Tag Archive: Space


Because black holes are impossible to see, one of scientists’ best hopes to study them is to look for the ripples in space-time, called gravitational waves, that they are thought to create.

Gravitational waves would be distortions propagating through space and time caused by violent events such as the collision of two black holes. They were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity; however, scientists have yet to find one.

That could change when the latest version of a gravitational wave-hunting facility gets up and running. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) is actually a pair of observatories, in Louisiana and Washington state, that began operating in 2002. Newly sensitized detectors are being added to both.

“The advanced LIGO detectors that are now being installed will see out through a substantial part of the universe,” said California Institute of Technology emeritus professor of physics Kip Thorne, a leading proponent of LIGO. “We expect to see black holes colliding at a rate of perhaps somewhere between once an hour and once a year.”

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The largest ever three dimensional map of galaxies and black holes was released by astronomers today.  It will help explain the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that they know makes up 96 percent of the universe.

The map is the creation of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III (SDSS-III) an international project mapping the Milky Way in which a team from the University of Portsmouth is the only UK institution.  Early last year, the SDSS-III released the largest-ever image of the sky and astronomers have used new data to expand this image into a full three-dimensional map.

Data Release 9 (DR9) includes images of 200 million galaxies and spectra of 1.35 million galaxies, including 540,000 spectra of new galaxies from when the universe was half its present age. Spectra show how much light a galaxy gives off at different wavelengths. Because this light is shifted to longer redder wavelengths as the Universe expands, spectra allow scientists to work out how much the Universe has expanded since the light left each galaxy.

It will allow better estimates of how much of the universe is made up of dark matter – matter that can’t be seen directly see because it doesn’t emit or absorb light – and dark energy, the even more mysterious force that drives the accelerating expansion of the universe.

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Dear NASA, any chance you can send another Curiosity rover to the U.S. Congress to check if there’s intelligent life in there? Thanks a lot!

Curiosity's Surroundings - Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you’ve always wanted to live on a distant world, Dutch company Mars One wants to give you your chance to settle on the red planet. There’s only one catch: You’ll never be able to return to Earth.

Next year, Mars One will hold a worldwide lottery to select 40 people to train to be civilian astronauts. That group will be sent to live in a desert simulation for three months, after which the initial pool will be whittled down to 10. By 2023, this group will be sent to Mars to form the first permanent human settlement.

According to Bas Lansdorp, founder of Mars One, “We will send humans to Mars in 2023. They will live there the rest of their lives. There will be a habitat waiting for them, and we’ll start sending four people every two years.”

Once the new settlement has begun to thrive, the possibility for a return visit to Earth may open up. Still, that’s not guaranteed. Says Lansdorp, “our astronauts will be offered a one-way trip. We have no idea when it will be possible to offer return tickets.”

Joining up with Mars One is probably the most cost-effective way you’ll ever set foot on Mars. After all, buying a round-trip ticket to Mars from space tourism company Space X will cost you $500,000

Source: Yahoo

On board the International Space Station, ESA astronaut André Kuipers just put up picture of himself playing with water in space:

Amazing visualization of what it takes to land NASA’s next rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. Curiosity lands on August 5th.

What Space Smells Like

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When astronauts return from space walks and remove their helmets, they are welcomed back with a peculiar smell. An odor that is distinct and weird: something, astronauts have described it, like “seared steak.” And also: “hot metal.” And also: “welding fumes.”

Our extraterrestrial explorers are remarkably consistent in describing Space Scent in meaty-metallic terms. “Space,” astronaut Tony Antonelli has said, “definitely has a smell that’s different than anything else.” Space, three-time spacewalker Thomas Jones has put it, “carries a distinct odor of ozone, a faint acrid smell.”

Space, Jones elaborated, smells a little like gunpowder. It is “sulfurous.”

Add to all those anecdotal assessments the recent discovery, in a vast dust cloud at the center of our galaxy, of ethyl formate — and the fact that the ester is, among other things, the chemical responsible for the flavor of raspberries. Add to that the fact that ethyl formate itself smells like rum. Put all that together, and one thing becomes clear: The final frontier sort of stinks.

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Awesome Space Ship!

The Sun and Inner Planets Moving Through Space

In case you want to set the mood to see these amazing pictures, push play and listen to Saturn. Enjoy!

Stunning: These beautiful pictures of Saturn's rings were taken by a space probe orbiting the second largest planet in the solar system

Satellites: As well as rings, the Cassini spacecraft has taken amazing pictures of Saturn's moons
Artistic: But the beautiful images were actually created in the name of science
Harmonious: But although Saturn may look peaceful, its rings are in fact constantly fluctuating

No-one is really sure exactly how many there are. Many millions probably. One thing that might be useful in answering this is a 2 year survey (the 2dF Galaxy Survey) which has just finished.

So far they have surveyed 100, 000 galaxies to make a 3-D map of the universe, but their goal is 250,000! And that’s certainly not all of them that are out there. Look at the 2dF website for more on this. There are 4 million names in the NASA Extragalactic database! (NED) Although this is probably not everything either.

It is estimated that there are as many as 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe, but we aren’t able to see all of them yet as our telescopes are not big enough. This number is interesting because it is similar in magnitude to the number of stars estimated to be in our Galaxy.

Of all the things to lose track of, a stretch of space dust measuring hundreds of millions of miles across is surely one of the biggest. Scientists are at a loss as to how an enormous ring of space dust – which could make up planets like ours – has disappeared from view around a star 450 light years (six trillion miles) away from Earth. Astronomers have monitored the star, with the decidedly un-catchy name of TYC 8241 2652, for 25 years before the glowing dust started to fade away over a period of two-and-a-half years.

An artist's impression of the dust circling the star shows how it could have looked before the dust disappeared

Now, telescopic images have confirmed the almost total disappearance of the dust cloud, reported in the scientific journal Nature. ‘So much dust orbiting so close to a young star implies that rocky planets similar to the terrestrial planets of our own solar system were in the process of forming around this star,’ lead researcher Ben Zuckerman of the University of California said. ‘We don’t really know where the dust came from in detail, and we certainly don’t know what caused it to disappear so quickly,’ The scientists believe that the views could paint a picture of how our solar system formed, with the dust creating rock planets like Earth.

An impression of how the star appears to scientists now, with the dust gone and asteroids and planets remaining

The star is just 10 million years old, compared to our sun’s 4.6 billion years. Carl Melis, a co-author of the study and leader of the discovery team, said there are at least two ways the disk might have vanished. The dust particles might have been dragged into the star by its gravity field or floated out into space.

PSA: Space

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Space

There is still so little known about outer space by modern science, but of that little we do know, there are some extraordinarily amazing things. This is a list of the top 10 cool facts about Space.

10. Lightweight

Fact: If you put Saturn in water it would float

The density of Saturn is so low that if you were to put it in a giant glass of water it would float. The actual density of Saturn is 0.687 g/cm3 while the density of water is 0.998 g/cm3. At the equator Saturn has a radius of 60,268 ± 4 km – which means you would need an extremely large glass of water to test this out.

9. Constantly Moving

Fact: We are moving through space at the rate of 530km a second

Our Galaxy – the Milky Way is spinning at a rate of 225 kilometers per second. In addition, the galaxy is travelling through space at the rate of 305 kilometers per second. This means that we are traveling at a total speed of 530 kilometers (330 miles) per second. That means that in one minute you are about 19 thousand kilometers away from where you were. Scientists do not all agree on the speed with which the Milky Way is travelling – estimates range from 130 – 1,000 km/s. It should be said that Einstein’s theory of relativity, the velocity of any object through space is not meaningful.

8. Farewell old friend!

Fact: The moon is drifting away from Earth

Every year the moon moves about 3.8cm further away from the Earth. This is caused by tidal effects. Consequently, the earth is slowing in rotation by about 0.002 seconds per day per century. Scientists do not know how the moon was created, but the generally accepted theory suggests that a large Mars sized object hit the earth causing the Moon to splinter off.

7. Ancient Light

Fact: The light hitting the earth right now is 30 thousand years old

The energy in the sunlight we see today started out in the core of the Sun 30,000 years ago – it spent most of this time passing through the dense atoms that make the sun and just 8 minutes to reach us once it had left the Sun! The temperature at the core of the sun is 13,600,000 kelvins. All of the energy produced by fusion in the core must travel through many successive layers to the solar photosphere before it escapes into space as sunlight or kinetic energy of particles.

6. Solar Diet

Fact: The Sun loses up to a billion kilograms a second due to solar winds

Solar winds are charged particles that are ejected from the upper surface of the sun due to the high temperature of the corona and the high kinetic energy particles gain through a process that is not well understood at this time. Also, did you know that 1 pinhead of the sun’s energy is enough to kill a person at a distance of 160 kilometers?

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Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a large spiral galaxy surrounded by dozens of smaller satellite galaxies. Scientists have long theorized that occasionally these satellites will pass through the disk of the Milky Way, perturbing both the satellite and the disk. A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States have discovered what may well be the smoking gun of such an encounter, one that occurred close to our position in the galaxy and relatively recently, at least in the cosmological sense.

“We have found evidence that our Milky Way had an encounter with a small galaxy or massive dark matter structure perhaps as recently as 100 million years ago,” said Larry Widrow, professor at Queen’s University in Canada. “We clearly observe unexpected differences in the Milky Way’s stellar distribution above and below the Galaxy’s midplane that have the appearance of a vertical wave — something that nobody has seen before.”

The discovery is based on observations of some 300,000 nearby Milky Way stars by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Stars in the disk of the Milky Way move up and down at a speed of about 20-30 kilometers per second while orbiting the center of the galaxy at a brisk 220 kilometers per second. Widrow and his four collaborators from the University of Kentucky, the University of Chicago and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have found that the positions and motions of these nearby stars weren’t quite as regular as previously thought.

“Our part of the Milky Way is ringing like a bell,” said Brian Yanny, of the Department of Energy’s Fermilab. “But we have not been able to identify the celestial object that passed through the Milky Way. It could have been one of the small satellite galaxies that move around the center of our galaxy, or an invisible structure such as a dark matter halo.”

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The Drake Equation is a famous attempt to mathematically estimate the number of technologically advanced civilisations in our galaxy. The equation was formulated in 1961 by Dr. Frank Drake (currently on the Board of SETI), and it identifies specific developmental factors and presents them as variables that narrow down the estimate. The equation looks like this:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

R is the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy, fp is the fraction of stars with planets, ne is the number of Earth-like worlds within one of these star systems, fl is the fraction of those planets where life develops, fi is the fraction where intelligent life develops,fc is the fraction of intelligent life that develops a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space—and finally, L is length of time that these signals are sent.Currently, Drake’s own estimate is that there are 10,000 technologically-advanced civilizations in the Milky Way. Of course, we don’t have definite figures for most of these variables so an accurate answer is nearly impossible, but the calculating itself stimulates intellectual curiosity, helping us realise what a successful product of cosmic evolution we are.

Astronomers mapped the motions of hundreds of stars in the Milky Way in order to deduce the amount of dark matter that must be tugging on them from the vicinity of our sun. Their surprising conclusion? There’s no dark matter around here.

As the researchers write in a forthcoming paper in the Astrophysical Journal, the stellar motion implies that the stars, all within 13,000 light-years of Earth, are gravitationally attracted by the visible material in our solar system — the sun, planets and surrounding gas and dust — and not by any unseen matter.

“Our calculations show that (dark matter) should have shown up very clearly in our measurements. But it was just not there!” said lead study author Christian Moni-Bidin, an astronomer at the University of Concepcion in Chile.

If the analysis of the data from Chile’s European Southern Observatory (ESO) is correct — a big “if,” several physicists say — it overturns the decades-old theory that dark matter permeates space in our region of the Milky Way. Dark matter is an invisible material thought to make up 80 percent of all matter in the universe. Although it doesn’t interact with light and so cannot be seen, its presence is invoked to explain why the outskirts of galaxies, including the Milky Way, rotate much more quickly than would be expected based on the gravitational pull of visible matter alone. Commonly accepted as fact, dark matter plays an essential role in models of galaxy formation and evolution, and several experiments are under way to detect dark matter particles on Earth.

But if dark matter isn’t here in the solar system, it may not be anywhere, because its distribution through the galaxy would have to be extremely peculiar to avoid this region in space. “Modern theories have serious troubles to explain the formation of a (dark matter) halo so curiously shaped,” Moni-Bidin told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Scott Tremaine, professor of physics at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, said, “If the authors’ conclusions are correct, this is indeed a serious blow to dark matter.”

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It’s almost hard to believe that “Outer Space,” the two-minute film from Netherlands-based editor and director Sander van den Berg, was created using actual still images from NASA’s Cassini and Voyager spacecraft.

The final product is a choreographed collection of images that is set to The Cinematic Orchestra’s “That Home.”

First, it’s important to know that the big bang wasn’t an explosion of matter into empty space—it was the rapid expansion of space itself. This means that every single point in the universeappears to be at the center. Think of the universe as an empty balloon with dots on it. Those dots represent clusters of galaxies. As the balloon inflates, every dot moves farther away from every other dot. The space between clusters of galaxies expands, like the rest of the universe, at an accelerating rate. (Gravity keeps the clusters themselves the same size.)

Edwin Hubble first observed this phenomenon in 1929, when he noticed that the light from distant galaxies shifted to the red end of the spectrum, as though it had been stretched as it traveled through space. By measuring the wavelengths of the light, Hubble observed that galaxies were expanding away from each other at a rate proportional to their distance from one another.

In the beginning, the universe was a single point. Where was that? It was, and still is, everywhere. Scientists even have proof: Light from the big bang, in the form of cosmic radiation, fills the sky in every direction.

10. There are 100,000 times as many stars in the universe as sounds and words ever uttered by all humans who have ever lived.

9. Humans are genetically connected with life on Earth, chemically connected with life on other star systems and atomically connected with all matter in the universe.

8. Dark matter and dark energy make up 94 percent of the universe. We can measure their existence, yet we have no idea what they are.

7. Beneath a thick layer of surface ice, Jupiter’s moon Europa likely harbors a liquid ocean kept warm by the gravitational stresses induced by Jupiter and by neighboring moons — a potential haven for life.

6. An asteroid the size of Mount Everest slammed into Earth 65 million years ago. The ensuing global climatic catastrophe left 70 percent of all the world’s species extinct, including the ferocious dinosaurs.

5. There are more molecules of water in a cup of water than cups of water in all the world’s oceans. This means that some molecules in every cup of water you drink passed through the kidneys of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Abe Lincoln or any other historical person of your choosing. Same goes for air: There are more molecules of air in a single breath of air than there are breaths of air in Earth’s entire atmosphere. Therefore, some molecules of air you inhale passed through the lungs of Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Socrates or any other historical person of your choosing.

4. The laws of physics, as measured here on Earth, apply everywhere else in the universe — across space and time.

3. Since light takes time to travel from one place to another, the farther out in space you look, the farther back in time you see. With our most powerful telescopes, we can observe the universe all the way back to its earliest moments — all the way back to the Big Bang itself.

2. With Mars likely to have been wet and fertile before Earth in the early solar system; with known bacteria that can survive extremes of temperature, pressure and radiation; with asteroid impacts that can cast into space rocks that contain bacterial stowaways, allowing life to move between planets, it may be that life on Earth was seeded by life from Mars, making all of us descendants of Martians.

1.With chemical elements forged over 14 billion years in the fires of high-mass stars that exploded into space, and with these elements enriching subsequent generations of stars with carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other basic ingredients of life itself, we are not just figuratively but literally made of stardust.

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