Feb 262017

TRAPPIST-1 life and human habitation. NASA announced the discovery of a new solar system, called TRAPPIST-1, located at a distance of “just” 39 light years from us, and the news of the existence of seven potentially-habitale Earth-like planets sparked numerous assumptions and discussions. Because many people dream of travelling to these alien worlds, the big question is: how would Trappist-1 life be different than life on Earth?

trappist-1 life sky view

Artistic impression of Trappist-1 sky view (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astounding sky views
One of the upside of living on a habitable planet of Trappist-1 is the night-sky view which would be spectacular because of the other six planets constantly looming in the vicinity. “You wouldn’t see them [other 6 planets] like we see Venus or Mars, like dots of light. You would see them really as we see the moon. A neighboring planet might appear twice as large as the full moon seen from Earth,” said Belgian astronomer Michaël Gillon quoted by Space.com.

The very short distance between the orbits of the seven planets is caused by the fact that their parent star is an ultracool dwarf star. It’s about 2,000 times dimmer than the sun, and only slightly larger than the planet Jupiter.

Sunset-like view
Despite orbiting close to their star, the natural lighting on TRAPPIST-1 planets would appear very dim to a human visitor.

Ultracool dwarf stars produce significantly less radiation than sun-like stars, and most of TRAPPIST-1’s light is radiated in the infrared wavelengths rather than visible wavelengths, according to Amaury Triaud of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in England, a co-author on the paper describing the discovery.

Short years and long-lasting days and nights
Planets of the Trappist-1 system need just a few days to complete a full orbit around the dwarf star, with the most distant planet finishing this cycle in about 20 days.

While the years are much shorter, the days & nights are extremely long – almost eternal, due to the tidal block which means that same side of each planet will always be exposed to light from the star, just as the Moon always shows the same face to Earth. The Trappist-1 planets rotate but so slow that the days & nights last “forever”.

The initial enthusiasm that the seven planets could host life seems to fade away in front of the 40-light-years distance. Transporting people to Trappist-1 requires development of new groundbreaking technologies that go beyond the horizon of application of physics and engineering known so far.

Trappist-1 night sky view

Planets in TRAPPIST-1 system would definitely offer amazing night sky views (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Feb 252017

A NASA ISS live stream unveils unidentified objects flying in the dark background of the outer space (scroll for photo and video).

In a mysterious twist of the situation, the video, streamed live from the International Space Station, is interrupted suddenly every time the unidentified objects seem to enter camera’s viewing angle.

The footage shows the bizarre space objects moving in tandem from right to left, but their shape is not distinguished with high clarity as the images are somehow fuzzy.

However, it was concluded that the alien objects are quite big, round and bright.

NASA ISS livestream ufo

Round and bright UFO appear in NASA ISS livestream

VIDEO: UFO appear in NASA livestream from aboard ISS

Feb 222017

TRAPPIST-1 Solar System: NASA have just unveiled the existence of a new solar system filled with 7 planets that appear like Earth and could support life. The system was discovered by Spitzer Space Telescope and named TRAPPIST which stands for “The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope”.

Trappist-1 solar system

TRAPPIST-1 star and 7 orbiting Earth-size planets (pic: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Of the seven planets, at least three are seen as “holy grail for planet-hunting astronomers”, because they sit within the “habitable zone” and feature the proper temperature to allow alien life to thrive. Furthermore, the planets might host oceans, just like our Earth.

This is the first system to comprise so many Earth-sized and rocky planets, of the kind thought to be needed to accomodate aliens.

“Pssst! We’ve got exciting news from beyond our solar system! Spoiler: NOT aliens. Watch at 1pm ET”, NASA tweeted before hosting a news conference and elaborating on the discovery via a series of other messages:

“Around a nearby, cold, small star we found 7 rocky Earth-sized planets, all of which could have liquid water – key to life as we know it.”

“These planets were seen by @NASASpitzer around a nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1”

“The TRAPPIST-1 star & 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting it, are relatively close to us; located ~40 light-years away”.

“NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water. The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone”, NASA wrote on its website.

TRAPPIST-1 burns hydrogen so slowly that it will live for another 10 trillion years – more than 700 times longer than the Universe has existed so far, which is arguably enough time for life to evolve”, said Ignas AG Snellen from the Leiden Observatory, in an article about the planetary breakthrough.

The planets were detected via a technique called “transit photometry”. It practically monitors the moment when a planet passes, or transits, in front of its host star – blocking out a tiny amount of light, allowing astronimers to observe the planet and learn about its size.

Dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 was first spotted back in 2010, when space researchers monitored the smallest stars close to the Sun. Meanwhile, they have been watching out for planetary transits – and after seeing 34 of them clearly, they concluded that they can be assigned to the 7 new planets.

Video: Trappist-1 Solar System: 7 Earth-like planets orbiting dwarf star

Feb 192017

A massive crack in one of Antarctica’s ice shelves seem to spark serious concerns within the scientific community.

larsen c rift

Current position of the rift on Larsen C, as of January 19 2017 (projectmidas.org)

British researchers working on MIDAS project have been monitoring for years the condition of glaciers in Antarctica, but now they stunningly noticed that the developing cut across Larsen C Ice Sheet is already 175 km long and 3 km wide.

The rift expanded considerably over the past 3 months and will “soon” lead to the break-up of the largest shelf ever observed. Since last December, Larsen C fissure has increased by 27 km. The rift threatens to calve an iceberg measuring more than 5,000 sq. km, that’s almost the size of the US state of Delaware.

Larsen C crack

Worrying rift progresses across Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf (public domain)

When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will definitely change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.

MIDAS researchers wanted to make it clear that Larsen C rift is not caused by global warming but a purely natural phenomenon. “We have no evidence to link this event to climate change. Although the general southward progression of ice shelf decay down the Antarctic Peninsula has been linked to a warming climate, this rift appears to have been developing for many decades, and the result is probably natural.”

Ice shelfs keep the glaciers together. If they crack, then the glaciers get loose and reach the ocean where they melt causing a considerable rise in sea levels.

Unfortunately, the melting of a significant portion of the ice shelf will lead to climate change with global effects. However, the melting will take place over years or even decades.

“The breakup of the ice sheet can occur at anytime, over a few days or a few years. But it is more likely to happen in the coming months,” reads a note from MIDAS project.

Dec 042016

Shock in Hawaii where heavy snow and wind transformed the holiday paradise into a kind of sky resort.

snow hawaii

Snow blanket at the Mauna Loa Observatory, December 2, 2016. (NOAA)

US authorities issued a meteorological warning of bad weather and storm for Hawaii, as the US islands seem to experience a harsh winter these days with layers of snow that already exceeded 90 centimeter (3 feet) in thinkness near Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Meteorologists claim that although the snow is an extremely rare event in the tropical islands, the weather over the past days is even more surprising given that the snow has settled in areas of low altitudes.

The largest snow deposition was seen near the mountain peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Meanwhile, other areas of the Hawaiian archipelago were hit by strong floods.

“Heavier downpours and thunderstorms could cause streams to quickly overflow their banks, leading to flash flooding”, said The National Weather Service cited by The Sun.

Authorities will close access to the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on Monday.

Hawaii is also facing torrential rain while the average temperature in the lowlands dropped to 20 degrees Celsius.

Nov 212016

Alarming news are coming from the North Pole where the weather temperature seems to be rising instead of dropping in this period of the year, and that’s a serious reason of concern for climate scientists.

The polar night has already set in across the Arctic region and this should make temperatures fall. However, the opposite happens with ice levels reaching minimum values.

North Pole weather map

North Pole weather map

Arctic nights span over several months, during which the sun does not make its appearance in most areas of the North Pole, leading to a sharp drop in temperatures.

Contrary to what would normal be, temperatures are currently extremely high.

Furthermore, the ice covering the Arctic Ocean reaches a new minimum threshold. Similar to previous years, the ice began to form in October but this year things are going at a much slower rate than usual.

The temperatures north of 80th parallel is around -5 degrees Celsius, when in fact it should be -25 degrees Celsius in this period.

This is the second year in a row where temperatures at North Pole hit unusual levels. Currently, “temperatures over a large portion of the Arctic Ocean are 20 degrees (36 Fahrenheit) higher”, said Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, Jennifer Francis, for The Washington Post.

“That it’s related to climate change around the rest of the planet – the WMO last week declared that 2016 will most likely be the hottest year on record. The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream,” added Francis.

Nov 192016

Zika virus is no longer an international health threat, said The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) However, W.H.O. sees zika and the disorders it causes, as a permanent source of research and action.

Zika Virus

Zika Virus seen with a TEM (public domain)

“The health organization lifted the state of emergency concerning the virus. Though Zika is still expanding, the situation is under control”, said David Heymann, the Executive Director (Communicable Diseases) at WHO.

“We do not mean to imply that zikavirus is less important. We are sendng the message that Zika is here to stay and the W.H.O. response is here to stay,” said Peter Salama Director of the WHO emergency program.

Global Health Emergency:
An international public health emergency was declared on February 1, 2016 due to an imperative need for urgent action to prevent the spread of the virus.

As a mosquito-borne disease, Zika is not very dangerous for adults, but for a fetus. The virus could cause microcephaly to a child: a small skull size with serious consequences for the development of the brain. Also other diseases have been associated with Zika. The virus is generally transmitted by mosquitoes. It was discovered for the first time in Zikawoud, Africa, back in 1947. An effective treatment is not yet available.

Zika Symptoms:
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people infected with Zika virus won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are:
Joint pain
Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
Other symptoms include:
Muscle pain

Zika Virus Spread:
An increased the number of cases of microcephaly unexpectedly emerged between 2010 and 2015. Brazil was particularly hit but also other countries in South and Central America followed.

Asia, Europe and North America were affected later by the virus and its disease, but to a much lesser extent. US scientists revealed the first zika antibodies last July. They would also help in treatment of dengue virus / fever.

A country like Colombia had 12,000 zika infections a year ago but Brazil had already 3900 victims of microcephaly by that time.

Nov 072016

Worried scientists expressed deep concerns that if pollution continues at the current rate, then all ice at the North Pole may thaw in 30 years from now.

ice cap iceland

Mass of ice in Iceland (public domain)

And the experts decided to second their suggestion with an an example: three cubic meters of the Arctic ice cap are disappearing because of the pollution released by each plane flying on the route Paris – New York.

This is the environmental effect of every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The calculations were made by the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

The average American releases about 16 metric tons of the pollutant per year, according to World Bank data. That means the average American thaws about 50 square meters annually.

In other words, melting three square meters of Arctic ice would result from driving 2,397 miles, consuming two months of electricity in the average American home or using 2.3 barrels of oil, according to Time.com.

Oct 292016

Global warming will transform large parts of Europe in desert areas in less than a century, warn scientists at Aix-Marseille University in France.

mediterranean sea basin

Mediterranean basin ecosystem could change sooner than thought (pic: wikimedia)

The Mediterranean basin will be most affected by climate change, as torrid heat waves will strike significant areas in Turkey, Italy, France and Spain.

Without a clear program to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the climate of the southern flank of Europe will change dramatically by the end of this century, said researchers in a study published in the journal Science.

The desert will include important parts of Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Turkey, and even northern areas of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Syria.

Pines, oaks and olive fields could disappear from these regions, according to the French researchers.

The Mediterranean region is sensitive to climate change because the heat wave could alter Atlantic currents and thus shrink the chances of precipitation in the area.

During the United Nations Environment Summit last year, nearly 200 countries worldwide have undertaken the mission to limit temperature rises by at least 2 degrees Celsius below the average pre-industrial level.

French university scholars argue that a global drop in temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius would be enough to save the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea.

In the past, droughts coincided with large turmoils among populations affected by weather change, as it happened in the late fifteenth century, when most of the farmers in the Ottoman Empire became nomads.

On Mediterranean coast, the temperature difference between the nineteenth century and the present time is 1.3 degrees Celsius, a figure above the global average of 0.85 degrees Celsius.
Photo credit: By O H 237 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Oct 192016

Wednesday is a day of paramount importance for the European Space Agency ESA as Schiaparelli space probe is scheduled to land on Mars.

schiaparelli lander

Schiaparelli EDM Lander (pic: wikimedia)

Update on Mars landing: ESA’s orbiter unveiled success, however no information yet on Schiaparelli probe – live. The ExoMars mission was hoping to land the module at 3:48 pm GMT time, but no signal from spacecraft has been received so far.

Schiaparelli is part of ExoMars project, a mission that has lingered for a long period before emerging officially. It was originally thought as an independent project of ESA. Later, NASA got involved but withdrew due to financial problems in 2012. In the end ESA continued the mission alongside Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS.

Members of the European Agency are now waiting for the breathtaking moment when the probe will land on Martian soil. Schiaparelli has a purely technical mission: to test the techniques that will be needed over 4 years, when a broader mission called ExoMars 2020 will be initiated.

Before landing on Mars, Schiaparelli EDM Lander will face serious challenges as it has to travel 121 km through planet’s atmosphere and decelerate from an interspace speed of 21,000 km/h to rest (0 km/h) in just 6 minutes. During its descent, the probe will deploy a parachute that will slow down its speed to 250 km/h.

However, there is a problem that puts the scientists in an awkward situation: the batteries of the landing station will not last forever, and will be exposed to danger posed by extreme low temperature. This situation raises new motivations for scientists who need to overcome this issue by creating a system that does not use the battery power.

Video: ExoMars 2016: Schiaparelli’s descent to Mars in real time