Tag: Earth (page 49 of 331)

Strange rock containing 30,000 diamonds baffles scientists

Strange rock containing 30,000 diamonds baffles scientists
© Getty Images Strange rock containing 30,000 diamonds baffles scientists


When Russian miners pulled a strange red and green stone out of the ground, they immediately knew it was different to the thousands of tons of ore they process every day. 

In fact, what workers at Alrosa 's Udachnaya diamond mine had unearthed was a 30mm rock that contained 30,000 diamonds - a conentration 1m times higher than normal. 

However, despite the rare find the company donated the rock to the Russian Academy of Sciences, as the diamonds are so small that they cannot be used as gems. 

After scanning the rock with X-rays, scientists found that the diamonds inside measure just 1mm and are octahedral in shape - similar to two pyramids stuck together at the base. The red and green colouring comes from larger crystals of garnet, olivine and pyroxene. 

"The exciting thing for me is there are 30,000 itty-bitty, perfect octahedrons, and not one big diamond," said Larry Taylor, a geologist at the University of Tennessee, who presented the findings at the American Geophysical Union 's annual meeting. "It's like they formed instantaneously. This rock is a strange one indeed."

Scientists are excited at the finding as they hope it will shed further light on how diamonds are made. They know diamonds are crystals of pure carbon that form under crushing pressures and intense heat, mostly formed in the Earth's mantle, the layer beneath the crust or surface layer, at a depth of about 150km. However, certain processes in their creation remain a mystery. 

"The [chemical] reactions in which diamonds occur still remain an enigma," Mr Taylor told Live Science, which first reported the story. 

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Must-See Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend: An Observer’s Guide

2014 Geminid Meteor Shower Sky Map

Excerpt from

The spectacular Geminid Meteor shower hits peak activity this weekend. Though competing with some unfortunate moonlight, the shower still should make for a must-see astronomical event.

While moonlight will somewhat hinder this year's Geminid meteor shower, intrepid observers with good weather and low light pollution should still be able to catch a good meteor show Saturday (Dec. 13) night.

"If you have not seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor," note astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg. 

Even if you can't see the meteor display from your part of the world, you can watch them online. The online Slooh Community Observatory will host a live webacst of the Geminid meteor display on Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 14 GMT).You can also watch the Slooh webcast directly:http://live.slooh.com/. NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke will also host a live Geminids webchat on Saturday night from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EST (0400 to 0800 GMT), as well as a live webcast.
You can watch the webcasts of the Geminid shower live on Space.com, starting at 8 p.m. EST, courtesy of Slooh and NASA. The Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project will also host a Geminds webcast, beginning at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT).

Although the bright moon will be high in the sky by 11:30 p.m. local time Saturday (Dec. 13) (during the shower's peak), skywatchers can still catch a potentially incredible show before the moon creeps above the horizon, washing out the sky. Stargazers might be able to see an average of one or two Geminid meteors per minute Saturday before the moon rises.

By around 9 p.m., the constellation Gemini — the part of the sky where the meteors seem to emanate from — will have climbed more than one-third of the way up from the horizon. Meteor sightings should begin to really increase noticeably thereafter. By around 2 a.m., the last-quarter moon will be low in the east-southeast, but Gemini will stand high overhead. So you might still see a good number of meteors in spite of the moon's presence.

A brilliant shower

The Geminids are, for those willing to brave the chill of a December night, a very fine winter shower, and usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers. They can even surpass the brilliant August Perseid meteor shower.

Studies of past displays show that the Geminid shower is rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs, as well as in faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness. Many Geminids appear yellowish in hue; some even appear to form jagged or divided paths.     

These meteors travel at a medium speed and appear to emanate, specifically, from near the bright star Castor, in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, hence the name "Geminid." In apparent size, that's less than half the width of the moon. As such, this is a rather sharply defined radiant as most meteor showers go. It suggests the stream is "young," perhaps only several thousand years old.

Generally speaking, depending on your location, Castor begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight comes to an end. As the Gemini constellation begins to climb the eastern sky just after darkness falls, there is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors. Earthgrazers are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from a point near to even just below the horizon. Such meteors are so distinctive because they follow long paths nearly parallel to the Earth's atmosphere. 

Because Geminid meteoroids are several times denser than the comet dust that supply most meteor showers and because of the relatively slow speed with which the Geminids encounter Earth (22 miles or 35 kilometers per second), these meteors appear to linger a bit longer in view than most. As compared to an Orionid or Leonid meteor that can whiz across your line of sight in less than a second, a Geminid meteor moves only about half as fast. Personally, their movement reminds me of field mice scooting from one part of the sky to another.

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Ground-based telescope spots alien ‘Super-Earth’

An artist's conception shows the size of super-Earth 55 Cancri e compared to Earth. A ground-based telescope in Spain was able to identify 55 Cancri e, which suggests that telescopes on the ground help in the search for habitable planets around other stars.

Excerpt from csmonitor.com

A telescope on the Canary Islands has spotted a planet twice the size of Earth as it passed in front of a star, the first time a planet in this category has been detected by a ground-based telescope.

Finding Earthlike planets beyond our solar system has largely been the work of space-based telescopes, but new observations from a remote island suggest that could change.

The Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma — one of the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa — observed 55 Cancri e, a planet twice the size of Earth, as it passed in front of its parent star and caused a dip in the star's brightness, according to a new study. This is the first time a planet in this "super-Earth" size category orbiting a sunlike star has been observed by a ground-based telescope using this detection method, the researchers say.

First identified in 2004 by a space-based telescope, 55 Cancri e has a diameter of about 16,000 miles (26,000 kilometers) — about twice that of Earth. The alien world is eight times as massive as Earth, making it a so-called super-Earth, a planet more massive than Earth but significantly smaller than gas giants like Neptune and Uranus. While not habitable, the planet's size and position around a sunlike star make it similar to planets that might support life, researchers say. 

The planet's detection with the Nordic telescope shows that observatories on the ground could use what's called the transit method — watching for dips in the brightness of a star to indicate a planet passing in front of it — to assist space-based telescopes in follow-up studies of super-Earths or Earthlike exoplanets, scientists say.

Nearly 2,000 exoplanets have now been confirmed, and upcoming exoplanet searches promise to expand that catalog. 

"We expect these surveys to find so many nearby terrestrial worlds that space telescopes simply won't be able to follow up on all of them. Future ground-based instrumentation will be key, and this study shows it can be done," Mercedes Lopez-Morales, co-author of the new research and a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a statement.

Five exoplanets orbit the star 55 Cancri, which is located 40 light-years from Earth and is visible to the naked eye. The closest-orbiting of those five is 55 Cancri e, which completes one lap around the star every 18 hours. When the planet passes between Earth and the parent star, 55 Cancri appears to dim by 1/2000th (or 0.05 percent) for almost 2 hours, researchers said.

Daytime temperatures on 55 Cancri e likely reach higher than 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,700 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to melt metal and much too hot to support life. But scientists involved with the study say this approach could help characterize the atmosphere of more hospitable Earthlike or super-Earth planets.

After its initial detection, 55 Cancri e also became the first super-Earth seen by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, using light directly from the planet. Thus, it has now served twice as a litmus test for super-Earth detection methods. 

In addition to the wealth of planets identified by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, the space agency's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, scheduled for launch in 2017, is expected to "discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky," according to the TESS website. The European Space Agency's Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission, planned for launch in 2024, will also search for a large number of exoplanets.

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The End of the Space Race?

Excerpt from

A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project.

Today, NASA’s goal to put astronauts on Mars by the 2030s could be a similarly unifying project. And not only in the United States. A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a far more globally collaborative project.

Why has the idea of reaching Mars captured the world? A trip to Mars is a priority for many scientific reasons—some believe it’s the planet that most resembles our own, and one that could answer the age-old question of whether we’re alone in the universe—but there’s also been a long popular fascination with the planet, Stofan observed. Ever since Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli first observed the canali on Mars in the 1800s or when H.G. Wells wrote about aliens from Mars in his 1898 science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, the planet has loomed large in the public’s imagination.

NASA’s view is to turn over to the private sector those projects that in a sense have become routine so that it can focus its resources on getting to Mars.

This spirit of trans-border ownership and investment seems set to continue. One key part of this is the Global Exploration Roadmap, an effort between space agencies like NASA, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, among many others, that is intended to aid joint projects from the International Space Station to expeditions to the Moon and near-Earth asteroids—and to reach Mars. On a recent trip to India’s space agency, Stofan recounted to me, she met with many Indian engineers who were just as excited as the Americans to get scientists up there, not only to explore, but also to begin nailing down the question of whether there was ever life on the red planet.

It’s also clear that the next stage of space exploration will not only be more global, but will equally involve greater private and public partnerships.

This environment feels a lot different from the secretive and adversarial Space Race days, when the U.S. and Soviet Union battled to reach the moon first. What’s changed? The Cold War is over, of course, but with it, the funding commitment may also be missing this time around. Stofan mentioned, in response to an audience question, that at the time of the Apollo missions, NASA got up to about four percent of the federal budget, while now it’s only around 0.4 percent. The dollars are still large, but perhaps increased international and private cooperation can be seen as an efficient, clever way to do more with less.

So, what does the future hold? NASA is extremely focused on how to get to Mars and back again safely, Stofan told the audience, but the fun role of science fiction, she suggested, is to start envisioning what the steps after that might be. For example, what might it be like to live on Mars? After all, science often gets its inspiration from the creative world. Just look at how similar mobile phones are to the communicators from Star Trek, she pointed out, or the fact that MIT students made a real-life version of the robotic sphere that Luke Skywalker trains with in Star Wars. “Stories are a great counterpoint to science,” she said.

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Is This What Really Killed the Dinosaurs?

Portrait of a killer: volcanoes were no friend to the dinos

Excerpt from time.com 

It wasn't just an asteroid

At the start of the 1980s, the question of what forced dinosaurs and huge numbers of other creatures to become extinct 65 million years ago was still a mystery. By the decade’s end, that mystery was solved: a comet or asteroid had slammed into Earth, throwing so much sun-blocking dust into the air that the planet plunged into a deep-freeze. The discovery of a massive impact crater off the coast of Mexico, of just the right age, pretty much sealed the deal in most scientists’ minds.

But a second global-scale catastrophe was happening at much the same time: a series of ongoing volcanic eruptions that dwarf anything humans have ever seen. They were so unimaginably powerful that they left nearly 200,000 square miles (518,000 sq. km) of what’s now India buried in volcanic basalt up to a mile and a half thick. And the gases and particulate matter spewed out by those eruptions, argue at least some scientists, could have played a big role in the dinosaurs’ doom as well.
How big a role, however, depends on exactly when the eruptions began and how long they lasted, and a new report in Science goes a long way toward answering that question. “We can now say with confidence,” says Blair Schoene, a Princeton geologist and lead author of the paper, “that the eruptions started 250,000 years before the extinction event, and lasted for a total of 750,000 years.” And that, he says, strengthens the idea that the eruptions could have contributed to the mass extinction of multiple species.

Schoene and his co-authors don’t claim volcanoes alone wiped out the dinosaurs; only that they changed the climate enough to put ecosystems under stress, setting them up for the final blow. “We don’t know the exact mechanism,” he admits. Volcanoes emit carbon dioxide, which could have triggered an intense burst of global warming, but they also emit sulfur dioxide, which could have caused global cooling. “What we do know,” Schoene says, “is that earlier mass extinctions were caused by volcanic eruptions alone.” The new dates, he and his co-authors believe, will help scientists understand what role these volcanoes played in the dinosaurs’ demise.

If there was such a role, that is, and despite this new analysis, plenty of paleontologists still doubt it seriously. The dating of the eruptions, based on widely accepted uranium-lead measurement techniques, is not an issue, says Brian Huber, of the Smithsonian Institution. “That part of the science is great,” he says. “It moves things forward.”

And those data, Huber says, make it clear that the extinction rate for the 250,000 years leading up to the asteroid impact wasn’t especially large. Then, at the time of the impact: whammo. The idea that volcanoes played a significant role in this extinction event keeps coming up every so often, and in Huber’s view, “the argument has gotten very tiresome. I no longer feel the need to put any energy into it. It’s from a minority arguing against overwhelming evidence.”

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How to Watch Tonight’s Explosive Geminids Meteor Shower

How to Watch This Week's Big Ass Perseid Meteor Shower


Thank you, tiny space rocks. Because of you, the entire population of planet Earth will be treated to one of 2014's most spectacular celestial displays. The Geminids meteor shower is the most active of the annual meteor showers—by a long shot—and it's just about to peak.

Tonight, the shower might produce as many as 120 meteors per hour (though back in 2011, the Geminids hit a peak rate of 198 meteors per hour). Compare this count to the second most abundant shower, the Perseids, which take place in late August and top out at around 60 meteors per hour.

The annual December display is largely due to asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a three-mile wide chunk of rock that crosses the paths of all the inner rocky planets and travels closer to the sun than any other named asteroid. As ol' 3200 heats up close to the sun during its 1.5-year orbit, it expels materials and forms a trail much like a comet (indeed, it is sometimes referred to as a "rock comet"). But that's not the full story. Recent observations have shown that 3200 mostly expels dust as it is baked by the sun. And while this periodic "dusting" does help replenish the debris field, it's not enough material to account for all the Geminids' activity.

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Need Storage Space? Clutter the Moon With Your Old Junk

Excerpt from techtimes.com The Moon could be the next great dumping ground of the human race, an extraterrestrial garbage dump for castoff remains of unwanted pen sets, ugly sweaters, and dolls.Since the start of the space age, the Moon has beco...

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