Polarizing Planets

A new type of exoplanet finder comes on line in the next year. Working with the giant telescopes of the Chilean outback, the Very Large Telescope on Mt Paranal, it will distinguish the polarized light of planet atmospheres from the light of their parent stars. This new planet detection system offers an ingenious new way to tease out the light of a planet with the overwhelming brightness of a star. Adapted from EsoCast, with Dr. J.

Flattr this!

Earth in 1000 Years – Preview

This is a preview of our upcoming episode of COSMIC JOURNEYS. Look for it in mid-October. It’s an ambitious attempt to explore the relevance of major past climate change to today. In particular, we look at the last interglacial, the Eemian, when sea levels rose to somewhere between four and eight meters higher than today. Interestingly, temperatures were only modestly higher than today and carbon dioxide levels were substantially lower. That’s an example of the many twists and turns in the tangled history of our dynamic planet.

Flattr this!

Voyager Leaves the Solar System

Thirty-six years ago this month, on Sept. 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

On September 12, 2013, NASA officially confirmed that Voyager 1 had reached the interstellar medium in August 2012. This makes Voyager 1 the first spacecraft to exit our solar system, a mark in history to be remembered forever.

Hear what today’s leading Astro-celebs have to say about Voyager’s incredible landmark accomplishment!

Flattr this!

Cosmic Journeys – Earth in 1000 Years

This edition of COSMIC JOURNEYS explores the still unfolding story of Earth’s past and the light it sheds on the science of climate change today. While that story can tell us about the mechanisms that can shape our climate. it’s still the unique conditions of our time that will determine sea levels, ice coverage, and temperatures.

Ice, in its varied forms, covers as much as 16% of Earth’s surface, including 33% of land areas at the height of the northern winter. Glaciers, sea ice, permafrost, ice sheets and snow play an important role in Earth’s climate. They reflect energy back to space, shape ocean currents, and spawn weather patterns.

But there are signs that Earth’s great stores of ice are beginning to melt. To find out where Earth might be headed, scientists are drilling down into the ice, and scouring ancient sea beds, for evidence of past climate change. What are they learning about the fate of our planet… a thousand years into the future and even beyond?

30,000 years ago, Earth began a relentless descent into winter. Glaciers pushed into what were temperate zones. Ice spread beyond polar seas. New layers of ice accumulated on the vast frozen Continue reading Cosmic Journeys – Earth in 1000 Years

Flattr this!

Titan’s Chemical Cocktail

Dive into Titan’s thick atmosphere and find out what a strange place it is, adapted from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. With its clouds, rain cycle, and giant lakes, Saturn’s large moon Titan is a surprisingly Earthlike place. But unlike on Earth, Titan’s surface is far too cold for liquid water – instead, Titan’s clouds, rain, and lakes consist of liquid hydrocarbons like methane and ethane (which exist as gases here on Earth). When these hydrocarbons evaporate and encounter ultraviolet radiation in Titan’s upper atmosphere, some of the molecules are broken apart and reassembled into longer hydrocarbons like ethylene and propane.

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft first revealed the presence of several species of atmospheric hydrocarbons when it flew by Titan in 1980, but one molecule was curiously missing – propylene, the main ingredient in plastic number 5. Now, thanks to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have detected propylene on Titan for the first time, solving a long-standing mystery about the solar system’s most Earthlike moon.

Flattr this!

Was Mars Once Like Earth?

News from NASA on the upcoming Mars mission, MAVEN. While Mars Rover Curiosity is studying the Red Planet from the ground, the Maven satellite will give us important data taken from the upper atmosphere. Was Mars ever full of water, and as lush as the forests of Earth? By studying various atomic and molecular processes, Maven will help to decipher the mysterious history of Mars.

Flattr this!

Super Hurricanes – Preview

Our latest episode of Cosmic Journeys, coming soon. This video asks: what are the conditions that can turn an average tropical storm into a destructive monster? While scientists work to identify the diagnostics of super hurricanes and typhoons, they face an escalating conflict between man and nature. More and more of the world’s people are living in proximity to the sea, making them vulnerable to ocean storms. At the same time, the oceans are getting warmer and sea levels are rising, potentially raising the destructive potential of powerful hurricanes and typhoons.

Flattr this!

What Curiosity is Discovering on the Road to Mt. Sharp

Join the scientists who manage Curiosity’s journey to Mt. Sharp in reveling in its ongoing discoveries. Find out what the rover is looking for, how it’s navigating the rocky terrain, and what ultimately the journey means to its human patrons. It’s one of the most sophisticated, and inspiring, missions ever undertaken to another planet. Video from NASA/JPL.

Flattr this!

Super Hurricanes and Typhoons

Hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones: they are creatures of tropical seas, sweeping up heat laden waters, converting it to wind, rain, and waves. Why do a rare few evolve into colossal monsters, that leave in their wake a trail of destruction, death, and despair? Do we now face a rising tide of Super Hurricanes and Typhoons?

One reason is that more and more people are moving to coastlines around the world, drawn by a combination of jobs and lifestyle. In the United States, for example, 39% of the population lives in coastal counties.

A Columbia University report takes a global look at this trend by identifying major disaster hot spots: the east coast of North America, Bangladesh, the Philippines, the east coast of China. These hurricane-prone coastlines, with their dense population centers, hold enormous potential for economic loss and loss of life.

To make matters worse, the oceans have gotten steadily warmer over the last few decades, adding potency to the hurricane’s fuel. Sea levels are expected to rise by as much as a meter by the end of the century, increasing the risks of storm surge.

As more people pack the coastlines, man and nature are in the midst of an excrutiating Continue reading Super Hurricanes and Typhoons

Flattr this!

Space is exciting