By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
New research suggests our galaxy alone may be filled with billions of planets—literally
Use your cursor to scroll over the planets above.
Just 20 years ago, astronomers didn’t know if there were any planets at all outside our own solar system—whether other places like Earth, which is brimming with life, are common, exceedingly rare or even non-existent. Two years ago, NASA scientists announced that, using the powerful Kepler space telescope, they’d found well over 1,000 new planets, more than doubling the number they’d previously known about. It was a stunning revelation, but few people realized, even then, that this was just the beginning.
Astronomers now believe our galaxy alone is filled with literally billions of planets—maybe even more planets than stars. There are at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way, and some think that estimate is conservative. Some are more bizarre than anything dreamed up in science fiction: diamond worlds and double-sunned worlds, and worlds where another planet hangs in the sky like our moon. Others are eerily similar to Earth. A few of them, like a newly found planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, just 4.3 light years away, are tantalizingly close. That planet is nearer to its host star than Mercury is to our sun, and would be blisteringly hot—far too hot for life as we know it. But where there’s one planet, there are often several, and astronomers are scouring the skies around Alpha Centauri for more worlds in our own cosmic backyard. Continue…
By Jessica Allen - Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
Astronomers how think our galaxy is filled with billions of planets. Kate Lunau on the Biggest Discovery Ever
Astronomers recently discovered that our galaxy is filled with billions of planets. Now the race is on to see how fast we can get there.
In this podcast, Maclean’s writer Kate Lunau talks with Jessica Allen about Maclean’s cover story this week: The Biggest Discovery Ever.
Hear them discuss the possibility of interstellar space travel. Find out about the search for life-sustaining planets and what scientists are doing right now to get us to another star. Listen to Lunau explain what the discovery of a Tatooine-like planet that revolves around more than one sun could mean for Stars Wars fans across the galaxy.
Lunau’s feature story is in the current issue of Maclean’s, now on newsstands. Watch for it on the site next week.
While you listen to the podcast, use your cursor to scroll over the planets below.
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 11:39 PM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – A number of astronomers around the world watched closely Wednesday as the…
MONTREAL – A number of astronomers around the world watched closely Wednesday as the asteroid named Apophis swept past Earth.
The asteroid is of particular interest as research has suggested there is a remote possibility it could collide with the planet in 2036.
Sky watchers were able to view live images online Wednesday of the asteroid passing by, this time at a safe distance.
Over the next few days, Apophis, which is just over 300 metres in diameter, will come within only 15 million kilometres of the Earth.
While that’s far beyond the orbit of the moon and far enough away not to cause any concern, scientists say it will come even closer in 16 years.
Andrew Fazekas, a spokesman for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, said the asteroid will pass about 30,000 kilometres above the Earth in 2029.
Fazekas said research done on near-Earth asteroids has shown there’s a small chance there could be an impact with Apophis when it comes around again in April 2036.
But he added that further calculations need to be done because the asteroid’s orbit could be changed slightly by the gravitational pull from the Earth after this year’s visit.
People were able to go online at slooh.com and view the asteroid live during its fly past.
The images were provided by a robotic telescope located in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:01 AM - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – Astronomers around the world will be keeping a close watch as the…
MONTREAL – Astronomers around the world will be keeping a close watch as the menacing asteroid Apophis begins a sweep past the Earth later today.
Sky watchers will also be able to go on the Internet to view live images of the asteroid, which research shows could collide with the planet in 2036.
But over the next few days, Apophis, which is just over 300 metres in diameter, will come within only 15 million kilometres of the Earth.
While that’s way beyond the orbit of the moon and far enough away not to cause any concern, scientists say it will come even closer in 16 years.
Andrew Fazekas, a spokesman for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, says the asteroid will pass about 30,000 kilometres above the Earth in 2029.
Fazekas says research done on near-Earth asteroids has shown there’s a small chance there could be an impact with Apophis when it comes around again in April 2036.
But he adds that further calculations need to be done because the asteroid’s orbit could be changed slightly by the gravitational pull from the Earth after this year’s visit.
Fazekas says people will be able to go online at slooh.com and view the asteroid live during its fly past.
The images will be provided by a robotic telescope located in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, beginning at 7 p.m. EST.
By Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Pres - Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 5:04 AM - 0 Comments
A celestial calling for Canada’s last asbestos mine
MONTREAL – Canada’s last asbestos mine, now winding down its operations, may have a new celestial calling — as a stand-in for planet Mars.
Quebec’s Jeffrey Mine hosted nearly two-dozen scientists recently for a simulated Mars mission initiated by Canada’s space agency.
The scientists from four universities made a pair of trips to the Asbestos region, this year and last year, accompanied by a micro-rover.
“There are definitely areas (on Mars) that are much more like what we have at Jeffrey Mine,” said Ed Cloutis, a University of Winnipeg professor who participated in the project.
The new vocation won’t exactly replace the once-mighty asbestos industry as an economic lifeblood for the region.
The mine had been counting on a $58 million government loan to renovate and keep operating. The simulated Mars mission, on the whole, cost $800,000 — and some local officials, including an alderman and the town’s director general, didn’t even appear to be aware of the project when contacted by The Canadian Press.
The goal of the project was to simulate as closely as possible a Mars rover mission to detect the presence of, and determine the source of, methane on Mars.
Cloutis, an expert in planetary geology, said the scientific missions to the Asbestos region could be Canada’s ticket to future trips to the red planet.
“One way to search for life on Mars (is) you look at the gases that might be produced or used as a food source by bacteria on Mars,” Cloutis said in an interview.
Methane gas, which can be found at mine on the edge of the town of Asbestos, is one of two key indicators of life. The other is water.
Jeffrey, with a diameter of over two kilometres and 350 metres deep, was one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. The mine hosts serpentinite, a rock which is prone to bacteria — the ultimate life form. Methane gas is a byproduct of bacteria.
Methane has already been detected in the Martian atmosphere and scientists are hoping NASA’s Curiosity rover will find it on the planet.
The Asbestos project was spearheaded by MPB Communications Inc., a Montreal-area firm and the prime contractor, which also developed a micro-rover named Kapvik. The waist-high rover, whose robotic arm was developed by engineers at Ryerson University, was put to work during the research.
The mission employed a team of about 20 people at Jeffrey Mine in June 2011 and again at nearby Norbestos, in June 2012, while the Canadian Space Agency in Longueuil, Que., acted as mission control.
Cloutis was joined on the project by other scientific investigators from McGill University, Carleton University and the University of Toronto.
Their initial site is looking even more desolate and Mars-like than usual, these days.
The new Parti Quebecois provincial government has cancelled a $58 million loan, which would have kept the controversial industry alive. Cancelling that loan, signed in July by the former Liberal government, was a PQ election promise.
Asbestos town councillor Serge Boislard says that, since the cancellation, the number of personnel at the mine has dropped down to about 20 workers who are only doing basic maintenance and providing security.
He says the last of the mine’s managers and engineers were laid off several weeks ago. He recalls the days when that mine employed about 2,000 people — back in the industry’s heyday, before the international pressure mounted to ban asbestos because of its links to cancer.
“It would take a miracle to reopen the mine in the coming years,” he said. Like some other local officials, Boislard hadn’t heard of the Mars project.
The effort got rolling when the Canadian Space Agency contracted MPB’s space division to develop the so-called “analogue” mission.
Wes Jamroz, the director of MPB Communications, says the Jeffrey Mine has a bright future as a Mars subsitute.
“This mine is a very real environment to practice future deployment on Mars because you have the same rocks (and) you have the same environment,” he said in an interview.
“During these two deployments we were able to find out that there were natural traces of methane as well, so you have all the factors that you need.”
Jamroz suggests the Quebec project might even, in some ways, be on a more promising track than NASA’s famous Curiosity rover.
He says the huge NASA lab is using laser-based instruments to “sniff” for methane on rocks and cracks, which mixes very quickly with the atmosphere.
“The chances of sniffing things, and that you are going to find an opening, are very low — but this is my opinion,” Jamroz said.
He says the tests carried out in Quebec indicate it would be much more effective to look for certain kinds of rocks and cracks on the Martian surface.
“You have a set of cameras that can recognize certain geological features and you go to the spot and then you measure methane,” he said.
Jamroz also said using his small micro-rover for a future Mars mission would be far less expensive than Curiosity, which is the size of a small SUV.
“Remember, Curiosity weighs one ton and the rover we are playing with is between 30 and 40 kilos,” he said. “We estimate that this kind of mission, with international co-operation from partners like the Brits and Americans, you can do it with $100 million instead of several billion.”
NASA says Curiosity, which weighs 900 kilograms, cost $2.5 billion.
Cloutis told a recent Canadian space summit in London, Ont., that his group is lobbying for additional rover trials at Asbestos.
“Our rationale is that the moon and Mars will continue to be targets of interest for the deployment of rovers,” he said.
“In terms of waving the Canadian flag, if we have all this great experience, we’ll be better positioned to participate in some of these (future) international missions.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
B.C. salmon are radiation-free, RCMP officers get off scot-free for tasering a child
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, under fire this week over reports he took $1 million worth of trips on government jets since 2008, says he will reimburse taxpayers and pay for flights if the Prime Minister asks him to. Natynczyk has proven to be a tough and reliable soldier, and there’s no doubt he will do what’s right in this case, whatever that turns out to be. Still, it appears he should be cut a break. In some cases, the planes would have been flying whether he was on them or not. And his travels around the world—whether to rally troops or attend repatriation ceremonies for dead soldiers—are all part of his weighty responsibility as the chief of defence staff.
Into the light
What a week for scientific discovery. First, dinosaur feathers were found preserved, exquisitely, in Alberta amber. Ryan McKellar, a University of Alberta paleontologist, found 11 samples in hardened tree sap—what is described by the journal Science as “the richest amber feather find from the late Cretaceous period,” some 70 million years ago. Also, astronomers found the ﬁrst planet orbiting two suns. That means that at the end of every day on Kepler 16b—200 light years from Earth—there are two sunsets.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 12:19 PM - 3 Comments
Kathryn Aurora Gray’s father once held record as youngest discoverer
Kathryn Aurora Gray, with the help of her father Paul and a family friend, was confirmed as the youngest person ever to discover a supernova on Monday, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The 10-year-old Fredericton, N.B. girl spotted the stellar explosion in Galaxy UGC 3378 on Sunday. It was created by the death of a massive star 240 million light years away. The Grays found the supernova, not by staring at the night sky, but by using computer software to look for differences between new and old
pictures taken by an advanced telescope in Halifax on New Year’s Eve. Paul Gray has found seven supernovas in total since 1995 when he was the youngest to discover one, at age 22. He had been unseated by a 14-year-old American girl last year.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 9:20 AM - 1 Comment
A space rock soared past the earth — unsettlingly close — on Monday
Tunguska, Siberia is an obscure region known to the outside world for only one thing. In 1908 an asteroid is believed to have crashed there, flattened 2,000 sq km with 1,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. On Monday, a space rock of about the same size as Tunguska soared past the earth, unsettlingly close. Named 2008 DD45 by astronomers, the asteroid was only twice the distance from our planet as our outermost commercial satellites. Impact in a populated region would have been cataclysmic. Had it hit the earth it seems it would have come down near Tahiti.