NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space

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Satellite sensors will catch forest fires before they spread.

When forest fires begin in remote regions, they can go undetected for lengthy periods of time, which lets them spread before emergency services even know they’re occurring. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with San Francisco-based start-up Quadra Pi R2E, are working on a new global network of sensors on satellites, called FireSat, that could uncover forest fires much more quickly and effectively than current technologies.

At present, satellites can detect forest fires twice a day and transmit large images to Earth. The goal of the project is to send much lower-resolution images about once a minute and include their exact latitude and longitude.

Robert Staehle, lead designer of FireSat at JPL says “While many wildfires are reported by 9-1-1 calls soon after ignition, some are not, and delays in detection can lead to rapid escalation of a fire, and dramatic growth of the cost of suppression. The system we envision will work day and night for fires anywhere in the world.”

FireSat will consist of over 200 thermal infrared imaging sensors aboard satellites that will be able to detect fires within 15 minutes from the time they start, as long as they are 30 – 50 feet wide. Within three minutes of this detection, FireSat will notify emergency responders who can decide on the best approach from the ground.

If detecting forest fires isn’t enough to convince you of these sensors’ value, they will also be able to detect explosions, oil spills and other dangerous high-heat events around the world.

NASA has turned to an unlikely source of funding for this project: Kickstarter. According to their page, the campaign was developed “to present the FireSat opportunity to the general public to determine whether enough grass-roots interest exists to advance the project.” Their goal is to raise $280,000 of the necessary $30 million from the public. They hope to have the system in space and fully operational by June 2018.

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NASA to Fight Forest Fires from Space

Scientist May Have Had First Ever Glimpse of a Parallel Universe

artist's impression of parallel universes

Are we limited to parallel universes?  Prepare to be mind blown by these four other prevailing multiverse theories.

The theory of parallel universes is not a new concept — the term multiverse has been used as early as 1895.  But what exactly is a parallel universe? The theory of parallel universes states that many universes exist parallel to each other within a large multiverse. Not all scientists believe in these separate universes, but one cosmologist, Ranga-Ram Chany from the California Institute of Technology, believes he may have captured the first ever glimpse of a parallel universe.

Chany used data from the Planck telescope found at the European Space Agency, and subtracted cosmic microwave background models from Planck’s picture of the universe.  What he found were regions that were much brighter than they should be, almost 4,500 times brighter. This finding is consistent with the idea that bumping parallel universes leave behind a so-called “bruise” in the form of a ring of hot photons during a collision.

SEE ALSO: Our Place in the Universe

Cosmic microwave background research, analyses, and interpretation are extremely difficult, and Chany admits that there is a 30 percent chance his findings are just background noise or space dust.  He hopes to have more results in the next few years, but he likely won’t have proof of his hypothesis until the next generation of space scanning technology is complete in 15–20 years.

The advancement of space scanning technology could also help prove the existence of not only parallel universes, but other hypothesized forms of multiverses.  How many other theories of multiverses could there be?

1. Infinite Universe

An infinite universe is one that is flat and stretches infinitely in space and time.  Since there is a finite number of ways particles can be arranged in an infinite universe, eventually these arrangements will repeat.  This means that if you were to venture out far enough, you would run into infinite versions of yourself, some living the exact same life as you right now and others that are completely different.

2. Bubble Universe

A bubble universe is based on the idea that after the Big Bang, the universe expanded by inflating like a balloon.  The theory suggests that some parts of the universe stop inflating while others continue, resulting in bubble universes that may have completely different laws of physics.  According to the theory, our universe has stopped inflating which is why we have stars and galaxies.

3. Daughter Universe

Daughter universes are hypothesized to be a product of outcomes or choices, meaning each choice we make spawns a new universe.  For example, say you get acceptance letters for two different universities A and B, our universe would then create daughter universes: one where you go to university A, one where you go to university B, and one where you do not go to either.

4. Mathematical Universe

Mathematical universes are ones where mathematics is a physical reality, and the mathematical structure that makes up our universe is not the only structure that exists.  Separate universes are formed by different initial conditions, physical constants, and mathematical equations.

Will the proof of other universes continue to remain just beyond our grasp, or will we one day find the key to unlock the door separating us from the secrets of the cosmos?

Source: Scientist May Have Had First Ever Glimpse of a Parallel Universe

Scientist May Have Had First Ever Glimpse of a Parallel Universe

How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

The solar wind has made Mars a cold desert, and a tougher environment for would-be colonists. Alan Duffy explains the latest research.

 

Four billion years ago, Mars and Earth were like twins. Water flowed on the Martian surface beneath an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and water vapour. Today the Martian atmosphere is vanishingly thin, just a hundredth the density of Earth’s, and its surface water has disappeared.

Where did it all go? To find out NASA sent MAVEN – the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft – all decked out with sensitive new instruments. It’s been orbiting the planet since last September and this November it finally answered the riddle. The solar wind blew away the Martian atmosphere. This result was the highlight of a landslide of papers published in November using data collected by MAVEN – four inScience and 40 in Geophysical Research Letters.

The first hints water used to flow on Mars came from NASA’s Viking missions in the 1970s. The orbiters beamed back pictures of valleys that looked like they’d been carved by ancient rivers. More recent landers showed fossilised ripples of lakebeds and streams known as mudstone. And just in September, instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected the signatures of hydrated salts streaking down crater edges. The briny residue showed water may still be found occasionally on the surface of Mars. But it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the bodies of water that resided in the ancient lakes some four billion years ago.

Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life. This animation shows what Mars might have looked like at the time, before transitioning to the dusty red planet we see today.

So where did the water go? Some thought it was locked away in subsurface ice deposits. And as for the atmosphere, carbon dioxide and other gases might have chemically reacted with rocks over hundreds of millions of years, and become locked away inside Mars’ geology – similar to the way carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere can get locked away as limestone.

The other possibility was that both had been lost to space: first the atmosphere, then the water, which in the thin air would simply have evaporated away. If this theory was right, the real question was, why did the atmosphere vanish in the first place? It shouldn’t have: Mars’ gravity, a third of Earth’s, is sufficiently strong to keep its atmosphere.

“Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day,

the loss becomes significant over time”

First off, MAVEN established that the Martian atmosphere was indeed vanishing into space. Dipping in and out of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, it detected wisps of ionised air escaping at the rate of about 100 grams each second. “Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time,” says Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

MAVEN was also present when a solar storm hit Mars in March 2015.

The rate of atmospheric loss increased up to 20-fold when the storm struck. The storm was the result of a coronal mass ejection by the Sun, which hurled billions of tonnes of superhot material into space. Unlike the constant, steady stream of particles of the solar wind, these events are far more energetic and damaging. With each direct hit, more of the Martian atmosphere is lost.

The Sun had been caught in the act of planetary vandalism. MAVEN’s data showed the long suspected culprit, the solar wind (and its sometime partner in crime, solar storms), was easily capable of removing an atmosphere. While the Sun is still at work shearing away the Martian atmosphere today, four billion years ago a youthful Sun was even more tempestuous with storms that were more frequent and powerful than those of today.

So why was Earth spared this fate? Our planet is blessed with a magnetic shield that deflects the charged solar particles; Mars is not. A magnetic shield is created by a churning liquid iron core, which Earth has. Mars once had a molten core too but around four billion years ago, it cooled and solidified. Just why we have been spared this fate is not entirely understood – perhaps it is simply because Mars is smaller and lost heat more quickly. The same fate undoubtedly awaits Earth too, but not for many millions (if not billions) of years yet.

Without a liquid iron core, Mars’ magnetic field faded away. The solar wind then ripped away most of the atmosphere, leaving the oceans to evaporate into space. But the removal of its atmosphere would have taken place over a few hundred million years, so any life that existed had time to adapt to living underground; the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation would be fatal to life on the surface.

For the first time, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has observed the solar winds in action stripping away Mars’ atmosphere. This video shows a simulation of the solar wind striking Mars, then adds a colourful overlay of Mars’ atmosphere being removed (the new measurements taken by MAVEN).

This is good news for scientists hoping to find life on Mars, but bad news for human colonists.

Some had hoped the gases that made up the atmosphere might still be present beneath the surface, awaiting our arrival to unlock all that carbon dioxide, begin to grow plants and terraform the Red Planet. Not so: at least as far as the atmosphere goes, colonisers will need to bring their own.

Source: How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

Pluto’s blue haze

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

After New Horizons sped past Pluto in July, the spacecraft turned around to look at the dwarf planet’s silhouette against the sun. The backlighting gave New Horizons some insight into the planetoid’s atmosphere, and now the first color images of the haze has revealed that Pluto’s skies are partially blue.

If you were standing on Pluto, the sky would probably actually look reddish gray, though Miriam Kramer at Mashable reports that sunrise and sunset on Pluto could have a blue hue. The way the atmospheric particles are scattering blue light is a surprise to the New Horizons scientists. It also tells them a thing or two about the composition of the atmosphere.

“That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles,” said New Horizons’ Carly Howett in a press release. “A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger–but still relatively small–soot-like particles we call tholins.”

Tholins are simple organic molecules. Scientists think Pluto’s tholins come from ultraviolet light breaking up the methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere. Those reactive particles then combine together into complex molecules. Volatile gases condense on the molecules, making them heavy enough to rain down on Pluto. This is where Pluto gets its reddish-brown tint.

A second image, released today, shows the distribution of water ice across part of Pluto’s surface. Water ice in itself is not a surprise–scientists suspected the planetoid’s mountain ranges are made of ice. Still, there are only a few places where Pluto’s water ice isn’t buried in more volatile ices, such as those made from nitrogen and methane.

Map of exposed ice on Pluto’s surface

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

What’s more, these water ices seem to be reddish in color, based on color maps from New Horizons.

“I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” says Silvia Protopapa, another New Horizons team member. “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto’s surface.”

Source: PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

It’s not every day that we have permission to throw “Aliens?” out there in relation to a confounding astronomical discovery – in fact, I don’t think we ever have. But the discovery of a strange pattern of light surrounding a distant star called KIC 8462852 has seen even the most sensible astronomers throw their arms up with a, “Sure, why not?” arguing that the possibility of advanced alien technology can’t reasonably be ignored.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build,” Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University in the US, told The Atlantic.

First up, though, a little about the star in question: KIC 8462852. Located about 1,500 light-years away between the Cygnus and Lyre constellations of our Milky Way galaxy, KIC 8462852 is brighter, hotter, and more massive than the Sun.

It was first discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, and scientists have been tracking the light it emits ever since, along with the light of another 150,000 or so newly discovered stars. They do this because it’s the best way to locate distant planets – slight, periodic dips in a star’s brightness signal the fact that it might have one or more large objects orbiting it in a regular fashion.

These brightness dips are usually very slight, with the stars dimming by less than 1 percent every few days, weeks, or months, depending on the size of the planet’s orbit, says astronomer Phil Plait at Slate.

What makes KIC 8462852 such a strange star to study is that not only are there way more dips of brightness than expected, these dips are highly irregular. There’s no periodic orbiting going on here, just a bunch of strange, light-blocking shapes with no discernible pattern to them.

And these dimming effects are significant. Scientists are reporting that at one point, the amount of starlight dropped by 15 percent, and then at another, 22 percent. And this tells us a whole lot, says Plait:

“Straight away, we know we’re not dealing with a planet here. Even a Jupiter-sized planet only blocks roughly 1 percent of this kind of star’s light, and that’s about as big as a planet gets. It can’t be due to a star, either; we’d see it if it were. And the lack of a regular, repeating signal belies both of these as well. Whatever is blocking the star is big, though, up to half the width of the star itself!”

The most obvious explanation for hundreds of irregular dimming events is that KIC 8462852 has a mass of space junk – all kinds of rocks and dust of varying shapes and sizes – circling it in tight formation, says Ross Andersen at The Atlantic. The only problem is that this only occurs when a star is young, and the evidence points to KIC 8462852 being mature. “If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light,” says Andersen. “There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star.”

“We’d never seen anything like this star,” one of the researchers, Tabetha Boyajian from Yale University in the US, told him. “It was really weird.”

So what’s going on here? There are a number of reasonable possibilities to consider, and yep, aliens is actually one of them. First off, the scientists have already ruled out the possibility that the information they’re working with is faulty. “We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out,” says Boyajian.

The best explanation we have is that at one point, another star passed into KIC 8462852’s system and the disturbance of gravity caused a huge mess of comets to be pulled in towards it before being expelled again. And there just so happens to be another star close enough to KIC 8462852 to make this a possibility.

“But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking,” says Andersen.

And then there’s the question of the 22 percent dimming. Could a mass of comets really block that much light? When astronomer Jason Wright from Penn State got a look at the data, he said we need to consider that perhaps we’ve caught an advanced alien civilisation in the process of building something massive near KIC 8462852.

Plait points to the so-called Dyson Sphere from several science fiction stories: a gigantic sphere made of solar panels that completely encircles a star. And he’s not opposed to the idea:

“I actually kinda like it. I’m not saying it’s right, mind you, just that it’s interesting. Wright isn’t some wild-eyed crackpot; he’s a professional astronomer with a solid background. As he told me when I talked to him over the phone, there’s ‘a need to hypothesise, but we should also approach it skeptically’ (paraphrasing a tweet by another astronomer, David Grinspoon), with which I wholeheartedly agree.”

What does that mean? It means we’re allowed to get a little bit excited! Not because aliens are a likely possibility, but because we’re in the middle of an awesome mystery the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the history of space exploration. Word is that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute scientists are considering devoting their time to it, and hopefully more research teams will get involved too. We seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with.

Source: Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

Now’s your best chance to view Mercury

The month of October is going to be particularly kind to astronomy enthusiasts this year, with Jupiter, Mars, and Venus set to draw unusually close to each other in the night sky, and the tricky-to-spot Mercury scheduled to make a rare bright appearance in the Northern Hemisphere.

You don’t get this kind of show for free though – over the next three weeks, the best time to view Mercury will be at around 5:45am (ET), with Jupiter, Mars, and Venus expected to switch up their positions relative to each other every morning. So best set your alarm and get ready to tell your tired body it’s all for science.

The first morning of note is Friday October 17, when Jupiter will finally catch up to Mars in the east so they’re just 0.5 degrees apart – as Joe Rao at Space.com points out, that’s about the width of the Moon in our night sky. This will be the first such conjunction between these two planets since 22 July 2013, and it’ll be the last till 7 January 2018.

During the week of October 22 to 29, Venus will join the party, and the three planets will align, with just 5 degrees between them. “That’s a big deal, because the next planetary trio won’t occur again until January 2021,” Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd report for Earthsky.org.

Jupiter, Mars, and Venus will be closest together early in the morning on October 26, with Jupiter having such a close encounter with Venus, they’ll form what’s known as a ‘double planet’ for about 3 hours. “Another grouping of three planets won’t happen again until 10 January 2021,” say McClure and Byrd.

If that’s not enough to get you up in the (very early) morning, perhaps the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Mercury will be.

“Mercury rises before the Sun all of this month and is surprisingly easy to see from now through Halloween,” Space.com advises. “All you have to do is just look well below and to the left of our three other morning planets and above the eastern horizon during morning twilight, from about 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise for a bright yellowish-orange ‘star’.”

October 16 is set to be the best morning for Mercury viewing for this entire year, with its position relative to the Sun – about 18-degrees to the east of it – causing the light reflected off its surface to increase dramatically over the next couple of days, making it easy to see with the naked eye. And if you miss that one, on October 30, Mercury will be brighter than any star in the sky, except the brightest of them all, Sirius.

If planets aren’t your thing (wait, what? who are you?) from October 20 to 22, you can view the incredible Orionids Meteor Shower. The shower will occur throughout October, but on the night of October 21 and the morning of October 22, it will hit its peak, often delivering around 20 meteors per hour. It’s made up of the dust trails left behind by comet Halley.

Happy sky watching!

Source: Now’s your best chance to view Mercury – here’s how

Now’s your best chance to view Mercury

What’s up in the night sky this month?

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Stargazing and looking up into the night sky is always a fun thing to do. This month, it will be especially exciting because there will be a total eclipse of a supermoon, plus the opportunity to see planets and the late-summer Milky Way!

What is a supermoon?

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A supermoon is a new or full moon that occurs when it is at, or near its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit. There are usually 4 to 6 supermoons every year.

Observers can view the total eclipse on September 27, starting at 10:11 p.m. EDT until 11:23 p.m. This event will be visible in North and South America, as well as Europe and Africa. So make sure to mark your calendars!

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This month, you will also be able to see the planets! Look for Mercury, Saturn, Pluto and Neptune in the evening sky. Uranus and Neptune at midnight, and Venus, Mars and Jupiter in the pre-dawn sky.

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Finally, if you’re able to escape to a dark location, you might be able to see a great view of our Milky Way!

So, make sure to get outside this month and take a look at everything our night sky has to offer.

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Source: What’s Up for September?

What’s up in the night sky this month?