Posts Tagged With: planets

Alien Nuclear Wars Might Be Visible From Earth…..


Image NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center / Flickr
NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center / Flickr

In a recent New Yorker article, the nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein collected testimony from several people who saw, firsthand, the flash from the first successful detonation of the atomic bomb, at the infamous Trinity Test, on July 16, 1945.

Wellerstein has a writer’s feel for quotes and anecdotes. According to one general, the flash was a “golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue light” that illuminated “every peak, crevasse, and ridge” of a nearby mountain range, “with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described.” Wellerstein notes that several eyewitnesses described Trinity’s light as “cosmic.” This was apropos, he says, for nowhere else, “except in the interiors of stars do temperatures reach into the tens of millions of degrees,” as they do during a nuclear explosion.

A team of astronomers recently tried to determine whether Trinity’s light might be cosmic in a different sense. The Trinity test involved only one explosion. But if there were many more explosions, involving many more nuclear weapons, it might generate enough heat and light to be seen from nearby stars, or from the deeper reaches of our galaxy—so long as someone out there was looking.

And so, the thinking goes, maybe we should be looking. If every intelligent species eventually stumbles on nuclear technology, and not all of them manage it well, then it might be possible to spot an apocalypse in the heavens. Or several.

There are tens of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, each one a sea of stars. When astronomers watch these stars closely, they see them wobbling, the way our sun wobbles when its planets spin around it, tugging on its center of gravity. Astronomers also see these stars dimming ever so slightly, as though objects were passing in front of them, and this dimming occurs at predictable intervals, as though these objects were moving around the stars in regular orbits. For these reasons and others, astronomers now believe that nearly all stars play host to planets, and they are making plans to image these planets directly, by catching the faint light they give off with huge, ultra-sensitive telescopes.

What will this light tell us? A remarkable amount, it turns out. Light encounters all kinds of molecules as it makes its way through the universe, and it keeps a close record of these encounters, in its spectra. If sunlight were to beam through Earth’s atmosphere, and then out into the stars, it would travel with this detailed chemical record in tow. If, after some millennia, this earth-kissed light fell into a distant astronomer’s telescope, that astronomer would be able to determine what sorts of chemicals were present in our planet’s atmosphere. They would know that water vapor was present, and life too, because Earth’s atmosphere contains methane gas, breathed out by the trillions of organisms that live on its surface. Indeed, it’s precisely these sorts of “biosignatures” that Earth’s astronomers hope to find in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets.

Light from extrasolar planets might also tell us whether our universe is home to other tool-making beings. After all, some of our pollutants leave behind chemical traces that would never occur naturally. If we glimpsed these pollutants in a distant planet’s atmosphere, we could be reasonably certain that technological life lived on its surface at one time or another. And according to Adam Stevens, Duncan Forgan, and Jack O’Malley James from Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute, we might be able to know whether they used their technology to destroy themselves.

In July, Stevens, Forgan, and James published a paper that asked what a distant, “self-destructive civilization” might look like through the business end of a telescope. To do so, they gamed out several dystopian science fiction scenarios in great detail. They calculated the brightness of the gamma rays that would flash out from a massive exchange of nuclear weapons. They asked themselves what would happen if an engineered pathogen ripped through a large population of human-sized animals. What gases would fill a planet’s atmosphere, if its surface were strewn with rotting corpses? And would those gases be detectable across interstellar distances?

I asked Jill Tarter what she thought of the paper. Tarter is the former director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute and the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the heroine of Carl Sagan’s Contact, played by Jodie Foster in the film adaptation. Tarter told me the paper was “getting a bit of buzz” in the SETI community. But she also urged caution. “The problem is the signatures are detectable for cosmically insignificant amounts of time,” she said. Distant stars burn for billions of years, sending a constant stream of light toward Earth, but the flash from a nuclear war may last only a few days. To catch its light, you have to have impeccable timing.

Stevens, Forgan, and James acknowledge the ephemerality of their extinction signatures. According to their paper, some will last only 30 years, and others less than that. And even if a signal were to stick around for a hundred millennia, it would still be a tough needle to find in the vast spatiotemporal haystack that is our night sky. The universe has been manufacturing planets for billions of years. The odds that you’d train your telescope on a planet just as its resident civilization winks out are, in Tarter’s words, “a lot worse than Vegas.”

To beat odds like that, you’d need to take a detailed census of the galaxy. You’d need to eavesdrop on billions of planets, and for long stretches of time, and the tech for that kind of survey just doesn’t exist yet, and won’t for a while.

But it’s conceivable, in principle, and that itself is a miracle of human ingenuity. It’s wild to think that we may one day know something about the various fates that await beings like us. And it’s a useful prod toward deeper thoughts, about the sorts of flashes we are starting to send into the cosmos, especially this year, as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Trinity test.

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Alien Asteroid Belt Discovery Hints at Hidden Planets……


Astronomers have discovered a giant asteroid belt circling the bright star Vega, a find that may ultimately reveal an entire solar system of planets, scientists say.
Vega is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and located about 25 light-years from Earth. It gained fame as the fictional source of an alien signal in the science fiction novel “Contact” by famed astronomer Carl Sagan, which was adapted into a film starring Jodie Foster.
The star’s newfound asteroid belt layout suggest that Vega is surrounded by an icy outer belt of asteroids, as well as a warm inner space rock belt, researchers said. Their presence is also a clue that Vega could be surrounded by multiple undiscovered planets, they added.
Astronomers made the new Vega discovery using with NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. They found that Vega’s warm inner asteroid belt is separated from the cooler outer space rock ring by a wide gap.

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First ‘Alien Earth’ Will Be Found in 2013, Experts Say…..


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The first truly Earth-like alien planet is likely to be spotted next year, an epic discovery that would cause humanity to reassess its place in the universe.
While astronomers have found a number of exoplanets over the last few years that share one or two key traits with our own world — such as size or inferred surface temperature — they have yet to bag a bona fide “alien Earth.” But that should change in 2013, scientists say.
“I’m very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,” said Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
Planets piling up
Astronomers discovered the first exoplanet orbiting a sunlike star in 1995. Since they, they’ve spotted more than 800 worlds beyond our own solar system, and many more candidates await confirmation by follow-up observations.
NASA’s prolific Kepler Space Telescope, for example, has flagged more than 2,300 potential planets since its March 2009 launch. Only 100 or so have been confirmed to date, but mission scientists estimate that at least 80 percent will end up being the real deal.
The first exoplanet finds were scorching-hot Jupiter-like worlds that orbit close to their parent stars, because they were the easiest to detect. But over time, new instruments came online and planet hunters honed their techniques, enabling the discovery of smaller and more distantly orbiting planets — places more like Earth.
Last December, for instance, Kepler found a planet 2.4 times larger than Earth orbiting in its star’s habitable zone — that just-right range of distances where liquid water, and perhaps life as we know it, can exist.
The Kepler team and other research groups have detected several other worlds like that one (which is known as Kepler-22b), bringing the current tally of potentially habitable exoplanets to nine by Mendez’ reckoning.
Zeroing in on Earth’s twin
None of the worlds in Mendez’ Habitable Exoplanets Catalog are small enough to be true Earth twins. The handful of Earth-size planets spotted to date all orbit too close to their stars to be suitable for life. [Gallery: 9 Potentially Habitable Exoplanets]
But it’s only a matter of time before a small, rocky planet is spotted in the habitable zone — and Mendez isn’t the only researcher who thinks that time is coming soon.
“The first planet with a measured size, orbit and incident stellar flux that is suitable for life is likely to be announced in 2013,” said Geoff Marcy, a veteran planet hunter at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the Kepler team.
Mendez and Marcy both think this watershed find will be made by Kepler, which spots planets by flagging the telltale brightness dips caused when they pass in front of their parent stars from the instrument’s perspective.
Kepler needs to witness three of these”transits” to detect a planet, so its early discoveries were tilted toward close-orbiting worlds (which transit more frequently). But over time, the telescope has been spotting more and more distantly orbiting planets — including some in the habitable zone.
An instrument called HARPS (short for High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) is also a top contender, having already spotted a number of potentially habitable worlds. HARPS, which sits on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile, allows researchers to detect the tiny gravitational wobbles that orbiting planets induce in their parent stars.
“HARPS should be able to find the most interesting and closer Earth twins,” Mendez told SPACE.com via email, noting that many Kepler planets are too far away to characterize in detail. “A combination of its sensitivity and long-term observations is now paying off.”
And there are probably many alien Earths out there to be found in our Milky Way galaxy, researchers say.
“Estimating carefully, there are 200 billion stars that host at least 50 billion planets, if not more,” Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, told SPACE.com via email.
“Assuming that 1:10,000 are similar to the Earth would give us 5,000,000 such planets,” added Tuomi, who led teams reporting the discovery of several potentially habitable planet candidates this year, including an exoplanet orbiting the star Tau Ceti just 11.9 light-years from Earth. “So I would say we are talking about at least thousands of such planets.”
What it would mean
Whenever the first Earth twin is confirmed, the discovery will likely have a profound effect on humanity.
“We humans will look up into the night sky, much as we gaze across a large ocean,” Marcy told SPACE.com via email. “We will know that the cosmic ocean contains islands and continents by the billions, able to support both primitive life and entire civilizations.”
Marcy hopes such a find will prod our species to take its first real steps beyond its native solar system.
“Humanity will close its collective eyes, and set sail for Alpha Centauri,” Marcy said, referring to the closest star system to our own, where an Earth-size planet was discovered earlier this year.
“The small steps for humanity will be a giant leap for our species. Sending robotic probes to the nearest stars will constitute the greatest adventure we Homo sapiens have ever attempted,” Marcy added. “This massive undertaking will require the cooperation and contribution from all major nations around world. In so doing, we will take our first tentative steps into the cosmic ocean and enhance our shared sense of purpose on this terrestrial shore.”

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Two Alien Planets Found with Twin Suns Like ‘Star Wars” Tatooine


Most stars like our sun are not singletons, but rather come in pairs that orbit each other. Scientists had found planets in these binary systems, so-called circumbinary planets with two suns like Tatooine in the “Star Wars” universe.

To find more circumbinary planets, astronomers analyzed data from NASA’s prolific Kepler space telescope, which has detected more than 2,300 potential alien worlds since its March 2009 launch. Kepler had to date detected four systems with circumbinary planets — Kepler-16, 34, 35 and 38.

The scientists have now announced the detection of Kepler-47, the first system seen with multiple worlds encircling a pair of stars. The star and its planets, called Kepler-47b and Kepler-47c, dwell about 5,000 light-years away, in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.

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