Astronomers have found a planetary ring system with such enormous proportions, it makes Saturn’s rings look puny. The rings have formed around a young, giant exoplanet called J1407b, and they’re the first of their kind to be found outside our Solar System.
The planet is too far away to see the rings directly, so instead, the team analysed data captured by the SuperWASP project - a survey that that detects gas giants that move in front of their parent star and dim their light - so ‘eclipse’ them. The light curve tells astronomers that the diameter of the ring system is nearly 120 million kilometers, more than two hundred times as large as the rings of Saturn. The ring system likely contains roughly an Earth’s worth of mass in light-obscuring dust particles.
A new analysis of the data shows that the ring system consists of over 30 rings, each of them tens of millions of kilometers in diameter. Furthermore, they found gaps in the rings, which indicate that satellites (“exomoons”) may have formed. The result has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
Credit: Matthew Kenworthy
This moon base is a landmark project for the field of 3D printing that could pave the way to lunar colonization in the future. Part of the lunar base could be transported by rocket in a tubular module that also serves as the protected entrance to the base. The tube entrance leads into an inflatable dome that serves as a support structure and defines the shape of the base. Inside, a 3D printer operated by a robot would print a protective shell of regolith layer by layer over the inflatable dome. One could imagine lunar greenhouses (similar to the one we have on exhibit) serving such a base. Read more: http://goo.gl/JPmn4P
In storage since it arrived on a Dragon X on January 12, today astronauts aboard the International Space Station used two robotic arms (for the first time) to deploy CATS. Yes, you read that right, two giant robotic arms deployed CATS in space brought there by Dragon X. But I’ll let NASA tell…
The top image is a photograph of a lush rainforest canopy. The bottom image colors each tree based on its species.
How? It’s all thanks to a special lab built by ecologist Greg Asner inside a twin-turboprop airplane. From a few thousand feet up, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory uses lasers, spectrometers and other instruments to build a detailed 3-D model of a forest, identify different species of vegetation and quantify carbon sequestration. It’s a lot quicker than tramping through the jungle and taking these measurements on foot.
A fun tidbit from the full story:
"On one occasion, he and his team mapped more than 6,500 square miles of the Colombian Amazon at night — about the size of Connecticut plus Rhode Island — flying with all their lights out to avoid being shot at by the FARC, the Colombian rebel force.”
Images: Greg Asner, Carnegie Airborne Observatory
Fight for Space only has 6 days left and $44,000 more to go. Fight for Space is a documentary, exploring NASA’s history, budget, and future. If the Kickstarter is funded, the documentary will be sent to politicians to let them know just how important the space program really is.
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A large new study in the journal Contraception effectively debunks the rationale for passing restrictions on abortion-inducing pills, a legislative trend that often slips under the radar but that threatens to make it all the way up to the Supreme Court. In light of the findings, the lead researchers conclude that “politics should never trump science.”
Researchers appear to have found a new risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease: leaky blood vessels.
An MRI study of found those experiencing mild problems with thinking and memory had much leakier blood vessels in the hippocampus. “This is exactly the area of the brain that is involved with learning and memory,” says Berislav Zlokovic, the study’s senior author and director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the University of Southern California.
The study, published in Neuron, also found that blood vessels in the hippocampus tend to become leakier in all people as they age. But the process is accelerated in those likely to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
The finding suggests that it may be possible to identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s by looking at their blood vessels, says Rod Corriveau , a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which helped fund the research. The results also suggests that a drug to help the body seal up leaky blood vessels could delay or prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
"This study gives patients and families hope for the future, hope that detecting leaky blood vessels early will provide the opportunity to stop dementia before it starts," Corriveau says.
My chemistry professor sometimes feels the need to make jokes about climate change during lecture. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t consider it to be a scientific fact. I don’t recall him explicitly mentioning anything about an anthropogenic cause for climate change, but…
This Asteroid Has a Moon!
At 8:19 AM PST on January 26, asteroid 2004 BL86 made its closest approach to Earth and NASA’s Deep Space Network was busy gathering radar images. The 20 images that make up this GIF shows the asteroid and a small moon.
Discovered in January of 2004 by LINEAR, asteroid 2004 BL86 was about 745,000 miles from Earth during its closed approach. The asteroid is around 1,100 feet in diameter and its moon is estimated to have a diameter of 230 feet.
Image: Asteroid 2004 BL86 and its moon. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Kenneth Nealson is looking awfully sane for a man who’s basically just told me that he has a colony of aliens incubating in his laboratory.
We’re huddled in his modest office at the University of Southern California (USC), on the fifth floor of Stauffer Hall. Nealson is wearing a rumpled short-sleeve shirt, a pair of old suede loafers, white socks—your standard relaxed academic attire—and leaning back comfortably in his chair. An encouraging collection of academic awards hangs on one wall. Propped behind him is a well-worn guitar, which he sometimes breaks out to accompany his wife’s singing. And across the hall is the explanation for his quiet confidence: beakers and bottles full of bacteria that are busily breaking the long-accepted rules of biology.
Life, Nealson is explaining, all comes down to energy. From the mightiest blue whale to the most humble microbe, every organism depends on moving and manipulating electrons; it’s the fuel that living matter uses to survive, grow, and reproduce. The bacteria at USC depend on energy, too, but they obtain it in a fundamentally different fashion. They don’t breathe in the sense that you and I do. In the most extreme cases, they don’t consume any conventional food, either. Instead, they power themselves in the most elemental way: by eating and breathing electricity. Nealson gestures at his lab. That’s what they are doing right there, right now.
“All the textbooks say it shouldn’t be possible,” he says, “but by golly, those things just keep growing on the electrode, and there’s no other source of energy there.”Growing on the electrode.It sounds incredible. Nealson pivots on his chair to face me and gives a mischievous grin. “It is kind of like science fiction,” he says. To a biologist, finding life that chugs along without a molecular energy source such as carbohydrates is about as unlikely as seeing passengers flying through the air without an airplane.
Seven waterspouts align as lava from the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea pours into the ocean in this striking photo from photographer Bruce Omori. Like many waterspouts—and their landbound cousins dust devils—these vortices are driven by variations in temperature and moisture content. Near the ocean surface, air and water vapor heated by the lava create a warm, moist layer beneath cooler, dry air. As the warm air rises, other air is drawn in by the low pressure left behind. Any residual vorticity in the incoming air gets magnified by conservation of angular momentum, like a spinning ice skater pulling her arms in. This creates the vortices, which are made visible by entrained steam and/or moisture condensing from the rising air. (Photo credit: B. Omori, via HPOTD; submitted by jshoer)