I am into everything about this discovery of a 10 billion year-old supernova discovered by Johns Hopkins scientists using the Hubble Telescope — the oldest and farthest cosmic explosion ever sighted — except its name.
Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut living on board the International Space Station, has been tweeting beautiful space-shots of various cities and geographic features as seen from way, way above. His shot of Baltimore (above) is a particularly useful reminder of the loveliness of our city, even on a cold/rainy/slushy/“snow fog” kind of day. Below the jump: the Northern Lights, as seen from space!
Either the astrophysicists at Johns Hopkins have never seen a space-action movie, or they’ve seen way too many. Those are the only explanations I can come up with for why they’d argue in favor of slamming a spaceship into a giant asteroid… just to see what might happen.
Those late nights on Facebook could be taking their toll: according to recent research by Johns Hopkins biologist Samer Hattar, repeatedly staying up late leads to increased risk of depression and learning issues. And while skimping on sleep certainly doesn’t help, Hattar’s research reveals that the real problem is exposure to too much bright light.
So here’s the backstory: NASA recently announced the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb, an Earth-sized exoplanet that’s right next door, cosmically speaking. It’s a low-mass planet, and the star it orbits is relatively sun-like — just like home! So when do we get to go visit?
The club of people who’ve been in space is a small and elite one. Don Thomas, currently based at Towson University, is one of the lucky few: he flew on four missions in three years, a NASA record. This week, he spoke with Wired about space tourism, when people will finally walk on Mars, and the educational value of astronauts.
Sending a spacecraft near the sun poses some problems. Some are obvious (it’s 2500+ degrees up there!); some are less so (“hypervelocity dust particles“). Which is probably why it’s never been done before — until now, at least.
A team of ridiculously smart scientists from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory is working with NASA on the the first-ever Solar Probe Plus, “an extraordinary mission of exploration, discovery and deep understanding.” If all goes according to plan, the craft will get as close to the sun as possible — that is, 4 million miles away — and investigate some of the crucial questions that have bedeviled sun scientists for years: “Why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface, and What accelerates the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?”
This one was hard for me to wrap my head around: so, Earth used to be much smaller than it was. Geochemists at the University of Maryland can tell this from studying Earth’s mantle — the rocky layer between our planet’s metallic core and its outer crust. But back in those wild days of planet formation — that is, ten to twenty million years after the formation of the Solar System — we were getting knocked around quite a bit. And some of those collisions made our planet bigger. At some point back then, researchers posit, Earth smashed into another planet-sized body whirling through space… and thus our bratty little sister orb, the Moon, was born. But despite the many collisions, a part of Earth’s mantle stayed solid, and is part of our planet to this day. Lucky for us it worked out this way: “Prior to this finding, scientific consensus held that the internal heat of the early Earth, in part generated by a massive impact between the proto-Earth and a planetoid approximately half its size (i.e., the size of Mars), would have led to vigorous mixing and perhaps even complete melting of the Earth.” Complete melting of the Earth! It sounds like an action-adventure movie. But when the UM researchers found volcanic rocks in Russia that were 2.8 billion years old (yep, billion with a b), they found complicated differences in isotopic composition that indicated that Earth’s mantle (or at least part of it) was able to withstand that early battering. In other words, we’ve never had a complete meltdown. Good to know.
Even in our sluggishly-recovering economy, U.S. corporations have money. Approximately $508 billion, in fact — and that’s their excess cash holdings, meaning the money they don’t need for normal operations. And while that may be less than the $2 trillion figure that gets thrown around, it’s still more than three percent of our country’s GDP. “Spending even a fraction of these cash reserves on capital investment could substantially boost economic growth and employment,” says Jeffrey Werling, who heads the University of Maryland’s Inforum Research Center. That doesn’t mean giving each American her share of the excess cash ($1,623 each!). Instead, the UM economists crunched some numbers and found that if that money was spent wisely over the next three years, it could boost the workforce by adding 2.4 million jobs in the next two years — thus reducing the employment rate by 1.5 percent. A nice added effect would be to bump the U.S. GDP up by 1 percent in 2012, 1.5 percent in 2013, and 1.6 percent in 2014. Or corporations could work together to create an “Infrastructure Bank,” which would support investing in infrastructure projects throughout the country. According to the economists’ models, this could boost investment in local, state, and federal structures by as much as $250 billion by 2016 and adding 1.1 million new jobs. How would you spend the money?
Having a college minor always seemed a little silly to me. It was like officially declaring a hobby — here’s something I’m interested in only enough to take six classes in it. But a just-announced program at Johns Hopkins may have changed my mind.
Because now you can minor in space. Yes, space. Not physics, or Earth and planetary sciences, or engineering, or astrophysics, or whatever. Space! More broadly, “space science and engineering.” Space-minors will have to take an introductory course, plus four extra classes that fit around a particular theme. (The program’s website offers a few awesome-sounding ideas: exoplanets! exosolar biology! spacecraft design!) To cap things off, students will find an internship that allows them some hands-on practice with all their cool new space knowledge.
Hopkins students have reacted to the new minor with predictable, endearing, nerdy enthusiasm. “Dinosaurs and space are my two passions,” said Hopkins sophomore Jessica Noviello, who gets to take dinosaur classes as part of her Earth and planetary sciences major. Now that she can be a space minor, she is, as she says, “living the dream.”