So this time space fans, we’re starting a bit closer to home as for all of you lucky people in the USA, you hopefully get to see a full Solar eclipse on the 21st August. As I’m sure you know, looking at it directly is hazardous to do, so I’ll go through the ways you can view it safely without burning out your eyeballs. Special eclipse viewers are the recommended way of seeing this event, so from NASA’s website:
Eclipse viewing glasses and handheld solar viewers should meet all the following criteria:
· Have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard
· Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed somewhere on the product
· Not be used if they are older than three years, or have scratched or wrinkled lenses
· Not use homemade filters
· Ordinary sunglasses — even very dark ones — should not be used as a replacement for eclipse viewing glasses or handheld solar viewers
There is also an eclipse app you can download for Android and Iphone. These is also a dedicated NASA website and interactive map so you can follow its progress across the country.
There are other ways to view an eclipse such as indirectly via a pinhole camera projected onto a piece of paper, or even reflected into a bucket of water! But however you view it, be safe.
Another Weird Exoplanet!
As you should all know by now, exoplanets are my favourite thing, the stranger the better of course. This one, called WASO-121b is no exception. It is believed to have a stratosphere like our planet has. This is a part of our atmosphere where the temperature increases at high altitude due to the absorption of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun by ozone.
“This result is exciting because it shows that a common trait of most of the atmospheres in our solar system — a warm stratosphere — also can be found in exoplanet atmospheres,” said Mark Marley, study co-author based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “We can now compare processes in exoplanet atmospheres with the same processes that happen under different sets of conditions in our own solar system.”
This planet is a ‘hot Jupiter’, meaning that it is a gas giant orbiting close to its star. Its year is a mere 1.3 days and its atmosphere is a very toasty 2500C . Using spectroscopy, scientists have established the presence of very hot water, hot enough to boil all your flesh off your bones in no time flat making it an undesirable holiday location.
“Theoretical models have suggested stratospheres may define a distinct class of ultra-hot planets, with important implications for their atmospheric physics and chemistry,” said Tom Evans, lead author and research fellow at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom. “Our observations support this picture.”
Credit:University of Exeter.
This video is is great on a VR headset by the way, otherwise you can click on it and move the camera around in that familiar way we know so well.
As water molecules behave in predictable ways according to the temperature of its molecules, allowing scientists to determine where in the atmosphere they are from, again using spectroscopic observations from the Hubble telescope.
“The emission of light from water means the temperature is increasing with height,” said Tiffany Kataria, study co-author based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We’re excited to explore at what longitudes this behavior persists with upcoming Hubble observations.”
“This super-hot exoplanet is going to be a benchmark for our atmospheric models, and it will be a great observational target moving into the Webb era,” said Hannah Wakeford, study co-author who worked on this research while at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
There is still much to learn about this weird world, but I will of course keep you posted.
Venus May Have Had Oceans
I wrote about Venus some time ago, to discuss reasons why its the hell hole it is, but you can’t help but wonder what conditions may have been like in the past. A new study published in the Journal of Geophyisical Research: Planets, gives some very intruiging hints that Venus may not always have been as dead as it is now. As a scientist who has long found our twin planet as baffling as it is fascinating. The study suggests, via computer modelling by researcher Emmanuel Marcq of the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in Guyancourt, France, and colleagues, that ‘if’ the planet originally had even a mere 10 percent of the water here on Earth, that even with today’s current high levels of carbon dioxide, it could have had an ocean. The concept of Venus possessing liquid surface water is not new, scientists have long hypothesised about it, however due to the fact that we cannot ascertain its geological history beyond a few hundred million years, we simply cannot look as far back into the past as we can on Earth or Mars for example.
Of course we can’t know the exact conditions on Venus back then, but by tweaking the computer models, such as changing the planet’s albedo (reflectiveness) for example, it would still have only needed 30 percent of the water we have here. Venus rotates very slowly, its day is 116 Earth days long, that plus a thick cloud cover, could have kept the planet’s surface cool enough to support an ocean.
“This work plays into a much bigger puzzle of understanding the habitability of exoplanets,” said Michael Way, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City who was not involved in the study.
It all sounds a bit vague I know, but looking at our or own Solar system as a model for the possibility of life elsewhere is what astrobiologists like myself do all day. For me? We need to go have another look, and you guys all need to get with Project Discovery! See you next time spacefans.