Appears, Hypothesized, Presume… IT’S A GUESS!


The gringa cannot believe she got sucked in by a headline about a “Super-Earth” lurking in the outer regions of space. Within the first paragraph certain language was used that caused the gringa to go, “Mm hmm.” Very soon another word was used and the gringa exclaimed, “Aha!” A very telling word was used that earned the article a prompt, “Pfffft!” And, finally, when the truth was admitted, the gringa was jumping up and down screaming, “I KNEW IT!” And then I was kind of mad I had wasted all of that time and energy.

So, did astronomers find something interesting in the outer regions of space in the general direction of the Alpha Centauri system? Yes, they did. And THAT is ALL they know for now!

This object was first observed in 2014 by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA is a multi-national organization that manages an array of radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile. The multi-national partnership includes: Europe, the United States, Canada, East Asia and the Republic of Chile. A second, and much clearer, sighting occurred in May of 2015.

Now, these are all the key words and phrases used that clearly indicates that any other information offered on this object, at this time, is JUST A GUESS! Sheesh! Create a leading headline and get the gringa all excited, now I am calling you OUT because of the major let down the TRUTH turned out to be:

  • “Astronomers Find Object Deemed ‘Super-Earth’ in Outer Region” (key word “deemed”)
  • “it is a dwarf planet or star” (key word “or” – they DON’T KNOW)
  • “depending on its distance” (key word “depending” – they don’t know how far away it is)
  • “a hypothesized “super-Earth.”” (key word “hypothesized” – um, they’re just guessing)
  • “reasonable to presume” (key word “presume” – STILL GUESSING!)
  • “it could be” (key word “could” – in other words, maybe/maybe not, we DON’T KNOW)
  • “isn’t possible to determine” – (key words “isn’t possible” – we DON’T KNOW)
  • “one possibility” (key word “possibility” – in other words, “hey, wanna know my opinion?”)
  • “speculation” (does the gringa really have to explain that?)
  • “a third possibility” (OMG! STILL GUESSING!)

One of the main reasons the gringa loves to write about space related science is that it is factual, therefore non-controversial, and still exciting! I love all that excitement without all the drama of arguing opinions and speculation, but, rather discussing something that is fascinating and forward thinking and factually defined.

And this article just really made me mad. It was an injustice to science. It exploited science in a dramatic fashion that made it just look ridiculous. It provoked images of crazy scientists running amok, scratching their heads and saying things like, “Well, I think…,” or, “I SAY THERE! It could be that…” It portrayed them as educated men and women who have hi-tech toys and they just poke a button at random and say, “Hm! Hey! Look at what the lens landed on? Whaddya think that is?”

The gringa felt the article really played up guesswork and insulted the many hours of painstaking effort astronomers and scientists devote themselves to. So this is for them, those brilliant men and women who are stargazers, dreamers and lovers of solving a puzzle and exploring the unknown.

What should have been said is that after this second, clearer sighting, scientists are extremely interested and intrigued by this object. In order to determine what it actually is many more observations are necessary because at this time scientists don’t have enough data to know if it’s even a planet or a star.

One of the difficulties in gathering accurate data is the distance this object is from Earth. It is on the outer edges of our solar system in the direction of the Alpha Centauri system.

Another difficulty in studying the object is the type of instrument needed for observing it. Most objects as far out as this object is are often too cool and distant to be observed by telescopes. With scientists considering the possibility that this object is either on the outer edge of our solar system or gravity bound to the Alpha Centauri system, it is simply out of our range to effectively study. The Alpha Centauri D system is four light years away.

Another puzzle scientists face is that some of the data is conflicting. When ALMA observed the submillimeter wavelengths of the object, the data suggested that it should be a red dwarf star. However, if it were a red dwarf star, it should have been clearly visible on an infrared telescope and discovered long ago.

So, astronomers and scientists will eagerly continue to gather more observations. Tracking the object’s motion and observing other wavelengths related to the object will eventually result in researchers being able to satisfy their curiosity as well as the public’s curiosity. So, until they complete their analysis, the only thing we do know is that a very interesting object is way, way, out there.

 

Source:  www.theepochtimes.com

Photo credit:  www.eso.org

Advertisements

The Breath of the Earth


The cover photo for this post depicts a NASA supercomputer generated model that simulates what carbon dioxide looks like in Earth’s atmosphere if climate change creates a situation where the land and ocean are no longer capable of absorbing fifty percent of the CO2 emissions that are currently produced. Things are going to start getting hot really fast.

The aim of the UN climate summit in Paris is to set future limits on human-produced carbon emissions. The research of NASA will play a critical role in briefing all nations who attend. The gringa is willing to put her trust in NASA. In my opinion it is an agency that is a-political and non-nationalistic. It has one goal: scientific truth. It does not care about a scientist’s nationality, religion or political persuasion. NASA only cares about discovering the truth and using it for the benefit of all mankind.

Whereas there are many political motivations to embrace or reject the science of climate change, the gringa will put her trust in NASA. Whereas there are many financial gain motivations that cause people to embrace or reject suggested technologies to help curb climate change, the gringa will put her trust in what NASA advises. So, what is it that they have to say?

First, NASA will present how the Earth is reacting to the rise of gases in the atmosphere that trap heat. These are the gases causing climate change. NASA’s OCO-2 mission (Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2) is a satellite designed for the purpose of measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Presently, as mankind burns fossil fuels around the world, the land and oceans absorb about half of the carbon dioxide emissions such action generates. But remember, the earth itself produces its own natural levels of CO2. Mankind is heaping its own contribution atop that. A full year of data collected by OCO-2 has been analyzed by NASA experts. The key question is whether or not the oceans, forests and ecosystems can sustain the current fifty percent absorption level of CO2.

Mankind is contributing to an atmospheric level of carbon dioxide that has reached a concentration point (400 parts per million) that is higher than it has ever been in over 400,000 years. This level continues to rise about 2 parts per million per year. In the years since the industrial revolution, the earth has experienced a 250% increase of carbon based emissions. It only took mankind about two hundred years to do that.

So, if nothing changes, it is a certainty that carbon emissions will increase. As the ecosystems continue their work as the lungs of the earth, will they be able to sustain their current efficiency? As warming of the earth continues, these ecosystems are affected and changed. Will these changes result in lowering the efficiency of the earth to breathe or increase its efficiency, causing the earth to gasp, or will it simply evolve to compensate and its ability to filter out these toxins from the atmosphere remain the same? Those are the only logical conclusions of our current environmental predicament. It has to be one of those three.

The deputy project scientist of the OCO-2 mission, Annmarie Eldering of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has stated that “… carbon dioxide is the largest human-produced driver of our changing climate…” That is actually good news. If dangerous levels of carbon emissions are not a natural condition but, rather, an artificially created condition by mankind, mankind can then make changes and lower these dangerous carbon emission levels. If we will only do it.

Life as we know it definitely has to change. Change is always uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. The largest contributors of carbon emissions are populations that are enjoying the benefits of the technologies that are creating the problems. Can spoiled, grown up children really be expected to give up some of their toys or, at the least, limit the amount of time they play with them?

Mankind not only has to consider its physical contribution of pollutants that end up directly in the atmosphere, but also the things that we do that harms the lungs of the earth. Can mankind really afford to upset the balance of the world’s oceans and ancient forests? If we don’t change our ways it’s essentially no different than a human continuing to smoke two packs a day even though their doctor has told them they have lung cancer.

As conditions created by mankind causes atmospheric temperatures to rise, the oceans warm. Phytoplankton is the first link in the ocean’s ecosystem chain. And now that link is showing evidence of change in reaction to warmer oceanic temperatures. Mike Behrenfeld, the principal investigator for NASA’s mission of studying the largest natural phytoplankton bloom, said: “Phytoplankton are not only influenced by climate, but they also influence climate.” Everything on earth is interconnected, co-dependent, if the phytoplankton goes, we all go.

So, as the climate warms and changes the ecosystem, what about carbon emissions? Will the changes result in a rise or fall in atmospheric levels? Will the delicate balance remain the same? According to NASA’s decade long investigation “Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment” scientists have determined that as warmer temperatures result in Arctic permafrost thaw and increase forest fires, atmospheric carbon levels will increase. The chain reaction will be that the natural features of earth that act as the lungs that breathe for our world, will slowly deteriorate and be destroyed. The breath of the earth will slowly disappear as lung capacity diminishes.

In fact, NASA researchers have established a definitive link between forest wildfires in the Amazon with powerful hurricanes in the North Atlantic. One natural disaster feeds another. Warm ocean water is the fuel needed for devastating hurricanes. Warmer ocean temperatures are created when the lungs of the world, ancient forests, are decimated. So, deforestation raises carbon levels which warms the ocean which feeds a massive hurricane which reduces atmospheric moisture which creates dry conditions which contributes to decimating forest fires which leads to…. Are you following the gringa’s logic here?

University of California Earth System Scientist James Randerson concluded, “Keeping fire out of the Amazon basin is critical from a carbon cycle perspective.” And yet the forests burn. The most irresponsible deforesters are big business, often the mining industry or petroleum companies. The indigenous people understand their inter-dependence on the forest. They tend to respect what feeds and houses them. Big business, however, is only there temporarily to exploit the natural resources. Hence, the irresponsibility.

So, the predicted increase of a two parts per million annual increase of carbon dioxide could end up being much, much more. The earth could see a chain reaction event, a snowball effect, a runaway train rise of greenhouse gases that gets way beyond mankind’s ability to affect any manner of control or reversal of effects. That is the tipping point, the point of no return. That does not mean Armageddon and the destruction of all mankind. It does mean life as we know it will be over.

A runaway train event of global climate change would mean areas that once were agricultural breadbaskets could become deserts. Areas that are richly inhabited coastal areas could become reefs. Areas that were ancient forested Amazonian jungle could become barren and unable to sustain the indigenous populations that lived off the land.

A runaway train event of global climate change will mean mass migrations of humanity to areas that are capable of providing crops and freshwater. Cartography will become big business as coastlines change and borders move. In fact, borders could very well become a thing of the past as a global population undergoes a migrational shift such as has never been seen before.

NASA’s plans for the future:

  • A 2016 atmospheric carbon emission study over the skies of the United States
  • Coral Airborne Laboratory mission in 2016 to study the world’s coral reefs and changing pH levels of the oceans as they absorb increasing levels of carbon emissions
  • Pre-Aerosol, Clouds and Ocean Ecosystem satellite deployment to measure phytoplankton from orbit
  • Integration into the International Space Station of the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation and ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment which will observe plants and forests

NASA’s contribution to solving our world’s environmental issues is critical. However, just as you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, NASA can educate the world on the facts and that’s it. Mankind must make the determination to act upon those facts. And the gringa thinks that sooner is better than later.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

 

SOHO, No, Not New York, Outer Space


NASA is celebrating the twenty year anniversary of SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory). Since its launch in 1995 it has provided scientists with data that has generated almost 5,000 papers and reports. Now, the gringa is well aware that this technology costs the U.S. taxpayer a pretty, little penny. Is it worth it? Well, let’s take a look at some of NASA’s reports on the information it has generated and if mankind has benefited.

Discoveries: coronal waves, solar tsunamis, sun quakes, and about 3,000 comets. The gringa says, “Big deal. Show me why that matters.” Well, for one thing, by detecting the activity of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), NASA can warn us Earthlings when there will be a geomagnetic storm caused by these CMEs colliding with Earth’s magnetic field. Such an event can really screw up my GPS, electronic communications, and put a real strain on power grids. I get lost driving around the block and depend HIGHLY on my GPS. Everyone everywhere depends on electronic communication. And, do you really want to be on the operating table and the power grid experience a “blip”. Mm hmm. Thought so. So, yeah,  SOHO is doing a good thing for mankind. Anything else?

SOHO enables scientists to study invisible solar wind. Why does that matter? Well, solar wind can wreak havoc with technology. The astronauts on board the ISS are especially vulnerable to disaster caused by technological failure. The safety of the folks here on the big blue marble is also highly dependent on reliable technology in order to remain safe and sound. Since SOHO can track and study the comets that pass near the sun, by studying the wind-sock effect of their tails in solar winds, they can calculate reliable estimations of turbulence levels of solar wind and determine if any safety measures need to be taken.

NASA has produced an interesting video about how SOHO has discovered thousands of solar comets: “Why are We Seeing So Many Sungrazing Comets?” at this link:  https://youtu.be/2u73bIzg5CU

Of course, with climate change ongoing upon Earth and ozone depletion occurring in Earth’s atmosphere, being well informed on solar radiation measurements is more important than ever. The outermost atmosphere of Earth is illuminated by about 1,400 watts of solar energy. The Earth physically absorbs about seventy percent of this. Weather and sunspot activity affects absorption levels so seventy percent is an average, not a constant. SOHO contributes to NASA’s ongoing efforts to create models of “future Earth” and how it’s relationship with the Sun will affect climate change.

The gringa thinks that, considering SOHO just might help mankind make a plan to save ourselves and this little speck of the universe we shoot through space on, it’s worth every darn nickel and dime we spend on it.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Alice & Albert


Could it really be that it’s been one hundred years since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity? The science community refers to Albert so often, I often feel as if he graced this earth just yesterday. But, indeed, November is the one hundred year anniversary of his publication of this theory.

Even though the gringa has heard many times someone say “the theory of relativity”, um, what the heck does it really mean? I mean, how the heck can it be used for something useful or even for something interesting or fun?  Well, this is the basis for all the time-warp fodder for great (or even lousy) literary works of science fiction, which the gringa loves, even the “lousy” ones.

The first time Albert’s theory was successfully put to the test in real life was during the observation of a solar eclipse. A prediction was made, based on the theory, of how much “bended” light would be deflected when a particular star passed near the sun. The theory supposed that the sun’s mass would cause the light of the star to bend. And the prediction, based on Albert’s theory, was spot on.

So? Now what? Thus became the  established phenomena that is known as “gravitational lensing”. Astronomers now know that this appearance of bended light is not an optical illusion but something that actually happens. This allows astronomers a method to delve into galaxies that would otherwise be off limits for research even with humanity’s most powerful telescopes.

One such galaxy that fits this description is commonly called the “Cheshire Cat” galaxy because it’s appearance reminds one of that particular elusive character from the “Alice In Wonderland” story.  What exactly causes the smiley face? Well, the theory explains that these are distant galaxies whose light is stretched and then bent by objects of great mass which are most likely made up of dark matter. Why dark matter? Well, since no large mass objects are visible but the evidence of their presence is there in the bent light, the mass must then exist in the form of  invisible dark matter.

Scientists claim that there are six galaxies that make up the outer space smiley face. Each eye and the nose are individual galaxies and there are four other galaxies that create the arcs which are bent light created by gravitational lensing by some mysterious dark matter object with great mass. Scientists view the “Cheshire Cat” through NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The eye galaxies are the brightest and are zipping through space on a collision course with one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. NASA uses the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that hot gas, millions of degrees Fahrenheit, is the evidence that these galaxies are indeed colliding. And that’s not all the mayhem that the “Cheshire Cat” is out and about doing. Aside from the bumper car routine,  the cat’s left eye has a very hungry supermassive black hole right at its center which is gobbling up all sorts of things.

Astronomers classify this cluster of galaxies as a fossil group. A fossil group has a dominant elliptical galaxy surrounded by smaller galaxies. Fossil groups are considered to be just one stage that almost all galaxy groups go through as they evolve. Perhaps it’s kind of like the teenage years for galaxies. Horrible driving and collisions and they eat everyone out of house and home.

So, once it grows up a bit, then, what’s the next stage? That would be the Cyclops group, when they merge into one mega-galaxy. Yeah, the gringa thinks that sounds about right. Just like a teenager then develops into  a mature senior who gets a bit fat and needs reading glasses.  But it will probably take a billion years or so. Looks like we will be enjoying the smiley face for a long time to come.

If any of the gringa’s dear readers happen to be passing through Huntsville, Alabama, they can check in at Marshall Space Flight Center. That’s headquarters for the Chandra program that studies the “Cheshire Cat”. Or, even better, if you find yourself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see if you can take a peek at the cat yourself. That’s where you’ll find The Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory that controls the Chandra program’s science and flight operations.

 

Source and Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov