In a first, astronomers see two planets orbiting binary stars

In a first, astronomers see two planets orbiting binary stars -

For the first time, astronomers have detected two planets in stable orbits about a binary star system, suggesting that binary stars could have complex planetary systems much like our own. One of the planets in the so-called circumbinary system exists in what astronomers call the habitable zone — a region where water would remain liquid and thus could support life. The planet itself is Uranus-sized, however, and is thus most likely a gas giant. But if it has a large moon, that moon could conceivably support life.

The system was discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission, which continually scans a portion of the sky searching for exoplanets — planets orbiting distant stars — and binary star systems. The objects are revealed when they pass between a star and the Earth, causing the star’s light to dim briefly. So far, Kepler has detected more than 2,300 candidate exoplanets and 2,100 binary stars. Four of those binary systems have been found to have a single planet.

via In a first, astronomers see two planets orbiting binary stars –


Big Bang Was Actually a Phase Change: New Theory


How did the universe begin? The Big Bang is traditionally envisioned as the moment when an infinitely dense bundle of energy suddenly burst outward, expanding in three spatial directions and gradually cooling down as it did so.

Now, a team of physicists says the Big Bang should be modeled as a phase change: the moment when an amorphous, formless universe analogous to liquid water cooled and suddenly crystallized to form four-dimensional space-time, analogous to ice.

In the new study, lead author James Quach and colleagues at the University of Melbourne in Australia say the hypothesis can be tested by looking for defects that would have formed in the structure of space-time when the universecrystallized. The universe is currently about 13.7 billion years old.

“Think of the early universe as being like a liquid,” Quach said in a statement. “Then as the universe cools, it ‘crystallises’ into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorized this way, as the universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice.”

If they exist, these cracks should be detectable, the researchers said, because light and other particles would bend or reflect off of them as they trek across the cosmos. [The History & Structure of the Universe (Infographic)]

The notion that space and time are emergent properties that suddenly materialized out of an amorphous state was first put forth by physicists at Canada’s Perimeter Institute in 2006. Called “quantum graphity,” the theory holds that the four-dimensional geometry of space-time discovered by Albert Einstein is not fundamental; instead, space-time is more like a lattice constructed of discrete space-time building blocks, just like matter looks continuous, but is actually made of building blocks called atoms.

Originally, at extremely high temperatures, the building blocks were like liquid water: they contained no structure, “representing a state with no space,” the researchers wrote in their paper. At the moment of the Big Bang, when the temperature in the universe dropped to the space-time building blocks’ “freezing point,” they crystallized to form the four-dimensional lattice we observe today.

The math describing the theory checks out, but “the challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly,” Quach explained. From the human vantage point, space-time looks smooth and continuous.

However, while the building blocks themselves might be too small to detect, the physicists hope to observe the boundaries that would have formed as regions of crystallizing building blocks butted against one another at the time of the Big Bang, creating “cracks” in the universe. More work is needed to predict the average distance between the cracks — it isn’t known whether they are microscopic, or light-years apart — in order to characterize their effects on particles.

The research by Quach  and his team is detailed in this month’s edition of the journal Physical Review D.

via Big Bang Was Actually a Phase Change: New Theory |

Search for Life Shapes Future Mars Missions


As NASA’s Curiosity rover prepares to get its wheels in motion on Mars, the space agency is set to issue a new look at where exploration of the Red Planet could go in the years and decades to come – based on the theme “Seeking the Signs of Life.”

The report, stemming from a Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration meeting in Houston in June, is headed for a late August/September release. Former veteran NASA program manager Orlando Figueroa has been leading the appraisal under the wing of a newly established Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG), which was tasked with reformulating the agency’s Mars Exploration Program.

via Search for Life Shapes Future Mars Missions |


NASA – Hubble’s Close Encounter with the Tarantula


Turning its eye to the Tarantula Nebula, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken this close-up of the outskirts of the main cloud of the Nebula.

The bright wispy structures are the signature of an environment rich in ionized hydrogen gas, called H II by astronomers. In reality these appear red, but the choice of filters and colors of this image, which includes exposures both in visible and infrared light, make the gas appear green.

These regions contain recently formed stars, which emit powerful ultraviolet radiation that ionizes the gas around them. These clouds are ephemeral as eventually the stellar winds from the newborn stars and the ionization process will blow away the clouds, leaving stellar clusters like the Pleiades.

Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our neighboring galaxies, and situated at a distance of 170,000 light-years away from Earth, the Tarantula Nebula is the brightest known nebula in the Local Group of galaxies. It is also the largest (around 650 light-years across) and most active star-forming region known in our group of galaxies, containing numerous clouds of dust and gas and two bright star clusters. A recent Hubble image shows a large part of the nebula immediately adjacent to this field of view.

The cluster at the Tarantula nebula’s center is relatively young and very bright. While it is outside the field of view of this image, the energy from it is responsible for most of the brightness of the Nebula, including the part we see here. The nebula is in fact so luminous that if it were located within 1,000 light-years from Earth, it would cast shadows on our planet.

The Tarantula Nebula was host to the closest supernova ever detected since the invention of the telescope, supernova 1987A, which was visible to the naked eye.

The image was produced by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, and has a field of view of approximately 3.3 by 3.3 arcminutes.

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures Image Processing Competition by contestant Judy Schmidt. Hidden Treasures is an initiative to invite astronomy enthusiasts to search the Hubble archive for stunning images that have never been seen by the general public. The competition has now closed and the results will be published soon.

via NASA – Hubble’s Close Encounter with the Tarantula.




Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Worldwide observers are now reporting more than 30 Perseids per hour, a number that could triple during the weekend when Earth reaches the heart of the debris zone. Forecasters recommend looking during the dark hours before dawn, especially Sunday morning, August 12th, when activity is expected to be highest…

via — News and information about meteor showers, solar flares, auroras, and near-Earth asteroids.


Mars Science Laboratory: NASA’s Curiosity Rover Caught in the Act Landing

Curiosity Rover Landing

An image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter captured the Curiosity rover still connected to its 51-foot-wide (almost 16 meter) parachute as it descended towards its landing site at Gale Crater.

“If HiRISE took the image one second before or one second after, we probably would be looking at an empty Martian landscape,” said Sarah Milkovich, HiRISE investigation scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “When you consider that we have been working on this sequence since March and had to upload commands to the spacecraft about 72 hours prior to the image being taken, you begin to realize how challenging this picture was to obtain.”

via Mars Science Laboratory: NASA’s Curiosity Rover Caught in the Act Landing.


Alien Solar System Looks a Lot Like Our Own

Alien Solar System

Astronomers have discovered an alien solar system whose planets are arranged much like those in our own solar system, a find that suggests most planetary systems start out looking the same, scientists say.

Researchers studying the star system Kepler-30, which is 10,000 light-years from Earth, found that its three known worlds all orbit in the same plane, lined up with the rotation of the star — just like the planets in our own solar system do…

via Alien Solar System Looks a Lot Like Our Own |


Geomagnetic Storms & Incoming CMEs



NOAA forecasters estimate a 45% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on July 29-30 in response to a high-speed solar wind stream buffeting Earth’s magnetic field. Even stronger storming could occur on July 31st when a CME associated with yesterday’s M6-flare arrives. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras for the next three nights.


Sunspot AR1532 is crackling with M-class solar flares. The latest, an M6-class eruption on July 28th (2056 UT), produced a bright flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation, shown here in a snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Update: Contrary to earlier reports, this explosion did produce a CME and the cloud is heading for Earth. According to a forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will reach our planet on July 31st at 1500 UT (+/- 7 hours)

via — News and information about meteor showers, solar flares, auroras, and near-Earth asteroids.


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