News Article | May 18, 2017
The Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize honours a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the Universe. Less than a hundred years ago, astronomers were still debating whether our Milky Way Galaxy was the entirety of the Universe or if other galaxies existed beyond our own. Today, astronomers estimate the number of galaxies within the visible Universe at somewhere between 200 billion and 2 trillion. For more than four decades, Sandra Faber -- now Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Astronomer Emerita of the University of California Observatories -- has served as a pivotal figure in leading and guiding the exploration of this unimaginably vast and largely unknown scientific territory. The citation praises Faber for "her groundbreaking studies of the structure, dynamics, and evolution of galaxies." Her work has led to the widespread acceptance of the need to study dark matter, to an appreciation of the inextricable relationship between the presence of dark matter and the formation of galaxies, and to the recognition that black holes reside at the heart of most large galaxies. She has also made significant contributions to the innovations in telescope technology that have revolutionised modern astronomy. Through these myriad achievements, Faber has aided and inspired the work of astronomers and cosmologists worldwide. The advances and discoveries she has been involved in, both observational and technological, have helped define how scientists think about and investigate galaxies and superclusters of galaxies, the largest structures in the Universe. For Faber, though, they have also helped define how civilisation can conceive of its place in the cosmos. In recent years she has become a prolific public speaker, delivering her lecture "Cosmic Knowledge and the Future of the Human Race" around the world. "Astronomical knowledge is probably the most important single discipline that you need to know in order to be an informed citizen of Earth," Faber comments. The reason, she says, is that developments in astronomy over the past few decades have shown us that we have been given "the precious gift of cosmic time" -- the concept that the universe exists on a scale of billions of years and that planet Earth will be a safe haven for us for hundreds of millions of years into the future. "Astronomical knowledge tells us how we got here and furthermore, having understood that, we can extrapolate more confidently for the future." In addition to a cash award of $500 000, Faber will receive a gold medal and a citation that reads: "The Gruber Foundation proudly presents the 2017 Cosmology Prize to Sandra Faber for her groundbreaking studies of the structure, dynamics, and evolution of galaxies. Her research ranges from detailed studies of the stellar populations, masses, dark matter content, and supermassive black holes in nearby galaxies, to surveys of distant galaxies over cosmic time. The results of these investigations have aided and inspired the work of astronomers and cosmologists worldwide." The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers. The Gruber Foundation honours and encourages educational excellence, social justice and scientific achievements that better the human condition. For more information about the Foundation's guidelines and priorities, please visit http://www. . The Gruber Prize Program honours contemporary individuals in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, Justice and Women's Rights, whose groundbreaking work provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture. The Selection Advisory Boards choose individuals whose contributions in their respective fields advance our knowledge, potentially have a profound impact on our lives, and, in the case of the Justice and Women's Rights Prizes, demonstrate courage and commitment in the face of significant obstacles. In 2000, the Peter Gruber Foundation and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced an agreement by which the IAU provides its expertise and contacts with professional astronomers worldwide for the nomination and selection of Cosmology Prize winners. Under the agreement, the Peter Gruber Foundation also funds a fellowship program for young astronomers, with the aim of promoting the continued recruitment of new talent into the field.
News Article | March 19, 2017
The Solar System currently has eight recognized planets but before 2006 when Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, school children were taught that there were nine planets in our star system. Now, as a group of scientists proposes a new way to classify planets, our celestial neighborhood may possibly have more than 100 objects that could be called planets. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) changed the definition of a planet in 2006. Pluto's demotion is attributed to discoveries that show it is actually a Kuiper Belt Object or KBO. Much of the Kuiper Belt was yet unknown when Pluto was discovered in 1930 and included as the ninth planet of the Solar System. Skeptics, however, eventually emerged after the discovery of several objects in the Kuiper Belt whose sizes are comparable to that of Pluto's. Skeptics pointed out the existence of bigger objects in Pluto's surrounding. The discovery of Eris, a dwarf planet 27 percent larger than Pluto led IAU to come up with a formal definition of a planet in 2006 during its 26th General Assembly. One of IAU's new criteria for defining a full planet requires having a clear neighborhood around the body's orbit. "A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit," reads the IAU criteria. Because part of this formula requires that a planet and its natural satellite move alone through their orbit, Pluto is not classified as a planet and is now considered as a mere dwarf planet. Kirby Runyon of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues proposed that the factors that need to define whether or not a celestial object is a planet should rely on the body itself and not just other things such as location. Runyon said that no planet has actually totally cleared its orbit. Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar system, for instance, even has clouds of asteroid. Runyon and colleagues defined a planet as "a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion." The object also needs to have enough gravitational heft to retain a roughly round shape. The group's definition is different from that of the IAU definition in that it did not make reference to the surroundings of the celestial body. Based on the team's definition, Jupiter's moon Europa and even the Earth's moon would be classified as a planet. Both moons are larger than Pluto, which Runyon and colleagues claim to be no less of a planet than Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and Earth. Although it would likely take a long shot to have the team's version of planetary definition to be adopted, its official acceptance could significantly increase the number of recognized planets in the solar system from eight to about 110. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | April 19, 2017
It's a seemingly never-ending chore in astronomy these days. Do I call an object a planet, a dwarf planet, a minor planet, or not a planet at all? And perhaps more importantly, does anyone really care? Well, apparently some do care. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) cares, and here's what they say a planet is: "A celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit." and here's what they say is, erm, not-quite-a-planet: "A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite. All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies". " Wonderful. Except it's not very wonderful. Pick apart the details and to be honest it's a hot mess (I know, I'm being rude, and I'm expecting the IAU ninjas to start leaping through the window any moment). It's like one of those much-lambasted rules foisted on the world by multinational agreements, or the will of a lunatic dictator - 'if you stand on this land you shall all be called tax-paying citizens, and that includes the herd of goats over there'. But it is of course useful to be able to talk about cosmic objects in a reasonably consistent way. Ideally any nomenclature transmits some quantitative information and allows for efficient communication - without the need for extensive translation. It also helps if you don't need to reinvent the rules for every new instance. Like, oh I don't know, all the exoplanets for example. Here's an uncalled for, and likely unwanted suggestion. Ok, maybe not everything. But what if we called all distinguishable cosmic condensations of normal matter smaller than the mass limit of 13 Jupiter masses (roughly where sporadic internal nuclear fusion starts happening) planets? And I mean all. Way down to a grain of interstellar dust that could be 0.1 microns across (a tenth of a millionth of a meter). Sounds crazy. Except I think that various problems start to disappear when we use a scheme like this. It's still reasonable to use the mass of the Earth as the fundamental unit (not size, because mass directly relates to the amount of matter present), and that means the following: A giant planet like Jupiter would be a hecto-planet (a few hundred times the mass of Earth). The most massive exoplanets would be kilo-planets (few thousand times the mass of Earth). Neptune, Uranus and Saturn (just) would be deca-planets. Venus and Mars would, strictly speaking, be deci-planets, and Mercury and our Moon would be centi-planets - but of course we can call all of them 'planets' if we want to. The rule is to use the most efficient term in any given context. I'm not really going to call our Moon a planet, but I could - it's a centi-planet natural satellite. Pluto is a planet, happily, but more strictly a milli-planet. Small asteroids might be (depending on their precise mass) atto- or zepto-planets. And by the time we get down to interstellar dust grains we're basically talking about sub-yocto-planets. Naturally, using these terms wouldn't be our first preference in conversation. Just like the way we talk about biological entities, the context allows us to simplify. I can talk about giraffes and we all understand, I don't generally talk about Giraffa camelopardalis or Giraffa tippelskirchi or any of the other of the 11 or so sub-species. Nor do I refer to them as tall, African, even-toed ungulate mammals, even though that would identify them quite properly. If I discuss Pluto I can call it a planet. I can qualify that statement by calling Pluto a trans-Neptunian planet, or a trans-Neptunian milli-planet, or a planet that is part of a milli- and micro-planet binary. Actually using the term milli-planet also conveys some key information: Wow! Pluto is teeny! I'm unlikely to talk about a grain of interplanetary dust as a planet, but strictly speaking its 'scientific name' would be a sub-yocto-planet of some specific composition or location. This idea does, admittedly, play a little fast and loose with the original term 'planet', which we all know comes from the ancient Greek description of wandering stars, or just wanderers. But hey, all of these condensations of matter do still wander relative to the stars from our perspective. Relegating orbital properties to a secondary status is quite reasonable because they're also subject to change on long timescales - orbits need not be original or static. This proposal also dodges the question of whether an object is 'nearly round' (nice one IAU) and in hydrostatic equilibrium because who cares - it's just a planet. And that, when all is said and done, is all that really matters.
News Article | April 13, 2017
Take a nighttime drive into Arizona Sky Village, in a remote valley in south-east Arizona, and the only thing you can see clearly are the millions of stars twinkling overhead. Beyond the light show, the sky is a deep inky black, and the ground below is nothing but shadows. Dimmed car headlights might pick up spooked jackrabbits hopping through the desert brush, but the village’s unlit houses are all but invisible in the darkness. That’s the way the residents of this astronomy-loving community like it. The less light, the better their view of the universe. There’s only one rule here, says Jack Newton, co-founder of the village: “Turn off your goddamned lights.” Arizona Sky Village is home to a quirky community of stargazers. Shielded by the nearby Chiricahua mountains from urban sky glow – scientists’ poetic name for light pollution – nearly every house in the rural 450-acre development has its own domed observatory, complete with an array of telescopes. Outdoor lights are strictly forbidden; blackout shades are required in every window of every house; and nighttime driving is discouraged. Most residents don’t want to be bothered with driving at night anyway: they’re too busy scanning the skies. “This is what we do,” villager Frank Gilliland says cheerfully one starry night as he peers through the community’s biggest telescope, a 24-incher belonging to neighbor Rick Beno. At the moment, the scope is aimed at the Milky Way through an open hatch in the dome of Beno’s personal observatory, giving Gilliland a crystal-clear view of the Orion nebula, a remarkable 1,344 light years away. The powerful instrument, Beno allows, is something a “small college would be pretty darn proud of”. While Gilliland, a retired highway engineer, stands at the college-worthy scope, Beno is glued to a computer screen. A former software engineer, Beno likes to look at the heavens through a monitor that captures images of the stars in real time. “We all love astronomy,” Beno says. “But we all do it differently.” Beno and Gilliland are just two of several dozen astronomy aficionados spending a good chunk of their retirement holed up in expensive desert domes, their eyes trained on the far reaches of the universe. Co-founder Newton, just shy of 75 years old, estimates he spends “90% of my time up in my dome”. The work and the hours have paid off. “I’ve got three supernova discoveries just this year,” Newton boasts, and in honor of his widely published deep sky photos, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named an asteroid after him and his wife, Alice: 30840 Jackalice. “There’s a problem with ‘Newton’,” Alice says with a grin: too many celestial bodies already named for the Newton known as Isaac. Most of the Sky Villagers had technical or scientific careers – Dr Fred Espenak, a bona fide astronomy pro, is a retired Nasa astrophysicist known as Mr Eclipse – but Newton spent his working life managing department stores in his native Canada. He always made time for the sky though, rambling miles into the countryside outside his hometown of Victoria. “He had a 25-inch telescope on a trailer,” Alice Newton says. “He hooked it up and hauled it out and had adventures in the middle of the night.” When Jack retired, the Newtons wanted a break from rainy Victoria and its murky skies. After a first retirement stop at a sky village in Florida, Newton and development partner Gene Turner came out to Arizona to scout dark places. The isolated stretch of treeless desert they found outside Portal was perfect: it was sparsely populated, 150 miles distant from Tucson, the nearest city, and velvety black at night. Now some 21 households live there peaceably under Newton’s Law: they cover up their windows and they turn off the goddam lights. Jack got exactly what he wanted. “Here,” he says, “we get 300 clear nights a year.” The world could use a few more Jack Newtons. Outside protected environs like Arizona Sky Village, light pollution has infected the industrialized world. In the US, some 99% of Americans live with perpetual sky glow, losing what the American Astronomical Society considers a universal right to starlight. In Arizona, “light pollution is a very serious concern”, says astronomer Dr Lori Allen, director of the Kitt Peak national observatory, some 56 miles west of Tucson. No fewer than 28 professional observatories operating on mountaintops around the state – run by the University of Arizona, the federal National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and even the Vatican, whose observatory is staffed by Jesuits. High mountains, dry climate and clear skies have made the state a hotbed for sky science at least since the early days of the last century. Pluto – now unceremoniously booted from the planet canon – was discovered in 1930 by one Clyde Tombaugh, working out of Lowell Observatory in the northern Arizona town of Flagstaff, elevation 6,909ft. In 1958 the city, proud of that heritage, banned searchlights, then an up-and-coming outdoor advertising tool. “It’s the first law in the world that we know of for protection of the night sky,” says Dr John Barantine, an astronomer with the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a nonprofit dedicated to making the night skies dark again. “Searchlights were popular then and the city looked at them as a threat to the observatory.” Even Arizona’s state government – not known for progressive policies – has restricted electronic billboards. The flashy placards are allowed only in several designated sites at least 75 miles from the venerated Grand Canyon and from the Kitt Peak and Mt Lemmon observatories. In 2012, the then governor Jan Brewer vetoed a 2012 attempt to light up more of the state’s highways with dancing electronic videos, declaring that she refused to put astronomy in jeopardy. As she noted, the industry contributes $250m annually to Arizona’s economy and employs more than 3,300 people. Kitt Peak national observatory, nestled on a picturesque 6,880ft mountain on the Tohono O’odham reservation, has benefited from the laws. Endowed with an array of multi-meter telescopes that Rick Beno might envy, the observatory is poised to embark on research that could change everything we know about deep space. The US Department of Energy is spending $60m on equipment for a “five-year survey to make the most detailed and accurate 3D map of the universe”, says Allen, the Kitt Peak director. “We still have a dark sky. But if we allow the sky to get brighter we will no longer attract those kinds of projects. “There are three simple things people can do” to help, she adds. “Shield their lights, dim their lights and use the right color bulbs.” If people don’t care about astronomy, they might care about the health implications of light pollution. Cellphone and laptop users have already learned that their devices’ blue light leads to insomnia – the light is telling them that the sun is up. And medical research is starting to point to more dire health effects. The evidence is not yet conclusive, Barantine says, but studies suggest that shifting the body’s natural light-dark rhythms may raise the risks of diabetes, obesity and even cancer. So far, Barentine says, “we’re not there yet in convincing people” to curb their lights. But in Arizona Sky Village, he adds wistfully, “the people are already practicing what we recommend”.
News Article | May 11, 2017
Fiore Exploration (F.V; FIORF) has scooped up almost all the best exploration territory surrounding the world-class El Peñon gold mine in Chile in a deal that a junior explorer could only manage if backed by heavy hitters. With the newest round of drilling results expected soon, Fiore's timing couldn't be better. Last week, the big speculators in gold futures increased their net long positions. The message is bullish, and it's loud. The gold hoarding started in April, with JP Morgan boosting its portfolio by over 380,000 ounces. iShares Gold Trust (NYSEARCA:IAU) and SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEARCA:GLD) also jumped on this bullish bandwagon, with IAU adding over 26,000 ounces and GLD over a million. Everyone is scared as North Korea plays games with nuclear weapons, the Middle East flares up with direct U.S. involvement, and talk of recession intensifies. Where there is fear, there is gold fever. Warren Buffet knows it-and he's always advised us to be greedy when others are fearful. He's been warning everyone about the economic uncertainty for months. Legendary Canadian billionaire and mining financier, Frank Giustra knows it, too. He's been pouncing on gold lately, and he's the heavy hitter backing Fiore. If it's big money you're looking to make with gold, then look to the explorers-especially a junior that's surrounded by giant Yamana Gold's El Peñon on three sides. Giustra has financed several junior explorers recently-but only those with dream teams and exceptional vision. He hasn't been wrong yet, and his next big bet is Fiore Exploration. Why Fiore? Because Fiore's team has been in Chile for over two decades, and it's clear they can get things done with shareholder value in mind. With Giustra's backing, Fiore Exploration (F.V; FIORF) is in a position that few juniors enjoy: They have no trouble raising the capital to drill. Where Giustra goes, mining money follows because the legendary financier is known in industry circles for financing the right deals at exactly the right time. It's called the 'Giustra Premium'. What he's eyeing this time is CEO Tim Warman, a 25-year mining veteran who, among other major successes, closed a $1.2-billion deal with mining giant Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC). Warman has a long track record of making multimillion-dollar discoveries and keeping his shareholders very happy. Warman also ran Malbex--the company that made the 6.8-million-ounce Alturas gold discovery that now belongs to giant Barrick Gold. Giustra is also keen on two other key figures at Fiore: Brian Paes-Braga and Paul Matysek. Paes-Braga is the Founder and CEO of the most notable junior lithium explorer to rise to fame since the electric vehicle (EV) boom prompted a lithium craze. Matysek is well-known for creating over $2 billion in shareholder value across numerous resources, including gold, lithium and uranium. To get Giustra's attention, you can't be averag; and Fiore is no average junior. In landing the permits to surround Yamana's El Peñon Gold mine, Fiore has done what no other junior could do: It flanked a major producer on three sides in a highly prospective gold venue. Yamana's El Peñón mine is one of the most prolific gold and silver mines in Latin America. It's massive, and it's high-grade. El Peñón has produced over 3 million ounces of world-class gold and more than 90 million ounces of silver since it went into production in 2000. This mine accounts for 18 percent of Yamana's gold production, producing nearly 230,000 ounces of gold annually for the company. That's worth over $280 million. And there's still a lot to come: There is about 2.4 million ounces of gold left in the mine, and another 77 million ounces of silver. Fiore Exploration (F.V; FIORF) now surrounds this mine on three sides, so they've inherited all the infrastructure and a massive exploration patch in a known money-maker. But they've also got wider access due to solid relations with the majors next door, including Yamana and Chilean giant SQM. Fiore's second major project, Cerro Tostado, is also close to Yamana and just north of Anglo American's El Soldado mine and Austral Gold's El Guanaco mine. A third project, acquired by Fiore in April, is Rio Loa-a gold exploration play in Chile's prolific Maricunga belt. It's another case of brilliant 'closeology': It's right next to Gold Field's 3.3-million-ounce Salares Norte discovery, which is one of the highest-grade deposits in this belt. It boasts more than 100 million ounces of gold in reserves, resources and past production. In the meantime, first drilling results at the flagship Pampas El Peñon project have been impressive. In December, Fiore completed drilling an 8,000-meter RC drill program, and follow-up drilling will start this summer. The 'closeology' has so far worked as expected: After spending more than $1 million on mapping, sampling, trenching and near-surface drilling, the similarities to the major gold finds right next door have become clear. We expect more results soon from Fiore because this week Fiore will launch drilling at Cerro Tostado, with initial results coming in subsequent weeks. Chile's SQM (NYSE: SQM) has already done advance work on this play, with the results of some 1,937 meters of reverse-circulation drilling in 17 holes confirming the presence of structurally control silver-dominated mineralization, with highly anomalous levels of silver. If you're looking at gold, you're looking at a window that's closing fast on great buying opportunities, according to Giustra, who predicts gold could pass the $1,900/ounce mark in the medium term. Everything's feeding a bullish gold market, and first movers on new gold plays-especially with a junior Fiore Exploration (F.V; FIORF) that is preparing to unleash new drilling results, is fully financed and remains acquisition-hungry. And when it's got the 'Giustra Premium',even better. Some other Canadian-listed gold miners to keep an eye on: - Endeavor Mining Corporation: EDV has a solid West African mining portfolio and it's stock has been outperforming lately, with consensus to buy. - Centerra Gold Inc.: This is a Canadian mining spin-off of Cameco Corporation (NYSE: CCJ), and a major acquisition last year in Kyrgyzstan could make this year great for cash flow and boost valuations. - Nova Gold Resources Inc. (NYSE: NG): Nova Gold is worth attention because it's been underperforming and it's stocks have lost a lot, but are now starting to make gains. - Torex Gold Resources Inc.: This should be a good year for Torex. 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News Article | May 10, 2017
But of course, like most NEOs that periodically make a close pass to Earth, 2017 HX4 passed us by at a very safe distance. In fact, the asteroid's closest approach to Earth was estimated to be at a distance of 3.7 Lunar Distances (LD) – i.e. almost four times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. This, and other pertinent information was tweeted in advance by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (IAU MPC) on April 29th. This object was first spotted on April 26th, 2017, using the 1.8 meter Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), located at the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii. Since that time, it has been monitored by multiple telescopes around the world, and its tracking data and information about its orbit and other characteristics has been provided by the IAU MPC. With funding provided by NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations program, the IAU MPC maintains a centralized database that is responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computations of all the minor planets, comets and outer satellites of the Solar System. Since it's inception, it has been maintaining information on 16,202 Near-Earth Objects, 729,626 Minor Planets, and 3,976 comets. But it is the NEOs that are of particular interest, since they periodically make close approaches to Earth. In the case of 2017 HX4, the object has been shown to have an orbital period of 2.37 years, following a path that takes it from beyond the orbit of Venus to well beyond the orbit of Mars. In other words, it orbits our sun at an average distance (semi-major axis) of 1.776 AU, ranging from about 0.88 AU at perihelion to 2.669 AU at aphelion. Since it was first spotted, the object has been viewed a total of 41 times between April 26th and May 4th. In addition to the Pan-STARRS-1 survey, observations were also provided by the Cerro Tololo Observatory, the Mauna Kea Observatories, the Steward Observatory and the Kitt Peak-Spacewatch Telescopes, the Astronomical Research Observatory, the Apache Point Observatory, and the Mount John Observatory. From these combined observations, the IAU MPC was able to compile information on the object's orbital period, when it would cross Earth's orbit, and just how close it would come to us in the process. So, as always, there was nothing to worry about here folks. These objects are always spotted before they cross Earth's orbit, and their paths, periods and velocities and are known about in advance. Even so, it's worth noting that an object of this size was nowhere near to be large enough to cause an Extinction Level Event. In fact, the asteroid that struck Earth 65 millions year ago at the end of Cretaceous era – which created the Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs – was estimated to measure 10 km across. At 10 to 33 meters (32.8 to 108 feet), this asteroid would certainly have caused considerable damage if it hit us. But the results would not exactly have been cataclysmic. Still, it might not be too soon to consider getting off this ball of rock. You know, before – as Hawking has warned – a single event is able to claim all of humanity in one fell swoop! The MPC is currently tracking the 13 NEOs that were discovered during the month of May alone, and that's just so far. Expect to hear more about rocks that might cross our path in the future. Explore further: Asteroid to fly safely past Earth on April 19
News Article | February 21, 2017
Can Pluto be brought back to an official planetary status once again? In 2006, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, which excluded it from the solar system's official neighborhood. Caltech researcher Mike Brown, the same scientist who detected another Earth-like exoplanet beyond Neptune, facilitated this demotion. Now, NASA has released a new manifesto that proposes an entirely different way of defining planets. If this proposal holds true, more than 100 new planets will be added to the solar system, possibly adding the moon and Pluto. What does it take to consider a cosmic body a planet? By definition, which is taken from the International Astronomical Union, a planet is celestial body that orbits around the sun, has a nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. All of that may soon change. A team of NASA researchers led by Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons' Pluto mission, plans to redefine what a planet is in very simple terms. For them, planets are "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." If this definition gets accepted by the IAU, it means that even the moon can potentially be classified a planet. The key point that Stern and his colleagues hope to get approved is that cosmic objects in the solar system no longer need to be orbiting around the sun to be classified a planet. The researchers say scientists should be considering the object's intrinsic physical properties, not its interaction with stars, which they believe holds more merit. They also argue that the current definition of planets is "inherently flawed." For instance, the definition only classifies cosmic objects that orbit around the sun as planets, excluding those orbiting other stars or those orbiting freely as "rogue planets." Second, the current definition requires zone-clearing, a criterion that no planet in the solar system satisfies. Stern and his colleagues explained that small cosmic objects constantly fly through planetary orbits. Lastly, the researchers argue that the zone-clearing means calculations used to confirm if a cosmic object is a planet must be dependent on distance because a neighborhood around its orbit must be cleared out. "Even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone," the authors said. In 2015, Stern spoke to Business Insider and said astronomers should not be the ones deciding what can be classified as planets. He said planetary scientists should have the authority over this jurisdiction, because they know more about the subject. That same year, Stern and his team received incredible data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby. "When we look at an object like Pluto, we don't know what else to call it," he added. The team's full proposal can be read online. It has been submitted to the IAU for consideration. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | March 2, 2017
Last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sought the help of the internet to name the seven newly discovered planets of the Trappist-1 solar system. The agency tweeted the request online on its official Twitter account last Feb. 25. As expected, the Twitterverse obliged with gusto. Currently, the seven Earth-sized planets, recently spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, are known as Trappist-1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, and 1h. The stream of tweets under the hashtag “#7NamesFor7NewPlanets?” has been a pretty interesting read. While some netizens drew inspiration from their favorite pop culture references — for example, the seven Harry Potter novels, Apple’s iPhone series, popular characters from Game of Thrones, or Friends — most of the suggestions were hilarious. People pitched in Snow White’s seven dwarves: Itchy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Sleepy, and Bashful. Others recommended the planets’ names be about current events and call them known as Far from Trump1 to Far from Trump7. But standout comical suggestions were fired by Twitter user @idiotcracy. Some of his funniest entries were Planet McPlanetface, Moonie McMoonface, Rocky McRockface, Icy McIceface, Dusty McDustface, Gasy McGasface, and Wanda. Entertaining as they may be, there's little chance that these comical suggestions will actually be approved and used by the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, the deciding body for names of all things astronomical, for the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. Unless it's willing to go through Britain's Boaty McBoatface situation back in 2016. In 2015, the IAU conducted the NameExoWorlds contest, which invited the public to submit names for 32 extrasolar planets revolving around 15 stars. Although the agency selected a handful lovely names — including Veritate, Hypatia, and Orbitar to Dagon, Poltergeist, and Dulcinea — some critics did not appreciate the approval of some entries and questioned the IAU's credibility. Interestingly, some of the unpopular choices were from esteemed universities and observatories in the world. These include Royaldutchastro by the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy, Miguelhernández by the Student Society at Complutense University of Madrid, and Thunder Bay by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Other absurd entries that popped up but thankfully did not make the cut, were Rock 'n' Roll Star and Starry Bunnies. The Trappist-1 revelation sets a new record for the biggest number of habitable-zone planets around a single star beyond our solar system. "This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life. Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, stated. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 23, 2017
In 2015, in partnership with NASA's New Horizons mission and the SETI Institute, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed the Our Pluto naming campaign, which allowed the public to participate in the exploration of Pluto by proposing names for surface features on Pluto and its satellites that were still awaiting discovery. Each of the system's six worlds was designated a set of naming themes set out by the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN - https:/ ). The public responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, suggesting and voting on thousands of names within these categories, as well as proposing names not fitting the approved set of themes. Working with the New Horizons team, the IAU has agreed to revised naming themes (listed below) for Pluto, and its largest moon, Charon. For its four smaller moons -- Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra -- the themes remain unchanged. Some of these themes build on the connection between the Roman god Pluto and the mythology of the underworld. Other themes celebrate the human spirit of exploration. Using the revised themes, the New Horizons team will now propose names for the surface features to the IAU, as the body responsible for the official naming of celestial bodies and their surface features. The IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will then decide on the formal names. "I'm very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "We look forward to the next step--submitting actual feature names for approval." Rita Schulz, Chair of IAU's WGPSN said "I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites. We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it." The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
News Article | February 26, 2017
A team of NASA scientists led by Alan Stern is redefining the makings of a planet, potentially ending Pluto's 11-year exile. Before Pluto makes its big comeback into planethood, check out five of the most interesting facts about this controversial dwarf planet. Pluto was first discovered on Feb. 18, 1930 by Clyde William Tombaugh, an American astronomer who was then working as a 24-year-old research assistant at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Using the observatory's telescope (which produced two photographs of the sky on different days) and a blink compactor (a device that flipped back and forth between the two photographs to detect movement), Tombaugh began his effort to look for the elusive Planet X. He spent at least a week examining each pair of photographs, which had anywhere from a 150,000 stars to a million. The Lowell Observatory officially announced the discovery of a ninth planet on March 13, 1930 and sent out a worldwide invitation to suggest a fitting name for the new planet. Venetia Burney, and 11-year-old schoolgirl from Oxford, England thought of the name Pluto, after a deity in the classical Greek mythology. Burney's grandfather told a friend, who interestingly is an astronomy professor at the esteemed Oxford University. Pluto was also highly favored over other entries because its first two letters could stand for Percival Lowell's initials. Lowell devoted his life's work to Planet X, completing a three-stage search of the hypothetical ninth planet, which paved the way to Clyde Tombaugh's sighting of Pluto. Back in August 2006, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto's status from a planet to a dwarf planet. According to the IAU, there are three criteria for a full-sized planet: it has to be in orbit around the sun, it should have sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium or a circular shape, and it has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit. This means that planet is gravitationally dominant, without anything of comparable size near it other than its own satellites. This is where Pluto falls short, and why experts have concluded that it is merely the brightest member of the Kuiper Belt, a mass of objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune. But as mentioned above, the tides have changed. In 2006, NASA launched New Horizons to fly by Pluto and its moons. Costing approximately $700 million and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, the camera-fitted rocket is reportedly only as big as a grand piano. Clyde Tombaugh's ashes also joined the probe aboard the NASA spacecraft. In the summer of 2015, New Horizons did a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons, producing a series of the most stunning and by far the closest photos of the faraway planet. On the far western edge of Pluto's iconic heart-shaped surface, dubbed the Tombaugh Basin after its discoverer, are massive mountains of solid ice that go as high as 3.1 miles above the ground. With a bedrock of nitrogen and carbon monoxide ice, which are denser than water, the ice mountains float atop ice water. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft observed that two of Pluto's prominent peaks - the 13,000-foot-high Wright Mons and the roughly 18,000-foot-high Piccard Mons — appear to be ice volcanoes or cryovolcanoes. Instead of erupting and spewing molten rocks and lava from its crater, Pluto's ice volcanoes explode with water ice and frozen nitrogen, ammonia, or methane. "Cryovolcanism could provide an important clue in understanding Pluto's geologic and atmospheric evolution," Amy Shira Teitel, shared. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.