Posts Tagged ‘space’

By Paul Rincon

The first known interstellar asteroid may hold water from another star system in its interior, according to a study.

Discovered on 19 October, the object’s speed and trajectory strongly suggested it originated beyond our Solar System.

The body showed no signs of “outgassing” as it approached the Sun, strengthening the idea that it held little if any water-ice.

But the latest findings suggest water might be trapped under a thick, carbon-rich coating on its surface.

The results come as a project to search for life in the cosmos has been using a radio telescope to check for radio signals coming from the strange, elongated object, named ‘Oumuamua.’

Astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen initiative have been looking across four different radio frequency bands for anything that might resemble a signal resulting from alien technology.

But their preliminary results have drawn a blank. The latest research – along with a previous academic paper – support a natural origin for the cosmic interloper.

Furthermore, they measured the way that ‘Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to icy objects from our own Solar System that are covered with a dry crust.

“We’ve got high signal-to-noise spectra (the ‘fingerprint’ of light reflected or emitted by the asteroid) both at optical wavelengths and at infrared wavelengths. Putting those together is crucial,” Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), one of the authors of the new study in Nature Astronomy.

He added: “What we do know is that the spectra don’t look like something artificial.”

Their measurements suggest that millions of years of exposure to cosmic rays have created an insulating, carbon-rich layer on the outside that could have shielded an icy interior from its encounter with the Sun.

This process of irradiation has left it with a somewhat reddish hue, similar to objects encountered in the frozen outer reaches of our Solar System.

“When it was near the Sun, the surface would have been 300C (600 Kelvin), but half a metre or more beneath the surface, the ice could have remained,” Prof Fitzsimmons told BBC News.

Previous measurements suggest the object is at least 10 times longer than it is wide. That ratio is more extreme than that of any asteroid or comet ever observed in our Solar System. Uncertainties remain as to its size, but it is thought to be at least 400m long.

“We don’t know its mass and so it could still be fragile and have a relatively low density,” said Prof Fitzsimmons.

“That would still be consistent with the rate at which it is spinning – which is about once every seven-and-a-half hours or so. Something with the strength of talcum powder would hold itself together at that speed.”

Molten core

He added: “It’s entirely consistent with cometary bodies we’ve studied – with the Rosetta probe, for example – in our own Solar System.”

Co-author Dr Michele Bannister, also from QUB, commented: “We’ve discovered that this is a planetesimal with a well-baked crust that looks a lot like the tiniest worlds in the outer regions of our Solar System, has a greyish/red surface and is highly elongated, probably about the size and shape of the Gherkin skyscraper in London.

“It’s fascinating that the first interstellar object discovered looks so much like a tiny world from our own home system. This suggests that the way our planets and asteroids formed has a lot of kinship to the systems around other stars.”

A number of ideas have been discussed to explain the unusual shape of ‘Oumuamua. These include the possibility that it could be composed of separate objects that joined together, that a collision between two bodies with molten cores ejected rock that then froze in an elongated shape, and that it is a shard of a bigger object destroyed in a supernova.

In a paper recently published on the Arxiv pre-print server, Gábor Domokos, from the Budapest University of Technology in Hungary, and colleagues suggest that, over millions of years, collisions between ‘Oumuamua and many speeding interstellar dust grains could produce the object’s observed shape.

Prof Fitzsimmons said this idea was very interesting, and added: “I think what we’re looking at here is the initial flurry of scientists running around saying: ‘How did it get like this, where’s it come from, what’s it made of.’ It’s incredibly exciting.

“I think after a few months you will see people focus down on one or two possibilities for all these things. But this just shows you: it’s a symptom of what an amazing, interesting object this is… we can’t wait for the next one.”

If planets form around other stars the same way they did in the Solar System, many objects the size of ‘Oumuamua should get slung out into space. The interstellar visitor may provide the first evidence of that process.

“All the data we have at the moment turn out to be consistent with what we might expect from an object ejected by another star,” he said.

But asked about Breakthrough Listen’s initiative, he said: “If I had a radio telescope, I might give it a go.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-42397398

Advertisements

By Jeffrey Kluger

If you’re traveling to Mars, you’re going to have to bring a lot of essentials along — water, air, fuel, food. And, let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t mind packing some beer too. A two-year journey — the minimum length of a Mars mission — is an awfully long time to go without one of our home planet’s signature pleasures.

Now, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the manufacturer of Budweiser, has announced that it wants to bring cosmic bar service a little closer to reality: On Dec. 4, the company plans to launch 20 barley seeds to space, aboard a SpaceX rocket making a cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS). Studying how barley — one of the basic ingredients in beer — germinates in microgravity will, the company hopes, teach scientists a lot about the practicality of building an extraterrestrial brewery.

“We want to be part of the collective dream to get to Mars,” said Budweiser vice president Ricardo Marques in an email to TIME. “While this may not be in the near future, we are starting that journey now so that when the dream of colonizing Mars becomes a reality, Budweiser will be there.”

Nice idea. But apart from inevitable issues concerning Mars rovers with designated drivers and who exactly is going to check your ID when you’re 100 million miles from home, Budweiser faces an even bigger question: Is beer brewing even possible in space? The answer: Maybe, but it wouldn’t be easy.

Start with that first step Budweiser is investigating: the business of growing the barley. In the U.S. alone, farmers harvest about 2.5 million acres of barley per year. The majority of that is used for animal feed, but about 45% of it is converted to malt, most of which is used in beer. Even the thirstiest American astronauts don’t need quite so much on tap, so start with something modest — say a 20-liter batch. That’s about 42 pints, which should get a crew of five through at least two or three Friday nights. But even that won’t be easy to make in space.

“If you want to make 20-liters of beer on Earth you’re going to need 100 to 200 square feet of land to grow the barley,” wrote Tristan Stephenson, author of The Curious Bartender series, in an email to TIME. “No doubt they would use hydroponics and probably be a bit more efficient in terms of rate of growth, but that’s a fair bit of valuable space on a space station…just for some beer.”

Still, let’s assume you’re on the station, you’ve grown the crops, and now it’s time to brew your first batch. To start with, the barley grains will have to go through the malting process, which means soaking them in water for two or three days, allowing them to germinate partway and then effectively killing them with heat. For that you need specialized equipment, which has to be carried to space and stored onboard. Every pound of orbital cargo can currently cost about $10,000, according to NASA, though competition from private industry is driving the price down. Still, shipping costs to space are never going to be cheap and it’s hard to justify any beer that winds up costing a couple hundred bucks a swallow.

The brewing process itself would present an entirely different set of problems — most involving gravity. On Earth, Stephenson says, “Brewers measure fermentation progress by assessing the ‘gravity’ (density) of the beer. The measurement is taken using a floating hydrometer. You’re not going to be doing that in space.”

The carbonation in the beer would be all wrong too, making the overall drink both unsightly and too frothy. “The bubbles won’t rise in zero-g,” says Stephenson. “Instead they’ll flocculate together into frogspawn style clumps.”

Dispersed or froggy, once the bubbles go down your gullet, they do your body no favors in space. The burp you emit after a beer on Earth seems like a bad thing, but only compared to the alternative — which happens a lot in zero-g, as gasses don’t rise, but instead find their way deeper into your digestive tract.

The type of beer you could make in space is limited and pretty much excludes Lagers — or cold-fermented beer. “Lager takes longer to make compared to most beers, because the yeast works at a lower temperature,” says Stephenson. “This is also the reason for the notable clarity of lager: longer fermentation means more yeast falls out of the solution, resulting in a clearer, cleaner looking beer. Emphasis on ‘falls’ — and stuff doesn’t fall in space.”

Finally, if Budweiser’s stated goal is to grow beer crops on Mars, they’re going about the experiment all wrong. Germinating your seeds in what is effectively the zero-g environment of the ISS is very different from germinating them on Mars, where the gravity is 40% that of Earth’s — weak by our standards, but still considerable for a growing plant. Budweiser and its partners acknowledge this possibility and argue that the very purpose of the experiment is to try to address the problem.

http://time.com/5039091/budweiser-beer-mars-space-station/

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

.

By Richard C. Lewis

Soon after the Big Bang, the universe went completely dark.

The intense, seminal event that created the cosmos churned up so much hot, thick gas that light was completely trapped. Much later—perhaps as many as one billion years after the Big Bang—the universe expanded; became more transparent; and eventually filled up with galaxies, planets, stars, and other objects that give off visible light. That’s the universe we know today.

How it emerged from the cosmic dark ages to a clearer, light-filled state remains a mystery.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Iowa offer a theory of how that happened. They think black holes that dwell in the center of galaxies fling out matter so violently that the ejected material pierces its cloudy surroundings, allowing light to escape. The researchers arrived at their theory after observing a nearby galaxy from which ultraviolet light is escaping.

“The observations show the presence of very bright X-ray sources that are likely accreting black holes,” says Philip Kaaret, professor in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy and corresponding author on the study. “It’s possible the black hole is creating winds that help the ionizing radiation from the stars escape. Thus, black holes may have helped make the universe transparent.”

Kaaret and his team focused on a galaxy called Tol 1247-232, located some 600 million light years from Earth, one of only three nearby galaxies from which ultraviolet light has been found to escape. In May 2016, using an Earth-orbiting telescope called Chandra, the researchers saw a single X-ray source whose brightness waxed and waned and was located within a vigorous star-forming region of Tol 1247-232.

The team determined it was something other than a star.

“Stars don’t have changes in brightness,” Kaaret says. “Our sun is a good example of that.

“To change in brightness, you have to be a small object, and that really narrows it down to a black hole,” he says.

But how would a black hole, whose intense gravitational pull sucks in everything around it, also eject matter?

The quick answer is no one knows for sure. Black holes, after all, are hard to study, in part because their immense gravitational pull allows no light to escape and because they’re embedded deep within galaxies. Recently, however, astronomers have offered an explanation: The jets of escaping matter are tapping into the accelerated rotational energy of the black hole itself.

Imagine a figure skater twirling with outstretched arms. As the skater folds her arms closer to her body, she spins faster. Black holes operate much the same way: As gravity pulls matter inward toward a black hole, the black hole likewise spins faster. As the black hole’s gravitational pull increases, the speed also creates energy.

“As matter falls into a black hole, it starts to spin and the rapid rotation pushes some fraction of the matter out,” Kaaret says. “They’re producing these strong winds that could be opening an escape route for ultraviolet light. That could be what happened with the early galaxies.”

Kaaret plans to study Tol 1247-232 more closely and find other nearby galaxies that are leaking ultraviolet light, which would help corroborate his theory.

The paper, “Resolving the X-ray emission from the Lyman continuum emitting galaxy Tol 1247-232,” was published online Aug. 2 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Contributing author Liza Casella, an Iowa City native studying at Northwestern University, helped with the research while in high school through the UI’s Secondary Student Training Program. Matthew Brorby, a postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy at the UI, and Andrea Prestwich, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, are the other contributing authors.

https://now.uiowa.edu/2017/08/researchers-hypothesize-how-universe-became-filled-light?utm_source=IANowFaculty&utm_medium=leaking_galaxies&utm_campaign=IANowFaculty-8-31-2017

by Michael d’Estries

Mankind’s future exploration of other planets may come to depend on the very thing we all flush away every day.

Researchers from Clemson University, in collaboration with NASA, are studying ways to take advantage of human urine sweat, and carbon dioxide to create everything from polyester to nutritional supplements. The key to making this possible is a strain of yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica, which would feed off collected waste and convert it into useful oils and fats.

“One of the yeast strains produces omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart, eye and brain health,” the team reported ahead of a presentation at the American Chemical Society. “Another strain has been engineered to churn out monomers and link them to make polyester polymers. Those polymers could then be used in a 3-D printer to generate new plastic parts.”

Similar to how Mars habitats will likely be created using resources already present on the Martian surface, spare tools and parts for long spaceflights will need to be sourced during the mission. According to Clemson University’s Mark Blenner, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, this conversion of waste will give birth to a new kind of economy.

“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” he said in a statement. “Atom economy will become really important.”

While taking advantage of urine and sweat may sound justifiably gross, keep in mind that astronauts on the International Space Station today already convert their urine into clean drinking water. Using it for tools and other beneficial products won’t be much of a leap.

“It tastes like bottled water,” Layne Carter, water subsystem manager for the ISS at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center told Bloomberg. “As long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.”

Despite only having managed to produce small amounts of polyesters or nutrients from Y. lipolytica in the lab, the Clemson researchers are hopeful that further studies will lead to increases in output.

“We’re learning that Y. lipolytica is quite a bit different than other yeast in their genetics and biochemical nature,” Blenner added. “Every new organism has some amount of quirkiness that you have to focus on and understand better.”


The first successfully captured photograph of a total solar eclipse, this daguerreotype was shot on July 28, 1851, by Prussian photographer Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski.

Here’s a little history lesson to help you pass the time between now and the next total solar eclipse on August 21st. The photograph above, a daguerreotype captured almost exactly 166 years ago, is the first successfully-captured photograph of a total solar eclipse.

The photo was captured by master daguerreotypist Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski, a Prussian photographer who was commissioned by the Royal Prussian Observatory at Königsberg to do what nobody else had managed up until that point: capture an appropriately-exposed photograph of a total solar eclipse.

Up until that point, every photograph taken had been over or under-exposed, and/or didn’t capture sufficient contrast between the bright corona and the obscuring disk of the moon.

According to a paper in the journal Acta Historica Astronomiae, the photograph was captured using a small refracting telescope attached to the hour drive of the 15.8-cm Fraunhofer heliometer. Berkowski began exposing the image shortly after totality, and the final daguerreotype took 84-seconds to capture.

To learn more about this photograph, click here: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2005AcHA…25..128S

Chinese scientists have teleported an object from Earth to a satellite orbiting 300 miles away in space, in a demonstration that has echoes of science fiction.

The feat sets a new record for quantum teleportation, an eerie phenomenon in which the complete properties of one particle are instantaneously transferred to another – in effect teleporting it to a distant location.

Scientists have hailed the advance as a significant step towards the goal of creating an unhackable quantum internet.

“Space-scale teleportation can be realised and is expected to play a key role in the future distributed quantum internet,” the authors, led by Professor Chao-Yang Lu from the University of Science and Technology of China, wrote in the paper.

The work may bring to mind Scotty beaming up the Enterprise crew in Star Trek, but there is no prospect of humans being able to materialise instantaneously at remote locations any time soon. The teleportation effect is limited to quantum-scale objects, such as fundamental particles.

In the experiment, photons were beamed from a ground station in Ngari in Tibet to China’s Micius satellite, which is in orbit 300 miles above Earth.

The research hinged on a bizarre effect known as quantum entanglement, in which pairs of particles are generated simultaneously meaning they inhabit a single, shared quantum state. Counter-intuitively, this twinned existence continues, even when the particles are separated by vast distances: any change in one will still affect the other.

Scientists can exploit this effect to transfer information between the two entangled particles. In quantum teleportation, a third particle is introduced and entangled with one of the original pair, in such a way that its distant partner assumes the exact state of the third particle.

For all intents and purposes, the distant particle takes on the identity of the new particle that its partner has interacted with.

Quantum teleportation could be harnessed to produce a new form of communication network, in which information would be encoded by the quantum states of entangled photons, rather than strings of 0s and 1s. The huge security advantage would be that it would be impossible for an eavesdropper to measure the photons’ states without disturbing them and revealing their presence.

Ian Walmsley, Hooke professor of experimental physics at Oxford University, said the latest work was an impressive step towards this ambition. “This palpably indicates that the field isn’t limited to scientists sitting in their labs thinking about weird things. Quantum phenomena actually have a utility and can really deliver some significant new technologies.”

Scientists have already succeeded in creating partially quantum networks in which secure messages can be sent over optical fibres. However, entanglement is fragile and is gradually lost as photons travel through optical fibres, meaning that scientists have struggled to get teleportation to work across large enough distances to make a global quantum network viable.

The advantage of using a satellite is that the particles of light travel through space for much of their journey. Last month, the Chinese team demonstrated they could send entangled photons from space to Earth. The latest work does the reverse: they sent photons from the mountaintop base to the satellite as it passed directly overhead.

Transmitting into space is more difficult as turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere can cause the particles to deviate, and when this occurs at the start of their journey they can end up further off course.

The latest paper, published on the Arxiv website, describes how, more than 32 days, the scientists sent millions of photons to the satellite and achieved teleportation in 911 cases.

“This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum internet,” the team write.

A number of teams, including the European Space Agency and Canadian scientists, have similar quantum-enabled satellites in development, but the latest results suggest China is leading the way in this field.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/12/scotty-can-you-beam-me-up-scientists-teleport-photons-300-miles-into-space#img-1

By Sarah Kaplan

Imagine you are a photon, a packet of light. You are a tiny blip of energy, hurtling through the universe on your own. But you have a twin, another photon to whom you have been intimately connected since the day you were born. No matter what distance separates you, be it the width of a lab bench or the breadth of the universe, you mirror each other. Whatever happens to your twin instantaneously affects you, and vice versa. You are like the mouse siblings in “An American Tail”, wrenched apart by fate but feeling the same feelings and singing the same song beneath the same glowing moon.

This is quantum entanglement. To non-physicists it sounds about as fantastical as singing mice, and indeed, plenty of physicists have problems with the phenomenon. Albert Einstein, whose own research helped give rise to quantum theory, derisively called the concept “spooky action at a distance.” Quantum entanglement seems to break some of the bedrock rules of standard physics: that nothing can travel faster than light, that objects are only influenced by their immediate surroundings. And scientists still can’t explain how the particles are linked. Is it wormholes? An unknown dimension? The power of love? (That last one’s a joke.)

Luckily for quantum physicists, you don’t always need to explain a phenomenon in order to use it. Ancient humans didn’t know about friction before inventing the wheel; doctors in medieval China didn’t know about antibodies when they began inoculating people against smallpox 600 years ago. Not knowing what’s behind quantum entanglement didn’t stop Jian-Wei Pan, a physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai, from rocketing it into space.

In a new study in the journal Science, Pan and his colleagues report that they were able to produce entangled photons on a satellite orbiting 300 miles above the planet and beam the particles to two different ground-based labs that were 750 miles apart, all without losing the particles’ strange linkage. It is the first time anyone has ever generated entangled particles in space, and represents a 10-fold increase in the distance over which entanglement has been maintained.

“It’s a really stunning achievement, and I think it’s going to be the first of possibly many such interesting and exciting studies that this particular satellite will open up,” said Shohini Ghose, a physicist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. “Who knows, maybe there’ll be a space entanglement race?”

There’s good a reason world governments may soon race to test out quantum theory in orbit, and it’s not just so they can claim the title of “spookiest.” Entangled particles could one day be used for “quantum communication” — a means of sending super secure messages that doesn’t rely on cables, wireless signals, or code. Because any interference with an entangled particle, even the mere act of observing it, automatically affects its partner, these missives can’t be hacked. To hear quantum physicists tell it, entangled particles could help build a “quantum internet,” give rise to new kinds of coding, and allow for faster-than-light communication — possibilities that have powerful appeal in an era where hospitals, credit card companies, government agencies, even election systems are falling victim to cyber attacks.

But until Pan and his colleagues started their experiments in space, quantum communication faced a serious limitation. Entangled photons don’t need wires or cables to link them, but on Earth it is necessary to use a fiber optic cable to transmit one of the particles to its desired location. But fibers absorb light as the photon travels through, so the quantum connection weakens with every mile the particle is transmitted. The previous distance record for what’s known as quantum teleportation, or sending information via entangled particles, was about 140 kilometers, or 86 miles.

But no light gets absorbed in space, because there’s nothing to do the absorbing. Space is empty. This means that entangled particles can be transmitted long distances across the vacuum and not lose information. Recognizing this, Pan proposed that entangled particles sent through space could vastly extend the distance across which entangled particles communicate.

On board the Chinese satellite Micius, which launched last year, a high energy laser was fired through a special kind of crystal, generating entangled photon pairs. This in itself was a feat: the process is sensitive to turbulence, and before the experiment launched scientists weren’t completely sure it would work. These photons were transmitted to ground stations in Delingha, a city on the Tibetan Plateau, and Lijiang, in China’s far southwest. The cities are about 750 miles apart — a bit farther than New York and Chicago. For comparison, the fiber optic method for quantum teleportation couldn’t get a New York photon much farther than Trenton, N.J.

Multiple tests on the ground confirmed that the particles from the Micius satellite were indeed still entangled. Now Pan wants to try even more ambitious experiments: sending quantum particles from the ground to the satellite; setting up a distribution channel that will allow for transmission of tens of thousands of entangled pairs per second. ”

“Then the satellite can really be used for quantum communication,” he said.

The Micius satellite can also be used to probe more fundamental questions, Pan added. The behavior of entangled particles in space and across vast distances offers insight into the nature of space-time and the validity of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Plus there’s the whole issue of what is going on with these bizarre linked photons in the first place.

“Mathematically we know exactly how to describe what happens,” Ghose said. “We know how to connect, physically, these particles in the lab, and we know what to expect when we generate and manipulate and transmit them.”

But as for how it all happens, how entangled photons know what their partner is doing, “that is not part of the equation,” she continued. “That’s what makes it so mysterious and interesting.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/06/15/quantum-entanglement-sciences-spookiest-phenomenon-achieved-in-space/?utm_term=.0fefcba180de