News Article | March 28, 2017
There is a new focus at NASA on small satellite missions as forerunners for larger missions of the Solar System. The NASA program, Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies gives a window for projects with small satellites to study Solar System's celestial bodies. In the latest step, NASA has awarded $3.6 million to ten projects for concept planning awaiting their roll out after a few months. Generally, small satellites weigh less than 400 pounds. Among the 10 projects selected, two are Venus centric with a focus on noble gasses and isotopes. One CubeSat project will be looking at ultraviolet absorption and atmosphere's nightglow emissions. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will be sending a 12-unit CubeSat to investigate the hydrogen cycle of the moon. The small satellite from Johns Hopkins University will target an asteroid with a seismometer to examine its surface and interiors. Another CubeSat from Purdue University will image Phobos and Deimos — the Martian moons. NASA Ames will deploy a CubeSat to Mars focusing on climate studies. The probe of Hampton University will be on Uranus and its atmosphere. The magnetosphere of Jupiter will be the core area of investigation for the project of Southwest Research Institute. Basically, SmallSats handle the delivery of preliminary data for upcoming bigger projects. The cost of launching SmallSats is also nominal. "These small but mighty satellites have the potential to enable transformational science. They guide NASA's development of small spacecraft technologies for deep space science investigation," noted Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Green added that the agency is investing in SmallSats after being convinced of their utility for cutting edge scientific investigations. A range of merits justify SmallSats such as deployment from bigger spacecraft to target-specific investigations to back main missions. The Mars mission of NASA will use this approach by despatching two small satellites for advanced data. NASA is also buoyed by the 2016 report by the US National Academies that said SmallSats technology has come of age to provide high-value science. There are many cost benefits from the use of SmallSats. They also offer the flexibility to operate in constellations. "What we're seeing is a capability that we haven't really seen before in terms of small satellites that can do pretty good science at a much-reduced cost compared to the big missions," said Steve Mackwell from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Maryland. Mackwell said miniaturization helps in deploying SmallSats where larger missions had been thought about. It is an unprecedented opportunity in using them to explore inner Solar System bodies like the Venus and Moon. Green noted that miniature satellites had posed challenges in the past with problems like difficulties around power and communication. Mackwell, however, points that there a change and critical advances have been made in their functioning. An example is compact propulsion systems to reach places where they can ride and maneuver to the ultimate destination. Also, innovations have come up to incorporate solar panels into SmallSats to boost capabilities. More progress is being made on the technology front. An example is engineers at Nasa's Glenn Research Center demonstrating printed electronics suitable for operating in the harsh conditions at Venus. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | December 10, 2015
Home > Press > Google Announces Results From Two Years of Testing on Quantum Computers Made by Harris & Harris Group Portfolio Company, D-Wave Systems Abstract: Harris & Harris Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: TINY), an investor in transformative companies enabled by disruptive science, notes that yesterday NASA, Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) hosted a tour of the jointly run Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory located at the NASA's Ames Research Center which houses one of D-Wave's 1,097-qubit D-Wave 2X quantum computers. At this event, Google announced that D-Wave's quantum computer was able to find solutions to complicated problems of nearly 1,000 variables up to 108 (100,000,000) times faster than classical computers. You may read Google's full discussion of these results at http://googleresearch.blogspot.ca/2015/12/when-can-quantum-annealing-win.html . We are also excited to note that Google's announcement was profiled in multiple articles published online following the event. The following link provides a list of such articles on Google's news search platform: https://news.google.com/news/story?ncl=dZiX84H9efiibMMsnNfEluViQM_dM&q=d-wave+systems&lr=English&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiu4JDKhM7JAhVR5GMKHeqQDpcQqgIILDAB . About Harris & Harris Group Harris & Harris Group is a publicly traded venture capital firm that is also a business development company. Detailed information about Harris & Harris Group and its holdings can be found on its website at www.HHVC.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/harrisharrisvc and by following on Twitter @harrisandharrisgroup. This press release may contain statements of a forward-looking nature relating to future events. These forward-looking statements are subject to the inherent uncertainties in predicting future results and conditions. These statements reflect the Company's current beliefs, and a number of important factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in this press release. Please see the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2014, as well as subsequent filings, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a more detailed discussion of the risks and uncertainties associated with the Company's business, including, but not limited to, the risks and uncertainties associated with venture capital investing and other significant factors that could affect the Company's actual results. Except as otherwise required by Federal securities laws, the Company undertakes no obligation to update or revise these forward-looking statements to reflect new events or uncertainties. The references and links to the websites www.HHVC.com, googleresearch.blogspot.ca, news.google.com, and www.Facebook.com have been provided as a convenience, and the information contained on such websites is not incorporated by reference into this press release. Harris & Harris Group is not responsible for the contents of third party websites. For more information, please click If you have a comment, please us. Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
News Article | February 15, 2017
The microscopic size of phytoplankton, the plant-like organisms that live in the sunlit upper ocean, belies their importance in the global environment. They provide the food source for the zooplankton that ultimately feed larger animals ranging from small fish to whales. And like plants on land, phytoplankton use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow and thrive through photosynthesis, which ultimately releases oxygen into the ocean and atmosphere. Phytoplankton also play a large role in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere: A recent study found that phytoplankton take in about 24 percent of this greenhouse gas. When they die and sink to great depths in the ocean, phytoplankton also move carbon dioxide out of contact with atmosphere. Among the most pressing questions scientists are investigating is how much of that carbon is being stored in the ocean over the long term. Another question is how rising carbon dioxide levels and associated changes in the ocean environment are affecting phytoplankton communities. To tackle those questions, on Jan. 26 scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, along with researchers from across the country embarked on 27-day seaborne campaign from Hawaii to Portland, Oregon, to categorize and observe phytoplankton populations and their environment. The team is working aboard the R/V Falkor, a research vessel owned and operated by the non-profit Schmidt Ocean Institute, which grants scientists use of the ship to advance oceanographic research. Where carbon dioxide, once taken up, ends up in the global carbon cycle depends on the species of phytoplankton, said Goddard/USRA oceanographer Ivona Cetinic, the campaign's chief scientist. "Their size as well as their shape and color determine the role that they play," she said. "By knowing who's there, you can predict what's going to happen to that carbon." For instance, the interactions between smaller phytoplankton and the organisms that eat them are mostly confined to the ocean's surface layer. The carbon they take up remains at the surface or eventually escapes back into the atmosphere. But organisms that eat larger types of phytoplankton, along with their waste, are more likely to sink deeper into the ocean. Uneaten, dead phytoplankton may also sink as they decompose. "When phytoplankton pass below the surface layer and reach the deepest portions of the ocean, they sink out," Cetinic said. "That's key, because the carbon they have sequestered is removed from contact with the atmosphere." Physical processes also play a role in phytoplankton diversity and carbon transport. A complex interplay of different water masses, often visible in ocean color imagery, allow for the formation of pockets of highly specific ecosystems. Furthermore, processes such as subduction, or mixing, present another pathway for carbon deposition into the deep ocean. Ocean color is also an important indicator of phytoplankton health and activity, and so from above the water an instrument is collecting hyperspectral measurements (ocean reflectance greater than 100 colors), from the ultraviolet to the shortwave infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. The data collected will inform NASA's current and planned ocean color satellite instruments, including the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission scheduled for launch in 2022. Fourteen researchers are deploying a range of instruments to track phytoplankton communities as the R/V Falkor traverses the northern Pacific Ocean. They are continuously measuring phytoplankton diversity through either microscopic imagery, pigments analysis or analysis of their genomic material. For the first time, they are testing new NASA-funded technology that will allow them to collect measurements of particle size. Similar measurements will be taken from deeper portions of the ocean using an apparatus called a rosette, which comprises a cluster of bottles that captures water at different depths and instruments to measure salinity, temperature, and oxygen. Such physical measurements give clues about environmental conditions that support specific phytoplankton types. These types will be additionally recognized using images collected by a holographic camera, which will then be reconstructed in virtual reality space. An autonomous platform called a wirewalker will help to assess the physical environment as well as the flux of particles into the deep ocean. The wirewalker allows for a package of instruments to travel along a wire to as far down as 100 meters measuring temperature, salinity, oxygen, as well as phytoplankton biomarkers such as chlorophyll. An autonomous float will hover at the 100-meter depth and collect settling particles as they sink from the upper ocean. Ocean color satellites afford a global view of phytoplankton, but PACE will be the agency's first hyperspectral (high spectral resolution) satellite and an improvement over its predecessors in that it will be able to distinguish between different kinds. All of the research on this seaborne campaign will enable improved satellite data product validation and development of unprecedented data products. PACE project scientist Jeremy Werdell, who is co-investigator on the proposal for ship time on the R/V Falkor, said, "The goal of the cruise is to collect data that will help us better understand the imagery collected by ocean color satellites. Studying ocean color can tell us a lot about the ocean." NASA uses the vantage point of space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.
News Article | November 30, 2016
A team led by UA astronomer Vishnu Reddy has characterized the smallest known asteroid using Earth-based telescopes: Asteroid 2015 TC25 measures just 6 feet across Astronomers have obtained observations of the smallest asteroid ever characterized in detail. At 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter, the tiny space rock is small enough to be straddled by a person in a hypothetical space-themed sequel to the iconic bomb-riding scene in the movie "Dr. Strangelove." Interestingly, the asteroid, named 2015 TC25, is also one of the brightest near-Earth asteroids ever discovered. Using data from four different telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, reports that 2015 TC25 reflects about 60 percent of the sunlight that falls on it. Discovered by the UA's Catalina Sky Survey last October, 2015 TC25 was studied extensively by Earth-based telescopes during a close flyby that saw the micro world sailing past Earth at 128,000 kilometers, a mere third of the distance to the moon. In a paper published in The Astronomical Journal, Reddy argues that new observations from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and Arecibo Planetary Radar show that the surface of 2015 TC25 is similar to a rare type of highly reflective meteorite called an aubrite. Aubrites consist of very bright minerals, mostly silicates, that formed in an oxygen-free, basaltic environment at very high temperatures. Only one out of every 1,000 meteorites that fall on Earth belong to this class. "This is the first time we have optical, infrared and radar data on such a small asteroid, which is essentially a meteoroid," Reddy said. "You can think of it as a meteorite floating in space that hasn't hit the atmosphere and made it to the ground -- yet." Small near-Earth asteroids such as 2015 TC25 are in the same size range as meteorites that fall on Earth. Astronomers discover them frequently, but not very much is known about them as they are difficult to characterize. By studying such objects in more detail, astronomers hope to better understand the parent bodies from which these meteorites originate. Asteroids are remaining fragments from the formation of the solar system that mostly orbit the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter today. Near-Earth asteroids are a subset that cross Earth's path. So far, more than 15,000 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered. Scientists are interested in meteoroids because they are the precursors to meteorites impacting Earth, Reddy said. "If we can discover and characterize asteroids and meteoroids this small, then we can understand the population of objects from which they originate: large asteroids, which have a much smaller likelihood of impacting Earth," he said. "In the case of 2015 TC25, the likelihood of impacting Earth is fairly small." The discovery also is the first evidence for an asteroid lacking the typical dust blanket -- called regolith -- of most larger asteroids. Instead, 2015 TC25 consists essentially of bare rock. The team also discovered that it is one of the fastest-spinning near-Earth asteroids ever observed, completing a rotation every two minutes. Probably, 2015 TC25 is what planetary scientists call monolithic, meaning it is more similar to a "solid rock" type of object than a "rubble pile" type of object like many large asteroids, which often consist of many types of rocks held together by gravity and friction. Bennu, the object of the UA-led OSIRIS-REx sample return mission, is believed to be the latter type. As far as the little asteroid's origin is concerned, Reddy believes it probably was chipped off by another impacting rock from its parent, 44 Nysa, a main-belt asteroid large enough to cover most of Los Angeles. "Being able to observe small asteroids like this one is like looking at samples in space before they hit the atmosphere and make it to the ground," Reddy say. "It also gives us a first look at their surfaces in pristine condition before they fall through the atmosphere." The telescope consortium used in this project includes University of Hawaii/NASA IRTF, USRA/Arecibo Planetary Radar, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology/Magdalena Ridge Observatory, Northern Arizona University and Lowell Observatory/Discovery Channel Telescope. Reddy's research on 2015 TC25 is funded by NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations program. "Physical Characterization of ~2-Meter Diameter Near-Earth Asteroid 2015 TC25: A Possible Boulder from E-type Asteroid (44) Nysa" by Vishnu Reddy et al, 2016, The Astronomical Journal http://aj. . The paper is online at http://tinyurl.
News Article | October 25, 2016
Two former researchers at the troubled Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico have filed a lawsuit claiming that illegal discrimination and retaliation led to their dismissal. James Richardson and Elizabeth Sternke are suing the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), which oversees radio astronomy and planetary science at Arecibo, and the observatory’s deputy director, Joan Schmelz — a prominent advocate for women in astronomy. Richardson and Sternke, a married couple in their mid-50s, allege that Schmelz discriminated against them because of their age and because Richardson is legally blind. Soon after Sternke revealed in November 2015 that she planned to file a complaint with the US Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigates workplace bias, USRA announced that her contract job with Arecibo’s education programme would end early. Richardson filed his own EEOC complaint, and in April 2016, USRA terminated his employment as a staff scientist. The EEOC ultimately found evidence of discrimination and that Sternke and Richardson were terminated in retaliation for their complaints, according to documents provided by the researchers' lawyer. In their lawsuit, filed on 4 October in the US District Court in Puerto Rico, Richardson and Sternke are seeking more than US$20 million in back pay and damages. Schmelz says that she cannot comment on the lawsuit, and declined to answer Nature's questions. But USRA, her co-defendant and employer, “firmly denies these allegations and plans to vigorously defend this matter”, it said in a statement to Nature. The legal challenge comes as the 53-year-old observatory battles to survive. Its single-dish radio telescope, one of the world’s biggest, is still in high demand. But the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides roughly two-thirds of the observatory’s $12 million funding, is facing a budget crunch. The agency is now conducting an environmental review of major changes to the site, a possible prelude to mothballing or even demolishing the facility. The NSF’s decision on Arecibo’s fate is expected in 2017. Some Arecibo supporters worry that the lawsuit could nudge the observatory closer to the edge. “With all those budget difficulties they’re having now, getting bad press is not going to be good for them,” says Alan Harris of the planetary-science consulting firm MoreData! in La Cañada, California. USRA hired Richardson in 2014 as a scientist with Arecibo’s planetary radar group, which observes potentially dangerous asteroids and other Solar-System bodies. He did not follow the typical academic path: according to Richardson’s website, he worked as a nuclear engineer — including a stint on a US Navy submarine — before being blinded in a chemical accident and re-training as a planetary scientist. In 2014, Sternke, a sociologist who was Richardson’s fiancée at the time, joined him at Arecibo and later began working at the observatory on a short-term contract in 2015. According to EEOC determinations issued in June, Sternke and Richardson’s work initially drew no complaints from management. After Richardson’s boss, the head of planetary radar, announced his resignation in early 2015, Richardson sought the job. Several months later, Schmelz took up her post at Arecibo. From the start, the lawsuit says, Schmelz “ignored and/or chose to avoid all contact” with Richardson, assigned duties to younger colleagues rather than to him, and “marginalized and ostracized” Richardson and Sternke. The EEOC report also says that USRA altered the description of the job Richardson wanted “to make it more suitable for another internal candidate to qualify”. USRA subsequently promoted an Arecibo staffer in his 30s. Sternke submitted her resignation in November, the EEOC says. She later told USRA that she planned to file a complaint with the EEOC, the agency’s report says, and was terminated on 4 December, eight days before her scheduled last day. The lawsuit alleges that in December of 2015, officials from the USRA human-resources department accused Richardson of “angry behavior, bullying, and prejudices”. He was terminated in April 2016 after USRA determined that he failed to meet the terms of its 'Performance Improvement Plan'. (Richardson disagrees with that assessment.) In its report on Richardson’s case, the EEOC said Schmelz “made direct discriminatory age based comments”, writing in her own performance evaluation that she had recruited “a set of effective young leaders”. The EEOC also found that Richardson was “disciplined and terminated from his employment” on the basis of his age and disability, and in retaliation for his association with Sternke and for filing an EEOC charge. In a separate report, the agency found that USRA terminated Sternke’s employment “due to her age (over 50) and in retaliation for complaining about illegal discrimination”. The EEOC suggested that USRA pay Richardson $400,000 in damages, plus back pay, and give Sternke $200,000. But settlement talks with the EEOC failed, and in late July the agency notified Richardson and Sternke that they had 90 days to file suit. Richardson’s former colleagues say that he is not a bully. “I never heard him raise his voice, let alone get angry,” says Phillip Nicholson, an astronomer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where Richardson did research. His postdoctoral supervisor at Cornell, astronomer Joseph Veverka, describes Richardson as courteous and kind, if demanding. “If anyone asked Jim to do something which he did not consider completely scientifically proper, he would strongly object.” Meanwhile, former Arecibo director Robert Kerr says that his USRA colleagues — including Schmelz — displayed “the utmost professionalism”. “Joan was no different from the rest,” he adds. Meg Urry, an astrophysicist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, notes that Schmelz is a tireless advocate for the right of female astronomers to work without harassment. “She's devoted a lot of time to justice,” says Urry, the past president of the American Astronomical Society. In one notable case, Schmelz helped to bring harassment complaints against astronomer Geoff Marcy; after the University of California, Berkeley, found that Marcy violated its policies on harassment, he retired in late 2015. The district court in Puerto Rico has not yet scheduled a hearing on Richardson and Sternke’s lawsuit. In the meantime, Nicholson is struggling to make sense of the situation, given what he knows of the parties on both sides. “Nothing seems to ring true to the character of the people,” he says.
News Article | February 16, 2017
Gif composed of thirteen delay-Doppler images of Comet 45P/HMP after 2 hours of observation. Credit: Universities Space Research Association Though not visible to the naked eye or even with binoculars, the green-tailed Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (HMP) did not escape the gaze of the world-renowned Arecibo Observatory. Scientists from the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at Arecibo Observatory have been studying the comet with radar to better understand its solid nucleus and the dusty coma that surrounds it. "Comets are remnants of the planet forming process and are part of a group of objects made of water ice and rocky material that formed beyond Neptune," noted Dr. Ellen Howell, Scientist at LPL and the leader of the observing campaign at Arecibo. "Studying these objects gives us an idea of how the outer reaches of our Solar System formed and evolved over time." Studying the comet with radar not only very precisely determines its orbit, allowing scientists to better predict its location in the future, but also gives a glimpse of the typically unseen part, the comet's nucleus, which is usually hidden behind the cloud of gas and dust that makes up the its coma and tail. "The Arecibo Observatory planetary radar system can pierce through the comet's coma and allows us to study the surface properties, size, shape, rotation, and geology of the comet nucleus," said Dr. Patrick Taylor, USRA Scientist and Group Lead for Planetary Radar at Arecibo. "We gain roughly the same amount of knowledge from a radar observation as a spacecraft flyby of the same object, but at considerably less cost." In fact, the new radar observations have revealed Comet 45P/HMP to be somewhat larger than previously estimated. The radar images suggest a size of about 1.3 km (0.8 mi) and that it rotates about once every 7.6 hours. "We see complex structures and bright regions on the comet and have been able to investigate the coma with radar," indicated Cassandra Lejoly, graduate student at the University of Arizona. This comet is only the seventh imaged using radar because comets rarely come close enough to the Earth to get such detailed radar images. In fact, though 45P/HMP has an orbital period of about 5.3 years, it rarely passes close to Earth, as it is doing now. Comet 45P is one of a group of comets called Jupiter family comets (JFCs), whose orbits are controlled by Jupiter's gravity and typically orbit the sun about every 6 years. Comet 45P/HMP, which is passing by Earth at a speed of about 23 km/s (relative to Earth) and a close approach of about 32 Earth-Moon distances, will be observed widely at different wavelengths to characterize the gas and dust emanating from the nucleus that forms the coma. As comets orbit the sun, the ices sublime from solids to gases and escape the nucleus. The nucleus gradually shrinks and will disappear completely within in less than a million years. Radar observations at Arecibo of Comet 45P/HMP began on February 9, 2017 and will continue through February 17, 2017. Explore further: Comet's trip past Earth offers first in a trio of opportunities
News Article | February 22, 2017
Needless to say, the definition they adopted resulted in fair degree of controversy from the astronomical community. For this reason, a team of planetary scientists – which includes famed "Pluto defender" Alan Stern – have come together to propose a new meaning for the term "planet". Based on their geophysical definition, the term would apply to over 100 bodies in the solar system, including the moon itself. The current IAU definition (known as Resolution 5A) states that a planet is defined based on the following criteria: "(1) 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. (2) 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. (3) All other objects , except satellites, orbiting the sun shall be referred to collectively as "small solar-system bodies" Because of these qualifiers, Pluto was no longer considered a planet, and became known alternately as a "dwarf planet", Plutiod, Plutino, Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO), or Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). In addition, bodies like Ceres, and newly discovered TNOs like Eris, Haumea, Makemake and the like, were also designated as "dwarf planets". Naturally, this definition did not sit right with some, not the least of which are planetary geologists. Led by Kirby Runyon – a final year PhD student from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University – this team includes scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado; the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona; the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University. Their study – titled "A Geophysical Planet Definition", which was recently made available on the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) website – addresses what the team sees as a need for a new definition that takes into account a planet's geophysical properties. In other words, they believe a planet should be so-designated based on its intrinsic properties, rather than its orbital or extrinsic properties. From this more basic set of parameters, Runyon and his colleagues have suggested the following definition: "A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters." As Runyon told Universe Today in a phone interview, this definition is an attempt to establish something that is useful for all those involved in the study of planetary science, which has always included geologists: "The IAU definition is useful to planetary astronomers concerned with the orbital properties of bodies in the solar system, and may capture the essence of what a 'planet' is to them. The definition is not useful to planetary geologists. I study landscapes and how landscapes evolve. It also kind of irked me that the IAU took upon itself to define something that geologists use too. "The way our brain has evolved, we make sense of the universe by classifying things. Nature exists in a continuum, not in discrete boxes. Nevertheless, we as humans need to classify things in order to bring order out of chaos. Having a definition of the word planet that expresses what we think a planet ought to be, is concordant with this desire to bring order out of chaos and understand the universe." The new definition also attempts to tackle many of the more sticky aspects of the definition adopted by the IAU. For example, it addresses the issue of whether or not a body orbits the sun – which does apply to those found orbiting other stars (i.e. exoplanets). In addition, in accordance with this definition, rogue planets that have been ejected from their solar systems are technically not planets as well. And then there's the troublesome issue of "neighborhood clearance". As has been emphasized by many who reject the IAU's definition, planets like Earth do not satisfy this qualification since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits – i..e near-Earth objects (NEOs). On top of that, this proposed definition seeks to resolve what is arguably one of the most regrettable aspects of the IAU's 2006 resolution. "The largest motivation for me personally is: every time I talk about this to the general public, the very next thing people talk about is 'Pluto is not a planet anymore'," said Runyon. "People's interest in a body seems tied to whether or not it has the name 'planet' labelled on it. I want to set straight in the mind of the public what a planet is. The IAU definition doesn't jive with my intuition and I find it doesn't jive with other people's intuition." The study was prepared for the upcoming 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. This annual conference – which will be taking place this year from March 20th-24th at the Universities Space Research Association in Houston, Texas – will involve specialists from all over the worlds coming together to share the latest research findings in planetary science. Here, Runyon and his colleagues hope to present it as part of the Education and Public Engagement Event. It is his hope that through an oversized poster, which is a common education tool at Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, they can show how this new definition will facilitate the study of the solar system's many bodies in a way that is more intuitive and inclusive. "We have chosen to post this in a section of the conference dedicated to education," he said. "Specifically, I want to influence elementary school teachers, grades K-6, on the definitions that they can teach their students. This is not the first time someone has proposed a definition other than the one proposed by the IAU. But few people have talked about education. They talk among their peers and little progress is made. I wanted to post this in a section to reach teachers." Naturally, there are those who would raise concerns about how this definition could lead to too many planets. If intrinsic property of hydrostatic equilibrium is the only real qualifier, then large bodies like Ganymede, Europa, and the moon would also be considered planets. Given that this definition would result in a solar system with 110 "planets", one has to wonder if perhaps it is too inclusive. However, Runyon is not concerned by these numbers. "Fifty states is a lot to memorize, 88 constellations is a lot to memorize," he said. "How many stars are in the sky? Why do we need a memorable number? How does that play into the definition? If you understand the periodic table to be organized based on the number of protons, you don't need to memorize all the atomic elements. There's no logic to the IAU definition when they throw around the argument that there are too many planets in the solar system." Since its publication, Runyon has also been asked many times if he intends to submit this proposal to the IAU for official sanction. To this, Runyon has replied simply: "No. Because the assumption there is that the IAU has a corner on the market on what a definition is. We in the planetary science field don't need the IAU definition. The definition of words is based partly on how they are used. If [the geophysical definition] is the definition that people use and what teachers teach, it will become the de facto definition, regardless of how the IAU votes in Prague." Regardless of where people fall on the IAU's definition of planet (or the one proposed by Runyon and his colleagues) it is clear that the debate is far from over. Prior to 2006, there was no working definition of the term planet; and new astronomical bodies are being discovered all the time that put our notions of what constitutes a planet to the test. In the end, it is the process of discovery which drives classification schemes, and not the other way around. Explore further: UCLA professor proposes simpler way to define what makes a planet
News Article | November 21, 2016
Universities Space Research Association and AAAS today announced Dr. Stephen Mackwell’s election as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS recognized Dr. Mackwell for his “fundamental contributions to experimental investigation of physical properties of geological materials combined with critical leadership in the planetary science community.” Each year, the organization elects Fellows whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science and its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.” Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by peers. This year 391 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Dr. Jeffrey Isaacson, President and CEO of USRA said, “We at USRA are very proud to have a such a distinguished scientist on our staff. Steve Mackwell’s meritorious contributions to the advancement of science, and his invaluable leadership in the planetary science community are outstanding examples of the positive impact he has left on the scientific field. His election to the rank of AAAS Fellow is a prestigious honor and yet another accolade in his distinguished career.” The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the Association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of the three sponsors are not affiliated with the nominee’s institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer. Fellows must have been continuous members of AAAS for four years by the end of the calendar year in which they are elected. This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on 25 November 2016. Dr. Mackwell will be honored at the AAAS Fellows Forum on February 18, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts, where he will receive his award during the AAAS Annual Meeting. About USRA Formed in 1969 under the auspices of the National Academies of Science, USRA offers an avenue for government and industry to engage the expertise of the academic community together with its own technical leadership, innovative R&D, operational excellence, management of premier facilities and education programs to advance space- and aeronautics-related sciences and exploration.
News Article | November 17, 2016
In high school, Zhang started writing software as a hobby and, naturally, turned to the sky for inspiration. His comet knowledge hit new heights through his development of a planetarium program, which required detailed information about a comet's location, direction and brightness. "As far back as I can remember, I've always been interested in astronomy and astronomical events," said Zhang, now a fourth-year student at UC Santa Barbara. "Comets are one of the few astronomical phenomena that you can just go out, say to Campus Point at UCSB, and see it, night to night, moving. Back in the 2013 the sungrazing comet ISON was so bright you could walk out in the morning and see its bright beam. That's so fascinating to me." At UCSB, that fascination has been fostered into a research focus that is already paying academic dividends for the aspiring astrophysicist. Zhang spent his recent summer in a prestigious, comet-focused internship at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Shortly after returning, he kicked off the 2016 academic year by publishing and presenting a paper, co-authored with UCSB physics professor Philip Lubin, to the SPIE Optics and Photonics conference. And the honors keep coming. Now Zhang has received the Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), an organization formed in 1969 under the auspices of the National Academies of Science. USRA awards just five scholarships annually to undergraduate students who tackle challenging scientific questions in the areas of space research and exploration, particularly astrophysics and astronomy, and create technologies and solutions that will positively impact people's lives. Zhang's award-winning work, and the focus of his aforementioned paper, examines the potential use of directed energy for comet deflection. Adapting and applying in a new way technology developed at UCSB by Lubin and his group for planetary defense against asteroids, and for relativistic spacecraft propulsion for interstellar flight, the undergraduate scholar demonstrated that a comet could be manipulated to mitigate a potential impact with Earth by heating it with a high-powered laser array. "A laser is such a narrow beam that you can produce more power on the target than the sun provides, allowing an effective defense against comet strikes," explained Lubin, who heads UCSB's Experimental Cosmology Group and is Zhang's adviser. "It's not something to worry about right away, but it is noteworthy that we now possess the technology to protect humanity against another threat, comets, which is what some people believe may have decimated the dinosaurs. "The system that we are building for our other programs, such as with NASA and the Breakthrough Starshot, is the exact same system Qicheng has now shown could be used for cometary defense with absolutely no modification," Lubin added. "What this reflects is that humanity has now advanced to the point of having mastery over certain threats in the solar system, giving us more control over our environment." Most deflection schemes and the planetary defense community at large, Zhang noted, are focused primarily on asteroids and for good reason: "Because there are so many asteroids and because they are more likely to impact the Earth." "But there are a certain set of objects—comets—that don't stay in the inner solar system where we can see them," he explained. "They come from far out in the distant reaches of our solar system and by the time we find them they could be well on their way to impact Earth. The whole purpose of this project is to come up with a program that will enable us to prevent a comet impact." Zhang's idea to explore such a scheme was inspired by comets themselves. The effect of heat on a comet's trajectory has already been observed, he said, courtesy of the sun, which "vaporizes the ices on a comet's surface and creates, essentially, jets on the surface of a comet that then push it in the opposite direction, so the comet accelerates away and deviates from its gravitational trajectory. "The comet can't tell the difference between the sun or a laser shining on it, so it will behave the same way in either case," Zhang added. "We're using that knowledge to build a model of how large a laser we would need to move a comet enough to prevent an impact. The basic answer is that the same laser array the UCSB group proposes for spacecraft propulsion and for asteroid defense will work for comets. "The threat of comets is of lower urgency than that of smaller but more common asteroids, from which impacts have been observed in recent history," he concluded. "Even so, given their unpredictable timing and the planet-scale disaster that likely follows impact, comet deflection remains an important consideration in planetary defense strategy."
News Article | December 12, 2016
COLUMBIA, Md. and WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Universities Space Research Association today announced the appointment of Paula King as Vice President, Human Resources. Ms. King will start her new position at USRA on January 1, 2017. "Paula brings broad...