Space Archives

There’s No Place Like Home

Used to be that scientists thought that our solar system was pretty normal, and that there were plenty just like it out there.  TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate:SG1, among many others, traded on that to create unlimited worlds to explore.

On top of that, the idea that man is special in the universe, as suggested by the Bible, was taken down a few notches by that assertion.  If there are so many systems that would support life as we know it, the idea that God created just us seems a quaint anachronism. 

Well, as it turns out, our solar system is "pretty special", according to the headline in ScienceDaily last week.  Remember the old analogy of monkey’s typing on a jillion typewriters just waiting for a Shakespeare sonnet to come out, and its parallel to evolutionist theory about random chemicals banging together to create life?  Well, time to add a few jillion barrels of monkeys to the mix.  Apparently, coming up with a solar system like ours ain’t that easy.

Prevailing theoretical models attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way. Now a new study by Northwestern University astronomers, using recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars, turns that view on its head.

The solar system, it turns out, is pretty special indeed. The study illustrates that if early conditions had been just slightly different, very unpleasant things could have happened — like planets being thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

So what did they find out?

Before the discovery in the early 1990s of the first planets outside the solar system, our system’s nine (now eight) planets were the only ones known to us. This limited the planetary formation models, and astronomers had no reason to think the solar system unusual.

"But we now know that these other planetary systems don’t look like the solar system at all," said Frederic A. Rasio, a theoretical astrophysicist and professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He is senior author of the Science paper.

"The shapes of the exoplanets’ orbits are elongated, not nice and circular. Planets are not where we expect them to be. Many giant planets similar to Jupiter, known as ‘hot Jupiters,’ are so close to the star they have orbits of mere days. Clearly we needed to start fresh in explaining planetary formation and this greater variety of planets we now see."

The more we find out, the more we see that we really got "lucky" (in scientific parlance) to have such a nice place to call home.

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    The Hydrocarbon Mother Lode

    Scientists have discovered a hydrocarbon reserve larger than all of our current oil and gas reserves. Hydrocarbons, as you know, are those dregs of ancient dinosaurs and plants that we mine for energy. So then, where is this incredible field?

    Oh, about 750 million miles away.

    Before we get too excited here, let’s remember. There’s still an energy problem. Global warming, too. Nobody’s going to be importing oil substitutes from Titan anytime soon.

    That said, data from the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn has shown that the ringed planet’s moon has “hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth,” according to research reported in the Geophysical Research Letters. The stuff is literally falling from the sky.

    Lakes are scattered across the moon, with each of several dozen holding more hydrocarbon liquid – largely in the form of methane and ethane — than all of Earth’s oil and gas reserves.

    OK, so it’s technically not the “mother lode” since it’s not physically connected to the oil and gas here. And it’s technically not biological in nature, since (and we’re pretty sure about this) dinosaurs and plants have never existed on Titan.

    Which begs the question: Where did it come from, and are the same processes happening here on Earth? If so, perhaps oil isn’t from dead dinos. Worth looking into.

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      Global Warming…on Neptune

      The World Climate Report blog notes a report about the warming temperatures on Neptune, and how closely they correlate with Earth’s changes.

      Neptune is the planet farthest from the Sun (Pluto is now considered only a dwarf planet), Neptune is the planet farthest from the Earth, and to our knowledge, there has been absolutely no industrialization out at Neptune in recent centuries. There has been no recent build-up of greenhouse gases there, no deforestation, no rapid urbanization, no increase in contrails from jet airplanes, and no increase in ozone in the low atmosphere; recent changes at Neptune could never be blamed on any human influence. Incredibly, an article has appeared in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters showing a stunning relationship between the solar output, Neptune’s brightness, and heaven forbid, the temperature of the Earth.

      Click on the link to find graphs of how changes in Neptune’s temperature, Earth’s temperature, and the Sun’s output are strangely similar; about a 90% correlation.

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        Solar (System) Warming

        Kim Rowe consolidated a number of news articles in her comment here on the scientific “consensus” on global warming. If it’s largely man’s fault on earth, why then is it also happening on:

        Mars:

        According to a September 20 NASA news release, “for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars’ south pole have shrunk from the previous year’s size, suggesting a climate change in progress.” Because a Martian year is approximately twice as long as an Earth year, the shrinking of the Martian polar ice cap has been ongoing for at least six Earth years.

        The shrinking is substantial. According to Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera, the polar ice cap is shrinking at “a prodigious rate.”

        “The images, documenting changes from 1999 to 2005, suggest the climate on Mars is presently warmer, and perhaps getting warmer still, than it was several decades or centuries ago,” reported Yahoo News on September 20.

        Pluto (same link):

        Sallie Baliunas, chair of the Science Advisory Board at the George C. Marshall Institute, said, “Pluto, like Mars, is also undergoing warming.” However, Baliunas speculated it is “likely not the sun but long-term processes on Mars and Pluto” causing the warming. However, until more information is gathered, Baliunas said, it is difficult to know for sure.

        Triton:

        Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based instruments reveal that Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, has warmed significantly since the Voyager spacecraft visited it in 1989. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

        “Since 1989, at least, Triton has been undergoing a period of global warming – percentage-wise, it’s a very large increase,” said Dr James Elliot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

        Jupiter:

        The latest images could provide evidence that Jupiter is in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on different parts of the globe.

        Not all of these instances are necessarily directly tied to the heat of the Sun, though that is one explanation since the Sun has been getting hotter, and its changes mirror Earth’s temperature changes going back 3 centuries. The point is, though, that these things are happening throughout the solar system, and warming is happening all over. And even without Martian SUVs destroying the ozone. There are many natural processes–Solar Warming being just one of them–that are occurring. The fact that the Earth is getting warmer doesn’t mean there’s anything we can do to significantly change that.

        UPDATE: But never mind all those natural causes. The UN has determined that it’s 90% sure that global warming is caused just by us.

        PARIS (AP) — The most authoritative report on climate change is using the strongest wording ever on the source of global warming, saying it is “very likely” caused by humans and already is leading to killer heat waves and stronger hurricanes, delegates who have seen the report said Thursday.

        Dozens of scientists and bureaucrats from 113 countries are editing the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in closed-door meetings in Paris. Their report, which must be unanimously approved, is to be released Friday and is considered an authoritative document that could influence government and industrial policy worldwide.

        Three participants said the group approved the term “very likely” in Thursday’s sessions. That means they agree that there is a 90 percent chance that global warming is caused by humans.

        So a UN report trumps the warming happening throughout the Solar System, and even trumps the Sun. Brilliant.

        The report will also say that global warming has made stronger hurricanes, including those on the Atlantic Ocean such as 2005’s Katrina, according to Fields and other delegates.

        They said the panel approved language saying an increase in hurricane and tropical cyclone strength since 1970 “more likely than not” can be attributed to man-made global warming.

        The panel did note that the increase in stronger storms differs in various parts of the globe, but that the storms that strike the Americas are global warming-influenced. In 2001, the same panel had said there was not enough evidence to make such a conclusion.

        And, as noted earlier, over 70% of environmental professionals don’t think they’re global-warming induced. Oh, and the Earth has it in for America, since it’s the ones that hit us that are due to global warming.

        In the rather lengthy category of “Liberal Good Intentions Gone Bad”…

        As the delegates hold their evening session, the Eiffel Tower, other Paris monuments and concerned citizens in several European countries were expected to switch off their lights for five minutes to call attention to energy conservation, heeding a call by French environmental campaigners.

        Some experts said that while well-intentioned, turning the lights out could actually consume more energy than it would conserve by requiring a power spike when the lights turn back on _ possibly causing brownouts or even blackouts.

        Too funny.

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          The End of the Shuttle Era

          The end of the space shuttle era is coming soon.

          The United States begins its next step in human space flight with the announcement by NASA on Thursday of a contractor to design and build spaceships to fly to the moon.

          Lockheed Martin Corp and a partnership of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co are vying for the work, estimated to be worth more than $18 billion over the next decade.

          “We’re looking forward to getting that contractor on board with us as we continue our journey on into exploration,” project manager Skip Hatfield said.

          The new spaceships, named Orion, will replace the U.S. space agency’s three remaining space shuttles, which are to be retired in 2010 upon completion of the half-built International Space Station.

          After two deadly shuttle accidents, NASA is giving up on winged, reusable vehicles and returning to the capsule-style spaceships that first carried Americans into orbit and later landed them on the moon. Similar vessels are used by Russia and China.

          The space enthusiast in me is a little disappointed. The shuttle was, in theory, a great cost saver, since it was reusable, and could land at different places if the weather at the main landing site wasn’t good. (OK, and seeing some new kind of space ship had a really high Coolness Factor.)

          But if capsules can indeed be made and used for less money, I guess I’ll understand. They’re certainly not without risk themselves, but perhaps in this day and age they can be made safer. (Still, space travel is always risky, no matter what the precautions.)

          Sorry to see her go, but hopefully this will get things going again.

          H/T: Danny Carlton

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