Tag: solar systems (page 1 of 3)

YOU ARE FINDING MOST ANSWERS WITHIN! Wake up Call Saint Germain Galactic Federation of Light

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Sea Salt Discovered on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

This image shows a view of the trailing hemisphere of Jupiter's ice-covered satellite, Europa, in approximate natural color. Long, dark lines are fractures in the crust, some of which are more than 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) long.   Image via Galileo spacecraft in 1996.

Europa is thought to have a subsurface ocean. Salt from this hidden sea might be emerging in long fractures visible in the moon’s crust.



Excerpt earthsky.org


Laboratory experiments have lead to new information about the chemical composition of the mysterious dark material in the long, dark fractures on the surface of Europa, a large moon of Jupiter. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mimicked conditions on Europa’s surface. They now say that the dark material is discolored salt, likely sea salt from below the moon’s icy crust. The journal Geological Research Letters published their study on May 15, 2015.

The scientists say this new insight is important in considering whether this icy moon might be hospitable for extraterrestrial life. The life question is a key one for Europa, since this world is believed to have a liquid ocean beneath its crust. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor.

Scientists have been intensely curious about Europa since Galileo discovered it in 1610. In recent years, they’ve puzzled over the dark material coating the long, linear fractures on Europa’s observable surface. The material was associated with young terrain on this moon of Jupiter, suggesting that it had erupted from within Europa.
However, the chemical composition of the dark material remained elusive, until now.
Planetary scientist Kevin Hand at JPL led the new study. He said in a statement:
If it’s just salt from the ocean below, that would be a simple and elegant solution for what the dark, mysterious material is.
Europa is immersed radiation from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, causing high-powered electrons to slam into the moon’s surface. Hand and his team created a laboratory test that mimicked the conditions of Europa’s temperature, pressure, and radiation exposure. They tested a variety of samples including common salt – sodium chloride – and salt water in a vacuum chamber at Europa’s chilly surface temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 Celsius). They also bombarded the samples with an electron beam to imitate Jupiter’s influence. 

After several hours – a time period corresponding to over a century on Europa, the researchers said – the salt samples were observed to go from white to a yellowish brown, the color similar to the features on the icy moon. Hand said:
This work tells us the chemical signature of radiation-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa’s mystery material.
A
A “Europa-in-a-can” laboratory setup at NASA-JPL mimics conditions of temperature, near vacuum and heavy radiation on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech


A close-up of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a
Close-up of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a “Europa-in-a-can” test setup at JPL. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech


Until now, telescopic observations have only shown glimpses of irradiated salts. No telescope on Earth can observe Europa’s surface with enough resolution to identify them with certainty. Researchers suggest additional spacecraft observation to gather more evidence.
A visit to this icy world would help answer the most tantalizing questions about Europa. Long believed to have a liquid ocean of salt water below its icy surface, this moon continues to display promising conditions for extraterrestrial life. 

As Europa orbits Jupiter, it experiences strong tidal forces similar to Earth and the Moon. These forces from Jupiter and the other Jovian moons cause Europa to flex and stretch, which creates heat, and results in Europa having a warm internal temperature than it would with just the heat from the Sun alone. 

Recent observable geological activity also creates strong evidence that the subsurface ocean interacts directly with Europa’s rocky interior, making geothermal vents, like those in Earth’s oceans, a strong possibility as well. 

These hydrothermal vent ecosystems on Earth thrive with no energy from the sun. Bacteria, shrimp and crustaceans have all been observed in these extreme environments, surviving on what researchers have deemed chemosythesis.

With Europa’s enormous amount of liquid salt water, essential chemical elements and geological activity, this long discovered icy moon appears to be one of the solar systems most promising locations for habitable requirements for life. 

However, until a devoted spacecraft visit’s, nothing beyond hopeful speculation can be proven, the researchers say.

Bottom line: Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created laboratory conditions that mimicked those on Jupiter’s large moon Europa, to learn the chemical compositions of the material in long, dark fractures in the moon’s surface. They now believe this material is sea salt, which has emerged to Europa’s surface from its liquid ocean below.

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Sea Salt Discovered on Jupiter’s Moon Europa

This image shows a view of the trailing hemisphere of Jupiter's ice-covered satellite, Europa, in approximate natural color. Long, dark lines are fractures in the crust, some of which are more than 3,000 kilometers (1,850 miles) long.   Image via Galileo spacecraft in 1996.

Europa is thought to have a subsurface ocean. Salt from this hidden sea might be emerging in long fractures visible in the moon’s crust.



Excerpt earthsky.org


Laboratory experiments have lead to new information about the chemical composition of the mysterious dark material in the long, dark fractures on the surface of Europa, a large moon of Jupiter. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mimicked conditions on Europa’s surface. They now say that the dark material is discolored salt, likely sea salt from below the moon’s icy crust. The journal Geological Research Letters published their study on May 15, 2015.

The scientists say this new insight is important in considering whether this icy moon might be hospitable for extraterrestrial life. The life question is a key one for Europa, since this world is believed to have a liquid ocean beneath its crust. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor.

Scientists have been intensely curious about Europa since Galileo discovered it in 1610. In recent years, they’ve puzzled over the dark material coating the long, linear fractures on Europa’s observable surface. The material was associated with young terrain on this moon of Jupiter, suggesting that it had erupted from within Europa.
However, the chemical composition of the dark material remained elusive, until now.
Planetary scientist Kevin Hand at JPL led the new study. He said in a statement:
If it’s just salt from the ocean below, that would be a simple and elegant solution for what the dark, mysterious material is.
Europa is immersed radiation from Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field, causing high-powered electrons to slam into the moon’s surface. Hand and his team created a laboratory test that mimicked the conditions of Europa’s temperature, pressure, and radiation exposure. They tested a variety of samples including common salt – sodium chloride – and salt water in a vacuum chamber at Europa’s chilly surface temperature of minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 173 Celsius). They also bombarded the samples with an electron beam to imitate Jupiter’s influence. 

After several hours – a time period corresponding to over a century on Europa, the researchers said – the salt samples were observed to go from white to a yellowish brown, the color similar to the features on the icy moon. Hand said:
This work tells us the chemical signature of radiation-baked sodium chloride is a compelling match to spacecraft data for Europa’s mystery material.
A
A “Europa-in-a-can” laboratory setup at NASA-JPL mimics conditions of temperature, near vacuum and heavy radiation on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech


A close-up of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a
Close-up of salt grains discolored by radiation following exposure in a “Europa-in-a-can” test setup at JPL. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech


Until now, telescopic observations have only shown glimpses of irradiated salts. No telescope on Earth can observe Europa’s surface with enough resolution to identify them with certainty. Researchers suggest additional spacecraft observation to gather more evidence.
A visit to this icy world would help answer the most tantalizing questions about Europa. Long believed to have a liquid ocean of salt water below its icy surface, this moon continues to display promising conditions for extraterrestrial life. 

As Europa orbits Jupiter, it experiences strong tidal forces similar to Earth and the Moon. These forces from Jupiter and the other Jovian moons cause Europa to flex and stretch, which creates heat, and results in Europa having a warm internal temperature than it would with just the heat from the Sun alone. 

Recent observable geological activity also creates strong evidence that the subsurface ocean interacts directly with Europa’s rocky interior, making geothermal vents, like those in Earth’s oceans, a strong possibility as well. 

These hydrothermal vent ecosystems on Earth thrive with no energy from the sun. Bacteria, shrimp and crustaceans have all been observed in these extreme environments, surviving on what researchers have deemed chemosythesis.

With Europa’s enormous amount of liquid salt water, essential chemical elements and geological activity, this long discovered icy moon appears to be one of the solar systems most promising locations for habitable requirements for life. 

However, until a devoted spacecraft visit’s, nothing beyond hopeful speculation can be proven, the researchers say.

Bottom line: Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created laboratory conditions that mimicked those on Jupiter’s large moon Europa, to learn the chemical compositions of the material in long, dark fractures in the moon’s surface. They now believe this material is sea salt, which has emerged to Europa’s surface from its liquid ocean below.

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For the first time, scientists find complex organic molecules in an infant star system



Artist impression of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star MWC 480. ALMA has detected the complex organic molecule methyl cyanide in the outer reaches of the disk in the region where comets are believed to form. This is another indication that complex organic chemistry, and potentially the conditions necessary for life, is universal. (B. Saxton/NRAO/AUI/NSF)



Excerpt from washingtonpost.com

We're not special. Or our complex organic molecules aren't, anyway. And that's good news in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

In a new study published Wednesday in Nature, astronomers found the first signs of the complex, carbon-based molecules that make life possible on Earth in a protoplanetary disk; the region where cosmic building blocks gather to create planets in a brand-new star system. The cyanides found there are essential to life as we know it: without them, there would be no proteins.

"We know when our own solar system was very young, it was rich in water and complex organics. We know that from observing comets," explained study author Karin Öberg, an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard. Comets have kept the molecules of our solar system's early days locked up tight ever since, which is why scientists are so eager to study them for clues about Earth's formation. These comets show us that certain organic molecules were common in our solar system's pre-planetary days.

But this is the first time we've seen evidence of such molecules ready to seed another star system with planets that could support life.
"We're finding that we're not that special," Öberg said. "Other young solar systems in the making are also rich in the same volatiles, and in similar proportions."

And in this case, she said, being not-special is a great thing: If other solar systems formed just the way ours did, we can hope that they formed some kind of life, too.

Öberg and her colleagues found the molecules using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a radio telescope with some pretty sweet resolution. They spotted the complex organics as much as 15 billion kilometers from the star itself, which they believe is right smack dab in the middle of the system's comet-forming region. That means the organics could get locked away in comets, just as the ones in our solar system were, and go out to seed future planets with them (as some believe was the case with Earth).

"It was kind of a chance discovery, because we weren't targeting this specific molecule," Öberg said. So she and her team need to go back and look more systematically. She also hopes they'll be able to find more systems to look at. The star they've observed -- MWC 480, located some 455 light-years away in the Taurus star-forming region -- is twice the mass of the sun, so they also hope to find some that are more similar to our host star.

 "We of course want to know whether this is a really common thing or if we just lucked out on this one," Öberg said.

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Jupiter May Be Behind The Mysterious ‘Gaping Hole’ In Our Solar System

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comWhen astronomers began studying other solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy back in the 1990s, they noticed something peculiar: most of these systems have big planets that circle their host stars in tight orbits, a fin...

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Young Jupiter wiped out solar system’s early inner planets, study says


Ganymede
(Photo : NASA/ESA) In early days of solar system, Jupiter destroyed everything that came in its way, researchers have found.


Excerpt from latimes.com

Before Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars occupied the inner solar system, there may have been a previous generation of planets that were bigger and more numerous – but were ultimately doomed by Jupiter, according to a new study.

If indeed the early solar system was crowded with so-called super-Earths, it would have looked a lot more like the planetary systems found elsewhere in the galaxy, scientists wrote Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Inner planets
As NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 1,000 planets in orbit around other stars, along with more than 4,000 other objects that are believed to be planets but haven’t yet been confirmed. Kepler finds these planets by watching their host stars and registering tiny drops in their brightness – a sign that they are being ever-so-slightly darkened by a planet crossing in front of them.

In addition, ground-based telescopes have detected hundreds of exoplanets by measuring the wiggles of distant stars. Those stars wiggle thanks to the gravitational pull of orbiting planets, and the Doppler effect makes it possible to estimate the size of these planets.

The more planetary systems astronomers discovered, the more our own solar system looked like an oddball. Exoplanets – at least the ones big enough for us to see – tended to be bigger than Earth, with tight orbits that took them much closer to their host stars. In multi-planet systems, these orbits tended to be much closer together than they are in our solar system. For instance, the star known as Kepler-11 has six planets closer to it than Venus is to the sun.

Why does our solar system look so different? Astrophysicists Konstantin Batygin of Caltech and Greg Laughlin of UC Santa Cruz summed it up in one word: Jupiter.

Here’s what could have happened, according to their models:

In Solar System 1.0, the region closest to the sun was occupied by numerous planets with masses several times bigger than that of Earth. There were also planetesimals, “planetary building blocks” that formed within the first million years after the birth of the sun, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

This is how things might have stayed if the young Jupiter had stayed put at its initial orbit, between 3 and 10 astronomical units away from the sun. (An astronomical unit, or AU, is the distance between the Earth and the sun. Today, Jupiter’s orbit ranges between 5 and 5.5 AUs from the sun.)

But Jupiter was restless, according to a scenario known as the “Grand Tack.” In this version of events, Jupiter was swept up by the currents of gas that surrounded the young sun and drifted toward the center of the solar system.

Jupiter, however, was too big to travel solo. All manner of smaller objects would have been dragged along too. With so many bodies in motion, there would have been a lot of crashes.

The result was “a collisional cascade that grinds down the planetesimal population to smaller sizes,” the astrophysicists wrote. For the most part, these planetary crumbs were swept toward the sun and ultimately destroyed, like disintegrating satellites falling back to Earth.

The planetesimals wouldn’t have been Jupiter’s only victims. Assuming the early solar system resembled the planetary systems spied by Kepler and other telescopes, there would have been “a similar population of first-generation planets,” the pair wrote. “If such planets formed, however, they were destroyed.”

Jupiter probably got about as close to the sun as Mars is today before reversing course, pulled away by the gravity of the newly formed Saturn. That would have ended the chaos in the inner solar system, allowing Earth and the other rocky planets to form from the debris that remained.

“This scenario provides a natural explanation for why the inner Solar System bears scant resemblance to the ubiquitous multi-planet systems” discovered by Kepler and other survey efforts, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

Although their models show that this is what might have happened, they don’t prove that it actually did. But there may be a way to get closer to the truth.

The scientists’ equations suggest that if a star is orbited by a cluster of close-in planets, there won’t be a larger, farther-out planet in the same system. As astronomers find more exoplanetary systems, they can see whether this prediction holds up.

Also, if far-away solar systems are experiencing a similar series of events, telescopes ought to be able to detect the extra heat thrown off by all of the planetesimal collisions, they added.

Sadly for those hoping to find life on other planets, the pair’s calculations also imply that most Earth-sized planets are lacking in water and other essential compounds that can exist in liquid or solid form. As a result, they would be “uninhabitable,” they wrote.

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Top Secret Government Programs That Your Not Supposed To Know About

Originally Posted at in5d.com The following is the alleged result of the actions of one or more scientists creating a covert, unauthorized notebook documenting their involvement with an Above Top Secret government program. Government publications and information obtained by the use of public tax monies cannot be subject to copyright. This document is released into the public domain for all citizens of the United States of America. THE ‘MAJIC PROJECTS’ SIGMA is the project whic [...]

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Chances of Exoplanet Life ‘Impossible’? Or ‘100 percent’?


Kepler’s Exoplanets: A map of the locations of exoplanets, of various masses, in the Kepler field of view. 1,235 candidates are plotted (NASA/Wendy Stenzel)


 news.discovery.com 

Just in case you haven’t heard, our galaxy appears to be teeming with small worlds, many of which are Earth-sized candidate exoplanets and dozens appear to be orbiting their parent stars in their “habitable zones.”

Before Wednesday’s Kepler announcement, we knew of just over 500 exoplanets orbiting stars in the Milky Way. Now the space telescope has added another 1,235 candidates to the tally — what a difference 24 hours makes.

Although this is very exciting, the key thing to remember is that we are talking about exoplanet candidates, which means Kepler has detected 1,235 exoplanet signals, but more work needs to be done (i.e. more observing time) to refine their orbits, masses and, critically, to find out whether they actually exist.

But, statistically speaking, a pattern is forming. Kepler has opened our eyes to the fact our galaxy is brimming with small worlds — some candidates approaching Mars-sized dimensions!

Earth-Brand™ Life

Before Kepler, plenty of Jupiter-sized worlds could be seen, but with its precision eye for spotting the tiniest of fluctuations of star brightness (as a small exoplanet passes between Kepler and the star), the space telescope has found that smaller exoplanets outnumber the larger gas giants.

Needless to say, all this talk of “Earth-sized” worlds (and the much-hyped “Earth-like” misnomer) has added fuel to the extraterrestrial life question: If there’s a preponderance of small exoplanets — some of which orbit within the “sweet-spot” of the habitable zones of their parent stars — could life as we know it (or Earth-Brand™ Life as I like to call it) also be thriving there?
Before I answer that question, let’s turn back the clock to Sept. 29, 2010, when, in the wake of the discovery of the exoplanet Gliese 581 g, Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, told Discovery News: “Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on [Gliese 581 g] are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it.”

Impossible? Or 100 Percent?

As it turns out, Gliese 581 g may not actually exist — an excellent example of the progress of science scrutinizing a candidate exoplanet in complex data sets as my Discovery News colleague Nicole Gugliucci discusses in “Gliese 581g and the Nature of Science” — but why was Vogt so certain that there was life on Gliese 581 g? Was he “wrong” to air this opinion?

Going to the opposite end of the spectrum, Howard Smith, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, made the headlines earlier this year when he announced, rather pessimistically, that aliens will unlikely exist on the extrasolar planets we are currently detecting.
“We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” Smith told the UK’s Telegraph.

Smith made comparisons between our own solar system with the interesting HD 10180 system, located 127 light-years away. HD 10180 was famous for a short time as being the biggest star system beyond our own, containing five exoplanets (it has since been trumped by Kepler-11, a star system containing six exoplanets as showcased in Wednesday’s Kepler announcement).

One of HD 10180′s worlds is thought to be around 1.4 Earth-masses, making it the smallest detected exoplanet before yesterday. Alas, as Smith notes, that is where the similarities end; the “Earth-sized” world orbiting HD 10180 is too close to its star, meaning it is a roasted exoplanet where any atmosphere is blasted into space by the star’s powerful radiation and stellar winds.
The Harvard scientist even dismissed the future Kepler announcement, pointing out that upcoming reports of habitable exoplanets would be few and far between. “Extrasolar systems are far more diverse than we expected, and that means very few are likely to support life,” he said.

Both Right and Wrong

So what can we learn about the disparity between Vogt and Smith’s opinions about the potential for life on exoplanets, regardless of how “Earth-like” they may seem?

Critically, both points of view concern Earth-Brand™ Life (i.e. us and the life we know and understand). As we have no experience of any other kind of life (although the recent eruption of interest over arsenic-based life is hotly debated), it is only Earth-like life we can realistically discuss.

We could do a Stephen Hawking and say that all kinds of life is possible anywhere in the cosmos, but this is pure speculation. Science only has life on Earth to work with, so (practically speaking) it’s pointless to say a strange kind of alien lifeform could live on an exoplanet where the surface is molten rock and constantly bathed in extreme stellar radiation.

If we take Hawking’s word for it, Vogt was completely justified for being so certain about life existing on Gliese 581 g. What’s more, there’s no way we could prove he’s wrong!

But if you set the very tight limits on where we could find Earth-like life, we are suddenly left with very few exoplanet candidates that fit the bill. Also, just because an Earth-sized planet might be found in the habitable zone of its star, doesn’t mean it’s actually habitable. There are many more factors to consider. So, in this case, Smith’s pessimism is well placed.

Regardless, exoplanet science is in its infancy and the uncertainty with the “is there life?” question is a symptom of being on the “raggedy edge of science,” as Nicole would say. We simply do not know what it takes to make a world habitable for any kind of life (apart from Earth), but it is all too tempting to speculate as to whether a race of extraterrestrials, living on one of Kepler’s worlds, is pondering these same questions.

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Stephen Hawking warns that attempting to contact aliens could invite disaster

Excerpt from cambridge-news.co.ukWhat is known as Active Seti will be under serious discussion this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, California. Seti spokesman Dr Seth...

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New data that fundamental physics constants underlie life-enabling universe

Excerpt from spacedaily.com For nearly half a century, theoretical physicists have made a series of discoveries that certain constants in fundamental physics seem extraordinarily fine-tuned to allow for the emergence of a life-enabling universe.Thi...

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Kepler Space Telescope Finds More Earth-like Planets ~ Learn how to join the search


 


Excerpt from
waaytv.com

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has been hunting the cosmos for exoplanets since March of 2009.  In its nearly five years of searching the stars, it has found thousands of possible candidates.  Scientists recently verified the thousandth planet Kepler had found, and even more exciting, they announced that Kepler had found three more Earth-like planets.
Those three planets bring Kepler's Earth-like planet count to a total of eight.  In order to qualify as "Earth-like," these exoplanets must be less than twice the size of the Earth and orbit their own sun within the habitable zone.  This "Goldilocks zone" is a belt in solar systems where it's neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist.

"Each result from the planet-hunting Kepler mission's treasure trove of data takes us another step closer to answering the question of whether we are alone in the Universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The Kepler team and its science community continue to produce impressive results with the data from this venerable explorer."

The Kepler team has also found super-Earths and gas giants like Jupiter around other stars.  NASA artists compiled retro-style travel posters from three discovered planets.
Kepler finds planets by watching distant stars for fluctuation in light.  If the light hitting the telescope drops dramatically and then returns to normal levels, chances are a planet came in between the star and Kepler.  Scientists can analyze the data and light filtered by the candidate planet's atmosphere to make guesses at the size, mass and composition.

"With each new discovery of these small, possibly rocky worlds, our confidence strengthens in the determination of the true frequency of planets like Earth," said co-author Doug Caldwell, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. "The day is on the horizon when we’ll know how common temperate, rocky planets like Earth are.”

The space telescope actually has two crippled stabilizing gyros.  But instead of giving up on the mission, engineers are using pressure from photons emitted by the sun to stabilize the telescope.  The first space telescope looking for alien worlds is literally balancing on a sunbeam to continue its mission, and that's not science fiction, that's science fact.

Citizen scientists can also participate in the mission.  The website PlanetHunters.org contains catalogs of data from K1, the original Kepler mission, and K2, the extended mission making use of the sun to balance the telescope.  The K2 data has been sorted through, but Planet Hunters still needs help sifting through the K1 data.
The website's instructions read:

"As the planet passes in front of (or transits) a star, it blocks out a small amount of the star’s light, making the star appear a little bit dimmer. You’re looking for points on the light curve that appear lower than the rest. When you spot a potential transit, mark each one on the light curve."

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Top 6 tips for using ordinary binoculars for stargazing




Excerpt from earthsky.org


Admit it.  You’ve probably got a pair of binoculars lying around your house somewhere. They may be perfect – that’s right, perfect – for beginning stargazing. Follow the links below to learn more about the best deal around for people who want to get acquainted with the night sky: a pair of ordinary binoculars.
1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes
2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size
3. First, view the moon with binoculars.
4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars.
5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.
6. Use your binoculars to peer beyond the Milky Way.

1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes. The fact is that most people who think they want to buy a telescope would be better off using binoculars for a year or so instead.  That’s because first-time telescope users often find themselves completely confused – and ultimately put off – by the dual tasks of learning the use a complicated piece of equipment (the ‘scope) while at the same time learning to navigate an unknown realm (the night sky).
Beginning stargazers often find that an ordinary pair of binoculars – available from any discount store – can give them the experience they’re looking for.  After all, in astronomy, magnification and light-gathering power let you see more of what’s up there.  Even a moderate form of power, like those provided by a pair of 7×50 binoculars, reveals 7 times as much information as the unaided eye can see.

You also need to know where to look. Many people start with a planisphere as they begin their journey making friends with the stars. You can purchase a planisphere at the EarthSky store. Also consider our Astronomy Kit, which has a booklet on what you can see with your binoculars.

2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size.  Don’t buy a huge pair of binoculars to start with! Unless you mount them on a tripod, they’ll shake and make your view of the heavens shakey, too. The video above – from ExpertVillage – does a good job summing up what you want. And in case you don’t want to watch the video, the answer is that 7X50 binoculars are optimum for budding astronomers.  You can see a lot, and you can hold them steadily enough that jitters don’t spoil your view of the sky.  Plus they’re very useful for daylight pursuits, like birdwatching. If 7X50s are too big for you – or if you want binoculars for a child – try 7X35s.

February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.
February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.

3. First, view the moon with binoculars. When you start to stargaze, you’ll want to watch the phase of the moon carefully. If you want to see deep-sky objects inside our Milky Way galaxy – or outside the galaxy – you’ll want to avoid the moon. But the moon itself is a perfect target for beginning astronomers, armed with binoculars. Hint: the best time to observe the moon is in twilight. Then the glare of the moon is not so great, and you’ll see more detail.

You’ll want to start your moon-gazing when the moon is just past new – and visible as a waxing crescent in the western sky after sunset. At such times, you’ll have a beautiful view of earthshine on the moon.  This eerie glow on the moon’s darkened portion is really light reflected from Earth onto the moon’s surface.  Be sure to turn your binoculars on the moon at these times to enhance the view. 
Each month, as the moon goes through its regular phases, you can see the line of sunrise and sunset on the moon progress across the moon’s face. That’s just the line between light and dark on the moon. This line between the day and night sides of the moon is called the terminator line.  The best place to look at the moon from Earth – using your binoculars – is along the terminator line. The sun angle is very low in this twilight zone, just as the sun is low in our sky around earthly twilight.  So, along the terminator on the moon, lunar features cast long shadows in sharp relief.

You can also look in on the gray blotches on the moon called maria, named when early astronomers thought these lunar features were seas.  The maria are not seas, of course, and instead they’re now thought to have formed 3.5 billion years ago when asteroid-sized rocks hit the moon so hard that lava percolated up through cracks in the lunar crust and flooded the impact basins. These lava plains cooled and eventually formed the gray seas we see today.

The white highlands, nestled between the maria, are older terrain pockmarked by thousands of craters that formed over the eons. Some of the larger craters are visible in binoculars. One of them, Tycho, at the six o’clock position on the moon, emanates long swatches of white rays for hundreds of miles over the adjacent highlands. This is material kicked out during the Tycho impact 2.5 million years ago.

View Larger. Photo of Jupiter's moons by Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - are easily seen through a low-powered telescope. Click here for a chart of Jupiter's moons
Photo of Jupiter’s moons by Earthsky Facebook friend Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter are called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. This is a telescopic view, but you can glimpse one, two or more moons through your binoculars, too.


4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars. Here’s the deal about planets.  They move around, apart from the fixed stars.  They are wanderers, right?

You can use our EarthSky Tonight page to locate planets visible around now.  Notice if any planets are mentioned in the calendar on the Tonight page, and if so click on that day’s link.  On our Tonight page, we feature planets on days when they’re easily identifiable for some reason – for example, when a planet is near the moon.  So our Tonight page calendar can help you come to know the planets, and, as you’re learning to identify them, keep your binoculars very handy. Binoculars will enhance your view of a planet near the moon, for example, or two planets near each other in the twilight sky. They add a lot to the fun!

Below, you’ll find some more simple ideas on how to view planets with your binoculars.

Mercury and Venus. These are both inner planets.  They orbit the sun closer than Earth’s orbit.  And for that reason, both Mercury and Venus show phases as seen from Earth at certain times in their orbit – a few days before or after the planet passes between the sun and Earth.  At such times,  turn your binoculars on Mercury or Venus. Good optical quality helps here, but you should be able to see them in a crescent phase. Tip: Venus is so bright that its glare will overwhelm the view. Try looking in twilight instead of true darkness.

Mars. Mars – the Red Planet – really does look red, and using binoculars will intensify the color of this object (or of any colored star). Mars also moves rapidly in front of the stars, and it’s fun to aim your binoculars in its direction when it’s passing near another bright star or planet.

Jupiter. Now on to the real action!  Jupiter is a great binocular target, even for beginners.   If you are sure to hold your binoculars steadily as you peer at this bright planet,  you should see four bright points of light near it.  These are the Galilean Satellites – four moons gleaned through one of the first telescopes ever made, by the Italian astronomer Galileo. Note how their relative positions change from night to night as each moon moves around Jupiter in its own orbit.

Saturn.Although a small telescope is needed to see Saturn’s rings, you can use your binoculars to see Saturn’s beautiful golden color.  Experienced observers sometimes glimpse Saturn’s largest moon Titan with binoculars.  Also, good-quality high-powered binoculars – mounted on a tripod – will show you that Saturn is not round.  The rings give it an elliptical shape.

Uranus and Neptune. Some planets are squarely binocular and telescope targets. If you’re armed with a finder chart, two of them, Uranus and Neptune, are easy to spot in binoculars. Uranus might even look greenish, thanks to methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Once a year, Uranus is barely bright enough to glimpse with the unaided eye . . . use binoculars to find it first. Distant Neptune will always look like a star, even though it has an atmosphere practically identical to Uranus.

There are still other denizens of the solar system you can capture through binocs. Look for the occasional comet, which appears as a fuzzy blob of light. Then there are the asteroids – fully 12 of them can be followed with binoculars when they are at their brightest. Because an asteroid looks star-like, the secret to confirming its presence is to sketch a star field through which it’s passing. Do this over subsequent nights; the star that changes position relative to the others is our solar system interloper.

Milky Way Galaxy arching over a Joshua tree

Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters
Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters





5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.  Binoculars can introduce you to many members of our home galaxy. A good place to start is with star clusters that are close to Earth. They cover a larger area of the sky than other, more distant clusters usually glimpsed through a telescope.

Beginning each autumn and into the spring, look for a tiny dipper-like cluster of stars called the Pleiades.  The cluster – sometimes also called the Seven Sisters – is noticeable for being small yet distinctively dipper-like. While most people say they see only six stars here with the unaided eye, binoculars reveal many more stars, plus a dainty chain of stars extending off to one side. The Pleiades star cluster is looks big and distinctive because it’s relatively close – about 400 light years from Earth. This dipper-shaped cluster is a true cluster of stars in space.  Its members were born around the same time and are still bound by gravity.  These stars are very young, on the order of 20 million years old, in contrast to the roughly five billion years for our sun.

Stars in a cluster all formed from the same gas cloud. You can also see what the Pleiades might have like in a primordial state, by shifting your gaze to the prominent constellation Orion the Hunter. Look for Orion’s sword stars, just below his prominent belt stars. If the night is crisp and clear, and you’re away from urban streetlight glare, unaided eyes will show that the sword isn’t entirely composed of stars. Binoculars show a steady patch of glowing gas where, right at this moment, a star cluster is being born. It’s called the Orion Nebula. A summertime counterpart is the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius the Archer.

With star factories like the Orion Nebula, we aren’t really seeing the young stars themselves. They are buried deep within the nebula, bathing the gas cloud with ultraviolet radiation and making it glow. In a few tens of thousands of years, stellar winds from these young, energetic stars will blow away their gaseous cocoons to reveal a newly minted star cluster.

Scan along the Milky Way to see still more sights that hint at our home galaxy’s complexity. First, there’s the Milky Way glow itself; just a casual glance through binoculars will reveal that it is still more stars we can’t resolve with our eyes . . . hundreds of thousands of them. Periodically, while scanning, you might sweep past what appears to be blob-like, black voids in the stellar sheen. These are dark, non-glowing pockets of gas and dust that we see silhouetted against the stellar backdrop. This is the stuff of future star and solar systems, just waiting around to coalesce into new suns.

Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.
Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.

Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy.  See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?  Click here to expand image.
Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy. See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?


6. Use your binoculars to view beyond the Milky Way.  Let’s leap out of our galaxy for the final stop in our binocular tour. Throughout fall and winter, she reigns high in the sky during northern hemisphere autumns and winters: Andromeda the Maiden. Centered in the star pattern is an oval patch of light, readily visible to the unaided eye away from urban lights. Binoculars will show it even better.

It’s a whole other galaxy like our own, shining across the vastness of intergalactic space. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy has traveled so far that it’s taken more than 2 million years to reach us.
Two smaller companions visible through binoculars on a dark, transparent night are the Andromeda Galaxy’s version of our Milky Way’s Magellanic Clouds. These small, orbiting, irregularly-shaped galaxies that will eventually be torn apart by their parent galaxy’s gravity.

Such sights, from lunar wastelands to the glow of a nearby island universe, are all within reach of a pair of handheld optics, really small telescopes in their own right: your binoculars.

John Shibley wrote the original draft of this article, years ago, and we’ve been expanding it and updating it ever since. Thanks, John!
Bottom line: For beginning stargazers, there’s no better tool than an ordinary pair of binoculars. This post tells you why, explains what size to get, and gives you a rundown on some of the coolest binoculars sights out there: the moon, the planets, inside the Milky Way, and beyond. Have fun!

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Exozodiacal Light Could Prevent Astronomers from Identifying Exo-planets


Exozodiacal Light could Prevent Astronomers from identifying Exo-planets


Excerpt from
uncovermichigan.com 

Astronomers have revealed that their efforts to spot earth-like planets, also called as exo-planets, could be undermined by space dust and grit from asteroid collisions in addition to comet remnants. According to them, exozodiacal light, which is a light reflected from dust and grime of asteroids, could hide exo-planets and their alien suns.

The researchers put the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) located in Chile into use to detect the exozodical light from far away galaxies. Researchers compared the results with the data available from previous studies to produce a clearer, more complete picture. Habitable areas in nine alien star systems were probably surrounded by these light formations.

Zodiacal light can be seen from earth as a white glow in areas with completely dark skies. It seems to be emanating from the horizon around the sun. The best time to spot zodiacal light is usually before sunrise or right after sunset. According to experts, the white glow appears to be triangular in shape and it seems to emanate directly from the sun itself.

Sunlight reflecting off gas and dust surrounding the sun lead to creation of zodiacal light seen on earth’s skies. However, it was certainly the first time when the exozodiacal light was witnessed on alien solar systems, thanks to the VLTI telescope. 


Details of the study have been published online this week in the journal Nature Physics.

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