Science Saturday Author: Will in ChicagoDate:2014-07-19 11:53:49
While the news on Easth, from Israel and Gaza to the Ukraine and beyond is often depressing, there is indeed more to existence than our world. Today, as a change from our look at the problems of our world, I thought that we would look at some science news.
The search for planets beyound our own solar system is heating up. I wonder how soon we will find evidence for life beyond our own world?
It's a time of amazing discovery in the hunt for planets in other solar systems. Over the past six months, more than 700 exoplanets have been found. It seems that each week brings the announcement of another foreign world: a rocky orb that seems much like Earth except that it's 17 times more massive; a colossal planet that orbits its star at a whopping 2,000 times the distance between Earth and our sun; an Earth-like planet in a two-sun system.
On July 9, three astrophysicists — Zachory Berta-Thompson, Bruce Macintosh and Marie-Eve Naud — came together to discuss this explosion in exoplanet discovery in a live webcast hosted by The Kavli Foundation, part of a continuing series that gives viewers a chance to ask questions of scientists at the forefront of some of the world's most exciting research. (To keep up to date on future webcasts, follow the foundation on Twitter: @KavliFoundation)"What is really fascinating at this stage of exoplanet science is that we have many methods, and all the methods can help to find given planets — planets with certain characteristics — and bring different information," said Naud, a University of Montreal Ph.D. student who led a recent study that discovered a strange gas giant exoplanet called GU Pisces b. "When we are able to combine different methods, we are able to see so much more."Combining planet-hunting methods has not only enabled the recent explosion in exoplanet discovery , but has also increased what can be inferred about each planet. Scientists are now able to determine an exoplanet's characteristics including its size, mass and density, as well as the chemical make-up of the planet and its atmosphere.
Zachory Berta-Thompson, Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Research at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, exoplanetsPin It Zachory Berta-Thompson is the Torres Fellow for Exoplanetary Research at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. He hunts for exoplanets as a member of the MEarth Project, a survey to find small planets orbiting the closest, smallest stars.
What's especially exciting about identifying these chemicals is that they "can tell you things like the history of the planet — how it formed," said Macintosh, a member of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and the principal investigator for the Gemini Planet Imager. "We think we understand enough about the process that formed planets in our solar system to see that it left a chemical signature in the atmosphere of, say, Jupiter and we can try to look for that same chemical signature in the atmosphere of other planets."
NASA is optimistic that we may find planets capable of supporting life soon.
It's highly unlikely we're alone in the universe, NASA experts are saying, and we may be close to finding alien life. In fact, it may happen in the next two decades.
NASA held a panel discussion at the agency's Washington headquarters on Monday, where space experts talked about the search for Earth-like planets that host life. Based on recent advancements in space telescope technology, scientists estimated that in the coming decades we'll confirm suspicions that we're not alone.
"I think in the next 20 years we will find out we are not alone in the universe," NASA astronomer Kevin Hand said in footage filmed at the discussion and posted on YouTube.
ASA Administrator Charles Bolden echoed Hand's sentiment.
"It's highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone," he said.
Just this year, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope picked up on an Earth-like planet in the "habitable zone" of another star. At the time, the observation of the planet, Kepler-186f, was hailed as the first discovery of an Earth-size planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun.
I didn’t think that the release today of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report would bring significant news about California. As the report says, with much of the state categorized as being in extreme or exceptional drought, and May through September being normally dry anyway, “there is not much more room for further deterioration, at least during the dry season.”
But the report does contain significant news about the continuing profound drought in California: The past year — from July 2013 through June 2014 — has been the warmest and third driest since 1895. And according to the Drought Monitor:
The only drier July-June periods were in 1923-24 and 1976-77. This is the first time nes Reservoir in California is seen in this animation of Landsat imagesorer). The first was acquired on July 8, 2002, after a wet season that brought just slightly less precipitation than average. The second is from Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Source: USGS Earth ExplCalifornia experienced 3 consecutive years in the top 20 for dryness: 2011-12 ranked 20th, 2012-13 ranked 18th, and statewide precipitation has averaged 67% of normal during this 3-year period, and was just 56% of normal in 2013-14.
The only silver lining is that “California’s reservoirs hold more water than they did in 1977, when the state experienced its 4th and 2nd driest years on record from July 1975-June 1977,” the report states.
While being amazed at the wonders of the universe, we can still focus on problems on our world. I think that we have the time and courage to do both.