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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NMDinosaurs01The theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out from an asteroid impact near the modern-day Yucatan Peninsula is beginning to face major challenges. There’s no doubt that a huge impact caused the Chicxculub Crater, but some recent findings suggest that the impact may have occurred some 300,000 years earlier than originally thought. This comes as a second blow to the impact theory, with the first being the discovery/dating of the Deccan Traps in India. This gigantic volcanic feature is the result of a huge eruption that is believed to have lasted around 30,000 years. Can you imagine a massive volcano erupting for 30,000 years and covering an area equivalent to 1/2 of modern India with lava? Trust me, something on that scale is hard for the human mind to comprehend, but that much volcanic ash and gas in the atmosphere would’ve had a devastating effect on the ecosystem, and almost certainly played a major role in the extinction of the dinosaurs. Get ready for science textbooks to be re-written, because the asteroid impact theory is about to see the same fate as the dinosaurs themselves. (Via Daily Galaxy)

NASA recently teamed up with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to test a new, Earth-friendly type of solid rocket fuel. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but somehow they’ve managed to make rocket fuel out of aluminum powder and ice. Yes ice… as in frozen water. The secret apparently is that the aluminum powder is so finely ground that it’s considered “nanoscale.” The nanoscale aluminum has so much surface area in contact with the water ice that the exothermic reaction when it burns is more efficient than normal solid rocket fuel, which is usually powdered aluminum (not nanoscale) mixed with an oxidizer such as ammonium perchlorate and a binding agent. Seriously though, who would’ve ever thought you could make rocket fuel out of ice and aluminum? It just sounds crazy, but it’s true. (Via EurekAlert)

When you think of the type of person who becomes an astronaut, you don’t typically think of race car drivers or musicians, but two of the astronauts about to launch on Space Shuttle Discovery tomorrow morning are just that- a former off-road truck racer and a drummer. Check out this Space.com article to find out more about Commander Rick Struckrow, formerly a Baja off-road race driver, Pilot Kevin Ford who is also a drummer, and several other astronauts who come from surprising backgrounds.

It’s pretty rare for me to instantly fall in love with a band/artist these days. I’ve just become so “Nashville” about everything- jaded/oversaturated/desensitized/insert-apathetic-synonym-here. But RCRD LBL posted some mp3’s from this dude named Evan Voytas on Friday, and I was instantly blown away. It feels good to be totally into something new. This guy’s stuff is a little bit of everything- the tracks I’ve gotten my hands on so far range from a shoegazy, fuzzed out slow pop jam to electro-driven rock with a touch of twee to a full on summery disco-pop groove. That last track I’m describing is called “Getting Higher,” and I have hereby proclaimed it to be the official jam of the summer 2009. Please, PLEASE go to RCRD LBL and download it now! Then go to the Hype Machine and you’ll be able to find several other great tracks. But “Getting Higher” is where it’s at. It’s an instantly love-able dancey track, complete with a 70’s funk bass groove, and straight-up disco beat, and uplifting sunny guitars and syths bathed in a healthy but tasteful dose of reverb.

In local news- Makeout With Violence, the locally made feature-length film starring several members of our music scene, pretty much owned the Nashville Film Festival, taking the best feature-length narrative film and best music awards, along with a few other smaller awards. It’s good to see these guys finally getting the recognition they deserve for their 3 years of hard work on this thing.

My love of science fiction is no secret. That’s why I’m quite pleased to know that one of my favorite TV series Eureka, has finally been scheduled to return to action on July 10th on the SyFy channel. (Yes, the SciFi channel is now SyFy…. go figure.) I read about this on io9, and I agree with their sentiment that moving the show to Battlestar Galactica’s old slot of Fridays at 10pm/9 central was a bad idea. That means I’ll end up watching most of it online because I’m normally out & about by that time on a Friday night…

So we all know that the dinosaurs were killed because of a giant asteriod hitting just off the Yucatan Penninsula in Mexico, right? That’s what they taught us in middle school science class, afterall…. Not so fast. As more and more new evidence is uncovered, that theory is starting to look more and more… extinct. Universe Today posted this morning about some new discoveries that date the actual impact at least 300,000 years prior to the mass extinction. At the same time comes the discovery of a supervolcano eruption (or even a series of supervolcano eruptions) called the Deccan Traps in India. Such an eruption could easily have thrown enough dust and ash into the air to block out the sun and cause a sudden massive cooling. My personal hunch is that the asteroid surely did have some degree of impact on the global climate, (pun fully intended) and obviously would’ve killed a ton of dinos in the immediate area, but ultimately it may have been the volcanic activity that dealt the lethal blow to our bird-like ancestors.

I’ll leave you today with this great image of the next space shuttle crew… I must say NASA has been doing a great job of marketing lately. First the whole C.O.L.B.E.R.T. thing, and now this:

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