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Astronomers estimate 100 billion habitable Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, 50 sextillion in the universe

Featured image is an infrared image of the core of the Milky Way, captured by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope. Infrared imaging allows you to see many stars which are normally obscured by intergalactic dust.

Astronomers at the University of Auckland claim that there are actually around 100 billion habitable, Earth-like planets in the Milky Way — significantly more than the previous estimate of around 17 billion. There are roughly 500 billion galaxies in the universe, meaning there is somewhere in the region of 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (5×1022) habitable planets. I’ll leave you to do the math on whether one of those 50 sextillion planets has the right conditions for nurturing alien life or not.

The previous figure of 17 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way came from the  Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in January, which analyzed data from the Kepler space observatory. Kepler essentially measures the dimming (apparent magnitude) of stars as planets transit in front of them — the more a star dims, the larger the planet. Through repeated observations we can work out the planet’s orbital period, from which we can usually derive the orbital distance and surface temperature. According to Phil Yock from the University of Auckland, Kepler’s technique generally finds “Earth-sized planets that are quite close to parent stars,” and are therefore “generally hotter than Earth [and not habitable].”

The University of Auckland’s technique, called gravitational microlensing, instead measures the number of Earth-size planets that orbit at twice the Sun-Earth distance. This results in a list of planets that are generally cooler than Earth — but by interpolating between this new list, and Kepler’s list, the Kiwi astronomers hope to generate a more accurate list of habitable, Earth-like planets. “We anticipate a number in the order of 100 billion,” says Yock.

Gravitational microlensing, an effect theorized by Einstein back in 1936, is exactly what it sounds like. Essentially, light emitted by a star is bent by the gravity of massive objects, ultimately allowing astronomers to work out just how large those objects are. Gravitational microlensing has been used in recent years to detect planets the size of Neptune or Jupiter, and now Yock his colleagues at the University of Auckland have proposed a new method for detecting Earth-sized planets. The astronomers hope to use this new microlensing technique with a huge suite of telescopes — located in Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Texas — to confirm their estimate of 100 billion Earth-like habitable planets.

Suffice it to say, if the Milky Way contains 100 billion Earth-like planets, and there’s somewhere in the region of 500 billion galaxies, then there’s an extremely high chance of other planets harboring life. As for how we’ll get to those planets, though — or, alternatively, how the residents of those planets will get to us — remains a very big question. The nearest probably-habitable planet is Tau Ceti e, which is 11.9 light years from Earth. The fastest spacecraft ever, Helios II, traveled at 43 miles per second (70km/s), or 0.000234c (the speed of light). At that speed it would take 51,000 years for a spacecraft to reach Tau Ceti e.

Harold White’s possible Alcubierre warp drive, and star shipIt gets worse: Helios II was only travelling that fast because it was orbiting close to the Sun; Voyager, for example, travels at just 8 miles per second (so, about 200,000 years to reach Tau Ceti e). To reach another star within a reasonable time period (say, 50-100 years) we would need a propulsion system that’s capable of around 0.1c (10% light speed). There are a few proposed methods for reaching such insane speeds (antimatter rockets, fusion rockets), but nothing that’s being immediately (and seriously) considered for interstellar travel. Who knows, maybe NASA’s warp drive will pan out? If they can work out the whole annihilating-the-star-system-upon-arrival issue, that is…

Gravitational microlensing unlocks the secret of alien life

Research paper: doi: 10.1093/mnras/stt318 – “Extending the planetary mass function to Earth mass by microlensing at moderately high magnification”

Source www.extremetech.com

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Make the ISS Bathroom Less Disgusting

Space Poop

Space may be devoid of life, but us Earthlings are working hard to change that, especially when it comes to the bacteria growing in the International Space Station’s bathroom.

The ISS’s bathroom isn’t the cleanest place in the universe, which is a problem given that space travel can weaken a person’s immune system — and that antibiotic-resistant bacteria have already been found on board.

“Spaceflight can turn harmless bacteria into potential pathogens,” said Elisabeth Grohmann, a microbiologist at Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin, in a press release. “Just as stress hormones leave astronauts vulnerable to infection, the bacteria they carry become hardier — developing thick protective coatings and resistance to antibiotics — and more vigorous, multiplying and metabolizing faster.”

No-Stick Surface

To help keep any astronauts who may have forgotten to wash their hands safe, Grohmann and her team developed a new, antimicrobial coating made of silver and ruthenium that they call AGXX, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

To test it out, the scientists put an AGXX coating on the ISS’s bathroom door. After six months, they didn’t find a bacterial cell on the surface. Some bacteria emerged after a year, but the AGXX coating still hosted 80 percent less bacteria than an uncoated steel door, according to the research.

Get the Elbow Grease

In the same press release, Grohmann blamed the bacterial growth on dust and other things that could have gotten in the way of the AGXX, adding that none of the bacteria that did survive was particularly dangerous.

“With prolonged exposure time a few bacteria escaped the antimicrobial action,” Grohmann said. “The antimicrobial test-materials are static surfaces, where dead cells, dust particles and cell debris can accumulate over time and interfere with the direct contact between the antimicrobial surface and the bacteria.”

It may not be perfect over long periods of time, but anything that keeps astronauts’ space poop where it belongs is a step in the right direction as NASA and other organizations figure out how to travel deeper into space over longer periods of time.

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Toyota Reveals ‘Self-Driving Electric Moon Car’ As Japan Prepares To Land Astronauts On The Moon

Japan is planning a moon landing for 2029 and wants its astronauts to explore the lunar surface in a vehicle built by Japanese automaker Toyota.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota announced Tuesday that it will collaborate on international space exploration, specifically on developing a manned, pressurized rover that uses Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle (FCV) technologies.

Toyota’s concept for a lunar rover will travel 10,000km. JAPAN AEROSPACE EXPLORATION AGENCY & TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION

“Manned, pressurized rovers will be an important element supporting human lunar exploration, which we envision will take place in the 2030s, ” said Koichi Wakata, JAXA Vice President. “We aim at launching such a rover into space in 2029.”

JAXA, which earlier this month landed its Hayabusa2 probe on the asteroid Ryugu, is hoping the collaboration with Toyota will “give rise to intellectual properties” needed for international space exploration.

The lunar rover will also have solar panels, which will be useful in lunar daylight, which lasts for two weeks in each month.JAPAN AEROSPACE EXPLORATION AGENCY & TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION

An FCV is a type of electric vehicle that, instead of using a battery, uses a fuel cell of oxygen and compressed hydrogen, which react with each other to generate electricity. The zero-emissions technology is already used on Toyota’s Mirai vehicle. “Fuel cells, which use clean power-generation methods, emit only water, and, because of their high energy density, they can provide a lot of energy, making them especially ideal for the project being discussed with JAXA,” said Shigeki Terashi, Executive Vice President at Toyota. He also mentioned that Toyota’s automated driving technologies were part of the project.

Although the amount of fuel that could be taken to the moon would be limited, said JAXA and Toyota, the pressurized rover would have a total lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 km.

However, Toyota’s ‘space mobility’ concept for the pressurized rover being studied by JAXA and Toyota is pretty small. It envisions a 6 meter by 5.3-meter vehicle standing 3.8 meters tall. That’s enough room for two people, say JAXA and Toyota, or four in an emergency. Toyota and JAXA also revealed that they have been jointly studying the concept of a manned, pressurized rover since May 2018.

The moon presents some special challenges for any vehicle. Gravity is one-sixth of Earth’s, and the lunar surface is pocked by craters, cliffs, and hills. “It is exposed to radiation and temperature conditions that are much harsher than those on Earth, as well as an ultra-high vacuum environment,” said Wakata. “For a wide-ranging human exploration of the moon, a pressurized rover that can travel more than 10,000 km in such environments is a necessity.” Wakata also stressed the need for a ‘Team Japan’ approach to space exploration.

ispace’s HAKUTO-R mission will launch on a SpaceX rocket in 2020 to orbit the moon and be followed by a mission to land on the surface in 2021.HAKUTO/ISPACE

That’s a message that appears to be finding favor. Japan Airlines-backed startup ispace last month announced that its HAKUTO-R mission will orbit the moon in 2020 ahead of a mission to land on the surface in 2021. An finalist in the ill-fated Google Lunar XPRIZE, ispace plans to map, and eventually recover, water ice on the moon and learn how to use it as a resource. If it can separate lunar water into hydrogen and oxygen, it could provide fuel for Toyota’s moon buggy, as well as for a self-sufficient moonbase, and even rockets.

Aside from Japan Airlines, HAKUTO-R’s corporate partners include Japanese national daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun and Japan NGK Spark Plug, which wants to test solid-state battery technology on the moon in 2021. Another is Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, which last month announced a new lunar insurance service. “The availability of lunar exploration insurance will encourage new players to participate in the lunar industry by reducing the risk of entry,” said ispace founder Takeshi Hakamada last month. “With the ability to insure our landers and rovers, ispace and its customers will be able to concentrate on realizing our vision without hesitation.”

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes

Source www.forbes.com

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There May Be Billions of Undetected ‘Rogue Planets’ Roaming Our Galaxy

We tend to believe that our solar system with our Sun and the Earth and other planets orbiting around it is the how all planets exist, orbiting their parent star.

However, every so often astronomers get get a glimpse of a whole other scenario – rogue planets, not attached to any star or system, drifting lonely through the galaxy.

“Now it turns out there could be many more of them than anyone ever suspected. A new simulation has revealed that there could be billions of rogue planets in the Milky Way.”

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