Science-y tidbits: 32 new exoplanets/new theories on dinosaur extinction

October 21, 2009

phot-39a-09-fullresThe floodgates of exoplanet discovery just opened. The High-Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (known as HARPS) discovered a batch of 32 new exoplanets, pushing the list of known exoplanets to over 400. Most of these are low-mass planets about the size of Neptune. Since HARPS (which is a spectrograph) works with a land-based telescope which has to put up with the distortions and aberrations of the Earth’s atmosphere, that’s a very impressive feat. It shows just how good astronomers are getting at planet-hunting, and with the recently-deployed Kepler space observatory working like a charm, it won’t be long before we find the jackpot of astronomy to date: an Earth-like planet orbiting a distant star. (Via Universe Today)

I’ve mentioned that new theories challenging the textbook theory of a massive asteroid impact in Mexico killing off the dinosaurs are gaining serious momentum in the field of paleontology. The main challenge to the impact theory is the one involving a massive, long-erupting supervolcano in India known as the Deccan Traps. India has coughed up yet another, 3rd challenge to the impact theory: an impact event of its own. Some researchers from Texas Tech University think that a huge depression that exists beneath part of the Indian Ocean is actually an impact crater, and that it’s the result of an asteroid that smacked into the earth near the time the dinosaurs went extinct. (In geologic terms “near” actually means within a few million years…) If this turns out to be a true crater, and not just the result of normal tectonic plate movements or volcanic activity, then I’d say it definitely had at least some effect on the dinosaurs, and probably some effect on the ongoing eruption of the Deccan Traps. (Also via Universe Today)

NASA rolled out the first full sized test vehicle for its new Constellation program earlier this week. The Ares I-X was rolled out to launch pad 39B for its scheduled test flight next week on Oct. 27th. This is a full-scale mock-up of the Ares I, which (if the current plan is adhered to) will replace the Space Shuttle as NASA’s method of delivering astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. The test flight, of course, will be unmanned. Here’s a pic via NASA’s website. Keep up with the test launch at the launch blog. The new rocket is 327 feet tall, over 100 feet taller than the Space Shuttle.

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