The Hunt for Life #Aurora #Juno

Aurora on Earth are caused by particles from the Sun interacting with our planet’s protective magnetic field. Without that magnetic field on Earth, we would not be here. All life is entirely dependent on the shielding that our magnetic field provides. So if we are to search for life elsewhere, one good way to separate out those planets that may harbor life from those that do not, will be to search for Aurora. Except we’re not at the stage in our technology where we can image planets around other stars well enough to see aurora. So we have to find another way.

Luckily, the aurora also produces radio waves. So instead of watching, we can listen.

ET is not phoning home, but we are hearing the potential for life in our solar system

and beyond


The cradle of life #solarflares #faintyoungsun

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The faint young Sun paradox was originally posed by Carl Sagan. Primitive life existed on Earth 4 billion years ago. But back then the Sun was much fainter, so too cold to supply the heat for life on Earth. So we need a big greenhouse effect to warm things up. The trouble with that solution is that it requires 300 time more carbon dioxide than we have today, which would make the Earth to acidic to allow life to happen. This new research poses a new answer – large frequent solar flares from an angry young Sun result in Nitrous Oxide in the Earth’s early atmosphere. This gas is a much more efficient greenhouse gas, so it only requires a small amount to supply the extra heat. As a bonus, this process that creates the Nitrous Oxide also creates abundant hydrocarbons required to cook up life.

This raises the possibility of life being much more abundant in the Universe than we had thought previously. If young stars can produce flares like our Sun, then the habitable zone (the not-too-far, yet not-to-close distance from the star) is much, much larger and exists for a much, much longer time than anyone has considered.



The smoking gun of #SolarFlares @ProfMcAteer

How do you observe something so fast, so hot, so dense?

“You have to be watching at the right time, at the right angle, with the right instruments to see a current sheet,” said @ProfMcAteer. “It’s hard to get all those ducks in a row.”


Smile, you’re on camera @profmcateer @algore #DSCOVR

There is nothing that puts life’s little trivialities in perspective quite like seeing yourself. Get outside your own perspective and look at yourself. See your own weakness. Now, that is all very well and good as a personal and psychological idea. But this is hard as a scientific endeavor. Back in 1998, Al Gore proposed a spacecraft that would sit between the Earth and the Sun, constantly sending back live images our blue sphere.

‘Wouldn’t it be nice,’ Gore asked in 1998, ‘to have that image continuous, live, 24 hours a day?'”

And so a mission was proposed to send a probe to a spot a million miles from Earth — a place known as the L1 Lagrange point, where the gravity of the Earth and the sun cancel each other out. The space probe, originally dubbed Triana, would point a telescope with a color camera back at our planet from L1, and send images down to Earth. At the very least, it’s a cool view. At best we would inspire the next generation to see Earth in its fragility and help us to tend to it future. Today, NASA announced that this view will be available every day on a new website dedicated to publishing these images. It took nearly 20 years to make this happen, but now the idea born by Al Gore is alive.

The prime science goal of this Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), is to “maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA.” This makes it a vital early warning of pending solar storms. But the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) was included as part of the package, and these data may steal the show.

Each daily sequence of images will reveal the whole globe over the course of a day. Image sequences from all previous days will also be archived on the site and can be searched by date and continent.

The new age of seeing ourselves as we really are has begun.


Space, meet Space #amacrojot #ISS


Space is awesome.

I mean awesome in the original meaning of the word ‘awesome’, in that it fills us with awe. In the new meaning of the word awesome (i.e., cool)  we, as humans, are gradually learning how to live in space by spending time on the International Space Station. In this amazing footage from the international space station, an astronaut Scott Kelly, captures footage of the Northern lights (particles from the Sun hitting the Earth) just as the Sun begins to rise. Flying over the Earth, looking down at the Sun’s affects in both the light and energy it provides, and how it bombards us with particles, makes us see how fragile the planet is. And maybe fills us with awe again.

You can see the ISS in the sky quite often. You just have to know when and where to look.

Just to and select your location. The next good chance from Las Cruces is Thursday August 20, 2015, at 9pm.

Just look up.


Big Data for Big Questions

Astronomers with big questions like ‘How did we get here’, ‘What was there at the beginning’ and ‘What is out fate’. So it feels inevitable that answering these should be hard, and we should approach the question with caution. After all, we cannot simply believe in our answers, instead we need to agree with evidence-based conclusions drawn from data. As our questions delve us deeper and deeper into these mysteries, we need more and more data. And therein lies the biggest problem facing us today-  how do we deal with such Big Data.

The Guardian newspaper recently published an article on this.

Astronomical data is and has always been big data. Once that was only true metaphorically, now it is true in all senses. We acquire it far more rapidly than the rate at which we can process, analyse and exploit it. This means we are creating a vast global repository that may already hold answers to some of the fundamental questions of the Universe we are seeking.

Does this mean we should cancel our up-coming missions and telescopes – after all why continue to order food when the table is replete? Of course not. What it means is that, while we continue our inevitable yet budget limited advancement into the future, so we must also simultaneously do justice to the data we have already acquired.

Citizen science is one solution. Sites like Galaxyzoo and other projects on simultaneously engage the public and perform a vital scientific role.

But the near future presents a new set of problems..

Thus far, human ingenuity, and current technology have ensured that data storage capabilities have kept pace with the massive output of the electronic stargazers. The real struggle is now figuring out how to search and synthesize that output.20150420-CompletedTMA

The DKI solar telescope in Hawai will produce 15-20Tbyte of data per day, starting 2017. We need to be able to visualiize that, make it science-ready, and then transport it across the internet. As such we are looking at new ways of data mining, machine learning and database systems to help us understand out nearest and star.

It seems that the original science of data, astronomy, has a lot to learn from the new kid on the block, data science. Think about it. What if, as we strive to acquire and process more photons from across the farther reaches of the universe, from ever more exotic sources with even more complex instrumentation, that somewhere in a dusty server on Earth, the answers are already here, if we would just only pick up that dataset and look at it … possibly for the first time.

Water, water everywhere…. #water #life

… Even where we didn’t think it should be


When the Earth formed it could not have had water. It was simply too hot at that part of the early system. Instead water probably condensed on comets and the general consensus is that water was brought to Earth through collisions with these comets. However new research adds another dimension. The water we have now may have been around long before the solar system was even formed.

This means that come of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years— even older than the sun itself. In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids. This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth.

This finding suggests that water, a key ingredient of life, may be common in young planetary systems across the universe. Think about that next time you turn on your facet.

Here comes the Sun

Watch out Earth, here comes the Sun, and you are in the way.

This is far from the usual your weather forecast. Big storms are brewing these one originate from the sun. It’s raining radiation. Now, don’t worry too much. We’re safe, protected by the Earths’s coddling magnetic field. But anything mead the outside of that magnetic shielding does have to watch out. Two large solar eruptions erupted over the last few days. Now the combined energy from two recent solar events will arrive at Earth on Saturday, prompting the Space Weather Prediction Center, Boulder, to issue a strong geomagnetic storm watch but we still are unsure as what this solar storm will do precisely.

“People on the ground really don’t have to worry,” said Lika Guhathakurta, a program scientist with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. She said soalr storms don’t affect humans on the ground, although astronauts could be at risk. NASA can take steps to protect the crew members on the International Space Station, and satellite operators can turn off sensitive sensors on satellites to mitigate the risk to your smartphones and wi-fi connection. There may be temporary glitches, though, Guhathakurta says.
And if there is a major issue, scientists are taking precautions to make sure all the important parties are prepared.

On the upside, solar storms also create beautiful aurora. So if you have any family in the northern United States who are outside major metropolitan areas they should be out be watching the skies on Thursday and Friday nights. People here in New Mexico are less likely to get the kind of splendid aurora sights that people in the Northeast and Alaska will see, but it might not hurt for them to take a glance at the sky anyway, just in case.