Exoplanets are Hot! Travel plans and 1 Million new Destinations!

NASA is sure to start selling trips to these fabulous space destinations! The only problem is that we have no way of getting there, or more importantly, back home.  Still the posters give a great homage to the ‘see America’ posters of the 1920s, and they sure make me want to visit. Kepler 186f is a habitable zone planet around a red dwarf star, meaning it could support liquid water.  If any plant life forms on this planet, it would photosynthesize differently, potentially giving it a red colour palette. HD 403007g is a planet with 8 times the mass of Earth....

Asteroid Belt vs. Kuiper Belt vs. Oort Cloud

Ever wondered the difference? The Asteroid Belt, shown above, consists of hundreds of thousands of rocks, with all kinds of different shapes, ranging in size from the Dwarf Planet Ceres at 950 Km in Diameter, down to small bits the size of dust particles.  It lies between Mars and Jupiter. The Kuiper Belt (pronounced Kai-per) consists of Icy rocks, and it a major source of short-period Comets in the Solar system.  Extending beyond the planet Neptune, Pluto was discovered to be one of the largest objects in the belt. The mysterious Oort cloud is a collection of Comets, thought to...

Amazing NYT Mars feature and thoughts on the Universe

You have to see this incredible feature on Mars, showing some of the best High-Res photos and milestones from the mission. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/science/space/curiosity-rover-28-months-on-mars.html As you look through the images, remember that you are looking at another world.  It feels foreign, yet oddly familiar.  You almost want to reach out and just grab a handful of sand.  It makes you realize that we are not the center of the Universe. There are likely Billions of worlds similar to Mars, with Dunes and Soil and Skies and Mountains, except those world may not be so barren.  They may be lush and alive, dominated...

Finding Planets is Easier than we Thought: Part Two – Less Dusty Sun-Like Stars

Yesterday I wrote about young stars that had a habitable zone further away than we thought, and how this would help us spot habitable planets more easily in the future. Today is the second news story this week dealing with finding planets, and it deals with more familiar Sun-like stars and their dusty planetary discs. Dust is both a good thing and a bad thing when looking for planets orbiting other stars.  Dust tells us that there is a high likelihood of finding planets, but too much dust blocks out the planets that we look for.  Warm dust is worse...

Finding ‘Baby Earth’ Planets is Easier than we Thought

Space is Big.  I say this often, but it is so vast we can’t even comprehend the emptiness of it.  We see Billions upon Billions of stars, all taunting us with their shine, seemingly close but completely unreachable. How do we know which stars we should spend our time looking at? We don’t really have the time to scan through each star in detail, so what are the criteria for taking a closer look? Generally we look at a population of stars to gain an understanding of each life stage, and then we look at the oldest and youngest to determine...

DNA Survives a Trip into Earth’s Atmosphere

Panspermia. Look it up.  It sounds more like science fiction than science fact, but imagine the implications.  It is the idea that life is everywhere, and is seeded throughout the universe by comets, asteroids, meteors, rogue planets, and even spacecraft, by way of unintended contamination of microbes.  It could also explain why there is life on Earth. Because we still know so little about the Universe around us, panspermia is considered a plausible scenario.  To test parts of this theory, a team from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Anatomy used small pipettes to actually place double stranded DNA on the outside of...

Storms seen on Uranus!

The seventh planet from the Sun is a boring one.  The best photos we have of Uranus were obtained in January 1986 during the passing of Voyager 2, and they revealed a cold, pale-green, ball of Methane four times the diameter of Earth with very little visible activity. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about Uranus, and it’s far more interesting than we thought.  It has rings, a magnetosphere, and numerous moons.  It has a 98 degree axial tilt, meaning that the poles of the planet cycle through 42 years of sunlight and 42 years of darkness during it’s 84...

GAIA Satellite Could Reach 70,000 Exoplanet Discoveries

Launched in December of 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA)’s GAIA Mission will be the next great mission to find exoplanets, planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun. However, GAIA’s main mission is not to search for planets, but to look at the motion, physical characteristics, and distance of up to one Billion stars with incredible precision.  It’s a given that the satellite will invariably find planets by seeing the ‘wobble’ of a star due to the gravity of a planetary system. One of the strengths that GAIA posesses over other exoplanet studies is that it will search a...