Thursday, 20 April 2017

World may end on March 16, 2880, but 99.988 per cent chance it won't

The Rock is due to fly past Earth today

The asteroid most likely, the 1.3km wide Asteroid 29075, is likely to pass close to Earth on March 16, 2880. Barring miraculous advances in medical science, none of us are likely to be around, but even so, we'd like to feel the Earth can survive the close encounter.

Feel secure then, as it is estimated that only the probability of impact is one chance in 8300, or 99.988 per cent chance the asteroid will miss.

Asteroid talk has come to the fore again, following the announcement that The Rock  - also known as Asteroid 2014 JO25 will pass with the distance of four moon orbits of Earth (or about 1.8 million kilometres away) later today (Thursday, 20 April 2017)

However, it is not seen as much of a threat, even less than 29075.

In any case, the Planetary Defence Council (sounds like something from The Three Body Problem) is running a simulation in May to prepare us for defending against a catastrophic asteroid collision.

Let's hope they do better than Liu Cixin's characters manage!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Tassie tricked by the light

When a beautiful Hobart sunrise added an orange light to a jetliner's contrail, some Tasmanians thought an alien invasion was on the way.

Many believed the "fireball" was an alien spacecraft falling to Earth. Cynics are lining up with jokes as to why aliens would invade Tasmania. Others believed it was a giant meteor.

However, flight tracker data shows Emirates flight EK448 passing over Hobart at that time, and the government said it was just the plane's contrail, caught in the light.

Nonetheless, panic spread amongst some Taswegians with some noting on YouTube that it was a conspiracy with Prep Aussie saying: Folks it shore as hell "IS NOT" a plane. I have tested it and it comes back positive as 100% a meteor!! God Bless.PREP

Hopefully the Emirates plane won't be bringing Armageddon anytime soon.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Seven Sisters offer best chance to find alien life

Three of the seven planets have suitable conditions for life. Credit: NASA

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has found a system of seven Earth-size planets around a single cool dwarf star.

As many as three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water. In fact, all seven might have water - they key to potential alien life.

NASA says this is the largest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside the one we all know and love - Sol.

The ultra-cool dwarf star is called Trappist-1 and in contrast to our sun, it classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun.

The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Super pollution in ocean trenches: what may evolve below?

One trope of science fiction is that pollution can cause mutations in animals and fish that result in gigantic, terrifying monsters.

These monsters have a propensity to swim up to the surface and wreak havoc on unsuspecting coastal dwellers, often on the Japanese archipelago or the Pacific Rim.

Korea has also been "host" to some gruesome examples. Just have a look at the video below.

What then the news that deep ocean trenches have 50 times more industrial toxins than the infamously polluted Chinese river systems.

Analysis of tiny crustaceans has proven this in a recent Nature (Ecology and Evolution) journal. The evolution part of the title is worrying.

What evil might rise from the deeply polluted deep?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Europa exploration more likely following NASA report

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA has is now talking openly about a trip to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, following the recent release of a report on a future mission.

In 20013, the Hubble telescope observed water vapour fuming from the surface, making it an exciting exploratory target. Scientific findings from other sources also pointed to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust.

In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division (SDT) began study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission.

In June 2016, NASA convened a 21-member team of scientists for the SDT. Since then, the team has deliberated to define a workable and worthy set of science objectives and measurements for the mission concept, submitting a report to NASA on February 7.

The report lists three science goals for the mission.

The primary goal is to search for evidence of life on Europa. The other goals are to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analysing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean. The report also describes some of the notional instruments that could be expected to perform measurements in support of these goals.

Scientists agree that the evidence is quite strong that Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon, has a global saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust. This ocean has at least twice as much water as Earth’s oceans. While recent discoveries have shown that many bodies in the solar system either have subsurface oceans now, or may have in the past, Europa is one of only two places where the ocean is understood to be in contact with a rocky seafloor (the other being Saturn's moon Enceladus).

This rare circumstance makes Europa one of the highest priority targets in the search for present-day life beyond Earth.

The concept lander is separate from the solar-powered Europa multiple flyby mission, now in development for launch in the early 2020s. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a multi-year journey, orbiting the gas giant every two weeks for a series of 45 close flybys of Europa. The multiple flyby mission will investigate Europa’s habitability by mapping its composition, determining the characteristics of the ocean and ice shell, and increasing our understanding of its geology. The mission also will lay the foundation for a future landing by performing detailed reconnaissance using its powerful cameras.

See below for a video on NASA's plans to explore the under-ice ocean of Europa.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Life - but certainly not as we know it

Watch the new trailer for Life, the alien horror thriller directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare (pictured above). It is due to be released next month.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

CSIRO makes Plasteel from soybeans

Study co-author Dr Dong Han Seo with the new graphene film Credit: CSIRO

The CSIRO has developed a new form of graphene 200 times stronger than steel and more conductive than copper.

And it has made it from soybean oil.

This development may lead to large scale commercial development of a super strong building material (such as the idea of Plasteel from Dune, which was later borrowed by Star Wars). Graphene is made of a layer of tightly-packed carbon and as well as being super strong, it is extremely light.

This method using cheap, easily available ingredients and a simple lab-based method means the material is likely to become more freely available, opening its use up for many new applications.

Space travel seems a certain starter, as weight is a crucial consideration in getting space vehicles into orbit.

It is also likely to be used in electronics, energy storage devices, supercapacitors, solar cells and medicine.

The team of Australian scientists, led by study co-author Dr Zhao Jun Han of the CSIRO, have published the results of the research in the journal Nature Communications.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Earth's cousin found circling red dwarf

Artist’s impression of GJ 1132b as it circles a red dwarf star. Image credit: Dana Berry.
The Astrophysical Journal has published an article for review that suggests a planet with some Earth like qualities has been found a mere 39 light years away.

New observations of red dwarf Wolf~1061, known to host three super-Earths, have shown it has radius, temperature and luminosity, in the range that may support planets similar to Earth. One such planet under observation is GJ-1132-b.

“We have shown that an Earth-mass planet is capable of sustaining a thick atmosphere,” says John Southworth, lecturer in astrophysics at Keele University in England and lead author on the discovery paper, in a Scientific American article.

“This is one step towards investigating whether a planet could host life.”

The researchers believe GJ-1132-b could include methane and water, and say bigger telescopes will be able to capture higher resolution images of the light passing through the planet’s atmosphere, enabling it to detect more of its components.

Tricky hatch blamed for three Apollo 1 astronaut deaths

The astronauts practise exiting the capsule. Unfortunately, during the fire, the hatch was too tricky to open in time. Credit: NASA
A fatal design flaw in Apollo 1 led to the deaths 50 years ago of three pioneering astronauts: veteran Gus Grissom, the first American spacewalker Ed White, and rookie Roger Chaffee.

They never made it off the launch pad when fire started in the capsule during a pre-launch test.

The crew couldn't open the capsule's three-part hatch and emergency rescue teams were too late to save them from smoke inhalation.

The problem hatch is now on display for visitors to at Kennedy Space Centre as part of a memorial and to serve as a reminder of the risks of spaceflight.

Former Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford spoke at the memorial ceremony, saying that if the accident had occurred in space, they would never have known exactly what happened.

The deaths of these "three great heroes ... helped save at least one other in flight, maybe two," he added.

Investigators discovered several problems with the Apollo capsule design that led to the fire, including an electrical wiring issue, a pure-oxygen environment and flammable materials throughout the crew cabin.

The subsequent investigation led to major design and engineering changes, making the later Apollo trips safer, eventually resulting in the moon landing in 1969.

NASA has uploaded a video and online memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the event.

The new hatch devised after the accident, which could be opened from the inside with a couple of simple actions. Credit: NASA