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Credit: NASA

The Kepler team at NASA announced yet another exciting discovery yesterday: the first confirmed earth-size alien planets, Kepler 20f and 20e. The mission has found other exoplanets that pretty close to earth-size, but these two are by far the closest yet. What really befuddled me about this announcement was that that in addition to those two smaller, rocky worlds, there are three bigger gas-giant or super-earths in this system as well. No only that, but all five of these exoplanets’ orbits would fit inside our own Mercury’s orbit around our sun! That’s a lot of planets crammed into a tiny area! Of course that also means that these planets are scorching hot- far too hot to be habitable. But, it’s very reassuring to confirm that Kepler can positively identify alien planets that are earth-size and even tad bit smaller (Kepler 20e is about 87% the size of earth). As usual, Dr. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has a very good explanation of the whole thing. And I’ll also point you toward this article on space.com about the likelihood of us finding a true earth-twin within the coming year.

And now I will simply tell you to go take a look at this amazing set of volcano photographs and have a a few eyegasms. You’re welcome.

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I’m allowed to be a lazy blogger every once-in-a-while, right? Yea, sorry for the lack of posts this week.

The music news item of the day is actually nothing new at all… but still very important to me. For some bizarre reason I have missed out on the fact that sElf’s masterpiece Gizmodgery is on iTunes! Furthermore, their somewhat-rare Half-Baked Serenade is on there as well! I already have both of these albums, but for quite some time they were difficult to come by. sElf/Matt Mahaffey are/is among my top favorite bands/artists of all time. Quite simply, if you aren’t familiar with the band or the man, then you have a massive hole in your music collection/knowledge and you must remedy that problem immediately by going to self-centered.org. There’s actually a ton of his music for free download there, and just about everything you need to fill that hole. I feel compelled to also point out that Gizmodgery was recorded using ALL toy instruments. Keep that in mind when listening to it and allow that fact to further the extent to which your mind gets blown. Ok, stepping down off my sElf soapbox.

My only other offerings to you right now are these two amusing images:

Via Davis

Via Kelly via The Oatmeal

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano has had all the attention lately, but a much bigger and meaner eruption might be around the corner from its cousin, Katla. This beast almost always erupts around the same time as Eyjafjallajokull, and geologists don’t expect this eruption to be any different. Katla is actually connected to Eyjafjallajokull underground via a common magma chamber, thus the connected eruptions. The main concern is that the ash plume will be even bigger than Eyjafjallajokull’s and will cause even more air travel problems. Another major concern is the fact that Katla is underneath a huge glacier. When 2,000 degree lava comes into contact with that much ice, you’re bound to have major flooding, and history has shown that indeed Katla’s eruptions have caused flooding problems for Icelanders. In fact, I’d say the only thing Katla has on Eyjafjallajokull is that its name is hella shorter and easier to pronounce/spell. (Via Daily Galaxy)

I’m sure you’ve already seen plenty of Iceland volcano photos since it’s been so prevalent in the news lately, but I must share this link: Live Science has a really nice gallery of volcanic lightning images that are simply breathtaking. All of them are of the recent Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

The US Military is not generally known for being environmentally-friendly… let’s face it, they blow up things, destroying not only buildings but also the land, not to mention releasing tons of toxic smoke and gases from the explosives. However, the Navy is trying to at least make a dent in their carbon footprint by adopting renewable fuels for their fighter jets, and eventually all other fuel-consuming vehicles/ships/aircraft as well. They’re about to test a new Camelina-based biofuel for the first time in an F/A 18 Hornet fighter. These are the same types of jets flown by the famous aerobatics demo team the Blue Angels. It’s pleasantly surprising to see the military taking such important steps in the right direction. (Via EcoGeek/National Geographic)

In other news- I now have more homebrew for your drinking pleasure, if interested. It’s a hefeweizen from an ingredient kit. I plan for this this be my last kit brew. I feel confident enough now to start using/tweaking online recipes, buying the ingredients separately and creating some brews that can be truly called “my own creations.” I’m actually about to start on a Belgian blonde ale. This hefeweizen, though, is just a simple straight-up wheat beer. It’s not a Belgian style (no orange peels or corriander) so it won’t taste like Blue Moon, and it doesn’t use any funky yeast strains or spicing to produce fruity flavors (such as Yazoo’s hefe, which has a distinct banana nose to it). It’s actually a very middle-of-the-road, normal-tasting wheat beer. If you want any, you know how to get in touch with me.

I’d forgotten that the Blendtec blender existed. Of course they had to do a demo with an iPad. Sure enough, it blends….

Be sure to check all the other blendable things on their channel.

In case you’ve been under a rock, the Eyjafjajokull (don’t even begin to try to pronounce that…) volcano has been erupting in Iceland for well over a week now. Coincidentally, the sun decided to send a rather strong geomagnetic storm our way last weekend. We all know what happens during geomagnetic storms- aurora borealis. Since Iceland is at such a high latitude, it almost always gets to see these aurorae, and when you combine that with a rather docile volcanic eruption, you get photographers hanging out there and taking eye-gasm photographs like this: (Via Live Science)

Photo by Albert Jakobsson

I haven’t posted any real mind-benders on here in quite a while, so here goes:

An Indiana University theoretical physicists is proposing that our universe might actually exist inside a wormhole, inside a black hole that exists in a much bigger universe. If that isn’t a total mind-fuck, I don’t know what is. But it’s really cool to think about if you can wrap your brain around it. The only way I can do that is to reduce our space-time to 2 dimensions and visualize like they do in all those discovery channel shows that talk about black holes and wormholes. You know- the old bowling ball on a sheet analogy. If you dare, read the full article at Universe Today. And see the 2D visualization.

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.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

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.

After hearing 1 track from Belle & Sebastian frontmant Stuart Murdoch’s new soundtrack God Help the Girl, I’m totally sold on getting it. Check out this A.V. Club review of this soundtrack for his yet-to-be-filmed musical of the same title. I think I’m gonna fall in love with this album/soundtrack based on the review and listening to the new version of the single Funny Little Frog from B&S’s last album. I’ll let you know once I have it. I foresee a trip to Grimey’s in my near future to pick up both that and the Those Darlins album. Speaking of them… the track Red Light Love has just been posted over at Nashville Cream. Go grab it.

I’ve been a little lacking in the science department lately, so here’s a good chunk of science news and goodness for you.

NASA just launched a probe bound for the moon. The mission is called LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), and its purpose is to check for frozen water on the surface or just below it, as well as more accurately map the surface. This is all to help us better prepare for our eventual permanent base on the moon. More at Space.com.

Virgin Galactic is hard at work building the much-anticipated Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. Check out the website for some cool renderings of what it will look like.

This bit of news has been floating around for at least a week now, but it’s still pretty significant and worth posting. We now have absolute, rock-solid evidence of an ancient lake on Mars. We’ve been pretty damn sure water once flowed on the surface of Mars for at least 5 years now, but this latest observation of an ancient shoreline by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has erased all doubt. The Daily Galaxy has more on this, as well as this eye-gasm of a photograph taken from the International Space Station as it passed over Sarychev Volcano while it was erupting on June 12th:

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