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Posts from the “Space News” Category

Black Hole Size Comparison

Posted on 14/10/2018

Black holes, giant stars, nebulae and star clusters, size comparisons are quite compelling to watch, but can get a bit monotonous if they go on for too long. However, they do succinctly illustrate just how puny we are in the grand scheme of things. In many ways it also illustrates how little we actually know compared to what there is to know. There are more objects out there than we can find names for so must of the stuff is assigned a numerical and letter designation that no one can remember.

James Williams


Video brought here courtesy of Harry Evett

Published on Sep 15, 2017

Stars in our Universe can get unimaginably giant, but one thing that beats them is Black Holes. In this video, we compare these magnificent objects’ size with the Earth, Sun, and even the entire Solar System to give a perspective on how truly large Black Holes are.

Music: Fall of the Solar King by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (…)


Fermi Paradox: Where Are the Aliens?

Posted on 01/06/2018

By Elizabeth Howell, Contributor


The Fermi Paradox seeks to answer the question of where the aliens are. Given that our star and Earth are part of a young planetary system compared to the rest of the universe — and that interstellar travel might be fairly easy to achieve — the theory says that Earth should have been visited by aliens already.

As the story goes, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, most famous for creating the first nuclear reactor, came up with the theory with a casual lunchtime remark in 1950. The implications, however, have had extraterrestrial researchers scratching their heads in the decades since.

“Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an immodest amount of imperial incentive could rapidly colonize the entire galaxy,” the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California, said on its website. “Within ten million years, every star system could be brought under the wing of empire. Ten million years may sound long, but in fact it’s quite short compared with the age of the galaxy, which is roughly ten thousand million years. Colonization of the Milky Way should be a quick exercise.”


Fermi reportedly made the initial remark, but he died in 1954. Publication fell to other people, such as Michael Hart, who wrote an article titled “An Explanation for the Absence of Extraterrestrials on Earth” in the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Quarterly Journal in 1975. (Some say this is the first such paper to explore the Fermi paradox, although this claim is a bit hard to prove.)

“We observe that no intelligent beings from outer space are now present on Earth,” Hart wrote in the abstract. “It is suggested that this fact can best be explained by the hypothesis that there are no other advanced civilizations in our galaxy.” He noted, however, that more research in biochemistry, planetary formation and atmospheres was needed to better narrow down the answer.

While Hart was more of the opinion that we were the only advanced civilization in the galaxy (he argued that in Earth’s history, somebody could have visited us already unless they started their journey less than two million years ago), he outlined four arguments exploring the paradox:

1) Aliens never came because of a physical difficulty “that makes space travel infeasible,” which could be related to astronomy, biology or engineering.

2) Aliens chose never to come to Earth.

3) Advanced civilizations arose too recently for aliens to reach us.

4) Aliens have visited Earth in the past, but we have not observed them.

The argument has been challenged on many grounds. “Maybe star travel is not feasible, or maybe nobody chooses to colonize the galaxy, or maybe we were visited long ago and the evidence is buried with the dinosaurs — but the idea has become entrenched in thinking about alien civilizations,” wrote Fermi paradox researcher Robert H. Gray in a 2016 Scientific American blog post.

Frank Tipler, a professor of physics at Tulane University, followed up on the argument in 1980 with a paper titled “Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist,” also published in the RAS Quarterly Journal. The bulk of his paper dealt with how to get resources for interstellar travel, which he suggested could be achieved by having some kind of self-replicating artificial intelligence moving from star system to star system and create copies using materials there.

Since these beings aren’t on Earth, Tipler argued we are likely the only intelligence out there. He also said that those who believe in extraterrestrial intelligence are similar those who think about UFOs, because both camps believe “we are going to be saved from ourselves by some miraculous interstellar intervention.”

Today, the topic of extraterrestrial intelligence is a popular one, with several papers appearing every year from different researchers. It’s also been fueled by the discovery of exoplanets.


Plentiful planets

The universe is incredibly vast and old. One estimate says the universe spans 92 billion light-years in diameter (while growing faster and faster). Separate measurements indicate it is about 13.82 billion years old. At first blush, this would give alien civilizations plenty of time to propagate, but then they would have a cosmic distance barrier to cross before getting too far into space.

Fermi first formed his theory long before scientists found planets outside of our solar system. There are now more than 3,000 confirmed planets, with more being found frequently. The sheer number of planets that we have found outside of our solar system indicates that life could be plentiful.


NASA Is Actually Sending a Helicopter to Mars: Here’s What It Will Do

Posted on 13/05/2018

By Sarah Lewin, Associate Editor | May 12, 2018

NASA will include a small, autonomous helicopter in the agency’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, officials announced today (May 11).

The craft will undergo a 30-day test campaign once it reaches the Red Planet to demonstrate the viability of travel above the Martian surface with a heavier-than-air craft.

“NASA has a proud history of firsts,” NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement. “The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery and exploration missions to Mars.” [Red Planet Express: 10 Ways Robots Move on Mars]

The Mars Helicopter’s development began in 2013 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. It’s just under 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms), and its body is about the size of a softball, NASA officials said in the statement. It will carry solar cells to charge up in the light of the sun and a heating mechanism to endure cold nights on the Red Planet.

Space Helo4

The helicopter’s twin blades will whirl at about 10 times the rate of a helicopter’s blades on Earth — at 3,000 rpm — to stay aloft in Mars’ thin atmosphere.

“The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet [12,000 meters],” MiMi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, said in the statement. “The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it’s already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet [30,000 m] up.

“To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be,” she added.

Mars 2020 is slated to launch in July of that year on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and the mission should arrive at Mars in February 2021. The six-wheeled rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments as well as sites that may have once hosted microbial life, examining the Red Planet with 23 cameras, a microphone and a drill to collect samples.


The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the rover’s belly pan, officials said. Once the rover reaches the planet’s surface, it will place the helicopter on the ground and move to a safe distance to relay commands; controllers on Earth will direct it to take its first autonomous flight.

“We don’t have a pilot, and Earth will be several light-minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” Aung said. “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”

The helicopter will attempt up to five flights, going farther and operating for longer each time — up to a few hundred meters and 90 seconds, officials said. It will also climb to 10 feet (3 m) and hover for about 30 seconds.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project, according to NASA: If the helicopter fails, it won’t affect the rest of the Mars 2020 rover’s mission, but if it succeeds, the agency will have a powerful new tool to survey the planet and access currently unreachable locations.

“Exploring the Red Planet with NASA’s Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in the statement. “After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world.

“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” he added. “We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”

Email Sarah Lewin at or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Google+. Original article on


Real space exploration has always been a thrill for me. I was first inspired when my parents bought me a small telescope which I used to peer at the Eastern sky from my bedroom window. Then there was the wonderful series of Eagle comics that were full of great cartoon strips and engaging factual content. It was in the Eagle that I first learned about Tsunamis and what we knew of space and our solar system. Did anybody else read Eagle?


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A Star Grazed Our Solar System 70,000 Years Ago, and Early Humans Likely Saw It

Posted on 04/05/2018

Some distant objects in our solar system bear the gravitational imprint of a small star’s close flyby 70,000 years ago, when modern humans were already walking the Earth, a new study suggests.

In 2015, a team of researchers announced that a red dwarf called Scholz’s star apparently grazed the solar system 70,000 years ago, coming closer than 1 light-year to the sun. For perspective, the sun’s nearest stellar neighbor these days, Proxima Centauri, lies about 4.2 light-years away. The astronomers came to this conclusion by measuring the motion and velocity of Scholz’s star — which zooms through space with a smaller companion, a brown dwarf or “failed star” — and extrapolating backward in time.

Scholz’s star passed by the solar system at a time when early humans and Neanderthals shared the Earth. The star likely appeared as a faint reddish light to anyone looking up at the time, researchers with the new study said. [Top 10 Star Mysteries] star Grazer

The new study bolsters the 2015 analysis with a different type of evidence. A research team led by Carlos de la Fuente Marcos, of the Complutense University of Madrid, analyzed 339 known solar system bodies with hyperbolic orbits — paths through space that are V-shaped, rather than circular or elliptical.

Objects on hyperbolic orbits could theoretically have come from interstellar space, just like ‘Oumuamua, the first known solar system visitor born around another star. But they could also be natives nudged onto weird tracks by gravitational interactions with the sun or some of its planets. And denizens of the Oort Cloud — a frigid ring far from the sun that’s home to trillions of comets — could even be “perturbed” by the Milky Way’s disk, or wandering stars that get too close.

“Using numerical simulations, we have calculated the radiants or positions in the sky from which all these hyperbolic objects seem to come,” de la Fuente Marcos said in a statement.

“In principle, one would expect those positions to be evenly distributed in the sky, particularly if these objects come from the Oort Cloud,” he added. “However, what we find is very different: a statistically significant accumulation of radiants. The pronounced over-density appears projected in the direction of the constellation of Gemini, which fits the close encounter with Scholz’s star.”

star Grazer2

‘Oumuamua is not among the Gemini group, so that bizarre, needle-shaped object really does seem to have come from another star system, the researchers added. They also flagged eight other bodies that may be interstellar interlopers, including Comet ISON, which broke apart during a highly anticipated close pass by the sun in November 2013.

The new study was published online last month in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. You can read it for free at the online preprint site

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Scientists Create Superionic ‘Space’ Water

Posted on 22/04/2018

Scientists have created a new form of water, called superionic ice, which is both a solid and a liquid. The “strange” matter doesn’t exist anywhere on Earth, but could be found on Uranus and Neptune. Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Lab at the University of California carried out a series of “laser-driven shock-compression experiments” and shared their findings in a study published in Nature Physics journal.

First theorised almost 30 years ago, this is the only time that direct evidence for superionic ice has been found. Experts used powerful lasers to heat pressurised ice in the lab, recreating the conditions needed to form the strange substance here on Earth. Studying it could lead to the development of new materials in the future with unique and unforeseen properties, as well as furthering our understanding of the cosmos.

Scientists believe superionic ice exists deep under the surface of planets like Uranus and Neptune. A research team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Rochester, are behind the findings. ‘Superionic’ refers to water that has both solid and liquid properties, which happens when water is placed under extreme pressure and heat. To achieve this, the team exerted pressure more than a million times that of Earth’s atmosphere on water. This was achieved by pushing it through two layers of diamond to create a form of ice called ice seven (ice VII). First discovered in 2016, it remains solid at room temperature. Laser pulses were passed through this material, which heated it and created shock waves throughout the material. These extreme conditions, which only occur naturally in otherworldly environments , were enough to produce the superionic ice.

Lead author Marius Source:…

This Ice Is Nearly As Hot As the Sun.

From Live Science

Basic Features of superionic ice:

  • It’s both solid and liquid,
  • It’s 60 times denser than ordinary water ice
  • It forms at temperatures almost as hot as the sun’s surface.
  • This high-pressure form of water ice has long been thought to exist in the interiors of  Uranus and Neptune. But until now, its existence was only theoretical.
Superionic Ice


“Our work provides experimental evidence for superionic ice and shows that these predictions were not due to artifacts in the simulations, but actually captured the extraordinary behavior of water at those conditions,” Marius Millot, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said in a statement from the laboratory. Millot was the leader author of a new study describing the work.

Scientists first predicted the existence of a weird water phase that makes the substance both solid and liquid at the same time 30 years ago. It’s also way denser than ordinary water ice because it forms only under extreme heat and pressure, such as those found inside giant planets. During the superionic phase, the hydrogen and oxygen within water molecules behave bizarrely; hydrogen ions move like a liquid, inside of a solid crystal lattice of oxygen. [The Surprisingly Strange Physics of Water]

Making the ice was complicated. First, the team compressed water into an ultrastrong cubic crystalline ice, in a different crystal form than what you see in ordinary ice cubes. To do that, the researchers used diamond anvil cells to apply 360,000 pounds per square inch (2.5 gigapascals (GPa) of pressure; that’s about 25,000 times the atmospheric pressure on Earth). Next, the researchers heated and compressed the cells even further, using laser-driven shocks. Each crystal ice structure received up to six laser beams of more than 100 times that high pressure.

“Because we pre-compressed the water, there is less shock-heating than if we shock-compressed ambient liquid water,” Millot said. The new method lets researchers “access much colder states at high pressure than in previous shock-compression studies.”

Once the superionic ice was ready, the team moved quickly to analyze its optical and thermodynamic properties. They had only 10 to 20 nanoseconds to perform the work, before pressure waves released the compression, and the water dissolved. And the results were bizarre. They found that the ice melts at an extraordinary 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit (4,725 degrees Celsius ) at 29 million pounds per square inch (200 GPa) of pressure. That pressure is about 2 million times the atmospheric pressure on Earth.

“It’s … mind-boggling that frozen water ice is present at thousands of degrees inside these planets, but that’s what the experiments show,” Raymond Jeanloz, a co-author of the study and planetary physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in the same statement.

The new findings could provide a peek inside the interiors of planets such as Uranus and Neptune. Planetary scientists suggest these worlds’ innards are composed of up to 65 percent water by mass, plus some ammonia and methane.


Previous work suggested these planets would have “fully fluid” heat-transferring interiors, but the addition of superionic ice changes the picture. The new research instead proposes “a relatively thin layer of fluid and a large ‘mantle’ of superionic ice,” the researchers said in the



That picture of the mini-giant planets’ interiors would confirm a computer simulation performed a decade ago that tried to explain the weird magnetic fields at Uranus and Neptune. Uranus’ magnetic field is tilted 59 degrees away from the planet’s axis. Neptune’s magnetic poles have a roughly 47-degree tilt. This is extreme compared with Earth, which has only an 11-degree tilt. Their magnetic fields also may behave differently; for example, Uranus’ field may turn on and off like a strobe.


More detailed study of these planets will have to wait until a spacecraft is available. Fortunately, NASA is proposing a Uranus and/or Neptune spacecraft that would zoom out to these planets sometime in the next few decades. Meanwhile, the experimenters plan to push their compression further to simulate conditions inside of even larger giant planets, such as Jupiter or Saturn.


A study based on the research was published in February in the journal Nature Physics.


Original article on Live Science.


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