What does fast food have to do with interstellar travel? At first blush, not much. But halfway through the film, “The Founder,” on a grueling, recent ten hour flight, it hit me that aerospace, even NASA, might learn something from McDonald’s corporation founding CEO Ray Kroc.

Three years before Sputnik, Kroc was a frustrated milkshake mixer salesman eating at a never-ending string of low-rent drive-ins. The fact that none of them appeared interested in his mixers was secondary to the fact that even with waitresses on roller skates, the food was slow to appear. Likewise, in our quest to send humans and massive payloads over interplanetary distances and beyond, aerospace is arguably still stuck in what in food service terms might be seen as the drive-in era, circa 1954.

Then in a change of fate, that would forever revolutionize the way the world eats, Kroc made the long drive from Illinois to San Bernardino, California to see why a small hamburger joint would need ten of his mixers. What Kroc found spurred the kind of eureka moment that would enable him to franchise the McDonald’s ‘Speedee’ delivery system in a way that would create what the world now commonly terms fast food.

The RS-25 engine, which successfully powered the space shuttle, is being modified for NASA’s Space Launch System. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne via NASA

Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne via NASA

The RS-25 engine, which successfully powered the space shuttle, is being modified for NASA’s Space Launch System. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne via NASA

Likewise, we need to ask ourselves where are the breakthroughs that will make hypersonic spaceplanes and crewed interplanetary transfer vehicles as common as fast food outlets at an interstate interchange?

Maybe the answer lies in rethinking chemical propulsion altogether and investing time and more energy into nuclear, ion, or laser propulsion.

But what aerospace really needs is a Ray Kroc McDonald’s moment that will allow for revolutionary propulsion mechanics to be economically replicated en masse. It wasn’t until Kroc and associates found a way to fundamentally change the way he thought about his business model that the brand became the behemoth that we know today.

Funding independent initiatives such as the Tau Zero Foundation will help. Its goal is dedicated to finding breakthrough propulsion technologies for interstellar flight, in particular. The Foundation recently reported that NASA awarded it a $500,000 grant for a three year “interstellar propulsion review.” The aim, says the Foundation, is to “create an interstellar work breakdown structure tailored to the divergent challenges and potentially disruptive prospects of interstellar flight.”

To date, however, the three biggest problems with crewed interplanetary space flight remain:

--- The cost of getting beyond Earth. That’s one reason the Saturn V launcher, which ferried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon and back, and NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) remain so few and far between.

--- How to efficiently shield the crew from lethal radiation without adding onerous payload mass to the spacecraft.

--- How to speed up interplanetary transfer to make travel within our own solar system and beyond tenable over human lifetimes.

This last one is a known unknown and if solved, there would be more of a clamor to adequately address the first two.

Bottom line?

Although in the film, Kroc attributes his success to tireless persistence, he appears to also have been obsessed with the idea that it was his patriotic duty to provide America and the world with reasonably-priced hamburgers at unheard of speeds. With all due respect to this new crop of space entrepreneurs, the current aerospace community needs to find and nurture a generation of Ray Krocs.

Here’s hoping someone credible out there among us is thinking about how to dramatically democratize breakthrough propulsion technologies.

Source: This article was published forbes.com By Bruce Dorminey

Published in Internet Technology

Our Prototypes column introduces new vehicle concepts and presents visuals from designers who illustrate the ideas. Some of them will be extensions of existing concepts, others will be new, some will be production ready, and others really far-fetched.

The concept

The Oxyde is a spacecraft/space module designed to carry robots to the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter. It would also be used to pull smaller asteroids back closer to the Earth and Moon and could house engineers in charge of mining operations.

The background

Travelling within our solar system will probably become a possibility in the next 50 years. The next logical step will be to mine rare metals in space – if the numbers add up.

How will we do this? Will we develop multipurpose vehicles for this task? That’s the idea behind the Oxyde concept.

The Oxyde would fly into space by riding on top of a super heavy lift-launch vehicle.
The Oxyde would fly into space by riding on top of a super heavy lift-launch vehicle.

How it works

The Oxyde would be designed to carry humanoid robots into space. (See Robonaut 2by NASA.) It would not, however, be engineered to re-enter our atmosphere. It would fly out into space by riding on top of a super heavy-lift launch vehicle and remain there for the duration of its useful life.

The first Oxyde would be equipped with a chemical rocket powerful enough to reach the asteroid belt and bring back a small asteroid. Once it reached its destination, robonauts would exit the spacecraft and begin to survey and select suitable asteroids to mine.

Pulling an asteroid back to Earth will not be an easy task.The mass of the targeted asteroids would be limited by the thrust and fuel available on the Oxyde for the return trip. However, it would also be possible to send fuel to the surveying team once a candidate is selected.

Once the Oxyde is back near the moon, it could enter a lunar orbit with the asteroid and mining operations could begin.

At this point, a crew of human engineers could take their places aboard the Oxyde and live there to supervise mining operations. Basically, the Oxyde would become a space module for the mining crew.

The Oxyde would allow mining to take place in space, a necessary financial incentive for colonizing the solar system.
The Oxyde would allow mining to take place in space, a financial incentive to colonize the solar system.

What it’s used for

Would you like humans to colonize the solar system one day? If the answer is yes, then there will need to be a financial incentive, and mining is probably one of the best ones to attract investors. Of course, the cost will still be astronomical ($100-million (U.S.) for each launch, plus the spacecraft, preparation, etc.). There are thousands of unanswered questions, but this concept was meant first and foremost to continue the discussion around space mining .

The designer

I would like to thank Martin Rico for creating the images of the Oxyde concept. Rico lives near Buenos Aires and studied design at the University of Buenos Aires and now works as a freelance industrial designer. He also designed the Seataci Yacht concept and the Sutton and Maui snowboard and surfboard mobile rental units.

Source: This article was published theglobeandmail By CHARLES BOMBARDIER

Published in Internet Technology


You have no idea kid!

This is the image of New York taken from the International Space Station, 400 km away from any point on Earth (that is directly under it) and travelling at 27000 km/h.

74051be061737144f66e30eb4ed59a4e NASA - AOFIRS
An image of New York taken from the International Space Station. Photo: Quora

So I heard you say low-res camera? You must be blind if you call this low-res in spite of the distance and speed of the ISS.

First off, the camera specifications are driven by science and system requirements. If we need a high-resolution camera, the science that we want to do with it shall require it have such a resolution. Otherwise, we are wasting mass and power, two of the most precious resources for spacecrafts.

And did I hear you say “no video”?

Have you heard of the High Definition Earth-Viewing System (HDEV) placed on the ISS? Here is a link:

live stream
live stream

A live stream of Earth’s view from the International Space Station. Photo: Quora

This is the live stream of Earth’s view from the International Space Station.

This space is too short to mention the entire specifications of cameras used by NASA spacecrafts.

If you are interested in Voyager 1’s wide angle camera, check these specs: Ring-Moon Systems Node.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and here are some of the images taken by it.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and this is an image taken by it. Photo: Quora Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and this is an image taken by it. Photo: Quora
Additionally, these images have to be transmitted with the same quality from over 10 Astronomical Units distance. Storage space, bandwidth of transfer, power requirements, and many other things come into play before deciding upon camera resolution.From the question description:Are we to believe that nasa spends years and billions on planet exploration probes only to equip them with crappie, low res cameras and no video?No, you just haven’t done your research quite well.
Source: This article was published yahoo.com By Karthik Venkatesh
Published in Internet Technology

Tabby's star, famous for its inexplicable dips in brightness, is going through one of those dips right now.

As far as weird stars go, few are as strange as KIC 8462852, nicknamed Tabby's star. Tabby's star randomly dims and brightens for apparently no reason, which led some astronomers in 2015 to hypothesize that some sort of 'alien megastructure' was orbiting the star, occasionally blocking the light. Other scientists proposed a large asteroid field or a swarm of comets instead, but we still don't really know what's going on.

All of that might be about to change. Early this morning, astronomers detected one of those characteristic dips that are unique to Tabby's star. All of the other dips that we know of are from historical observations, but this one is happening right now, which gives astronomers a chance to really figure out what's happening.

gallery-1495207118-tabbys-star NASA - AOFIRS

Tabby's Star has been dimming dramatically over the past few days.

But in order for that to happen, we need to point a telescope—or ideally several—in the direction of Tabby's star as soon as possible. This can be a challenge due to the way that telescope time is proportioned. Telescope time is usually scheduled months or years in advance, and it's not always easy to reschedule something at the last minute.

ALERT:@tsboyajian's star is dipping
This is not a drill.
Astro tweeps on telescopes in the next 48 hours: spectra please!
Jason Wright (@Astro_Wright) May 19, 2017 


If this were any other star, getting even one telescope at such short notice would be nearly impossible. But Tabby's star is not a normal star, and its behavior is such a puzzle that multiple telescopes will be able to fit in at least a few observations. The Swift space telescope has already scheduled multiple observations of the star at various times tomorrow, and a number of other telescopes around the world are planning to squeeze in an observation or two.

The most important thing for these telescopes to capture is the spectrum of Tabby's star. The spectrum of a star is all the light that star produces broken down by the color of that light. Looking at the spectrum of a star can tell you what it's made of. For instance, a star containing only hydrogen will be a different color and have a different spectrum than a star burning both hydrogen and helium.

And the spectrum of Tabby's star might be able to tell us what's causing the strange dimming effect. Different materials block different wavelengths of light, so looking at the spectrum of the star before and after the dimming could tell us what's blocking the light. If scientists see more blue light blocked than red light, for instance, that could mean the dimming is caused by lots of dust.

There's also the possibility that the dimming could be caused by comets, or by gas outside the star system entirely. In that case, common components of these materials like water and hydrogen will block specific parts of the spectrum, which we should be able to see. If the dimming is caused by something solid like a planet—or an alien megastructure—then the spectrum will be dimmed evenly across the board.

The Kepler telescope, which scientists used to initially spot Tabby's star's weird dimming, only measures brightness, not spectra. And by the time we realized how weird Tabby's star is, it was too late for us to get the spectrum from another telescope. This is our first chance to really find out what's going on with Tabby's star.

And there's a good chance that with these new observations we'll finally be able to solve this puzzle at last.

Source: This article was published popularmechanics By Avery Thompson

Published in Internet Technology


  • Findings will be presented at 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference April 24- 28
  • Will discuss life on earth and search for habitable worlds in our solar system
  • It comes on the heels of last week's reveal about Saturn's moon Enceladus
  • It was found to have hydrogen gas - a potential source of chemical energy for life
  • Discussions will also involve potential science value of a lander on the Europa
  • Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, thought to be a key candidate for potential life

NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system, the space agency has revealed. 

The findings will be presented during the 2017 Astrobiology  Science Conference between April 24 and April 28 in Mesa, Arizona.

The announcement comes on the heels of last week's reveal that Enceladus, one of Saturn's icy moons, was found to have hydrogen - a potential source of chemical energy that could support microbes on its seafloor. 

NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system. The illustration  shows Cassini spacecraft diving through a plume on Enceladus
NASA researchers will soon present new findings on topics ranging from the origins and evolution of life on earth to the search for habitable environments and life in our solar system. The illustration shows Cassini spacecraft diving through a plume on Enceladus


Dr Giada Arney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will discuss organic haze on Earthlike planets as possible biosignatures.

Dr Morgan Cable at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will speak about mechanisms for enrichment of organics in Enceladus plumes.

Dr John Grunsfeld, former NASA astronaut associate administrator for science, will deliver a presentation on next-generation space telescopes for terrestrial exoplanet characterization and the search for biosignatures.

NASA will hold a town hall meeting to obtain feedback from the astrobiology community on the Europa Lander Science Definition Team Report on Sunday, April 23 at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel from 12:30 to 6pm Pacific Daylight Time. 

The report looks at the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter's sixth-closest, icy moon Europa, which is a key candidate for potential extraterrestrial life.

It lists three science goals for the mission, with the primary goal being the search for evidence of life on Europa.

The report also aims to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analyzing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean.

Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it has a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust. 
An artist
An artist's concept of a plume of water vapour thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, about 500 million miles (800 million km) from the sun

Last year, the Hubble telescope spotted possible water plumes, similar to those of Enceladus, erupting from Europa.

Evidence of a plume was seen at the same location in 2014, and researchers say the new observations are further evidence that these plumes could be real, and experience intermittent flare-ups.

These vapor flumes coming off Europa make it a key candidate for potential extraterrestrial life.

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, named after the clipper ships which sailed across the oceans of our planet in the 19th century, will set off in the 2020s to search for the chemical ingredients of life on Jupiter's moon Europa. 


Jupiter's icy moon Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon. 

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked - just like Earth's Moon - so that the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times.Jupiter
Jupiter's sixth-closest moon Europa is one of the most interesting bodies in our solar system when it comes to the hunt for extra terrestrial life

It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle and a surface ocean of salty water, like Earth. 

Unlike on Earth, however, this ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa, and being far from the sun, the ocean surface is globally frozen over.

Many experts believe the hidden ocean surrounding Europa, warmed by powerful tidal forces caused by Jupiter's gravity, may have conditions favourable for life. 

The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology. 

NASA's Roadmaps to Ocean Worlds (ROW) team, chartered to identify science objectives and exploration roadmaps for ocean worlds, will hold a town hall from 12:15 to 1:15pm on Monday, April 24 to share its progress and obtain feedback.

Among some of the researchers who will speak at the conference are Dr Giada Arney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who will discuss organic haze on Earthlike planets as possible biosignatures, and Dr Morgan Cable at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who will speak about mechanisms for enrichment of organics in Enceladus plumes. 

The findings discussed may also involve Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon.

After 13 years exploring Saturn, NASA's Cassini aircraft dove into high-powered jets of water spewing from the moon’s surface, where it found hydrogen gas.

The gas is the final piece of the puzzle following the discovery of water in an ocean under Enceladus’s surface.

It means Saturn’s sixth moon may have the same single-celled organisms with which life began on Earth, or more complex creatures still.

These organisms, still found on our planet within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process known as 'methanogenesis.'

‘What is intriguing about the data at Enceladus, with the hydrogen detection, is that we are now able to determine how much energy would be available from the methanogenesis reaction at Enceladus,' said Dr Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at the Southwest Research Insitiute during a press conference about Enceladus. 

'We have made the first calorie count in an alien ocean.'

Organisms, found on our planet in hot vents within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process called
Organisms, found on our planet in hot vents within the darkest depths of our oceans, use hydrogn and carbon dioxide as fuel in a process called 'methanogenesis.' Researchers have now discovered the building blocks for life exist on Enceladus as well


Enceladus is Saturn's sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers).

Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity, with vents spewing water vapour and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust.

Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, with vents spewing water vapor and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust
Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, with vents spewing water vapor and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust

According to NASA, the plume includes organic compounds, volatile gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, salts, and silica.

While it may look 'inhospitable' like Saturn's other moons, the observations suggest it may have the ingredients to support microbial life

This, the researcher explained, is a major step in assessing the moon's habitability. 

The host of the upcoming conference, Arizona State University (ASU), will also hold two free public events at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa Hotel.

ASU's Beyond Center will hold an event called 'Where a Second Example of Life Might be Discovered in the Next Century' on Tuesday, April 25 from 7 to 8:30pm,

ASU's Origins Project will host an event titled 'How Astrobiology and Planetary Science Inform a Perspective of Planetary Stewardship' on Thursday April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30pm. 

Source: This article was published dailymail.co.uk By CECILE BORKHATARIA

Published in Internet Technology

Scientists believe they have moved a step closer to proving the existence of a parallel universe with the discovery of a mysterious ‘cold spot’.

This cool patch of space, that was first spotted by the NASA WMAP satellite in 2004, is part of the radiation that was thought to have been produced during the formation of the universe some 13 billion years ago.

However, research conducted by Professor Tom Shanks from Durham University has uncovered a new theory – that the Cold Spot was formed when universes COLLIDED.

The cold spot could be evidence of a larger multiverse (Flickr)
The cold spot could be evidence of a larger multiverse (Flickr)

Professor Shanks theorises that this is ‘the first evidence for the multiverse – and billions of other universes may exist like our own”.

He explained: “We can’t entirely rule out that the spot is caused by an unlikely fluctuation explained by the standard [theory of the Big Bang].

“But if that isn’t the answer, then there are more exotic explanations.

“Perhaps the most exciting of these is that the Cold Spot was caused by a collision between our universe and another bubble universe.”

He added: “If further, more detailed, analysis… proves this to be the case then the Cold Spot might be taken as the first evidence for the multiverse.”

Source: This article was published Yahoo News UK By Andy wells

Published in Internet Technology

Researchers discovered that Proxima b has the right climate for oceans. And extraterrestrials.

Last year, scientists from the U.S., Israel, the U.K, Chile, Poland, Germany, Spain and France discovered an "Earth-like" planet. This planet is juuuust outside our own solar system, only four light years away – that's nothing if you're a flashlight beam! It orbits a red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri, so the scientists creatively dubbed it "Proxima b."

So here's the big deal about Proxima b: It's in a spot that's not too hot or too cold for life. In fact, researchers at France's National Center for Scientific Research think it could be an ocean planet, just like our own.

The scientists proceeded to argue (as scientists are wont to do) over whether the planet could actually sustain life. But thanks to a new series of experiments, the researchers think it could be home to an alien society.

Okay, so that's a little bit of an exaggeration. No little green men or interstellar burger joints spotted thus far. But the experiments do suggest that Proxima b likely has a climate that could support life. The scientists modeled the planet using different atmospheres, amounts of radiation and orbits. Findings from the setups looked promising.

“Overall, our results are in agreement with previous studies in suggesting Proxima Centauri b may well have surface temperatures conducive to the presence of liquid water,” the scientists wrote.

Meanwhile, on Proxima b, a team of alien journalists flying star-powered spaceships are writing about their own discovery: a Proxima b-like planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star known to its inhabitants as "the sun." They're thinking of calling the planet "sun b" (not to be confused with "Sunny D," an alien beverage made of chemicals probably not native to our galaxy).

Source: This article was fromthegrapevine.com By Ilana Strauss

Published in Internet Technology

If you could travel back in time 41,000 years to the last ice age, your compass would point south instead of north. That’s because for a period of a few hundred years, the Earth’s magnetic field was reversed. These reversals have happpened repeatedly over the planet’s history, sometimes lasting hundreds of thousands of years. We know this from the way it affects the formation of magnetic minerals, that we can now study on the Earth’s surface.

Several ideas exist to explain why magnetic field reversals happen. One of thesejust became more plausible. My colleagues and I discovered that regions on top of the Earth’s core could behave like giant lava lamps, with blobs of rock periodically rising and falling deep inside our planet. This could affect its magnetic field and cause it to flip. The way we made this discovery was by studying signals from some of the world’s most destructive earthquakes.

nasa-magnetic-field NASA - AOFIRSSupercomputer models of Earth's magnetic field.NASA

Around 3,000km (1,900 miles) below our feet—270 times further down than the deepest part of the ocean—is the start of the Earth’s core, a liquid sphere of mostly molten iron and nickel. At this boundary between the core and the rocky mantle above, the temperature is almost 4,000 degrees Celsius (7,200 degrees Fahrenheit), similar to that on the surface of a star, with a pressure more than 1.3 million times that at the Earth’s surface.

On the mantle side of this boundary, solid rock gradually flows over millions of years, driving the plate tectonics that cause continents to move and change shape. On the core side, fluid, magnetic iron swirls vigorously, creating and sustaining the Earth’s magnetic field that protects the planet from the radiation of space that would otherwise strip away our atmosphere.

Because it is so far underground, the main way we can study the core-mantle boundary is by looking at the seismic signals generated by earthquakes. Using information about the shape and speed of seismic waves, we can work out what the part of the planet they have travelled through to reach us is like. After a particularly large earthquake, the whole planet vibrates like a ringing bell, and measuring these oscillations in different places can tell us how the structure varies within the planet.

nasa earth interiorNasa image showing Earth's interior. Scientists propose the core acts as a giant lava lamp, influencing the planet's magnetic field.


In this way, we know there are two large regions at the top of the core where seismic waves travel more slowly than in surrounding areas. Each region is so large that it would be 100 times taller than Mount Everest if it were on the surface of the planet. These regions, termed large-low-velocity-provinces or more often just "blobs," have a significant impact on the dynamics of the mantle. They also influence how the core cools, which alters the flow in the outer core.

Several particularly destructive earthquakes over recent decades have enabled us to measure a special kind of seismic oscillations that travel along the core-mantle boundary, known as Stoneley modesOur most recent research on these modes shows that the two blobs on top of the core have a lower density compared to the surrounding material. This suggests that material is actively rising up towards the surface, consistent with other geophysical observations.

New explanation

Aurora BorealisAurora Borealis from space. Aurorae are caused by the interaction of particles in the solar wind with Earth's magnetic field.


These regions might be less dense simply because they are hotter. But an exciting alternative possibility is that the chemical composition of these parts of the mantle cause them to behave like the blobs in a lava lamp. This would mean they heat up and periodically rise towards the surface, before cooling and splashing back down on the core.

    Such behaviour would change the way in which heat is extracted from the core’s surface over millions of years. And this could explain why the Earth’s magnetic field sometimes reverses. The fact that the field has changed so many times in the Earth’s history suggests that the internal structure we know today may also have changed.

    We know the core is covered with a landscape of mountains and valleys like the Earth’s surface. By using more data from Earth oscillations to study this topography, we will be able to produce more detailed maps of the core that will give us a much better understanding of what is going on deep below our feet.

    Paula Koelemeijer is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Seismology at the University of Oxford

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    Published in Internet Technology

    A powerful space telescope orbiting Earth has spied on two galaxies in the midst of a cosmic close call 500 million light-years away. 

    The Hubble Space Telescope spotted two galaxies — collectively called IRAS 06076-2139 — speeding past one another at about 1.2 million miles per hour, according to NASA. 

    The two galaxies are moving so fast that they likely won't merge, but the two objects are so huge that they will distort each other as they pass about 20,000 light-years from one another. 

    The immense gravity of the two objects will be able to influence the structure of the galaxies as they pass, changing the positions of stars and gas within them.

    A full view of the unusual galaxy IRAS 06076-2139 seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
    A full view of the unusual galaxy IRAS 06076-2139 seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
    Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA

    "Such galactic interactions are a common sight for Hubble, and have long been a field of study for astronomers," NASA said in a statement.

    The Milky Way is actually on its way to a galactic collision itself with the Andromeda Galaxy. 

    At some point in about 4.5 billion years the two galaxies will merge into one. That may sound slightly (or more-than-slightly) terrifying, but in reality, it shouldn't be too much cause for personal concern. 

    "While galaxies are populated by billions of stars, the distances between individual stars are so large that hardly any stellar collisions will occur," NASA said of the Andromeda/Milky Way merger.

    Scientists working with the Hubble just celebrated the space telescope's 27th year in space, and the intrepid eye on the sky is still going strong.

    NASA has previously said that the telescope should be able to continue working in orbit through at least 2020, two years after the James Webb Space Telescope — Hubble's successor — is expected to get to space. 

    Source: This article was published mashable.com By Miriam Kramer

    Published in Internet Technology

    Why do the other planets, like Venus (shown above) have a different atmosphere than Earth? Credit: ESA

    Here on Earth, we tend to take our atmosphere for granted, and not without reason. Our atmosphere has a lovely mix of nitrogen and oxygen (78% and 21% respectively) with trace amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gaseous molecules. What’s more, we enjoy an atmospheric pressure of 101.325 kPa, which extends to an altitude of about 8.5 km.

    In short, our atmosphere is plentiful and life-sustaining. But what about the other planets of the Solar System? How do they stack up in terms of atmospheric composition and pressure? We know for a fact that they are not breathable by humans and cannot support life. But just what is the difference between these balls of rock and gas and our own?

    For starters, it should be noted that every planet in the Solar System has an atmosphere of one kind or another. And these range from incredibly thin and tenuous (such as Mercury’s “exosphere”) to the incredibly dense and powerful – which is the case for all of the gas giants. And depending on the composition of the planet, whether it is a terrestrial or a gas/ice giant, the gases that make up its atmosphere range from either the hydrogen and helium to more complex elements like oxygen, carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane.

    Mercury’s Atmosphere:

    Mercury is too hot and too small to retain an atmosphere. However, it does have a tenuous and variable exosphere that is made up of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and water vapor, with a combined pressure level of about 10-14 bar (one-quadrillionth of Earth’s atmospheric pressure). It is believed this exosphere was formed from particles captured from the Sun, volcanic outgassing and debris kicked into orbit by micrometeorite impacts.

    A High-resolution Look over Mercury’s Northern Horizon. Credit: NASA/MESSENGER

    Because it lacks a viable atmosphere, Mercury has no way to retain the heat from the Sun. As a result of this and its high eccentricity, the planet experiences considerable variations in temperature. Whereas the side that faces the Sun can reach temperatures of up to 700 K (427° C), while the side in shadow dips down to 100 K (-173° C).

    Venus’ Atmosphere:

    Surface observations of Venus have been difficult in the past, due to its extremely dense atmosphere, which is composed primarily of carbon dioxide with a small amount of nitrogen. At 92 bar (9.2 MPa), the atmospheric mass is 93 times that of Earth’s atmosphere and the pressure at the planet’s surface is about 92 times that at Earth’s surface.

    Venus is also the hottest planet in our Solar System, with a mean surface temperature of 735 K (462 °C/863.6 °F). This is due to the CO²-rich atmosphere which, along with thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, generates the strongest greenhouse effect in the Solar System. Above the dense CO² layer, thick clouds consisting mainly of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets scatter about 90% of the sunlight back into space.

    Another common phenomena is Venus’ strong winds, which reach speeds of up to 85 m/s (300 km/h; 186.4 mph) at the cloud tops and circle the planet every four to five Earth days. At this speed, these winds move up to 60 times the speed of the planet’s rotation, whereas Earth’s fastest winds are only 10-20% of the planet’s rotational speed.

    Venus flybys have also indicated that its dense clouds are capable of producing lightning, much like the clouds on Earth. Their intermittent appearance indicates a pattern associated with weather activity, and the lightning rate is at least half of that on Earth.

    Earth’s Atmosphere:

    Earth’s atmosphere, which is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide and other trace gases, also consists of five layers. These consists of the Troposphere, the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, the Thermosphere, and the Exosphere. As a rule, air pressure and density decrease the higher one goes into the atmosphere and the farther one is from the surface.

    Closest to the Earth is the Troposphere, which extends from the 0 to between 12 km and 17 km (0 to 7 and 10.56 mi) above the surface. This layer contains roughly 80% of the mass of Earth’s atmosphere, and nearly all atmospheric water vapor or moisture is found in here as well. As a result, it is the layer where most of Earth’s weather takes place.

    The Stratosphere extends from the Troposphere to an altitude of 50 km (31 mi). This layer extends from the top of the troposphere to the stratopause, which is at an altitude of about 50 to 55 km (31 to 34 mi). This layer of the atmosphere is home to the ozone layer, which is the part of Earth’s atmosphere that contains relatively high concentrations of ozone gas.

    Space Shuttle Endeavour sillouetted against the atmosphere. The orange layer is the troposphere, the white layer is the stratosphere and the blue layer the mesosphere.[1] (The shuttle is actually orbiting at an altitude of more than 320 km (200 mi), far above all three layers.) Credit: NASA
    Space Shuttle Endeavour sillouetted against the atmosphere. The orange layer is the troposphere, the white layer is the stratosphere and the blue layer the mesosphere. Credit: NASA

    Next is the Mesosphere, which extends from a distance of 50 to 80 km (31 to 50 mi) above sea level. It is the coldest place on Earth and has an average temperature of around -85 °C (-120 °F; 190 K). The Thermosphere, the second highest layer of the atmosphere, extends from an altitude of about 80 km (50 mi) up to the thermopause, which is at an altitude of 500–1000 km (310–620 mi).

    The lower part of the thermosphere, from 80 to 550 kilometers (50 to 342 mi), contains the ionosphere – which is so named because it is here in the atmosphere that particles are ionized by solar radiation.  This layer is completely cloudless and free of water vapor. It is also at this altitude that the phenomena known as Aurora Borealis and Aurara Australis are known to take place.

    The Exosphere, which is outermost layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, extends from the exobase – located at the top of the thermosphere at an altitude of about 700 km above sea level – to about 10,000 km (6,200 mi). The exosphere merges with the emptiness of outer space, and is mainly composed of extremely low densities of hydrogen, helium and several heavier molecules including nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide

    The exosphere is located too far above Earth for any meteorological phenomena to be possible. However, the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis sometimes occur in the lower part of the exosphere, where they overlap into the thermosphere.

    This photo of the aurora was taken by astronaut Doug Wheelock from the International Space Station on July 25, 2010. Credit: Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
    Photo of the aurora taken by astronaut Doug Wheelock from the International Space Station on July 25, 2010. Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Center

    The average surface temperature on Earth is approximately 14°C; but as already noted, this varies. For instance, the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 70.7°C (159°F), which was taken in the Lut Desert of Iran. Meanwhile, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was measured at the Soviet Vostok Station on the Antarctic Plateau, reaching an historic low of -89.2°C (-129°F).

    Mars’ Atmosphere:

    Planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere which is composed of 96% carbon dioxide, 1.93% argon and 1.89% nitrogen along with traces of oxygen and water. The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates that measure 1.5 micrometers in diameter, which is what gives the Martian sky a tawny color when seen from the surface. Mars’ atmospheric pressure ranges from 0.4 – 0.87 kPa, which is equivalent to about 1% of Earth’s at sea level.

    Because of its thin atmosphere, and its greater distance from the Sun, the surface temperature of Mars is much colder than what we experience here on Earth. The planet’s average temperature is -46 °C (51 °F), with a low of -143 °C (-225.4 °F) during the winter at the poles, and a high of 35 °C (95 °F) during summer and midday at the equator.

    The planet also experiences dust storms, which can turn into what resembles small tornadoes. Larger dust storms occur when the dust is blown into the atmosphere and heats up from the Sun. The warmer dust filled air rises and the winds get stronger, creating storms that can measure up to thousands of kilometers in width and last for months at a time. When they get this large, they can actually block most of the surface from view.

    Mars, as it appears today, Credit: NASA
    Mars, as it appears today, with a very thin and tenuous atmosphere. Credit: NASA

    Trace amounts of methane have also been detected in the Martian atmosphere, with an estimated concentration of about 30 parts per billion (ppb). It occurs in extended plumes, and the profiles imply that the methane was released from specific regions – the first of which is located between Isidis and Utopia Planitia (30°N 260°W) and the second in Arabia Terra (0°N 310°W).

    Ammonia was also tentatively detected on Mars by the Mars Express satellite, but with a relatively short lifetime. It is not clear what produced it, but volcanic activity has been suggested as a possible source.

    Jupiter’s Atmosphere:

    Much like Earth, Jupiter experiences auroras near its northern and southern poles. But on Jupiter, the auroral activity is much more intense and rarely ever stops. The intense radiation, Jupiter’s magnetic field, and the abundance of material from Io’s volcanoes that react with Jupiter’s ionosphere create a light show that is truly spectacular.

    Jupiter also experiences violent weather patterns. Wind speeds of 100 m/s (360 km/h) are common in zonal jets, and can reach as high as 620 kph (385 mph). Storms form within hours and can become thousands of km in diameter overnight. One storm, the Great Red Spot, has been raging since at least the late 1600s. The storm has been shrinking and expanding throughout its history; but in 2012, it was suggested that the Giant Red Spot might eventually disappear.

    Jupiter is perpetually covered with clouds composed of ammonia crystals and possibly ammonium hydrosulfide. These clouds are located in the tropopause and are arranged into bands of different latitudes, known as “tropical regions”. The cloud layer is only about 50 km (31 mi) deep, and consists of at least two decks of clouds: a thick lower deck and a thin clearer region.

    There may also be a thin layer of water clouds underlying the ammonia layer, as evidenced by flashes of lightning detected in the atmosphere of Jupiter, which would be caused by the water’s polarity creating the charge separation needed for lightning. Observations of these electrical discharges indicate that they can be up to a thousand times as powerful as those observed here on the Earth.

    Saturn’s Atmosphere:

    The outer atmosphere of Saturn contains 96.3% molecular hydrogen and 3.25% helium by volume. The gas giant is also known to contain heavier elements, though the proportions of these relative to hydrogen and helium is not known. It is assumed that they would match the primordial abundance from the formation of the Solar System.

    Trace amounts of ammonia, acetylene, ethane, propane, phosphine and methane have been also detected in Saturn’s atmosphere. The upper clouds are composed of ammonia crystals, while the lower level clouds appear to consist of either ammonium hydrosulfide (NH4SH) or water. Ultraviolet radiation from the Sun causes methane photolysis in the upper atmosphere, leading to a series of hydrocarbon chemical reactions with the resulting products being carried downward by eddies and diffusion.

    Saturn’s atmosphere exhibits a banded pattern similar to Jupiter’s, but Saturn’s bands are much fainter and wider near the equator. As with Jupiter’s cloud layers, they are divided into the upper and lower layers, which vary in composition based on depth and pressure. In the upper cloud layers, with temperatures in range of 100–160 K and pressures between 0.5–2 bar, the clouds consist of ammonia ice.

    Water ice clouds begin at a level where the pressure is about 2.5 bar and extend down to 9.5 bar, where temperatures range from 185–270 K. Intermixed in this layer is a band of ammonium hydrosulfide ice, lying in the pressure range 3–6 bar with temperatures of 290–235 K. Finally, the lower layers, where pressures are between 10–20 bar and temperatures are 270–330 K, contains a region of water droplets with ammonia in an aqueous solution.

    On occasion, Saturn’s atmosphere exhibits long-lived ovals, similar to what is commonly observed on Jupiter. Whereas Jupiter has the Great Red Spot, Saturn periodically has what’s known as the Great White Spot (aka. Great White Oval). This unique but short-lived phenomenon occurs once every Saturnian year, roughly every 30 Earth years, around the time of the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice.

    These spots can be several thousands of kilometers wide, and have been observed in 1876, 1903, 1933, 1960, and 1990. Since 2010, a large band of white clouds called the Northern Electrostatic Disturbance have been observed enveloping Saturn, which was spotted by the Cassini space probe. If the periodic nature of these storms is maintained, another one will occur in about 2020.

    The winds on Saturn are the second fastest among the Solar System’s planets, after Neptune’s. Voyager data indicate peak easterly winds of 500 m/s (1800 km/h). Saturn’s northern and southern poles have also shown evidence of stormy weather. At the north pole, this takes the form of a hexagonal wave pattern, whereas the south shows evidence of a massive jet stream.

    The persisting hexagonal wave pattern around the north pole was first noted in the Voyager images. The sides of the hexagon are each about 13,800 km (8,600 mi) long (which is longer than the diameter of the Earth) and the structure rotates with a period of 10h 39m 24s, which is assumed to be equal to the period of rotation of Saturn’s interior.

    The south pole vortex, meanwhile, was first observed using the Hubble Space Telescope. These images indicated the presence of a jet stream, but not a hexagonal standing wave. These storms are estimated to be generating winds of 550 km/h, are comparable in size to Earth, and believed to have been going on for billions of years. In 2006, the Cassini space probe observed a hurricane-like storm that had a clearly defined eye. Such storms had not been observed on any planet other than Earth – even on Jupiter.

    Uranus’ Atmosphere:

    As with Earth, the atmosphere of Uranus is broken into layers, depending upon temperature and pressure. Like the other gas giants, the planet doesn’t have a firm surface, and scientists define the surface as the region where the atmospheric pressure exceeds one bar (the pressure found on Earth at sea level). Anything accessible to remote-sensing capability – which extends down to roughly 300 km below the 1 bar level – is also considered to be the atmosphere.

    Diagram of the interior of Uranus. Credit: Public Domain
    Diagram of the interior of Uranus. Credit: Public Domain

    Using these references points, Uranus’  atmosphere can be divided into three layers. The first is the troposphere, between altitudes of -300 km below the surface and 50 km above it, where pressures range from 100 to 0.1 bar (10 MPa to 10 kPa). The second layer is the stratosphere, which reaches between 50 and 4000 km and experiences pressures between 0.1 and 10-10 bar (10 kPa to 10 µPa).

    The troposphere is the densest layer in Uranus’ atmosphere. Here, the temperature ranges from 320 K (46.85 °C/116 °F) at the base (-300 km) to 53 K (-220 °C/-364 °F) at 50 km, with the upper region being the coldest in the solar system. The tropopause region is responsible for the vast majority of Uranus’s thermal infrared emissions, thus determining its effective temperature of 59.1 ± 0.3 K.

    Within the troposphere are layers of clouds – water clouds at the lowest pressures, with ammonium hydrosulfide clouds above them. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide clouds come next. Finally, thin methane clouds lay on the top.

    In the stratosphere, temperatures range from 53 K (-220 °C/-364 °F) at the upper level to between 800 and 850 K (527 – 577 °C/980 – 1070 °F) at the base of the thermosphere, thanks largely to heating caused by solar radiation. The stratosphere contains ethane smog, which may contribute to the planet’s dull appearance. Acetylene and methane are also present, and these hazes help warm the stratosphere.

    Uranus. Image credit: Hubble
    Uranus, as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/Hubble

    The outermost layer, the thermosphere and corona, extend from 4,000 km to as high as 50,000 km from the surface. This region has a uniform temperature of 800-850 (577 °C/1,070 °F), although scientists are unsure as to the reason. Because the distance to Uranus from the Sun is so great, the amount of sunlight absorbed cannot be the primary cause.

    Like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus’s weather follows a similar pattern where systems are broken up into bands that rotate around the planet, which are driven by internal heat rising to the upper atmosphere. As a result, winds on Uranus can reach up to 900 km/h (560 mph), creating massive storms like the one spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012. Similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, this “Dark Spot” was a giant cloud vortex that measured 1,700 kilometers by 3,000 kilometers (1,100 miles by 1,900 miles).

    Neptune’s Atmosphere:

    At high altitudes, Neptune’s atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium, with a trace amount of methane. As with Uranus, this absorption of red light by the atmospheric methane is part of what gives Neptune its blue hue, although Neptune’s is darker and more vivid. Because Neptune’s atmospheric methane content is similar to that of Uranus, some unknown constituent is thought to contribute to Neptune’s more intense coloring.

    Neptune’s atmosphere is subdivided into two main regions: the lower troposphere (where temperature decreases with altitude), and the stratosphere (where temperature increases with altitude). The boundary between the two, the tropopause, lies at a pressure of 0.1 bars (10 kPa). The stratosphere then gives way to the thermosphere at a pressure lower than 10-5 to 10-4 microbars (1 to 10 Pa), which gradually transitions to the exosphere.

    Neptune’s spectra suggest that its lower stratosphere is hazy due to condensation of products caused by the interaction of ultraviolet radiation and methane (i.e. photolysis), which produces compounds such as ethane and ethyne. The stratosphere is also home to trace amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, which are responsible for Neptune’s stratosphere being warmer than that of Uranus.

    In this image, the colors and contrasts were modified to emphasize the planet’s atmospheric features. The winds in Neptune’s atmosphere can reach the speed of sound or more. Neptune’s Great Dark Spot stands out as the most prominent feature on the left. Several features, including the fainter Dark Spot 2 and the South Polar Feature, are locked to the planet’s rotation, which allowed Karkoschka to precisely determine how long a day lasts on Neptune. (Image: Erich Karkoschka)
    A modified color/contrast image emphasizing Neptune’s atmospheric features, including wind speed. Credit Erich Karkoschka)

    For reasons that remain obscure, the planet’s thermosphere experiences unusually high temperatures of about 750 K (476.85 °C/890 °F). The planet is too far from the Sun for this heat to be generated by ultraviolet radiation, which means another heating mechanism is involved – which could be the atmosphere’s interaction with ion’s in the planet’s magnetic field, or gravity waves from the planet’s interior that dissipate in the atmosphere.

    Because Neptune is not a solid body, its atmosphere undergoes differential rotation. The wide equatorial zone rotates with a period of about 18 hours, which is slower than the 16.1-hour rotation of the planet’s magnetic field. By contrast, the reverse is true for the polar regions where the rotation period is 12 hours.

    This differential rotation is the most pronounced of any planet in the Solar System, and results in strong latitudinal wind shear and violent storms. The three most impressive were all spotted in 1989 by the Voyager 2 space probe, and then named based on their appearances.

    The first to be spotted was a massive anticyclonic storm measuring 13,000 x 6,600 km and resembling the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. Known as the Great Dark Spot, this storm was not spotted five later (Nov. 2nd, 1994) when the Hubble Space Telescope looked for it. Instead, a new storm that was very similar in appearance was found in the planet’s northern hemisphere, suggesting that these storms have a shorter life span than Jupiter’s.

    Reconstruction of Voyager 2 images showing the Great Black spot (top left), Scooter (middle), and the Small Black Spot (lower right). Credit: NASA/JPL
    Reconstruction of Voyager 2 images showing the Great Black spot (top left), Scooter (middle), and the Small Black Spot (lower right). Credit: NASA/JPL

    The Scooter is another storm, a white cloud group located farther south than the Great Dark Spot – a nickname that first arose during the months leading up to the Voyager 2 encounter in 1989. The Small Dark Spot, a southern cyclonic storm, was the second-most-intense storm observed during the 1989 encounter. It was initially completely dark; but as Voyager 2 approached the planet, a bright core developed and could be seen in most of the highest-resolution images.

    In sum, the planet’s of our Solar System all have atmospheres of sorts. And compared to Earth’s relatively balmy and thick atmosphere, they run the gamut between very very thin to very very dense. They also range in temperatures from the extremely hot (like on Venus) to the extreme freezing cold.

    And when it comes to weather systems, things can equally extreme, with planet’s boasting either weather at all, or intense cyclonic and dust storms that put storms here n Earth to shame. And whereas some are entirely hostile to life as we know it, others we might be able to work with.

    We have many interesting articles about planetary atmosphere’s here at Universe Today. For instance, he’s What is the Atmosphere?, and articles about the atmosphere of MercuryVenusMarsJupiterSaturnUranus and Neptune,

    For more information on atmospheres, check out NASA’s pages on Earth’s Atmospheric LayersThe Carbon Cycle, and how Earth’s atmosphere differs from space.

    Astronomy Cast has an episode on the source of the atmosphere.

    Source: This article was published universetoday.com By Matt Williams

    Published in Internet Technology
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