Archive for the ‘NASA’ Category

For the first time, scientists have found an Earth-sized world orbiting in a life-friendly zone around a distant star.

The discovery, announced on Thursday, is the closest scientists have come so far to finding a true Earth twin. The star, known as Kepler-186 and located about 500 light years away in the constellation Cygnus, is smaller and redder than the sun.

The star’s outermost planet, designated Kepler-186f, receives about one-third the radiation from its parent star as Earth gets from the sun, meaning that high noon on this world would be roughly akin to Earth an hour before sunset, said astronomer Thomas Barclay, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

The planet is the right distance from its host star for water — if any exists — to be liquid on the surface, a condition that scientists suspect is necessary for life.

“This planet is an Earth cousin, not an Earth twin,” said Barclay, who is among a team of scientists reporting on the discovery in the journal Science this week.

NASA launched its Kepler space telescope in 2009 to search about 150,000 target stars for signs of any planets passing by, or transiting, relative to the telescope’s point of view. Kepler was sidelined by a positioning system failure last year.

Analysis of archived Kepler data continues. From Kepler’s observational perch, a planet about the size and location of Earth orbiting a sun-like star would blot out only about 80 to 100 photons out of every million as it transits.

The pattern is repeated every 365 days and at least three transits would be needed to rule out other possibilities, so the search takes time.

“It’s very challenging to find Earth analogs,” Barclay said. “Most candidates don’t pan out, but things change as we get more measurements.”

Scientists don’t know anything about the atmosphere of Kepler-186f, but it will be a target for future telescopes that can scan for telltale chemicals that may be linked to life.

“This planet is in the habitable zone, but that’s doesn’t mean it is habitable,” Barclay said.

So far, scientists have found nearly 1,800 planets beyond the solar system.

“The past year has seen a lot of progress in the search for Earth-like planets. Kepler-168f is significant because it is the first exoplanet that is the same temperature and is (almost) the same size as Earth,” astronomer David Charbonneau, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in an email.

“For me the impact is to prove that yes, such planets really do exist,” Charbonneau said. “Now we can point to a star and say, “There lies an Earth-like planet.'”

http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/idINBREA3G1XI20140417?irpc=932

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

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Civilisation is almost inevitably doomed, a Nasa-funded study has found.

Human society is founded on a level of economic and environmental stability which almost certainly cannot be sustained, it said.

The study used simplified models of civilisation designed to experiment with the balance of resources and climate that creates stability – or not – in our world.

These theoretical models – designed to extrapolate from simple principles the future of our industrialised world – ran into almost intractable problems.

Almost any model “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid”, the report said.

Mathematician Safa Motesharri begins his report by stating that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history” and that this is borne out by maths, as well as historiography.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”
His research – funded by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center and published int he Ecological Economics journal – explored the pressures that can lead to a collapse in civilisation.

These criteria include changes in population, climate change and natural disasters. Access to water, agriculture, and energy are also factors.

Motesharri found that problems with each of these is far more damaging when experienced in combination with another. When this occurs the result is often an “economic stratification” and “stretching of resources” which drags at society’s foundations.

Under this highly simplified model, our society appears to be doomed.

In one of his simulations:

“[Ours] appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature”

He added that elites tend to have a vested interest in sustaining the current model – however doomed – for as long as possible, regardless of the eventual negative outcome:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

There are caveats, of course. The study is a simplified model of society, not a perfect simulation, and it isn’t able to make solid predictions of the future. It’s also worth noting that Motesharri does allow for the possibility that “collapse can be avoided” – though he thinks it will be exceptionally difficult.

Indeed, as the Guardian reports, other studies by the UK Government and KPMG have also warned of a “perfect storm” of energy scarcity and economy fragility coming within a few decades, which lends weight to his conclusion.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/17/civilisation-doomed_n_4977387.html

Singing Stars

Posted: August 23, 2013 in NASA, Nature, Science, singing star, Space and Time

Scientists have turned light signals from distant stars into sound. By analysing the amount of hiss in the sound, they can work out the star’s surface gravity and what stage it’s at in its evolution from dwarf to red giant.

Saturn

In July, you will have the photo opp of a lifetime.

According to the Cassini Solstice Mission website, the sun will backlight Saturn on July 19, allowing you to clearly see the planet’s rings, photograph them and observe the changes over the past seven years, since Saturn was last photographed.

The positioning of the planets against the sun will also allow for a clear photo of Earth from 898 million miles away. This shot of the Earth will be only the third of its kind in the history of U.S. space travel. The first was taken from the Voyager in 1990, from 4 billion miles away; the second from Cassini in 2006, from 926 million miles away.

NASA posted directions on its website for waving at Saturn on July 19. Since the picture of Earth will be tiny, NASA is encouraging people to capture their own photos of Saturn and send them in, which they will then compile into a collage and post on its website.

NASA is promoting Wave at Saturn with a Flickr group, Facebook event page and a #waveatsaturn Twitter hashtag.

The Cassini portrait session of Earth is expected to last around 15 minutes, beginning at 5:27 p.m. ET on July 19.

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://mashable.com/2013/06/25/saturn-photo/

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Delicious Uncle Sam’s Meal Cubes are laser-sintered from granulated mealworms; part of this healthy breakfast.
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NASA is funding research into 3D printed food which would provide astronauts with meals during long space flights. The futuristic food printers would use cartridges of powder and oils which would have a shelf life of 30 years.

While the idea may seem like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, the process of printing food has already been proven possible. The brains behind the innovation, Anjan Contractor, previously printed chocolate in a bid to prove his concept.

Contractor and his company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation, will now use NASA’s $125,000 grant to attempt to print a pizza. The grant was applied for on March 28, 2013. The pizza printer is still in the conceptual stage, and will begin to be built in two weeks.

The printer will first print a layer of dough, which will be cooked while being printed. Tomato powder will then be mixed with water and oil to print a tomato sauce. The topping for the pizza will be a “protein layer” which could come from any source – animals, milk, or plants.

The concept is to use basic “building blocks” of food in replaceable powder cartridges. Each block will be combined to create a range of foods which can be created by the printer. The cartridges will have a shelf life of 30 years – more than long enough to enable long-distance space travel.

Contractor and his team hope the 3D printer will be used not only by NASA, but also by regular Earthlings. His vision would mean the end of food waste, due to the powder’s long shelf life.

“I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently, ” he said, as quoted by Quartz.

“So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.” There are some conveniences which would come along with the printer. For example, recipes could be traded with others through software. Each recipe would have a set of instructions which tells the printer which cartridge of powder to mix with which liquids, and at what rate and how it should be sprayed.

Another perk includes personalized nutrition.

“If you’re male, female, someone is sick—they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires,” Contractor said.

Contractor plans on keeping the software portion of his 3D printer entirely open-source, so that anyone can look at its code. He believes this will allow people to find creative uses for the hardware.

http://rt.com/usa/nasa-3d-pizza-printer-590/

mars_rover_oo_err

Nasa’s $800m Mars Exploration Rovers have accidentally drawn a penis.

The twin exploration vehicles Spirit and Opportunity were launched nine years ago, in an effort to search the surface of Mars for signs of water erosion and possibly even life.

According to Nasa, since then the rovers have driven over more than 10km of Martian land, directed by teams back on Earth combined with autonomous cameras designed to avoid potential problems with the terrain.

It appears that part of the robots’ programming involves spinning in tight circles to test nearby terrain and find new routes.

Humorously, depending on your age perhaps, that has the unfortunate consequence of drawing a certain shape on the surface, which when discovered by Reddit essentially crashed Nasa’s website.

The image was posted on Nasa’s site and appears to be a genuine picture from the Martian surface – albeit one taken at an unfortunate angle.

It’s not clear which of the rovers drew the shape, or even when it was made.

Nasa lost communication with the Spirit rover in 2009 after it became stuck in some sand. Meanwhile the Opportunity is still traversing the surface on its way to the Endeavour crater.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/24/mars-rover-penis-nasa_n_3144656.html

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Radioactive iron may be first fossil imprint of a nearby cosmic explosion.

by Alexandra Witze

Sediment in a deep-sea core may hold radioactive iron spewed by a distant supernova 2.2 million years ago and preserved in the fossilized remains of iron-loving bacteria. If confirmed, the iron traces would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star.

Shawn Bishop, a physicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, reported preliminary findings on 14 April at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver, Colorado.

In 2004, scientists reported finding the isotope iron-60, which does not form on Earth, in a piece of sea floor from the Pacific Ocean. They calculated how long ago this radioactive isotope had arrived by using the rate at which it decays over time. The culprit, they concluded, was a supernova in the cosmic neighbourhood.

Bishop wondered if he could find signs of that explosion in the fossil record on Earth. Some natural candidates are certain species of bacteria that gather iron from their environment to create 100-nanometre-wide magnetic crystals, which the microbes use to orient themselves within Earth’s magnetic field so that they can navigate to their preferred conditions. These ‘magnetotactic’ bacteria live in sea-floor sediments.

So Bishop and his colleagues acquired parts of a sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, dating to between about 1.7 million and 3.3 million years ago. They took sediment samples from strata corresponding to periods roughly 100,000 years apart, and treated them with a chemical technique that extracts iron-60 but not iron from nonbiological sources, such as soil washing off the continents. The scientists then ran the samples through a mass spectrometer to see if any iron-60 was present.

And it was. “It looks like there’s something there,” Bishop told reporters at the Denver meeting. The levels of iron-60 are minuscule, but the only place they seem to appear is in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago. This apparent signal of iron-60, Bishop said, could be the remains of magnetite (Fe3O4) chains formed by bacteria on the sea floor as radioactive supernova debris showered on them from the atmosphere, after crossing inter-stellar space at nearly the speed of light.

No one is sure what particular star might have exploded at this time, although one paper points to suspects in the Scorpius–Centaurus stellar association, at a distance of about 130 parsecs (424 light years) from the Sun3.

“I’m really excited about this,” says Brian Thomas, an astrophysicist at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, who was not involved in the work. “The nice thing is that it’s directly tied to a specific event.”

“For me, philosophically, the charm is that this is sitting in the fossil record of our planet,” Bishop says. He and his team are now working on a second core, also from the Pacific, to see if it too holds the iron-60 signal.

http://www.nature.com/news/supernova-left-its-mark-in-ancient-bacteria-1.12797