Juno spacecraft approaches Jupiter today

This video says about itself:

Juno‘s Final Approach to Jupiter

4 July 2016

After five years traveling through space to its destination, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive in orbit around Jupiter today, July 4, 2016. This video shows a peek of what the spacecraft saw as it closed in on its destination before instruments were turned off. Watch our noon EDT Pre-Orbit Insertion Briefing on NASA Television for more.

HELLO, JUPITER “After a tense, 35-minute engine burn, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully began its orbit of Jupiter late Monday evening, the pivotal moment of the space agency’s five-year long venture to reach the planet.” Here’s what the space craft will be up to over the next 20 months, and a look at its precarious entry into orbit. [Chris D’Angelo, HuffPost]

American religious fundamentalist threatened to murder scientist Stephen Hawking

This video says about itself:

24 September 2014

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has labeled himself as an atheist, clearly stating that he doesn’t believe God exists at all.

Hawking reportedly made the announcement in an interview at the start of the Starmus Festival taking place at Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, was able to get an exclusive interview with Hawking and headlined the story with the scientist’s statement about his beliefs.

Hawking is quoted in the interview saying: “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

But this isn’t the first time that Hawking has mentioned his lack of faith in a divine higher power.

In his book entitled The Grand Design, he says that the laws of science are in place and do not require a creator to have started everything.

Hawking has also previously said he doesn’t believe in heaven or an afterlife.

When asked in the interview if he thought space exploration was a good thing to invest billions of dollars in, he said that colonizing other planets might be humanity’s only hope for insurance of our long-term survival.

From daily El Pais in Spain:

US woman held in Tenerife for death threats against Stephen Hawking

“I am right next to you and I can kill you,” read one of the messages sent by the suspect, who traveled to the Spanish island to be near her target

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1 JULY 2016 – 16:55 CEST

Spanish police have arrested an American woman for issuing death threats against the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking at a science event on the island of Tenerife.

The 37-year-old suspect was detained in the municipality of Arona, on the most populous of the Canary Islands, on Wednesday – the same day that Hawking delivered his first lecture at the Starmus International Festival.

The woman, who has no prior record and had traveled to Tenerife by herself, could be facing a six-month prison sentence and immediate deportation for harassment and issuing serious threats against the famous scientist, legal sources told the Efe news agency.

The same sources said that one of the cosmologist’s children alerted authorities after detecting over 100 threatening messages on Twitter and in e-mails on Tuesday. The messages contained sentences such as “I am going to kill him.” …

Police investigators who searched her hotel room found a collection of esoteric items linked to religious extremism and contrary to Hawking’s theories denying the existence of God. They also found notes and documents detailing the scientist’s residence and workplace, and notebooks outlining precise plans on how to approach her target.

Hawking’s Wednesday address had attracted long lines of people at the science and arts festival. The astrophysicist arrived on stage flanked by two members of the Spanish National Police, an unusual sight that caused some alarm among members of the audience. Outside the venue, other officers checked visitors’ bags.

That same day, the police arrested the alleged stalker at a hotel located very near the festival venue, the Pirámide de Arona, which contains one of the biggest auditoriums in Europe.

The woman had apparently been issuing threats against Hawking for years, but the situation got out of hand in recent days, when the threats proliferated over e-mail an in the social media.

“I am going to kill you.” read one of the messages. “I am right next to you and I can kill you,” said another.

The e-mails included specific plans to end the scientist’s life, the police said.

According to this source, the suspect is 41 years old.

According to La Opinión de Tenerife, the suspect is Jenny Theresa C. These names sound Christian to me. If the suspect would have had a Muslim name like Fatima, then probably she would have been all over the Murdoch and other corporate merdia, not just in this Canary Islands local paper.

Planet Neptune’s big dark vortex

This video says about itself:

Huge Dark Vortex in the Atmosphere of Neptune Confirmed by Hubble & Amateur Astronomers

24 June 2016

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by Hubble Space Telescope and amateur astronomers confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune.

By Ed Mazza in the USA:

Neptune’s Massive New ‘Dark Vortex’ Is As Big As The United States

The high-pressure system is accompanied by bright “companion clouds.”

06/24/2016 02:46 am ET

An unusual new feature has appeared on Neptune: a “dark vortex” so massive that it would swallow the United States if it was here on Earth.

Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains,” Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data, said in a news release. “And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth.”

A dark vortex on Neptune is a high-pressure system that usually is accompanied by bright “companion clouds,” NASA said.

We speculate that these dark spots on Neptune (which are most visible at blue wavelengths) are probably ‘clear’ areas, openings in the cloud decks that see to deeper layers,” Heidi Hammel, a researcher at the Space Science Institute, told Astronomy magazine. “The bright companions (which are most visible at redder wavelengths) are thought to be higher-altitude clouds.”

Those companion clouds form by air being diverted over the vortex, which then causes gases to freeze, probably into methane ice crystals, NASA said.

The bright companion clouds were first spotted last summer by several observers, including amateur astronomers, who suspected that they might be indications of a dark vortex. However, since the vortex was best viewed in blue wavelengths, more detailed observation required aiming the Hubble Space Telescope at the feature.

Hubble’s image taken last month confirmed the vortex. While a similar feature was spotted by Voyager 2 in 1989, this was the first one seen on the planet in the 21st century.

“Neptune’s dark vortices have exhibited surprising diversity over the years, in terms of size, shape and stability (they meander in latitude, and sometimes speed up or slow down),” the space agency said. “They also come and go on much shorter timescales compared to similar anticyclones seen on Jupiter; large storms on Jupiter evolve over decades.”

Also on Thursday, NASA announced that it had extended Hubble’s science operations for another five years — until 2021.

“After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever,” NASA said. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020’s, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe.”

Liquid water on dwarf planet Pluto?

This 22 June 2016 video says about itself:

Does Pluto ocean holds alien life? Dwarf planet liquid water lurking under icy surface.

From Brown University in the USA:

Research bolsters case for a present-day subsurface ocean on Pluto

June 21, 2016

An updated thermal model for Pluto suggests that liquid water beneath the dwarf planet’s ice shell may not be frozen yet.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When the NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft buzzed by Pluto last year, it revealed tantalizing clues that the dwarf planet might have — or had at one time — a liquid ocean sloshing around under its icy crust. According to a new analysis led by a Brown University Ph.D. student, such an ocean likely still exists today.

The study, which used a thermal evolution model for Pluto updated with data from New Horizons, found that if Pluto’s ocean had frozen into oblivion millions or billions of years ago, it would have caused the entire planet to shrink. But there are no signs of a global contraction to be found on Pluto’s surface. On the contrary, New Horizons showed signs that Pluto has been expanding.

“Thanks to the incredible data returned by New Horizons, we were able to observe tectonic features on Pluto’s surface, update our thermal evolution model with new data and infer that Pluto most likely has a subsurface ocean today,” said Noah Hammond, a graduate student in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, and the study’s lead author.

The research, which Hammond coauthored with advisors Amy Barr of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona and Brown University geologist Marc Parmentier, is in press in Geophysical Research Letters.

The pictures New Horizons sent back from its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt’s most famous denizen showed that Pluto was much more than a simple snowball in space. It has an exotic surface made from different types of ices — water, nitrogen and methane. It has mountains hundreds of meters high and a vast heart-shaped plain. It also has giant tectonic features — sinuous faults hundreds of kilometers long as deep as 4 kilometers. It was those tectonic features that got scientists thinking that a subsurface ocean was a real possibility for Pluto.

“What New Horizons showed was that there are extensional tectonic features, which indicate that Pluto underwent a period of global expansion,” Hammond said. “A subsurface ocean that was slowly freezing over would cause this kind of expansion.”

Scientists think that there may have been enough heat-producing radioactive elements within Pluto’s rocky core to melt part of the planet’s ice shell. Over time in the frigid Kuiper belt, that melted portion would eventually start to refreeze. Ice is less dense than water, so when it freezes, it expands. If Pluto had an ocean that was frozen or in the process of freezing, extensional tectonics on the surface would result, and that’s what New Horizons saw.

There aren’t many other ways on Pluto to get such features. One way might have been through a gravitational tug of war with its moon, Charon. But the active gravitational dynamics between the two have long since wound down, and some of the tectonics look fairly fresh (on a geologic timescale). So, many scientists believe that an ocean is the strongest scenario.

But if Pluto had an ocean, what is its fate today? Could the freezing process still be going on, or did the ocean freeze solid a billion years ago?

That’s where the thermal evolution model run by Hammond and his colleagues comes in. The model includes updated data from New Horizons on Pluto’s diameter and density, key parameters in understanding the dynamics in Pluto’s interior. The model showed that because of the low temperatures and high pressure within Pluto, an ocean that had completely frozen over would quickly convert from the normal ice we all know to a different phase called ice II. Ice II has a more compact crystalline structure than standard ice, so an ocean frozen to ice II would occupy a smaller volume and lead to a global contraction on Pluto, rather than an expansion.

“We don’t see the things on the surface we’d expect if there had been a global contraction,” Hammond said. “So we conclude that ice II has not formed, and therefore that the ocean hasn’t completely frozen.”

There are a few caveats, the researchers point out. The formation of ice II is dependent on the thickness of Pluto’s ice shell. Ice II only forms if the shell is 260 kilometers thick or more. If the shell is thinner than that, the ocean could have frozen without forming ice II. And if that were the case the ocean could have frozen completely without causing contraction.

However, the researchers say there’s good reason to believe that the ice shell is more than 260 kilometers. Their updated model suggests that Pluto’s ice shell is actually closer to 300 or more kilometers thick. In addition, the nitrogen and methane ices that New Horizons found on the surface bolster the case for a thick ice shell.

“Those exotic ices are actually good insulators,” Hammond said. “They may be helping Pluto from losing more of its heat to space.”

Taken together, the new model bolsters the case for an ocean environment in the furthest reaches of the solar system.

“That’s amazing to me,” Hammond said. “The possibility that you could have vast liquid water ocean habitats so far from the sun on Pluto — and that the same could also be possible on other Kuiper belt objects as well — is absolutely incredible.”

The research was supported by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NNX13AN99H) and NASA Planetary Geology & Geophysics (NNX15AN79G).

It has been one year since the New Horizons spacecraft finished its historic flyby of Pluto and its system of moons, taking the most detailed images ever of the dwarf planet and its companions. Since then, the probe has been steadily sending back every bit of data it collected in its 22-hour encounter, revealing an increasingly complex system: here.

Asteroid, companion of planet Earth, discovered

This NASA video says about itself:

Asteroid 2016 HO3Earth’s Constant Companion

15 Jun. 2016

A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come. Full story here.

Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s meteorite dagger

Tutankhamun's dagger

From Meteoritics & Planetary Science:

The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade

20 MAY 2016


Scholars have long discussed the introduction and spread of iron metallurgy in different civilizations. The sporadic use of iron has been reported in the Eastern Mediterranean area from the late Neolithic period to the Bronze Age. Despite the rare existence of smelted iron, it is generally assumed that early iron objects were produced from meteoritic iron. Nevertheless, the methods of working the metal, its use, and diffusion are contentious issues compromised by lack of detailed analysis.

Since its discovery in 1925, the meteoritic origin of the iron dagger blade from the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun (14th C. BCE) has been the subject of debate and previous analyses yielded controversial results. We show that the composition of the blade (Fe plus 10.8 wt% Ni and 0.58 wt% Co), accurately determined through portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, strongly supports its meteoritic origin.

In agreement with recent results of metallographic analysis of ancient iron artifacts from Gerzeh, our study confirms that ancient Egyptians attributed great value to meteoritic iron for the production of precious objects. Moreover, the high manufacturing quality of Tutankhamun‘s dagger blade, in comparison with other simple-shaped meteoritic iron artifacts, suggests a significant mastery of ironworking in Tutankhamun‘s time.

Tutankhamun's meteorite scarab in brooch

From Astronomy magazine, 1 June 2016:

The dagger was not the only relic in King Tut’s possession that was rare and unusual; he also possessed a scarab necklace made of silica glass that might have been created by the heat of a meteorite impacting the desert sand and melting it down.

Three ‘Earth-like’ planets discovered

This video says about itself:

Three New Earth-Like Planets orbiting Star TRAPPIST 1 Might Be Our Best Bet For Finding Life

2 May 2016

The three Earth-like planets around the Star TRAPPIST-1 were discovered using transit method, only detection method currently available to us.

The Transit method looks for dims in star light as planets pass in front of it, the amount of dimming determines the size of the planet and location of the planet.

Belgian astronomers discovered the three potentially habitable Earth-like planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star, named TRAPPIST-1, about 40 light-years from Earth. These are some of the smallest exoplanets ever discovered, with a radius only slightly bigger than Earth’s, and they are the first planets discovered around an ultracool dwarf – a dim star not much bigger than Jupiter. Their results are published in Nature.

The most exciting thing about this discovery, made by the Belgian TRAPPIST telescope as the planets passed in front of the star, is that these planets are close enough for us to study. Many of the other potentially habitable worlds we’ve found are much further away and around much brighter stars, making them more difficult to observe.

“These are the first planets similar in size and temperature to Earth and Venus for which we can study the atmospheric composition in detail, and really constrain the surface conditions and habitability,” lead author Dr. Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège told IFLScience.

At first glance, the system might not seem that promising. Two of the planets, TRAPPIST- 1b and c, have years lasting about 1.5 and 2.4 Earth days respectively, meaning they orbit very closely, while TRAPPIST-1d has a less well determined period in the range of 4.5 to 73 days. However, the star has a surface temperature of only 2,550 Kelvins (2,277°C / 4,130 °F ), so they are unlikely to be inferno worlds. Instead, they could be quite the opposite.

The closest two planets receive no more than four times the amount of radiation received by Earth, while the furthest planet likely receives less. This puts the planets at the edges of the star’s habitable zone, the region in which liquid water can exist. It’s not certain if the planets are solid, but TRAPPIST-1 is rich in heavy elements, which indicates a suitable evironment for rocky planets to form.

The planets have a radius of 1.11, 1.05, and 1.16 times that of Earth, which combined with their locations strongly indicates that these objects possess some of the right conditions for life. The planets’ temperatures could range from slightly higher than water’s boiling point to well below freezing.

Tune used in this video is: Surfing Llama and artist name is Bird Creek.

By Michael McLaughlin in the USA:

Astronomers Find 3 ‘Temperate’ Planets That May Support Life

The Earth-like planets are the first ones found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star.

05/02/2016 06:30 pm ET

Astronomers say three recently discovered planets similar to Earth’s size and temperature may have conditions that could sustain life.

An international team observed the three planets orbiting a reddish, ultracool dwarf star, once thought too dim to anchor a solar system. Their research, published in the journal Nature on Monday, said these are the first planets ever seen orbiting an ultracool dwarf star.

“Systems around these tiny stars are the only places where we can detect life on an Earth-sized exoplanet with our current technology,” co-author Michael Gillon, of the University of Liege in Belgium, said in a statement. “So if we want to find life elsewhere in the universe, this is where we should start to look.”

Previously, scientists have only found exoplanets — planets that do not orbit our sun — with conditions unlike Earth’s. In November, for instance, a rocky, Earth-sized planet was found 39 light years away, but its temperature was estimated at 300 degrees to 600 degrees. The discovery of the three potentially habitable planets may encourage researchers to look more closely at the huge numbers of ultracool dwarf stars.

The three planets orbit a star in the Aquarius constellation named Trappist-1, which is about the size of Jupiter. But the planets are close enough to the star to have “temperate” conditions on their surface, MIT researcher Julien De Wit told NPR.

The planets are about 40 light years from Earth — making them nearby in galactic terms.

The nearness and their star’s dimness will make it easier for scientists to study the exoplanets, which are often tough to analyze when orbiting a distant, bright star.

Each of the planets has a side that’s perpetually in daylight and another side that’s completely dark. The most likely region to support life would be along the line separating day and night, where temperatures would be less extreme, according to Gizmodo.

The nearest two planets complete their revolutions around the star in 1.5 days and 2.4 days. Scientists haven’t completely charted the last planet’s orbit, but it could take from 4.5 to 72.8 days.

Astronomers don’t yet know what the planets are made of, and want to check for liquid water, the foundation for life.

Researchers may get further information about the atmospheric conditions after monitoring what happens to the star’s light when the planets pass in front of it, according to The Verge. The presence of different gases on the planets will cause the light to behave differently.

The team used the Trappist telescope in Chile to study 60 stars too dim to see with the naked eye, according to Gizmodo. NASA’s planned launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 could be useful, as one of its missions is to search for solar systems supporting life.