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  • richardmitnick 8:41 am on May 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Earth has its own magnetic field., EarthSky, Lancaster University, Magnetic North, , , Reports that the magnetic north pole has started moving swiftly at 50km (31 miles) per year   

    From Lancaster University via EarthSky: “Magnetic north is shifting fast. What’ll happen to the northern lights?” 


    From Lancaster University




    May 22, 2019
    Nathan Case,
    Lancaster University

    As magnetic north shifts increasingly away from the geologic north pole – towards Siberia – studies suggest the northern lights could move with it.

    Northern lights over Lake Lappajärvi in Finland. Image via Santeri Viinamäki.

    Like most planets in our solar system, the Earth has its own magnetic field. Thanks to its largely molten iron core, our planet is in fact a bit like a bar magnet.


    It has a north and south magnetic pole, separate from the geographic poles, with a field connecting the two. This field protects our planet from radiation and is responsible for creating the northern and southern lights – spectacular events that are only visible near the magnetic poles.

    However, with reports that the magnetic north pole has started moving swiftly at 50km (31 miles) per year – and may soon be over Siberia – it has long been unclear whether the northern lights will move too. Now a new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, has come up with an answer.

    Our planetary magnetic field has many advantages. For over 2,000 years, travellers have been able to use it to navigate across the globe. Some animals even seem to be able to find their way thanks to the magnetic field. But, more importantly than that, our geomagnetic field helps protect all life on Earth.

    Earth’s magnetic field extends hundreds of thousands of kilometers out from the center of our planet – stretching right out into interplanetary space, forming what scientists call a “magnetosphere”.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    This magnetosphere helps to deflect solar radiation and cosmic rays, preventing the destruction of our atmosphere. This protective magnetic bubble isn’t perfect though, and some solar matter and energy can transfer into our magnetosphere. As it is then funneled into the poles by the field, it results in the spectacular displays of the northern lights.

    A wandering pole

    Since Earth’s magnetic field is created by its moving, molten iron core, its poles aren’t stationary and they wander independently of one another. In fact, since its first formal discovery in 1831, the north magnetic pole has travelled over 1,240 miles (2,000 km) from the Boothia Peninsula in the far north of Canada to high in the Arctic Sea. This wandering has generally been quite slow, around 9km (6 mi) a year, allowing scientists to easily keep track of its position. But since the turn of the century, this speed has increased to 30 miles (50 km) a year. The south magnetic pole is also moving, though at a much slower rate (6-9 miles, or 10-15 km a year).

    This rapid wandering of the north magnetic pole has caused some problems for scientists and navigators alike. Computer models of where the north magnetic pole might be in the future have become seriously outdated, making accurate compass-based navigation difficult. Although GPS does work, it can sometimes be unreliable in the polar regions. In fact, the pole is moving so quickly that scientists responsible for mapping the Earth’s magnetic field were recently forced to update their model much earlier than expected.

    Will the aurora move?

    The aurora generally form in an oval about the magnetic poles, and so if those poles move, it stands to reason that the aurora might too. With predictions suggesting that the north pole will soon be approaching northern Siberia, what effect might that have on the aurora?

    The northern lights are currently mostly visible from northern Europe, Canada and the northern U.S. If, however, they shifted north, across the geographic pole, following the north magnetic pole, then that could well change. Instead, the northern lights would become more visible from Siberia and northern Russia and less visible from the much more densely populated U.S./Canadian border.

    Fortunately, for those aurora hunters in the northern hemisphere, it seems as though this might not actually be the case. A recent study made a computer model of the aurora and the Earth’s magnetic poles based on data dating back to 1965. It showed that rather than following the magnetic poles, the aurora follows the “geomagnetic poles” instead. There’s only a small difference between these two types of poles – but it’s an important one.

    Magnetic versus geomagnetic poles. Image via Wikipedia.

    The magnetic poles are the points on the Earth’s surface where a compass needle points downwards or upwards, vertically. They aren’t necessarily connected and drawing a line between these points, through the Earth, would not necessarily cross its center. Therefore, to make better models over time, scientists assume that the Earth is like a bar magnet at its center, creating poles that are exactly opposite each other – “antipodal”. This means that if we drew a line between these points, the line would cross directly through the Earth’s center. At the points where that line crosses the Earth’s surface, we have the geomagnetic poles.

    Positions of the north magnetic pole (red) and the geomagnetic pole (blue) between 1900 and 2020. Image via British Geological Survey.

    The geomagnetic poles are a kind of reliable, averaged out version of the magnetic poles, which move erratically all the time. Because of that, it turns out they aren’t moving anywhere near as fast as the magnetic north pole is. And since the aurora seems to follow the more averaged version of the magnetic field, it means that the northern lights aren’t moving that fast either. It seems as though the aurora are staying where they are – at least for now.

    We already know that the magnetic pole moves. Both poles have wandered ever since the Earth existed. In fact, the poles even flip over, with north becoming south and south becoming north. These magnetic reversals have occurred throughout history, every 450,000 years or so on average. The last reversal occurred 780,000 years ago meaning we could be due for a reversal soon.

    So rest assured that a wandering pole, even a fast one, shouldn’t cause too many problems – except for those scientists whose job it is to model it.

    Bottom line: Studies suggest that the northern lights could move as the Earth’s magnetic north pole heads towards Siberia.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition


    Lancaster University (legally the University of Lancaster) is a collegiate public research university in Lancaster, Lancashire, England. The university was established by Royal Charter in 1964, one of several new universities created in the 1960s.

    The university was initially based in St Leonard’s Gate in the city centre, before moving in 1968 to a purpose-built 300 acres (120 ha) campus at Bailrigg, 4 km (2.5 mi) to the south. The campus buildings are arranged around a central walkway known as the Spine, which is connected to a central plaza, named Alexandra Square in honour of its first chancellor, Princess Alexandra.

    Lancaster is one of only six collegiate universities in the UK; the colleges are weakly autonomous. The eight undergraduate colleges are named after places in the historic county of Lancashire, and each have their own campus residence blocks, common rooms, administration staff and bar.

    Lancaster is ranked in the top ten in all three national league tables, and received a Gold rating in the Government’s inaugural (2017) Teaching Excellence Framework. In 2018 it was awarded University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, and achieved its highest ever national ranking of 6th place within the guide’s national table. The annual income of the institution for 2016–17 was £267.0 million of which £37.7 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £268.7 million.

  • richardmitnick 10:09 am on May 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Star formation burst created 50% of Milky Way disk stars", , , , , EarthSky, U Barcelona   

    From Universitat de Barcelona via EarthSky: “Star formation burst in the Milky Way 2-3 billion years ago” 

    From Universitat de Barcelona




    May 10, 2019
    Deborah Byrd

    Analysis of data from the Gaia satellite shows a powerful burst of star formation – a stellar baby boom – in our Milky Way galaxy 2 to 3 billion years ago. This single burst might have created half the stars in the galaxy’s flat disk.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    This photographic image depicts our Milky Way galaxy as seen from the inside, but it isn’t a conventional photo. Instead, it’s the result of the integration of all the radiation received by the Gaia satellite during 22 months of continuous measurements. The shining dots aren’t stars, but instead stellar clusters with the massive and youngest stars of the region. The dark filaments track the gas and dust distribution, where the new stars are born. The insert shows the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, one of the closest star-forming regions to our solar system. Image via ESA/Gaia/DPAC/University of Barcelona.

    How do we know how our Milky Way galaxy formed and evolved? How do we know the rate at which the galaxy’s stars were born, and how that rate might have changed over billions of years of Milky Way history? Like so many new insights about our galaxy over the past year, new answers to these questions have come via ESA’s Gaia satellite, and its second data release of April 2018. The University of Barcelona said on May 8, 2019, that a team of its astronomers – along with astronomers at the Besançon Astronomical Observatory in France – analyzed Gaia data to learn of a powerful star formation burst in our Milky Way some 2 to 3 billion years ago. They now believe this burst marked the birth of more than 50 percent of the stars in the galaxy’s flat disk. An article at Nature Research Highlights explained:

    “Roger Mor at the University of Barcelona in Spain and his colleagues turned to data from the Gaia satellite, which precisely measures the distance from Earth to millions of stars. These measurements allow researchers to calculate a star’s true brightness and size, which can be fed into models to infer its age.

    The team simulated star formation in the Milky Way over time, and found it was in steady decline until roughly five billion years ago, when production suddenly ramped up. The researchers estimate that half the total mass of all the stars ever created in the Milky Way’s thin disk – which contains most of the galaxy’s stars – was produced during this period.”

    The study was published in April 2019 in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Artist’s concept of top view of Milky Way galaxy, showing distribution of 3 million stars used in a study by the Gaia satellite to detect the star formation burst. Gaia provided a precise distance measurement for each of these objects. Image via University of Barcelona.

    Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt

    Lead author Roger Mor said:

    “The timescale of this star formation burst together with the great amount of stellar mass involved in the process, billions of solar masses, suggests the disk of our galaxy did not have a steady and paused evolution. It may have suffered an external perturbation that began about five billion years ago.”

    Other studies using Gaia data have shown mergers and near mergers of other galaxies with our Milky Way (and this process is still ongoing, with the Milky Way and neighboring Andromeda galaxy due to collide, perhaps 4.5 billion years from now).

    Andromeda Galaxy Adam Evans

    Milkdromeda -Andromeda on the left-Earth’s night sky in 3.75 billion years-NASA

    Boom! Future motions of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies show them on a collision course. Meanwhile, the 3rd major galaxy in our Local Group – the Triangulum galaxy – is likely to give the collision a wide berth. Image via ESA/Gaia/DPAC.

    These astronomers said that one of these mergers could be the cause of the powerful star formation burst detected in this study.

    Bottom line: A new study using data from Gaia’s second date release reveals that stars in our Milky Way galaxy did not form at a steady or predictable rate, but rather at a rate determined in part by mergers of the Milky Way with other galaxies in its cosmic neighborhood. Galactic mergers appear to have caused a burst of star formation in the Milky Way, 2 to 3 billion years ago. The researchers estimate that half the total mass of all the stars ever created in the Milky Way’s thin disk – which contains most of the galaxy’s stars – was produced during this period.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

    Welcome to the University of Barcelona

    The University of Barcelona is the most formidable public institution of higher education in Catalonia, catering to the needs of the greatest number of students and delivering the broadest and most comprehensive offering in higher educational courses. The UB is also the principal centre of university research in Spain and has become a European benchmark for research activity, both in terms of the number of research programmes it conducts and the excellence these have achieved.

    Its own history closely tied to the history of Barcelona and of Catalonia, our university combines the values of tradition with its position as an institution dedicated to innovation and teaching excellence: a university that is as outward-looking and cosmopolitan as the city from which it takes its name.

    Welcome to the University of Barcelona. We hope to see you very soon!

    The University of Barcelona (Catalan: Universitat de Barcelona, UB; IPA: [uniβəɾsiˈtad də βəɾsəˈlonə]; Spanish: Universidad de Barcelona) is a public university located in the city of Barcelona, Catalonia in Spain. With 73 undergraduate programs, 273 graduate programs and 48 doctorate programs to over 63,000 students, UB is considered to be the best university in Spain in the QS World University Rankings of 2018, which ranked the university 156th overall in the world. In the 2016-2017 ranking of University Ranking by Academic Performance, UB is considered the best university in Spain and 45th university in the world. Also, according to the yearly ranking made by US News, it is the 81st-best university in the world, and the best university in Spain.

  • richardmitnick 12:55 pm on March 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breakthrough Listen Project missed here, EarthSky, Laser SETI missed here, METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International, NIROSETI missed here, SETI@home missed here, Zoo Hypothesis   

    From METI International via EarthSky: “Scientists gather to contemplate The Great Silence” 


    METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International has announced plans to start sending signals into space

    From METI International




    March 24, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Are we alone? If advanced alien civilizations are out there, why haven’t we heard from them? Scientists call this Fermi’s Paradox – aka The Great Silence – and they gathered in Paris last week to discuss it.

    Where are they? The Italian physicist Enrico Fermi famously posed that question in 1950, and the question is now known as the Fermi Paradox or The Great Silence.

    Photo of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi from the 1940s. The Fermi Paradox was named after him in 1950. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

    Fermi asked – if other civilizations exist on other planets in our Milky Way galaxy, and if some have spread through the galaxy as both science fiction and scientists have conjectured – why haven’t we heard from them?

    To try to help answer these questions, the METI group held another one-day workshop in Paris last week (March 18, 2019). METI stands for Messaging Extraterrestial Intelligence. The workshop brought together researchers from diverse scientific fields including astrophysics, biology, sociology, psychology and history. The workshop took place at the Paris science museum Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie.

    According to Florence Raulin Cerceau, co-chair of the workshop and a member of METI’s Board of Directors:

    “Every two years, METI International organizes a one-day workshop in Paris as part of a series of workshops entitled ‘What is Life? An Extraterrestrial Perspective.’ This year, METI collaborated with the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie – a huge science museum in Paris – and the Centre Alexandre-Koyré – a research center for historical studies of science and technology – to gather renowned scientists, philosophers, and sociologists to debate the Fermi Paradox.”

    This puzzle of why we haven’t detected extraterrestrial life has been discussed often, but in this workshop’s unique focus, many of the talks tackled a controversial explanation first suggested in the 1970s called the Zoo Hypothesis.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    Modern searches for extraterrestrial intelligence have focused on looking for radio or laser signals. For example, the Allen Telescope Array near San Francisco has conducted this type of search. Image via SETI Institute.

    Artist’s concept of a Dyson sphere. Earthly scientists theorize that a construction like this one could be used by an advanced civilization to harness energy from its star. If an alien intelligence capable of building a Dyson Sphere exists, do they know about us? Image via SentientDevelopments.

    Another question is, if extraterrestrials know our civilization is here on Earth, then why have they been so quiet? This part of the conundrum is what’s known as The Great Silence. As Douglas Vakoch, president of METI, surmised:

    “Perhaps extraterrestrials are watching humans on Earth, much as we watch animals in a zoo. How can we get the galactic zookeepers to reveal themselves? If we went to a zoo and suddenly a zebra turned toward us, looked us in the eye, and started pounding out a series of prime numbers with its hoof, that would establish a radically different relationship between us and the zebra, and we would feel compelled to respond. We can do the same with extraterrestrials by transmitting powerful, intentional, information-rich radio signals to nearby stars.”

    However, an actual physical meeting with a highly advanced civilization might be dangerous, as noted by Danielle Briot, an astrophysicist at the Observatoire de Paris:

    “Past experience shows that any meeting of two civilizations is dangerous for both. Knowing that, civilized extraterrestrials will not try to communicate with us.”

    Inside Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris, the location of the METI workshop this month. Image via Leandro Neumann Ciuffo.

    Could we really be part of a galactic zoo? Being observed but from a distance? Or, going one step further, could we be quarantined from the rest of the galaxy? That idea was voiced by Jean-Pierre Rospars, the honorary research director at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and co-chair of the workshop:

    “It seems likely that extraterrestrials are imposing a ‘galactic quarantine’ because they realize it would be culturally disruptive for us to learn about them. Cognitive evolution on Earth shows random features while also following predictable paths. By considering the regular and random components together, we can expect the repeated, independent emergence of intelligent species in the universe, and we should expect to see more or less similar forms of intelligence everywhere, under favorable conditions. There’s no reason to think that humans have reached the highest cognitive level possible. Higher levels might evolve on Earth in the future and already be reached elsewhere.”

    All of this is conjecture at this point, and depends on just how many civilizations are really out there, which is still unknown. The Drake Equation has been used to try to estimate that number, but there are still unknown variables to be accounted for.


    Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    How many exoplanets can support life? How many actually do? How often does intelligent life evolve? How many civilizations are more advanced than us?

    Searches like SETI have focused mainly on looking for radio or light signals. Civilizations similar to ours in development might use those technologies, but what about a civilization thousands or millions of years ahead of us? It seems likely their technology would be much more evolved was well. We would probably have very little in common with them, but perhaps also with less advanced civilizations, as noted by Roland Lehoucq, an astrophysicist at the Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique (CEA):

    “The environment on an exoplanet will impose its own rules. There is no trend in biological evolution: the huge range of various morphologies observed on Earth renders any exobiological speculation improbable, at least for macroscopic ‘complex’ life.”

    Nicolas Prantzos, director of research of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), explained that:

    “It appears that although radio communications provide a natural means for SETI for civilizations younger than a few millennia, older civilizations should rather develop extensive programs of interstellar colonization, because this is the only way to achieve undisputable evidence – either for or against the existence of ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) – within their lifetime.”

    For some people, these questions may sound like something out of science fiction, but Cyril Birnbaum and Brigitte David of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, insist that they are valid:

    “We are very interested in the scientific approach used in the analysis of the Fermi Paradox and the search for intelligent life in the universe. The question ‘Are we alone?’ affects us all, because it is directly related to humanity and our place in the cosmos. This is an essential question that will introduce the public to the scientific process in a show being designed at the planetarium.”

    Aliens have long been a staple of science fiction, as also discussed by Lehoucq and Steyer. As one example shown, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 depicted “bat-men” in a series of satirical newspaper articles. Many readers, however, thought this was a factual account, when it wasn’t.

    Some people will argue that aliens have already found us, i.e. the UFO phenomenon. That is a subject of intense debate all by itself, but it’s an idea worth considering, since informed conjecture related to The Great Silence and the Fermi Paradox suggests that any civilizations advanced enough to colonize the galaxy should know about us by now. While the great majority of sightings can be explained as misidentifications and hoaxes, there are some cases that have not been – such as some well-documented military reports like Nimitz in 2004 (and a related previously secret Pentagon UFO study program) – as reported by The New York Times on December 16, 2017. While there is as yet no proof that aliens are involved in any of these incidents, they are certainly of interest and should be investigated, whatever the explanation turns out to be.

    In terms of The Great Silence, there are no easy answers, at least not yet. But bringing a multi-disciplinary approach – as with the METI workshop – is an interesting way to tackle the question, and one that might lead to something even more interesting. That’s because finding extraterrestrial intelligence – or not – will require input from a wide range of scientific fields.

    Bottom line: The Great Silence – and the search for alien intelligence in general – is one of the most significant mysteries facing humanity. On March 18, 2019, a group called METI – which stands for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence – held a one-day workshop in Paris to discuss it.

    Really? Bottom line? Failure to mention:

    1.SETI@home, a SETI project running at UC Berkeley on BOINC software from the Space Science Lab

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    2.NIROSETI, an astronomical program to search for artificial signals in the optical (visible) and near infrared (NIR) wavebands of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is the first dedicated near-infrared SETI experiment. The instrument was created by a collaboration of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, Berkeley SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, University of Toronto, and the SETI Institute. It uses the Anna Nickel 1-m telescope at the Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA. The instrument was commissioned (saw its first light) on 15 March 2015 and has been operated for more than 150 nights.

    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch).jpg

    Shelley Wright of UC San Diego, with NIROSETI, developed at U Toronto, at the 1-meter Nickel Telescope at Lick Observatory at UC Santa Cruz

    3. Laser SETI

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    Big discoveries in science are often made when innovative instruments probe nature in new ways. Laser SETI will search the sky for a variety of pulsed light signals that might have been overlooked before. We may find ET, and we also may find new physics.

    SETI scientists spend most of their time looking for themselves. That is, we tend to look for the kinds of radio or light signals that we generate on Earth. For example, when Frank Drake began the first SETI observations in 1960, he chose to look for signals similar to those for AM radio broadcasting. It seemed to make sense that if humans use AM radio to communicate, then ET might do the same. But there is a vast menagerie of methods to encode sound into a radio signal, for example, using pulses. Drake did not look for short pulses. If he had he might have discovered a kind of neutron star called a pulsar, discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell and earning a Nobel Prize for her postdoctoral advisor, Anthony Hewish, but she was denied a share.

    Women in STEM – Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars with radio astronomy. Jocelyn Bell at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge University, taken for the Daily Herald newspaper in 1968. Denied the Nobel.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell at work on first plusar chart 1967 pictured working at the Four Acre Array in 1967. Image courtesy of Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 2009

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1943 – ), still working from http://www. famousirishscientists.weebly.com

    Thanks to additional donations outside of the Indiegogo campaign, we’re going to be able to deploy EIGHT cameras instead of four, meaning that we can fully monitor two independent fields-of-view! This is not only very exciting because we’re twice as close to all-sky coverage, but it’s an ideal balance between risk and progress. We need to prove out the instrument, housing, and operations before putting too much hardware at risk, yet two fields-of-view enable us to compare and contrast what we see in two different parts of the sky. This can be critical when you’re doing exploratory observations, for instance helping to distinguish instrumental effects from actual observed phenomena.

    We’ll start by deploying two enclosures (four cameras) to the first site, then let those “bake” through the worst weather we can find. Then, in the second half of this year, we’ll deploy the other two to another site thousands of miles away but pointing at the same two patches of sky. Having four cameras from two sites looking at each patch of sky not only gives us stellar confidence in any events we observe, it also provides coverage in case one site has inclement weather. That’s what it takes to watch all the sky all the TIME!

    The engineering model on the left (with some panels removed for visibility) is rapidly turning into reality! The sun shade opens and closes, both in this movie and in real life, and we’re now focusing on the environmental sensor suite: GPS, accelerometers, temperature, barometer, and of course integrating data from local observatory weather systems. We’re iterating on the mechanical drawings for the enclosure and box underneath which, in addition from protecting the equipment from the elements, will allow the whole system to be tilted forwards or backwards to facilitate field alignment across observatories. The second pair of cameras have been delivered from the manufacturer, and we’re working with them on a software upgrade to speed the readout rate which might nearly double our sensitivity to short pulses!

    Following up on previous updates, if you missed the Facebook Live we did with Laser SETI scientist Eliot Gillum and Indiegogo campaign whiz Ly Ly, the first and second half videos are available on the SETI Institute Facebook page! And finally, all perks were shipped at the end of Nov or early Dec, so we hope everyone has received their order and is now showing it off with the kind of pride and zeal normally reserved for pictures of a first-born child!

    Thanks again, and more to come as it develops!

    4. Breakthrough Listen Project-

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

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

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The primary objectives and purposes of METI International are to:

    Conduct scientific research and educational programs in Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

    Promote international cooperation and collaboration in METI, SETI, and astrobiology.

    Understand and communicate the societal implications and relevance of searching for life beyond Earth, even before detection of extraterrestrial life.

    Foster multidisciplinary research on the design and transmission of interstellar messages, building a global community of scholars from the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts.

    Research and communicate to the public the many factors that influence the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, with a special emphasis on the last three terms of the Drake Equation: (1) the fraction of life-bearing worlds on which intelligence evolves, (2) the fraction of intelligence-bearing worlds with civilizations having the capacity and motivation for interstellar communication, and (3) the longevity of such civilizations.

    Offer programs to the public and to the scholarly community that foster increased awareness of the challenges facing our civilization’s longevity, while encouraging individual and community activities that support the sustainability of human culture on multigenerational timescales, which is essential for long-term METI and SETI research.

  • richardmitnick 10:45 am on March 16, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "There may be 50 billion free-floating planets in our galaxy", , , , , EarthSky,   

    From Universiteit Leiden via EarthSky: “There may be 50 billion free-floating planets in our galaxy” 

    From Universiteit Leiden




    March 10, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    There are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy, and perhaps even a greater number of planets. Now a new study suggests there could be an additional 50 billion rogue planets, not orbiting any stars.

    Artist’s concept of rogue planet CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9. Image via ESO/L. Calçada/P. Delorme/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)/R. Saito/VVV Consortium.

    Based on findings from space- and ground-based telescopes in recent years, astronomers now estimate there are billions of exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars – in our galaxy alone. But what about planets that don’t orbit stars? How many rogue, or free-floating planets wander the depths of space unbound? Some have already been found, and earlier this year astronomers at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands announced results of their new study, suggesting there are some 50 billion free-floating planets in our Milky Way galaxy.

    These astronomers’ results were published on February 14, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy and Astrophysics[not made available at A&A see “astronomers’ results”.pdf on prior link.]

    Only a dozen or so rogue planets have been discovered. How did these astronomers’ research determine there might be 50 billion more?

    They ran computer simulations of 1,500 stars in the Trapezium star cluster, a well-known region of star formation located some 1,300 light-years away in the Orion Nebula, in the direction of our constellation Orion.

    The simulation included 2,522 planets orbiting 500 stars within the Trapezium cluster and showed that 357 of them would become free-floating planets within the first 11 million years of their evolution. Simon Portegies Zwart, an astronomer at the University of Leiden, recently told Bruce Dorminey of Forbes:

    “Of these, 281 leave the cluster, others remain bound to the cluster as free-floating intra-cluster planets.”

    View of the Orion Nebula – a well-known region of star formation – via the Hubble Space Telescope. The Trapezium star cluster is the bright area just left of center. It contains about 2,000 known stars, but there may be more as well. It is a young open cluster where the stars are all roughly the same age. Image via NASA/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    So 281 of 2,522 newly born planets would leave their original star-forming cluster altogether, to roam the space between stars and star clusters, according to this computer simulation. The researchers then extrapolated those numbers to the rest of the galaxy, based on estimates of 200 billion stars in our galaxy. After all, the Trapezium star cluster is just one of thousands of known star clusters. All of the Milky Way’s stars are thought to have originated in vast star-forming clouds like those in the Orion Nebula, and to have started life in star clusters much like the Trapezium star cluster.

    If, as calculated, about a quarter of the Milky Way’s stars have lost one or more planets, as many as 50 billion planets should be rogue or free-floating, in our galaxy alone!

    Bound exoplanets likely outnumber stars in the galaxy; our single sun has eight major planets, and we’ve now seen thousands of planets orbiting single stars in multiple-planet systems. The estimates for the total numbers of planets in our Milky Way – both bound to stars, and rogue – is staggering.

    Just a few decades ago, it wasn’t yet known if any exoplanets existed. Now, current observations suggest there are hundreds of billions. Combine that with the billions of galaxies, and the implications are mind-blowing.

    Closer view of the Trapezium star cluster in the Orion Nebula (bright stars near center of photo). Image via ESO/M.McCaughrean et al. (AIP).

    Here is another question. Might any of those free-floating planets collide with other planets or with their stars? They can and do, according to these astronomers’ recent computer simulation. Zwart said in Forbes:

    “Collisions among planets and between planets and their host star are common. This happens in more than three percent of planetary systems.”

    Zwart also thinks that our own solar system might have lost one or two planets – probably less massive than Neptune – earlier in its youth. He said:

    “But who knows what happened very early on, when Jupiter and Saturn had just formed and the rocky planets just started to emerge.”

    Artist’s concept of exoplanet Kepler-186f. Most exoplanets – as might be assumed – orbit their own stars, but there may be billions more in our galaxy alone that do not. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

    The ejection of planets from their home planetary systems might be more common in denser star clusters (the Trapezium star cluster is considered a “looser” cluster), since more frequent encounters between stars in dense clusters will make the planetary systems unstable. But the study of the Trapezium cluster shows that planets leave their home systems in looser clusters as well.

    Two of the dozen or so confirmed rogue planets so far were announced last year – OGLE-2012-BLG-1323 and OGLE-2017-BLG-0560. The first is estimated to have a mass between Earth and Neptune, while the other has a mass between Jupiter and a brown dwarf star.

    Rogue planets are not easy to detect, but as astronomers learn more about them, they’ll be able to find more in the coming years. If this new study is any indication, there are many of them awaiting discovery.

    Bottom line: The existence of 200 billion stars in our galaxy – and an even greater number of planets – is difficult enough to wrap our minds around. The idea of another 50 billion planets just floating around, not bound to any stars, is even more incredible. It might sound like science fiction, but, if astronomers at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands are right, these 50 billion rogue planets do exist.

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Universiteit Leiden Heijmans onderhoudt

    Universiteit Leiden was founded in 1575 and is one of Europe’s leading international research universities. It has seven faculties in the arts, sciences and social sciences, spread over locations in Leiden and The Hague. The University has over 6,500 staff members and 26,900 students. The motto of the University is ‘Praesidium Libertatis’ – Bastion of Freedom.

  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on February 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A fast-moving comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is nearing its February encounter with the sun and Earth, , , , Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is traveling through space at the amazing speed of 147948 miles per hour (238099 km/h) or 66 km per second relative to Earth., , Discovered by Japanese astronomer Masayuki Iwamoto in late 2018, EarthSky, The best nights for observing the comet (with binoculars and small telescopes) should be on February 11 and 12, The celestial visitor will safely pass by Earth at some 28 million miles (45 million km)   

    From EarthSky: “Speedy comet approaching Earth’s vicinity” 


    From EarthSky

    February 1, 2019
    Eddie Irizarry

    A fast-moving comet, C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto), is nearing its February encounter with the sun and Earth. It’ll pass near some galaxies as seen from Earth, providing a great opportunity for astrophotographers.

    Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is seen at the bottom of this beautiful image by Rolando Ligustri. Used with permission by EarthSky

    A new celestial visitor – a comet – was discovered[Minor Planet Center] by Japanese astronomer Masayuki Iwamoto in late 2018. It’ll provide nice opportunities for astrophotographers, as it will pass close to a couple of Messier objects in February 2019. It’s a fast-moving comet that will be closest to Earth on February 12, 2019, at around 2:57 p.m. ET (19:57 UTC; translate to your time zone). The celestial visitor will safely pass by Earth at some 28 million miles (45 million km). The comet has been designated C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto).

    This comet is fast! Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is traveling through space at the amazing speed of 147,948 miles per hour (238,099 km/h) or 66 km per second, relative to Earth.

    The best nights for observing the comet (with binoculars and small telescopes) should be on February 11 and 12. Preliminary estimates suggest the newly found comet might reach a brightness or magnitude between 7 and 7.8 , which means it should be easily seen with small telescopes and binoculars. It will not be visible to the eye alone.

    A closer look at comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto)’s orbit. Image via NASA/JPL.

    During closest approach to Earth, comet Iwamoto will be located in front of the constellation Leo the Lion, which is visible late at night at this time of year.

    Astrophotographers might be able to capture this comet passing close to some galaxies, as seen from our perspective. See the illustrations below:

    Late on the night of Saturday, February 2, 2019, Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) passes close to M104 (Sombrero Galaxy), providing a nice opportunity to astrophotographers. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.

    On February 2, 2019, comet Iwamoto passes close to Messier 104 (Sombrero Galaxy), while by February 10, 2019, the celestial visitor will appear passing very close to Messier 95, a galaxy in the constellation Leo.

    Facing east on February 10, 2019 at around 10 p.m. CT as seen from the central US. Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) will pass close to some galaxies in Leo, especially Messier 95. Illustration by Eddie Irizarry using Stellarium.

    The comet was detected in images taken on December 18, 2018.

    Comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) looks great in this image taken on January 17, 2019, by Rolando Ligustri.

    The orbit of comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is very elliptical (elongated). Its orbit suggests this comet came from the Oort cloud of comets surrounding our solar system.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 10:26 am on December 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , EarthSky, , What does Ceres’ carbon mean?   

    From EarthSky and SwRI: “What does Ceres’ carbon mean?” 


    From EarthSky

    December 27, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Earlier this month, scientists announced that dwarf planet Ceres has more carbon-rich organics than previously thought, both on and below its surface. Here’s why that’s exciting.

    False-color image of dwarf planet Ceres – largest body in the asteroid belt – from the Dawn spacecraft. The image shows Ceres’ famous bright spots, and the false color highlights differences in surface materials. Image via NASA PhotoJournal.

    Carbon is one of the most common elements in the universe and is the basis of organic biology on Earth. It can be found throughout the solar system, even in meteorites that bounce to Earth’s surface from other parts of space. Now scientists have found that another body in the solar system – the dwarf planet Ceres – is much richer in carbon that previously thought. Those results were published in a peer-reviewed article in Nature Astronomy on December 10, 2018.

    Astronomer Simone Marchi at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) was the lead author of the new paper. He said:

    “Ceres is like a chemical factory. Among inner solar system bodies, Ceres has a unique mineralogy, which appears to contain up to 20 percent carbon by mass in its near surface. Our analysis shows that carbon-rich compounds are intimately mixed with products of rock-water interactions, such as clays.”

    The interior structure of Ceres as scientists now understand it. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

    Why is the presence of carbon so intriguing? Carbon isn’t by itself necessarily the product of or connected to life, although it does serve as the basis for organic chemistry and biology on Earth. When combined with oxygen and hydrogen, carbon can form many groups of important biological compounds including sugars, alcohols and fats. Its presence on Ceres is evidence that the basic ingredients for life – including carbon – can be found in many different places, not only in our solar system but throughout the universe.

    More specifically, the new findings show that Ceres was, and still is, rich in amorphous carbon – a carbon-rich organic material – which is significant in terms of how carbon is distributed throughout the solar system. (Organic materials are any molecules that contain carbon – they can be formed on their own without life but are also building blocks of life). The new data suggests that Ceres contains several times more amorphous carbon on its surface and in its subsurface than even the most carbon-rich meteorites.

    While Ceres contains more carbon than meteorites, the study also shows that 50 to 60 percent of Ceres’ upper crust may have a composition similar to primitive carbonaceous chondrite meteorites – some of the most complex of all meteorites.

    Close-up view inside Urvara crater on Ceres. The 6,500-foot (1981-meter) central ridge is made from materials uplifted from deep below the surface, which experienced rock-water chemical interactions. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

    As Marchi explained:

    “Our results imply that either Ceres accreted ultra-carbon-rich materials or that carbon was concentrated in its crust. Both potential scenarios are important, because Ceres’ mineralogical composition indicates a global-scale event of rock-water alteration, which could provide conditions favorable to organic chemistry.”

    In other words, the carbon on Ceres may originate from when Ceres first formed or from incoming impacts of other asteroids. Scientists don’t know yet which scenario is correct. But regardless, the evidence for chemical reactions with water is intriguing, since that can eventually lead to the formation of the building blocks of life, even if not life itself.

    Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet but is also the largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft recently finished its mission at Ceres on November 1, 2018, studying its geology and sending back incredible high-resolution images of its surface from orbit.

    NASA Dawn Spacescraft

    One big surprise was the “bright spots” – light-colored deposits, now determined to be sodium carbonate salts – on the darker rocky surface. Scientists think they were formed when when water came up to the surface from deeper below and then evaporated in Ceres’ extremely tenuous and sporadic water vapor “atmosphere.”

    The best-known bright spots are those in Occator Crater, which stand out starkly against the darker rocky surface.

    High-resolution view of Cerealia Facula – a sodium carbonate (salt) deposit – in Occator Crater. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Roman Tkachenko.

    Whether Ceres ever had conditions suitable for life to evolve is still unknown, although there is also evidence that it has, or at least once had, water below the surface – maybe even a subsurface ocean. This water produced chemical reactions when it came in contact with minerals in rocks. There is also evidence for past cryovolcanic activity – cryovolcanoes, which erupt water, ammonia or methane rather than molten rock. It’s even possible that the subsurface environment was once warm and wet enough for basic biological chemistry to actually begin, although no direct signs of that have been discovered yet.

    Bottom line: As the largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres is a fascinating world, and has been more geologically active than previously thought. The fact that Ceres is rich in organic carbon is a big part of its geological history and now scientists are beginning to understand what that means not only for the widespread presence of carbon in the solar system but also how organic chemistry can – at least sometimes – lead to the development of life itself.

    See the full EarthSky article here .

    From SwRI: “SwRI-led team finds evidence for carbon-rich surface on Ceres”

    December 10, 2018

    A team led by Southwest Research Institute has concluded that the surface of dwarf planet Ceres is rich in organic matter. Data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft indicate that Ceres’ surface may contain several times the concentration of carbon than is present in the most carbon-rich, primitive meteorites found on Earth.

    “Ceres is like a chemical factory,” said SwRI’s Dr. Simone Marchi, a principal scientist who was the lead author of research published in Nature Astronomy today. “Among inner solar system bodies, Ceres has a unique mineralogy, which appears to contain up to 20 percent carbon by mass in its near surface. Our analysis shows that carbon-rich compounds are intimately mixed with products of rock-water interactions, such as clays.”

    Ceres is believed to have originated about 4.6 billion years ago at the dawn of our solar system. Dawn data previously revealed the presence of water and other volatiles, such as ammonium derived from ammonia, and now a high concentration of carbon. This chemistry suggests Ceres formed in a cold environment, perhaps outside the orbit of Jupiter. An ensuing shakeup in the orbits of the large planets would have pushed Ceres to its current location in the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

    “With these findings, Ceres has gained a pivotal role in assessing the origin, evolution and distribution of organic species across the inner solar system,” Marchi said. “One has to wonder about how this world may have driven organic chemistry pathways, and how these processes may have affected the make-up of larger planets like the Earth.”

    Geophysical, compositional and collisional models based on Dawn data revealed that Ceres’ partially differentiated interior has been altered by fluid processes. Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer has shown that the overall low albedo of Ceres’ surface is a combination of rock-water interaction products such as phyllosilicates and carbonates and a significant amount of spectrally neutral darkening agents, such as an iron oxide called magnetite.

    Because Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector limits magnetite to only a few percent by mass, the data point to the presence of an additional darkening agent, probably amorphous carbon, a carbon-rich organic material. Interestingly, specific organic compounds have also been detected near a 31-mile-wide impact crater named Ernutet, giving further support to the widespread presence of organics in Ceres’ shallow subsurface.

    The new study also finds that 50-60 percent of Ceres’ upper crust may have a composition similar to primitive carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. This material is compatible with contamination from infalling carbonaceous asteroids, a possibility supported by Ceres’ battered surface.

    “Our results imply that either Ceres accreted ultra-carbon-rich materials or that carbon was concentrated in its crust,” Marchi said. “Both potential scenarios are important, because Ceres’ mineralogical composition indicates a global-scale event of rock-water alteration, which could provide conditions favorable to organic chemistry.”

    The paper “An aqueously altered carbon-rich Ceres” was published on December 10 in Nature Astronomy. The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Northrop Grumman in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

    For more information visit Planetary Science or contact Deb Schmid, (210) 522-2254, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

    See the full SwRI article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

    • stewarthoughblog 10:35 pm on December 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Some very interesting science here, but “but also how organic chemistry can – at least sometimes – lead to the development of life itself.” is faith based speculation, not objective science. There is no viable evidence that organic chemistry ever formed sufficiently to posit that any serious biochemical compounds ever formed anything remotely complex that could be considered anything relevant to anything living.


  • richardmitnick 10:45 am on December 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping the planet’s atmosphere due to pressure from ultraviolet radiation from this world’s star, , , , , EarthSky, , WASP-69b the exoplanet with a tail   

    From Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – IAC via EarthSky: “WASP-69b, the exoplanet with a tail” 


    From Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – IAC




    December 9, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Astronomers have discovered a Jupiter-sized planet – 163 light-years away – that seems to think it’s a comet. It has a prominent “tail” of helium gas.

    Artist’s concept of exoplanet WASP-69b, thought to orbit its sun with a comet-like helium tail trailing behind. Image via Gabriel Perez Diaz/IAC.

    Planets and comets are two quite different things. Planets are massive enough to have strong-enough self-gravity to have pulled themselves into the shape of round balls. The cores of comets are tiny in comparison; they are small chunks irregular of rock and ice, whose characteristic long “tails” of gas and dust only appear as they swing in near the sun. Planets don’t typically have tails as comets do … except that now astronomers have found one that does. Scientists at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in the Canary Islands have shown that the giant exoplanet WASP-69b has a comet-like tail made up of helium particles. The new results were published on December 6, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

    The helium particles in the tail of WASP-69b are escaping the planet’s atmosphere due to pressure from ultraviolet radiation from this world’s star. The tail trails behind the planet as it orbits its star. WASP-69b is a gas giant planet 163 light-years from our sun. It is about the size of Jupiter, but with a similar mass to Saturn.

    How did astronomers make this discovery? When they observed the planet transit in front of its star, they noticed something interesting.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    As explained by Lisa Nortmann of IAC, lead author of the new paper:

    “We observed a stronger and longer-lasting dimming of the starlight in a region of the spectrum where helium gas absorbs light. The longer duration of this absorption allows us to infer the presence of a tail.

    This is the first time we can actually observe a helium tail. Before, it was assumed that if helium is in the [outermost atmospheric layer of a] planet, it might escape and form a tail.

    That was based on models, but this is the first time we can actually observe it while it’s still in front of the star, when the planet is not in front of the star anymore.”

    Comets – as in this view of comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, which zipped past Earth in 2017 – are famous for their beautiful long tails. The tails can be millions of miles long. They are made of dust and gases. Image via Gerald Rhemann/NASA.

    The observations were made using the CARMENES instrument – a spectrograph – on the 3.5-meter telescope of the Calar Alto Observatory in Almería, Spain. The spectrograph simultaneously covered both the visible wavelength range and the near infrared range at high spectral resolution. THerefore it revealed the composition of the atmosphere of the planet, and the astronomers were able to determine the speed of the helium particles that leave the gravitational field of the planet and the length of the tail they produce.

    CARMENES spectrograph, mounted on the Calar Alto 3.5 meter Telescope, located in Almería province in Spain on Calar Alto, a 2,168-meter-high (7,113 ft) mountain in Sierra de Los Filabres

    Calar Alto 3.5 meter Telescope, located in Almería province in Spain on Calar Alto, a 2,168-meter-high (7,113 ft) mountain in Sierra de Los Filabres

    How cool is that? Apparently even planets can sport tails, if conditions are just right.

    The new paper also announces some additional results in addition to the planetary tail. Four other exoplanets were also studied in the same way – hot Jupiter exoplanets HD 189733b and HD 209458b, the extremely hot giant planet KELT-9b and the warm Neptune-sized exoplanet Gliese 436b. Surprisingly, the last three of those planets also have helium exospheres, which is unexpected. HD 189733b is absorbing helium, but the helium envelope around the planet is more compact and does not form a tail in this case.

    All five planets were also observed using the European Space Agency’s Multi-Mirror X-Ray Mission (XMM-Newton).

    ESA/XMM Newton

    Helium was found in the atmosphere of the planets that receive the most X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation from their host stars. As Enric Pallé, IAC researcher and paper co-author, said:

    “This is a first big step toward finding out how exoplanet atmospheres evolve over time and what the distribution of masses and radii of the observed population of super-Earth and mini-Neptune planets could result from.”

    In 2011, the Neptune-sized exoplanet Gliese 436b had also been found to have a tail – shown in this artist’s concept – composed of hydrogen. Image via NASA/ESA/STScI/G. Bacon.

    These additional observations are useful for how showing how extreme radiation from a star can strip away the thick atmospheres of giant planets, leaving behind their smaller rocky cores – those planets could then resemble Earth or Venus. According to Michael Salz, a researcher at the University of Hamburg and first author of a companion publication by the same research team:

    “In the past, studies of atmospheric escape, like the one we have seen in WASP-69b, were based on space-borne observations of hydrogen in the far ultraviolet, a spectral region of very limited access and strongly affected by interstellar absorption. Our results show that helium is a very promising new tracer to study atmospheric escape in exoplanets.”

    WASP69b isn’t the first exoplanet to be found with a tail. In 2014, astronomers discovered that Gliese 436b – about the size and mass of Neptune and 30 light-years away – appeared to also have a comet-like tail, but composed of hydrogen instead of helium. While such planetary tails may not be all that common, that discovery – and now the new one – shows that they can occur.

    Bottom line: Comets are famous for their beautiful, long, glowing tails. New research confirms that even planets – like WASP-69b – can sometimes have tails, too.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias(IAC) is an international research centre in Spain which comprises:

    The Instituto de Astrofísica, the headquarters, which is in La Laguna (Tenerife).
    The Centro de Astrofísica en La Palma (CALP)
    The Observatorio del Teide (OT), in Izaña (Tenerife).

    These centres, with all the facilities they bring together, make up the European Northern Observatory(ENO).

    The IAC is constituted administratively as a Public Consortium, created by statute in 1982, with involvement from the Spanish Government, the Government of the Canary Islands, the University of La Laguna and Spain’s Science Research Council (CSIC).

    The International Scientific Committee (CCI) manages participation in the observatories by institutions from other countries. A Time Allocation Committee (CAT) allocates the observing time reserved for Spain at the telescopes in the IAC’s observatories.

    The exceptional quality of the sky over the Canaries for astronomical observations is protected by law. The IAC’s Sky Quality Protection Office (OTPC) regulates the application of the law and its Sky Quality Group continuously monitors the parameters that define observing quality at the IAC Observatories.

    The IAC’s research programme includes astrophysical research and technological development projects.

    The IAC is also involved in researcher training, university teaching and outreachactivities.

    The IAC has devoted much energy to developing technology for the design and construction of a large 10.4 metre diameter telescope, the ( Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, GTC), which is sited at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos.

    Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, SpainGran Telescopio CANARIAS, GTC

  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A billionaire’s plan to search for life on Enceladus, , , , , Breakthrough Starshot Foundation, , EarthSky, ,   

    From EarthSky: “A billionaire’s plan to search for life on Enceladus” 


    From EarthSky

    November 27, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Russian entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner wants to send a probe back to Saturn’s ocean moon Enceladus, to search for evidence of life there. NASA wants to help him.

    Illustration showing plumes on Saturnian moon Enceladus. Illustration: NASA /JPL-Caltech

    Saturn’s moon Enceladus is very small – only about 310 miles (500 kilometers) across – but it may hold clues to one of the biggest mysteries of all time – are we alone? Beneath the icy crust lies a global salty ocean, not too different from Earth’s oceans. Could that ocean contain life of some kind? That is a question that many scientists – and the public alike – would like to find an answer for. Enceladus, however, is very far away and planetary missions are expensive – but there may be an ideal solution.

    Billionaire entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner wants to send a private mission back to this intriguing world, and NASA wants to help him. This incredible idea was first reported in New Scientist on November 8, 2018 (please note this article is behind a paywall). It was then reported by Gizmodo the same day.

    “It looks like NASA will offer billionaire entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner help on the first private deep-space mission: a journey designed to detect life, if it exists, on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, according to documents acquired by New Scientist.

    New Scientist’s Mark Harris reports:

    Agreements signed by NASA and Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Starshot Foundation in September show that the organisations are working on scientific, technical and financial plans for the ambitious mission. NASA has committed over $70,000 to help produce a concept study for a flyby mission. The funds won’t be paid to Breakthrough but represent the agency’s own staffing costs on the project.

    The teams will be working in the project plan and concepts through next year, New Scientist reports.”

    Enceladus is a very small moon, but it has a global ocean beneath its icy crust. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Breakthrough Initiatives, part of Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Starshot Foundation, would lead and pay for the mission, with consultation from NASA. The board of Breakthrough Initiatives includes billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, and the late physicist Stephen Hawking. Breakthrough Initiatives has been studying various mission concepts for space exploration, including a solar sail to nearby stars, advancing the technology to discover other Earth-like planets and sending out a direct message, similar to the previous Arecibo message, specifically to try and catch the attention of aliens.

    Solar sail. Breakthrough Starshot image. Credit: Breakthrough Starshot

    This radio message was transmitted toward the globular cluster M13 using the Arecibo telescope in 1974. Image Credit Arne Nordmann (norro) Wikipedia

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    Enceladus has become a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, since its subsurface ocean is thought to be quite similar to oceans on Earth, thanks to data from the Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 until September of last year.

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    Scientists already know it is salty and there is evidence for geothermal activity on the ocean floor, such as “smoker” volcanic vents on the bottom of oceans on Earth. Such geothermal vents – at least on Earth – are oases for a wide variety of ocean life despite the darkness and cold temperatures away from the vents.

    Cassini also investigated the plumes of Enceladus – huge “geysers” of water vapor erupting through cracks in the surface at the south pole of Enceladus. Cassini flew right through some of them, analyzing their composition, and found they contain water vapor, ice particles, complex organic molecules and salts. Cassini wasn’t capable of finding life directly, but it did find valuable clues and hints that there may well be something alive in that alien ocean, even if only microbes.

    Earlier this year, New Scientist also reported that there may already be some tentative evidence for microbes in Enceladus’s ocean [Nature Communications]. Cassini detected traces of methane in the water vapor plumes, and when scientists tested computer models of conditions in the ocean, they found that microbes that emit methane after combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide – called methanogens – could easily survive there. According to Chris McKay at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California:

    “This [team] has taken the first step to showing experimentally that methanogens can indeed live in the conditions expected on Enceladus.”

    The scientists found that the microbes were able to thrive at temperatures and pressures likely found in Enceladus’s oceans, ranging from 0 to 90 degrees Celsius, and up to 50 Earth atmospheres. They also found that olivine minerals, thought to exist in the moon’s core, could be chemically broken down to produce enough hydrogen for methanogens to thrive.

    Another proposed return mission to Enceladus is the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), which would orbit Saturn and make repeated passes through the plumes – like Cassini, but with updated instruments. Image via Jonathan Lunine.

    Another proposed return mission to Enceladus is the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), which would orbit Saturn and make repeated passes through the plumes – like Cassini, but with updated instruments that could even test whether any amino acids found have predominately left or right-handed structures. (Life on Earth predominately creates left-handed forms, and scientists think that life elsewhere will also favor one form over the other instead of a random mixture as would occur from abiotic chemistry.)

    Cassini wasn’t designed to detect life directly, but on a future mission – such as the one proposed – a mass spectrometer would be able to detect carbon isotope ratios unique to living organisms, as well as other potential “biomarkers” of methanogens, including lipids and hydrocarbons.

    Bottom line: Scientists are eager to return to Enceladus to learn more about its intriguing subsurface ocean. The new plan by billionaire Yuri Milner, with NASA’s assistance, may be the best bet to go back and see if anything is swimming in those mysterious alien waters.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

    • stewarthoughblog 10:52 pm on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      This substantiates the maxim that intelligence can only be coincidently related to financial possession. Even considering that science can be expected to pursue the investigation of a wide array of physical phenomenon, wasting $billions on speculation of the possibility of life on remote bodies is nonsensical considering that there is virtually a total absence of any evidence of naturalist creation of life on Earth. Projection of any conditions on Enceladus of conditions similar to primordial Earth is pure faith, not based on scientific evidence.

      But, it is true that anyone can spend their money (peaceably) on what they want to


      • richardmitnick 2:08 pm on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        I totally agree with your assessment of this proposed project. But, of course, it is Milner’s money. The real problem beyond is that we cannot squelch even the wildest quests in hopes for new science. Science never sleeps. The best example of this is that when our Congress in 1993 killed the Superconducting super collider, we left the door wide open for Europe via CERN to build its substitute, the LHC and High Energy Physics simply moved to Europe.


  • richardmitnick 8:51 am on November 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ASU geoscientists discover an overlooked source for Earth's water, , , , , EarthSky   

    From Arizona State University via EarthSky: “ASU geoscientists discover an overlooked source for Earth’s water” 

    ASU Bloc

    From Arizona State University



    November 12, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    For decades, scientists have said that at least some of Earth’s water came from comets and asteroids. New research suggests an even more primordial source, the vast cloud in space from which our world formed.

    Earth, the water planet. Image via NASA.

    Earth is rich in water, and has been for a few billion years, but scientists are still debating just where all that life-sustaining liquid came from. At least some of it was thought to have been brought here by comets or asteroids, but that idea still falls short in explaining how so much water ended up on Earth’s surface – and deep below, as well. Now, a team of scientists at Arizona State University (ASU), led by Peter Buseck, has come up with a new proposal. The new peer-reviewed paper was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets on October 9, 2018.

    The new research suggests that Earth’s water came from both rocky material, such as asteroids, and from the vast cloud of dust and gas remaining after the sun’s formation, called the solar nebula.

    Earth’s ocean water is similar to that found in asteroids. That’s one reason scientists have long thought that most earthly water came from an asteroid bombardment in the days of the early solar system. The ratio of deuterium – a heavier hydrogen isotope – to normal hydrogen is a unique chemical signature in various water sources. In the case of Earth’s oceans, the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio is close to what is found in asteroids. But, according to Steven Desch, also at ASU and one of the team members:

    “It’s a bit of a blind spot in the community. When people measure the [deuterium-to-hydrogen] ratio in ocean water and they see that it is pretty close to what we see in asteroids, it was always easy to believe it all came from asteroids.”

    How Earth accumuated water, Step 1: Dust and gas collect into embryo bodies with a water content similar to asteroids today. Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Step 2: Embryos heat up, develop cores and mantles; most of the hydrogen lies in the cores, with the mantles being richer in deuterium (D). Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Step 3: The largest embryo develops a molten magma ocean on its surface from impacts and radioactive decay; iron in the molten layer grabs some hydrogen from the embryo’s primitive hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Step 4: The magma ocean sinks to just above the embryo’s core, carrying its low D/H material down, where it gradually mixes into the mantle. Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Step 5: Embryos of varying sizes and D/H ratios collide, merge and mix, producing an Earth with a mantle rich in hydrogen, as a proxy for water. Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Step 6: As Earth continues to evolve, plumes of molten rock rise from the mantle, triggering volcanic activity at the surface — and bringing up rock with a lower D/H ratio than surface rocks have. The result is an Earth with multiple oceans’ worth of hydrogen stored at different depths. Image by J. Wu, S Desch/ASU

    Jun Wu at ASU is lead author of the study. He added:

    “The solar nebula has been given the least attention among existing theories, although it was the predominant reservoir of hydrogen in our early solar system.”

    The hydrogen in Earth’s oceans may not represent the hydrogen throughout the planet as a whole, however. Samples of hydrogen from deep inside the Earth, close to the boundary between the core and mantle, have notably less deuterium – indicating that this hydrogen may not have come from asteroids, after all. The noble gases helium and neon, with isotopic signatures inherited from the solar nebula, have also been found in the Earth’s mantle.

    How to explain these differences? The researchers needed to develop a new theoretical model of Earth’s formation to answer that question. According to the model, Earth was the largest of many planetary embryos – aka protoplanets – in the early solar system.

    Essentially, their model shows large, waterlogged asteroids eventually forming into planets like Earth through collisions.

    The surface of the very young Earth was initially an ocean of magma. Hydrogen and noble gases from the solar nebula were drawn to the planetary embryo, forming the first atmosphere. Nebular hydrogen, which contains less deuterium and is lighter than asteroidal hydrogen, dissolved into the molten iron of the magma ocean.

    Hydrogen was then drawn toward the center of the Earth – a process called isotopic fractionation. Hydrogen was delivered to the core through its attraction to iron, while much of the heavier isotope, deuterium, remained in the magma which eventually cooled to form the mantle. Impacts from smaller planetary embryos and other objects continued to add additional water and mass until Earth reached its final size.

    The end result was that Earth had noble gases deep in its interior, with a lower deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in its core than in its mantle and oceans. Most of Earth’s water did come from asteroids, but some also came from the solar nebula. As Wu noted:

    “For every 100 molecules of Earth’s water, there are one or two coming from the solar nebula.”

    So what about comets, since they have so much water-ice in them? According to Desch:

    “Comets contain a lot of ices, and in theory could have supplied some water. But there’s another way to think about sources of water in the solar system’s formative days. Because water is hydrogen plus oxygen, and oxygen is abundant, any source of hydrogen could have served as the origin of Earth’s water.”

    Also, comets have higher deuterium-to-hydrogen (D/H) ratios, so they are actually not good sources for Earth’s water. The D/H ratio of hydrogen gas in the solar nebula was only 21 ppm, too low to have supplied most of the water on Earth. Asteroids are a much better match, along with the solar nebula.

    The new study results could also have implications for rocky exoplanets orbiting other stars, such as the super-Earth Wolf 1061c in this artist’s concept image. Many of them could have abundant water, just like Earth. Image via NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

    Finally, the new results have implications for rocky exoplanets orbiting other stars. Many such worlds have now been discovered, and if there is a greater chance for some of them to also have liquid water, that also increases the chances of those planets being habitable. According to the researchers:

    “Our results suggest that forming water is likely inevitable on sufficiently large rocky planets in extrasolar systems.”

    Bottom line: The origin of Earth’s water has been debated for a long time, but this new study points to a source – the solar nebula, or cloud of gas and dust left after the sun’s formation – that had been previously mostly overlooked. The new work, based on computer modeling, may have implications for rocky worlds orbiting distant stars.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    ASU is the largest public university by enrollment in the United States. Founded in 1885 as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe, the school underwent a series of changes in name and curriculum. In 1945 it was placed under control of the Arizona Board of Regents and was renamed Arizona State College. A 1958 statewide ballot measure gave the university its present name.
    ASU is classified as a research university with very high research activity (RU/VH) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, one of 78 U.S. public universities with that designation. Since 2005 ASU has been ranked among the Top 50 research universities, public and private, in the U.S. based on research output, innovation, development, research expenditures, number of awarded patents and awarded research grant proposals. The Center for Measuring University Performance currently ranks ASU 31st among top U.S. public research universities.

    ASU awards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 16 colleges and schools on five locations: the original Tempe campus, the West campus in northwest Phoenix, the Polytechnic campus in eastern Mesa, the Downtown Phoenix campus and the Colleges at Lake Havasu City. ASU’s “Online campus” offers 41 undergraduate degrees, 37 graduate degrees and 14 graduate or undergraduate certificates, earning ASU a Top 10 rating for Best Online Programs. ASU also offers international academic program partnerships in Mexico, Europe and China. ASU is accredited as a single institution by The Higher Learning Commission.

    ASU Tempe Campus
    ASU Tempe Campus

  • richardmitnick 9:59 am on October 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , EarthSky, , How Earth feeds volcanic supereruptions, Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand,   

    From Vanderbilt University via EarthSky: “How Earth feeds volcanic supereruptions” 

    Vanderbilt U Bloc

    From Vanderbilt University



    October 21, 2018

    To better understand where magma gathers in Earth’s crust, researchers studied the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand, the planet’s most active cluster.

    To figure out where magma gathers in the earth’s crust and for how long, volcanologist Guilherme Gualda and his students traveled to the planet’s most active cluster, the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand, where some of the biggest eruptions of the last 2 million years occurred — seven in a period between 350,000 and 240,000 years ago.

    Mount Ngauruhoe is the tallest peak of the Tongariro complex in the North Island of New Zealand. Photo by Don Swanson, 1984 (U.S. Geological Survey).

    Lake Taupo in New Zealand’s North Island. NASA

    Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand, from the Bay of Plenty coast to Mounts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu (at bottom of picture). Also shows Lake Taupo and the Rotorua Lakes. This scene was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s , on October 23, 2002. Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

    NASA Terra satellite

    NASA Terra MODIS schematic

    The aim of the project was to better understand how the systems of magma – molten or semi-molten rock -that feed them are built and how the Earth reacts to repeated input of magma over short periods of time.

    After studying layers of pumice visible in road cuts and other outcrops, measuring the amount of crystals in the samples and using thermodynamic models, they determined that magma moved closer to the surface with each successive eruption.

    Gualda is associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University and first author of the study published October 10, 2018, in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances. He said in a statement:

    “As the system resets, the deposits become shallower. The crust is getting warmer and weaker, so magma can lodge itself at shallower levels.”

    What’s more, the study suggests, the dynamic nature of the Taupo Volcanic Zone’s crust made it more likely for the magma to erupt than to be stored in the crust. The more frequent, smaller eruptions, which each produced 12-36 cubic miles (50-150 cubic km) of magma, likely prevented a supereruption. Supereruptions produce more than 108 cubic miles (450 cubic km) of magma, and they affect the earth’s climate for years following the eruption. Gualda said:

    “You have magma sitting there that’s crystal-poor, melt-rich for few decades, maybe 100 years, and then it erupts. Then another magma body is established, but we don’t know how gradually that body assembles. It’s a period in which you’re increasing the amount of melt in the crust.”

    The question that remains is how long it took for these crystal-rich magma bodies to assemble between eruptions. It could be thousands of years, Gualda said, but he believes it’s shorter than that.

    Bottom line: To figure out where magma gathers in Earth’s crust and for how long, researchers traveled to the planet’s most active cluster: the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand, site of some of the biggest eruptions of the last 2 million years.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was in his 79th year when he decided to make the gift that founded Vanderbilt University in the spring of 1873.

    The $1 million that he gave to endow and build the university was the commodore’s only major philanthropy. Methodist Bishop Holland N. McTyeire of Nashville, husband of Amelia Townsend who was a cousin of the commodore’s young second wife Frank Crawford, went to New York for medical treatment early in 1873 and spent time recovering in the Vanderbilt mansion. He won the commodore’s admiration and support for the project of building a university in the South that would “contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country.”

    McTyeire chose the site for the campus, supervised the construction of buildings and personally planted many of the trees that today make Vanderbilt a national arboretum. At the outset, the university consisted of one Main Building (now Kirkland Hall), an astronomical observatory and houses for professors. Landon C. Garland was Vanderbilt’s first chancellor, serving from 1875 to 1893. He advised McTyeire in selecting the faculty, arranged the curriculum and set the policies of the university.

    For the first 40 years of its existence, Vanderbilt was under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The Vanderbilt Board of Trust severed its ties with the church in June 1914 as a result of a dispute with the bishops over who would appoint university trustees.

    kirkland hallFrom the outset, Vanderbilt met two definitions of a university: It offered work in the liberal arts and sciences beyond the baccalaureate degree and it embraced several professional schools in addition to its college. James H. Kirkland, the longest serving chancellor in university history (1893-1937), followed Chancellor Garland. He guided Vanderbilt to rebuild after a fire in 1905 that consumed the main building, which was renamed in Kirkland’s honor, and all its contents. He also navigated the university through the separation from the Methodist Church. Notable advances in graduate studies were made under the third chancellor, Oliver Cromwell Carmichael (1937-46). He also created the Joint University Library, brought about by a coalition of Vanderbilt, Peabody College and Scarritt College.

    Remarkable continuity has characterized the government of Vanderbilt. The original charter, issued in 1872, was amended in 1873 to make the legal name of the corporation “The Vanderbilt University.” The charter has not been altered since.

    The university is self-governing under a Board of Trust that, since the beginning, has elected its own members and officers. The university’s general government is vested in the Board of Trust. The immediate government of the university is committed to the chancellor, who is elected by the Board of Trust.

    The original Vanderbilt campus consisted of 75 acres. By 1960, the campus had spread to about 260 acres of land. When George Peabody College for Teachers merged with Vanderbilt in 1979, about 53 acres were added.

    wyatt centerVanderbilt’s student enrollment tended to double itself each 25 years during the first century of the university’s history: 307 in the fall of 1875; 754 in 1900; 1,377 in 1925; 3,529 in 1950; 7,034 in 1975. In the fall of 1999 the enrollment was 10,127.

    In the planning of Vanderbilt, the assumption seemed to be that it would be an all-male institution. Yet the board never enacted rules prohibiting women. At least one woman attended Vanderbilt classes every year from 1875 on. Most came to classes by courtesy of professors or as special or irregular (non-degree) students. From 1892 to 1901 women at Vanderbilt gained full legal equality except in one respect — access to dorms. In 1894 the faculty and board allowed women to compete for academic prizes. By 1897, four or five women entered with each freshman class. By 1913 the student body contained 78 women, or just more than 20 percent of the academic enrollment.

    National recognition of the university’s status came in 1949 with election of Vanderbilt to membership in the select Association of American Universities. In the 1950s Vanderbilt began to outgrow its provincial roots and to measure its achievements by national standards under the leadership of Chancellor Harvie Branscomb. By its 90th anniversary in 1963, Vanderbilt for the first time ranked in the top 20 private universities in the United States.

    Vanderbilt continued to excel in research, and the number of university buildings more than doubled under the leadership of Chancellors Alexander Heard (1963-1982) and Joe B. Wyatt (1982-2000), only the fifth and sixth chancellors in Vanderbilt’s long and distinguished history. Heard added three schools (Blair, the Owen Graduate School of Management and Peabody College) to the seven already existing and constructed three dozen buildings. During Wyatt’s tenure, Vanderbilt acquired or built one-third of the campus buildings and made great strides in diversity, volunteerism and technology.

    The university grew and changed significantly under its seventh chancellor, Gordon Gee, who served from 2000 to 2007. Vanderbilt led the country in the rate of growth for academic research funding, which increased to more than $450 million and became one of the most selective undergraduate institutions in the country.

    On March 1, 2008, Nicholas S. Zeppos was named Vanderbilt’s eighth chancellor after serving as interim chancellor beginning Aug. 1, 2007. Prior to that, he spent 2002-2008 as Vanderbilt’s provost, overseeing undergraduate, graduate and professional education programs as well as development, alumni relations and research efforts in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education, business, law and divinity. He first came to Vanderbilt in 1987 as an assistant professor in the law school. In his first five years, Zeppos led the university through the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression, while continuing to attract the best students and faculty from across the country and around the world. Vanderbilt got through the economic crisis notably less scathed than many of its peers and began and remained committed to its much-praised enhanced financial aid policy for all undergraduates during the same timespan. The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons for first-year students opened in 2008 and College Halls, the next phase in the residential education system at Vanderbilt, is on track to open in the fall of 2014. During Zeppos’ first five years, Vanderbilt has drawn robust support from federal funding agencies, and the Medical Center entered into agreements with regional hospitals and health care systems in middle and east Tennessee that will bring Vanderbilt care to patients across the state.

    studentsToday, Vanderbilt University is a private research university of about 6,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate and professional students. The university comprises 10 schools, a public policy center and The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center. Vanderbilt offers undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development as well as a full range of graduate and professional degrees. The university is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 universities by publications such as U.S. News & World Report, with several programs and disciplines ranking in the top 10.

    Cutting-edge research and liberal arts, combined with strong ties to a distinguished medical center, creates an invigorating atmosphere where students tailor their education to meet their goals and researchers collaborate to solve complex questions affecting our health, culture and society.

    Vanderbilt, an independent, privately supported university, and the separate, non-profit Vanderbilt University Medical Center share a respected name and enjoy close collaboration through education and research. Together, the number of people employed by these two organizations exceeds that of the largest private employer in the Middle Tennessee region.
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