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  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on October 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ABC News,   

    From ABC via SETI Institute: “Where is the search for extraterrestrial life up to?” 

    ABC News bloc

    ABC News

    10.11.16
    Mark Llewellyn

    1
    Photo: Scientists are stepping up their search to eavesdrop on ET. Facility not identified.

    Despite the headlines, no alleged signals from ET have ever been confirmed. Yet far from being put off their search, scientists are stepping it up.

    For decades scientists have been searching for evidence of life beyond Earth — intelligent or otherwise — using an array of methods.

    “If you are talking about life in the solar system, like life on Mars, or maybe Saturn’s moon Titan, or maybe one of Jupiter’s moons like Europa, then you just send a rocket and look for it,” said Seth Shostak, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California.

    There could be microbial life in all of these places, Dr Shostak said, “but you have to look hard, probably underneath the surfaces of these planets and moons”.

    As for finding life around other stars, scientists have to use really big telescopes to scan distant planets for chemicals — like oxygen, methane and water vapour.

    The challenge is that these kinds of molecular tracers for life could also indicate geological events.

    Scientists are still trying to pin down the exact chemical signature that would really prove life and not just the existence of volcanoes, Dr Shostak said.

    Other chemicals like ammonia, carbon and amino acids could also be signs of life.

    Meanwhile, the SETI Institute and others are focusing on another technique: looking for potential communication signals from ET.

    “You just do what Jodie Foster did in the movie Contact and eavesdrop on radio signals,” Dr Shostak explained.

    Optical laser transmissions as well as narrow-band radio signals are possible signs of intelligent life out there.

    But again it is hard to be sure where a signal really comes from, especially when you can’t pick it up more than once.

    False alarms and hoaxes

    Take the recent report that the giant Russian RATAN-600 radio telescope had picked up a signal while scanning a star called HD164595, in the constellation Hercules, the year before.

    “I’ve no doubt the signal was there, but the question was: is it ET, or just some satellite that’s just wheeling overhead and producing some radio emission that they picked up?” Dr Shostak said.

    He used SETI’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California, to zoom in on the star system.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA
    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA

    “We didn’t find anything, the guys at the University of California Berkeley using their big telescope in West Virginia didn’t find anything. The Russians looked in this direction, I think 39 times, and only found this signal once,” Dr Shostak said.

    So, this looks very much like another false alarm — just like the claim last year that a giant alien engineering project had been set up on a planet orbiting a star called KIC 8462852.

    At least it wasn’t a hoax like the claim, by an amateur UK radio astronomer in 1998, that he had found radio signals coming from a system of two dwarf stars in the constellation Pegasus.

    The best candidate for an alien radio transmission remains the so-called WOW! signal, detected in 1977 by Ohio University’s Big Ear radio telescope, Dr Shostak said.

    Ohio State Big Ear Radio Telescope
    Ohio State Big Ear Radio Telescope

    The signal has not been heard again since so remains unconfirmed.

    Scientists step up the search

    Despite the lack of definitive evidence so far, the search for extraterrestrial life continues, and indeed scientists are stepping up the search.

    The European Space Agency’s ExoMars program is concentrating on Mars. An orbiter launched in March this year aims to examine the Martian atmosphere and a follow-up mission, featuring a rover vehicle, has a launch date of 2020.

    Looking outside our solar system is NASA’s Kepler space observatory, which lifted off in 2009. It has found thousands of planets, including dozens that could possibly support life.

    The number of planets has increased substantially over the past few years thanks to faster data processing.

    Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2018, will investigate the potential for extraterrestrial life by “sniffing” the atmospheric chemistry of Earth-like planets around other stars.

    Back on Earth, the world’s biggest single dish radio telescope, the 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), began operating in south-western China last month.

    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China
    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China

    Construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a giant multi radio telescope — made up of thousands of dishes and up to 1 million antennas — is also due to start in 2018.

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    If it goes ahead, Australia will host more than 500 stations, each containing about 250 individual antennas.

    As part of a key science program, called Cradle of Life, SKA will focus on searching for carbon-containing chemicals in planetary atmospheres, while also trying to detect radio emissions from extraterrestrial civilisations.

    Parkes Observatory moves to centre stage

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia
    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Meanwhile, the biggest-ever search for intelligent alien life ramps up this month when Parkes Observatory joins Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia in the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative.

    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA
    GBO radio telescope, West Virginia, USA

    The project picks up fainter radio signals and covers 10 times more sky than previous hunts for alien life.

    Data is being analysed by computers belonging to volunteers of the citizen science project SETI@home.

    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab
    SETI@home, BOINC project at UC Berkeley Space Science Lab

    About 10 million people around the world have downloaded the free SETI@home software.

    While some scientists are sceptical about finding life on other planets, Dr Shostak said it was only a matter of time.

    He plans to buy everyone he knows a flat white coffee if SETI doesn’t find ET “within the next two decades”.

    “I might be wrong about that, and I may have to buy a lot of flat whites, but that’s my estimate of how long it will take,” he said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:45 am on August 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ABC News, , ,   

    From ABC: “A Look at the Science on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea” 

    ABC News bloc

    ABC News

    Aug 7, 2015
    CALEB JONES, Associated Press

    Atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, where some Native Hawaiians have been peacefully protesting the construction of what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes, astronomers have spent the last 40 years observing our universe and helping make some of the most significant discoveries in their field.

    If the highly contested Thirty Meter Telescope {TMT] is constructed on the site, scientists say they will be able to explore more of the universe’s unsolved mysteries.

    TMT
    Proposed TMT

    Many Native Hawaiians, however, consider the land sacred.

    Looking back billions of years in time, astronomers on Mauna Kea continue to peer into the most distant reaches of our early universe, allowing them to see the time immediately following the cosmic dark ages and the big bang.

    Here’s a look at what makes Mauna Kea such a valuable place for both science and the Hawaiian culture.

    WHAT KIND OF SCIENCE IS CURRENTLY BEING DONE ON MAUNA KEA?

    The 13 telescopes currently in place on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest point, have played major roles in discoveries considered among the most significant to astronomy.

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory Interior
    Keck Observatory

    CFHT Telescope
    CFHT nterior
    Canada France Hawaii Telescope
    Above, two of the most important science machines on Mauna Kea

    While astronomers often use many different telescopes in locations around the world to draw their conclusions, Guenther Hasinger, director of Mauna Kea’s Institute for Astronomy, said “there is almost no major astronomical discovery where there was not very important input from the telescopes on Mauna Kea.”

    Scientists at Mauna Kea have helped identify the presence of dark energy, discover a black hole in our galaxy and learn about potentially habitable planets in other solar systems, just to name a few.

    “The fact that there are other planets out there at some point will change our perspective in a similar way, as the first picture of the Earth taken from the moon did,” said Hasinger. “We might be able to fly to them at some point.”

    Mike Brown, an astronomer and professor at the California Institute of Technology, used Mauna Kea telescopes to help reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet.

    WHY IS MAUNA KEA SO PERFECT?

    In order to tap the full potential of the kind of telescopes being used on Mauna Kea and other similar sites, scientists say you must have a number of conditions present. First, the summit of Mauna Kea, on the Big Island, is nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, above 50 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. It is very dark, nestled in the crater of a dormant volcano far away from any large cities that would create light pollution. The consistently warm ocean water that surrounds the island helps keep the atmosphere stable.

    According to award-winning astronomer Andrea Ghez, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles who has published the most compelling proof of black holes to date, Mauna Kea is “the best place in the world to do astronomy.”

    3
    Andrea Ghez

    “Being in the middle of the ocean is geographically perfect,” she said.

    It also helps to be located somewhere with easy access to technology.

    “Places that are not developed tend not to be near places that can support technological endeavors,” she said. “Hawaii is one of the few places where you hit all three, which is why everybody in the world wants to build their telescopes there.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on March 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ABC News, ,   

    From ABC News: “The Big Melt: Antarctica’s Retreating Ice May Re-Shape Earth” 

    ABC News bloc

    ABC News

    Feb 27, 2015,
    Luis Andres Henao
    Seth Borenstein

    1
    In this Jan. 22, 2015 photo, a zodiac carrying a team of international scientists heads to Chile’s station Bernardo O’Higgins, Antarctica. Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea, 130 billion tons of ice (118 billion metric tons) per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

    From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet (hundreds of meters) below to re-shape Earth.

    Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea — 130 billion tons of ice (118 billion metric tons) per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

    In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines.

    Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt,” said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica.

    Here on the Antarctic peninsula, where the continent is warming the fastest because the land sticks out in the warmer ocean, 49 billion tons of ice (nearly 45 billion metric tons) are lost each year, according to NASA. The water warms from below, causing the ice to retreat on to land, and then the warmer air takes over. Temperatures rose 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) in the last half century, much faster than Earth’s average, said Ricardo Jana, a glaciologist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

    As chinstrap penguins waddled behind him, Peter Convey of the British Antarctic Survey reflected on changes he could see on Robert Island, a small-scale example and perhaps early warning signal of what’s happening to the peninsula and rest of the continent as a whole.

    “I was last here 10 years ago,” Convey said during a rare sunny day on the island, with temperatures just above freezing. “And if you compare what I saw back then to now, the basic difference due to warming is that the permanent patches of snow and ice are smaller. They’re still there behind me, but they’re smaller than they were.”

    Robert Island hits all the senses: the stomach-turning smell of penguin poop; soft moss that invites the rare visitor to lie down, as if on a water bed; brown mud, akin to stepping in gooey chocolate. Patches of the moss, which alternates from fluorescent green to rust red, have grown large enough to be football fields. Though 97 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula is still covered with ice, entire valleys are now free of it, ice is thinner elsewhere and glaciers have retreated, Convey said.

    Dressed in a big red parka and sky blue hat, plant biologist Angelica Casanova has to take her gloves off to collect samples, leaving her hands bluish purple from the cold. Casanova says she can’t help but notice the changes since she began coming to the island in 1995. Increasingly, plants are taking root in the earth and stone deposited by retreating glaciers, she says.

    “It’s interesting because the vegetation in some way responds positively. It grows more,” she said, a few steps from a sleeping Weddell seal. “What is regrettable is that all the scientific information that we’re seeing says there’s been a lot of glacier retreat and that worries us.”

    Just last month, scientists noticed in satellite images that a giant crack in an ice shelf on the peninsula called Larsen C had grown by about 12 miles (20 kilometers) in 2014. Ominously, the split broke through a type of ice band that usually stops such cracks. If it keeps going, it could cause the breaking off of a giant iceberg somewhere between the size of Rhode Island and Delaware, about 1,700 to 2,500 square miles (4,600 to 6,400 square kilometers), said British Antarctic Survey scientist Paul Holland. And there’s a small chance it could cause the entire Scotland-sized Larsen C ice shelf to collapse like its sister shelf, Larsen B, did in a dramatic way in 2002.

    A few years back, scientists figured Antarctica as a whole was in balance, neither gaining nor losing ice. Experts worried more about Greenland; it was easier to get to and more noticeable, but once they got a better look at the bottom of the world, the focus of their fears shifted. Now scientists in two different studies use the words “irreversible” and “unstoppable” to talk about the melting in West Antarctica. Ice is gaining in East Antarctica, where the air and water are cooler, but not nearly as much as it is melting to the west.

    “Before Antarctica was much of a wild card,” said University of Washington ice scientist Ian Joughin. “Now I would say it’s less of a wild card and more scary than we thought before.”

    Over at NASA, ice scientist Eric Rignot said the melting “is going way faster than anyone had thought. It’s kind of a red flag.”

    What’s happening is simple physics. Warm water eats away at the ice from underneath. Then more ice is exposed to the water, and it too melts. Finally, the ice above the water collapses into the water and melts.

    Climate change has shifted the wind pattern around the continent, pushing warmer water farther north against and below the western ice sheet and the peninsula. The warm, more northerly water replaces the cooler water that had been there. It’s only a couple degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the water that used to be there, but that makes a huge difference in melting, scientists said.

    The world’s fate hangs on the question of how fast the ice melts.

    At its current rate, the rise of the world’s oceans from Antarctica’s ice melt would be barely noticeable, about one-third of a millimeter a year. The oceans are that vast.

    But if all the West Antarctic ice sheet that’s connected to water melts unstoppably, as several experts predict, there will not be time to prepare. Scientists estimate it will take anywhere from 200 to 1,000 years to melt enough ice to raise seas by 10 feet, maybe only 100 years in a worst case scenario. If that plays out, developed coastal cities such as New York and Guangzhou could face up to $1 trillion a year in flood damage within a few decades and countless other population centers will be vulnerable.

    “Changing the climate of the Earth or thinning glaciers is fine as long as you don’t do it too fast. And right now we are doing it as fast as we can. It’s not good,” said Rignot, of NASA. “We have to stop it; or we have to slow it down as best as we can. ”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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