Daily Archives: January 26, 2012

New Planetary Systems Discovered

Kepler has discovered 11 new “solar systems” with 26 confirmed planets among them. They:

  • Range from 1.5 Earths in radius to bigger than Jupiter
  • 15 are between Earth and Neptune in size
  • They have years ranging from 6 to 143 days.

Their rockiness or gaseousness remains unassessed to date.


This artist’s concept shows an overhead view of the orbital position of the planets in systems with multiple transiting planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. All the colored planets have been verified. More vivid colors indicate planets that have been confirmed by their gravitational interactions with each other or the star. Several of these systems contain additional planet candidates (shown in grey) that have not yet been verified. Image credit: NASA Ames/UC Santa Cruz

Also of interest is the number of transiting planets. Transiting planets are often how they find these systems to begin with; When a planet passes in front of its star (from our persepctive) we can detect it. There are a number of things that can be measured for these planets which eventually lead to a better understanding of what they are.

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Giant X-Ray Machine to be Hurled Into Space!

It is called NuStar, for “Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array,” and NASA will be launching this giant thing that looks like a dumpster on March 14th.

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, mission is seen here being lowered into its shipping container at Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va. The spacecraft is headed to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California, where it will be mated to its rocket. It is scheduled to launch from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 14. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Orbital

When you look at the sky with your beautifully evolved Primate Eye (our eyes are better than those of many other mammals at seeing and interpreting a wide spectrum of light) you are actually missing most of what is out there. In order to really see what is out there, a machine that detects ranges of the light spectrum that are invisible to humans captures that information. This is then transformed into visible light (“enhanced” is the term often used) so we can see it, or otherwise processed for data analysis.

NuSTAR will detect X-rays from the sun, as well as from things outside our galaxy, and things in between. In particular, the detector will be able to read high-energy X-rays, and will be able to produce very detailed images in that range.

NuSTAR uses 133 concentric shells of mirrors which will focus X-rays over a 10 meter focusing distance.

During its two-year primary mission, NuSTAR will map the celestial sky in X-rays, surveying black holes, mapping supernova remnants, and studying particle jets travelling away from black holes near the speed of light.

NuSTAR also will probe the sun, looking for microflares theorized to be on the surface that could explain how the sun’s million-degree corona, or atmosphere, is heated. It will even test a theory of dark matter, the mysterious substance making up about one-quarter of our universe, by searching the sun for evidence of a hypothesized dark matter particle.

“NuSTAR will provide an unprecedented capability to discover and study some of the most exotic objects in the universe, from the corpses of exploded stars in the Milky Way to supermassive black holes residing in the hearts of distant galaxies,” said Lou Kaluzienski, NuSTAR program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.


The machine will be flown under the belly of an L-1011 aircraft (you’ve likely flown on one or two of those) attached to a Pegaus Launch Vehicle. This will then be dropped from the aircraft over the ocean, and the Pegaus will bring NuSTAR into orbit.

The three-stage Pegasus is used by commercial, government and international customers to deploy small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. Pegasus is carried aloft by our “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft to approximately 40,000 feet over open ocean, where it is released and then free-falls in a horizontal position for five seconds before igniting its first stage rocket motor. With the aerodynamic lift generated by its unique delta-shaped wing, Pegasus typically delivers satellites into orbit in a little over 10 minutes.


Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America

i-35b26bf493247299cf48c439e42b5822-k9534-thumb-300x417-72185.gifDid you know that there is an entire group of birds called “Tube Noses” because they have tubes on their noses? Well, to be more exact, the term is “tubenoses” and the noses are beaks. The tubes are tubular nostril-like thingies that most (all?) birds have which are extra tube-like in the tubenoses. Thus the name.

Albatrosses, petrels, and storm-petrels, which includes shearwaters, make up the tubenoses, and the newly produced book Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide is about the North American species of this order, scientifically known as the Procellariiformes.

I love this book and I now want to become a tubenose watcher. This will be difficult from Minnesota. What makes it difficult is that Procellariiformes are ocean birds, and are truly pelagic, returning to land only to breed, and generally then only to remote islands. But there are exceptions. Some nest in the interior in the Arctic region, and they are occasionally seen on the Salton Sea and in the Sonoran desert (a 1997 report lists 27 records of this, ever).

There are four Families divided among 23 Genera made up of 140+ Species of tubenoses. (Wikipedia says there are only 108 species … can somebody fix that please?) There are about 70 species in North America at present, or recently known. There are probably more endangered tubenoses than any other Order of bird, or if not, nearly so. They spend a lot of time in the air, a lot of time at sea, and spend so little time on land that many species can’t really walk. One group, the fulmar-petrels, converges on skunks: Some of them can project a noxious liquid several feet from their mouths to discourage predators.

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LiveScribing #scio12 … SciScribing = Art ~ Science ~ Culture ~ Pen ~ Ink

i-9315cd4146d256c5414503a7bae98b8c-Fragment_of_live_SciScribe_Science_Online_2012-thumb-300x296-72183.jpgLive Scribing is like live blogging or note taking but it is done in the form of drawing. To get an idea of what this is all about, check out this blog.

Science Online 2012 was “Live Scribed” which meant that for most (all?) sessions, someone was making a drawing which built a stylized visually rich picture of the concepts being developed in the room. The results are here. Maggie Pingolt took those pictures, but I think someone else also photographed the boards.

Next step: Developing the metadata, presentation, archive and access for this project; Also, I want to see parallel LiveScribes, with more than one per session.

Here’s the ScienceOnline2012 SciScribing page where you can see a slide show.

New Open Access Journal

From a Press Release:

Asia-Pacific Signal and Information Processing Association and Cambridge University Press launch new Open Access journal

The Asia-Pacific Signal and Information Processing Association (APSIPA) and Cambridge University Press announced today the launch of the APSIPA Transactions on Signal and Information Processing – a groundbreaking new Open Access journal that will serve as an international forum for signal and information processing researchers across a broad spectrum of research, ranging from traditional modalities of signal processing to emerging areas.

APSIPA Transactions on Signal and Information Processing will be an advanced platform for researchers to publish and disseminate their work rapidly, through the continuous publication of peer-reviewed articles. Every article will be freely available online worldwide without restrictions.

All articles are published under the Creative Commons license, with authors retaining copyright. Upon acceptance of a paper, authors pay a one-off processing fee to cover the costs of reviewing, producing, hosting and archiving the article. This quality peer-reviewed journal is overseen by an international team of distinguished and leading experts on the Advisory and Editorial Boards. The APSIPA Transactions on Signal and Information Processing will be led by Editor-in-Chief, Professor Antonio Ortega from the University of Southern California.

Find out more here.

I doubt that this new journal is of any great interest to most of the readers on this site, but I point it out because it is an example of a major press producing a journal with this new model (Open Access).

Why think “Orangutan” when we expect “Chimp”1
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