Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another possibly habitable exoplanet and other space and astronomy stories

Time for the past week's space and astronomy stories from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Labor Day weekend edition) on Daily Kos, which had the same lead story.

Another potentially habitable world emerges
Planet orbits a common dwarf star, suggesting more may be out there
By Nadia Drake
Web edition : Friday, August 31st, 2012
BEIJING — A potentially habitable planet has been discovered orbiting the star Gliese 163, 50 light-years away. The planet is bigger than Earth — roughly seven times as massive — and resides near the inner edge of the star’s habitable zone, Thierry Forveille of France’s Observatoire de Grenoble reported on August 30 at the International Astronomical Union’s general assembly meeting. Depending on its composition and how insulating its atmosphere is, the planet could be capable of supporting life.

“I’d say that’s a habitable planet,” said Raymond Pierrehumbert of the University of Chicago. It’s unlikely the planet would experience any sort of runaway greenhouse effect that would heat it beyond the point of livability, he says.

Forveille and his colleagues found the planet by searching for wobbles in the planet’s host star with a telescope in Chile. Astronomers calculate that Gl 163c, as the planet is called, receives 30 to 40 percent more energy than Earth receives from the sun. Because the planet’s radius is unknown, it’s not yet clear what the planet is made of, but scientists speculate that it’s a mix of rock and water.
Note the dateline. The International Astronomical Union held its annual meeting in China. That makes this entry one about the CoDominion.

More stories after the jump.

JPL on YouTube: What's Up Sept 2012 - Observe & "Wink" at the moon this month

Celebrate International Observe the Moon night on September 22, and honor the memory of Astronaut Neil Armstrong by looking up and winking at the moon this month.

NASA Television on YouTube: Remembering Neil Armstrong on This Week @NASA

History will remember Neil Armstrong, foremost, as the first human to step foot on another heavenly body. But his NASA family and many admirers worldwide will forever appreciate him for more than just that one, albeit world-changing, accomplishment.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: The Radiation Belt Storm Probes

Most spacecraft try to avoid the Van Allen Belts, two doughnut-shaped regions around Earth filled with "killer electrons." This morning NASA launched two heavily-shielded spacecraft directly into the belts. The Radiation Belt Storm Probes are on a two-year mission to study the Van Allen Belts and to unravel the mystery of their unpredictability.

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Watch Out For The Blue Moon

The second full Moon of August--a "Blue Moon"--is just around the corner. It will probably look just like any other full Moon but, on rare occasions, the Moon really does turn blue. Could it happen this month?
Arizona Daily Star: 100 days of science: UA professor guides understanding of forces that shape universe
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
August 30, 2012 12:00 am
In a deep, dark universe sprinkled with billions of galaxies, it is not easy for astronomers to measure size and distance.

You know this yourself. Little Venus looks bigger than colossal Jupiter because of its proximity. That problem can be easily solved at the solar system level.

But imagine looking through a straw-sized tube of space with the mightiest telescopes - peering back through 13 billion years of cosmic time, galaxy upon galaxy, some bright, most faint.

You need a guidepost - a "standard candle" as it is called in the astro biz.
Arizona Daily Star: 100 days of science: Finding pulsar was a milestone - and a barrel of laughs
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
August 29, 2012 12:00 am
All science should be this easy and this much fun.

The team that made the first optical observation of a pulsar from a modest-sized telescope on Kitt Peak was led by a wisecracking theoretical astrophysicist who said he chose to look through a telescope just because he found himself at a university with a "real observatory equipped with real stars."

Mike Disney from star-starved England, joined the Steward Observatory crew at the University of Arizona at the same time as John Cocke, another theorist with no observing experience.

The two decided they'd have a go at finding a pulsar, a phenomenon that was all the rage when they arrived in 1968.
Arizona Daily Star: Jupiter-bound spacecraft makes key maneuver
August 30, 2012 6:21 pm
A Jupiter-bound spacecraft successfully fired its engine Thursday in the first of two crucial maneuvers intended to bring it toward Earth for a momentum-gathering fly-by.

NASA officials said the Juno spacecraft, which is about 300 million miles from earth, fired its main engine for just short of 30 minutes.

Along with another engine firing set for next week, the maneuver is intended to direct Juno toward Earth's orbit for a 2013 fly-by, where it will use the planet's gravity to accelerate toward the outer solar system.

Launched last year, Juno is zooming toward an encounter with the giant gas planet in 2016.
Daily Kos: Will Curiosity Mission Finally Vindicate the Life Science Results from the 1976 Viking Lander?
by LeftOfYou

Arizona Daily Star: 100 days of Science: Catalina Sky Survey keeps watch for threats to Earth from afar
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
August 26, 2012 12:00 am
It was a first for science when astronomer Rich Kowalski spotted a little asteroid from a Catalina Sky Survey telescope on Mount Lemmon less than 24 hours before it exploded in the atmosphere over Sudan on Oct. 7, 2008.

The survey, which operates two telescopes in the Santa Catalina Mountains and a third in Australia, wasn't set up to look for objects that small (about 6 feet long).

NASA's Near Earth Object Program funded it originally to look for objects one kilometer (five-eighths of a mile) or larger in diameter that would have global consequences if they hit Earth.
Arizona Daily Star: 100 days of science: Space-imaging expert turns sight on health care
Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
August 27, 2012 12:00 am
Rogier Windhorst managed to extract decent photos from a myopic Hubble Space Telescope and spectacular ones after NASA astronauts repaired it.

Now he's using the same software programs he used to refine those cosmic images to identify pre-diabetic conditions, map cancer spread and transform digital photos into 3-D form for the blind.
"It dawned on us 10 years ago that we could also use that software to do other things - detect diabetes or examine cancer-cell blobs. The doctors said how difficult it was to classify these images, and I said, 'Why don't you give it to us?'"
Eye spy the universe, from the unimaginably huge to the microscopically small.

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