Watch Space Dogs: Adventure To The Moon

Get ready to blast off to an out-of-this-world adventure with canine teenage astronaut, Pushok, who is determined to find his missing astronaut father. Against all odds, Pushok stows away on a US rocket ship to the moon but soon finds he is not alone, as he is reunited with his mom and encounters a macho monkey and a baby alien. Together, the furry heroes learn the true meaning of teamwork as they join the search for Pushok’s dad.

Splish, Splash, Orion Takes a Bath

The Orion spacecraft is a capsule built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, to deep space and eventually Mars. But before astronauts travel inside this new vehicle, we have to perform tests to ensure their safety.

One of these tests that we’ll talk about today simulates an ocean splashdown. Water impact testing helps us evaluate how Orion may behave when landing under its parachutes in different wind conditions and wave heights. The spacecraft has been undergoing a series of these tests at our Langley Research Center’s Hydro Impact Basin…which is our fancy way of saying pool.

The test capsule, coupled with the heat shield from Orion’s first spaceflight, swung like a pendulum into Langley’s 20-foot-deep basin on Aug. 25.

Inside the capsule were two test dummies – one representing a 105-pound woman and the other, a 220-pound man — each wearing spacesuits equipped with sensors. These sensors will provide critical data that will help us understand the forces crew members could experience when they splash down in the ocean.

This specific drop was the ninth in a series of 10 tests taking place at Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. It was designed to simulate one of the Orion spacecraft’s most stressful landing scenarios, a case where one of the capsule’s three main parachutes fails to deploy. That would cause Orion to approach its planned water landing faster than normal and at an undesirable angle.

Under ideal conditions, the Orion capsule would slice into the water of the Pacific Ocean traveling about 17 miles per hour. This test had it hitting the pool at about 20 mph, and in a lateral orientation. Instead of being pushed down into their seats, astronauts in this scenario would splashdown to the side.

With this test’s success and one final drop in this series scheduled for mid-September, researchers have accumulated a lot of important information.

To find out more, visit nasa.gov or follow @nasaorion​ on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Scientists found a galaxy that’s 99.99% dark matter

Astronomers have found a galaxy that is made almost entirely of a mysterious, invisible substance called dark matter. The dark matter galaxy is called Dragonfly 44. It’s roughly the same size as the Milky Way, so you could argue it’s kind of like our evil twin galaxy made of dark matter. Or, as the researchers put it, “Dragonfly 44 can be viewed as a failed Milky Way.” The discovery could help us finally answer 2 big questions about dark matter.

follow @the-future-now

Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star
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ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

24 August 2016

Pale Red Dot campaign reveals Earth-mass world in orbit around Proxima Centauri

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Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri
Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. The long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us — and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System. A paper describing this milestone finding will be published in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.

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The location of Proxima Centauri in the southern skies
Just over four light-years from the Solar System lies a red dwarf star that has been named Proxima Centauri as it is the closest star to Earth apart from the Sun. This cool star in the constellation of Centaurus is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye and lies near to the much brighter pair of stars known as Alpha Centauri AB.

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Proxima Centauri and its planet compared to the Solar System
During the first half of 2016 Proxima Centauri was regularly observed with the HARPS spectrograph on the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile and simultaneously monitored by other telescopes around the world [1]. This was the Pale Red Dot campaign, in which a team of astronomers led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé, from Queen Mary University of London, was looking for the tiny back and forth wobble of the star that would be caused by the gravitational pull of a possible orbiting planet [2].

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The motion of Proxima Centauri in 2016, revealing the fingerprints of a planet
As this was a topic with very wide public interest, the progress of the campaign between mid-January and April 2016 was shared publicly as it happened on the Pale Red Dot website and via social media. The reports were accompanied by numerous outreach articles written by specialists around the world.

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Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri
Guillem Anglada-Escudé explains the background to this unique search: “The first hints of a possible planet were spotted back in 2013, but the detection was not convincing. Since then we have worked hard to get further observations off the ground with help from ESO and others. The recent Pale Red Dot campaign has been about two years in the planning.”

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The sky around Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri (annotated)
The Pale Red Dot data, when combined with earlier observations made at ESO observatories and elsewhere, revealed the clear signal of a truly exciting result. At times Proxima Centauri is approaching Earth at about 5 kilometres per hour — normal human walking pace — and at times receding at the same speed. This regular pattern of changing radial velocities repeats with a period of 11.2 days. Careful analysis of the resulting tiny Doppler shifts showed that they indicated the presence of a planet with a mass at least 1.3 times that of the Earth, orbiting about 7 million kilometres from Proxima Centauri — only 5% of the Earth-Sun distance [3].

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Proxima Centauri in the southern constellation of Centaurus
Guillem Anglada-Escudé comments on the excitement of the last few months: “I kept checking the consistency of the signal every single day during the 60 nights of the Pale Red Dot campaign. The first 10 were promising, the first 20 were consistent with expectations, and at 30 days the result was pretty much definitive, so we started drafting the paper!”

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Relative Sizes of the Alpha Centauri Components and other Objects (artist’s impression)
Red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri are active stars and can vary in ways that would mimic the presence of a planet. To exclude this possibility the team also monitored the changing brightness of the star very carefully during the campaign using the ASH2 telescope at the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory in Chile and the Las Cumbres Observatory telescope network. Radial velocity data taken when the star was flaring were excluded from the final analysis.

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The sky around Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri
Although Proxima b orbits much closer to its star than Mercury does to the Sun in the Solar System, the star itself is far fainter than the Sun. As a result Proxima b lies well within the habitable zone around the star and has an estimated surface temperature that would allow the presence of liquid water. Despite the temperate orbit of Proxima b, the conditions on the surface may be strongly affected by the ultraviolet and X-ray flares from the star — far more intense than the Earth experiences from the Sun [4].

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Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri (annotated)
Two separate papers discuss the habitability of Proxima b and its climate. They find that the existence of liquid water on the planet today cannot be ruled out and, in such case, it may be present over the surface of the planet only in the sunniest regions, either in an area in the hemisphere of the planet facing the star (synchronous rotation) or in a tropical belt (3:2 resonance rotation). Proxima b’s rotation, the strong radiation from its star and the formation history of the planet makes its climate quite different from that of the Earth, and it is unlikely that Proxima b has seasons.

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Angular apparent size comparison
This discovery will be the beginning of extensive further observations, both with current instruments [5] and with the next generation of giant telescopes such as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Proxima b will be a prime target for the hunt for evidence of life elsewhere in the Universe. Indeed, the Alpha Centauri system is also the target of humankind’s first attempt to travel to another star system, the StarShot project.

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The brilliant southern Milky Way
Guillem Anglada-Escudé concludes: “Many exoplanets have been found and many more will be found, but searching for the closest potential Earth-analogue and succeeding has been the experience of a lifetime for all of us. Many people’s stories and efforts have converged on this discovery. The result is also a tribute to all of them. The search for life on Proxima b comes next…”

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The Pale Red Dot Campaign

Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri

Artist’s impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri

A journey to Proxima Centauri and its planet

A fly-through of the Proxima Centauri system

A fly-through of the Proxima Centauri system
Notes:

[1] Besides data from the recent Pale Red Dot campaign, the paper incorporates contributions from scientists who have been observing Proxima Centauri for many years. These include members of the original UVES/ESO M-dwarf programme (Martin Kürster and Michael Endl), and exoplanet search pioneers such as R. Paul Butler. Public observations from the HARPS/Geneva team obtained over many years were also included.

[2] The name Pale Red Dot reflects Carl Sagan’s famous reference to the Earth as a pale blue dot. As Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star it will bathe its orbiting planet in a pale red glow.

[3] The detection reported today has been technically possible for the last 10 years. In fact, signals with smaller amplitudes have been detected previously. However, stars are not smooth balls of gas and Proxima Centauri is an active star. The robust detection of Proxima b has only been possible after reaching a detailed understanding of how the star changes on timescales from minutes to a decade, and monitoring its brightness with photometric telescopes.

[4] The actual suitability of this kind of planet to support water and Earth-like life is a matter of intense but mostly theoretical debate. Major concerns that count against the presence of life are related to the closeness of the star. For example gravitational forces probably lock the same side of the planet in perpetual daylight, while the other side is in perpetual night. The planet’s atmosphere might also slowly be evaporating or have more complex chemistry than Earth’s due to stronger ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, especially during the first billion years of the star’s life. However, none of the arguments has been proven conclusively and they are unlikely to be settled without direct observational evidence and characterisation of the planet’s atmosphere. Similar factors apply to the planets recently found around TRAPPIST-1.

[5] Some methods to study a planet’s atmosphere depend on it passing in front of its star and the starlight passing through the atmosphere on its way to Earth. Currently there is no evidence that Proxima b transits across the disc of its parent star, and the chances of this happening seem small, but further observations to check this possibility are in progress.

More information:

This research is presented in a paper entitled “A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri”, by G. Anglada-Escudé et al., to appear in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.

The team is composed of Guillem Anglada-Escudé (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Pedro J. Amado (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), John Barnes (Open University, Milton Keynes, UK), Zaira M. Berdiñas (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucia - CSIC, Granada, Spain), R. Paul Butler (Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Washington, USA), Gavin A. L. Coleman (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Ignacio de la Cueva (Astroimagen, Ibiza, Spain), Stefan Dreizler (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Michael Endl (The University of Texas at Austin and McDonald Observatory, Austin, Texas, USA), Benjamin Giesers (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Sandra V. Jeffers (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), James S. Jenkins (Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile), Hugh R. A. Jones (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK), Marcin Kiraga (Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), Martin Kürster (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany), María J. López-González (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), Christopher J. Marvin (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Nicolás Morales (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), Julien Morin (Laboratoire Univers et Particules de Montpellier, Université de Montpellier & CNRS, Montpellier, France), Richard P. Nelson (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), José L. Ortiz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), Aviv Ofir (Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel), Sijme-Jan Paardekooper (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Ansgar Reiners (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), Eloy Rodriguez (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), Cristina Rodriguez-Lopez (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía - CSIC, Granada, Spain), Luis F. Sarmiento (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany), John P. Strachan (Queen Mary University of London, London, UK), Yiannis Tsapras (Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Heidelberg, Germany), Mikko Tuomi (University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK) and Mathias Zechmeister (Institut für Astrophysik, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany).

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Links:

ESOcast 87: Pale Red Dot Results: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/eso1629a/

Research paper in Nature: http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1629/eso1629a.pdf

ESO press conference (01:02:26): http://eso.adobeconnect.com/p3l3qqhq6un/

Two new papers on Habitability on Proxima b: http://www.proximacentauri.info/

Pale Red Dot blog: https://palereddot.org/

Photos of the VLT: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/paranal/

Photos of HARPS and the ESO 3.6-metre telescope: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=harps
and http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=3.6

Video of the ESO 3.6-metre telescope: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=3.6

Photos of LCOGT telescopes: http://lcogt.net/images/observatory/

MPIA press release: http://www.mpia.de/News/Science-Releases/2016/2016-10-planet-proxima

LCOGT press release: https://lcogt.net/blog/proxima-centauri-b/

University of Hertfordshire press release: https://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/news/2016/august/university-of-hertfordshire-astronomers-play-key-role-in-discovery-of-new-earth-like-planet

Laboratoire Univers et Particules de Montpellier press release: http://www.lupm.univ-montp2.fr/spip.php?article468

Additional images and videos from the PHL @ UPR Arecibo: http://phl.upr.edu/press-releases/proxb

University of Texas/McDonald Observatory press release: https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/20160824

Images, Text, Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani/G. Coleman/G. Anglada-Escudé/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Mahdi Zamani/IAU and Sky & Telescope/G. Coleman/A. Fujii/Pale Red Dot/Videos: ESO/M. Kornmesser/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)/PHL @ UPR Arecibo, ESO. Music by Lyford Rome.

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