It’s been way too long since I last posted anything science-related. Photographing weddings, playing in two bands, and working a day job has eaten up all of my spare time lately! But I’ve found enough time to bring you some exciting updates and cool videos today.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Above is a comparison of the 5 newly confirmed exoplanets in the Kepler-62 system. The Kepler mission also confirmed an exoplanet around another star, Kepler-69, but that one isn’t nearly as interesting as the Kepler-62 system. Specifically, Kepler-62e and 62f are very exciting because they are officially the smallest potentially habitable exoplanets discovered to date! 62e and 62f are about 1.6 and 1.4 times the size of Earth, respectively. Based on our best computer models for planetary formation and evolution, scientists estimate that 62e is probably cloudy and quite warm, while 62f is probably covered in water and quite cooler, possibly even covered in ice. But different atmospheric conditions could change that significantly… there’s no way (yet) to know for sure. For more on this exciting discovery check out Universe Today and Bad Astronomy.

In related news: Building on the awesome success of the Kepler mission, NASA has announced its next exoplanet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. Scheduled for launch in 2017, this new space-based telescope will look for exoplanets in the same way the Kepler mission has been, but it will use four wide-angle telescopes to look at a much broader part of the sky.

Now for the video goods. These are both very cool short segments from Canadian astronaut and current ISS commander Chris Hadfield.

This one is a mesmerizing demonstration of how water behaves in a zero-gravity environment by wringing out a wet washcloth:

And this one is Chris talking about possibly the coolest aspect of being in the ISS- taking breathtaking photographs of Earth from the ISS’s cupola:

 

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Credit: CERN/NASA/Ian O’Niel

Here’s a quick roundup of some interesting stories and headlines that have popped up in the science world recently:

  • Based on new calculations using information from the Higgs Boson discovery last year, some physicists are worried that the universe might be doomed for boredom. The new math shows that the very existence of everything could be inherently unstable, and in a few tens of billions of years a tiny bubble of an apparently much more boring, alternate universe might pop-up and subsequently expand at the speed of light, destroying everything. Granted, there’s still a lot to learn about the Higgs, the equations used to make this prediction will improve drastically over the coming years, and the human race probably won’t be around to see this happen, but I can’t help but laugh thinking about the universe vaporizing into a more “boring” state of existence. (Via Discovery News and New Scientist)
  • I wish I had time to cover/post about the Russian meteor explosion this past weekend, but I was out sick Friday and had a very busy weekend/early week of moving in with my lady Old Red Boots. You probably know the basics- a medium-sized meteor entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia last Friday at about 9:20am local time. I just want to point out the important facts: (1) The Russian meteor explosion had nothing to do with the close fly-by of asteroid 2012 DA14 which happened later that same day. The trajectories/orbits of the two were completely different. It was simply a bizarre coincidence. (2) The damage to buildings and glass was caused by the massive sonic boom, as well as the actual explosion of the rock itself high in the atmosphere. The sounds and damage were NOT from the impact of the meteor hitting the ground. There’s tons of footage of this thing, but this video has the best audio I’ve found- if you have a subwoofer, turn it up and you’ll get some sense of the earth-shattering rumble. This video is long but shows both the bright streak of the meteor (about 4:30 in) and has the ensuing sonic boom (about 7:00 in). (3) NASA estimates the meteor was about 55 feet across and weighed between 7,000 and 10,000 tons. (4) A large chunk of the space rock is believed to have landed in Chebarkul Lake near Chelyabinsk, gouging a large hole in the ice. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy had great coverage and follow-up of this event, so be sure to check those posts out as well!
  • Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, wants to put humans on Mars in 2018, and he’s created a non-profit called the Inspiration Mars Foundation to do it. I have to be honest, the timeframe of this sounds absolutely crazy to me. Not many details have been announced, but apparently there will be a press conference next Wed. Feb. 27th in which more details will be revealed, so I’ll try to withhold my skepticism until then, but it’s hard. (Via Universe Today)
  • Astronomers with NASA’s Kepler Mission have found the tiniest exoplanet yet, orbiting the star Kepler-37 about 200 light years away. This planet is significant because it’s even smaller than our own Mercury, and just barely bigger than Earth’s moon! Finding a planet that small is a major milestone and huge accomplishment for the Kepler team. I’ve no doubt they will be finding the Holy Grail of planet-hunting, a true Earth twin, within a year or two. (Via Bad Astronomy)
Image via Universe Today

Image via Universe Today

You may have heard about the killer asteroid aptly named Apophis, which had a chance of hitting earth in 2036 and potentially devastating a good chunk of the human population. Thankfully, scientists have now made more accurate observations of Apophis and ruled out the possibility of it hitting earth.

The asteroid has been on a watch list for many years because in 2029 it will pass very VERY close to earth. So close that it will actually be inside the orbit of some of our satellites! The fear was that if the asteroid passed through a very specific spot as it passed us, the earth’s gravity would tug on it just right so that its orbit would be altered and it would hit earth on its next pass in 2036. Due to limited observations of Apophis, astronomers didn’t know its exact orbit accurately enough to determine if it would pass through this very specific gravitational “keyhole.” Even before this latest observation, which occurred during its latest flyby of earth, the odds of Apophis passing through that keyhole were very slim (about 1 in 100,000 if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that) but significant enough to worry. Further observations a few years ago lessened the odds considerably to about 1 in 1,000,000. Now, astronomers are absolutely positive the rock will not pass through that gravitational keyhole, and the rock will never hit earth. They also learned from these latest observations that Apophis is actually larger than originally thought- about 325 meters in diameter, vs. 270. So it’s a really good thing that this rock won’t hit us!

This does not mean we can sit back and relax, however. There are probably thousands of asteroids flying around out there that we haven’t even seen yet, and any of them could be on a collision course with us. It’s a very real threat, and based on our knowledge of past extinctions and impacts, statistically it’s only a matter of time before we get smacked by another one. We just have be able to detect it before it hits us, and have the technology in place to deflect it.

More detailed info can be found at Bad Astronomy and Universe Today.

This is an interesting short documentary episode from Vice’s Motherboard series on Copenhagen Suborbitals, a self-proclaimed “open-source, do-it-yourself space endeavor” started by two really smart guys in Denmark. Basically they want the world to realize that getting to space is actually a very achievable thing for average people if they really truly want to do it. It’s an awesome idea and one that I applaud whole-heartedly. Just watch and be amazed at what these guys have accomplished so far with their DIY approach.

Today I turn 31. Somehow I’ve managed to go this long without knowing that I shared a birthday with the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named). This is cool! Even though I also share my birthday with Joe Biden, Mike D (of the Beastie Boys), and Robert F. Kennedy, by far the coolest is Edwin Hubble. If this is not proof of the immensity of my nerdiness, I don’t know what is.

Hubble was a pioneer in the field of extragalactic astronomy. His work, along with that of his colleagues and observations from other astronomers, led to the realization that the universe is continuously expanding. This is know as the metric expansion of space, and is a key component of the Big Bang Theory. Yeah, pretty serious stuff. I feel pretty cool to share a birthday with Mr. Hubble. Were he still alive, he would be 123 years old.

I don’t announce many non-music events on this blog, but this is one big exception: Neil deGrasse Tyson will be speaking at Vanderbilt University’s Langford Auditorium next Tuesday, Nov. 13th. This guy is a total badass. He is one of the few true “real science” celebrities, and he’s also one of my personal heroes. He’s been on TV countless times- hosting shows on PBS, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and more, as well as guest appearances on The Daily Show and Colbert Report many times. I have no idea what he will talk about, but mark my word it will be entertaining and informative. The guy always manages to succeed in convincing the masses that nerd stuff is cool, and is thus an invaluable ambassador of science to the public. I strongly suggest getting your ticket now via any Ticketmaster outlet. They’re only $5 for non-Vandy students, and $10 for general public. (And free if you’re a Vandy student, staff, or faculty member!)

UPDATE: I didn’t realize this event was already sold out! So, still awesome and I hope you got tickets in time!

Here’s the official Vanderbilt link for more info.

See you there!

Image via Discovery News

From the department of “Is This Guy Totally Insane or Totally Badass or Both?” daredevil Felix Baumgartner is finally ready to attempt the world-record breaking skydive for which he’s been training and planning for many years. The Red Bull sponsored event is scheduled to take place Oct. 8th in New Mexico, weather permitting. Statistically early fall is the best time of year for balloon launches and other such experiments and atmospheric shenanigans. If successful, Baumgartner will become the first human to freefall faster than the speed of sound. He will also set the record for the highest skydive, jumping from an altitude of 120,000 feet. This is high enough that his capsule must be enclosed and pressurized, and his suit must be pressurized as well, all while being able to withstand the stresses of supersonic freefall. Just sit back and let that sink in for a while. The guy is jumping out of a balloon capsule at 120,000 feet and will freefall at roughly 700 mph or even faster.

On the surface the whole thing seems like a really expensive adrenaline rush, but it’s really much more. The technological advances required to build his dive suit, and the medical knowledge gained by the close monitoring if his body and vital signs during the freefall, all will contribute to future spacesuit designs and other areas of space exploration and human spaceflight. I’m really looking forward to October 8th, and hope the weather is good for them. (Via Discovery News)

Before we get to the show listings, I must quickly share something totally awesome- a new wing of xkcd called “what if?” On this new blog xkcd founder and physics genius Randall Munroe answers bizarre hypothetical questions that random people send to him. He presents the answers with a touch of that same humor and wit that makes the web comic so awesome. My favorite so far is Relativistic Baseball, in which he explains that a baseball thrown at nearly the speed of light would cause a nuclear explosion. This guy is my hero.

On to the show listings for this weekend. Nashville is very busy this weekend with good rock shows!

FRIDAY:

Infinity Cat 10 year anniversary ft. Skyblazer, Tristen, Deluxin’, and Psychic Hotline @ Exit/In. 9pm $10

QDP @ The 5 Spot. 10pm FREE

SATURDAY:

Chris Crofton & The Alcohol Stuntband w/ Tower Defense @ The 5 Spot. $5 10pm

SUNDAY:

Sunday School ft. Ogg, King Karl, TBA @ The End. 8pm FREE

The Goldroom, Ascent of Everest, Parlour, and Old Baby @ the High Watt. 8pm $7

Have a great weekend!

Just as I and most rationally-minded people in the world thought, it’s almost certain that the alleged faster-than-light neutrinos observed by the OPERA experiment in Geneva last fall were nothing more than a fluke due to measurement errors. As exciting as it would be for the results to be true (especially for the textbook publishing industry- every single science textbook would have to be rewritten and republished, after they rewrite the entire Standard Model of physics!), it looks as though the hypothesis that faulty fiber optic wiring in the detectors were to blame for the 60 nanosecond discrepancy the was observed. Thought scientists apparently aren’t 100% sure that the faulty connection was indeed the cause of the error, they are quite certain that it was some sort of error and not neutrinos actually traveling faster than light. They are quite certain of this because a second experiment- the Imaging Cosmic and Rare Underground Signals, or ICARUS, which uses a different detector in the same facility as the original OPERA experiment could not replicate the results. With the ICARUS experiment, the neutrinos behaved as expected, arriving at the speed of light and obeying the laws of physics as we know them. This, however, is still not enough to put this issue to rest in the eyes of science, and several other experiments around the world intend to independently measure the speed of neutrinos. A few are scheduled to happen in May, and I’d be willing to bet that they will all show that neutrinos aren’t the rebels the initial OPERA experiment showed them to be.

This is how real science works, and why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. One experiment’s results are never, ever enough to conclusively make any kind of claim. Even with established, large-scale theories things can change as new discoveries are made.

All of this via Universe Today and Live Science.

The bad news (for you at least): No more posts this week because this afternoon I’m embarking on my yearly SXSW jaunt. I’m back in the world of the badgeless this year, and currently have no obligations or assignments from the Scene, so this year should be interesting. Also, my band Scale M0del is playing the Red Gorilla Festival on Friday at 3pm at the Dizzy Rooster on 6th St. So if you’re down there, try to stop by! It’s totally free and doesn’t require a badge or wristband of any kind. Actually that may not be bad news for you at all, because it’s probably of little significance to you whether I post the rest of the week.

But, I do have good news! Wormhole travel is slightly less inconceivable now thanks to some research by a team of physicists from Germany and Greece! In short- those convenient things called wormholes that made intergalactic travel possible in science fiction such as Stargate, Contact, etc… are actually pretty tricky business, and were once thought to require unfathomable amounts of negative energy to keep stable enough for a person to travel through. All the while, the very existence of negative energy isn’t even a sure thing. BUT, this new research pulls from elements of string theory, quantum theory, and other far-out theories to get around that massive negative energy requirement. This New Scientist article explains it all, so head over and check it out. It’s a long one, but well worth the read. Unfortunately the idea of traveling through a wormhole is still pretty inconceivable, because according to these new calculations, the wormhole would have to be tens to hundreds of light years across in order for a human to travel through it without getting ripped apart by tidal forces. I actually LOL’d at the line “…our galaxy’s stars are crowded together within a few light years of each other. While this doesn’t prevent the existence of a wormhole with a mouth tens of light years across, it makes it hard to position it so that star systems don’t accidentally fall in. Fallen stars would surely disrupt the timetable and so users might avoid our galaxy altogether.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is one of those articles which requires you to create an account through New Scientist, but it’s free, and all you’ll have to endure is a few email newsletters full of fascinating discoveries and other tidbits from the science world. Not bad if you ask me.

I shall see you back here sometime next week, whenever my brain and liver have fully recovered from SXSW. Till then, cheers!

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