Alien Planet Kepler 78b –A Mystery World that Baffles Astronomers

Alien Planet Kepler-78b \”is a complete mystery,\” says astronomer David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics CfA. \”We dont know how it formed or how it got to where it is today. What we do know is that its not going to last forever.\”Kepler-78b is a planet that shouldnt exist. This scorching lava world circles its star every eight and a half hours at a distance of less than one million miles – one of the tightest known orbits. According to current theories of planet formation, it couldnt have formed so close to its star, nor could it have moved there.\”Kepler-78b is going to end up in the star very soon, astronomically speaking,\” agrees CfA astronomer Dimitar Sasselov. \”It couldnt have formed in place because you cant form a planet inside a star. It couldnt have formed further out and migrated inward, because it would have migrated all the way into the star. This planet is an enigma,\” explains Sasselov.Not only is Kepler-78b a mystery world, it is the first known Earth-sized planet with an Earth-like density. Kepler-78b is about 20 percent larger than the Earth, with a diameter of 9,200 miles, and weighs almost twice as much. As a result it has a density similar to Earths, which suggests an Earth-like composition of iron and rock. The tight orbit of Kepler-78b poses a challenge to theorists. When this planetary system was forming, the young star was larger than it is now. As a result, the current orbit of Kepler-78b would have been inside the swollen star.

via Alien Planet Kepler 78b –A Mystery World that Baffles Astronomers.

“Our Star-Trek Future” –NASA Scientists Engineering a Warp-Drive Solution for Faster-Than-Light Space Travel (Weekend Feature)

Move over Star Trek! According to state-of-the art theory, a warp drive could cut the travel time between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months. Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA and other NASA engineers are trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible. The team has attempting to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer.

“Space has been expanding since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago,” said Dr. White, 43, who runs the research project told the New York Times. “And we know that when you look at some of the cosmology models, there were early periods of the universe where there was explosive inflation, where two points would’ve went receding away from each other at very rapid speeds. Nature can do it,” he added. “So the question is, can we do it?”

via “Our Star-Trek Future” –NASA Scientists Engineering a Warp-Drive Solution for Faster-Than-Light Space Travel (Weekend Feature).

Double Star Adventure

Since I bought my go-to Skywatcher-102 in April (which is brilliant by the way) I have been having issues with actually getting a really good alignment during the set up process. This was purely down to the issue of having to guess where the centre of the eyepiece was.

I was out with the Well’s & Mendip Astronomers last Friday and my friend Hugh was using an illuminated cross-hair eyepiece to get his Mead perfectly centred. Why had I not thought about this?! So, out I went to the local telescope shop (MC2 in Frome) and acquired myself one. Boy did this make things much easier! Giving 2 red cross-hairs within which you can get a perfectly centred object, and therefore a great alignment. So after I had completed the alignment protocol I decided to have a look at some double stars.

As I am not familiar with double stars, I decided to use the feature in the go-to handset, and started working my way down the list.

ALMACH was my first port of call. Situated at 056°00′ +29°05′ it was in fairly good position, rising just above the end of my garden. Located in the constellation of Andromeda Almach is actually a quadruple star system located some 350 light years from Earth. However, only a double star can be resolved through a small telescope. I was viewing at 86x magnification.

Almach(Image from

The second object of the night was ALBIREO located at 188°07′ +66°37′ in the constellation of Cygnus and located approximately 430 light years from Earth. This was one that was recommended to me as a great double star, and it did not fail to impress. The pair are another great example of colour, where one is a very bright blue and the other yellow. A very nice contrast between the pair.

NewAlbireo(Image from

Targets number three and four were DABIH & ηCASS. Target number five was Mizar in the constellation Ursa Major. Located at 314°34′ +36°38′ At a distance of 82 light years, they are relatively close, in astronomical terms. They are by far my favorite double stars so far. They have a very clear bright blue colour even in the fairly light polluted surroundings of my house. Both Mizar and Alcor its companion are spectral type A.Mizar

(Image from

The last two objects on my double star viewing adventure for that night was Polaris (yes, a double star, though the companion was very faint, it was still visible) and Rasalgthi in the constellation of Hercules. This view was very interesting, as both stars were clearly red. Its always nice to be able to see colour, and from that we can determine so many physical parameters of the star.

ras-alg(Image from

By this time, the mist was starting to roll in, and the temperature was rapidly dropping. So I decided to push the scope, and try and view the ice giants Neptune and Uranus. I had written in the last two editions of the OAS Magazine ( about where to find Neptune and Uranus, so decided to use the go-to and see what I could see.

Once the scope had finished slewing, I peered into the eyepiece. There it was, Neptune. A tiny blue disc set against a backdrop of stars. It was exceptionally small, but clearly disc shaped. I was now viewing at 130x magnification. Next stop, Uranus. Waited for the beep, and took a look. There it was. A yellowing tiny disc. The rings were not visible, but it could clearly be differentiated from the stars behind. This was the first time I had ever seen any of the ice giants through my own kit. A very impressive way to finish a successful but brief viewing session.

It’s Time to Get Serious About Going to Mars, NASA Says |

WASHINGTON — If NASA is to land humans on Mars by the 2030s, as President Barack Obama has directed, there’s not much time to settle on a plan and develop the technologies required, agency officials said Monday (May 6).

In the 1960s, America seized an opportunity to go to the moon, and succeeded. A second opportunity for a leap forward in space is upon us now, said NASA chief Charles Bolden at the Humans 2 Mars Summit here at George Washington University.

“Interest in sending humans to Mars I think has never been higher,” Bolden said. “We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man’s destiny — to step onto another planet.” [Buzz Aldrin’s Visions for Mars Missions & More (Video)]

via It’s Time to Get Serious About Going to Mars, NASA Says |

The Mars One Project

The Mars One Project

Humanity finally flying the nest?

Ever since I was very young, I had a fascination with Mars. The red planet, a world of such curiosity, such wonder. A planet that in cosmic terms is a mere stone’s throw away. I had always dreamt about what it would be like to be the first human to step foot on that dusty cold world. To go down in history, up there with Neil Armstrong, in the highly elitist group of people to step foot on another world. Science fiction you say? The ramblings of an over ambitious geek? Well, perhaps not for long.

I came across the “Mars One Project” from a post on my Twitter feed. Somehow I had managed to make it this far, without having heard a peep about them, but now I am careful to keep a close eye on they’re progress.

The Mars One Project is a non-profit organisation, their mission, to place human kind on the surface of Mars, by 2023. The team is headed by a diverse group ranging from space engineers to marketing experts. There seems to be a great pool of intellect and resource at hand.

The question on everyone’s lips – “Can they actually do it?”

Well, I think the only answer to the question, is that time will tell. The process of astronaut application has already begun. The project has encouraged people to submit video applications, and that there are no real entry requirements as such. What they do suggest is that the ideal candidates will have the ability for calm, lateral thinking, to be able to be extremely resourceful…….oh and to accept that this is a one way trip.

Now at first glance, this last point may seem rather startling. Being stranded on an alien world, for ever. What if I don’t like the neighbours?   Well I’m not sure that you would really have time to worry too many things, but as there are only 4 proposed candidates going on this trip, then perhaps your neighbours might be one to consider. It was stated by the press team that this was indeed a one way trip, because at this point in time the technology isn’t sufficient for a viable return voyage (but you never know, the sky crane tech of last year’s successful MSL Curiosity landing might prove to be of use) It’s again a case of watch this space. It might not be as “one way” as it seems.

Another question on the lips of critics is “should private companies be attempting this sort of stunt?” and again, my answer to this is a resounding YES.

SpaceX and the Google Prize are both excellent examples of how private industry is pushing forwards the space race, and forcing the superpower governments to relinquish the monopoly over the space industry. SpaceX is now providing a large percentage of resupply missions to the ISS. Something that would have been unheard of 50 years ago. Private industry is now in the position to make the space race competitive once again. Exactly what is needed if we wish to see projects like the Mars Project, moving forwards, and even venturing further. Governments are all too cautious to spend money on space, seeing it only as financial loss, but private industry sees the value. Not only the most obvious value, but also the value of all the technology and advancement that comes merely from the trying! Without the space race in the 50’s there would be a lot of technology and medical advances that we would not have the benefit from today.

So I say, Mars One may not succeed by the 2023 target. The fact that they are trying however, that they aspire to greatness. This is exactly what humanity needs.

In the words of President Kennedy;

“We choose to go to the Moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”

Wise words.

Another Find Thanks To Facebook

Here is another great find thanks to Facebook.
The image below is the first picture of the great hexagonal hurricane of Saturn, that is taken in optical wavelengths. It’s truly remarkable. The eye of this storm is over 1000miles in diameter, and with wind speeds reaching up to and greater than 300 mpg it’s truly a monster.
Dorothy would be hard pressed to make it safely to the land of Oz in this super storm!


“BX442” –The First Spiral Galaxy in the Universe?

It seems that, so far, it is: In July of 2012, astronomers observed a spiral galaxy in the early universe, billions of years before many other spiral galaxies formed while using the Hubble Space Telescope. They were taking pictures of about 300 very distant galaxies in the early universe to study their properties. This distant spiral galaxy they discovered  existed roughly three billion years after the Big Bang, and light from this part of the universe has been traveling to Earth for about 10.7 billion years.

“As you go back in time to the early universe, galaxies look really strange, clumpy and irregular, not symmetric,” said Alice Shapley, a UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy, and co-author of the study. “The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks. Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?”

“BX442 looks like a nearby galaxy, but in the early universe, galaxies were colliding together much more frequently,” she said. “Gas was raining in from the intergalactic medium and feeding stars that were being formed at a much more rapid rate than they are today; black holes grew at a much more rapid rate as well. The universe today is boring compared to this early time.”

Galaxies in today’s universe divide into various types, including spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way, which are rotating disks of stars and gas in which new stars form, and elliptical galaxies, which include older, redder stars moving in random directions. The mix of galaxy structures in the early universe is quite different, with a much greater diversity and larger fraction of irregular galaxies, Shapley said.

“The fact that this galaxy exists is astounding,” said David Law, lead author of the study and Dunlap Institute postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Current wisdom holds that such ‘grand-design’ spiral galaxies simply didn’t exist at such an early time in the history of the universe.” A ‘grand design’ galaxy has prominent, well-formed spiral arms.

The galaxy, which goes by the not very glamorous name of BX442, is quite large compared with other galaxies from this early time in the universe; only about 30 of the galaxies that Law and Shapley analyzed are as massive as this galaxy.

To gain deeper insight into their unique image of BX442, Law and Shapley went to the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano and used a unique state-of-the-science instrument called the OSIRIS spectrograph, which was built by James Larkin, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. They studied spectra from some 3,600 locations in and around BX442, which provided valuable information that enabled them to determine that it actually is a rotating spiral galaxy — and not, for example, two galaxies that happened to line up in the image.

“We first thought this could just be an illusion, and that perhaps we were being led astray by the picture,” Shapley said. “What we found when we took the spectral image of this galaxy is that the spiral arms do belong to this galaxy. It wasn’t an illusion. We were blown away.” Law and Shapley also see some evidence of an enormous black hole at the center of the galaxy, which may play a role in the evolution of BX442.

Why does BX442 look like galaxies that are so common today but were so rare back then?

Law and Shapley say the answer may have to do with a companion dwarf galaxy, which the OSIRIS spectrograph reveals as a blob in the upper left portion of the image, and the gravitational interaction between them. Support for this idea is provided by a numerical simulation conducted by Charlotte Christensen, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the research in Nature. Eventually the small galaxy is likely to merge into BX442, Shapley said.

Law, a former Hubble postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, and Shapley will continue to study BX442.

“We want to take pictures of this galaxy at other wavelengths,” Shapley said. “That will tell us what type of stars are in every location in the galaxy. We want to map the mixture of stars and gas in BX442.”

Shapley said that BX442 represents a link between early galaxies that are much more turbulent and the rotating spiral galaxies that we see around us. “Indeed, this galaxy may highlight the importance of merger interactions at any cosmic epoch in creating grand design spiral structure,” she said.

Studying BX442 is likely to help astronomers understand how spiral galaxies like the Milky Way form, Shapley concluded.

The image at the top of the page ian an artist’s conception of the farthest spiral galaxy ever seen; in a Hubble/Keck image (inset), the blob at upper left is a companion galaxy whose gravity may have sparked the spiral structure. Credit: (left) David Law; (right) Joe Bergeron, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Daily Galaxy via UCLA News and

via “BX442” –The First Spiral Galaxy in the Universe?.

How Fat is Schrödinger’s Cat?

In recent years physicists have been placing ever-larger objects into states of quantum superposition – the curious state that Schrödinger’s cat finds itself in. Now, researchers in Germany have devised a way of quantifying just how macroscopic those objects are and how much ground still needs to be made up before cats and other familiar items can be held in two or more quantum states at the same time.

Check it out here on the IOP Physics News site

Something I caught on Facebook

This is an image that I came across in my news feed on Facebook. An amazing capture thanks to our good friend the Hubble Space telescope.
What we see here, are two galaxies in the process of dancing around each other in a merger. Eventually this dance of destruction will result in the formation of a new elliptical galaxy. What a wonderful and exquisite ballet of change.