According to recent reports, NASA is planning to probe Uranus in search of gas. This is not a joke, but a legitimate scientific endeavor that has been proposed by the national space agency.
Amy Simon, co-chair of the Ice Giants Pre-Decadal Study group, says that either Uranus or Neptune would be great candidates for this study.
“The preferred mission is an orbiter with an atmospheric probe to either Uranus or Neptune – this provides the highest science value, and allows in-depth study of all aspects of either planet’s system: rings, satellites, atmosphere, magnetosphere,” Simon told New Scientist.
Simon says that there is still so much that we can learn from these ice giants
“This might have implications for how you form a planet of that mass in exoplanet systems, for example,” she says.
The team has proposed four separate missions, which would include three orbiters and a fly-by of Uranus. The researchers will use a narrow-angle camera to draw out details of the planet’s landscape, with a specific focus on the ice giant’s moons. The experiments would also involve an atmospheric probe that would be dropped into the atmosphere of Uranus to measure the levels of gas and heavy elements.
The team has not yet decided whether this mission will be to Neptune or Uranus.
Jonathan Fortney at the University of California, Santa Cruz says that it would be better to take the mission to Uranus, and not just because it makes for a good headline. Fortney says that an exploration of Uranus could yield significant scientific findings.
“Compared to Neptune, Uranus has a larger satellite system that likely formed in a disk around the planet (like the Jupiter and Saturn satellite systems) which is helpful for comparative planetary science, and I am excited to better understand the diversity of these small worlds,” Fortney says.
This would be an extremely large-scale mission that would take a minimum of 14 years and would require the use of nuclear power since solar would be incredibly inefficient that far away from the sun. As a result of international treaties, it may not even be possible to build the nuclear devices needed for the missions. The batteries used by NASA are atomic batteries powered by plutonium-238 and are in very short supply. In 2013, the US government began enriching more of this specific type of nuclear material, but it has not been enough to keep up with the overwhelming demand.
The team is shooting for the stars, but they have somewhat realistic expectations of how long it would take to put a mission like this together. The team admits that they would not be ready to launch a mission like this until at least 2034. However, because the planet only comes within reach of our orbit every few years, there is a short window where NASA would be able to complete the mission.
Mark Hofstadter at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that the window of opportunity lasts just a few years, and won’t be back for over a decade if it is missed.
“For Uranus, although the frequency of good launch dates falls off after 2034, there are still good opportunities through 2036. For Neptune, however, after 2030 it is pretty barren, owing to a lack of Jupiter gravity assists, for another 12 years, to about 2041 or so. So getting going now is helpful for a Uranus mission, and would be absolutely essential for Neptune mission,” Hofstadter says.
As Nola Taylor Redd on Space.com points out, Uranus has received very little attention from NASA aside from a casual fly-by observation of the Voyager 2 spacecraft.
“Only one spacecraft has made the trip to Uranus. Launched in August 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 flew by the planet on its way out of the solar system. It encountered all four gas giants, making its closest approach to Uranus on Jan. 24, 1986. This means it took just under a decade to reach the icy giant,” Redd said, according to Science Enthusiast.
“The trip to Uranus and Neptune is expected to take fourteen years at a minimum. Because of how far the planets are from the sun, any craft sent to them would have to rely on internal power instead of solar panels, meaning the craft would use plutonium-238 atomic batteries,” Redd added.
Scientists Capture Two Murder Hornet Queens Alive And Destroy First Known Nest
Earlier this week, scientists destroyed the first “murder hornet” nest in the US, but two queens managed to escape. “Murder hornets” are an invasive species to the United States that has been making headlines this year. The real name for this insect is the “Asian giant hornet” but it has earned the nickname “murder hornet” because they are actually capable of killing a human being, and they are also a major threat to honeybee populations, which are already dangerously low.
On Wednesday, Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) officials were able to cut down and remove the entire tree that once held the first known murder hornet nest, and this is where they found the two queens. Incredibly the scientists managed to capture the queens in vials, according to CBS News.
They also captured 13 other live hornets for observation and research.
In a statement on Friday, WSDA announced the finding, describing the process that scientists went through to take apart the tree.
Over the next several days, WSDA entomologists will continue to analyze the nest and its contents. They will record data such as the number and caste of adult specimens, the number and size of the nest cells, overall nest size, weight and length of collected specimens, and more. All of the data will be made publicly available when it is complete and will be posted to the WSDA’s Asian giant hornet webpage at agr.wa.gov/hornets.
Murder Hornets were discovered in the US after an entire hive of honey bees was destroyed back in November and the bees were found decapitated. A short time after, two Asian giant hornets were found just a few miles north near Blaine, near the U.S.-Canadian border. After that incident, scientists and residents were on the lookout for the species.
Anyone who finds a murder hornet nest is urged to contact their local health authorities instead of attempting to damage the nest themselves. In previous cases, people have attempted to destroy murder hornet nests, only to find out that they were actually regular bee nests.
Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist for the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside told the LA Times that these insects aren’t as threatening as they appear to be, and reminded reporters that the “murder hornets” have not created an armageddon in Asia yet, and they have been there hundreds of years, but they do represent a danger to other insects as an invasive species.
The Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is the world’s largest hornet species. They have large yellow-orange heads, prominent eyes and are between 1.5 to 2 inches long. The Asian giant hornet is often confused with the yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), also known as the Asian hornet, an invasive species of major concern across Europe, including the UK. In some Japanese mountain villages, the nests are excavated and the larvae are considered a delicacy when fried.
Washington residents are still asked to report Asian giant hornet sightings (with a photo if possible) online, via email at [email protected], or by calling 1-800-443-6684.
Scientists Find Evidence Of Water On The Moon
Scientists with NASA have recently announced that they have found significant evidence showing that water exists on the moon. Their research has also indicated that this water could be possible for humans to tap into, if a base of some sort were to be built on the moon.
For most of recent history, scientists believed that the moon was likely dry because it does not have an atmosphere to insulate it from the sun’s rays. However, many researcher’s attitudes on the subject changed in the 1990s when a spacecraft found evidence of ice in the craters at the moon’s poles. Then in 2009, imaging spectrometers onboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft recorded signatures consistent with water in light reflecting off the moon’s surface, according to the Guardian.
While this gave scientists hope that there was water on the moon, it was impossible for them to tell if it was water for sure, because the readings could have actually been hydroxyl molecules, and not actual H2O.
However, a team at Nasa’s ASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, led by Casey Honniball has been able to prove that the signature is in fact H2O. They confirmed this finding by measuring the wavelengths of sunlight reflecting off the moon’s surface. The data was collected by the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia), a modified Boeing 747 carrying a 2.7-meter reflecting telescope.
However, researchers still have many questions about the water sources on the moon. They do not know how abundant water is there, which is essential to find out if they hope to use it. Scientists hope that they will learn more through Nasa’s Artemis mission, which will be sending astronauts to the moon by 2024. British scientists are also developing a robotic drill to take samples of lunar soil from depths of up to a meter, as part of a Russian mission scheduled for 2025.
Paul Hayne, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, is one of many researchers trying to learn more about the moon.
“With billions of potential water reservoirs scattered over the polar regions, the focus should be shifted away from the handful of well-known large craters and towards the multitude of potential landing sites our study reveals,” Prof Hayne said.
Earlier in October, eight countries including the UK signed the Artemis Accords, which is a set of international agreements drawn up by the US government that lays out a plan for future exploration of the moon and exploitation of its resources. Russia and China have still not signed onto the agreement, and they may not be able to depending on sanctions and trade agreements.
Christopher Newman, professor of space law and policy at Northumbria University, in Newcastle, says that the agreement hopes to ensure that activities between earth nations on the moon will be peaceful.
“The accords pull together the existing norms of behaviour that we’ve established, such as recognition that exploration of the moon should be for peaceful purposes, that there should be transparency in operations, and data sharing, and so on,” Newman said.
“Incredibly Rare, One-In-A-Million” Super Earth Discovered By Scientists
Researchers have discovered an incredibly rare “super earth” that could potentially hold the conditions to sustain human life. The planet was discovered by New Zealand astronomers who say that the planet “is one of only a handful that have been discovered with both size and orbit comparable to that of Earth.”
The team published their findings in a study in the Astronomical Journal.
The study estimated that the planet’s host star is roughly 10% the mass of our sun, with the planet having a larger mass than the planet Earth. It also orbits its star from a comparable distance of the earth from the sun. Still, despite these incredibly rare conditions, the researchers suggest that the planet could still be very cold because of the fact that its star is much smaller than the sun.
Study co-author Michael Abrow of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury told USA TODAY that, “Although it’s not too much bigger than Earth, and orbiting its star at a similar distance, this planet would be very cold because its star is smaller than the sun and emits much less light. Water could not exist in a liquid state, and the likelihood of life would be very low. Only a very few planets have been detected that may have suitable conditions for life.”
It may not seem like a huge deal, but the mass of the host star makes a huge difference, and not just with the temperature of the planet. Due to the mass of the host star, the planet would also have a “year” of about 617 days.
The study was led by Antonia Herrera-Martin of the University of Canterbury, who said that the team made their discovery using a technique called gravitational microlensing.
The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way. We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect, he explained.
Few other specific details about the planet, such as its distance from our solar system, were not available in the abstract of the study that was published online.
Last year, a different team of researchers discovered a potentially habitable planet that contained water.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.
The lead scientist, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL) said that this planet seems to be in the perfect environment to sustain life, just like earth. Tinetti says that this is the first time that researchers were able to detect water on a planet that is in a habitable zone with temperatures in the proper range.
The habitable zone, also sometimes known as “goldilocks zone,” is the space around a star where the temperature is in just the right place to sustain liquid water and possibly even life. However, it will likely not be possible for humans to reach the planet anytime soon, and definitely not in our lifetime. Researchers estimate that the planet is roughly 111 light-years, or about 650 million-million miles from earth.
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