Tag Archives: extrasolar planets

Centauri Dreams: To Build the Ultimate Telescope

Paul Gilster posts:

In interstellar terms, a ‘fast’ mission is one that is measured in decades rather than millennia. Say for the sake of argument that we achieve this capability some time within the next 200 years. Can you imagine where we’ll be in terms of telescope technology by that time? It’s an intriguing question, because telescopes capable of not just imaging exoplanets but seeing them in great detail would allow us to choose our destinations wisely even while giving us voluminous data on the myriad worlds we choose not to visit. Will they also reduce our urge to make the trip?

Former NASA administrator Dan Goldin described the effects of a telescope something like this back in 1999 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Although he didn’t have a specific telescope technology in mind, he was sure that by the mid-point of the 21st Century, we would be seeing exoplanets up close, an educational opportunity unlike any ever offered. Goldin’s classroom of this future era is one I’d like to visit, if his description is anywhere near the truth:

“When you look on the walls, you see a dozen maps detailing the features of Earth-like planets orbiting neighboring stars. Schoolchildren can study the geography, oceans, and continents of other planets and imagine their exotic environments, just as we studied the Earth and wondered about exotic sounding places like Banghok and Istanbul … or, in my case growing up in the Bronx, exotic far-away places like Brooklyn.”

Webster Cash, an astronomer whose Aragoscope concept recently won a Phase I award from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program (see ‘Aragoscope’ Offers High Resolution Optics in Space), has also been deeply involved in starshades, in which a large occulter works with a telescope-bearing spacecraft tens of thousands of kilometers away. With the occulter blocking light from the parent star, direct imaging of exoplanets down to Earth size and below becomes possible, allowing us to make spectroscopic analyses of their atmospheres. Pool data from fifty such systems using interferometry and spectacular close-up images may one day be possible.


Image: The basic occulter concept, with telescope trailing the occulter and using it to separate planet light from the light of the parent star. Credit: Webster Cash.

Have a look at Cash’s New Worlds pages at the University of Colorado for more. And imagine what we might do with the ability to look at an exoplanet through a view as close as a hundred kilometers, studying its oceans and continents, its weather systems, the patterns of its vegetation and, who knows, its city lights. Our one limitation would be the orbital inclination of the planet, which would prevent us from mapping every area on the surface, but given the benefits, this seems like a small issue. We would have achieved what Dan Goldin described.

Seth Shostak, whose ideas we looked at yesterday in the context of SETI and political will, has also recently written on what large — maybe I should say ‘extreme’ — telescopes can do for us. In Forget Space Travel: Build This Telescope, which ran in the Huffington Post, Shostak talks about a telescope that could map exoplanets with the same kind of detail you get with Google Earth. To study planets within 100 light years, the instrument would require capabilities that outstrip those of Cash’s cluster of interferometrically communicating space telescopes:

At 100 light-years, something the size of a Honda Accord — which I propose as a standard imaging test object — subtends an angle of a half-trillionth of a second of arc. In case that number doesn’t speak to you, it’s roughly the apparent size of a cell nucleus on Pluto, as viewed from Earth.

You will not be stunned to hear that resolving something that minuscule requires a telescope with a honking size. At ordinary optical wavelengths, “honking” works out to a mirror 100 million miles across. You could nicely fit a reflector that large between the orbits of Mercury and Mars. Big, yes, but it would permit you to examine exoplanets in incredible detail.

Or, of course, you can do what Shostak is really getting at, which is to use interferometry to pool data from thousands of small mirrors in space spread out over 100 million miles, an array of the sort we are already building for radio observations and learning how to improve for optical and infrared work on Earth. Shostak discusses a system like this, which again is conceivable within the time-frame we are talking about for developing an actual interstellar probe, as a way to vanquish what he calls ‘the tyranny of distance.’ And, he adds, ‘You can forget deep space probes.’

I doubt we would do that, however, because we can hope that among the many worlds such a space-based array would reveal to us would be some that fire our imaginations and demand much closer study. The impulse to send robotic if not human crews will doubtless be fired by many of the exotic scenes we will observe. I wouldn’t consider this mammoth space array our only way of interacting with the galaxy, then, but an indispensable adjunct to our expansion into it.

Of course Shostak takes the long, sensor derived view of exploring the Universe, his life’s work is radio telescopes.

Gilster is correct that interferometry will be an adjunct to sending robotic probes to distant interstellar worlds, you can’t make money by just gawking at places.

Or can you? 

Original post.

Alpha Centauri B has an Earth-Mass Planet !

From spaceref.com:

European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system — the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012.

Alpha Centauri is one of the brightest stars in the southern skies and is the nearest stellar system to our solar system — only 4.3 light-years away. It is actually a triple star — a system consisting of two stars similar to the Sun orbiting close to each other, designated Alpha Centauri A and B, and a more distant and faint red component known as Proxima Centauri [1]. Since the nineteenth century astronomers have speculated about planets orbiting these bodies, the closest possible abodes for life beyond the solar system, but searches of increasing precision had revealed nothing. Until now.

“Our observations extended over more than four years using the HARPS instrument and have revealed a tiny, but real, signal from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days,” says Xavier Dumusque (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland, and Centro de Astrofisica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal), lead author of the paper. “It’s an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit!”

The European team detected the planet by picking up the tiny wobbles in the motion of the star Alpha Centauri B created by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet [2]. The effect is minute — it causes the star to move back and forth by no more than 51 centimeters per second (1.8 km/hour), about the speed of a baby crawling. This is the highest precision ever achieved using this method.

Alpha Centauri B is very similar to the Sun but slightly smaller and less bright. The newly discovered planet, with a mass of a little more than that of the Earth [3], is orbiting about six million kilometers away from the star, much closer than Mercury is to the Sun in the solar system. The orbit of the other bright component of the double star, Alpha Centauri A, keeps it hundreds of times further away, but it would still be a very brilliant object in the planet’s skies.

The first exoplanet around a Sun-like star was found by the same team back in 1995 and since then there have been more than 800 confirmed discoveries, but most are much bigger than the Earth, and many are as big as Jupiter [4]. The challenge astronomers now face is to detect and characterize a planet of mass comparable to the Earth that is orbiting in the habitable zone [5] around another star. The first step has now been taken [6].

“This is the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a star like the Sun. Its orbit is very close to its star and it must be much too hot for life as we know it,” adds Stephane Udry (Geneva Observatory), a co-author of the paper and member of the team, “but it may well be just one planet in a system of several. Our other HARPS results, and new findings from Kepler, both show clearly that the majority of low-mass planets are found in such systems.”

“This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun. We live in exciting times!” concludes Xavier Dumusque.

ESO will hold an online press conference offering journalists the opportunity to discuss the result and its impact with the scientists:http://www.eso.org/public/announcements/ann12072/

It finally happened, an interstellar world, even though it’s not really a “garden” world like ours, it’s the first true earth-mass one discovered – and it’s only 25 trillion miles away!

Not only are scientists excited about the size – prevailing theory claims that there could be more rocky worlds out into Centauri B’s habitable zone waiting to be discovered.

I wonder if James Cameron is planning an expedition now?

Earth-Mass Planet Found Orbiting Alpha Centauri B

For those who like to read papers, here’s the original text – http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1241/eso1241a.pdf

Again thanks to Greg at the Daily Grail !

Electric Kepler Mystery

When scientists released info about preliminary results from the Kepler telescope satellite a couple of days ago, one mystery was a discovery of an object that affected the surface of its parent star to the point that it’s suspected the object is hotter than the star.

That’s quite a discovery. Many theories are floating around about this, but the main one is that the object is heavier, or denser materially than the star. As the object orbits its sun, it’s causing ripples across its surface.

Well, hogwash say the proponents of the Electric Universe Theory.

They say the object is the result of stellar fissioning:

On March 7, 2009, NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope on a three and a half year mission designed to search for planets revolving around other stars. Astronomers have been investigating the possibility that there are other stellar families outside of the Solar System for many years, but Earth-based telescopes have been able to detect only gas giants that are Jupiter-sized or larger. Kepler was built to find planets that are similar in size to Earth.

In 1992, radio astronomers found a pair of objects in orbit around PSR B1257+12, a radio pulsar 980 light-years away, as astronomers reckon distance. Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail used a “radial velocity” technique to measure shifts in the pulsar’s radio frequency, inferring the existence of dense bodies “tugging” on the star.

Other extrasolar bodies were found by teams such as those at the Lick Observatory, headed up by Geoff Marcy. Marcy is credited with discovering 70 new planets using a combination of astrometry, calculating stellar positional shifts caused by a planet’s gravitational pull, and radial velocity measurements. That information is also used to determine the planetary masses and orbits.

Kepler is using the “transit method” to find remote worlds. By observing a star’s brightness, the telescope can see when a planet passes in front of the stellar disc because there will be a reduction in the light. Theoretically, that slight dimming can be used to deduce the size of the object occluding the star. With repeated observations, the transit interval can allude to the planet’s orbital duration.

Currently, the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia lists 417 planets outside of the Solar System.

Recently, Kepler scientists announced that they have found five potentially new planets around various stars. Each of them are possessed of strange characteristics (one has the apparent density of Styrofoam), but the strangest of all is that two of them are incredibly hot—hotter than their parent stars. According to mission team members they have no idea what they could be. They are too hot to be planets, but too small to be stars.

One of the “mysterious” new objects is KOI 74b, with a temperature of 39,000 Celsius, while its stellar host is only 9400 Celsius. This cannot be explained with consensus theories: why would a planet be hotter than a star? That is, if it is a planet. However, because of its relatively small size—about as large as Jupiter—it is far too small for fusion fires to be burning there.

Another bizarre object, this time about as large as Neptune, with a temperature near 15,000 Celsius, is in such close proximity to its star that it completes one revolution in just over five days. Are these new types of celestial object, or are they simply conforming to the characteristics of plasma double layers, and the Electric Star theory?

Intense magnetic fields have been detected in space. Those fields are thought to be generated by electric currents flowing through and around galaxies along light-years long “transmission lines” called Birkeland current filaments. Magnetic forces constrict the filaments, twisting them around each other and forming “z-pinch” compression zones. The pinch effect is far more powerful than gravity when it comes to concentrating matter. Stars are formed when z-pinch effects crush plasma into rotating spheres of electric charge. This concept has been elucidated many times in these pages.

In a previous Picture of the Day article, the Electric Star theory was proposed as a way to deal with the then “puzzling” discovery of yellow, super-giant stars orbiting close to one another in the Holmberg IX galaxy. The conventional view of luminosity versus spectral class was shown to be overturned by the theory’s premise. The theory also predicts that binary star systems at every stage of evolution and luminosity should exist.

The Electric Star theory states that stellar fissioning will occur if a star is under great stress because of excess current flow from the galactic generator. A blue-white star might explosively split into two or more daughter stars if the input current passes a critical threshold. In so doing, the surface area increases, resulting in a decrease in current density. The two (or more) new stars will experience a reduction in luminosity and appear to be “older” as conventional theories of stellar evolution discuss age. The electric currents flowing between the new stars might also be interpreted as heat.

Perhaps what the Kepler mission has done is help to confirm the Electric Star theory by providing data that supports stellar fissioning.

Kepler actually discovered five objects;  Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. It is Kepler 7b that is the mystery object.

This will continue to be a mystery until we build interstellar probes to visit this object, or more likely, more powerful telescopes to investigate it further.

Kepler is just beginning its investigations and these planets are just the “calibrations” of its equipment. More and better mysteries are sure to follow!

Heat Upon Heat Upon Heat

The Transhumanism of Star Travel and Learning from Earth

Athena Andreadis guest blogging on Sentient Developments 5/29/09 about how the first transhumans braving interstellar space won’t be the rich and beautiful:

…spacefaring enthusiasts acknowledge the enormity of the undertaking they propose, most transhumanists take it as an article of faith that their ideas will be realized soon, though the goalposts keep receding into the future. As more soundbite than proof they invoke Moore’s exponential law, equating stodgy silicon with complex, contrary carbon. However, despite such confident optimism, enhancements will be hellishly difficult to implement. This stems from a fundamental that cannot be short-circuited or evaded: no matter how many experiments are performed on mice or even primates, humans have enough unique characteristics that optimization will require people.Contrary to the usual supposition that the rich will be the first to cross the transhuman threshold, it is virtually certain that the frontline will consist of the desperate and the disenfranchised: the terminally ill, the poor, prisoners and soldiers — the same people who now try new chemotherapy or immunosuppression drugs, donate ova, become surrogate mothers, “agree” to undergo chemical castration or sleep deprivation. Yet another pool of early starfarers will be those whose beliefs require isolation to practice, whether they be Raëlians or fundamentalist monotheists — just as the Puritans had to brave the wilderness and brutal winters of Massachusetts to set up their Shining (though inevitably tarnished) City on the Hill.

So the first generation of humans adjusted to starship living are far likelier to resemble Peter Watts’ marginalized Rifters or Jay Lake’s rabid Armoricans, rather than the universe-striding, empowered citizens of Iain Banks’ Culture. Such methods and outcomes will not reassure anyone, regardless of her/his position on the political spectrum, who considers augmentation hubristic, dehumanizing, or a threat to human identity, equality or morality. The slightly less fraught idea of uploading individuals into (ostensibly) more durable non-carbon frames is not achievable, because minds are inseparable from the neurons that create them. Even if technological advances eventually enable synapse-by synapse reconstructions, the results will be not transfers but copies.

I noticed she takes the same tact that Alastair Reynolds does concerning uploading minds in his “Revelation Space” series.

Which makes sense, because current theories speculate that the original brain would have to be destroyed during the scanning process.

Then a whole new can of worms gets opened concerning copies and the soul.

Trans-Sufiism anyone?

Dreamers of a better future, Unite!


The land of woo is big business:

Skeptical literature is seldom a hot seller with the exception of fiery books about atheism and the culture wars which tend to dive into the political realm and use science to bolster what’s more of a philosophical case than a purely scientific one. Cranks, on the other hand, sell books by the truckload. Even a skeptical bestseller like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion which sold over 1.5 million copies, can’t match the estimated 6 million or so copies of The Secret, a book of New Age fluff which declares that if you want something bad enough, reality will change to accommodate your whims. Oh and that’s not counting the 1.5 million DVDs of the same kind of wishful-thinking-in-a-can sold before the book was published and endorsed by the Queen of Woo herself.

And you can see why pseudoscience is so popular. Cranks aren’t limited by facts and figures like skeptics or scientists. They can make up anything to win favor with a crowd. When they’re telling people that their wildest dreams can come true if they close their eyes and think about it hard enough, anyone who dares to stand up, and point out that there’s no evidence for this claim or that reality doesn’t conform to our entitlement complex, seems like a heckler killing everybody’s joyful buzz. The public interested in the kind of stuff skeptics refute on a regular basis doesn’t care about the need for a contrarian opinion. They only care about having their wishes fulfilled, so anyone who tells them otherwise is treated as an undesirable. Even worse, when they tune in and buy the books and DVDs on a regular basis, cranks get even more exposure because their brand of snake oil generates cashflow and keeps ratings high.

Greg Fish in quite a few of his recent posts has been on a one person crusade to smash down the doors of various dogmas and its proponents who plan on taking over the school systems of the country, the government and other areas of influence. Like the media.

I like Greg and I comment on his blog quite often, but I think he’s fighting a losing battle because like most pure scientific empiricists, he gets frustrated by the social dynamic by which most societies operate; a religion (doesn’t matter what kind) and those who use it for control.

A paradigm that has existed for 6000 years.

Hats off to ya for your persistance Greg!

why woo is big business


For once I understand NASA’s logic concerning developing techniques to find extra-solar, Earth-like planets:

A new technique for finding wet exoplanets got a field test when astronomers pretended to be aliens.

“If you were on another planet, you’d look at Earth and say, ‘That looks like the most interesting planet around that star,’” said Nicolas Cowan, a grad student at the University of Washington and lead author of the study. “Any critter with half a brain can look at Earth and say, ‘That’s the one that looks different.’ The question is how to quantify what it is that makes it look interesting.”

Astronomers used a telescope aboard the Deep Impact spacecraft — which crashed a probe into a comet in 2005 and is on its way to another — to stare at Earth for two separate 24-hour periods. They tracked the changes in light and color that crossed the Earth’s surface as it rotated, and connected them back to continents and oceans. The results will be published in the August issue of Astrophysical Journal.

Though the spacecraft was only 30 million miles away from Earth, light years closer than the nearest extrasolar planet, it was far enough to blur out the distinctive features of the Earth’s surface.


Nice job of recycling a spacecraft that finished one mission and using it for another.

Maybe there’s hope after all!

The New Exoplanetology: ‘I Learned By Watching You, Earth’

Hidden Planets and environMENTALism

David Lafreniere of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has successfully demonstrated this new strategy for planet hunting by identifying an exoplanet that went undetected in Hubble images taken in 1998 with its Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). In addition to illustrating the power of new data-processing techniques, this finding underscores the value of the Hubble data archive, on which those new techniques can be used.The planet, estimated to be at least seven times Jupiter’s mass, was originally discovered in images taken with the Keck and Gemini North telescopes in 2007 and 2008. It is the outermost of three massive known to orbit the dusty young star HR 8799, which is 130 light-years away. NICMOS could not see the other two planets because its coronagraphic spot — a device which blots out the glare of the star — also interferes with observing the two inner planets.

“We’ve shown that NICMOS is more powerful than previously thought for imaging planets,” says Lafreniere. “Our new image-processing technique efficiently subtracts the glare from a star that spills over the coronagraph’s edge, allowing us to see planets that are one-tenth the brightness of what could be detected before with Hubble.” Lafreniere adapted an image reconstruction technique that was first developed for ground-based observatories.


I wonder how many other gems like this are going to be found in Hubble archives once the venerable machine is allowed to die?

Hubble Finds Hidden Exoplanet


From the “Evil humans must die to to save Gaia” Department:

Peter Raven, past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, states in the foreword to their publication AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, “We have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century.”

The causes of biocide are a hodge-podge of human environmental “poisons” which often work synergistically, including a vast array of pollutants and pesticides that weaken immunity and make plants and animals more susceptible to microbial and fungal infections, human induced climate change, habitat loss from agriculture and urban sprawl, invasions of exotic species introduced by humans, illegal and legal wildlife trade, light pollution, and man-made borders among other many other causes.

Is there a way out? The answer is yes and no. We’ll never regain the lost biodiversity-at least not within a fathomable time period, but there are ways to help prevent what many experts believe is a coming worldwide bio collapse. The eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson has wisely noted that the time has come to start calling the “environmentalist view” the “real-world view”. We can’t ignore reality simply because it doesn’t conform nicely within convenient boundaries and moneymaking strategies. After all, what good will all of our conveniences do for us, if we keep generating them in ways that collectively destroy the necessities of life?

I love that “real world view” phrase. That “yes or no” vagueness does it for me also.

Why don’t these elitist arseholes just say what they mean?

The Planet’s First-ever Mass-Extinction Precipitated by a Biotic Agent: Humans


And now for a counterpoint voice of reason, from someone with credibility:

Famous physicist, author, and visionary Freeman Dyson has been making enemies with his critical stance on global warming.  It’s important to note that even he, an outspoken opponent, doesn’t deny that it’s happening – he just doesn’t think it’s that big a deal.

How does on octogenarian author get people so upset?  Well, calling Al Gore a preacher and comparing the climate control movement to a religious cult is a fantastic way to start.  If you ever want to piss off a scientist, call them a religion.  Disagreeing with them is one thing – accusing them of doctrine is another.


This is too rich! Freeman Dyson, THE inventor of the Dyson Sphere concept, agreeing with Alex Jones and Highwayman!

Truth is, he’s right. It’s a proven fact that industrialization limits population growth as standards of living increases.

One of the Planet’s Great Scientists: “Global Warming Isn’t as Big a Problem as Disease or Poverty”


Extrasolar planets, Great Depression II and (R)evolutionary Cure


Two new planetary systems have been imaged in the Milky Way: a star boasting three planetary siblings and another harbouring one at a large distance from its star.

Other candidate planets have been imaged near stars. But the new pictures are the first to capture the slow crawl of the planets around their host stars, confirming that they are indeed in orbit.

“It’s great to see the quest for direct imaging of extrasolar planets finally bearing fruit,” says Ray Jayawardhana of the University of Toronto, who was not associated with the two new studies.

Direct images can detect planets at much greater distances from their stars than the techniques most commonly used today. Such faraway worlds could challenge the prevailing model of how planets form.

This is quite an achievement in stellar photographic studies, the first visual proof of extrasolar planets.

First images captured of alien solar system


Ignorance Is Futile:

“There will be a revolution in this country,” he said. “It’s not going to come yet, but it’s going to come down the line and we’re going to see a third party and this was the catalyst for it: the takeover of Washington, D. C., in broad daylight by Wall Street in this bloodless coup. And it will happen as conditions continue to worsen.”

“The first thing to do is organize with tax revolts. That’s going to be the big one because people can’t afford to pay more school tax, property tax, any kind of tax. You’re going to start seeing those kinds of protests start to develop.”

“It’s going to be very bleak. Very sad. And there is going to be a lot of homeless, the likes of which we have never seen before. Tent cities are already sprouting up around the country and we’re going to see many more.”

“We’re going to start seeing huge areas of vacant real estate and squatters living in them as well. It’s going to be a picture the likes of which Americans are not going to be used to. It’s going to come as a shock and with it, there’s going to be a lot of crime. And the crime is going to be a lot worse than it was before because in the last 1929 Depression, people’s minds weren’t wrecked on all these modern drugs – over-the-counter drugs, or crystal meth or whatever it might be. So, you have a huge underclass of very desperate people with their minds chemically blown beyond anybody’s comprehension.”

The George Washington blog has compiled a list of quotes attesting to Celente’s accuracy as a trend forecaster.

“When CNN wants to know about the Top Trends, we ask Gerald Celente.”
— CNN Headline News

“A network of 25 experts whose range of specialties would rival many university faculties.”
— The Economist

“Gerald Celente has a knack for getting the zeitgeist right.”
— USA Today

“There’s not a better trend forecaster than Gerald Celente. The man knows what he’s talking about.”

“Those who take their predictions seriously … consider the Trends Research Institute.”
— The Wall Street Journal

“Gerald Celente is always ahead of the curve on trends and uncannily on the mark … he’s one of the most accurate forecasters around.”
— The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Mr. Celente tracks the world’s social, economic and business trends for corporate clients.”
— The New York Times

“Mr. Celente is a very intelligent guy. We are able to learn about trends from an authority.”
— 48 Hours, CBS News

“Gerald Celente has a solid track record. He has predicted everything from the 1987 stock market crash and the demise of the Soviet Union to green marketing and corporate downsizing.”
— The Detroit News

“Gerald Celente forecast the 1987 stock market crash, ‘green marketing,’ and the boom in gourmet coffees.”
— Chicago Tribune

“The Trends Research Institute is the Standard and Poors of Popular Culture.”
— The Los Angeles Times

“If Nostradamus were alive today, he’d have a hard time keeping up with Gerald Celente.”
— New York Post

So there you have it – hardly a nutjob conspiracy theorist blowhard now is he? The price of not heeding his warnings will be far greater than the cost of preparing for the future now. Storable food and gold are two good places to make a start.

Do you think IIB likes this guy?

Read the post.

-Celente Predicts Revolution, Food Riots, Tax Rebellions By 2012


Weird Things:

“For the last few days, the web has been abuzz about an AIDS patient who might have been cured by a marrow transplant from someone immune to the virus. Scientists have known about HIV immunity for over a decade when they found that some people had a mutation which prevents the expression of the CCR5 gene and doesn’t build the receptors to which the AIDS virus attaches to begin the infection process. It’s obviously great news for medical research, but it’s also a display of evolution in action that casts doubt on one of the most controversial dogmas of religious fundamentalists in the United States.”

hiv virus

I’m sure many folks of the fundie type will have much to dispute about this finding, but facts is facts.

an evolutionary cure for aids?



Phoenix Digs Mars and other stuff…

NASA’s Phoenix lander may have already hit pay dirt with its first scoop of Martian soil – it contains white streaks that could be water ice. Meanwhile, mission engineers have fixed an electrical glitch on an important Phoenix instrument, restoring it to health.

Phoenix touched down in Mars’s north polar region on 26 May and quickly started beaming back images of its surroundings.

“It’s been a thrill for me this first week after landing on the permafrost region in the Northern Arctic on Mars to find out that we’re in a really great place for doing the science we plan to do,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, US, Phoenix’s chief scientist, at a press conference on Monday.

The $420-million spacecraft has now gouged out its first scoopful of Martian dirt from an area informally known as the Knave of Hearts, using its 2.3-metre robotic arm.

The brain trust isn’t exactly sure if this stuff is actually ice or salt, since it’s theorized that Mars’ water was a seriously salty brine before it finally dried up completely. But I guess the first chemical analysis will find out, won’t it?

Phoenix digs up possible ice on Mars


The goal of finding an Earth-like planet around another star has just come closer. Astronomers announced today they have discovered a planet of about three Earth masses orbiting a star smaller than our sun.

The planet has the closest mass to Earth of all the known extrasolar planets, and is the lightest planet ever found orbiting a normal-size star. “Our discovery indicates that even the lowest mass stars can host planets,” David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, who led an international team of astronomers to the discovery, said on Monday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in St Louis, Missouri, US.

The planet is referred to as MOA-2007-BLG-192L and is around 3000 light years from Earth. Planet formation theory suggests it is likely made mostly of rock and ice.

The planet’s orbit around the host star is of a similar radius to the orbit of Venus, although it is likely to be much colder than Pluto. That is because the host star, thought to be a brown dwarf between 6 and 8 percent of the Sun’s mass, may not be large enough to sustain nuclear reactions in its core.

Believe it or not, astronomers and other planet hunters are getting rather good at finding extrasolar planets. The method used in this case is gravitational microlensing, which uses an object’s gravity that warps the light from another object behind it which magnifies the image of it.

Not my idea, blame Einstein. I just post the stuff. Read the article.

Newfound planet has just three times Earth’s mass

Also, read this post at Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams, they explain it better than I can.

Smallest Known Exoplanet Found


And I can’t let this day go by without a little rant against the rampant corporatism that has the nation and the world by our collective throats and our wallets:

On Thursday, new Time Warner Cable Internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas, will have monthly allowances for the amount of data they upload and download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, a Time Warner Cable executive told the Associated Press.

Just 5 percent of the company’s subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable Internet service providers report a similar distribution.

“We think it’s the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure,” Leddy said.

Metered usage is common overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are looking at ways to rein in heavy users. Most have download caps, but some keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then suspend, those who go over.

Time Warner can bite me. Trouble is, Verizon and all these other criminals do the same, plus report you to the ‘Ministry’ of ‘Homeland’ Security!

So much for the sanctity of the InnerTubes. Big Brother is not only watching, but making us pay in order for them to watch!

Time Warner Cable tries metering Internet use