stars similar to TRAPPIST-1. Via Phys.org Images via NASA (1)

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The Earth-like planets orbiting this star could hold 250 times more water than Earth

EU approves complete ban on bee-killing insecticides

April 27, 2018 by  
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In a monumental decision that has been years in the making , all member nations of the European Union have approved a total ban of neonicotinoids, the most widely used insecticide in the world and a well-documented danger to bees and other pollinators. The ban is expected to go into effect by the end of this year, though use of the insecticide will still be allowed in greenhouses . The rapidly declining population of pollinator species in recent years is in part due to the widespread use of harmful pesticides. The ban should result in a healthier pollinator population, which is essential for global food production. The vote follows recent studies that have confirmed the danger that neonicotinoids pose to pollinators, directly and through water and soil contamination. “The commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from [the EU ‘s scientific risk assessors],” Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for Health and Food Safety, told the Guardian . “Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment.” Related: NASA has a plan to put robot bees on Mars This policy change pleased activists. “Finally, our governments are listening to their citizens, the scientific evidence and farmers who know that bees can’t live with these chemicals, and we can’t live without bees,” Antonia Staats at Avaaz said. Meanwhile, industry representatives disapproved. “European agriculture will suffer as a result of this decision,” Graeme Taylor, of the European Crop Protection Association , said. “Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but in time decision makers will see the clear impact of removing a vital tool for farmers.” Research suggests that Taylor’s concerns are unfounded, while the dramatic decline in pollinator populations — which will continue to occur without action — proves disastrous for food production. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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EU approves complete ban on bee-killing insecticides

Bill Gates-backed startup will give you real-time video of nearly anywhere on Earth

April 27, 2018 by  
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Start-up EarthNow is aiming to bring us real-time video taken from space  of any point on our planet. Backed by such high-profile supporters as Bill Gates and Airbus, EarthNow promises to boldly go where no one has gone before through a proposed “constellation” of satellites that will offer clients their pick of locations and angles from which to capture real-time video of Earth. EarthNow promises the delivery of video with only a one-second delay, without the need to wait for any satellite to be in range due to a comprehensive network that covers the entire planet at any given time. According to EarthNow, the system will one day let us “instantly create “living” 3D models of a town or city, even in remote locations,” observe conflict zones and react in real time, and catch forest fires the minute they start. In its very early stage at the moment, EarthNow intends to initially focus on “high-value enterprise and government customers,” offering services such as weather monitoring, tracking illegal fishing or poaching, or surveillance of conflict zones. Although there is no defined timeline for creating a prototype and testing the system, EarthNow is nonetheless making moves to bring its vision into reality. Thanks to its collaboration with  OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, EarthNow will be able to build its system using a significantly improved version of OneWeb’s satellite network. “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined,” said EarthNow in a press release . Related: Airbus wants to harpoon a satellite and bring it back to Earth Though EarthNow is targeting larger clients to start, its objective is ultimately to share the Earth with all of its inhabitants.  “EarthNow is ambitious and unprecedented, but our objective is simple; we want to connect you visually with Earth in real-time,” said EarthNow CEO and founder Russell Hannigan in a statement . “We believe the ability to see and understand the Earth live and unfiltered will help all of us better appreciate and ultimately care for our one and only home.” Via Tech Crunch Images via Earth Now

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Airbus wants to harpoon a satellite and bring it back to Earth

March 19, 2018 by  
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The aeronautics company Airbus is currently testing a three-foot harpoon they hope will catch the nonfunctional satellite Envisat and pull it back to Earth. This particular proposal may also address the rising problem of space debris. “If we can design a harpoon that can cope with Envisat, then it should be able to cope with all other types of spacecraft including the many rocket upper-stages that remain in orbit,” project engineer Alastair Wayman told the BBC . Prior to launch, the harpoons are being tested by being shot at high speeds into various materials that are used to build satellites. “The harpoon goes through these panels like a hot knife through butter ,” said Wayman. “Once the tip is inside, it has a set of barbs that open up and stop the harpoon from coming back out. We’d then de-tumble the satellite with a tether on the other end.” In the end, the ancient technology of the harpoon may prove more effective than robotic arms in space. “Many of these targets will be tumbling and if you were to use a robotic arm, say, that involves a lot of quite complex motions to follow your target,” explained Wayman.”Whereas, with the harpoon, all you have to do is sit a distance away, wait for the target to rotate underneath you, and at the right moment fire your harpoon. And because it’s a really quick event, it takes out a lot of the complexity.” Related: Space Scientists Develop Harpoon System to Capture Rogue Satellites and Clean up Space Junk Prior to its sudden death in 2012, Envisat, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), was the world’s largest civilian Earth observation satellite. The ESA hopes to bring it back home, starting with a scaled-down harpoon expedition known as the RemoveDEBRIS Mission. The RemoveDEBRIS demo satellite will bring its own debris into space, then attempt to catch it. This experiment will also test a net-based system. Via BBC Images via European Space Agency and  RemoveDEBRIS Mission

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Airbus wants to harpoon a satellite and bring it back to Earth

Scientists create protein-packed mats that fight pollution

March 19, 2018 by  
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Researchers have created a mat composed of active proteins that have the ability to absorb chemical pollution. In a study published in Science , scientists document how they successfully extracted an active protein from a cell without killing the former — a breakthrough that could pave the way to a new class of pollution-fighting technology. “We think we’ve cracked the code for interfacing natural and synthetic systems,” study author and professor at the University of California , Berkeley Ting Xu told Futurity . Previous attempts to remove proteins from their native environments without harming or killing them were marked by limited progress. The research team observed trends in sequences and surfaces before developing a synthetic polymer that is ideal for hosting proteins. “Proteins have very well-defined statistical pattern, so if you can mimic that pattern, then you can marry the synthetic and natural systems, which allows us to make these materials,” study first author  Brian Panganiban told Futurity . The team conducted advanced molecular simulations to ensure their polymer would effectively serve the protein’s needs. Related: Researchers shocked to discover protein that conducts electricity The experiment received funding from the United States Department of Defense, which is specifically interested in the technology’s bio-remediation potential against chemical pollution . The end result is capable of degrading insecticides and weaponized chemicals. Given its effectiveness, this bio-technology may soon be used in war zones and other contaminated areas to clean-up the mess that humanity has made. This technology can also be customized to meet the needs of a particular mess. Xu believes that his team’s approach could be used with other enzymes, which could someday lead to the creation of portable chemistry labs capable of responding effectively in the field to varied environmental challenges. Via Futurity Images via Deposit Photos , Christopher DelRe and Charley Huang/UC Berkeley

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Stephen Hawking reveals what existed before the Big Bang

March 7, 2018 by  
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In an interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson , iconic physicist Stephen Hawking reveals what he believes existed prior to the Big Bang. “Nothing was around,” said Hawking, who fortunately elaborated on this point. “The Euclidean space-time is a closed surface without end, like the surface of the Earth,” said Hawking, referring to the four-dimensional conceptual model that incorporates the three dimensions of space with time. “One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole, which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole so there was nothing around before the Big Bang.” At least, there was nothing around that humans can currently experience or conceptualize. Since there is no way to measure time prior to the Big Bang , Hawking concludes that simply nothing existed prior to the Big Bang. In his interview with deGrasse Tyson, Hawking also spoke about the questions he would ask of Sir Isaac Newton, were he able to do so by some twist in space-time. “Is the solar system stable? And what happens to a star that cannot support itself against its own gravity ?” Hawking wondered. The stability of the solar system is of particular interest to residents of Earth. Related: Stephen Hawking: Humans must leave Earth within 100 years to survive Hawking has offered some pessimistic assessments of the near-future of our planet. He predicts that the Earth will become a ball of fire within the next 600 years while also warning humanity that we have less than a century to leave Earth before it becomes uninhabitable. He also warned about the existential dangers of artificial intelligence . “Computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it,” he said in 2017 . “Success in creating effective AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it.” Via USA Today Images via Star Talk and NASA

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Tesla Roadster in space could collide with Venus or Earth

February 19, 2018 by  
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Elon Musk isn’t the only person amused by a Tesla in space — scientists at the University of Toronto and Charles University have devoted their attention to figuring out just what might happen to the Roadster officially classified by NASA as a celestial object . Researchers think the space-traveling car could ultimately crash into Venus or Earth — but don’t panic yet. University of Toronto Scarborough assistant professor Hanno Rein and his team think the red Tesla Roadster could collide with our planet or Venus, but probably not for millions of years. They ran several simulations with “sophisticated software that can track the motion of objects in space,” according to the University of Toronto . Related: Elon Musk releases historic video of Starman cruising through space in a Tesla Roadster The probability that Musk’s Tesla will collide with Earth during the next one million years is six percent, and 2.5 percent for Venus. The scientists ran simulations for the first three million years of the Tesla’s journey in outer space , although Rein said the most likely outcome is that the car will crash into either Earth or Venus in the next 10 million years. If the car does crash into Earth, any future people probably won’t need to be too concerned because most or all of the Tesla will probably burn up in our planet’s atmosphere . The vehicle is on “a Mars and Earth crossing orbit, meaning it will travel on an elliptical path that repeatedly carries it beyond Mars and then back to Earth’s orbital distance from the sun,” according to the press release. If you happen to be alive in 2091, the scientists think that year will mark the first close encounter of the Tesla with Earth, when the car will pass within a few hundred thousand kilometers. Those Earth encounters will likely impact the Tesla’s journey. University of Toronto Scarborough postdoctoral fellow Daniel Tamayo said in a statement, “Each time it passes the Earth, the car will get a gravitational kick. Depending on the details of these encounters, the Tesla can be kicked onto a wider or smaller orbit , so it’s random. Over time the orbit will undergo what’s called a random walk, similar to the fluctuations we see in the stock market, that will allow it to wander the inner solar system .” The scientists submitted their research for publication to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ; a preprint is available here . Rein and Tamayo were joined by David Vokrouhlicky of Charles University. The university’s press release did not say what might happen to the Roadster’s passenger, Starman . + University of Toronto Images via Elon Musk on Instagram and Ken Jones

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Tesla Roadster in space could collide with Venus or Earth

Two Trappist-1 planets are highly likely to be habitable

January 24, 2018 by  
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Scientists have concluded that two planets orbiting the dim dwarf star known as Trappist-1 are highly likely to be habitable by humans due to the potential presence of water and sufficient heat. Trappist-1 and its seven orbiting planets were discovered last year, elating scientists who had never encountered a solar system with so many Earth-size planets in a habitable zone of space. This new revelation indicates there may be more Earth-like planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy than once thought. To determine the habitability of the Trappist-1 planets, Dr. Amy Barr of the Planetary Science Institute and colleagues in Hungary constructed mathematical models of each planet, including its interior. From these models, the team found that six of the seven planets are likely to have water, solid or liquid, while one may even host a global ocean . In an innovative move, the team also used models of each planet’s orbit to extrapolate their surface temperatures. “The planets are also on eccentric orbits – kind of egg-shaped – so every time the planet goes around the star it gets stretched and squeezed,” Barr told the Guardian . This effect is known as tidal heating and increases the likelihood of habitability by warming the planet and facilitating a more dynamic flow and chemistry within the planet’s mantle. Related: New periodic table sorts 3,700 known exoplanets into 18 categories In a paper to be published in  the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics , the team concluded that planets d and e are the two most likely to be habitable by humans. Planet d is estimated to have an average surface temperature of 15C (59F), though it may be as low as just above the freezing point for water. In contrast, planet e is thought to have temperatures that parallel those of Antarctica . Ultimately, more research needs to be done to determine the precise conditions of these planets, including whether they are able to hold water or if they possess an atmosphere. A successful launch of NASA ‘s next-generation telescope, the James Webb, will likely shed more light on these fascinating exoplanets. In the meantime, computer models offer glimpses into worlds that may harbor extraterrestrial life. Via the Guardian Images via NASA   (1)

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Two Trappist-1 planets are highly likely to be habitable

NASA debuts KRUSTY nuclear reactor for future Mars residents

January 19, 2018 by  
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Researchers at NASA , Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy announced they have successfully tested a small nuclear reactor that may someday provide power to human habitats on Mars and beyond. Called Kilopower, or KRUSTY (Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology), the reactor comes in several versions to meet certain power needs, from 1 kilowatt (enough to power a small kitchen appliance) to 10 kilowatts, four or five of which would be required to provide power for a habitat on Mars. “Kilopower’s compact size and robustness allows us to deliver multiple units on a single lander to the surface that provides tens of kilowatts of power,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, during a press conference on Thursday . Kilopower could support manned missions to Mars in several ways. “We would need power on Mars for two primary reasons,” said Patrick McClure, Project Lead for Reactor Development at Los Alamos, in the video above . “The first is that astronauts need power for their habitat, so that they can make oxygen , purify water, but prior to their arrival, we need to make liquid oxygen and propellant so that they can get off the Martian surface.” Kilopower provides a fairly straightforward solution, requiring a minimal number of parts and thus lightweight, for the power needs of any planet-bound mission. Related: MIT’s winning solar-powered dome tree habitats for Mars mimic earthly forests The system works by incorporating steam-pipe technology, in which a sealed tube in a heat pipe circulates fluid throughout the reactor while generating heat . The heated fluid then travels to a Stirling engine, where it pressurizes gas to power a piston connected to a motor that generates electricity . Combining these parts makes for a reliable, simple device for providing power for all kinds of space missions. As for next steps, the research team intends to conduct a full-power test of their device in March. If all goes well, the sky may well be the limit for this compact powerhouse. Via Engadget and Space.com Images via NASA (1)

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NASA debuts KRUSTY nuclear reactor for future Mars residents

SpaceX’s upcoming launch of reused rocket marks historic first for NASA

November 30, 2017 by  
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SpaceX will launch a recycled Falcon 9 rocket into space for an upcoming NASA resupply mission to the International Space Station. While the private space travel company founded by Elon Musk has already launched previously used rockets into space and back, this marks the first instance in which the company will reuse a rocket for NASA. “NASA participated in a broad range of SpaceX data assessments and inspections regarding use of a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage booster,” said NASA in a statement made to The Verge , confirming the groundbreaking launch. This institutional support from the agency marks a major accomplishment for SpaceX, which has emphasized the promise of its reusable rockets. A typical SpaceX mission involving a Falcon 9 rocket includes an initial launch into space, where it completes a particular objective such as cargo delivery or placing satellites into orbit, followed by a return into Earth’s atmosphere and a landing onto one of SpaceX’s launching pads. It is possible that these Falcon 9 rockets could be used for three or more launches, though further testing is required. Related: SpaceX is sending two private citizens to the moon next year At the moment, only a few of SpaceX’s customers, such as Luxembourg-based communications company SES and satellite operator Bulgaria Sat , have opted for resuable rockets. However, the numbers are poised to grow, particularly after SpaceX’s upcoming launch with NASA .  Israeli satellite operator Spacecom has decided to launch a new satellite with SpaceX’s reused rockets, despite past challenges involving the destruction of a Spacecom satellite when the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket it was to be launched on exploded. While NASA has voiced optimism about expanding its use of resuable rockets, it has also made clear that it will tread carefully in using this new technology. Meanwhile, the US military has offered some positive words for reused rockets, with General John W. “Jay” Raymond, head of US Air Force Space Command, claiming to Bloomberg that it would be “absolutely foolish” to not explore the option as a cost-saving measure. Via The Verge Images via SpaceX/Flickr   (1)

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