Mike Wall, SPACE
The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe.
While astronomers have found a number of exoplanets over the last few years that share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — they have yet to bag a bona fide “alien Earth.” But that should change in 2013, scientists say.
“I’m very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,” said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
Planets piling up
Astronomers discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a sunlike star in 1995. Since they, they’ve spotted more than 800 worlds beyond our own solar system, and many more candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]
NASA’s prolific Kepler Space Telescope, for example, has flagged more than 2,300 potential planets since its March 2009 launch. Only 100 or so have been confirmed to date, but mission scientists estimate that at least 80 percent will end up being the real deal.
The first exoplanet finds were scorching-hot Jupiter-like worlds that orbit close to their parent stars, because they were the easiest to detect. But over time, new instruments came online and planet hunters honed their techniques, enabling the discovery of smaller and more distantly orbiting planets — places more like Earth.
Last December, for instance, Kepler found a planet 2.4 times larger than Earth orbiting in its star’s habitable zone — that just-right range of distances where liquid water, and perhaps life as we know it, can exist.
The Kepler team and other research groups have detected several other worlds like that one (which is known as Kepler-22b), bringing the current tally of potentially habitable exoplanets to nine by Mendez’ reckoning.
Zeroing in on Earth’s twin
None of the worlds in Mendez’ Habitable Exoplanets Catalog are small enough to be true Earth twins. The handful of Earth-size planets spotted to date all orbit too close to their stars to be suitable for life. [Gallery: 9 Potentially Habitable Exoplanets]
But it’s only a matter of time before a small, rocky planet is spotted in the habitable zone — and Mendez isn’t the only researcher who thinks that time is coming soon.
“The first planet with a measured size, orbit and incident stellar flux that is suitable for life is likely to be announced in 2013,” said Geoff Marcy, a veteran planet hunter at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Kepler team.
Mendez and Marcy both think this watershed find will be made by Kepler, which spots planets by flagging the telltale brightness dips caused when they pass in front of their parent stars from the instrument’s perspective.
Kepler needs to witness three of these”transits” to detect a planet, so its early discoveries were tilted toward close-orbiting worlds (which transit more frequently). But over time, the telescope has been spotting more and more distantly orbiting planets — including some in the habitable zone.
An instrument called HARPS (short for High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) is also a top contender, having already spotted a number of potentially habitable worlds. HARPS, which sits on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile, allows researchers to detect the tiny gravitational wobbles that orbiting planets induce in their parent stars.
“HARPS should be able to find the most interesting and closer Earth twins,” Mendez told SPACE.com via email, noting that many Kepler planets are too far away to characterize in detail. “A combination of its sensitivity and long-term observations is now paying off.”
And there are probably many alien Earths out there to be found in our Milky Way galaxy, researchers say.
“Estimating carefully, there are 200 billion stars that host at least 50 billion planets, if not more,” Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, told SPACE.com via email.
“Assuming that 1:10,000 are similar to the Earth would give us 5,000,000 such planets,” added Tuomi, who led teams reporting the discovery of several potentially habitable planet candidates this year, including an exoplanet orbiting the star Tau Ceti just 11.9 light-years from Earth. “So I would say we are talking about at least thousands of such planets.”
What it would mean
Whenever the first Earth twin is confirmed, the discovery will likely have a profound effect on humanity.
“We humans will look up into the night sky, much as we gaze across a large ocean,” Marcy told SPACE.com via email. “We will know that the cosmic ocean contains islands and continents by the billions, able to support both primitive life and entire civilizations.”
Marcy hopes such a find will prod our species to take its first real steps beyond its native solar system.
“Humanity will close its collective eyes, and set sail for Alpha Centauri,” Marcy said, referring to the closest star system to our own, where an Earth-size planet was discovered earlier this year.
“The small steps for humanity will be a giant leap for our species. Sending robotic probes to the nearest stars will constitute the greatest adventure we Homo sapiens have ever attempted,” Marcy added. “This massive undertaking will require the cooperation and contribution from all major nations around world. In so doing, we will take our first tentative steps into the cosmic ocean and enhance our shared sense of purpose on this terrestrial shore.”
This Space Cloud Smells Like Rum And Tastes Like Raspberries
So there’s a giant cloud hanging out in the Milky Way galaxy that smells a little bit like rum and tastes a little bit like raspberries. Here’s why Sagittarius B2 may be the most delicious cloud in space.
Let’s work our way up the ladder on this one. We’ll start at the bottom step, where things are unimaginably tiny. A carboxyl group is a group of atoms that looks like this: (C(O)OH). A carboxylic acid is any acid that has a carboxyl group. Glue one single extra atom of hydrogen on that group and you have formic acid, the most simple carboxylic acid. In fact, this acid is so basic that ants’ bodies can make it. If you have ever been stung or sprayed with ant venom, you have probably felt the sting of formic acid.
Let’s take another step up the ladder and add booze. Mix ethanol with formic acid and you have ethyl formate, which is an ester. Esters are the most famous of the aroma compounds and are responsible for most of the floral, fruit, and wine smells. A good proportion of esters are simply combinations of carboxylic acids and alcohols. To non-chemists who nevertheless paid attention in chemistry class, esters are known as the “smell molecules.”
Ethyl formate has a role to play in both fruit and wine. Drinkers know it as the “scent of rum,” but it comes wafting out of a lot of alcohols from cognac to whisky. Berry pickers will also know ethyl formate if they get their mouth around it; it’s one of the chemicals that gives raspberries their distinctive flavor. So smell it and it smells vaguely of rum; taste it and it tastes vaguely of raspberries.
When we examine ethyl formate on an even larger scale, we get the weird twist — way out in space, a cloud of gas is laden with ethyl formate, which means it smells like rum and tastes like berries.
Or perhaps we have this all the wrong away around. Perhaps we should have started large instead of small, because Sagittarius B2, the dust cloud 400 light-years away from the center of the galaxy, predates both the raspberry and rum. So maybe we should say that rum smells of cosmic dust cloud, and raspberries taste of it.
Trump just ordered the Pentagon to establish a Space Force ‘immediately’
The United States seems to have always been pioneers in the space program. They were the first ones to actually walk on the moon, and they created the first ever reusable space vehicle in the space shuttle.
Now if President Donald Trump has his way, the country will again be pioneers when it comes to outer space exploration. Not only does he want to reignite the space program which has more or less been dormant in the country since the space shuttle program was retired, but he wants to create the first ever space force.
In fact, he has gone as far as to make the request of the Pentagon itself to implement this task force. He has gone as far as to tell their Department of Defense to start to put such a force into effect. In a press, In fact, President Trump has been quoted as saying:
“Our destiny beyond the Earth is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security, ”
If this program is implemented it will become the sixth branch of the military and actually the only branch of the air force that has been created in 71 years.
According to Trump it is imperative to the nation’s security, but is this really true? Well, we never know what could be lurking in space, and no this isn’t a reference to extraterrestrials, although you never know. But what about asteroids or comets that could have the ability to cause destruction to the earth, and such a task force could help eliminate this problem not only for the United States but the rest of the world as well.
Whatever, the reasons President Trump could have a point that maybe this is not just an idea to consider, but again the United States could get the wheels in motion. So, perhaps the universe imagined by Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek where there is a branch of the military known as Starfleet could actually be to the point of becoming a reality.
A trip to the ISS will cost you $55 million
Image Credit: Axiom Space
Space tourism firm Axiom Space is offering people the opportunity to spend ten days aboard the space station.
Based in Houston and founded by former International Space Station manager Michael T. Suffredini, the company has plans to not only offer trips to the ISS but to also build and launch its own modules.
Eventually, these will detach and become an independent facility known as the Axiom International Commercial Space Station.
This week the firm has revealed its price for a full ten-day stay aboard the ISS – $55 million – which will cover, not only the orbital stay, but also transportation and a 15-week astronaut training program.
The goal will be to launch the first module in 2019 and the first commercial customers in 2020.
“It is an honor to continue the work that NASA and its partners have begun, to bring awareness to the profound benefits of human space exploration and to involve more countries and private citizens in these endeavors,” Suffredini said in a statement.
The interiors of the new modules will be designed in partnership with French architect Philippe Starck.
“This is a dream project for a creator like me with a genuine fascination for aviation and space exploration,” he said. “The greatest human intelligence in the world focuses on space research.”
Source: Space.com |
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