Newly discovered planets could have water on their surfaces

An international team of astronomers has found a system of seven potentially habitable planets orbiting a star 39 light years away three of which could have water on their surfaces raising the possibility they could host life. Using ground and space telescopes, the team identified the planets as they passed in front of the ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. The star is around eight per cent of the mass of the Sun and is no bigger than Jupiter.

The team has been using the TRAPPIST–South telescope at the European Space Observatory’s (ESO) La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal, the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope as well as two other telescopes supported by the UK’s STFC, the William Herschel Telescope and the Liverpool Telescope. All the planets, labelled TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h in order of increasing distance from their parent star, have sizes comparable to Earth.

The astronomers identified the planets thanks to periodic drops in the brightness of the central star. As the planets passed in front of the star, they cast a shadow, events known as transits, from which the team could measure the planet’s orbital periods and calculate their sizes and masses. They found that the inner six planets were comparable in size, mass and temperature to the Earth raising the possibility that they host liquid water on their surface.

With just 8% the mass of the Sun, TRAPPIST-1 is very small in stellar terms, only marginally bigger than the planet Jupiter — and though nearby in the constellation Aquarius, it is invisible visually with anything less than powerful telescopes. Astronomers expected that such dwarf stars might host many Earth-sized planets in tight orbits, making them promising targets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life. TRAPPIST-1 is the first such system to be discovered.

Co-author Dr Amaury Triaud, of the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, explains: “Stars like TRAPPIST-1 belong to the most common type of stars that exist within our Galaxy. The planets that we found are likely representative of the most common sort of planets in the Universe.

“That the planets are so similar to Earth bodes well for the search for life elsewhere. Planets orbiting ultra-cool dwarfs, like TRAPPIST-1, likely represent the largest habitable real estate in the Milky Way!”

The team determined that all the planets in the system were similar in size to Earth and Venus in our Solar System, or slightly smaller. The density measurements suggest that at least the innermost six are probably rocky in composition.

The planetary orbits are not much longer than that of Jupiter’s Galilean moon system, and much smaller than the orbit of Mercury in the Solar System. However, TRAPPIST-1’s small size and low temperature means that the energy input to its planets is similar to that received by the inner planets in our Solar System; TRAPPIST-1c, d and f receive similar energy inputs to Venus, Earth and Mars, respectively.

All seven planets discovered in the system could potentially have liquid water on their surfaces, though their orbital distances make some of them more likely candidates than others. Climate models suggest the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b, c and d, are probably too hot to support liquid water, except maybe on a small fraction of their surfaces. The orbital distance of the system’s outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is unconfirmed, though it is likely to be too distant and cold to harbour liquid water — assuming no alternative heating processes are occurring. TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g, however, are of more interest for planet-hunting astronomers, as they orbit in the star’s habitable zone and could host oceans of surface water.

These new discoveries make the TRAPPIST-1 system an even more important target in the search for extra-terrestrial life. Team member Didier Queloz, from the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, is excited about the future possibilities: “Thanks to future facilities like ESO’ Extremely Large Telescope, or NASA/ESA’s soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space telescope, we will be capable to measure the structure of the planets’ atmospheres, as well as their chemical composition. We are about to start the remote exploration of terrestrial climates beyond our Solar system.”

The discovery is described in Nature, which also includes a science fiction short story, written by Laurence Suhner. Amaury Triaud comments: “We were thrilled at the idea of having artists be inspired by our discoveries right away. We hope this helps convey the sense of awe and excitement that we all have within the team about the TRAPPIST-1 system.”

The star draws its name from the TRAPPIST-South telescope, which made the initial discovery. TRAPPIST is the forerunner of a more ambitious facility called “SPECULOOS” that includes Cambridge as core partner, conducted by researchers of the “Cambridge Centre for Exoplanet Research” in the broad research context related to “Universal Life”. SPECULOOS is currently under construction at ESO’ Observatory of Cerro Paranal. SPECULOOS will survey 10 times more stars for planets, than TRAPPIST could do. We expect to detect dozens of additional terrestrial planets.

 

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Photo credit: European Southern Observatory

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This article was originally published by the University of Cambridge.

 

NASA Seeks University-designed Solutions to Deep Space Human Exploration Challenges

NASA is looking for university teams that can develop innovative design solutions for deep space human exploration systems as part of the 2018 eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division sponsors X-Hab as part of its work to develop foundational technologies and high-priority capabilities that form the building blocks for future human space missions.  In collaboration with the National Space Grant Foundation, the AES and Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications divisions will offer multiple X-Hab 2018 awards of $20,000 to $30,000 each. Awardees will design and produce studies or functional products to increase knowledge and foster risk reduction for space exploration capabilities.

Read the full challenge solicitation here: https://www.spacegrant.org/xhab.

Habitat Demonstration Unit, Deep Space Habitat
The Habitat Demonstration Unit, Deep Space Habitat configuration with X-Hab loft at the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) analog field test.
Credits: NASA/Regan Geeseman

The 2018 X-Hab Challenge addresses 11 topic areas that are key to future deep space human exploration:

  • Mars Habitat Commonality – Create a habitation system with common features among in-space and surface habitat designs. This will increase efficiency in the development process and crews will be familiar with the layout, function, and location of the surface habitat prior to arrival on Mars.
  • Small-Scale Mobility Testbed for Reduced Flight Aircraft – Create a test apparatus to enable rover wheel-soil interaction testing in reduced gravity aircraft.
  • Quantification of Condensed Water on the Resource Prospector – Create a method for determining the quantity of a condensed fluid (water) on a surface.
  • Humidity Management for CO2 Sequestration through Deposition – Design, build, and characterize the operation of a humidity removal and recovery system for air revitalization used in conjunction with a cryocooled carbon dioxide removal system.
  • Carbon Dioxide and Water Recovery System (COHO) – Design, develop, fabricate, and test the integrated COHO system to recover carbon dioxide and water for use during deep space travel as well as in the Martian environment.
  • Robotic Replacement of Power System Modular Circuit Board – Modify the mechanical design of a modular circuit board and its chassis to enable removal and replacement of a failed board using robotics.
  • Long-Term Hygienic Trash Stowage System – Develop a prototype Long-Term Hygienic Trash Stowage System that includes trash stowage container, volume reduction, long-term odor control, and a long-term hygienic trash stowage arrangement.
  • 3-D Printing with Biologic Materials: Closing the Manufacturing Loop and “Greening” Additive Manufacturing – Use plant mass or other biologically derived materials to create filament feedstock for 3-D printing.
  • Novel Steady-State Food Production System for Space – Develop a novel, steady-state microgravity plant food production system for a crewed environment that dampens the effects of crop growth on the vehicle/habitat Environmental Control and Life Support System.
  • Fresh Produce Sanitation System for Use in Microgravity – Design and prototype a fresh produce sanitation system functional in microgravity. The system should be highly sustainable, require minimal crew time, and avoid tainting or altering the food items.
  • 3-D Printed Plant Growth Substrate – Design and prototype a plant growth substrate that utilizes 3-D printing to achieve effective plant growth in microgravity.

X-Hab is an academic collaboration that provides real-world, hands-on design, research and development opportunities for students who may be interested in space industry careers, while strengthening NASA’s efforts to confront current challenges, optimize technology investments, foster innovation, and facilitate technology infusion.  Through strategic cooperation with universities, the agency intends to bridge gaps and increase knowledge in technologies, capabilities, and operational approaches related to human spaceflight.  Previous X-Hab challenges resulted in products that have been tested and evaluated at NASA centers and in analog field tests. The products and technologies that universities develop for the 2018 X-Hab challenge will be further refined for next-generation exploration systems. These contributions could eventually provide the basis for future demonstrations and missions as NASA plans to send humans further into the solar system than ever before.

Entries are due April 28, 2017. For more information about the challenge and how to submit a proposal, visit http://spacegrant.org/xhab/.

To view past NASA X-Hab projects, visit https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/technology/deep_space_habitat/xhab .

Editor: Shanessa Jackson
Photo Credit: NASA

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Why does the mainstream media keep getting Trumped? Bannon and Priebus explain.

By TSS Admin

Earlier today in National Harbor, Maryland at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, otherwise known as CPAC, Matt Schlapp sat down with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor Steve Bannon.

Schlapp asked both men why the mainstream media seemed to be missing the allure of President Trump and why they “keep getting it wrong.”

Matt Schlapp who is the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, which is the oldest conservative lobbying organization in the United States, got the ball rolling by asking,

What is it they keep getting it wrong? And do you think it ever gets fixed? What does the media keep getting wrong about this Trump phenomenon and what’s happening out there in the country? And is there any hope that this changes?

Reince Priebus, who was previously the Chair of the Republican National Committee before the election, stated he thought things were going to change because of the work the President has been putting in and “the promises he has made to the American people.”

The White House Chief of Staff also explained exclaimed that the American people are continuously exposed to why Trump won’t win.

Here are the complete responses from Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon via this short C-SPAN video:

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Photo Credit: C-SPAN

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***Breaking News*** Project Veritas releases covertly captured audio from the newsroom of CNN

By TSS Admin

James O’Keefe and his team at Project Veritas has just released covertly captured unheard audio footage showing bias within the newsroom of CNN.

You can listen to the audio tapes here:

Project Veritas Releases Audio From Inside CNN

 

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Photo Credit: Deadline

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NASA’s Europa Flyby Mission Moves into Design Phase

A mission to examine the habitability of Jupiter’s ocean-bearing moon Europa is taking one step closer to the launchpad, with the recent completion of a major NASA review.

On Feb. 15, NASA’s Europa multiple-flyby mission successfully completed its Key Decision Point-B review. This NASA decision permits the mission to move forward into its preliminary design phase, known as “Phase B,” beginning on Feb. 27.

A highlight of Phase A was the selection and accommodation of 10 instruments being developed to study the scientific mysteries of Europa. The new mission phase is planned to continue through September 2018, and will result in the completion of a preliminary design for the mission’s systems and subsystems. Some testing of spacecraft components, including solar cells and science instrument detectors, has already been underway during Phase A, and this work is planned to continue into Phase B.

In addition, during Phase B subsystem vendors will be selected, as well as prototype hardware elements for the science instruments. Spacecraft subassemblies will be built and tested as well.

The Europa mission spacecraft is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit Jupiter as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys in the prime mission, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

The life cycle of a NASA science mission includes several key phases. At each step, missions must successfully demonstrate that they have met the agency’s requirements in order to indicate readiness to move forward into the next phase. Phase B includes preliminary design work, while phases C and D include final design, spacecraft fabrication, assembly and testing, and launch.

For more information about NASA’s mission to Europa, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/europa

Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-7013
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Editor: Tony Greicius

Photo Credit: NASA

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NASA’s Fermi Finds Possible Dark Matter Ties in Andromeda Galaxy

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has found a signal at the center of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy that could indicate the presence of the mysterious stuff known as dark matter. The gamma-ray signal is similar to one seen by Fermi at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, produced by the universe’s most energetic phenomena. They’re common in galaxies like the Milky Way because cosmic rays, particles moving near the speed of light, produce gamma rays when they interact with interstellar gas clouds and starlight.

Surprisingly, the latest Fermi data shows the gamma rays in Andromeda — also known as M31 — are confined to the galaxy’s center instead of spread throughout. To explain this unusual distribution, scientists are proposing that the emission may come from several undetermined sources. One of them could be dark matter, an unknown substance that makes up most of the universe.

NASA’s Fermi telescope has detected a gamma-ray excess at the center of the Andromeda galaxy that’s similar to a signature Fermi previously detected at the center of our own Milky Way. Watch to learn more.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger, producer

“We expect dark matter to accumulate in the innermost regions of the Milky Way and other galaxies, which is why finding such a compact signal is very exciting,” said lead scientist Pierrick Martin, an astrophysicist at the National Center for Scientific Research and the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France. “M31 will be a key to understanding what this means for both Andromeda and the Milky Way.”

A paper describing the results will appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Another possible source for this emission could be a rich concentration of pulsars in M31’s center. These spinning neutron stars weigh as much as twice the mass of the sun and are among the densest objects in the universe. One teaspoon of neutron star matter would weigh a billion tons on Earth. Some pulsars emit most of their energy in gamma rays. Because M31 is 2.5 million light-years away, it’s difficult to find individual pulsars. To test whether the gamma rays are coming from these objects, scientists can apply what they know about pulsars from observations in the Milky Way to new X-ray and radio observations of Andromeda.

Now that Fermi has detected a similar gamma-ray signature in both M31 and the Milky Way, scientists can use this information to solve mysteries within both galaxies. For example, M31 emits few gamma rays from its large disk, where most stars form, indicating fewer cosmic rays roaming there. Because cosmic rays are usually thought to be related to star formation, the absence of gamma rays in the outer parts of M31 suggests either that the galaxy produces cosmic rays differently, or that they can escape the galaxy more rapidly. Studying Andromeda may help scientists understand the life cycle of cosmic rays and how it is connected to star formation.

“We don’t fully understand the roles cosmic rays play in galaxies, or how they travel through them,” said Xian Hou, an astrophysicist at Yunnan Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming, China, also a lead scientist in this work. “M31 lets us see how cosmic rays behave under conditions different from those in our own galaxy.”

The similar discovery in both the Milky Way and M31 means scientists can use the galaxies as models for each other when making difficult observations. While Fermi can make more sensitive and detailed observations of the Milky Way’s center, its view is partially obscured by emission from the galaxy’s disk. But telescopes view Andromeda from an outside vantage point impossible to attain in the Milky Way.

“Our galaxy is so similar to Andromeda, it really helps us to be able to study it, because we can learn more about our galaxy and its formation,” said co-author Regina Caputo, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s like living in a world where there’s no mirrors but you have a twin, and you can see everything physical about the twin.”

While more observations are necessary to determine the source of the gamma-ray excess, the discovery provides an exciting starting point to learn more about both galaxies, and perhaps about the still elusive nature of dark matter.

“We still have a lot to learn about the gamma-ray sky,” Caputo said. “The more information we have, the more information we can put into models of our own galaxy.”

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

For more information on Fermi, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/fermi

Editor: Rob Garner

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and announced at a news briefing at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, “snowball-like” world, but further observations are needed.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. “It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 nearly continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing – transits – of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. Engineers optimized Spitzer’s ability to observe transiting planets during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” which began after the spacecraft’s coolant ran out as planned after the first five years of operations.

“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

Following up on the Spitzer discovery, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has initiated the screening of four of the planets, including the three inside the habitable zone. These observations aim at assessing the presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, typical for gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.

In May 2016, the Hubble team observed the two innermost planets, and found no evidence for such puffy atmospheres. This strengthened the case that the planets closest to the star are rocky in nature.

“The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets,” said Nikole Lewis, co-leader of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, making measurements of the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. Operating as the K2 mission, the spacecraft’s observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of the known planets, as well as search for additional planets in the system. The K2 observations conclude in early March and will be made available on the public archive.

Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet’s atmosphere. Webb also will analyze planets’ temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.

 

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Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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This article was originally published by NASA.