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quarta-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2017

NASA WEB-CBS-Stunning space discovery: 7 Earth-size planets found orbiting dwarf star

Stunning space discovery: 7 Earth-size planets found orbiting dwarf star

Imagine standing on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1. This artist’s concept is one interpretation of what it could look like.
 
 NASA/JPL-CALTECH
Last Updated Feb 22, 2017 2:12 PM EST
Astronomers have discovered seven roughly Earth-size planets very close to a cool dwarf star some 39 light years from Earth, including three orbiting in the star’s habitable zone where liquid water, a key ingredient for life as it’s known on Earth, could be present, researchers announced Wednesday.
The record-setting star system is the first to feature three Earth analogues in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone of their parent star and the first to include seven such worlds overall. The discovery was announced Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“Finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of science at NASA Headquarters. “Just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot at becoming a habitable system that we could explore.”
The intriguing star system was first studied by Belgium’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, observatory in Chile where observations in 2016 indicated the presence of two and possibly three planets.
NASA’s infrared-sensitive Spitzer Space Telescope, working with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, then spent 500 hours studying the star, confirming the existence of two planets and discovering five more, boosting the total to seven.
“Not one, not two, but seven Earth-size planets,” marveled Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium who led the study. “This is is the first time that so many Earth-size planets were found around the same star. Furthermore, with three of them in the habitable zone.
“The star itself is what is called an ultra-cool dwarf, which is the least massive kind of star that exists,” he told reporters. “These stars are much smaller, much cooler than our sun and still, they are very frequent at the scale of our galaxy, more frequent than solar-type stars.”
For comparison, he said, if Earth’s sun was the size of a basketball, TRAPPIST-1 would be roughly equivalent to a golf ball.
exoplanets2.jpg
This artist's conception shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses and distances from the host star.
 NASA/JPL-CALTECH
Some 229 trillion miles from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, the TRAPPIST-1 star is “so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system,” NASA said in a statement. “All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun.”
The innermost habitable zone planet is roughly the size of Earth and receives about the same amount of light, possibly resulting in surface temperatures very similar to our planet’s. The middle planet in the habitable zone receives about the same amount of light that Mars does, orbiting TRAPPIST-1 every nine days. The outermost planet receives the level of sunlight one would experience somewhere between Mars and the asteroid belt.
The planets may be “tidally locked” to their star, gravitationally held in place so only one side of the worlds face their sun. If so, the planets could host truly alien weather patterns, with strong winds and extreme changes in temperature.
The planets also are very close together. Researchers said an observer standing on one world likely could discern clouds and other features on neighboring worlds, which could appear larger in the sky than Earth’s moon.
But it is not yet known whether any of the planets host an atmosphere or liquid water and additional observations are planned, along with expanded studies to look for planets around other dwarf stars.
exoplanets.jpg
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.
 NASA/JPL-CALTECH
Spitzer detected the planets indirectly by studying how light from TRAPPIST-1 periodically dimmed as the worlds repeatedly passed in front of the star.
Using that data and others, astronomers were able to measure the sizes of the planets, allowing them to roughly calculate their masses, densities and orbital periods. It appears they likely are rocky planets, but additional observations are needed to determine if any have detectable atmospheres or liquid water.
“We’ve made a giant, accelerated leap forward in a search for habitable worlds and life on other worlds, potentially speaking,” said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “With this amazing system, we know there must be many more potentially life-bearing worlds out there just waiting to be found.”
exoplanets-solar-system-comp.jpg
This chart shows, on the top row, artist conceptions of the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 with their orbital periods, distances from their star, radii and masses as compared to those of Earth. The bottom row shows data about Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
 NASA/JPL-CALTECH
Additional observations are planned by Spitzer and the Hubble Space Telescope, which will focus on four of the seven planets, including the three now known to orbit within the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1. Hubble observed the two innermost planets earlier, but found no evidence of the sort of hydrogen-dominated atmospheres that define worlds like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in Earth’s solar system.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which was built to look for transiting exoplanets, also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, collecting high-precision data that will help researchers refine their knowledge of the worlds discovered so far while being on the lookout for additional planets.
And NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the $8.6 billion follow-on to Hubble that is scheduled for launch in 2018, also will study the TRAPPIST-1 system, spectroscopically studying atmospheric constituents and looking for telltale signs of biological indicators such as oxygen, methane and other chemicals.

quinta-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2017

NASA WEB-NASA-funded Website Lets the Public Search for New Nearby Worlds

NASA JPL latest news release
NASA-funded Website Lets the Public Search for New Nearby WorldsNASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky.
"There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed."
WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth's orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).
The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech, in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine -- also known asPlanet X -- exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data.
The search also may discover more-distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space.
"Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds."
Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments.
Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week.
On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project.
"Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.
Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration among NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University in Tempe, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at IPAC at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA.
For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9

quarta-feira, 15 de fevereiro de 2017

NASA WEB-Lasers Could Give Space Research its 'Broadband' Moment

Lasers Could Give Space Research its 'Broadband' Moment


Several upcoming NASA missions will use lasers to increase data transmission from space.

Several upcoming NASA missions will use lasers to increase data transmission from space. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson, producer
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Thought your Internet speeds were slow? Try being a space scientist for a day.
The vast distances involved will throttle data rates to a trickle. You're lucky if a spacecraft can send more than a few megabits per second (Mbps) -- a pittance even by dial-up standards.
But we might be on the cusp of a change. Just as going from dial-up to broadband revolutionized the Internet and made high-resolution photos and streaming video a given, NASA may be ready to undergo a similar "broadband" moment in coming years.
The key to that data revolution will be lasers. For almost 60 years, the standard way to "talk" to spacecraft has been with radio waves, which are ideal for long distances. But optical communications, in which data is beamed over laser light, can increase that rate by as much as 10 to 100 times.
High data rates will allow researchers to gather science faster, study sudden events like dust storms or spacecraft landings, and even send video from the surface of other planets. The pinpoint precision of laser communications is also well suited to the goals of NASA mission planners, who are looking to send spacecraft farther out into the solar system.
"Laser technology is ideal for boosting downlink communications from deep space," said Abi Biswas, the supervisor of the Optical Communications Systems group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "It will eventually allow for applications like giving each astronaut his or her own video feed, or sending back higher-resolution, data-rich images faster."
NASA's space lasers
Past and future NASA projects involving laser communications:
Name: Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD)
Led by: Goddard Space Flight Center
Year: 2013
Objective: Was NASA's first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. An error-free uplink data rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from a primary ground station in New Mexico to NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), a spacecraft orbiting the moon. Demonstrated an error-free downlink rate of 622 Mbps -- the equivalent of streaming 30 channels of HDTV from the moon.
Name: Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS)
Led by: JPL
Year: 2014
Objective: Testing laser communications from the International Space Station. Beamed a video file every 3.5 seconds for a total of 148 seconds. With traditional downlink methods, sending the 175-megabit video just once would have taken 10 minutes.
Name: Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD)
Led by: Goddard Space Flight Center
Year: 2019
Objective: Will relay laser signals between telescopes at Table Mountain, California, and in Hawaii through a relay satellite in geostationary orbit during a two-year demonstration period. The system is designed to operate for up to five years to prove the everyday reliability of laser communications for future NASA missions.
Name: Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC)
Led by JPL
Year: 2023
Objective: To test laser communications from deep space. An upcoming NASA Discovery mission called Psyche will fly to a metallic asteroid starting in 2023. Psyche is planned to host a laser device called DSOC, which would beam data down to a telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory in California.
Science at the speed of light
Both radio and lasers travel at the speed of light, but lasers travel in a higher-frequency bandwidth. That allows them to carry more information than radio waves, which is crucial when you're collecting massive amounts of data and have narrow windows of time to send it back to Earth.
A good example is NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which sends science data at a blazing maximum of 6 Mbps. Biswas estimated that if the orbiter used laser comms technology with a mass and power usage comparable to its current radio system, it could probably increase the maximum data rate to 250 Mbps.
That might still sound stunningly slow to Internet users. But on Earth, data is sent over far shorter distances and through infrastructure that doesn't exist yet in space, so it travels even faster.
Increasing data rates would allow scientists to spend more of their time on analysis than on spacecraft operations.
"It's perfect when things are happening fast and you want a dense data set," said Dave Pieri, a JPL research scientist and volcanologist. Pieri has led past research on how laser comms could be used to study volcanic eruptions and wildfires in near real-time. "If you have a volcano exploding in front of you, you want to assess its activity level and propensity to keep erupting. The sooner you get and process that data, the better."
That same technology could apply to erupting cryovolcanoes on icy moons around other planets. Pieri noted that compared to radio transmission of events like these, "laser comms would up the ante by an order of magnitude."
Clouding the future of lasers
That's not to say the technology is perfect for every scenario. Lasers are subject to more interference from clouds and other atmospheric conditions than radio waves; pointing and timing are also challenges.
Lasers also require ground infrastructure that doesn't yet exist. NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of antenna arrays located across the globe, is based entirely on radio technology. Ground stations would have to be developed that could receive lasers in locations where skies are reliably clear.
Radio technology won't be going away. It works in rain or shine, and will continue to be effective for low-data uses like providing commands to spacecraft.
Next steps
Two upcoming NASA missions will help engineers understand the technical challenges involved in conducting laser communications in space. What they'll learn will advance lasers toward becoming a common form of space communication in the future.
The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is due to launch in 2019. LCRD will demonstrate the relay of data using laser and radio frequency technology. It will beam laser signals almost 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) from a ground station in California to a satellite in geostationary orbit, then relay that signal to another ground station. JPL is developing one of the ground stations at Table Mountain in southern California. Testing laser communications in geostationary orbit, as LCRD will do, has practical applications for data transfer on Earth.
Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC), led by JPL, is scheduled to launch in 2023 as part of an upcoming NASA Discovery mission. That mission, Psyche, will fly to a metallic asteroid, testing laser comms from a much greater distance than LCRD.
The Psyche mission has been planned to carry the DSOC laser device onboard the spacecraft. Effectively, the DSOC mission will try to hit a bullseye using a deep space laser -- and because of the planet's rotation, it will hit a moving target, as well.

segunda-feira, 13 de fevereiro de 2017

NASA WEB-NASA's Curiosity Rover Sharpens Paradox of Ancient Mars

NASA JPL latest news release

Fast Facts:
› Curiosity rover findings add to a puzzle about ancient Mars because the same rocks that indicate a lake was present also indicate there was very little carbon dioxide in the air to help keep a lake unfrozen.
› No carbonate has been found definitively in rock samples analyzed by Curiosity.
› A new study calculates how much carbon dioxide could have been in the ancient atmosphere without resulting in carbonate detectable by the rover: not much.
Mars scientists are wrestling with a problem. Ample evidence says ancient Mars was sometimes wet, with water flowing and pooling on the planet's surface. Yet, the ancient sun was about one-third less warm and climate modelers struggle to produce scenarios that get the surface of Mars warm enough for keeping water unfrozen.
A leading theory is to have a thicker carbon-dioxide atmosphere forming a greenhouse-gas blanket, helping to warm the surface of ancient Mars. However, according to a new analysis of data from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, Mars had far too little carbon dioxide about 3.5 billion years ago to provide enough greenhouse-effect warming to thaw water ice.
The same Martian bedrock in which Curiosity found sediments from an ancient lake where microbes could have thrived is the source of the evidence adding to the quandary about how such a lake could have existed. Curiosity detected no carbonate minerals in the samples of the bedrock it analyzed. The new analysis concludes that the dearth of carbonates in that bedrock means Mars' atmosphere when the lake existed -- about 3.5 billion years ago -- could not have held much carbon dioxide.
"We've been particularly struck with the absence of carbonate minerals in sedimentary rock the rover has examined," said Thomas Bristow of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. "It would be really hard to get liquid water even if there were a hundred times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than what the mineral evidence in the rock tells us." Bristow is the principal investigator for the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument on Curiosity and lead author of the study being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Curiosity has made no definitive detection of carbonates in any lakebed rocks sampled since it landed in Gale Crater in 2011. CheMin can identify carbonate if it makes up just a few percent of the rock. The new analysis by Bristow and 13 co-authors calculates the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that could have been present, consistent with that dearth of carbonate.
In water, carbon dioxide combines with positively charged ions such as magnesium and ferrous iron to form carbonate minerals. Other minerals in the same rocks indicate those ions were readily available. The other minerals, such as magnetite and clay minerals, also provide evidence that subsequent conditions never became so acidic that carbonates would have dissolved away, as they can in acidic groundwater.
The dilemma has been building for years: Evidence about factors that affect surface temperatures -- mainly the energy received from the young sun and the blanketing provided by the planet's atmosphere -- adds up to a mismatch with widespread evidence for river networks and lakes on ancient Mars. Clues such as isotope ratios in today's Martian atmosphere indicate the planet once held a much denser atmosphere than it does now. Yet theoretical models of the ancient Martian climate struggle to produce conditions that would allow liquid water on the Martian surface for many millions of years. One successful model proposes a thick carbon-dioxide atmosphere that also contains molecular hydrogen. How such an atmosphere would be generated and sustained, however, is controversial.
The new study pins the puzzle to a particular place and time, with an on-the-ground check for carbonates in exactly the same sediments that hold the record of a lake about a billion years after the planet formed.
For the past two decades, researchers have used spectrometers on Mars orbiters to search for carbonate that could have resulted from an early era of more abundant carbon dioxide. They have found far less than anticipated.
"It's been a mystery why there hasn't been much carbonate seen from orbit," Bristow said. "You could get out of the quandary by saying the carbonates may still be there, but we just can't see them from orbit because they're covered by dust, or buried, or we're not looking in the right place. The Curiosity results bring the paradox to a focus. This is the first time we've checked for carbonates on the ground in a rock we know formed from sediments deposited under water."
The new analysis concludes that no more than a few tens of millibars of carbon dioxide could have been present when the lake existed, or it would have produced enough carbonate for Curiosity's CheMin to detect it. A millibar is one one-thousandth of sea-level air pressure on Earth. The current atmosphere of Mars is less than 10 millibars and about 95 percent carbon dioxide.
"This analysis fits with many theoretical studies that the surface of Mars, even that long ago, was not warm enough for water to be liquid," said Robert Haberle, a Mars-climate scientist at NASA Ames and a co-author of the paper. "It's really a puzzle to me."
Researchers are evaluating multiple ideas for how to reconcile the dilemma.
"Some think perhaps the lake wasn't an open body of liquid water. Maybe it was liquid covered with ice," Haberle said. "You could still get some sediments through to accumulate in the lakebed if the ice weren't too thick."
A drawback to that explanation is that the rover team has sought and not found in Gale Crater evidence that would be expected from ice-covered lakes, such as large and deep cracks called ice wedges, or "dropstones," which become embedded in soft lakebed sediments when they penetrate thinning ice.
If the lakes were not frozen, the puzzle is made more challenging by the new analysis of what the lack of a carbonate detection by Curiosity implies about the ancient Martian atmosphere.
"Curiosity's traverse through streambeds, deltas, and hundreds of vertical feet of mud deposited in ancient lakes calls out for a vigorous hydrological system supplying the water and sediment to create the rocks we're finding," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Carbon dioxide, mixed with other gases like hydrogen, has been the leading candidate for the warming influence needed for such a system. This surprising result would seem to take it out of the running."
When two lines of scientific evidence appear irreconcilable, the scene may be set for an advance in understanding why they are not. The Curiosity mission is continuing to investigate ancient environmental conditions on Mars. It is managed by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Curiosity and other Mars science missions are a key part of NASA's Journey to Mars, building on decades of robotic exploration to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. For more about Curiosity,

terça-feira, 24 de janeiro de 2017

NASA WEB ·Cientistas estão procurando por vida num exoplaneta muito próximo de nós

Cientistas estão procurando por vida num exoplaneta muito próximo de nós

© Reprodução

Com todo esse papo de colônias humanas em Marte, por que não sonhar um pouco mais alto? O Dr. Stephen Kane e seu time de pesquisadores da Universidade Estadual de São Francisco na Califórnia estão de olho num lugar a 14 anos-luz de distância do nosso sistema solar que pode ter condições para abrigar vida.

• Quer encontrar aliens? Procure por planetas que se tornaram estrelas
• A forma surpreendentemente óbvia que podemos caçar vida alienígena

O Wolf 1061, um sistema solar não muito longe do nosso, tem um interessante planeta chamado Wolf 1061c. Cientistas já sabiam da existência do exoplaneta desde 2015 e agora Kane e sua equipe descobriram que ele está dentro de uma zona habitável – região no sistema solar em que as condições atmosféricas poderiam abrigar água líquida. 

Apesar disso, Kane afirma que se há qualquer vida no planeta, deve estar vivendo sob condições hostis – similar às condições de Vênus – pois o Wolf 1061c está bem no limite da zona habitável, relativamente perto de sua estrela.

"O sistema Wolf 1061 é importante porque ele está tão perto da gente e isso nos dá outras oportunidades de fazer estudos complementares para ver se realmente há vida", disse Kane à Sci News. As descobertas de sua equipe serão publicadas na próxima edição do periódicoAstrophysical Journal, mas uma versão digital já está disponível aqui.
A análise da atmosfera de Wolf 1061c pode servir como um importante estudo de caso para cientistas que estão procurando determinar quais exoplanetas podem abrigar vida. Mas enquanto pessoas como Kane estão analisando se exoplanetas são ou não habitáveis, outros grupos, como o pessoal do Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) estão procurando por sinais de vidas extraterrestres mais avançadas. Doug Vakoch, presidente do METI, disse ao Gizmodo que a sua equipe observou o Wolf 1061c do observatório ótico SETI no Panamá em quatro ocasiões diferentes. E até agora, não tiveram sorte.

"Não estou muito confiante que iremos encontrar evidências de vida em Wolf 1061c, mas o fato é que a existência de um planeta parecido com a Terra na zona habitável de uma estrela que está muito perto do nosso sistema solar é um bom presságio para continuarmos nossa busca por vida em outros planetas", disse Vakoch.

"Tentaremos de novo no mês que vem, quando ele estará visível, usando um sistema de detecção mais avançado desenvolvido por Ben Schuetz, diretor do observatório ótico SETI no Panamá", completou.

O METI vai continuar sua procura por vida fora do nosso sistema solar, independentemente das descobertas feitas em Wolf 1061c. Mas essa última pesquisa de Kane e sua equipe torna o planeta muito mais interessante para estudos aprofundados.




"Se nós transmitirmos um sinal de rádio para esse exoplaneta hoje, iríamos receber uma resposta dos aliens no mínimo em 2045 – um mero piscar de olhos na escala temporal astronômica", disse Vakoch.