Showing posts from July, 2015

NASA confirms the discovery of a rocky exoplanet just 21 light years away

Earth just got a new next-door neighbor Astronomers have found the closest rocky planet outside our solar system using the Spitzer Space telescope. The planet, known as HD 219134b, orbits a star just 21 light years away, and NASA is calling a "potential gold mine of science data." The planet is probably a bad place for life as we know it: it’s 1.6 times the size of Earth and more than four times the mass. Plus its three-day orbit is too close to its host star for liquid water to form, even though the star is cooler and smaller than our sun. Planets like this, referred to as super-Earths, are ubiquitous throughout the galaxy, but we still don't know a lot about them. This new neighbor could help us better understand the formation of planets and solar systems in general. Today's discovery comes just one week after NASA announced what researchers referred to as "Earth 2.0." That planet — officially named Kepler-452b — was found by NASA's other famou

NASA's Next Megarocket Could Launch Mission to Europa

The huge rocket NASA is developing to get astronauts to an asteroid, Mars and other distant destinations should also greatly aid robotic exploration efforts, members of Congress were told Tuesday (July 28). The Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, scheduled to fly for the first time in 2018, will blast unmanned spacecraft toward their targets at incredible speeds, dramatically reducing interplanetary travel times, said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "My view is that the Space Launch System will be transformative for science," Grunsfeld told members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Science, Space and Technology Committee during a hearing Tuesday entitled "Exploration of the Solar System: From Mercury to Pluto and Beyond." As an example, Grunsfeld cited NASA's planned flyby mission to Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa, which the agency aims to launch in the early to mid-2020s. Using SL

Independent expert confirms that the "impossible" EM Drive actually works

It's the propulsion system that just won't quit. Over the past year, there's been a whole lot of excitement about the electromagnetic propulsion drive, or EM Drive - a scientifically impossible engine that's defied pretty much everyone's expectations by continuing to stand up to experimental scrutiny. The drive is so exciting because it produces huge amounts of propulsion that could theoretically blast us to Mars in just 70 days, without the need for heavy and expensive rocket fuel. Instead, it's apparently propelled forward by microwaves bouncing back and forth inside an enclosed chamber, and this is what makes the drive so powerful, and at the same time so controversial. As efficient as this type of propulsion may sound, it defies one of the fundamental concepts of physics - the conservation of momentum, which states that for something to be propelled forward, some kind of propellant needs to be pushed out in the opposite direction. For that reason,

NASA estimates 1 billion ‘Earths’ in our galaxy alone

There are a billion Earths in this galaxy, roughly speaking. Not a million. A billion. We’re talking 1 billion rocky planets that are approximately the size of the Earth and are orbiting familiar-looking yellow-sunshine stars in the orbital “habitable zone” where water could be liquid at the surface. That’s a billion planets where human beings, or their genetically modified descendants, as well as their dogs and cats and tomato plants and crepe myrtle trees and ladybugs and earthworms and whatnot, could plausibly live. The estimate comes from NASA scientist Natalie Batalha. Let’s go through some background information to see how she got to that number. As Rachel Feltman reported Thursday, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered a bunch of new planets, including one, Kepler 452b, that scientists described as the most Earth-like planet ever found outside our solar system. It’s something like 60 percent bigger in radius than the Earth (the exact size is hard to measure becaus

Kepler telescope identifies new ‘habitable zone’ planet

Orb slightly larger than Earth orbits sunlike star NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered a “cousin” of Earth 1,400 light-years away. The exoplanet Kepler 452b orbits a sunlike star at about the same distance as Earth orbits the sun, scientists reported at a news conference July 23. The discovery is the first confirmed planet among 500 candidates newly identified by the Kepler mission. But even though the new planet bears many similarities to Earth, experts say much about it remains a mystery. Kepler 452b is about 60 percent larger than Earth, and about 5 percent farther from its sun. The planet’s size and distance place it in a zone that scientists say could support an atmosphere and liquid water, conditions needed for life as we know it. Unlike earlier planets found in this “habitable zone,” the new planet orbits a star that is close to the same size and brightness as our sun. Smaller, cooler stars could also support life on nearby planets, says astronomer Lisa Kalte

That Physicist in Omaha Is Still Working on a Warp Drive in His Garage

When David Pares works in his garage at night, he has to do it by flashlight. That’s because he just doesn’t have the power for lights with what he says he’s building in there: the first-ever working warp motor, the holy grail of sci-fi technology. Even as bold claims go, it’s an especially ballsy one. The Omaha-based science professor and former Air Force meteorologist—whose beard, white hair, and soft-spoken manner combine for a distinctly George Lucasian air—insists he’s successfully created the proof-of-concept for technology that’ll ultimately take humans to the stars. The larger scientific community isn’t so sure. Pares doesn’t work with the kind of precision instruments, at the scales of energy, or with the absolutely exhaustive controls against error that typically mark the bleeding edge of physics research. Part of what makes Pares interesting is how little this distinction bothers him. He is just as happy to use his wife’s croquet ball for a weight as anything forged in p

NASA hints at ‘another Earth’ in lead-up to big announcement

WASHINGTON — NASA has some big news in the hunt for Earth-like planets. NASA plans to share a discovery from its Kepler Space Telescope in a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, a press release announced . Calling a news conference for the Kepler Telescope, a mission dedicated to finding Earth-like planets in so-called hospitable zones, is unusual. According to CTV, a tantamount goal of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-like planets suitable for supporting the existence of liquid water, a necessary ingredient for life. The mission seeks planets a perfect distance away from a star that would likely maintain liquid water, known as the Goldilocks Zone. Too close to a star and water evaporates. Too far and water freezes to ice. The announcement of a press conference has lit the Internet on fire with speculation. Many hope the Kepler Mission engineers will announce finding an Earth size planet with an abundance of oxygen. “Abundance of oxygen suggests the existence o

NASA's making a big exoplanet announcement this week, watch it live!

NASA has had a pretty big month already, but apparently the US space agency's not done yet. The Ames Research Centre team has just revealed that they'll be making a big announcement on Thursday at 4pm UTC (9am PDT on Thursday, or 2am AEST on Friday) about the exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission. And speculation is already running wild that they may be about to announce the discovery of a new Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of a star... in other words, a potential new home for humanity (or prime spot to look for extraterrestiral life). You can watch the announcement live at the bottom of this page. Obviously let's not get too excited just yet, because we're far from having any concrete confirmation that such an announcement on the cards. But NASA did tease us with their press release. "Exoplanets, especially small Earth-size worlds, belonged within the realm of science fiction just 21 years ago," they announced. "Today, and thousands of discoveries

Earth-like planets could exist in our nearest solar system; but they might be too hot to support life

Twin Earth-like exoplanets could exist in the Alpha Centauri solar system, just 4.3 light years away from the Milky Way. Although the two planets are likely too close to their star – and therefore too hot – to support life, astronomers believe it suggests the beginning of a more extensive string of worlds. Some of which could support water. Alpha Centauri is a binary system, meaning there are two stars close enough together that their gravitational interaction means they orbit a common centre of mass. The first of the potential Earth-like planets is named Alpha Centauri Bb, because it orbits the smaller of the two stars, Alpha Centauri B. It was first announced in 2012 when astronomers believed it to be a rocky world a bit larger than the Earth. However, other scientists contradicted its existence entierly. Explaining that the evidence – which involved watching Alpha Centuri B for a slight wobble caused by the gravitational pull of a planet – wasn’t strong enough. And so

Private Space Endeavors Move Forward after String of Accidents

Things are looking up again in low Earth orbit. Between 180 and 2,000 kilometers, this region of space has hosted a majority of human spaceflights and includes the International Space Station (ISS). Despite the failure last month of a SpaceX cargo rocket bound for the station, NASA continues its commitment to commercial space missions. As such, the agency announced the four astronauts chosen to fly on the first manned U.S. flights. These missions will be the first in four years to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil, in a bid to eventually end NASA’s reliance on Russia for access to orbit. “It’s a milestone announcement,” says space history expert Robert Pearlman. “It sends the message that these flights are closer than the general public might think.” NASA aims to send the first commercial crew missions to the ISS in late 2017 but further mishaps or technical hurdles could imperil that timeline. The chosen four—Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams—are

This Far-Off Solar System Bears a Startling Resemblance to Our Own

An international team of astronomers has detected a planet very similar to Jupiter orbiting at the same distance from a Sun-like star. And because the age and chemical composition of this system is similar to our own, it likely features an inner collection of rocky planets. Call it solar system 2.0. Ever since the first exoplanet was discovered in the 1990s, astronomers have increasingly come to realize that our solar system is unique. Yes, it may be the result of a selectional effect, but most solar systems feature an inner region populated by massive planets, including hot super-Jupiters and terrestrial super-Earths. This runs in stark contrast to our own solar system, which features a set of inner terrestrial planets and a middle region populated by gas giants. Some astrobiologists speculate that this planetary orientation may be a major contributor to Earth’s habitability; our solar system’s habitable zone is buffeted by an outer shield of gravitationally heavy gas giants.

The exoplanets that hint at life billions of years older than Earth: Five new planets raises possibility of super-advanced civilisations

Solar system's parent star, named Kepler-444, is 117 light years from Earth 11.2 billion-year-old star formed when the universe was a fifth of its age Five Earth-sized planets orbit the star with years equivalent to 10 days Find shows Earth-sized planets have formed throughout universe's history A solar system including five Earth-sized planets has been discovered which is so ancient it was born not long after the dawn of time - and experts say it could help find life on planets far older than we expected. The system's parent star, named Kepler-444, is 117 light years from Earth and 11.2 billion years old. When the sun-like star was formed out of a primordial cloud of gas and dust, the universe was just a fifth of its current age. In January, a group led by Tiago Campante — an astroseismology or 'starquake' researcher at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom — announced the discovery of five tiny, likely rocky worlds close to an ancient st

'Space Guy' Jeb Bush Would Increase Funding To NASA

WASHINGTON -- If elected president in 2016, Jeb Bush would propose an increase in funding to NASA. "I'm a space guy," Bush said in a Wednesday sit-down with the New Hampshire Union Leader's editorial board. The former of governor of Florida, where a large portion of the country's aerospace industry resides, said he would also support increasing federal spending on research and development. The Obama administration proposed a half-billion dollar increase to NASA's budget earlier this year, totaling $18.5 billion for fiscal year 2016. That request could run aground in the Republican-controlled Congress, where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, feels that a reordering of the space agency is in order. We must refocus our investment on the hard sciences, on getting men and women into space, on exploring low-Earth orbit and beyond, and not on politic