New Brown Dwarf discovered



Close neighbor of the Sun and the coldest of its kind
25 April 2014

Artist's conception of the brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5. The Sun is the bright star directly to the right of the brown dwarf. Credit: Robert Hurt/JPL, Janella Williams/Penn State University [Click to enlarge image]

Artist’s conception of the brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5. The Sun is the bright star directly to the right of the brown dwarf.
Credit: Robert Hurt/JPL, Janella Williams/Penn State University
[Click to enlarge image]

A “brown dwarf” star that appears to be the coldest of its kind — as frosty as Earth’s North Pole — has been discovered by a Penn State University astronomer using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescopes. Images from the space telescopes also pinpointed the object’s distance at 7.2 light-years away, making it the fourth closest system to our Sun.

“It is very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close,” said Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a researcher in the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. “In addition, its extreme temperature should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures.”

Brown dwarfs start their lives like stars, as collapsing balls of gas, but they lack the mass to burn nuclear fuel and radiate starlight. The newfound coldest brown dwarf, named WISE J085510.83-071442.5, has a chilly temperature between minus 54 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48 to minus 13 degrees Celsius). Previous record holders for coldest brown dwarfs, also found by WISE and Spitzer, were about room temperature.

Although it is very close to our solar system, WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is not an appealing destination for human space travel in the distant future. “Any planets that might orbit it would be much too cold to support life as we know it” Luhman said.

“This object appeared to move really fast in the WISE data,” said Luhman. “That told us it was something special.” The closer a body, the more it appears to move in images taken months apart. Airplanes are a good example of this effect: a closer, low-flying plane will appear to fly overhead more rapidly than a high-flying one.

WISE was able to spot the rare object because it surveyed the entire sky twice in infrared light, observing some areas up to three times. Cool objects like brown dwarfs can be invisible when viewed by visible-light telescopes, but their thermal glow — even if feeble — stands out in infrared light.

After noticing the fast motion of WISE J085510.83-071442.5 in March, 2013, Luhman spent time analyzing additional images taken with Spitzer and the Gemini South telescope on Cerro Pachon in Chile. Spitzer’s infrared observations helped to determine the frosty temperature of the brown dwarf.

WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is estimated to be 3 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter. With such a low mass, it could be a gas giant similar to Jupiter that was ejected from its star system. But scientists estimate it is probably a brown dwarf rather than a planet since brown dwarfs are known to be fairly common. If so, it is one of the least massive brown dwarfs known.

Combined detections from WISE and Spitzer, taken from different positions around the Sun, enabled the measurement of its distance through the parallax effect. This is the same principle that explains why your finger, when held out right in front of you, appears to jump from side to side when you alternate left-eye and right-eye views.

In March of 2013, Luhman’s analysis of the images from WISE uncovered a pair of much warmer brown dwarfs at a distance of 6.5 light years, making that system the third closest to the Sun. His search for rapidly moving bodies also demonstrated that the outer solar system probably does not contain a large, undiscovered planet, which has been referred to as “Planet X” or “Nemesis.”

“It is remarkable that even after many decades of studying the sky, we still do not have a complete inventory of the Sun’s nearest neighbors,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for Spitzer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages and operates Spitzer. “This exciting new result demonstrates the power of exploring the universe using new tools, such as the infrared eyes of WISE and Spitzer.”–+ScienceDaily%29

Beyond the Universe


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The Watchers online
Laura Mersini-Houghton
10 Feb 2014

SpaceImageNASAW5 Star Formation Region. Image credit: NASA / JPL / CfA.

Might there be more than one universe? If so, we need to rethink our notions of the cosmos.

For two weeks every summer, my parents rented a holiday apartment by the beach in Vlora, an old coastal town along the Adriatic. It was known as Aulona in Greek and Roman times, and was a special place to visit even during 1980s communist Albania. Aulona’s spirit, imprinted on the traditions, superstitions, and landscape of the place, floats outside of time. The town is guarded by a rugged terrain of high mountains, turquoise waters, and black rocks, which blend into silence at sunset. It is a place to dream absurd dreams.

My favorite evening activity was to sit on the deserted sand alone. I watched waves linger at the soundless horizon before breaking rhythmically onto the shore. As night fell, I waited until the line dividing sky and sea blurred away and all boundaries vanished. Of course everybody knew that the world beyond the horizon was strictly forbidden to those of us behind the Iron Curtain. But, sitting in the dark, I was free to imagine. Were kids on the other side of the Adriatic equally enchanted by the edge of the sky we shared? Eventually my dad would come over and, without reprimand, sit on the sand next to me. Then it was the two of us in a hushed conversation with the sky. Before long, he would speak, telling me it was time to leave, and the gentle spell of the sea and the sky would break.

Twenty years later, in 2009, I sat with a few dozen other scientists in a room at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge to watch the launch of the Planck satellite. A muffled buzz filled the room with cautious excitement. Casual conversation would be interrupted by concern over pauses in the live transmission. When the countdown began, the room fell eerily quiet, and with lift-off came deep cheers and loud applause.

Planck was on its way to measure the gentle glow of light left over from the fiery birth of our universe, called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The CMB is a detailed fingerprint that allows us to cast our gaze onto the first few moments of our universe’s existence, and to cast light onto some very ancient questions: where are we from, and how did we get here? (see The Standard Model)

Four years into its mission, the Planck collaboration released the most finely detailed map of the CMB ever measured. In its details was a bombshell: anomalies in the distribution of the CMB brightness that could not be the result of anything in our own universe. Here was an empirically observed hidden code pointing to a rich and vast cosmos, in which our own universe is but one humble member. The limits of our range of exploration had suddenly grown immensely. We were at the shore of the multiverse.

Contemplating the existence of other universes is not a new endeavour. From prehistoric times to the present day, this possibility has sparked the imagination of philosophers, writers, and scientists. But for most of history, it was not an idea that was taken seriously. Philosophically, it was an unnecessary complication, one that simply pushed the mystery of our origins to a new layer of reality that was unobservable in principle. And, since a theory needs to be falsifiable in order to be scientific, many scientists did not see the multiverse as “real” science.

Aesthetically, too, the multiverse was not attractive. Scientists believed nature to be simple and economical. One universe was plenty, so why bother with more?

As our scientific understanding developed, however, it became clear that the multiverse is an unavoidable prediction of our theories of nature, ones that we trust and cherish: quantum mechanics, inflation, and string theory. Today, in the face of the inertia and prejudice of the past, the multiverse is finally entering the realm of serious scientific research. (continued)

A lengthy article but well worth reading; click here to continue.

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Nautilus. Written by Laura Mersini-Houghton – Professor of Physics at the University of North Carolina.

One way to terraform a planet


Shell-Worlds: How Humanity Could Terraform Small Planets


Engineer Ken Roy envisions someday encasing small planets inside artificial shells to retain their atmosphere and provide an Earth-like environment. This could provide a shortcut for terraforming, the process of redesigning a planet’s surface to be more hospitable for human habitation.

Full Story: Incredible Technology: How to Use ‘Shells’ to Terraform a Planet:

Mars or perhaps a moon in another solar system could be encased in a shell of dirt, steel and Kevlar fiber. With air pressure raised to a safe level and enough oxygen in the atmosphere, people could live freely on the surface. A small planet would have low enough gravity to allow for human-powered flight.

Lighting would be artificial since the shell could not admit sunlight. Heavy industry would be located on the outside of the shell, in the vacuum of space. Airlocks in the shell would allow spaceships to enter and land.

NASA spots massive coronal hole on sun


ku-xlargePhoto: ESA & NASA/SOHO. Taken on July 18.

NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has captured images of an unusually large coronal hole on the surface of the Sun. At one point, it was so large that it covered nearly a quarter of the Sun’s visible disk — a distance equivalent to 50 Earths placed side-by-side.

As dramatic as this sounds, coronal holes are nothing to worry about. The phenomenon happens every 11 years as the solar cycle comes to an end and the Sun attains its solar maximum — a regularly occurring event in which the magnetic fields on the Sun reverse and new coronal holes appear near the poles with the opposite magnetic alignment.

These holes are dark, low density regions located in the outermost region of the atmosphere. They contain little solar material and are significantly cooler than their surroundings, which gives them their darker appearance.

According to NASA, coronal holes can influence some aurora on Earth. After magnetic forces open them up, they spew solar material at roughly twice the speed found on other parts of the solar surface.

[Via NASA]

Coronal rain on the sun



Astronomy Picture of the Day
26 February 2013

Does it rain on the Sun? Yes, although what falls is not water but extremely hot plasma. An example occurred in mid-July 2012 after an eruption on the Sun that produced both a Coronal Mass Ejection and a moderate solar flare. What was more unusual, however, was what happened next. Plasma in the nearby solar corona was imaged cooling and falling back, a phenomenon known as coronal rain. Because they are electrically charged, electrons, protons, and ions in the rain were gracefully channeled along existing magnetic loops near the Sun’s surface, making the scene appear as a surreal three-dimensional sourceless waterfall. The resulting surprisingly-serene spectacle is shown in ultraviolet light and highlights matter glowing at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. Each second in the above time lapse video takes about 6 minutes in real time, so that the entire coronal rain sequence lasted about 10 hours.

Video Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory, SVS, GSFC, NASA; Music: Thunderbolt by Lars Leonhard

As spectacularly beautiful as the coronal rain is — and it is indeed, God’s marvelous handiwork that has gone on for many thousands of years with no human able to enjoy it — I am amazed at the technology that brought this video to me. The satellite observatory that holds the camera. The beams that sent the images back to earth. The scientists and administrators that decided to share these images with the world. The internet that enabled them to do it. The computer on my desk with the color screen that allows me to view it.

Daniel 12:4 “… many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

Knowledge. Data. Information. Whatever is learned, discovered or invented on earth was inspired in men by God, whether or not they acknowledge it. Some of it is practical; the study of our star is quite practical in the minds of scientists. The survival of our species, our entire solar system, may depend on it.

But some is also wonderfully beautiful, great art, great music, great images of space, and of the coronal rain.

For more fascinating information and images, visit Solar Dynamics Observatory:

Company to unveil fleet of asteroid-mining ships for deep-space colonies


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22 January 2013

Deep Space Industries Inc. plans to tap the many resources asteroids harbor

asteroid-mining-deep-space-industriesThe new asteroid-mining company launches Tuesday (01/22/13) with the goal of helping humanity expand across the solar system by tapping the vast riches of space rocks.

The new firm announced that it plans to launch a fleet of prospecting spacecraft in 2015, then begin harvesting metals and water from near-Earth asteroids within a decade or so. Such work could make it possible to build and refuel spacecraft far above our planet’s surface, thus helping our species get a foothold in the final frontier.

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” Deep Space CEO David Gump said in a statement. Deep Space Industries will hold a press conference today in Santa Monica, Calif., at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST/1800 GMT) to unveil more details of its bold mission plan; you can watch the webcast live at

“More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year,” Gump explained. “They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century — a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.” [How Asteroid Mining Could Work (Infographic)]

Deep Space is the second company to jump into the asteroid-mining business. The first, the billionaire-backed firm Planetary Resources, had its own unveiling last April.

Prospecting spacecraft and asteroid sample-return

Deep Space will inspect potential mining targets with 55-pound spacecraft it calls FireFlies, the first of which are targeted for launch in 2015.

FireFlies will conduct asteroid reconnaissance on the cheap. They’ll be made from low-cost “cubesat” components and will hitch a ride to space aboard rockets that also carry large communications satellites, Deep Space officials said.

“We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before,” Deep Space chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a statement. “Imagine a production line of FireFlies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth.”

The FireFlies’ work will pave the way for 70-pound spacecraft called DragonFlies, which will blast off beginning in 2016. DragonFlies will bring asteroid samples back to Earth during missions that last two to four years. Some samples will help the company determine mining targets, while others will probably be sold to researchers and collectors, officials said.

The public will get to fly along with both probes, whose activities will likely be funded in some measure by corporate sponsorship, Deep Space officials said.

“The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers and other innovative ways to open the doors wide,” Gump said. “The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing.”

Building and refueling spacecraft off Earth

These activities are all precursors to Deep Space’s ultimate goal, which is the harvesting and in-space utilization of asteroid resources.

The company intends to begin extracting metals and other building materials from space rocks within 10 years, officials said. These components will first be used to build communications satellites off-Earth, with the construction of space-based solar power stations coming later. Precious metals such as platinum will also be delivered to Earth for terrestrial use.

Deep Space’s construction activities will be aided by a patent-pending 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry, officials said.

“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density, high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” company co-founder and MicroGravity Foundry inventor Stephen Covey said in a statement. “Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength.”

Deep Space Industries will also focus on extracting asteroid water, which can be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen — the chief components of rocket fuel. The company’s mining efforts could thus lead to the establishment of in-space “gas stations” that allow satellites and journeying spacecraft to top up their tanks relatively cheaply and efficiently.

“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there,” Tumlinson said. “This is the Deep Space mission — to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth — and doing so in a step-by-step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity.”

asteroid-resources-mining-120424d-02Deep Space Industries’ ambitions are similar to those of Planetary Resources, which also plans to tap asteroid metals and water to help open the solar system up to exploration and exploitation.

Planetary Resources could prove to be a tough competitor. It was founded by private-spaceflight pioneers Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, and its deep-pocketed investors include Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

Re legal issues / ownership, see

Also see

Applications for Mars colonists


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Mars Landers, April 2023

Dream of going to space but don’t feel like putting in the work to become a NASA astronaut? Here’s your chance to possibly make that fantasy come true. Mars One, a Netherlands-based nonprofit, is seeking volunteers to help colonize the Red Planet, according to Mashable.

To meet an aggressive goal of putting people on Mars by 2023, Mars One released its basic astronaut requirements on January 8. Rather than recruiting scientists or pilots, the organization says it will consider anyone, so long as they are at least 18 years old. Intelligence, good mental and physical health and dedication to the project are all pluses. Chosen candidates will undergo eight years of training prior to the launch.

“We are more concerned with how well each astronaut works and lives with the others, in the long journey from Earth to Mars and for a lifetime of challenges ahead,” the company founder, Norbert Kraft, said.

To prepare for the colony, Mars One plans to launch robotic cargo missions between 2016 and 2021. The robots will get busy assembling an outpost ahead of the space explorers’ arrival. Four humans will first land on Mars in 2023, followed by another group every two years following the trailblazers’ arrival. No human has ever gone to Mars or traveled that far, and the journey is expected to take seven months.

Mars One plans to fund their endeavors largely through a global reality television event following astronaut selection through the settlers’ first years on Mars. So far, the company says, more than 1,000 interested applicants have gotten in touch.

For people considering venturing into space, Mars One includes this obvious disclaimer:

No human space mission is without risks to human life. Mars and space are unforgiving environments where a small accident can result in large failures, injuries and death of the astronauts.

The move, by the way, is permanent. There are no plans to return the pioneers to Earth.

Read more:

One Size Cloaks All – Shades of Star Trek


stealth-technologyScienceDaily (Nov. 20, 2012) — A metamaterial invisibility cloak that can adapt to hide different sized objects is demonstrated by in Nature Communications this week. The findings represent a useful advance for more practical applications of metamaterial cloaking. The research is led by Yonsei University, Korea.

Metamaterials have already been shown to hide objects from electromagnetic waves by manipulating the light so that it appears to have not interacted with anything. However, these cloaks need to be redesigned and rebuilt if the shape of the object changes.

Kyoungsik Kim and colleagues now present a smart metamaterial that is able to adapt to changes in the object shape, so that a range of objects may be hidden by one cloak. The cloak is based on elastic materials, which enable it to deform around the object. At the same, the deformation alters its properties to maintain invisibility.

The team build and demonstrate cloaks for objects whose height varies over around 10mm, using microwave frequency light incident for a range of angles. They report that the object remains well hidden in all cases.

These smart metamaterial cloaks provide a new avenue to explore adaptable, real-world applications of cloaking that are not limited by the objects they hide.

(This follows up previous research – see this earlier article, reported on the same Science Daily website)

Scientists Create First Free-Standing 3-D Cloak

ScienceDaily (Jan. 26, 2012) — Researchers in the US have, for the first time, cloaked a three-dimensional object standing in free space, bringing the much-talked-about invisibility cloak one step closer to reality.

Whilst previous studies have either been theoretical in nature or limited to the cloaking of two-dimensional objects, this study shows how ordinary objects can be cloaked in their natural environment in all directions and from all of an observer’s positions.

Published Jan. 26 in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, the researchers used a method known as “plasmonic cloaking” to hide an 18-centimetre cylindrical tube from microwaves.

Here’s an interesting little article from a Star Trek sci-fi fan page regarding the subject.

A cloaking device is a form of stealth technology that uses selective bending of light (and other forms of energy) to render a starship or other object completely invisible to the electromagnetic spectrum and most sensors. It has been encountered in varying forms over the centuries.

Humanity’s earliest-known encounter with cloaking technology came in the year 1986 in San Francisco. Admiral James T. Kirk decloaked the Klingon Bird-of-Prey he was commanding to waylay and frighten some whale hunters from killing two humpback whales. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

One of humanity’s earliest exposures to cloaking technology was in April of 2151, when agents of the Suliban Cabal approached the starship Enterprise undetected and kidnapped a Klingon national named Klaang from the ship’s sickbay. The Suliban used cloaking devices on many of their ships, including the cell ships, stealth-cruisers and salvage ships. The Suliban’s cloaking technology had been given to them by their mysterious benefactor from the 29th century.

Super-Earth Planet Likely Made of Diamond
11 October 2012

Illustration of the interior of 55 Cancri e — an extremely hot planet with a surface of mostly graphite surrounding a thick layer of diamond, below which is a layer of silicon-based minerals and a molten iron core at the center. CREDIT: Haven Giguere

Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamond, astronomers say.

The alien planet, a so-called “super-Earth,” is called 55 Cancri e and was discovered in 2004 around a nearby star in our Milky Way galaxy. After estimating the planet’s mass and radius, and studying its host star’s composition, scientists now say the rocky world is composed mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.

At least a third of the planet’s mass is likely pure diamond.

“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University said in a statement. “The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”

55 Cancri e is the first likely “diamond planet” to be identified around a sun-like star, though such worlds have been theorized before. Planets like this are vastly different from our Earth, which has relatively little carbon.

“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen, but extremely poor in carbon — less than a part in thousand by mass,” said study co-author and Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee.

55 Cancri e is what’s known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as that of our own planet, and a mass eight times greater. It speeds around its host star, making a full orbit in just 18 hours (Earth takes 365 days). It is so close in to the star that its surface temperature reaches a scorching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius), making it probably way too hot for life. [Oozing Super-Earth: Images of Alien Planet 55 Cancri e]

Previous studies of this planet suggested it might actually be covered with oozing “supercritical fluids” — high-pressure liquid-like gases — seeping out from its rocks. But this idea was based on the assumption that 55 Cancri e had a similar chemical makeup as Earth, Madhusudhan said. The new findings suggest the planet has no water at all.

The revelation of the planet’s diamond nature means that it could have very different thermal evolution and plate tectonics processes than Earth, which could create bizarre types of volcanism, seismic activity, and mountain formation.

55 Cancri e is one of five planets encircling a sun-like star called 55 Cancri, which lies about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer. This star is so close it is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

The researchers hope to make follow-up observations of this star system to better determine the star’s composition and to analyze 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere. This information could bolster the idea that the planet is a diamond world.

A paper reporting the new findings has been accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.