Why We Shouldn’t Call Exoplanets ‘Earth-like’ Just Yet

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 21, 2016 12:28 pm

(Credit: sdecoret/Shutterstock)

Every time astronomers discover another exoplanet, the first question is,”Does it look like Earth?” Finding an Earth-like exoplanet would certainly increase our chances of finding life, as we know it, on that distant world. We could finally prove that we’re not all alone in this big, cold universe.

But, when we see planets described as Earth-like, we should be skeptical. With our current instruments, it’s hard for us to even find other planets out there (although it’s gotten much easier), much less see if there are oceans, atmospheres, plants or animals. Furthermore, what does it even mean to be “Earth-like?” Does it just need to be in the habitable zone? Or does it need to have liquid water and a similar atmosphere?  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

With a Whiff, Mice Can Transmit Pain to Each Other

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 20, 2016 3:57 pm

(Credit: Preobrajenskiy/Shutterstock)

What hurts one mouse, hurts every mouse.

That’s the conclusion of a new study examining the social transfer of pain in mice. When one group of mice was exposed to a painful stimulus, a completely unaffected group displayed the same kind of heightened sensitivity as the first. Given that mice are mammals like us, the effect could also exist in humans, as well as informing future pain research. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, psychology

Why Pluto ‘Is the New Mars’

By Nola Taylor Redd | October 20, 2016 1:09 pm

The best image of Pluto, thanks to New Horizons. (Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

Thanks to all the information pouring in from NASA’s New Horizons mission, Pluto is making a comeback. As New Horizons principle investigator Alan Stern says, “Pluto is the new Mars” – and that’s not just because of its rising popularity.

The nickname, which Stern credits fellow New Horizons team member Jeff Moore with bestowing, comes in part from several intriguing similarities the distant icy world shares with the famous red planet. Both boast an array of surface and atmospheric puzzles sure to keep scientists intrigued for some time.

“There are really so many ways Pluto reminds us of Mars,” says Stern. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: pluto, solar system

Nanospikes Convert Carbon Dioxide Back Into Ethanol

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 19, 2016 1:40 pm

A microscopic image of the carbon nanospikes created by the researchers. (Credit: ORNL)

A new chemical process turns carbon dioxide into ethanol using commonly-found catalysts and electricity. In a sense, they’ve figured out a way to put the genie back in the bottle.

The alchemic process of converting greenhouse gases into usable energy is an appealing means of both addressing climate change and providing sustainable sources of energy. Converting carbon dioxide into energy and other useful products has been done before, but the process isn’t efficient or cheap enough to implement at a large scale. Researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, however, say that they have found a chemical reaction that produces hydrocarbons using just copper as a catalyst, and they say it’s quite efficient. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, top posts

Astronomers Obtain Sharpest-Ever Image of Eta Carinae

By Carl Engelking | October 19, 2016 12:12 pm

An international team of astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope Interferometer to image the Eta Carinae star system in the greatest detail ever achieved. They found new and unexpected structures within the binary system, including in the area between the two stars where extremely high velocity stellar winds are colliding. These new insights into this enigmatic star system could lead to a better understanding of the evolution of very massive stars. (Credit: Gerd Weigelt?ESO)

This is what it’s like when stellar winds collide.

An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy has captured the sharpest, clearest image of the Eta Carinae star system. Here, some 7,500 light-years away, two massive stars orbit each other while producing stellar winds that reach velocities over 6 million miles per hour. In the space between the two stars in this binary system, the opposing winds violently collide.

Until now, astronomers couldn’t see what was happening at the point of impact, but the Max Planck team cleverly used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer to image Eta Carinae in unprecedented detail and obtain a first glimpse of this exceedingly turbulent corner of the universe. And by peering into the chaos, astronomers are learning more about the life cycle of massive stars. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: stargazing

ExoMars Is About to Land on the Red Planet

By Nicole Kiefert | October 19, 2016 9:38 am

(Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

ExoMars is set to land on Mars on Wednesday, and if all goes according to plan, it will become the first probe not launched by NASA to successfully land on the Red Planet.

ExoMars is an astrobiology mission co-launched with European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The goals of ExoMars are to look for signs of life on Mars, inspect the water and environment and study gases and their sources.

The mission is made up of two components: a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and a Schiaparelli lander. Once they reach on Mars, the two will go their separate ways. TGO will investigate the atmosphere from orbit while Schiaparelli track wind speed, humidity, pressure, surface temperature, and will determine the transparency of the environment. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

The Funniest Wildlife Photos of 2016

By Carl Engelking | October 18, 2016 4:26 pm

The middle of October during a presidential election year is a really good time to remember not to take the world so seriously.

Case in point: The organizers of the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards announced the finalists for the funniest animal photograph of 2016. The competition, in only its second year, is the antithesis of your traditional, staid wildlife photography contests. It’s a light-hearted competition that showcases the inner comedians in the animal kingdom, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

After Pluto: New Horizons’ Next Target is a Relict of Creation

By Eric Betz | October 18, 2016 3:45 pm

An artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flying past its next target. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben)

Far, far past Pluto, the most distant object humanity has ever visited, there’s a tiny world fainter than any seen in that part of our solar system. Its dark orbit reaches a billion miles beyond the former ninth planet. But 2014 MU69, as it’s labeled by astronomers, is just a few dozen miles across — too scant to be spherical.

There’s nothing particularly special about it. Thousands of similarly mysterious and icy worlds lurk in these celestial suburbs. Yet it’s precisely its banality that makes this little prince of a planet so special — 2014 MU69 is made of the very stuff of creation.

And on Jan. 1, 2019, an army of astronomers will turn their gaze to this world for a few hours, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft blazes by at some 8 miles per second. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Stare Into the Fiery Abyss With Werner Herzog

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 18, 2016 2:34 pm


Peering into the bowels of earth is not for the faint of heart.

Werner Herzog has never been one to shy away from danger, however, and in his latest documentary, Into the Inferno, the prolific German filmmaker stands right on the precipice of a volcano to give us a glimpse into the boundary between Earth’s surface and the lake of fire that lives below. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Earth’s Twin Venus Is Still Volcanically Active

By Nathaniel Scharping | October 18, 2016 12:45 pm

An elevation model of Idunn Mons on Venus, with thermal emissivity data overlain on the surface. Red corresponds to warmer areas. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA)

New research presented this week at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Pasadena, California adds to our understanding of Venus’ volcanic past, and possibly, present.

Using data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express orbiter, scientists peered through the thick layer of clouds shrouding the plant to analyze the stratigraphy of lava flows discovered on Idunn Mons, a volcano in Venus’ southern hemisphere. With additional radar data from NASA’s Magellan mission, which visited Venus in the early 1990s, the researchers mapped the path the lava flows carved as they moved down the mountain.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system


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