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Are we alone in the Universe or there is Alien life? Astronomers spot nearby Star with seven Earth-size Planets

astronomers have spotted a nearby star with seven Earth-size planets which could harbour liquid water, key to life as we know it, NASA said.

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What will happen to exploration missions if NASA runs out of fuel? Wikimedia

Washington, Feb 23, 2017: In a remarkable step towards answering the question “Are we alone in the universe”, astronomers have spotted a nearby star with seven Earth-size planets which could harbour liquid water, key to life as we know it, NASA said.

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius.

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All of these seven planets could have liquid water under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with three of the plants which are located in the habitable zone, according to the researchers.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium.

“It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds,” Gillon said.

In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system.

Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer space telescope confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky, according to the new results published on Wednesday in the journal Nature

Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surface.

The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated. But scientists believe it could be an icy, “snowball-like” world, but further observations are needed.

The discovery of the seven exoplanets sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system.

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star — classified as an ultra-cool dwarf — is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system.

All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun.

The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighbouring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in the Earth’s sky, NASA said. (IANS)

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NASA’s human ‘computer’ is still working at age 80

Sue Finely calculated rocket trajectories by hand

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Sue Finley still works at NASA
Sue Finley, 80, is still working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She started there in 1958 as a human "computer," calculating trajectories for rockets. VOA

Sue Finley, now 80 years old and NASA’s longest-serving female employee, recalls her early days with the space agency when she worked as a human “computer,” calculating rocket trajectories by hand at a time when computers were huge and expensive to operate.

Finley arrived at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in January 1958, one week before the U.S. Army launched Explorer 1, America’s first earth satellite.

“It was a very big deal,” she recalls of the launch, a response to the launches a few months earlier of the first satellites, Sputnik 1 and 2, from the former Soviet Union.

She was at JPL for Pioneer 1, the first satellite sent aloft by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in late 1958, which marked the beginning of the international space race.

Unmanned space probes

Since then, Finley has had a role in nearly every U.S. unmanned space probe, and some missions of other nations.

There were failures to overcome and spectacular successes, but always new goals as scientists expanded our knowledge of the earth and solar system.

“We were certainly proud,” she says of NASA accomplishments, “but you just go to the next thing.”

Finley has been through several career changes with the space agency, one of the most important when NASA phased out human computers, moving, initially, to simple electronic versions.

“We got little tiny computers,” she recalls. “One I had 16 wires, jumper cables to code with. One had 10 pegboards that you programmed with.”

As modern computers took over navigational tasks, Finley developed and tested software as a subsystem engineer.

Among her career highlights: the Vega mission, a Soviet-French collaboration with Venus, and Halley’s Comet, which received navigational help from NASA and dropped balloons into the atmosphere of Venus.

She had to change the software for the antenna that tracked the mission, “and it worked,” Finley recalls. “Everything worked. That’s what was so exciting!”

Finley has worked since 1980 on NASA’s Deep Space Network, which coordinates satellite facilities in California, Spain and Australia that allow communication with space probes.

Highlights of NASA career

Career highlights include developing software that generates audio tones sent back from spacecraft, informing engineers on the ground what is happening in space. It was first developed for the Mars missions.

Each tone has a meaning that communicates data, noted one of Finley’s colleagues, Stephen Lichten.

“If a parachute opened, it would send a tone,” Lichten, manager for special projects for the Deep Space Network, said.

“The spacecraft lets go of its heat shield, and it would send a different tone, and so engineers like Sue were here listening for those special frequencies which told them the spacecraft was telling them what it has just done,” he said.

He notes that Finley also helped develop communication arrays that combine multiple antennas to act in unison and other advances that now crucial to space missions.

Lichten once shared an office with Finley and says she inspired her younger colleagues.

“There was a parade of people coming in constantly, to ask her advice, to ask her questions,” he recalls. “This was during the Venus balloon mission days and I realized that Sue was regarded as sort of a guru at JPL.”

Finley has been involved with nearly every advance in space communications in recent decades, and she continues her work today, Lichten said.

There are many more women at NASA today than there were when she started, and Finley said she tells young women to be inquisitive.

“I tell them to never be afraid to ask questions, never be afraid to say you don’t know,” she said.

After nearly six decades at the space agency, a mother of two grown sons and a mentor to her colleagues, Finley has no plans of retiring.

“There’s nothing else I want to do,” she said. “And so far, they need me.”

As they have since the earliest days of the space agency. (VOA)

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20 Years of Changing Seasons on Earth Captured into 2½ Minutes by NASA

NASA captured 20 years of changing seasons in a striking new global map of the home planet that shows Earth's fluctuations as seen from space

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The Changing seasons of the Earth
The Changing seasons of the Earth has been captured by NASA. Wikimedia.

NASA captured 20 years of changing seasons on Earth in a striking new global map of the home planet.

The data visualization, released this week, shows Earth’s fluctuations as seen from space.

The polar ice caps and snow cover are shown ebbing and flowing with the seasons. The varying ocean shades of blue, green, red and purple depict the abundance — or lack — of undersea life.

“It’s like watching the Earth breathe. It’s really remarkable,” said NASA oceanographer Jeremy Werdell, who took part in the project.

Two decades — from September 1997 to this past September — are crunched into 2½ minutes of viewing.

Werdell finds the imagery mesmerizing. “It’s like all of my senses are being transported into space, and then you can compress time and rewind it, and just continually watch this kind of visualization,” he said Friday.

Werdell said the visualization shows spring coming earlier and autumn lasting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Also noticeable to him is the receding of the Arctic ice caps over time — and, though less obvious, the Antarctic, too.

On the sea side, Werdell was struck by “this hugely productive bloom of biology” that exploded in the Pacific along the equator from 1997 to 1998 — when a water-warming El Nino merged into cooling La Nina. This algae bloom is evident by a line of bright green.

In considerably smaller Lake Erie, more and more contaminating algae blooms are apparent — appearing red and yellow.

All this data can provide resources for policymakers as well as commercial fishermen and many others, according to Werdell.

Programmer Alex Kekesi of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said it took three months to complete the visualization, using satellite imagery.

Just like our Earth, the visualization will continually change, officials said, as computer systems improve, new remote-sensing satellites are launched and more observations are made. (VOA)

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Astronomers Discover the ‘Biggest Stellar Puzzle’, Bizarre Star that Refuses to Die

The study calculated that the star that exploded was at least 50 times more massive than the Sun and probably much larger.

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This star shines brighter every time it explodes. Read to know more! (representative image) Wikimedia

New York, November 9, 2017 : An international team of astronomers has made a bizarre discovery – a star that refuses to stop shining despite exploding more than once over a period of 50 years.

The explosions of stars, known as supernovae, have been observed in the thousands and in all cases they marked the death of a star.

But a new study, published in the journal Nature, challenges known theories about the death of stars. Their observations included data from Keck Observatory on Maunakea in Hawaii.

“The spectra we obtained at Keck Observatory showed that this supernova looked like nothing we had ever seen before. This, after discovering nearly 5,000 supernovae in the last two decades,” said study co-author Peter Nugent from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US.

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“While the spectra bear a resemblance to normal hydrogen-rich core-collapse supernova explosions, they grew brighter and dimmer at least five times more slowly, stretching an event which normally lasts 100 days to over two years,” Nugent said.

The supernova, named iPTF14hls, was discovered in September 2014 by the Palomar Transient Factory. At the time, it looked like an ordinary supernova.

Several months later, astronomers at Las Cumbres Observatory in the US noticed the supernova was growing brighter again after it had faded.

When astronomers went back and looked at archival data, they were astonished to find evidence of an explosion in 1954 at the same location.

This star somehow survived that explosion and exploded again in 2014.

“This supernova breaks everything we thought we knew about how they work. It’s the biggest puzzle I’ve encountered in almost a decade of studying stellar explosions,” said lead author Iair Arcavi, a NASA Einstein postdoctoral fellow at LCO and the University of California Santa Barbara.

The study calculated that the star that exploded was at least 50 times more massive than the Sun and probably much larger.

Supernova iPTF14hls may have been the most massive stellar explosion ever seen. The size of this explosion could be the reason that conventional understanding of the death of stars failed to explain this event.

Astronomers continue to monitor the supernova, which remains bright three years after it was discovered. (IANS)