April 6, 2012
By Jason McClellan
Various discoveries by NASA and other organizations during the past few years have generated considerable interest within the mainstream media and the general public in the search for extraterrestrial life.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has been on a planet-hunting mission since 2009, searching for Earth-like planets. The mission has already confirmed the discovery of 61 planets and found more than 2,000 planetary candidates. And recent data from the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) planet-hunting telescope suggests that there are tens of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, many thought to have the correct conditions to support life.
These recent discoveries have excited scientists, and are fueling additional efforts to search for life elsewhere in the universe. The Canadian Astrobiology Network (CAN), centered at the University of Western Ontario, announced today a partnership with NASA. The press release from CAN stated, “A number of extraterrestrial targets, including Mars and the moons Europa and Titan, have been identified by NASA as having the potential to host life or to provide valuable insight for researchers and scientists into the conditions that may have been present on Earth when life started.” As an affiliate within the NASA Astrobiology Network, CAN hopes to “strengthen existing ties, facilitate the establishment of new collaborations, and enhance training opportunities for both Canadian and American researchers and students,” according to CAN chair Neil Banerjee.
March 20, 2012
By Dauna Coulter, Dr. Tony Phillips
“This is pretty cool. Just imagine what’s out in the universe that we can’t see.” –KTRN
The human eye is crucial to astronomy. Without the ability to see, the luminous universe of stars, planets and galaxies would be closed to us, unknown forever. Nevertheless, astronomers cannot shake their fascination with the invisible.
Outside the realm of human vision is an entire electromagnetic spectrum of wonders. Each type of light–from radio waves to gamma-rays–reveals something unique about the universe. Some wavelengths are best for studying black holes; others reveal newborn stars and planets; while others illuminate the earliest years of cosmic history.
NASA has many telescopes “working the wavelengths” up and down the electromagnetic spectrum. One of them, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope orbiting Earth, has just crossed a new electromagnetic frontier.
January 24, 2012
By Jennifer Ouellette
Why does our universe look the way it does? In particular, why do we only experience three spatial dimensions in our universe, when superstring theory, for instance, claims that there are ten dimensions — nine spatial dimensions and a tenth dimension of time?
Japanese scientists think they may have an explanation for how a three-dimensional universe emerged from the original nine dimensions of space. They describe their new supercomputer calculations simulating the birth of our universe in a forthcoming paper in Physical Review Letters.
Before we delve into the mind-bending specifics, it’s helpful to have a bit of background.
The Big Bang theory of how the universe was born has been bolsted by some pretty compelling observational evidence, including the measurement of the cosmic microwave background and the relative abundance of elements.
But while cosmologists can gaze back in time to within a few seconds of the Big Bang, at the actual moment it came into existence, when the whole universe was just a tiny point — well, at that point, the physics we know and love breaks down. We need a new kind of theory, one that combines relativity with quantum mechanics, to make sense of that moment.
Over the course of the 20th century, physicists painstakingly cobbled together a reasonably efficient “standard model” of physics. The model they came up with almost works, without resorting to extra dimensions. It merges electromagnetism with the strong and weak nuclear forces (at almost impossibly high temperatures), despite the differences in their respective strengths, and provides a neat theoretical framework for the big, noisy “family” of subatomic particles.
But there is a gaping hole. The standard model doesn’t include the gravitational force. That’s why Jove, the physicist in Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Gut Symmetries, calls the Standard Model the “Flying Tarpaulin” — it’s “big, ugly, useful, covers what you want and ignores gravity.” Superstring theory aims to plug that hole.
January 12, 2012
“This is awesome – and mind boggling. Imagine billions of Earth sized planets orbiting starts in our galaxy. Let’s not forget there are billions of galaxies in the Universe. Scientists now say every star has at least one planet orbiting it. Do the math – the chances that we are alone in space is virtually none. In fact, with these numbers, there is a good probability that the Universe is beaming with life – not just microscopic life, but intelligent existence. Don’t you think man’s number one goal as the species of Earth would be to find this other life? To colonize space? To discover where we come from? Nope – let’s just keep fighting and killing each other other over an invisible God in the sky we can’t see. Perhaps the discovery of life in the Universe could bring us closer together. It’s disturbing that all the nations on planet Earth are not coming together to venture into space.” –KTRN
An international team, including three astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has used the technique of gravitational microlensing to measure how common planets are in the Milky Way. After a six-year search that surveyed millions of stars, the team concludes that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The results will appear in the journal Nature on 12 January 2012.
Over the past 16 years, astronomers have detected more than 700 confirmed exoplanets  and have started to probe the spectra (eso1002) and atmospheres (eso1047) of these worlds. While studying the properties of individual exoplanets is undeniably valuable, a much more basic question remains: how commonplace are planets in the Milky Way?
Most currently known exoplanets were found either by detecting the effect of the gravitational pull of the planet on its host star or by catching the planet as it passes in front of its star and slightly dims it. Both of these techniques are much more sensitive to planets that are either massive or close to their stars, or both, and many planets will be missed.
An international team of astronomers has searched for exoplanets using a totally different method — gravitational microlensing — that can detect planets over a wide range of mass and those that lie much further from their stars.
Arnaud Cassan (Institut dʼAstrophysique de Paris), lead author of the Nature paper, explains: “We have searched for evidence for exoplanets in six years of microlensing observations. Remarkably, these data show that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy. We also found that lighter planets, such as super-Earths or cool Neptunes, must be more common than heavier ones.”
The astronomers used observations, supplied by the PLANET  and OGLE  teams, in which exoplanets are detected by the way that the gravitational field of their host stars, combined with that of possible planets, acts like a lens, magnifying the light of a background star. If the star that acts as a lens has a planet in orbit around it, the planet can make a detectable contribution to the brightening effect on the background star.
Jean-Philippe Beaulieu (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris), leader of the PLANET collaboration adds: “The PLANET collaboration was established to follow up promising microlensing events with a round-the-world network of telescopes located in the southern hemisphere, from Australia and South Africa to Chile. ESO telescopes contributed greatly to these surveys.”
Microlensing is a very powerful tool, with the potential to detect exoplanets that could never be found any other way. But a very rare chance alignment of a background and lensing star is required for a microlensing event to be seen at all. And, to spot a planet during an event, an additional chance alignment of the planet’s orbit is also needed.
Although for these reasons finding a planet by microlensing is far from an easy task, in the six year’s worth of microlensing data used in the analysis, three exoplanets were actually detected in the PLANET and OGLE searches: a super-Earth , and planets with masses comparable to Neptune and Jupiter. By microlensing standards, this is an impressive haul. In detecting three planets, either the astronomers were incredibly lucky and had hit the jackpot despite huge odds against them, or planets are so abundant in the Milky Way that it was almost inevitable .
December 20, 2011
“There is still much we don’t know about the universe. Just imagine what is out there for us discover. Instead we choose to stay on Earth and fight about God. What a waste. We need the space elevator.” –KTRN
Scientists claim to have produced particles of light out of vacuum, proving that space is not empty.
An international team says that its ingenious experiment in which tiny parcels of light, or photons, are produced out of empty space has confirmed that a vacuum contains quantum fluctuations of energy, the ‘Nature’ journal reported.
In fact, the scientists have demonstrated for the first time a strange phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect, or DCE for short.
The DCE involves stimulating the vacuum to shed some of the myriad “virtual” particles that fleet in and out of existence, making them real and detectable. Moreover, the real photons produced by the DCE in their experiment collectively retain a peculiar quantum signature that ordinary light lacks.
The research, led by Chris Wilson of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, shows that a related dynamic effect can occur when such a mirror moves very fast through the vacuum. The DCE was predicted over 40 years ago, but had not yet been observed experimentally due to the difficulty of creating the required experimental conditions.
“The DCE was conceived as a kind of thought experiment, sort of like Schrodinger’s Cat. According to quantum theory, if one could accelerate a mirror very quickly to near the speed of light, the mirror would radiate light as some of the mirror’s motional energy is imparted to virtual photons lurking in the vacuum, converting them into real photons.
October 12, 2010
The recent discovery of Gliese 581g, an alien planet in the habitable zone of another star, has been an exciting development for scientists probing the galaxy for signs of extraterrestrial life. At least one claim of a possible signal from the planet has already surfaced – and been met with harsh skepticism among the science community.
Following the Sept. 29 announcement of the discovery of Gliese 581g, astronomer Ragbir Bhathal, a scientist at the University of Western Sydney, claimed to have detected a suspicious pulse of light nearly two years ago, that came from the same area of the galaxy as the location of Gliese 581g, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail online.
Bhathal is a member of the Australian chapter of SETI, a non-profit scientific organization that is dedicated to research, exploration and education in the field of astrobiology.
“Whenever there’s a clear night, I go up to the observatory and do a run on some of the celestial objects,” Bhathal told the Daily Mail. “Looking at one of these objects, we found this signal. We found this very sharp signal, sort of a laser lookalike thing which is the sort of thing we’re looking for – a very sharp spike. And that is what we found.”
Still, there are some scientists who are skeptical of Bhathal’s assertion.
“I know the scientist, and when he first announced it, I asked him for the details, and he wouldn’t send them to me,” astronomer and SETI pioneer Frank Drake told SPACE.com. “I’m very suspicious.”
Drake is credited with conducting the first search for signals from extraterrestrial intelligences 50 years ago as part of what was then called Project Ozma. He coined the famed Drake Equation to calculate the number (N) of alien civilizations with whom we might be able to communicate.
Further study would perhaps confirm or deny the supposed observation, but Drake thinks that the claim is likely a dubious one.
Strange signal, or phantom?
Bhathal claimed to have detected the puzzling signal in Dec. 2008, almost two years before researchers announced the Gliese 581g finding, and long before it was announced that habitable planets were found orbiting the star Gliese 581 itself.
“I’m not aware of the location that was claimed for the source of that light, and [Bhathal] refused to tell me where it came from,” Drake said. “I think it’s very unlikely that it came from the direction of Gliese 581.”
Gliese 581g is one of two new worlds that was discovered orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, which is located about 20.5 light-years from Earth. In total, there is a family of six planets that has been found around Gliese 581.
Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, and his colleague Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington announced the Gliese 581g finding in a press conference held by the National Science Foundation on Sept. 29.
About Gliese 581g
While there are six planets known to orbit around the parent star, Gliese 581g is the only one in the so-called habitable zone – a region where liquid water can exist. Astronomers have long-thought that the presence of liquid water, which accompanies life on Earth, could be a major ingredient for life on other worlds.
Observations have shown that Gliese 581g is between three and four times the mass of Earth. While it is larger than our planet, it is still classified as a nearly Earth-sized world. Its radius is between 1.3 and two times the size of Earth, scientists have said.
The planet has not been officially named yet (nor have any other worlds in the Gliese 581 system). But Vogt has given it the nickname “Zarmina’s World,” in honor of his wife.
April 29, 2010
by Rhodri Phillips Paul Sutherland
A special mission to the Red Planet has revealed the likely presence of a form of pond scum – the building blocks of life as we know it.
NASA unveiled the results of the recent Opportunity and Spirit probes sent millions of miles through the solar system to discover signs of extraterrestrial life.
The results are so promising boffins have already planned a host of other missions to discover whether there is extraterrestrial life in the universe.
The recent missions have gathered evidence of sulphates on Mars, a strong indication there is water on the planet and therefore life.
Previous missions to Mars have concluded there is probably water on the planet.
But the NASA boffins said the recent missions have gone further than any others in proving there is life on Mars.
They were particularly excited about the discovery of a sulphate called gypsum which, it has emerged recently, is found in large quantities among fossils in the Mediterranean.
Jack Farmer, researcher at the Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona, said he was “optimistic” there was – or had been – life on Mars.
Another of the scientists Bill Schopf, researcher at the University of California in Los Angeles, added: “One, thanks to Opportunity and the rovers and orbital imaging it is clear that there are literally vast areas of Mars that are carpeted with various sorts of sulphates, including gypsum.
“Two, it turns out on earth there just hasn’t been hardly any work done at all to show whether gypsum ever includes within it preserved evidence of former life.
“The age doesn’t matter. We just didn’t know that fossils and organic matter and things like that were well preserved within gypsum.
“So, three, it turns out that now we have made that first step we are going to find out how widespread it is in other sulphate deposits on earth.
“And those lines of evidence will then give us a way to justify going to Mars and looking at gypsum because it looks as though based on these findings that is going to turn out to be a really excellent place to find evidence of ancient life, regardless of age, if in fact it is there.”
Five experts took part in last night’s press conference to celebrate 50 years of astrobiology research.
Dr Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, said the only way of being sure there is life on Mars was to bring back a sample of Mars rock.
He also said that the detection of methane in the martian atmosphere – as revealed exclusively by The Sun – raised the possibility that there was still life on Mars today.
“Methane is a molecule that should go away very quickly. We need to send a mission to find out if the source is biological.
“We also need to send a mission to return samples from Mars. That would enable scientists to find out whether Mars might ever have harboured life.
“If we are ever going to show if there was ever life on Mars, I think we’re going to have to study samples back on Earth.”
Almost 30 other NASA missions to discover life in space – including one to bring back rocks from Mars – have already been planned.
There are also plans to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to explore its deep underground ocean and a moon of Saturn, Enceladus, which spouted ice volcanoes.
Long-term missions will also return to Saturn’s biggest moon Titan, sending a balloon flying through its atmosphere and landing a probe in its surface lakes.
Future missions would also visit comets.
NASA scientists have been searching for extraterrestrial life on other planets for some time.
Last November the space organisation launched the Kepler space telescope to look for Earth-size planets in this galaxy.
The telescope is on a three-and-a-half-year mission to find planets.
NASA has so far been able to download data – but many believe there are aliens out there.
British physicist Stephen Hawking said this week aliens might be traveling through the cosmos right now – but he warned they might have evil intentions.
April 27, 2010
By Mike Adams
(NaturalNews) Now that the U.S. government has achieved its monopoly over health care, new technologies are in the works that will allow the government to remotely monitor and track whether ordinary citizens are complying with taking medications prescribed by conventional doctors. One new technology described at the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging allows “pills to be electronically outfitted with transmitters” which would track the patient’s compliance with medications and broadcast that information back to government health care enforcers who check for “compliance and efficacy.”
“Emerging technologies allow pills to be electronically outfitted with transmitters to communicate with the user’s wristwatch that shows that the pill has been consumed,” said University of Virginia professor Robin Felder at the committee meeting. “Broadband connectivity of these devices would allow the electronic medical record to be updated with regard to medication compliance and efficacy.”
This would allow government health operators, for example, to know whether you’ve taken all your prescribed psychiatric medications. If you veer from the course of pharmaceuticals prescribed by your doctor, health care enforcement agents could be dispatched to your door to make sure you start taking your pills.
Parents who currently attempt to protect their children from toxic medical therapies such as chemotherapy could be closely monitored by government medical enforcement agents. If you try to flush dangerous pharmaceuticals down the toilet instead of actually taking them, the lack of an electronic tracking signal will let your health care observers know you didn’t really take the pills.
April 26, 2010
By Jonathan Leake
THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.
The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.
Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.
Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.
“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
The answer, he suggests, is that most of it will be the equivalent of microbes or simple animals — the sort of life that has dominated Earth for most of its history.
One scene in his documentary for the Discovery Channel shows herds of two-legged herbivores browsing on an alien cliff-face where they are picked off by flying, yellow lizard-like predators. Another shows glowing fluorescent aquatic animals forming vast shoals in the oceans thought to underlie the thick ice coating Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.
Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.
He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”
He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
The completion of the documentary marks a triumph for Hawking, now 68, who is paralysed by motor neurone disease and has very limited powers of communication. The project took him and his producers three years, during which he insisted on rewriting large chunks of the script and checking the filming.
John Smithson, executive producer for Discovery, said: “He wanted to make a programme that was entertaining for a general audience as well as scientific and that’s a tough job, given the complexity of the ideas involved.”
Hawking has suggested the possibility of alien life before but his views have been clarified by a series of scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery, since 1995, of more than 450 planets orbiting distant stars, showing that planets are a common phenomenon.
So far, all the new planets found have been far larger than Earth, but only because the telescopes used to detect them are not sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized bodies at such distances.
Another breakthrough is the discovery that life on Earth has proven able to colonise its most extreme environments. If life can survive and evolve there, scientists reason, then perhaps nowhere is out of bounds.
Hawking’s belief in aliens places him in good scientific company. In his recent Wonders of the Solar System BBC series, Professor Brian Cox backed the idea, too, suggesting Mars, Europa and Titan, a moon of Saturn, as likely places to look.
Similarly, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, warned in a lecture earlier this year that aliens might prove to be beyond human understanding.
“I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive,” he said. “Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”