Tag: Pennsylvania State University

Habitable’ Super-Earth Might Exist After All

Artist's impression of Gliese 581d, a controversial exoplanet that may exist only 20 light-years from Earth.

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

Despite having discovered nearly 2,000 alien worlds beyond our solar system, the profound search for exoplanets — a quest focused on finding a true Earth analog — is still in its infancy. It is therefore not surprising that some exoplanet discoveries aren’t discoveries at all; they are in fact just noise in astronomical data sets.

But when disproving the existence of extrasolar planets that have some characteristics similar to Earth, we need to take more care during the analyses of these data, argue astronomers from Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Hertfordshire.

In a paper published by the journal Science last week, the researchers focus on the first exoplanet discovered to orbit a nearby star within its habitable zone.

Revealed in 2009, Gliese 581d hit the headlines as a “super-Earth” that had the potential to support liquid water on its possibly rocky surface. With a mass of around 7 times that of Earth, Gliese 581d would be twice as big with a surface gravity around twice that of Earth. Though extreme, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination that such a world, if it is proven to possess an atmosphere and liquid ocean, that life could take hold.

And the hunt for life-giving alien worlds is, of course, the central motivation for exoplanetary studies.

But the exoplanet signal has been called into doubt.
Gliese 581d’s star, Gliese 581, is a small red dwarf around 20 light-years away. Red dwarfs are known to be tempestuous little stars, often generating violent flaring outbursts and peppered in dark features called starspots. To detect the exoplanet, astronomers measured the very slight frequency shift (Doppler shift) of light from the star — as the world orbits, it exerts a tiny gravitational “tug”, causing the star to wobble. When this periodic wobble is detected, through an astronomical technique known as the “radial velocity method,” a planet may be revealed.

Last year, however, in a publication headed by astronomers at The Pennsylvania State University, astronomers pointed to the star’s activity as an interfering factor that may have imitated the signal from an orbiting planet when in fact, it was just noisy data.

But this conclusion was premature, argues Guillem Anglada-Escudé, of Queen Mary, saying that “one needs to be more careful with these kind of claims.”

“The existence, or not, of GJ 581d is significant because it was the first Earth-like planet discovered in the ‘Goldilocks’-zone around another star and it is a benchmark case for the Doppler technique,” said Anglada-Escudé in a university press release. “There are always discussions among scientists about the ways we interpret data but I’m confident that GJ 581d has been in orbit around Gliese 581 all along. In any case, the strength of their statement was way too strong. If the way to treat the data had been right, then some planet search projects at several ground-based observatories would need to be significantly revised as they are all aiming to detect even smaller planets.”

The upshot is that this new paper challenges the statistical technique used in 2014 to account for the signal being stellar noise — focusing around the presence of starspots in Gliese 581′s photosphere.

Gliese 581d isn’t the only possible exoplanet that exists around that star — controversy has also been created by another, potentially habitable exoplanet called Gliese 581g. Also originally detected through the wobble of the star, this 3-4 Earth mass world was found to also be in orbit within the habitable zone. But its existence has been the focus of several studies supporting and discounting its presence. Gliese 581 is also home to 3 other confirmed exoplanets, Gliese 581e, b and c.

Currently, observational data suggests Gliese 581g was just noise, but as the continuing debate about Gliese 581d is proving, this is one controversy that will likely keep on rumbling in the scientific journals for some time.

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Theoretical physics: The origins of space and time

Excerpt from nature.com
By Zeeya Merali

Many researchers believe that physics will not be complete until it can explain not just the behaviour of space and time, but where these entities come from.

“Imagine waking up one day and realizing that you actually live inside a computer game,” says Mark Van Raamsdonk, describing what sounds like a pitch for a science-fiction film. But for Van Raamsdonk, a physicist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, this scenario is a way to think about reality. If it is true, he says, “everything around us — the whole three-dimensional physical world — is an illusion born from information encoded elsewhere, on a two-dimensional chip”. That would make our Universe, with its three spatial dimensions, a kind of hologram, projected from a substrate that exists only in lower dimensions.

This 'holographic principle' is strange even by the usual standards of theoretical physics. But Van Raamsdonk is one of a small band of researchers who think that the usual ideas are not yet strange enough. If nothing else, they say, neither of the two great pillars of modern physics — general relativity, which describes gravity as a curvature of space and time, and quantum mechanics, which governs the atomic realm — gives any account for the existence of space and time. Neither does string theory, which describes elementary threads of energy.

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Zeeya Merali discusses some of the theories that are trying to explain the origins of space and time.

Van Raamsdonk and his colleagues are convinced that physics will not be complete until it can explain how space and time emerge from something more fundamental — a project that will require concepts at least as audacious as holography. They argue that such a radical reconceptualization of reality is the only way to explain what happens when the infinitely dense 'singularity' at the core of a black hole distorts the fabric of space-time beyond all recognition, or how researchers can unify atomic-level quantum theory and planet-level general relativity — a project that has resisted theorists' efforts for generations.

“All our experiences tell us we shouldn't have two dramatically different conceptions of reality — there must be one huge overarching theory,” says Abhay Ashtekar, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

Finding that one huge theory is a daunting challenge. Here, Nature explores some promising lines of attack — as well as some of the emerging ideas about how to test these concepts...

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Space station detector reports more hints of dark matter—or not

New reports of further evidence for dark matter have been greatly exaggerated. Yesterday, researchers working with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a $2 billion cosmic ray detector attached to the International Space Station, reported their latest data on a supposed excess of high-energy positrons from space. They contended—at least in a press release—that the new results could offer new hints that they’ve detected particles of dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity binds the galaxies. But several cosmic ray physicists say that the AMS data are still perfectly consistent with much more mundane explanations of the excess. And they doubt AMS alone will resolve the issue.
The leader of the AMS team, Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, takes care to say that the new results do not prove that AMS has detected dark matter. But he also says the data lend more support to that interpretation than to some others. "The key statement is that we have not found a contradiction with the dark matter explanation," he says.
The controversy centers on AMS's measurement of a key ratio, the number of antimatter positrons to the sum of positrons and electrons. In April 2013, AMS confirmed early reports that as the energy of the particles increased above about 8 gigaelectron Volts (GeV), that ratio, or "positron fraction," increased, even as the individual fluxes of electrons and positrons were falling. That increase in the relative abundance of positrons could signal the presence of dark matter particles. According to many theories, if those particles collide, they would annihilate each other to produce electron-positron pairs. That would alter the balance of electrons and positrons among cosmic rays, as the usual source such as the cloudlike remnants of supernova explosions produce far more electrons than positrons.
However, that interpretation was hardly certain. Even before AMS released its measurement of the ratio, astrophysicists had argued that the excess positrons could potentially emanate from an undetected nearby pulsar. In November 2013, Eli Waxman, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues went even further. They argued that the excess positrons could come simply from the interactions of "primary" cosmic rays from supernova remnants with the interstellar medium. If so, then the positrons were just "secondary" rays and nothing to write home about.
However, AMS team researchers see two new features that are consistent with the dark matter interpretation, they reported online yesterday in Physical Review Letters. First, the AMS team now sees that after rising with energy, the positron fraction seems to level off and may begin to fall at an energy of 275 GeV, as would be expected if the excess were produced by colliding dark matter particles, as the original particles' mass would put an upper limit on the energy of the positron they spawned. AMS researchers say the leveling off would be consistent with a dark matter particle with a mass of 1 teraelectron volt (TeV). (Thanks to Albert Einstein’s famous equivalence of mass and energy, the two can be measured in the same units.)
Second, the AMS team measured the spectra of electrons and positrons individually. They found that the spectra have different shapes as energy increases. "It's really surprising that the electrons and positrons are so different," Ting says. And, he argues, the difference suggests that the positrons cannot be secondary cosmic rays produced by primary cosmic ray electrons, as such production should lead to similar spectra.
But some cosmic ray physicists aren't convinced. For example, in AMS's graph of the electron fraction, the error bars at the highest energies are large because the high-energy particles are so rare. And those uncertainties make it unclear whether the positron fraction really starts to drop, says Stéphane Coutu, a cosmic ray physicist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. And even if the positron fraction does fall at energies higher than AMS reported, that wouldn't prove the positrons come from dark matter annihilations, Coutu says. Such a "cutoff" could easily arise in positrons from a pulsar, he says, if the spatial region in which the pulsar accelerates particles is of limited size. All told, the new results are "probably consistent with anything," Coutu says.
Similarly, Waxman questions Ting's claim that the new data suggest the positrons aren't simply secondary cosmic rays. If that were the case, then the electrons and positrons would be coming from different places and there would be no reason to expect their spectra to be similar, Waxman says. Moreover, he notes, AMS's measurement of the positron fraction seems to level out just at the limit that he and colleagues predicted would be the maximum achievable through secondary cosmic rays. So, in fact, the new data support the interpretation that the positrons are simply secondary cosmic rays, he says. "To me this is a very strong indication that we are seeing cosmic ray interactions.”
Will the argument ever end? AMS is scheduled to take data for 10 more years, which should enable scientists to whittle down the uncertainties and extend their reach toward higher energies, Ting says. "I think we should be able to reach 1 TeV with good statistics," he says, and that should be enough to eventually settle the dispute. But Gregory Tarlé, an astrophysicist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says, "I don't think that's a legitimate claim." Higher energy cosmic rays arrive at such a low rate that even quadrupling the data set would leave large statistical uncertainties, he says. So, Tarlé suspects, years from now the AMS results will likely look about as ambiguous they do now.

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The secrets of the REAL Ron Paul


Posted By: Watchman Date: Sunday, 11-Dec-2011 11:15:17

Long before he discovered Friedrich Hayek and other free-market economists, Ron Paul got a lesson in sound money from his oldest brother, Bill.

It was the height of Worl...

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Travel Faster Than the Speed of Light? by Clara Moskowitz


Strange Particles May Travel Faster than Light, Breaking Laws of Physics By Clara Moskowitz | LiveScience.com

New results from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland seem to break this cardinal rule of physics, calling into question...

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Honey bees are dying all over the globe. Here’s why!


by Dan Eden for Viewzone

For over a year, the media has been reporting about the dramatic loss of bees in Europe and North America. As many as 50% to 90% of the bee populations have simply vanished, leaving their hiv...

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Magnetic Resonance Make Tangible “Invisible”


By Mitch Battros - Earth Changes Media Mar 2, 2011 - 11:22:50 AM  

New findings show the manipulation of magnetic resonance (charged particles) can be used to make visible tangible items (see, touch, solid) "invisibl...

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