Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Apocalypse Later, Surf Now, An Apocalyptic Surf Music Video

Posted by YouTube user: keef70
Music: The Whales by The Mermen

Surfing, doesn't even come close to making the list of things I've EVER had an interest in. I hate the beach, I don't swim, I don't like the sun. But hey, throw in an aerial battle of apocalyptic proportions, and suddenly, you have my interest. Love this.

I still don't care about the surfing thought.


Kepler Finds 3 Smallest Exoplanets

Just this December, NASA announced they had confirmed Kepler's detection of the two smallest exoplanets ever discovered, Kepler 20 e and Kepler 20 f, orbiting around the star Kepler 20, located 950 light years from Earth in the Lyra constellation. Both planets were estimated to be roughly the size of Earth, Kepler 20 f, being the largest of the two with an estimated diameter of around 13,200 km. Well, It's a mere month later now and it appears that three new planets have arisen to take the title of smallest known exoplanets for themselves.

Found orbiting the small red dwarf star KOI-961, which is located 130 light years from Earth, in the Cygnus constellation. KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02 and KOI-961.03 (I know, I wish they'd find a better way of naming these things too) are all believed to be rocky planets about the same size as Earth, the smallest of the three being about the size as Mars. So not only are the planets in this trio the smallest exoplanets yet discovered. But they now join the ranks of the very short list of confirmed exoplanets that are believed to be rocky worlds like our own, as well.

As for the BIG question that's always on every one's mind whenever any extra solar planet is discovered. According to NASA, the proximity to which these newly discovered worlds are believed to orbit their parent star, would it impossible for them to maintain surface liquids, and therefore -unlikely homes for life.


Image Credit: NASA/JPL
VIA: jpl.nasa.gov

This is Aperture

Posted by YouTube user:Harry101UK

So ya, this has been embedded in my brain since I first heard it a few days ago, and now, it’s in yours.

You’re welcome.


IBM researchers store one bit of magnetic information in just 12 atoms

Posted by YouTube user: IBMResearchAlmaden

Thanks to the adoption of what is today known as Moore's law as the industry standard for development, computer processing power doubles around once every 18 months. This rate of development is primarily maintained through the gradual miniaturization of various components within modern computers. But simply shrinking components down to create denser storage and faster processors, though obviously a highly successful model for development up to this point, has it's limits. Simply put, once this gradual miniaturization reaches the atomic level, it's game over. Which is why researchers at IBM, recently decided to try a different approach. Rather than shrinking the components themselves, developers found a way of storing the data itself in smaller spaces, 1 bit in just 12 atoms, to be specific.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sometimes I take Pictures

Been having a hard time concentrating on anything this weekend, consequently, no posts thus far. But I did take some pictures, this is one of them.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Archie Mcphee's Cult of Unicorn And Magical Unicorn Mask

From this week's Compendium:

Are you honest, forthright with the truth, and maybe a little weird? Well then you too might be a secrete Unicorn! And have I got the cult for you. No, I’m not talking about those creepy otherkin kids, they’ve obviously got issues. But not you. YOU are a SECRETE UNICORN. And now there’s a magical unicorn mask that you can wear to let the world know your true self!

Still not sure if the Cult of Unicorn is right for you? Find out now by reading the COU manifesto, HERE.


Image credit: Archie Mcphee

VIA:laughing Squid

Chris Dodd and The MPAA

Posted by Youtube user: TheYoungTurks

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

For me, this was the single most infuriating and insulting revelation to arise from the SOPA protests. Not the statement itself, which is so obviously inconsistent with reality that it's not really worth spending time on, but the realization that the messenger was a former senator who somehow managed to retire directly into a million dollar a year job as the CEO of a major corporation. A former senator that is now lobbying his friends and former co-workers in the government to grant his new employer greater legal protection. How much more obvious can the point possibly be made that the only "pawns" working in the name of corporations, are shills like Chris Dodd, and his counter parts in our government?


Dodd's statement via: MPAA.org

Happy Sunday - Behemoth: Lucifer

Posted by Youtube user: Behemothofficial

In case you missed my previous posts about them, the Polish Black/Death Metal band Behemoth, is pretty much one of my most favorite things EVER. And since today is Sunday and I can't help but feel the need to post something evil and blasphemic on Sundays, I give you "Lucifer"! They lyrics are all in Polish this time around -Yes, that is the only reason you can't understand them- so here's the translation. You can also view the uncensored version of the video, HERE.



Friday, January 20, 2012

Herschel's Revisit of The Pillars of Creation

Alright, let's take a break from the SOPA/Internet censorship debacle, for something that isn't depressing and awful. The ESA's Herschel space observatory's revisit of the Eagle Nebula, or "Pillars of Creation" as it has been dubbed.

The rest of the text in this entry comes from the HSO website.

In 1995, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took an iconic image of the Eagle nebula, dubbed the "Pillars of Creation," highlighting its finger-like pillars where new stars are thought to be forming. Now, the Herschel Space Observatory has a new, expansive view of the region captured in longer-wavelength infrared light.

The Herschel mission is led by the European Space Agency, with important NASA contributions.

The Eagle nebula is 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens. It contains a young, hot star cluster, NGC6611, visible with modest backyard telescopes, which is sculpting and illuminating the surrounding gas and dust. The result is a huge, hollowed-out cavity and pillars, each several light-years long.

The new Herschel image shows the pillars and the wide field of gas and dust around them. Captured in far-infrared wavelengths, the image allows astronomers to see inside the pillars and structures in the region. Herschel's image also makes it possible to search for young stars over a much wider region, and come to a much fuller understanding of the creative and destructive forces inside the Eagle nebula.

VIA: Herschel Space Observatory

SOPA is dead, long live SOPA

Moments after publishing the last entry on the subject, I logged on to my twitter feed to discover that SOPA, had officially been declared dead. Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of of the bill, said today he's pulling the legislation, “until there is wider agreement on a solution.” PIPA, has also been pulled off the table, for now.

Smith was also careful to stress hi s that the rampant theft of "American inventions and products" by foreign entities through online piracy was an economically crippling problem that must be addressed, saying:

We need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products. “The problem of online piracy is too big to ignore. American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60% of U.S. exports. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

"American innovators and job creators", that's politician for industry and corporations. But hey, they're people too, right?

As I pointed out before, there is no denying that online piracy, international and otherwise does exist, and should be addressed. But as far as American laws are concerned, I believe the issue of copyright protection is more than fairly addressed. And that the American innovators and intellectual property owners Smith and others who supported his legislation claim they're trying to defend would all be far better served if individuals were once again given favor over corporations by making the ability to defend intellectual property rights -like every other thing in America today- more than a matter of who can afford to purchase a better defense team.

As for international piracy, it seems fairly obvious to me that any solution in that arena is an issue of trade and international law, and not an acceptable excuse for tightening domestic penalties and walling off the Internet.

Look, I think it's great that we all managed to make enough noise to postpone the crippling of the Internet. But as I said before, I believe it's only a delay of the inevitable, as is clearly indicated by Smith's open-ended statements. So even if PIPA, or some slightly less virulent strain of the SOPA virus doesn't return, then republican Darrell Issa's OPEN Act (Ooh, OPEN, that means it's protecting an open Internet right? just like Mccain's internet freedom act sought to free us all from the tyranny of net neutrality right? Politicians are so clever.) or some other inbred sibling of the two, will. And whatever does come next, I personally believe it will come with same "unintended consequences" as these two. But I guess we'll all just have to wait and see.


Source: venturebeat.com
Image credit: Getty images

SOAPA/PIPA and Wednesday's Blackout

Posted by Youtube user: TheAlyonaShow

So as you may have noticed, much of the Internet went "dark" Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA, two bills set to go before congress and the senate that are, according to the entertainment industry which sponsored them, meant to be an attempt to curb online piracy of copyrighted content in other countries. As someone who once intended to create art for a living, and someone who still hopes to turn intellectual property into a source of revenue, I've got a lot to say about all this. So it looks like we'll be doing the "theme" thing again after all. But I can sum up my over all feeling about SOPA and it's ugly bastard cousin PIPA, fairly simply: it's all bullshit.

The truth about both bills, as seems to always be the case these days, is that both pieces of legislation WILL HAVE the exact opposite effect of what they claim. They are designed to stifle creativity, innovation, and free speech, to cripple independent artists and more importantly, the entertainment (old media) industries biggest competitor and otherwise soon to be replacement, the the Internet(new media). Because the independence provided by the Internet allows an artist, not only the freedom to create what they want, the way they want, and for exactly the audience they want, but the ability to actually get paid for their efforts without having to financially rape their audience to do it. Simply put, old media really is hemorrhaging money. But not because were stealing their precious content, because we, along with the creators they used to enslave, are generating our own, and making them obsolete.

Don't get me wrong, I think piracy is bad and if you support it, you should stop. Not because you're hurting the industry, fuck the industry. You should stop because the artists and performers you love, even the one's you may already perceive as rich and successful, are already getting screwed by the industry as it is, as they always have. Which is why so many of them have turned to "new media"; and if you're not already, you should be rewarding them for that. And because art and personal expression, as well innovation, all grow and progress most successfully when given the ability to do so freely, while still protecting the rights of the creators. In other words, no copyright restriction is just as bad as too much. Government intrusion into your life, on the other hand, is always bad. And giving the old media empires the ability to call on the power of the justice department to protect it's product, even in the name of an infraction as minor as simply linking to a page that contains unlicensed material, is far from providing the copyright holder reasonable protection, and opens the door to a host of further restrictions and intrusions into our lives that none of needs.

SOPA, PIPA, censorship, and the regulation of the Internet, it should go without saying, are all complicated issues. Issues that I can't even hope to fully inform anyone about in a month's worth of blog posts, much less a single entry, and really isn't my place to try. like you, I'm just some guy on the Internet who doesn't want to see the freedom and opportunity it provides us hobbled in the name of control. All I can really do, is share my personal opinions and interpretations and encourage you, if you haven't done so already, to take the time to actually read and understand as much of these bills and the clones that will follow them, and the consequences such regulations will have, as you possibly can ( and the above video isn't a bad place to start). Because, while Wednesday's protests were enough to knock a few supporters of these bills and push voting on them back a few weeks, they will return, and others will take their place. Because the government wants to control information, what you see and hear and how, and old media wants to do the same to preserve their bottom line, and they're working together to achieve that goal.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Creepy-weird Japanese thing of the week: Hatsune Miku, The World’s First Holographic Pop Star

Posted by Youtube user: SeyrenLK

So this week’s Creepy-Weird thing from japan is a little more on the weird side then the creepy. But Leave it to Japan to make the worlds first synthetic pop star, and to form said pop star, in the uber-cute, uncomfortably-sexualized-schoolgirl motif, that we’ve all come to know and love.

Hatsune was created by Crypton Future Media as the face of vocaloid, a Yamaha created technology, which gives music composers the ability to synthesize singing by simply typing in lyrics and melody. Exit Tunes Presents Vocalogenesis feat. Hatsune Miku, became the first vocaloid album to top the Japanese weekly Oricon album charts, in 2010.

Hatsune had already begun “performing” live in holographic form before her album even made the charts. In August 0f 2009, Hatsune appeared “live” on stage for the first time at the Saitama Super Arena. A performance soon followed up with an overseas appearance, on November 21, 2009, in Singapore.

And my friends wounder why I gave up trying to become a musician.


VIA:Compendium of Strange

Heterosexual Marriage and 200 Foreskins

Posted by Youtube user: HighpantsResistance

So once again the pope and all his friends have had their say on the evils of gay marriage and the dire moral importance of maintaining the sanctity of so-called traditional unions. But what is it exactly that makes the biblical traditions associated with heterosexual marriage so morally supperior anyway? To answer that question, I give you volume two of "The Tutor". Which recounts a heart warming biblical tale (1 Samuel 18) of love, a possible gay affair between the bible's David and king Saul's son Jonathan, and an epic quest for foreskins.



Looking For Life on Titan

For my final life on other worlds themed entry, no really, I promise, I have saved my favorite object within our own solar system, for last. And if for some reason it strikes as odd that I might actually have a favorite such object, well then you've clearly underestimated just how much of a geek I truly am. The alien world to which I am referring in this case is Saturn's sixth moon, Titan. Which, if you're unfamiliar, is an amazing place.

False color image of Titan's Sea of Ligeia

Like most objects in the outer solar system, Titan is a frigid place, one where surface temperatures regularly dip down to a frosty -300 degrees F. But unlike any other known planetary satellite, Titan is veiled in a thick atmosphere, a soupy, haze of methane and nitrogen that allows for the formation of, amongst other things, weather patterns. Titan's atmosphere is so dense, in fact, that it effectively shielded the moon's surface from the view of probes until the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft and it's companion Hyugens lander, in 2004. The data and images Cassini collected, as well as the images hyugens managed to return during its brief life on Titan's surface, revealed what is without a doubt the most spectacular and Earth-like features of Titan- standing lakes, rivers, and even seas, of what is believed to be liquid methane and ethane, and a landscape which seemed to bear clear evidence of liquid erosion.

It goes without saying, that there are obviously major fundamental differences between our own world and Titan, but the more we learn about it, the clearer it becomes that this distant moon really is, in many ways, a mirror-image of Earth. Which is why some scientists have begun to speculate that if so many other processes could be mirrored using alternative chemistry -such as methane and ethane taking the place of water in it's weather cycle- why couldn't life do the same?

To be clear, there is as of yet no confirmed evidence of life of any form on this distant moon. But several papers analyzing data collected by the Cassini craft emerged last year, which described the seeming disappearance of hydrogen from the moon's atmosphere, as well as a lack of acetylene on it's surface. Theories have suggested that methane-based life, if it were to exist, would likely consume both hydrogen and acetylene as part of it's natural biological process. Such a methanogenic life form is, of course, entirely theoretical at this point, and some as of yet unidentified chemical process is much more likely to proven as the ultimate source of the missing materials. But, as always, there remains a chance that these apparent chemical anomalies could be the sign of an entirely new form of life, on a world some 890 million miles away from our own.

Though all suggestion of life on any world other than our own remains entirely speculative at this point, Titan, along with all the other worlds I have mentioned in this series of entries, are just a few of the known places, even within our own solar system, that could potentially serve as home for some basic form of life. And with the continued discovery of exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zones of distant stars and even the still fairly recent revelation that oxygen and water are far more abundant on other worlds than was previously believed, the notion that life too -basic life anyway, intelligent life is a whole other story- will eventually prove to be equally common place, seems a reasonable conclusion. For now of course, we'll all just have to wait and see.


Image credit: NASA/JPL

Gay Marriage a Threat to Humanity's Future, So sayeth The Pope

Posted by Youtube user: fraserdldavidson

Earlier this week, every one's favorite pointy-hatted pontiff decided to share a little of his organization's trademark brand of ignorance and bigotry with the world. I don't want to give his statements too much time, since he does already have the world stage at his disposal, and really it's all just more of the usual tired crap. I'm speaking of course of the pope, his most recent statements on gay marriage, and the obligatory warnings of the fiery-doom the growing acceptance of said practice will no doubt unleash upon the world- we all know the song by now. But just for fun, here are the highlights from the holy one's speech:

"pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman." - "This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,"-and- "The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and states; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue,"

Not mentioned in Ratz's speech as being of any particular threat to humanity's future, "social cohesion", or even basic human decency: The continued spread of AIDS through impoverished nations (thanks in part to the chruch's continuing refusal to allow followers to use of condoms), the endless waging of wars in the name of invisible tyrants, or the idea that 1.3 billion people might take moral advice from an organization that knowingly shields pedophiles from prosecution. But hey, if you're gonna save the world, you gotta start somewhere right? And tackling that whole harboring pedophiles thing would be really embarrassing for the church, and we can't have that now can we?

The reality is, as anyone whose taken so much a second to rationally consider the issue knows, that the idea of gay marriage somehow undermining the sanctity of "traditional marriage, much less the future of humanity- is nonsense. As is the myth of the "Traditional family unit". Because as many of us well know first hand, what defines a family changes over time along with the changing values of the individuals within said family, and the society in which that family lives. And in the end, that's what this is really all about. It's not about saving humanity or even hating gay people. What the pope, his cronies, and the rest of the family values crowd are really doing whenever they start crowing about anything, is trying to preserve the authority of a belief system that was conceived of over two millenia ago. A system that has long since outlived it's relevance, and is now rightfully being slowly thrown away as humanity continues to progress and leave it's, backwards, idiotic ideals, and outdated sense of morality behind. And that's the only real danger to humanity here, the fact that were not throwing religion away fast enough.


Source: reuters.com

Newly Identified Lake on Europa Could Increase The Odds it Harbors Life

Though I have concluded that I am not a huge fan of the whole theme-week thing, as I suspected I would not be. There were at least two other planets I had intended to get to during last week's little experiment. Both are places that I think are particularly exciting worlds to ponder because of the unique set of conditions on each. And since it is my blog...

At first glance, Jupiter's sixth closest moon would seem to be a near featureless, dead ball of ice, hardly the kind of place most would think of as being hospitable to life. But there's an ever growing body of evidence which clearly suggests that beneath it's icy surface, there is a deep sea of liquid water with an estimated volume of two to three times that of all the oceans on Earth, covering Europa's rocky interior. Most recently, researches analyzing data collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1995-2003, identified what they believe to be signs of a body of water about the size of the great lakes sitting just a few miles beneath the planet's surface.

Then there are the dark lines which form the moon's most prominent features, which are actually deep cracks in the ice shell which covers it. Those cracks are believed to be formed by the gravitational pull of Jupiter essentially stretching and squeezing the planet like a rubber ball, causing the ice to crack and in turn, allowing warm salty water to flow up from beneath and fill them. Some theorize that process alone could generate enough heat to sustain a liquid ocean beneath Europa's ice sheets. But even if not, other processes like thermal venting from within the planet's core could also be contributing heat, as well as various minerals into the watery subsurface, minerals which could potentially aid in the development of life. There isn't yet any way of knowing for sure weather or not any of this is true of course. The idea that life might exist on Europa if it is, is a particularly speculative one. But it does make for an undeniably interesting thought experiment; trying to visualize how life might have developed on a world where ice becomes the atmosphere that shields you from the radiation of the sun, the vacuum of space, and serves to hold in the heat needed to sustain your existence. A world devoid of light, where there is no such thing as open air, and no way to leave the water into which you were born.

If there is life on Europa, it's a safe bet that it isn't advanced enough to ponder it's existence. But it's also within the realm of possibility to think that if there is life on the frozen moon, it might have managed to develop into something more complex than the types of microbial life we're most likely to find Mars. The odds are admittedly against such a thing on either account. But it's still cool to think about.


Source: Wired Science
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mormons and Magic Underwear

Posted by Youtube user: TheThinkingAtheist (Love this Channel BTW, and if you haven’t before, you should go there now.)

I really need to get around to doing a whole entry on Mormonism one of these days. Particularly with the terrifying threat of potential future president Mitt Romney looming in the darkness of our current reality.But let’s be honest, all anyone really wants to know about is the magic underwear. Well, that and the polygamy. Which one might logically assume to be directly tied to said magic underwear in some way, but it isn’t. Besides, once you get to the “enchanted undergarment” portion of any particular view of reality, do you really need any more information to make up your mind about the validity of said view?

I certainly don't.


VIA: Left Hemispheres

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Looking for Life on Mars: Mars Science Lab

So now we've covered the search for life in distant solar systems, as well the ongoing search for evidence of water on the Martian surface. But what about life on the red planet? Is it possible that Mars may have once been, or that it might even still be, home to some form of life? The answer to both questions would seem to be a definitive- maybe.

As far as we know, life has only ever managed to development once in our solar system. But if Mars really was, once upon a time- the wet world that all of the evidence seems to suggests it to have been, it's seems likely that some form basic life may have arisen. But that of course, is all speculation. Because, although past missions to the red planet have managed to confirm the presence of water on the planet in the form of ice deposits, a compelling amount of evidence of water, both past and present, we have yet to find any evidence of life itself. But that's probably because past missions to the planet haven't really been properly equipped to look.

Enter, The Mars Science Lab.

Launched November 26, of last year, the car sized MSL -which is also being referred to as the Curiosity- rover is slated to touch down on Mars in August of 2012; assuming of course the experimental landing system which is to be used to land the largest rover yet sent to the planet manages to do it's job. MSL is actually housed within a saucer-like platform being referred to as a sky crane. This sky crane, is designed to fire it's own set of rockets and hover just above the Martian surface, while -hopefully- gently lowering the rover down to the planet's surface on a set of wires. If all goes well, the rover will then spend the next 23 months studying, among other things, Mars' climate, geology and, most excitingly, looking for the chemical signs of life.

While MSL is not designed to search for any specific form of life, it is the first probe ever sent to the planet with the express purpose of looking for the chemical building blocks of life on it's list of mission objectives.


Source: Wired Science

Check out today's video from NASA's Jest Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), for a more detailed explanation of the rover's landing procedure, and inner workings.

Posted by Youtube user: JPLnews

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Year of Gunplay With FreddieW

Posted by Youtube user:Freddiew

Between parent companies pulling videos off the net, and conspiracy theorists barely coherent videos about photographic anomalies, supposed alien civilizations, and that whole Bigfoot on Mars thing, it was actually surprisingly hard to find any good fact-based videos on Mars. So instead, let's abandon our life on other worlds theme for a moment, and enjoy some fun with guns, and FreddieW.



The Growing Evidence for Mars' Watery Past

From questioning the probability of life of distant worlds, we turn to evidence of life, past or present, on worlds within our own solar system. Beginning with a look at the mounting evidence suggesting that Mars may, at the very least, have once been home to one of the key elements to the development of life as we understand it, Water.

In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, was the first to suggest that water may have once flowed on the Martian surface, after observing what he described as canals or "Canali", crisscrossing the planet's surface. Years later, in 1895, astronomer Percival Lowell, concluded that Schiaparelli's canals, must have been the work of a once great Martian civilization. Though we all now know that no such civilization ever existed on the red planet, and that even the canals themselves don't actually exist. Today, the consensus amongst planetary scientists still seems to be that Mars was once a wet world, much more similar to our own than it is today.

Observations made in recent years during various missions to Mars, have revealed, amongst other things, the presence of Jarosite -a mineral formed in the presence of highly acidic water- as well as gypsum, and other water-based minerals on the Martian surface. In 2008, the Pheonix lander confirmed the presence of water ice just beneath the soil in the planet's southern hemisphere. And in August of last year, images from the HRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter, seemed to suggest that small amounts of salt water might still be seeping out from just beneath the planets soil.

A series of dark trails were observed radiating down from the edges of steep slopes of Mars' Newton Basin crater in the planet's southern hemisphere. Evidence suggested those lines may have been created by small amounts of salt water -lying frozen on or just beneath the soil- melting in the heat of the sun, and then trickling down the basin slopes. However, no one actually saw the water itself and instruments on board the MRO also failed to detect the presence of water in the Martian atmosphere. So the actual cause of those mysterious dark lines, remains inconclusive.

But the most recent, and what is being described as the most unambiguous evidence yet seen for the presence of liquid water in Mars' past, came in December of last year with the announcement that the Opportunity rover had discovered a small vein of Gypsum (seen in the false-color image to the left) just above the bedrock around the rim of Mars' Endeavor crater. Unlike previous detections of the mineral in the loose sands of various dunes, this newly found deposit -which is only 16 - 20 inches long, and about the width of a human thumb- was found in a fixed state, right where it was originally formed. A fact which Opportunity's principal investigator Steve Squyres, referred to as a; "slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,".

Normally, this would be the part where I warn you not to get to excited about the implications of such findings. And like any other new scientific discovery, this one will require multiple confirmations before it truly becomes an accepted fact. But it does, to my completely uneducated eye, seem as though the Phoenix rover's latest find is in fact another major step towards the absolute confirmation of Mars' watery past. Which would obviously have profound implications where the potential for life on the red planet -past or present- is concerned. But then again, I know as much about geology, as I do the ancient Mongolian art of fish-juggling. Which is to say nothing, since I just made that whole fish-juggling thing up. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


Source: NASA/JPL
Image credits: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Cornel/ASU

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Planetquest: A Historic Timeline of the Search for Exoplanets

Posted by Youtube user: Best0fScience

If you'd like to learn more about the history of the search for exoplanets, check out this video from Planetquest, which gives a detailed account of exactly that. Chances are, the search for worlds outside our own solar system has been going on for longer than you think.


You can checkout more videos from Planetquest HERE.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Exoplanets Everywhere: Kepler's ongoing Search for Other Worlds

Artists depiction of Kepler 11, a system with 6 known planets.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft was designed to search a portion of the milky way for sings of other worlds. More specifically, Kepler specializes in searching for earth sized planets which, because of their relatively small size, are much more difficult to detect than the giants that have typically been identified in the past. Since it's launch, Kepler has managed to identify a total of 2, 326 potential planets orbiting around other stars in the in the tiny swatch of the Milky Way it's been tasked with searching.

When an object of a significant enough size passes in front of any star within Kepler's field of view (that's about 150,000, in case you were wondering), it causes a dip in the magnitude of light being emitted by the star. Revealing, not only the presence of any extrasolar planets around said star, but also the distance at which those planets orbit their parent star. This method of detection is commonly referred to as the transit method, and like any other method of detecting such planets, requires multiple observations for confirmation.

In the latest wave of confirmed observations, NASA announced that Kepler had identified the two smallest planets ever confirmed around another star; Kepler20-e (Diameter:11,100 km (6900 miles) and Kepler 20f (Diameter:13,200 km (8200 miles). Found in orbit around the star Kepler 20, located 950 light years from Earth in the Lyra constellation, these newly discovered Earth-sized planets join 3 other known planets in the system (Kepler 20, a,b, and c), all of which are closer in size to Neptune or Uranus. Though Kepler 20 e and f may in fact be the closet size match to Earth yet discovered, the proximity around which they orbit their parent star -which is extremely similar in size and intensity to our own sun- means they'd have average surface temperatures in the range of 800 -1400 degrees F. Making them both far from Earth-like, where their potential for habitation is concerned. That title may actually belong to another newly discovered planet that was also revealed just this month: Kepler 22b.

Found Orbiting the class G star Kepler 22, which is located around 600 light years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. Planet Kepler 22b, was found to have a 290 day orbital cycle, which places the planet within what we have defined as the habitable zone of its parent star; which is lower in mass, and cooler than our own sun. But there's a catch. While the planet's diameter is estimated to be around 2.4 times that of Earth's, the actual mass of the planet is impossible to determine based on Kepler's observations alone. So it's impossible to say weather or not Kepler 22b is a rocky planet like Earth, or gaseous ball like Jupiter and Saturn. But if it is a world like our own, and assuming that it also has the proper atmosphere Kepler 22b would have an estimated average surface temperature of around 72 degrees F. Which would make it not only the most Earth-like world yet discovered, but also the most likely home for life as we know it outside of our own solar system. The prospect is obviously tantalizing.

To date, scientists have confirmed the existence of over 500 exoplanets * using Kepler, The Hubble Space Telescope, and various other observational techniques. As time goes on, even more discoveries will be made, and long term observations will slowly scratch all of the potential candidates off Kepler's list; possibly resulting in the confirmed discovery of several thousand more worlds orbiting stars light years away from our own. And while it will likely be some time before we ever definitively confirm that conditions on one those planets is conducive to life. The apparent abundance of stars with planetary systems would seem to suggest that it's only a matter of time before we do. And even if we can't say for certain that there's life on any of those planets, to think that we live in a time when discovering worlds in other star systems has become common place, is astonishing, to say the least.


Source: NASA1, NASA2
Image credit: Kepler 11- NASA/Tim Pyle, Kepler 20e, 20 f, and 22b- NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

*The exact number of confirmed exoplanets was actually kind of hard to nail down, The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia claims 716. But the most common figure I found was in the 500-600 range.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Let The Reboot Begin...

Posted by Youtube user: melodysheep

So the holidays are finally over, the new year has begun, and a long holiday break has allowed me a chance to reevaluate my goals for the site, as well time to sit down and comb through all of the cool science news I missed while I was away. And while I don't want to inundate you with too much news you've likely already heard, turns out, the past few months have been filled with all kinds of awesome space news- particularly where the search for potential homes for life outside our own world, and even our own solar system is concerned. The Kepler spacecraft in particular has been very busy. And so, I have devised something of a theme for my first week back, in part to organize my thoughts and help get myself back into "the groove" of writing on a regular basis. But mostly because I have an abundance of material to choose from, and much of that material just so happens to fit a particular theme. So if you're not a big fan of themes, don't worry, I don't plan on making a habit of this.

But before we get into the theme for the week. I wanted to take one more moment to discuss the blog itself. While there likely won't be any earth shattering changes to the overall look and theme of the site,I do intend to experiment with the content a bit over the next few weeks and I am considering a variety of options for expanding the site; which I'll get into more when and if I get to them. The ultimate goal of any future changes are: 1) To try and make generating said content a bit easier on myself; and 2) To find a more entertaining, accessible, and hopefully unique, way of delivering information, in an effort to better distinguish this site from all the other science blogs on the net- and I do primarily consider this a science blog- and maybe lure in a larger audience.

But don't worry, that doesn't mean that I'm turning the page into one of those boring, technical, science only sites that many of you likely avoid like the plague; Because, frankly- I'm not smart enough for that. In fact, my goal with this reboot of the blog is to try and find a better way of integrating the strange, geeky and (hopefully) entertaining, with the intellectual and philosophical pursuits, that occupy the majority of the space in my brain. Basically, I'm planning on making this more of a personal page than it has thus far been. Because, despite my inactivity over the last few months, I find writing for this site deeply satisfying. And with a variety changes going on in my personal life -which I may get into more in the future, assuming you actually care to hear about that sort of thing- I have decided, definitively, that I would like to find a way to make promoting science, critical thinking, and a rational world view, what I do with my life; or at the very least, a large part of it. And while I admit that a failed musician and high school drop out who just happens to have a fetish for rationalism and science, is probably not be the best person to promote those ideals, if I can understand them, and be passionate about them, anyone can.


Up next: Exoplanets Everywhere: Kepler's ongoing search for new worlds

Today's video, "A glorious Dawn", was created by Symphony of science, and is without question, one of my favorite things ever. You can, and should, go check out the rest of their musical offerings, by following the links provided.