Showing posts from March, 2012

Many Billions of Rocky Planets in the Habitable Zones around Red Dwarfs in the Milky Way

Source:   European Southern Observatory (ESO)  Excerpt: A new result from ESO’s HARPS planet finder shows that rocky planets not much bigger than Earth are very common in the habitable zones around faint red stars. The international team estimates that there are tens of billions of such planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and probably about one hundred in the Sun’s immediate neighbourhood. … red dwarf stars…are faint and cool compared to the Sun, but very common and long-lived, and therefore account for 80% of all the stars in the Milky Way. "… about 40% of all red dwarf stars have a super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone where liquid water can exist on the surface of the planet,” says Xavier Bonfils …. “Because red dwarfs are so common — there are about 160 billion of them in the Milky Way — this leads us to the astonishing result that there are tens of billions of these planets in our galaxy alone.” The HARPS team surveyed a carefully chosen sample of 102 red dwarf

Is It Snowing Microbes on Enceladus?

Source:   Dauna Coulter, NASA Science News  An article relevant to GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: …In a series of tantalizingly close flybys to the moon, named "Enceladus," NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed watery jets erupting from what may be a vast underground sea. These jets, which spew through cracks in the moon's icy shell, could lead back to a habitable zone that is uniquely accessible in all the solar system. …says Carolyn Porco …"Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans." …She believes the small moon, with its sub-surface liquid sea, organics, and an energy source, may host the same type of life we find in similar environments on Earth. …But what makes Enceladus special is that its habitable zone offers itself up for easy access. "It's

Dawn Sees New Surface Features on Giant Asteroid

Source:   NASA Dawn Mission NASA's Dawn spacecraft has revealed unexpected details on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. Vesta is the only asteroid in the so-called main belt between Mars and Jupiter visible to the naked eye from Earth. Carbon-rich asteroids may have hit Vesta at speeds low enough to produce some of the smaller deposits without blasting away the surface. Higher-speed asteroids also could have hit Vesta's surface and melted the volcanic basaltic crust, darkening existing surface material. That melted conglomeration appears in the walls and floors of impact craters, on hills and ridges, and underneath brighter, more recent material called ejecta, which is material thrown out from a space rock impact.

The Sky in Infrared

Source:  Bryan Mendez, NASA WISE mission  Excerpt: Today NASA and the Wide-field Survey Explorer (WISE) Team have released the full-sky infrared observations of the sky. As part of this release, a down-sampled but very high resolution spherical image map of the infrared sky has been rendered from this dataset and is available for use! The image includes 3.4 (blue), 12 (green), and 22 micron (red) bands and has been cleaned to remove frame edge artifacts and the irregular traces of zodiacal emission. It is 19,000 x 9,500 pixels, which is ideal for all full-dome projection systems. You can find the image at the WISE website (along with an annotated version that highlights the locations of many objects of interest that have been released as images):    Note that this image aligns with other full-sky infrared images that have been available for some time at:  

Scale of the Universe

Source:  Huang, Middle Schoolers Scale of universe animation put together by two ninth grade students.  Comments by each object.  Incredible.

NASA Mars Orbiter Catches Twister in Action

Source:    High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), NASA  NASA - High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. See image of an afternoon whirlwind on Mars lofting a twisting column of dust more than half a mile (800 meters) high and casting a shadow on the Martian ground. Image location:

GRAIL MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired)

Source:  Middle School Students, The New York Times Led by Dr. Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the University of California San Diego, enables fifth- to eighth-grade students to select target areas on the lunar surface and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center (MOC). Photos of the target areas are sent back by the GRAIL satellites and made available in the Images section of the MoonKAM website. Students use the images to study craters, highlands, and maria while also learning about future landing sites.