WBEZ | astronomy http://www.wbez.org/tags/astronomy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Two new planets came to light this week, and one of them was crowd-sourced http://www.wbez.org/news/two-new-planets-came-light-week-and-one-them-was-crowd-sourced-103221 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6501_PH1%20rendering.Haven%20Giguere.Yale-scr.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px; " title="An artist's rendering of Planet Hunters 1, discovered by citizen astronomers. (Yale/Haven Giguere)" /></p><p>A project that crowd-sources astronomical research announced its first discovery Tuesday: a new planet called PH1, short for Planet Hunters.</p><p>Planet Hunters is a website co-sponsored by Chicago&rsquo;s Adler Planetarium that allows everyday people to analyze data about stars.</p><p>The citizen scientists&rsquo; discovery is not to be confused with another new planet announced this week: European researchers discovered the closest known planet to Earth in the Alpha Centauri solar system. But both discoveries are being hailed as valid and significant.</p><p>&ldquo;These (Planet Hunters) are real discoveries made by just regular members of the public, armchair astronomers if you like,&rdquo; said Arfon Smith, Director of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium.</p><p>The Planet Hunters site allows anyone to view data compiled from NASA&rsquo;s Kepler Spacecraft. But NASA is not a sponsor of the project; Planet Hunters is an independent collaboration using data the Kepler research team has made available to the public.</p><p>The Planet Hunters website was launched as an experiment, in part with the goal of finding out whether the human eye could sometimes be more efficient than a computer at analyzing data. Citizen planet seekers look for inconsistencies in light patterns created by distant stars. These inconsistencies, analyzed by the human eye in large numbers, can demonstrate that a previously unknown planet is passing between the Kepler telescope and the star in question.</p><p>The website keeps a list of &ldquo;candidates&rdquo; for planets, and among the candidates PH1 is the first winner. Two citizen scientists, Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano, headed up the effort to confirm the existence of PH1. After their research was reviewed by the team of scientists behind Planet Hunters, the whole group submitted a paper to the Astrophysical Journal and <a href="http://arxiv.org/pdf/1210.3612v1.pdf">made it available online</a> October 15.</p><p><strong>PH1: The Double Star Wars Planet</strong></p><p>PH1 is about 5,000 light years away from earth. It is notable because it is the first planet discovered in a four-sun solar system.</p><p>The planet itself orbits two stars, which doesn&rsquo;t distinguish it much from a series of binary star solar systems discovered by NASA in the last couple years. In these systems--sometimes called &ldquo;Tatooine&rdquo; systems after the two-star solar system featured in Star Wars--planets make one orbit around two suns, which also orbit each other. PH1 takes the Tatooine formation and doubles it; in the PH1 system there is a second pair of stars just an astronomical stone&rsquo;s-throw from PH1&rsquo;s pair.</p><p>Astronomers have never seen anything quite like it, and the discovery has implications for research into how planets are formed.</p><p>&ldquo;The model that scientists use to predict how planets form...would predict that this planet could not exist, and yet it does,&rdquo; said Smith. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s posing lots of new questions for the whole planet-formation science community.&rdquo;</p><p>Fred Ciesla, assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, agreed. Ciesla researches planet formation, and he said scientists are still trying to figure out models that account for the formation of planets in a two-star system. Finding a planet in a four-star system, he said, &ldquo;is an exciting discovery, and it means that we can&rsquo;t limit ourselves to just considering systems like our own sun.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Meanwhile, in Alpha Centauri...</strong></p><p>This week scientists announced another key planet discovery: the closest planetary neighbor we may ever find outside our own solar system. A group of researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland used data from a telescope in Chile to demonstrate the existence of a rocky planet the size of Earth in the solar system Alpha Centauri, just 4.4 light years away.</p><p>A few light years makes Alpha Centauri our next-door neighbor in astronomical terms, and the closest known exoplanet, or planet outside our own solar system. Still, it would take our speediest spacecraft tens of thousands of years to travel to the three-star system.</p><p>Alpha Centauri is a solar system with three suns that can be seen with the naked eye from night skies south of Tampa. The new planet orbits one of the suns, known as Alpha Centauri B, and it was detected by observing the effect of the planet&rsquo;s gravitational field on its surroundings over several years.</p><p>&ldquo;This is making us very happy,&rdquo; said Dan Joyce, the president of the Chicago Astronomical Society. He reminded us that the Alpha Centauri system was the implied setting of the sci-fi film Avatar. &ldquo;Maybe what they were doing with the movie Avatar was not all that wacky after all.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Exoplanet%20example.jpg" style="float: left; " title="Artist's impression of exoplanet Corot-7B, a hot planet that orbits close to its sun. (European Southern Observatory/L.Calcada) " /></p><p>Of course, the new planet would not make a good environment for humans, avatars, or any other life form. It orbits very close to its sun, and the surface temperature is around 1,200 degrees Celsius. But scientists often find that where there is one planet, there are more. In theory, another planet could be found in what is called the habitable zone, or the appropriate distance from a star to have a livable surface temperature.</p><p><strong>Extraterrestrial Implications</strong></p><p>Afron Smith said the pace of planet discovery has increased dramatically in recent years--and the discoveries have big implications for the search for life outside our solar system.</p><p>&ldquo;When I was ten, we didn&rsquo;t know of any planets going around any other stars apart from our own sun,&rdquo; he said. The first exoplanet was discovered in 1995.</p><p>Now, Smith said it&rsquo;s probable that a majority of stars in the universe have planetary systems. That&rsquo;s significant because the more planets researchers come across, the more likely it is that a planet somewhere out there resembles earth.</p><p>The discovery of exoplanets, Smith said, &ldquo;introduces questions about how many other civilizations there are in the universe. Are we particularly special as humans?&rdquo;</p><p>Was he talking about extraterrestrial life?</p><p>Yes, he was.</p><p>Planet-seeking is not only a crowd-sourced activity now. It&rsquo;s a key piece of the search for life beyond earth.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re interested in trying to work out how likely life is in the universe outside of our own solar system,&rdquo; Smith said, &ldquo;then this is a crucial factor.&rdquo;</p><p><em>To help search for new planets, go to www.planethunters.org.</em></p></p> Thu, 18 Oct 2012 16:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/two-new-planets-came-light-week-and-one-them-was-crowd-sourced-103221 Clever Apes #25: Curveballs from space http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-31/clever-apes-25-curveballs-space-95995 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-31/three galaxies.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope (NASA, ESA, M." class="caption" height="347" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-31/three galaxies.jpg" title="Clockwise and counterclockwise galaxies from the Hubble Telescope (NASA, ESA, M. Livio and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)" width="600"></p><p>Often in science, a new insight doesn’t fit in with the old patterns. That means something, of course, is wrong – either the fresh idea, or everything we thought we knew leading up to it. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider two of these curveballs. One has already rewritten the solar system's history. The other seemed, for a while, like it might mean the universe is either left-handed, or shaped like a small doughnut.</p><p>For starters, many of us learned in school that the solar system formed by a <a href="http://nineplanets.org/origin.html">nice, orderly process</a>. Tiny things gently coalesced into bigger objects, settling into this pleasant little arrangement of planets and moons. But now, scientists think it was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nice_model">probably a bloodbath</a>, with would-be planets snuffed out in cataclysmic collisions. In some parts of the solar system, as much as 99.9 percent of the material that was once there has been completely ejected from the solar system.</p><p><a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/researchcollections/researchers/#mh">Mark Hammergren</a>, Adler Planetarium astronomer and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/clever-apes-7-apes-space">Friend to the Apes</a>, is trying to recover that lost history. He’s searching for traces of planetesimals, a nearly extinct race of giant asteroids that were the seeds of our planets. Their story shows just how rough of a neighborhood the early solar system was. Jupiter, for example, probably lurched around like a bull in a china shop, its gravity knocking asteroids and planetoids into each other and, in many cases, out of orbit completely.</p><p>The fate of those ejected bodies leads to one of the most evocative consequences of this model of solar system formation: interstellar space could be thick with <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2072290,00.html">“rogue planets,”</a> whipping through the blackness. Some, says Hammergren, could even still be heated by their molten cores, leading to the speculative, but awesome, possibility that some could harbor life.</p><p>Second, the story of a curveball that threatened to topple some very basic ideas about space and time. Scientists, including the Adler’s <a href="http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/researchcollections/researchers/#chrislintott">Chris Lintott</a>, started several <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/">“citizen science” initiatives</a>, which enlist the help of tens of thousands of people at their home computers to help sort through data. In this case, they’re <a href="http://www.galaxyzoo.org/">categorizing pictures of galaxies </a>from the Hubble Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. People log on, look at a galaxy and enter its shape, orientation and, if it’s a spiral, which direction the arms are moving. Before long, Lintott noticed that they were getting significantly more counterclockwise galaxies than clockwise galaxies. This was a little scary.</p><p>There’s no reason there should be a bias toward one or the other, because it all depends, of course, on which way you look at the galaxy. If there is more of one kind than the other, that would have some very spooky implications (for example, the universe might be quite small and doughnut-shaped). It would require scientists to throw out well-established axioms about the universe.</p><p>So Lintott and his team worked to get to the bottom of this crazy observation. I won’t give away the punch line, but let’s just say the answer caused Lintott to invoke <a href="http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/fault-dear-brutus-our-stars">this quote </a>from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Click the “listen” button above for the whole story.&nbsp;</p><p>Lintott, by the way, is a fascinating fellow in his own right. Besides his gig at the Adler, he does research at Oxford, hosts a long-running series on the BBC called <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/features/skyatnight/aps/team.shtml"><em>The Sky at Night</em></a>, and even wrote a <a href="http://www.banguniverse.com/">book on cosmology </a>with the guitarist from Queen.</p><p>Anyway, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><img alt="Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitz" class="caption" height="450" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-31/use this hammergren.JPG" title="Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="600"></p></p> Tue, 31 Jan 2012 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-01-31/clever-apes-25-curveballs-space-95995 Clever Apes: Top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-December/2011-12-28/MDB logo 1.PNG" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" title=""></p><p>Here at Clever Apes, we’re big proponents of giving the people what they want. First off, I have decided that they want a one-hour Clever Apes special, with our favorite segments from 2011 all gift-wrapped into one apey package. I have chosen to be overwhelmed by a groundswell of public pressure for such a special, and have therefore answered the call that (I would guess) has rung out loud and clear. Click the “listen” button above to hear.</p><p>Secondly, based on our web traffic, what the people want are Top 5 and year-end lists. So here are our nominations for the top 5 Chicago science stories of 2011:</p><p><strong>5. Lab-grown neurons advance Alzheimer’s research</strong></p><p>A team at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has figured out <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-scientists-grow-neurons-stem-cells">how to grow a type of neuron </a>affected by Alzhemier’s Disease. Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons are crucial to retrieving memories. Thanks largely to the determination of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-03-16/clever-apes-brain-dish-83827">a grad student named Christopher Bissonette</a>, scientists can now make these cells to order based on human embryonic stem cells, or even artificially made stem cells. This could greatly speed up the testing of drug candidates, and could someday open up the possibility of transplanting healthy neurons into the stricken brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.</p><p><strong>4. New artifacts rewrite the history of human settlement in North America</strong></p><p>A major find in central Texas has largely overturned the long-dominant theory of when humans arrived in North America. For years, archaeologists believed that the first North Americans were the Clovis people, who showed up around 13,000 years ago. Cracks had been appearing in that theory, and the latest excavation may spell its end. The newly dated artifacts appear to be 15,000 years old. That insight comes partly from <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190">the lab of University of Illinois at Chicago professor Steven Forman</a>. He uses a technique called <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-07-26/clever-apes-15-trick-light-89684">luminescence dating</a>, which calculates when the last time deeply buried object was exposed to sunlight.</p><p><strong>3. Satellite discovers new worlds</strong></p><p>The <a href="http://kepler.nasa.gov/Mission/discoveries/">Kepler satellite mission </a>has had a huge year. To date it identified about 2,326 planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets. Recently it found the first known planet in the “habitable zone,” meaning it sits in a region where liquid water could exist. It also found the first known earth-sized planets, and earlier this year, a batch of multiple-planet solar systems, including <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astronomy/chicago-area-scientist-helps-discover-new-solar-system">one with six planets</a>. Batavia-based astrophysicist Jason Steffen is part of the Kepler team, and did much of the computational work behind the finds. It has also, coincidentally, been a big year for Steffen, who got much attention for experimental results supporting <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/astrophysicist-shows-why-it-takes-so-long-board-plane-91161">his theory on the best way to board an airplane.</a></p><p><strong>2. Chicago River gets less icky</strong></p><p>The Chicago River, long relegated to glorified sewage ditch, is poised to get a lot less disgusting. The water reclamation district, under pressure from state and federal environmental regulators, has <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/reversing-course-water-agency-backs-chicago-river-cleanup-87524">agreed to start disinfecting the effluent </a>that makes up most of the river system’s water. That represents a big about-face for the agency and a victory for environmentalists and river users (though the cost to homeowners, who will finance much of the project, remains a big question mark). The agency also recently <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/water-distrct-curb-raw-sewage-discharges-94902">agreed to curb discharges of raw sewage </a>into the river by committing to a timetable for completing the deep tunnel and reservoir project and beefing up green infrastructure. It will still be years before you can swim in the river without a Purell bath afterwards, but this year clearly marked a basic shift in how the region thinks about its waterways.</p><p><strong>1. The passing of the Tevatron</strong></p><p>For decades, Fermilab’s big particle collider kept the Chicago area (and the United States) at the frontier of high-energy physics. Finally, this year, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-27/clever-apes-19-godspeed-tevatron-92526">scientists pulled the plug </a>on one of the most remarkable machines ever constructed. The Tevatron gave scientists a clear look at the top quark, a fundamental building block of matter that had long eluded detection. It yielded a trove of insights into how the tiniest particles behave, pushed forward the search for the mysterious Higgs Boson, advanced superconducting technology and seeded its eventual usurper, the Large Hadron Collider. There’s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/whats-ahead-fermilab-without-massive-particle-collider-tevatron">lots more cutting-edge research unfolding at Fermilab, </a>but its longtime crown jewel is now an artifact on the prairie.</p><p>There you have it, 2011. Clever Apes will be back next year with lots more from the fascinating, odd and deeply human world of Chicago-area science. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p></p> Wed, 28 Dec 2011 20:21:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-12-28/clever-apes-top-5-chicago-science-stories-2011-95182 New insight into the origins of Mars http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-05-25/new-insight-origins-mars-87040 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-May/2011-05-25/Inner planets.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="From left to right, the relative sizes of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-25/Inner planets.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 261px;" title="From left to right, the relative sizes of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. "></p><p>Scientists have delivered us another origin story today: about the formation of the planet Mars. New research from a Chicago scientist suggests the red planet developed in just a fraction of the time it took Earth, and effectively had its growth stunted.</p><p>Nicolas Dauphas says Mars is actually a planet embryo, in a state of arrested development. The University of Chicago professor says planets like Earth and Venus formed as several embryos collided and fused. Mars, though, grew rapidly from one original hunk of material.</p><p>“We think it took approximately 50 million years to grow a planet like Earth,” said Dapuhas. “And the result of our study shows that Mars grew in only two million years.”</p><p>The explanation might account for Mars’ small size – about one-tenth the mass of Earth.</p><p>Dauphas studied Martian meteorites and, by testing for certain isotopes, was able to essentially date when Mars’ core separated from its outer layers. His findings suggest that scientists can look to Mars to better understand the building blocks of Earth. The results are out today in the journal, Nature.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA today announced that it has officially given up on the tough little Martian rover, Spirit. The high-tech dune-buggy-meets-Johnny-Five roamed Mars’s surface for six years, far longer than its designers ever imagined. In the process, it sent back stunning photos and plenty of data that scientists will be gnawing on for years.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="The rover Spirit delivered stunning photos of the Martian surface. (NASA)" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-25/spirit photo.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 229px;" title="The rover Spirit delivered stunning photos of the Martian surface. (NASA)"></p><p>NASA is still in touch with Spirit’s sibling, Opportunity. Meanwhile, they’re also toiling away on the next Mars rover, Curiosity, set to launch later this year. As Dave Chapelle put it, MARS, um, folks.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/iRygA_sM6lM" width="480"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 25 May 2011 20:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-05-25/new-insight-origins-mars-87040 Chicago-area scientist helps discover new solar system http://www.wbez.org/story/astronomy/chicago-area-scientist-helps-discover-new-solar-system <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/511895main_Kepler-11_IntroShot_full.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Astronomers have spotted <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/new_planetary_system.html">a six-planet solar system</a> orbiting a star similar to the Sun. It&rsquo;s part of <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?collection_id=14471&amp;media_id=58885371">a huge crop of new planets</a> discovered by a team that includes a Chicago-area scientist.</p><p>Most planets previously discovered outside our own solar system have been loners. But a big data dump released this week from NASA&rsquo;s Kelper mission includes a whole bunch of multi-planet systems. <a href="http://home.fnal.gov/~jsteffen/">Jason Steffen</a>, a researcher at Fermilab who helped analyze the data, said he, for one, was surprised.</p><p>&ldquo;I was expecting maybe a handful of systems with two,&rdquo; Steffen said. &ldquo;I wasn&rsquo;t expecting to see a hundred systems with two and fifty with three.&rdquo;</p><p>The real standout is Kepler-11. It&rsquo;s the most crowded solar system ever found, besides our own. Steffen said that made it hard to untangle all the information.</p><p>&ldquo;We had to kind of rewrite some of our software so we could handle a system this large,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Kepler-11&rsquo;s six planets range from twice the size of earth up to the size of Neptune. They&rsquo;re all too hot to be good candidates for sustaining life. The Kelper telescope spots planets by detecting minute dimming as they pass in front of their stars.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 03 Feb 2011 22:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/astronomy/chicago-area-scientist-helps-discover-new-solar-system Clever Apes #7: Apes in space http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/clever-apes-7-apes-space <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/Hynek CE3K.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/tarnold/Desktop/MER%201-31-11/rsz_6100114.jpg" /><img alt="" style="width: 498px; height: 280px;" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-28/Hynek CE3K.jpg" /></p><p style="text-align: center; "><sup>J. Allen Hynek makes his cameo in &quot;Close Encounters of the Third Kind.&quot; </sup></p><p style="text-align: left;">Few things have changed humanity&rsquo;s self-image in quite the same way as human space travel. Whether it&rsquo;s seeing that <audio class="mediaelement-formatter-identified-1328075126-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever Apes_7_Apes in Spce.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p></p> Mon, 31 Jan 2011 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/clever-apes-7-apes-space