Tagged: Earth

Astronomers spot a trio of Earth-sized planets orbiting a distant star

Humanity is going to have to leave Earth eventually. We’ve already messed up our planet pretty badly, and even if we don’t push the Earth completely over the edge ourselves there’s the simple fact that no planet lasts forever. With that in mind, it makes sense for scientists to begin looking elsewhere for potentially habitable worlds, and they’ve already discovered some great candidates. Now, a trio of new rocky worlds has been discovered orbiting a distant star, and while they’re a lot like Earth in terms of size, they’re a bit steamier.

The planets, which were discovered around a star called K2-239, are incredibly close to Earth in overall size, with radii measuring between 1.0 and 1.1 times that of our own planet. The research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The planets are a close match to Earth in size, but they’re positioned much, much closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun. They have orbital periods of between 5.2 and 10.1 Earth days, compared to 365 days for us here at home.

Being that close, you might think that the planets would be unbearably hot but the scientists say that might not be the case. The star, which is located roughly 160 light years from Earth, isn’t like our Sun. K2-239 is a Red Dwarf, and it’s only about half as warm as the Sun. That means that, despite the incredibly close proximity of the three exoplanets to their host star, the surface temperature of the Earth-sized worlds may only be “tens of degrees higher,” according to the scientists.

Going forward, the researchers plan to use the upcoming James Webb space telescope to investigate what the atmosphere of these new planets is like, which could give us a big clue as to whether or not they’d be able to support life.

Earth’s days used to be just 18 hours long, but the Moon changed that

If you’ve ever felt like there just aren’t enough hours in the day just be glad that you didn’t live on Earth 1.4 billion years ago. A new study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison reveals that ancient Earth had much shorter days, and the 24-hour days that we experience in modern times come courtesy of the Moon.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how the researchers created a method to rewind Earth’s clock by hundreds of millions of years. The system allowed the team to paint a rough picture of what a day on Earth might have been like over a billion years in the past, and better explain the evidence of climate shifts that have been observed in ancient rocks.

Earth’s Moon is currently moving away from us at an extremely slow rate, just shy of 4 centimeters per year. As the Moon gets farther away, it slows down Earth’s rotation, and working backwards from the present day the researchers determined that around 1.4 billion years ago the Moon would have been close enough that a day on our planet would have lasted just 18 hours.

“As the moon moves away, the Earth is like a spinning figure skater who slows down as they stretch their arms out,” Professor Stephen Meyers of UW-M explains. But this is just one piece of the somewhat puzzling relationship between the Earth and the Moon.

The researchers note that if you take the timeline back far enough, looking 1.5 billion years in the past, the Moon would have been close enough that Earth’s gravity would have destroyed it. That obviously didn’t happen, but since the Moon is over 4 billion years old there was clearly an important piece missing from the data.

Meyers teamed up with Alberto Malinverno from Columbia University to complete the picture. Malinverno and Meyers combined “astronomical theory, geologic data, and a sophisticated statistical approach” to create a tool that allowed them to account for the uncertainty of the Earth-Moon relationship when studying rock samples. Using their new system they were able to accurately study incredibly old rock layers — such as the Xiamaling Formation in Northern China which is 1.4 billion years old — to determine what the Earth was doing at that point in its history, including the length of its days and its distance from the Moon.

Browse 20 years of Earth’s weather with NASA’s incredible Worldview tool

Whenever NASA shows off a stunning new image of Earth from space it’s fun to take a few minutes to soak in all the details. What we sometimes forget is that NASA’s high-flying tools don’t just capture those amazing moments, they capture everything. For almost two decades NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) hardware has been observing weather patterns here on Earth and now, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can journey through it all, day by day, right from your browser.

NASA updated its Worldview application with the incredible wealth of weather data and the tool is a breeze to use. In addition to the update, NASA released a brief video showcasing a few of the highlights hidden in the massive amount of data, showing you when and where to zoom in if you want to check it out for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X16cfGPL2wA

“In the ’80s and ’90s, if you wanted to look at, say, clouds off the coast of California, you had to figure out the time of year when it was best to look at these clouds, then place a data request for a specific window of days when you thought the satellite overflew the area,” Santiago Gassó of NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Technology And Research program, explains. “You would get a physical tape with these images and have to put this into the processing system. Only then would you know if the image was usable. This process used to take from days to weeks. Now, you can look at images for days, weeks and even years in a matter of minutes in Worldview, immediately find the images you need, and download them for use. It’s fantastic!”

“Fantastic” is a great way to describe the tool, and it’s actually way more fun to browse through days, months, and years of weather patterns than you might imagine. A particularly neat addition to the tool is the ability to select a date range and then click the little video icon to run an animation showing the movement of the weather systems.

Because of the nature of high-tech orbital hardware, some days have chunks of missing data which show up as large black splotches on the map, but they are fairly infrequent and won’t spoil your fun.

NASA releases gorgeous images from its brand new GOES-17 satellite

NASA’s shiny new GOES-17 satellite got off to something of a rocky start last week as officials revealed that the spacecraft’s cooling system is, well, not working like it should. The satellite’s handlers are still working hard at solving that particular issue, but that’s not stopping NASA from taking a few snapshots to show off what its new tool is capable of, and boy are they pretty.

The newly-released images show the Earth’s Western Hemisphere bathed in sunlight, and the size and detail of the photos are really something to behold. As an added treat, NASA has put together a brief animation that stitches together several photos taken with the new satellite, showing the Sun’s rays dance across Earth’s surface while night swallows up the rest.

If you’ve seen photos of the Earth before (and I’m sure you have) you might look at the image above and not really see what all the fuss is about. The photo isn’t nearly as awe-inspiring when it’s shrunken down and crammed into a column-sized slot, so do yourself a favor and check out the full-resolution image NASA has provided. Warning: At a whopping 82MB, it’s going to take you a few seconds to actually load the entire thing, especially if you’re on mobile.

Once you’re zoomed in to the photo’s original resolution you’ll see just how incredibly detailed it is. I mean, you can see incredibly tiny features of the surface, light wisps of clouds, and even the shape of the ocean floor in shallow areas. It’s pretty wild.

After you’ve been sufficiently wowed by the still photo, check out the time-lapse animation to have your jaw drop all over again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XlfE0ndv_g

My only complaint here is that the video tops out at 1080p resolution. That’s pretty sharp, but it would have been awesome to see our big blue marble in 1440p or 4k. In any case, it’s clear that NASA’s new satellite has some serious power, and will be an invaluable tool for weather watchers and forecasters. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that they get the cooling system woes figured out.

Here’s how much all life on Earth weighs, and how insignificant humans are by comparison

Ever wonder how much mass the entirety of Earth’s lifeforms weigh? No? Well, scientists definitely do, and a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers the surprising answer. Every living thing on Earth — from the tiniest bacteria to a mighty redwood tree — weighs a combined 550 gigatons when removing water from the equation. Yeah, that’s a lot.

One gigaton is equal to one trillion metric tons, to give you an idea of just how much mass we’re talking about here, but you’re probably going to be surprised by how little humans contribute to that total. As it turns out, the combined weights of many different classes of animals outweighs humans by a huge margin. Fish, for example, weigh roughly 0.7 GT C (gigatons of carbon), while viruses weigh around 0.2 GT C. Humans weigh even less than that.

According to the research, the combined weight of humans comes in at approximately 0.06 GT C. We’re outweighed by almost everything, including bacteria (70 GT C), fungi (12 GT C), arthropods (1 GT C), Mollusks (0.2 GT C), and even our own livestock (0.1 GT C). When combined, the mass of humans and their livestock outweigh wild mammals by a huge margin, with wild mammals only accounting for 0.007 GT C. In fact, all of the animal kingdom only accounts for a measly two gigatons overall.

The biggest heavyweight? Plants, of course! Plants account for an absolutely mind-boggling 450 GT C. That’s every tree, blade of grass, vine, veggie, and floating clump of algae, among many other things.

To arrive at these figures, scientists spent three years calculating the biomass of every living thing and feeding that data into their census. They initially intended to discover the amounts of different proteins present on the planet — the scientists will be working more on that soon — but in order to do so they had to also figure out how much all life on Earth weighs, which is probably a more interesting data point for most casual science fans.

It’s important to remember that just because we make up a tiny chunk of the life on the planet, that doesn’t mean we aren’t still responsible for the greatest impact on the environment. Despite making up a fraction of a percent of the weight of life, our buildings, vehicles, and other manmade creations — including our never-ending supply of garbage — multiply our impact in a huge way.