Thursday, January 10, 2013

Earth-like planets are fairly common in our Universe?

NASA's Kepler Mission that started three years ago has already discovered thousands of potential Earth-like planets, the so called exoplanets. This pioneer mission could hold great future importance as the astronomers look for new habitable planets outside our solar system.

It is very likely that one day space travel will be as common as taking a plane flight but prior to going further to space we need to gather as much of useful data as possible. As always, preparation is the key for successful travel, and in space travel even the small mistakes aren't allowed.

The NASA scientists have recently stated that „17 percent of all sun-like stars have planets one to two times the diameter of Earth orbiting close to their host stars.“ However, the current limitation of Kepler's detection capability suggests that this percentage could be lot bigger, some say even up to 50 percent.

The U.S. astronomer Andrew Howard from the University of Berkeley made the interesting observation by saying that „the frequency of planets increases as you go to smaller sizes, but it doesn't increase all the way to Earth-size planets as it stays at a constant level below twice the diameter of Earth“.

One other important fact is that planet doesn't have to be necessarily habitable just because it is one to two times the size of Earth and orbits around its Sun. Planets could turn out to be worlds with rocky core, similar to Uranus or Neptune, or could even turn out to be water worlds, covered with extremely deep oceans.

How does Kepler telescope work? In order to find planets, the Kepler telescope captures repeated images of 150,000 stars in a region of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, and afterwards the captured images are being analyzed by the advanced computer software.

Many astronomers believe it’s only a matter of time before new Superearth will be discovered. The road to space colonization is long and hard but the pioneering work of Kepler telescope will no doubt be forever remembered in the history of the human race.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Space radiation still presents major obstacle to further exploration of our universe

Space is indeed a final frontier like they say it in Star Trek series and movies. However, before conquering this final frontier human civilization will have to reach tremendous scientific and technological advancement. In this sense, a good first step would be to solve the issue of space radiation that would enable astronauts to go further in their exploration of the Universe.

Prior to being able to solve this issue scientists need to fully understand radiation in space environments and this can will require advanced instruments in space vehicles. One of these advanced instruments is also the device called Advanced Neutron Spectrometer (ANS).

ANS operates by monitoring neutrons. This is an instrument that is specifically designed to do just this. Measuring neutrons is important because it gives scientists the necessary data about the amount of radiation astronauts are being exposed to. This instrument can read levels of radiation in the spacecraft or habitat and according to this data astronauts can employ adequate techniques to minimize their exposure to space environment.

Technologically, it is very demanding to measure neutrons because they are electrically neutral particles and thus pass through most detector systems without being detected. This is the reason why ANS design had to be special. This special design uses the gate and capture technique that aims to slow down the neutrons and then capture them in an isotope of Lithium.

Afterwards, special glass fibers loaded with Lithium are used to absorb the slowed down neutrons and produce a small flash of light unique to the neutron capture process thus enabling ANS electronics to process and analyze the radiation levels.

The current results are very promising. Mark Christl, the ANS project leader at Space Flight Center said that „the goal is to continue this work to improve the instrument performance and our radiation monitoring capabilities for our astronauts and meet the future needs of exploring new destinations.“


Monday, September 24, 2012

Earth’s geological past can give clues for future climate

Climate change threat is looming large and many scientists from all over the world are involved into making future climate predictions. Climate change is multidimensional issue that includes various different factors which makes it extremely difficult for scientists to accurately predict future climate. Recently, however, many scientists have turned their focus in studying earth's past as a way to help gather the data that should give them clues in predicting future changes.

Our planet's geological past is one of the best ways in obtaining clues. As Dr. Wan Yang from the Missouri University of Science and Technology said :“ The formation of rocks has everything to do with climate.“

He further explained this by saying that „different climate settings have different sediments, soil types and vegetation“, all of which can be used as valuable guide in scientific efforts to predict future climate.

Yang did most of the field work in northwest China because it's one of the few places to have an ancient land record, dating all the way back from Pangea, the supercontinent that existed between 200 million and 350 million years ago.

This period is very interesting to climate change scientists because approximately 250 million years ago, the greatest mass extinction in the Earth's history occurred, and scientists are still searching for a strong link between climate change and this huge loss of species.

There have been plenty of different theories discussing this mass extinction event but science still can't be sure about what were the real causes that caused this huge loss of our planet's biodiversity.

The currently dominant scientific theory is that 250 million years ago the Earth's climate shifted from icehouse to greenhouse and remained in greenhouse state for about 230 million years, returning back to icehouse state roughly 30 million years ago.