A jaw-dropping video of all the 2299 currently discovered exoplanets and candidates, circling around one hypothetical star. This gives a good view of all the variation in size and orbit of currently discovered planets (including smaller, Earth-like ones).
This is pretty astonishing, if you remember that before 1988, no exoplanet had ever been discovered, and during the 1990s, only a few. But recent technological advances have made it possible to identify and confirm thousands of exoplanets – gas giants like Jupiter, but also Earth-like ones – only in the last couple of years. You can look them up in the Exoplanet Orbit Database or the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia.
As of 2012, 777 exoplanets in 623 planetary systems have been confirmed, and about 2300 are awaiting confirmation. It is estimated that more than 50% of Sun-like systems have planets (and planets have been discovered circling other types of stars as well). And of course, all of these have moons as well.
Yet, aside from on the internet, this facet of astronomy – unlike other big scientific projects of this era, such as CERN, the ISS and the Mars rover Curiosity – doesn’t get that much attention. Yet, NASA’s Kepler space telescope mission, searching for habitable planets, has done hugely important work, showing how even a small section of the universe is teeming with all kinds of objects.
A beautiful short movie, made of original pictures from NASA’s Cassini and Voyager missions. It’s always a bit amazing to me that these spacecraft have actually been there and taken this footage of these actual planets. For a normal human being these planets are kind of abstract, but they really exist out there floating in space, and can be observed. Hopefully even by people one day.
The news is already a day old, but I still want to highlight it: for the first time, a rocky exoplanet has been discovered in the habitable zone surrounding a Sun-sized star. The planet, Kepler-22b, is only 2,4 times the size of Earth, its average temperature is a comfortable 22 degrees Celcius (perfect!), and according to NASA scientists the surface might consist of rock. One caveat: this is not exactly sure, and it might be that only the core consists of rock and the rest is gas…
But let’s not spoil the fun! Let’s also not spoil it by the fact that it is 600 lightyears away. Kepler is probably teeming with extraterrestrial life, and will otherwise make a great spot for colonization efforts. I can’t wait! Also check out this nice Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a database containing the hundreds and hundreds of exoplanets currently discovered.
A new planet outside Earth’s solar system has been identified with many similarities to our own – making it the latest best potential target for life.
Kepler 22-b, which is about 2.4 times the size of Earth and lies in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”, has a relatively comfortable surface temperature of about 22C (72F) and orbits a star not unlike Earth’s sun.
But while astronomers believe that it “probably” also possesses water and land, earthlings secretly harbouring hopes that such a planet could potentially host new colonies from our own increasingly overpopulated home may be in for a disappointment.
About 600 light-years from Earth, Kepler 22-b is a considerable trek away while experts are not yet sure if it is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid.
The discovery was made by Nasa‘s Kepler planet-hunting telescope. It is the first time Kepler confirmed a planet outside Earth’s solar system in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zone.
Twice before, astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone.
More than 1,000 new planet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler telescope, nearly doubling the previously known count. Ten of the candidates are close to Earth’s size while Kepler-22b is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at Nasa headquarters in Washington.
“Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of Nasa’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”
“Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at Nasa’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler 22-b. “The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season.”
Behold: the most accurate computer simulation of the universe, ever. Created by researchers of the UC High-Performance AstroComputing Center (wish I could say I worked there) and New Mexico State University and called ‘the Bolshoi simulation’ (double wow), the movie below depicts “the most accurate cosmological simulation of the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe yet made”.
So, this is what the universe actually looks like. I recommend watching this high, or something.
The Bolshoi simulation is the most accurate cosmological simulation of the evolution of the large-scale structure of the universe yet made (“bolshoi” is the Russian word for “great” or “grand”). The first two of a series of research papers describing Bolshoi and its implications have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. The first data release of Bolshoi outputs, including output from Bolshoi and also the BigBolshoi or MultiDark simulation of a volume 64 times bigger than Bolshoi, has just been made publicly available to the world’s astronomers and astrophysicists.
The starting point for Bolshoi was the best ground- and space-based observations, including NASA’s long-running and highly successful WMAP Explorer mission that has been mapping the light of the Big Bang in the entire sky. One of the world’s fastest supercomputers then calculated the evolution of a typical region of the universe a billion light years across. The Bolshoi simulation took 6 million cpu hours to run on the Pleiades supercomputer—recently ranked as seventh fastest of the world’s top 500 supercomputers—at NASA Ames Research Center.
Large cosmological simulations such as the Millennium simulation are now the basis for much current research on the structure of the universe and the evolution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Due to significant advances in the measurement of the cosmological parameters and in the power and speed of supercomputers and simulation codes over the past half-decade since the Millennium cosmological simulation, the Bolshoi simulation is substantially better in resolution and accuracy.
Apollo 17 landed on the moon on December 1, 1972. It was the last manned trip to the moon (Apollo 18isn’t real!). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera has shot new images of the landing site of Apollo 17, from a height of 22 kilometers. On the photos the landing site of the Challenger Lunar Module, some test equipment and the Lunar Roving Vehicle can be seen:
One day, when we’ve discovered countless planets filled with water, nature and lifeforms, we’ll probably look back and wonder what the fuss of this dead, dry planet was all about. But right now, it’s all we got: the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed what looks like flowing water on Mars! It was already known that Mars in some spots harbors ice, but flowing water hadn’t been found yet.
It seems a seasonal thing though: the water only appears from the Martian spring to winter. An extremely important finding nonetheless; time to send some people there! From the NASA press conference:
Observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.
“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.”
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.
“The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.
Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth’s oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.
These results are the closest scientists have come to finding evidence of liquid water on the planet’s surface today. Frozen water, however has been detected near the surface in many middle to high-latitude regions. Fresh-looking gullies suggest slope movements in geologically recent times, perhaps aided by water. Purported droplets of brine also appeared on struts of the Phoenix Mars Lander. If further study of the recurring dark flows supports evidence of brines, these could be the first known Martian locations with liquid water.
A nice educational video from NASA from the 1970s; the time when it was still expected that around the year 2000, people would live in space stations. Now we don’t even have Space Shuttles anymore.
The start looks kinda like the Lost’s DHARMA Initiative, by the way…
A NASA video from a time of great optimism about space exploration. The Apollo missions were completed and the Space Shuttle program was underway. How soon before cheap and frequent flights to space would allow the construction of O’Neal colonies and mining camps on the Moon? This visionary approach calls for tiered greenhouses in space and unlimited solar power beamed back to Earth… all before the year 2000!
For the last time in history, a Space Shuttle will be launched today in T minus 10 minutes. That is, at 11.26 EST. Watch it happening, if weather permits, live here!
- Update: The weather risk is deemed ‘acceptable’, so they’re gonna pull of!
- Update: Succesful lift-off! What a sight.
At approximately 11:26 ET today, if weather permits, space shuttle Atlantis will embark on the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Atlantis is scheduled to go on a 12-day mission, carrying only four astronauts (compared to the usual crew of six or seven). During the mission, it will visit the International Space Station, drop off about 9,500 supplies and spare parts and conduct an experiment to test new refueling and repair technology for satellites in orbit.
The weather forecast is far from optimal though — showers and thunderstorms could be present in the launch area, and NASA says there’s a 70% chance of delay. If that happens, NASA will have another opportunity for launch on Saturday and Sunday, when the weather forecast is slightly better.
Space shuttle Endeavour, which successfully ended its last mission on June 1, was to be the last aircraft in NASA’s space shuttle program, but another mission was approved in October 2010.
The Atlantic once again has a wonderful and gorgeous picture collection, this time about the history of the Space Shuttle. The picture above is the original Star Trek crew attending the first presentation of the first Shuttle, named Enterprise, in 1976.
Check out this unbelievable series of photographs of the Space Shuttle Endeavour docking with the International Space Station (ISS), taken by the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli from a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Nespoli and his two crewmates — Russia’s Dmitry Kondratyev and NASA’s Catherine “Cady” Coleman — just happened to be heading back to Earth while Endeavour and its crew were visiting the station, which set up a golden opportunity for the kinds of pictures that had never been taken before. The images show the shuttle and station from a distance of about 600 feet (200 meters), with Earth’s curving disk in the background.
Today, the Space Shuttle Discovery has departed from the International Space Station (ISS), heading home on her final mission. The Atlantis and Endeavour will retire later this year, and with that, after 30 years, the Space Shuttle program comes to an end…
Really sad, as it basically means the end to the era of manned spaceflight that started in the early 1960s. There are no real successors to the Space Shuttles, and Obama apparently thinks that the discovery of space is not very important. The ISS will be decommissioned too soon enough, and it is questionable to which extent commercial spaceflight will be a replacement. So that was that. No more manned spaceflight, in the 21st century.
This video, although really cool, therefore makes me pretty sad. It’s the voice of Captain James T. Kirk, set to the final launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Won second place in NASA’s public song contest, and was the wakeup call for the astronauts on Day 12 of the mission.
A new ninth planet in the solar system may be found, however! Complete with moons and everything. And not just any old planet. Tyche is the name of a gas giant that may be four times the size of Jupiter, and is hiding in the Oort cloud (the ring of asteroids that is at the edges of the solar system). Astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana claim that data gathered from a NASA space telescope already proves its existence, but that data needs to be further analyzed. The first analyzed data would be released in April.
Whether Tyche is gonna be designated part of the solar system is up to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), however. It’s 375 times farther than Pluto, and may be from a another system but captured by ours.
The hunt is on for a gas giant up to four times the mass of Jupiter thought to be lurking in the outer Oort Cloud, the most remote region of the solar system. The orbit of Tyche (pronounced ty-kee), would be 15,000 times farther from the Sun than the Earth’s, and 375 times farther than Pluto’s, which is why it hasn’t been seen so far. But scientists now believe the proof of its existence has already been gathered by a Nasa space telescope, Wise, and is just waiting to be analysed.
The first tranche of data is to be released in April, and astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette think it will reveal Tyche within two years. “If it does, John and I will be doing cartwheels,” Professor Whitmire said. “And that’s not easy at our age.”
Once Tyche has been located, other telescopes could be pointed at it to confirm the discovery.
Whether it would become the new ninth planet would be decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The main argument against is that Tyche probably formed around another star and was later captured by the Sun’s gravitational field. The IAU may choose to create a whole new category for Tyche, Professor Matese said.
Tyche will almost certainly be made up mostly of hydrogen and helium and will probably have an atmosphere much like Jupiter’s, with colourful spots and bands and clouds, Professor Whitmire said. “You’d also expect it to have moons. All the outer planets have them,” he added.
Lately, a couple of fan-made NASA videos have been appearing (check out one here). This is in dire need; while President Bush at least wanted a manned mission to Mars, under Obama this program has been canceled, and now the Space Shuttle program is also shutting down. Space exploration is, unfortunately, not high on the priority list, nowadays.
So check out this fantastic fan-made video making a passionate case for space travel, basically composed of a great many images, the Donny Darko piano theme, and the voice of Carl Sagan.