An astronomical stepping stone? #ceres #amacrojot

Ceres has never quite decided exactly what is should be when it grows up. Originally declared a planet when it was found in the nineteenth century, it was quickly demoted to being ‘star-like’ – asteroid. But it has always stood out from its fellow asteroid. For a start it, by itself, accounts for 1/3 the mass of the entire asteroid belt. Then when Pluto got demoted, Ceres got promoted to the status of dwarf planet. It is important enough to have it’s own mission, called Dawn. Now the big suppose is how much water it might have.

From The Verge

Scientists have speculated for decades that Ceres — the planet-like heavenly body embedded in our solar system’s asteroid belt — might contain water, still considered a rarity in our solar system. They haven’t been sure, though, until now: researchers at the European Space Agency and the Observatoire de Paris (Paris Observatory) have used the Herschel space telescope to detect two “geysers” on Ceres’ surface, blasting plumes of water vapor into the void. Further analysis indicated that some of the water ends up falling back onto the dwarf planet’s surface.

What’s less clear, though, is where the water is coming from. Scientists involved in the research speculate that an ocean could lie beneath Ceres’ surface, or there could just be isolated zones of liquid fueling each of the geysers. Fortunately, help is on the way: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in February of next year after studying asteroid Vesta, which should provide the high-resolution images researchers need to decode the mysteries of the largest object between Mars and Jupiter.


Earth is not the perfect planet #amacrojot #superearths

The search for a life is the ultimate quest. The search for life is the search for a life bearing planet, which means it is the search for a planet like our own, the Earth. So we’ve focused on the essentials, looking for small rocky planets, with a mixture of atmospheric gases, with a nice atmospheric pressure so we can support liquid water, at the Goldilocks zone of the perfect temperature. But this search had assumed that Earth is the perfect life- bearing planet. New research might just flip this reasoning on its head.

From NPR,

So-called superhabitable worlds wouldn’t necessarily look like Earth but would nonetheless have conditions that are more suitable for life to emerge and evolve, according to the study published this month in the journal Astrobiology.

“In my point of view, astronomers and biologists are biased,” says Rene Heller, an astrophysicist at Canada’s McMaster University who is the study’s lead author. “These scientists look for planets that are Earth-like.”

But it’s possible that Earth is actually only marginally habitable by the standards of the universe, says Heller, who points out that our home may not represent a typical habitable world.

He and co-author John Armstrong of Weber State University in Utah have come up with a long list of traits that might make a planet “superhabitable.”

Such planets would most likely be older than Earth and two to three times bigger, the researchers say. And they would orbit stars that are somewhat less massive than our sun.

Any liquid water wouldn’t be in a giant, deep ocean, but would be scattered over the surface of the planets in shallow reservoirs. The planets would need a global magnetic field to serve as protection from cosmic radiation, and they would probably have thicker atmospheres than the Earth does.

“It’s good to start thinking now about how do we sort of rank these planets in terms of their potential to host life,” agrees Rory Barnes of the University of Washington, who uses computer models to explore the habitability of planets outside our solar system. “I think this paper does a really good job of examining the different kinds of features that all come into play when making a habitable planet.”

So far, scientists have detected about a thousand planets orbiting other stars. Current technology usually can’t reveal much about them — just a planet’s size, density and how far it orbits from its host star.

Your space flight is cancelled

You’ve been there before. Ready to get on a plane and it gets cancelled due to bad weather. The polar vortex cancelled hundreds of flights. The same thing has now happened to space flights.

A strong solar storm has resulted in canceling the latest supply run to the International Space Station. An unmanned rocket, the Antares, was set to blast off from Wallops Island, Virginia, with a capsule full of supplies and science experiments, including ants for an educational project. But several hours before Wednesday afternoon’s planned flight, company officials took the unusual step of postponing the launch for fear solar radiation could doom the rocket.

Although the solar storm barely rated moderate, some passenger jets were being diverted from the poles to avoid potential communication and health issues. GPS devices also were at risk.
But the six men aboard the space station were safe from the solar fallout

On the bright side, the orbiting lab has won a four-year extension, And the solar storm will also push the colorful northern lights further south than usual to the northern US. A nice respite from the polar vortex.

Nature’s surprise


It used to be simple. We had 9 planets. 4 were small and rocky and close to the Sun. 4 were big and gassy and far from the Sun. The we had Pluto. The first disruption of this pretty picture was when we found of other bodies like a Pluto and so decided Pluto could not be a planet. Then we found other planetary systems in which the large planets were close to the star. Now the latest discovery might mean a complete rethink of our whole notion of planets. Now we have discovered a planet the same size as Earth, but gassy and not rocky.

Earth’s gassy ‘twin’ has been discovered in another solar system 200 light years away and is known as KOI-314c. It weighs the same as Earth but is 60% larger, leading scientists to suspect it has a thick gaseous atmosphere. It orbits a dim red dwarf star at such a close distance that temperatures on its surface could be as high as 104C – too hot for most forms of life on Earth.

Lead astronomer Dr David Kipping, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, said: “This planet might have the same mass as Earth, but it is certainly not Earth-like. It proves that there is no clear dividing line between rocky worlds like Earth and fluffier planets like water worlds or gas giants.”

They’re also showcasing yet again that a major assumption astronomers were making as recently as 1995—that other solar systems would more or less resemble ours—was completely misguided. “Nature,” says Kipping, “continues to surprise us.” By now, that should hardly be a surprise.

A new meteor storm for 2014?


On May 24, 2014 we might be sandblasted with debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR, resulting in a fine new meteor shower!

The list of major meteor showers doesn’t change much. Meteor showers are the result of earth moving through the left over remnants if a comet, so we know when they will occur each year. However one shower or another does become more or less exciting as the years pass. This year, though, an exciting new meteor shower might come on the scene. This possible shower stems from a comet – Comet 209P/LINEAR – discovered in 2004. Comet 209P/LINEAR passed near the sun in 2009 and will pass near it again in early May, 2014. On the night of May 24, 2014 – if the predictions hold true – Earth might be sandblasted with debris from this comet, resulting in a fine display of meteors, or shooting stars.

By Posted in Astrophysics