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Venus may have once had oceans of carbon dioxide

VenusExcerpt from theweek.comBy Kimberly Alters Despite being known for its "hellish" conditions, the planet Venus may actually have had oceans on its surface, according to a study in The Journal of Phy...

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Did European scientists find dark-matter signal buried in X-rays?


Dark matter findings XMM-Newton
This illustration shows the ESA's XMM-Newton space telescope. Using X-ray data collected by the telescope, scientists say they may have identified a dark-matter signal. (D. Ducros / European Space Agency)


Excerpt from latimes.com

Scientists say they may have discovered a possible dark matter signal coded in the X-rays emanating from two bright objects in the sky. 

The findings, set to be published next week in Physical Review Letters, could offer tangible evidence for the existence of dark matter -- and help researchers build new tools to search for and study this mysterious stuff.

When it comes to matter in the universe, dark matter is like a backroom political power broker: You never see it, but behind the scenes, it’s been throwing its weight around. The effects of its gravitational influence can be seen in the large-scale structures of the cosmos. Dark matter makes up about 84.5% of the matter in the universe while all the stuff we actually see -- stars, galaxies, planets, ourselves -- makes up the remaining 15.5%.* The enormous galaxies and clusters of galaxies that populate the universe are bantamweights compared to the massive, unseen dark matter ‘halos’ that anchor them.
Dark matter’s formidable gravitational influence is the only way that the strange stuff can be detected, because it’s invisible -- it does not interact with light. Physicists have no idea what it’s made of, although they’ve looked for it by building detectors in underground former gold mines, sending satellites into space and other methods. 

But now, a team led by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland say they’ve discovered a signal that could be a sign of dark matter. 

The scientists looked at X-ray emissions coming from the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster, collected by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope. After accounting for all the light particles (called photons) emanating from known sources in the Andromeda galaxy, they were left with a strange set of photons that had no known source. The found the same light signature emanating from the Perseus cluster. And when they turned their attention to the Milky Way, they found signs of this signal in our home galaxy, as well.
“It is consistent with the behavior of a line originating from the decay of dark matter particles,” the authors wrote in a pre-print of the study.

This weird light signal, they think, could be coming from the destruction of a hypothetical particle called a sterile neutrino (which, if it exists, might help explain dark matter). But it's going to take a lot of follow-up study to determine whether this signal is a scientific breakthrough or an anomalous blip.

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An Astronomical First: Ground Telescope Spots Transiting Habitable Planet

The exoplanet 55 Cancri e has been observed passing in front of its star for the first time by a ground-based telescope. What do we know about this strange planet?Excerpt from techtimes.comThe exoplanet 55 Cancri e has been seen transiting, or passin...

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DEEPLY AWAKE ENTANGLED By Kathy Vik Grandma Cannon 20 November 2014

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We know Earth is pretty small, but this small?

 Earth is not a large planet by any means, (and I personally believe it's not a large planet because most humans just aren't ready for anything much larger than a toy, or starter play set), but just how small of a planet is our current home anyway...

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Rosetta Mission: European Space Agency Scientists Worry Philae Probe Is Running Out of Battery Power


Philae lander harpooned into comet

Excerpt from online.wsj.com

By Gautam Naik & Robert Wall

Situation Could Mean Early End for Important Experiments on Comet 


Scientists at the European Space Agency fear that the Philae probe now sitting on a comet’s surface may be on the verge of running out of battery power, a scenario that could bring key scientific experiments to a premature end.

The researchers will only know whether the primary batteries have drained or not late Friday, when they try to re-establish a radio link to the probe via Rosetta, a spacecraft in orbit around the comet. The probe and Rosetta can typically communicate twice a day because at other times the orbiter is below the horizon and can’t establish a direct signal.

Scientists are hoping to get contact around 10 p.m. German time, said Stephan Ulamec, who oversees operation for the lander. But if Philae fails to send a signal, he added, it would mean the battery had run out of juice.

The plan was for Philae to do scientific experiments for an initial 2 ½ days on primary battery power and then switch to solar panels that would keep it ticking for another three months. But because of an awkward landing near the face of cliff, the probe’s solar panels are being exposed to far less sunlight than was expected.

Despite the hitch, Philae has already done a significant amount of science on its new home. Its 10 instruments have so far garnered between 80%-90% of the data they were designed to collect, according to Dr. Ulamec.

It has beamed back detailed photographs of the comet’s rough terrain, analyzed the gases, and taken the comet’s temperature. It is now using radio waves to probe the comet’s nucleus and searching for organic molecules on the hostile surface.

Anticipating a possible loss of battery power, ESA scientists activated a drill during their last contact with the lander. The machine is designed to dig up the comet’s subsurface material and rotate it through an onboard oven to investigate its components. 

There may still be a way to extend Philae’s working life. During every 12-hour rotation of the comet, one of the lander’s solar panels is now exposed to an hour and 20 minutes of sunlight, while two other panels get the sun for less than 30 minutes each. 

Provided the signal to Philae can be re-established, scientists said they could rotate the lander slightly so that one of its larger solar panels can catch more sunlight. Another option is to eject the probe from its current location in the hope it lands in a spot where there is more sun.

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Rosetta mission: Philae lander bounces twice, lands on side ~ Cliff face blocking solar power


How Esa scientists believe Philae has landed on the comet – on its side
How Esa scientists believe Philae has landed on the comet – on its side. Photograph: European Space Agency/Reuters


Excerpt from
theguardian.com


Rosetta mission controllers must decide whether to risk making lander hop from shadow of cliff blocking sunlight to its solar panels.


The robotic lander that touched down on a comet on Wednesday came to rest on its side in the shadow of a cliff, according to the first data beamed home from the probe.

Pictures from cameras on board the European Space Agency’s Philae lander show the machine with one foot in the sky and lodged against a high cliff face that is blocking sunlight to its solar panels.
The precarious resting place means mission controllers are faced with some tough decisions over whether to try and nudge the spacecraft into a sunnier spot. If successful, that would allow Philae to fully recharge its batteries and do more science on the comet, but any sudden move could risk toppling the lander over, or worse, knock it off the comet completely.

The washing machine-sized lander was released by its Rosetta mother ship at 0835am GMT on Wednesday morning and touched down at a perfect spot on the comet’s surface. But when anchoring harpoons failed to fire, the probe bounced back off into space. So weak is the gravitational pull of the comet that Philae soared 1km into the sky and did not come down again until two hours later. “We made quite a leap,” said Stephan Ulamec, the Philae lander manager.

In the time it took the probe to land for the second time, the comet had rotated, bringing more treacherous terrain underneath. The spacecraft bounced a second time and finally came to a standstill on its side at what may be the rim of an enormous crater.

“We bounced twice and stopped in a place we’ve not entirely located,” said Jean-Pierre Bibring, Philae’s lead scientist. Teams of scientists are now trying to work out where the probe is. What mission controllers do know is that they are not where they hoped to be. “We are exactly below a cliff, so we are in a shadow permanently,” Bibring added.

With most of Philae in the dark, the lander will receive only a fraction of the solar energy that Esa had hoped for. The spacecraft needs six or seven hours of sunlight a day but is expected to receive just one and a half. Though it can operate for 60 hours on primary batteries, the probe must then switch to its main batteries which need to be recharged through its solar arrays. If Philae’s batteries run out it will go into a hibernation mode until they have more power.

The spacecraft was designed with landing gear that could hop the probe around, but from its awkward position on its side the option is considered too risky.

Though caught in a tight spot, the Philae lander’s systems appear to be working well. The Rosetta spacecraft picked up the lander’s signal on Thursday morning and received the first images and more instrument data from the surface of the comet.

One of Philae’s major scientific goals is to analyse the comet for organic molecules. To do that, the lander must get samples from the comet into several different instruments, named Ptolemy, Cosac and Civa. There are two ways to do this: sniffing and drilling. Sniffing involves opening the instruments to allow molecules from the surface to drift inside. The instruments are already doing this and returning data.

Panoramic view around the point of Philae's final touchdown on the surface of comet 67P, taken when Rosetta was about 18km from centre of comet. Parts of Philae's landing gear can be seen in this picture.
Panoramic view around the point of Philae’s final touchdown on the surface of comet 67P, taken when Rosetta was about 18km from centre of comet. Parts of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in this picture.Photograph: European Space Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Drilling is much riskier because it could make the lander topple over... Pushing down into the surface will push the lander off again. “We don’t want to start drilling and end the mission,” said Bibring.
But the team has decided to operate another moving instrument, named Mupus, on Thursday evening. This could cause Philae to shift, but calculations show that it would be in a direction that could improve the amount of sunlight falling on the probe. A change in angle of only a few degrees could help. A new panoramic image will be taken after the Mupus deployment to see if there has been any movement.

Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter team will continue to try to pinpoint Philae’s position.

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Are we sending aliens the right messages?


(Nasa)


bbc.com

Artist Carrie Paterson has long dreamed of beaming messages far out to the emptiness of space. Except her messages would have an extra dimension – smell.

By broadcasting formulae of aromatic chemicals, she says, aliens could reconstruct all sorts of whiffs that help to define life on Earth: animal blood and faeces, sweet floral and citrus scents or benzene to show our global dependence on the car. This way intelligent life forms on distant planets who may not see or hear as we do, says Paterson, could explore us through smell, one of the most primitive and ubiquitous senses of all.
(Wikipedia)
It is nearly 40 years since the Arecibo facility sent messages out into space (Wikipedia)

Her idea is only the latest in a list of attempts to hail intelligent life outside of the Solar System. Forty years ago this month, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico sent an iconic picture message into space – and we’ve arguably been broadcasting to aliens ever since we invented TV and radio.

However in recent years, astronomers, artists, linguists and anthropologists have been converging on the idea that creating comprehensible messages for aliens is much harder than it seems. This week, Paterson and others discussed the difficulties of talking to our cosmic neighbours at a conference called Communicating Across the Cosmos, held by Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It seems our traditional ways of communicating through pictures and language may well be unintelligible – or worse, be catastrophically misconstrued. So how should we be talking to ET?

Lost in translation?

We have always wanted to send messages about humanity beyond the planet. According to Albert Harrison, a space psychologist and author of Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore, the first serious designs for contacting alien life appeared two centuries ago, though they never got off the ground.


In the 1800s, mathematician Carl Gauss proposed cutting down lines of trees in a densely forested area and replanting the strips with wheat or rye, Harrison wrote in his book. “The contrasting colours would form a giant triangle and three squares known as a Pythagoras figure which could be seen from the Moon or even Mars.” Not long after, the astronomer Joseph von Littrow proposed creating huge water-filled channels topped with kerosene. “Igniting them at night showed geometric patterns such as triangles that Martians would interpret as a sign of intelligence, not nature.”

But in the 20th Century, we began to broadcast in earnest. The message sent by Arecibo hoped to make first contact on its 21,000 year journey to the edge of the Milky Way. The sketches it contained, made from just 1,679 digital bits, look cute to us today, very much of the ‘Pong’ video game generation.  Just before then, Nasa’s Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes each carried a metal calling card bolted onto their frame with symbols and drawings on the plaque, showing a naked man and woman.

Yet it’s possible that these kinds of message may turn out to be incomprehensible to aliens; they might find it as cryptic as we find Stone Age etchings.

Antique tech

“Linear drawings of a male and a female homo sapiens are legible to contemporary humans,” says Marek Kultys, a London-based science communications designer. ”But the interceptors of Pioneer 10 could well assume we are made of several separate body parts (i.e. faces, hair and the man’s chest drawn as a separate closed shapes) and our body surface is home for long worm-like beings (the single lines defining knees, abdomens or collarbones.).”

Man-made tech may also be an issue. The most basic requirement for understanding Voyager’s Golden Record, launched 35 years ago and now way out beyond Pluto, is a record player. Aliens able to play it at 16 and 2/3 revolutions a minute will hear audio greetings in 55 world languages, including a message of ‘Peace and Friendship’ from former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. But how many Earthlings today have record players, let alone extraterrestrials?
(Nasa)
Our sights and sounds of Earth might be unintelligible to an alien audience (Nasa)



Time capsule

Inevitably such messages become outdated too, like time capsules. Consider the case of the Oglethorpe Atlanta Crypt of Civilization – a time capsule sealed on Earth in 1940, complete with a dry martini and a poster of Gone With the Wind. It was intended as a snapshot of 20th Century life for future humans, not aliens, but like an intergalactic message, may only give a limited picture to future generations. When, in 61,000 years, the Oglethorpe time capsule is opened, would Gone With The Wind have stood the test of time?


(Nasa)
This message was taken into the stars by Pioneer - but we have no idea if aliens would be able to understand it (Nasa)

Kultys argues that all these factors should be taken into account when we calculate the likelihood of communicating with intelligent life. The astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation allows anyone to calculate how many alien species are, based on likely values of seven different factors. At a UK Royal Society meeting in 2010 Drake estimated there are roughly 10,000 detectable civilisations in the galaxy. Yet Kultys points out that we should also factor in how many aliens are using the same channel of communications as us, are as willing to contact us as we are them, whose language we hope to learn, and who are physically similar to us.

Another barrier we might consider is the long distance nature of trans-cosmos communication. It means that many years ‒ even a thousand ‒ could pass between sending a message and receiving a reply. Paterson sees romance in that. “Our hope for communication with another intelligent civilisation has a melancholic aspect to it. 
We are on an island in a vast, dark space. Imagine if communication… became like an exchange of perfumed love letters with the quiet agony of expectation... Will we meet? Will we be as the other imagined? Will the other be able to understand us?”

Ready for an answer?

Anthropologist John Traphagan of the University of Texas in Austin has been asking the same question, though his view is more cautious. "When it comes to ET, you'll get a signal of some kind; not much information and very long periods between ‘Hi, how are you?’ and whatever comes back. We may just shrug our shoulders and say 'This is boring’, and soon forget about it or, if the time lag wasn't too long, we might use the minimal information we get from our slow-speed conversation to invent what we think they're like and invent a kind concept of what they're after.”

(20th Century Fox)
The aliens in Independence Day (1996) did not come in peace (20th Century Fox)
While we have been sending out messages, we have not been preparing the planet for what happens when we get an interstellar return call. First contact could cause global panic. We might assume those answering are bent on galactic domination or, perhaps less likely, that they are peaceful when in fact they’re nasty.

Consider how easy it is to mess up human-to-human communications; I got Traphagan’s first name wrong when I e-mailed him for this article. An apology within minutes cleared up the confusion, yet if he had been an alien anthropologist on some distant planet it would have taken much longer to fix. He later confessed: "I could have thought this is a snooty English journalist and our conversation might never have happened."

Even if Earth’s interstellar messaging committees weeded out the typos, cultural gaffes are always a possibility. These can only be avoided by understanding the alien’s culture – something that’s not easy to do, especially when you’ve never met those you’re communicating with.

Rosy picture

So, what is the best way to communicate? This is still up for grabs – perhaps it’s via smell, or some other technique we haven’t discovered yet. Clearly, creating a message that is timeless, free of cultural bias and universally comprehensible would be no mean feat.


But for starters, being honest about who we are is important if we want to have an extra-terrestrial dialogue lasting centuries, says Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at Seti. (Otherwise, intelligent civilisations who’ve decoded our radio and TV signals might smell a rat.)

(Nasa)
The golden discs aboard the Voyager spacecraft require aliens to understand how to play a record (Nasa)

“Let's not try to hide our shortcomings,” says Vakoch. “The message we should send to another world is straightforward: We are a young civilisation, in the throes of our technological adolescence. We're facing a lot of problems here on Earth, and we're not even sure that we'll be around as a species when their reply comes in. But in spite of all of these challenges, we humans also have hope – especially hope in ourselves."


Yet ultimately what matters, says Paterson, is that they stop and consider the beings who sent them a message; the people who wanted to say: “Here are some important things. Here’s our DNA, here is some maths and universal physics. And here is our longing and desire to say “I’m like you, but I’m different.”

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