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NASA warns ‘something unexpected is happening to the Sun’

‘Something unexpected’ is happening on the Sun, Nasa has warned.

This year was supposed to be the year of ‘solar maximum,’ the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle.

But as this image reveals, solar activity is relatively low.

Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent, as this image shows - despite Nasa forecasting major solar storms
Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent, as this image shows – despite Nasa forecasting major solar storms

THE SOLAR CYCLE

Conventional wisdom holds that solar activity swings back and forth like a simple pendulum.

At one end of the cycle, there is a quiet time with few sunspots and flares.

At the other end, solar max brings high sunspot numbers and frequent solar storms.

It’s a regular rhythm that repeats every 11 years.

Reality is more complicated.

Astronomers have been counting sunspots for centuries, and they have seen that the solar cycle is not perfectly regular.

‘Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent,’ the space agency says.

The image above shows the Earth-facing surface of the Sun on February 28, 2013, as observed by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

It observed just a few small sunspots on an otherwise clean face, which is usually riddled with many spots during peak solar activity.

Experts have been baffled by the apparent lack of activity – with many wondering if NASA simply got it wrong.

However, Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes he has a different explanation.

‘This is solar maximum,’ he says.

‘But it looks different from what we expected because it is double-peaked.’

‘The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks.’

Solar activity went up, dipped, then rose again, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years, he said.

Researchers have recently captured massive sunspots on the solar surface - and believed we should have seen more
Researchers have recently captured massive sunspots on the solar surface – and believed we should have seen more

The same thing could be happening now, as sunspot counts jumped in 2011 and dipped in 2012, he believes.

Pesnell expects them to rebound in 2013: ‘I am comfortable in saying that another peak will happen in 2013 and possibly last into 2014.’

He spotted a similarity between Solar Cycle 24 and Solar Cycle 14, which had a double-peak during the first decade of the 20th century.

If the two cycles are twins, ‘it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015′.

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Space

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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Space

Beer on Mars: Students Find Red Planet Could Grow Hops

Here’s an interplanetary botany discovery that took college students and not NASA scientists to find: Hops — the flowers used to add a pleasant bitterness to beer — grow well in Martian soil.

“I don’t know if it’s a practical plant, but it’s doing fairly well,” said Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University.

Last semester, 25 students took Dr. Guinan’s class on astrobiology, about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

For the laboratory part of the course, the students became farmers, experimenting to see which crops might grow in Martian soil and feed future travelers there.

“I was trying to come with a project for the students to do, a catchy project that would be fairly easy,” Dr. Guinan said. “I kept telling them, ‘You’re on Mars, there’s a colony there, and it’s your job to feed them. They’re all depending on you.’”

Dr. Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University, with two of his students in the “Mars Garden.”CreditVillanova University

Dr. Guinan presented the findings on Friday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

But let’s back up: soil from Mars?

Of course, no one has yet brought back anything from the red planet, but spacecraft like NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander have analyzed Martian soil in great detail. Based on those measurements, scientists have come up with a reasonably good reproduction on Earth — crushed basalt from an ancient volcano in the Mojave Desert. It’s available for purchase, and Dr. Guinan bought 100 pounds.

Martian soil is very dense and dries out quickly — perhaps better for making bricks than growing plants, which have trouble pushing their roots through. That includes potatoes, the savior food for the fictional Mark Watney in “The Martian,” the book by Andy Weir and later a movie starring Matt Damon about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars.

For the most part, the students chose practical, nutritious plants like soy beans and kale in addition to potatoes. Some added herbs like basil and mint so that astronauts could enjoy more flavorful food on thesolar system’s fourth world.

And one group chose hops.

“Because they’re students,” Dr. Guinan said. “Martian beer.” (He vetoed marijuana.)

For the experiments, the students had a small patch of a greenhouse, with a mesh screen reducing the sunlight to mimic Mars’ greater distance from the sun.

What did “fabulous” in pure Martian soil was mesclun, a mix of small salad greens, even without fertilizer, Dr. Guinan said.

When vermiculite, a mineral often mixed in with heavy and sticky Earth soils, was added to the Martian stuff, almost all of the plants thrived. Because astronauts would likely not be hauling vermiculite from Earth but might have cardboard boxes, Dr. Guinan also tried mixing cutup cardboard into the Martian soil. That worked too.

One group of students hypothesized that coffee grinds could similarly be used as a filler to loosen up the soil. They figured the astronauts would be drinking coffee anyway, and coffee would also be a natural fertilizer. “Also, it may help acidify Martian soil,” said Elizabeth Johnson, a Villanova senior who took the class. Mars soil is alkaline, with a pH of 8 to 9, she said, compared to 6 to 7 on Earth.

“We think the coffee has a lot of potential,” Ms. Johnson said.

Her team’s carrots, spinach and scallions sprouted quickly in the mix of coffee grounds and Martian soil, initially growing faster than even plants in a control planter full of Earth potting mix.

Dr. Guinan is not the first to try growing plants in Martian soil. Five years ago, Wieger Wamelink, a scientist at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands had the same idea, a way to combine his work — ecology research — with his interest in science fiction.

The first round of experiments grew 14 types of plants including rye, tomatoes and carrots in Martian soil, simulated lunar soil and Earth soil. Almost all of the plants germinated, Dr. Wamelink and his colleagues reported.

Like Dr. Guinan, Dr. Wamelink found that mixing organic material into Martian soil greatly improved plant growth. They verified that crops grown in Martian soil were equally nutritious and safe to eat. In 2016, the researchers hosted meals cooked from their research crops for more than 50 people who had supported the work with crowdfunding donations.

Last year, they showed earthworms could live, even reproduce, in Martian soil.

Earthworms crawling around in a simulated Mars soil in a pot with arugula plants. Worms help break down organic material, providing nutrients to plants. Their burrows provide better distribution of water and wair to the roots.Credit Wageningen University & Research

Future experiments might grow bamboo, which could also be useful on Mars. “Not because we want panda bears over there,” Dr. Wamelink said. The shoots are edible, and “It’s also a good building material,” he said.

One aspect that Dr. Guinan and Dr. Wamelink have not tackled yet is the presence on Mars of perchlorates, a poisonous chemical that causes thyroid problems in people. (For safety, the simulated Mars soil leaves that out.)

It might be possible to rinse out the perchlorates, which are soluble in water. Bacteria that eat perchlorates might also be used to cleanse the soil.

This semester, two Villanova astronomy students will perform follow-up experiments. That includes attempting to grow barley, the other essential ingredient for future Martian beer.

Source www.nytimes.com

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Alien Killer Robots May Have Wiped Out Extraterrestrial Colonies

All lifeforms in the universe could be wiped out by Rogue artificial intelligence!

via inquisitr:

The search for life throughout the solar system remains one of the most intriguing possibilities for humanity, but so far, the search has yielded no measurable results. One scientist believes he knows the reason why — alien killer robots.

While it might sound like the name of a science fiction movie or a fresh new video game, the Daily Mail reports that theoretical physicist Alexander Berezin of the National Research University of Electronic Technology in Russia believes artificial intelligence is why humans haven’t found extraterrestrial life.

Berezin’s alien killer robots theory explains the “Fermi paradox,” which gets its name from physicist Enrico Fermi. The paradox exists because of the high likelihood that there is alien life somewhere in the universe and yet, there’s no proof so far that such life exists, according to a Metro report.

According to Berezin, the reason for the “Fermi paradox” is that advanced civilizations destroy other lifeforms in the universe with their technology. The physicist said that his theory “predicts a future for our own civilization that is even worse than extinction.”

He believes that either rogue artificial intelligence rebelled against its creators and wiped out lifeforms or biological lifeforms somewhat like humans inadvertently killed other life when it attempted to colonize other planets and areas of the universe. In his paper, Berezin wrote, “I am not suggesting that a highly developed civilization would consciously wipe out other lifeforms. Most likely, they simply won’t notice, the same way a construction crew demolishes an anthill to build real estate because they lack incentive to protect it.”

Ultimately, his idea presents a rather bleak future for humanity either way. If humanity achieves interstellar travel on a large scale basis, he believes its doomed to wipe out all other forms of life inadvertently (or possibly purposefully). However, should humanity fail to conquer the stars and begin to colonize any of the other possibly habitable places within this universe sometime in the future, then it is doomed to be wiped out by another lifeform or rogue alien killer robots.

Of course, this is only one possible solution to the “Fermi paradox.” Another possibility is that the distance between advanced civilizations is too great to communicate, so one civilization would be extinct before such attempts to communicate arrived somewhere else, and that’s why there’s no proof of alien life. Still another option is that the advances needed to explore and colonize the universe fully would actually lead to the destruction of the lifeform itself.

No matter what the reason, so far humanity has no proof that extraterrestrial lifeforms exist, but who knows? These bizarre alien killer robots could play a role in that lack of knowledge.

Rachel Dillin
Inquisitr

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