The Habitable Zone Was Redefined Today, Earth Is Now Barely Habitable

The difference between Mars and Earth is that one of them falls into the habitable zone, while the other doesn’t. This habitable zone – a small path along a star where a planet is not too close and not too far away that life could exist on its surface – was redefined today, and Earth just barely made the cut.

Scientist took updated atmospheric databases called HITRAN and HITEMP which basically measure how much energy the water absorbs and how much energy carbon dioxide can retain, and updated our current place within the habitable zone in our solar system.  After their calculations were plotted on the new chart, they discovered that our planet was just inside the habitable zone.

The habitable zone is used to identify if a planet has the right temperature to retain liquid water on its surface. If a planet is too far away from its parent star, the water will freeze, if its too close, the water will vaporize away. Obviously, a planet with liquid water would be a primo spot for life to flourish.

This new redefined boundary means that many planets that we thought were in the habitable zone, are no longer in the sweet spot to hold life, however, this also allows planets that had recently been excluded as candidates for life to come back into the realm of plausibility.

How much did our Earth move on this zone? Not much, only .04 AU’s closer to the sun from the previous data which was collected 20 years ago – by James Kasting from Penn State. An AU is a term used to define an Earth-Sun distance, 1 Astronomical Unit is about 150 million kilometers in size. So our records went from 0.95 AU – 1.67 AU to the new distance of .99 AU – 1.7 AU (remember the path of the Earth around the sun is not a perfect circle. Throughout the year,  the Earth shifts about .8 AU’s. This shift makes the difference between Winter and Summer.)

Abel Mendez from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo is a researcher in charge of a Habitable Exoplanet Catalog – a catalog with all the planets that could hold life. He stated that this new study is going to require him to update the catalog and kick off or squeeze in new planets to fit this new data.

Basically, since the Earth is now just inside the new boundary – and we seem to be pretty comfortable – this means that the habitable zone’s outer edges could be extended to areas that we once thought were too extreme 20 years ago.

HZ_distance

The main planet that Mendez is particularly excited about is Gliesse581d, a planet who’s path, using outdated data, was on the outer edge of the habitable zone. With this new redefinition of the zone, the planet’s new path is now right in the middle of the zone. What’s interesting about the new zone is that Mars is now also in the zone, on the outer cooler boundary, but it’s there.

This new data, however, does not take into consideration cloud formations, which according to the researchers have a huge impact on the habitability of a planet. What I want to know is, what happens after we fall completely outside of the habitable zone and we’re still alive, do we change it up again? Or will we be officially screwed?

Via Space.com

Round Trip to Mars for $500K

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX has announced that it should be ready to take people on trips to Mars and back for as little as $500,000. Extreme Tech reported him saying that the price was so that even average people could take flight. He did also mention during the interview with BBC that the average person “after they’ve made some savings.” It is still an extremely cool development in the world of space flight.

SpaceX, which has already been awarded a contract to make supply runs to the International Space Station, has a goal in mind to make all of their space shuttles reusable. This is how they plan to cut down on the cost of making space shuttles and space flight.

Another way that Musk is proposing to make the shuttle cheaper to create is by refueling it on Mars. This will eliminate the need for carrying fuel, and be able to create a much lighter shuttle. Although, as of yet Musk has not released information on how he proposes to do such a thing.

There are many critics of SpaceX. Some believe private space flight should not be allowed. Others point out that the company has only made seven launches so far, which the first three were failures. They have also yet to actually go to the International Space Station; however, that would actually have more to do with NASA than SpaceX.

The Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX has created is actually quite small, and anyone that would be traveling to Mars would have to spend 214 days inside the shuttle. Also, hopefully there would be screening in place to weed out anyone who has medical problems or who suffers from claustrophobia, and this will not just be whoever has the money can go.

America Has Its Priorities Wrong

This video has already made its way to many prominent areas on the internet and gained thousands of viewers. I think any site that has any connection to science and/or technology should make it their duty to show it once again.  So, here you go.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is without a doubt a genius, and knows exactly what he is talking about. So, why do more people not listen to what this man has to say? Easy their priorities are not straight. More people are too focused on what is going on in Hollywood, and which celebrity is doing this and that to care about NASA being all but shut down.

Our government throws money every which way but in the right direction. Why do more people not grow up caring about science and technology that can bring magic into the world? I am not that involved with the science world, but I do love to read about it. I love hearing about space exploration with the hope that one day we will be traveling in space or maybe even found intelligent life.

I am not going to say that Hollywood is all bad because there are some things that I love to know about, and I am a sucker for awards season. The thing is why does our society not also incorporate men and women of science as people that they idolize also. These are the people that are making new discoveries to hopefully sustain the human species.

Tyson really does have a point. This nation has stopped dreaming. I still have hope that it does not once again take a war to make people come to the understanding that space exploration is important. Science is important.

Mysterious Space Drone

A year ago the Air Force launched its second unmanned drone that is completely automated into space. It was never clear exactly what the drone was for, but the military said that the space shuttle X-37B was to test new technologies in space. Whatever those technologies are, no one is sure.

The space shuttle was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, March 5, 2011. It was originally schedule to land 270 days later in November, but the Air Force extended the date and as of yet has not announced a new landing date.

Even though the Pentagon has said on more than one occasion that the shuttle is simply for testing technologies, some analysts believe this could be the beginning for weapons capable of orbiting the planet and “dropping bombs or disabling satellites.”

This one and the first X-37B were built in extreme secrecy by Boeing Co.’s Space and Intelligence Systems in Huntington Beach. Engineering was completed at Huntington and Seal Beach while other services were completed at El Segundo. It is rumored that a third X-37B will be launched later this year.

Air Force Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre said, “Upon completion of all objectives, we look forward to bringing the mission to a safe, successful conclusion. The next program phase, the next X-37B mission, has been tentatively planned for the fall of 2012.”

McIntyre also commented a little on the purpose of these shuttles, “The X-37B program is setting the standard for a reusable space plane, and on this one-year orbital milestone, has returned great value on the experimental investment.”

The X-37B program was initially a NASA program but after a lack of funding was released to the Defense Advanced Research Agency in 2004. The Air Force took over in 2006.

Ted Molczan, a Toronto, Canada-based satellite watcher and spacecraft analyst, has an idea of what the shuttles could be used for:

“I do not know OTV-2’s mission, but it’s frequently repeating ground track may be a clue that it is gathering imagery intelligence. Ground tracks that repeat at intervals of two, three or four days have long been favored for U.S. imagery intelligence satellites, because they enable frequent monitoring of targets of interest.”

Aliens Could Detect Life On Earth By Looking At the Moon

It seems that every month or so we find another planet with the “possibility” to hold life. We find super earths, or giant planets in the “habitable” zone and we instantly believe that we can live in this new planet OR we believe that there is possible life. But what if we could find planets that actually had some sort of life in them? A new trick discovered by astronomers at the European Southern Observatory allows them to discovery life on planets by simply looking at the light emitted off the planet. In their experiment, they were able to detect life on earth by simply looking at the light reflected from our moon.

The problem with our current methods of discovery of life is the fact that we can’t really look at a planet and see the ant size people or animals walking in the surface. Imagine looking at an ant hill from the top of the empire state building, even with binoculars you can’t really see the bugs walking around. Likewise, if you look at the earth from something as close as orbiting satellites, it’s not possible to detect us. But if you look at the earth and study the chemical signals, you can see exactly what kind of elements you can find on it’s surface. For example, earth has far more oxygen and methane than a planet without some sort of life in the surface.

This new technique is called Spectroscopy, we can now detect gases that scientists call biosignatures. The system involves breaking up the light signals that reflect off a planet and then reconstructing the colors to determine which elements are present in the planet. Think, burning copper on the fire and creating the color green, every element creates a specific color signature, the astronomers will be looking for Oxygen and other elements required for life.

While this can be hard for planets that are extremely far and circling stars that drown the actual planet’s light, it can still be studied effectively by exploiting the light reflected from the planet. The reflected light is polarized, while the light emitted from the star is not. When the light passes through the planet’s atmosphere, it is polarized in two ways. When it is reflected by the oceans and vegetation, and when the particles in the air change the color of the light. By looking at the polarized light, we can pinpoint exactly what is going on in the planet with great detail.

Michael F. Sterzik, Stefano Bagnulo, and Eric Palle revealed in an ESO statement that they have tried out this method of light reflection by studying the light reflected of our moon. They used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to measure the linear polarization spectra of earth shine… which just means the light that bounced from the earth onto the moon, then bounced from the moon back to space. In their research they discovered that the earth has clouds, it has vegetation, and it had oceans. This new technique works so well that they can actually tell cloud coverage at different times of the day, and even detect vegetation as small as 10 percent. Image credit to NASA

StarTram Want’s to Build an Orbit Canon on the Side of a Mountain

Our current methods of sending materials into space is extremely expensive, mainly because we use rockets which use fuel. The heaver the rocket, the more fuel the rocket needs, but at the same time the more fuel it uses, the heavier it becomes – see how this is a big problem for rocket scientist?

NASA has been trying to look for cheaper alternatives, especially since they are loosing funding, finally a company came forward with a solution that MAY just work. They are bringing forward a vacuum tube that will launch cargo up the side of a mountain and then send it out to low orbit with a very cost effective method.

StarTram, the company that came up with this idea, wants to have an 80 mile long tube that will rest on the side of a mountain. The inside of the tube will have magnets on the sides that will levitate the cargo inside – to lower friction – it will then use a vacuum to fire the cargo at about 20,000 mph.

The initial cost will not be cheap, they are looking at $20 billion dollars over a 10 year period of time. But after it’s finished they estimate that they can get cargo into low orbit for just under $20 per pound. While this is great for sending out cargo pieces and materials into outer space, humans are not going to be able to ride the system. The initial launch speed is going to push out about 30gs, which is enough to end our space career. In order for the tunnel to be used for human transportation, the tunnel needs to be over 800 miles long.  via NBF

NASA Cuts Off Budget for Future Mars Missions

For the past couple of decades NASA has been aiming for Mars, Curiosity being their latest effort to reach and examine the planet at it’s fullest. But thanks to a new budget cut, it looks like NASA is going to have to turn around and focus on other matters.

Curiosity, as we all know by now, is supposed to land near the Martian equator where it will begin to search for the chemical building blocks of life. NASA hopes that by finding these blocks we’ll be able to determine if we are truly alone in our universe. in 2010 President Obama stood in front of the Kennedy Space Center and said that it was imperative that astronauts made it to the red planet by mid 2030, but his budget didn’t give NASA enough money to full fill this task.

Two very important robotic missions are supposed to be launched on 2016 and 2018 but after the president’s new budget proposal NASA won’t be able to launch them. The most ambitious Mars flight yet and one the National Academy of Sciences endorsed as the No. 1 solar system priority – a plan to grab Martian rocks and soil and bring them back to Earth – is on indefinite hold. The agency is currently trying to find a way to salvage one of the missions instead of two since they have already spent $64 million on early designs.

If Obama’s budget sails through as outlined, “in essence, it is the end of the Mars program,” said Phil Christensen, a Mars researcher at Arizona State University. It’s like “we’ve just flown Apollo 10 and now we’re going to cancel the Apollo program when we’re one step from landing,” he said.

But really it’s not that people and researchers don’t feel like Mars is worth the trip and exploration anymore, but it’s the fact that the U.S. Governemnt can’t afford it. Unless NASA finds ways to work out their research in an affordable way, NASA researchers are going to kill the space program themselves.

Private companies like Virgin Galactic have proved that going to outerspace can be done cheaper than what NASA spends. Obama only pulled 0.3 percent of the funding away from the NASA program, which means they just need to allocate that from another parts of the company but they can’t find a way to move funding around… not even 1% of the funding.

NASA really needs to find ways to stay inside their budget limits. Curiosity for example was almost $1 billion dollars over budget. MOST of NASA’s projects have gone over budget for millions of dollars each, this is partly due to bad researchers who claim they can get a mission done with X amount of money when in reality they needed Y.

If they don’t find a way to make this work, it’s going to be at least a decade before NASA can go back out to Mars. And if NASA ignores Mars for a decade, it runs the risk of a brain drain, said Ed Weiler, who resigned last year as NASA’s sciences chief because of budget battles over Mars. Via: STL Today

Waterworld Discovered but not the Kevin Costner Kind

The planet GJ 1214b was discovered a little over a decade ago, but it has only recently come to light that the majority of the mass on the planet is made up of water.  The “Super Earth” planet, as it is being called because it is only 2.68 times the radius of our planet, but is still much smaller than the giants in our solar system such as Jupiter, is said to be a “waterworld with a thick, steamy atmosphere.”

The planet orbits its red dwarf star at just two million km.  This means that it can reach temperatures above 200C.  Also, because a large percent of the planet is made up of water this means that the mass of GJ 1214b is 6.55 times that of Earth’s.

Lead author Zachary Berta, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stated, “GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of.” He and his colleagues use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the planet when it is orbiting its star.  When the star is in its transit phases the team can decipher what kind of atmosphere the planet has.

The studies have determined that the planet is nearly comprised of a heavier density that is similar to water, and that it also has much more water than Earth does.  This means that not only the outer structure is different, but the internal structure of the planet could be made up much differently than Earth.

Dr. Berta believes the planet’s atmosphere would be very different from one that we experience and thinks that it might be common that, “The hot temperatures and pressures would form exotic materials such as hot ice or superfluid water.”

This planet is only 13 parsecs away from Earth, so that means there will be many occasions to fully observe it and understand it better.  For anyone wondering, a parsec is roughly 3.09 x 10^13 meters away.