Kepler discovered a remarkable exoplanet

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Kepler 19c
Kepler 19c – An artist’s impression

NASA’s Kepler telescope discovered a double earth-sized planet (Note: not earth-like) and was given the name “Kepler 19c”.

The remarkable with this discovery is not only that this exoplanet in particular is tiny in comparison to previous discoveries of super sized Jupiter-like planets, but also due to the indirect discovery while studying another nearby exoplanet at the same planet system, transiting their star 5 minutes later than anticipated.

That brings our solar system in mind with our family member Neptunus, which was discovered indirectly and mathematically by studying the motion of the neighboor planet Uranus due to the unusual orbit around our sun. A conclusion was therefore made, that another object should exist nearby disturbing gravitationally its path around sun.

When the orbit of the theoretical planet was predicted, astronomers rushed to their telescopes trying to find it. And so a Thursday night the 23 of September 1846 the little blue dot was first seen visually by the astronomers Urbain Le Verrier, John Couch Adams and Johann Galle.

Discovering new worlds has always been part of the human history. From the myths and hopes of the existence of the lost isle of Atlantis, the discovery of new continents by the famous voyagers such as Marco Polo, Cpt. James Cook, Americo Vespucio, and so on, to the discovery of new planets within our solar system and finally today to entirely new worlds far beyond in space within our galaxy!

Kepler’s mission is to study constantly the same narrow field of around 145 000 main sequence stars and by their change in brightness reveal if these stars are inhabited by planets orbiting around. The technique is quite “simple” by using the transit method (a star’s magnitude changes when an object passes in front of it, lowering the brightness a tiny fraction). However, using this technique got its limitations as the passing object got to be on the same plane as our solar system. Objects passing in different paths will be never discovered by using this method!

Other methods are: Radial Velocity, Microlensing, Astrometry, Pulsar Timing and Direct Imaging.

The current number of exoplanet discoveries has today been altered to 520!

For more information please visit the links bellow:

Discovery’s last journey

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Early STS concepts: Image from Wikipedia
Early STS concepts: Image from Wikipedia

A historical decision (article in Dagens Nyheter) been taken in NASA for a while ago retiring all old space shuttless  (a.k.a. STS: Space Transportation Missions) starting with Discovery. I remember back in my early years reading my grandfather’s space magazines originating from the 70:ies regarding the plans for constructing these advanced ships, taking people out for space missions. Back then, it felt almost like science fiction. I recall the accidents with Challenger and Columbia as if there were yesterday and what devastating consequences they had upon the astronauts families, NASA’s budget and the common view on the risks astronauts are taking trying to conquer and master space. It never was an easy job considering all the risks and accidents that happened through all the years even if the shuttles gave a false safety thinking in comparison to the Apollo missions back in 60:ies. Regardless the STS program was made to be longlived and it has outlived many previous manned space programs in time length. I personally will miss these shuttles that wrote history (Hubble Space Telescope, International Space Station. MiR), but this retirement means also the opening of a new era taking humans further deeper into space in future missions, such as the planet Mars!

Play chess with Christer Fuglesang

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schackChrister Fuglesang  challenge in chess towards Dagens Nyheter has started. It is now possible to vote for the best chess move against Christer Fuglesang. The moves are analyzed by the Swedish chess master Richard Wessman and by publishing three possible counter moves for the news readers, you can vote on one of them. The winning move (with most votes) is then finally announced to Fuglesang.

The following link takes you to NASA’s live web TV. In a few days we will be able to follow the launch:

An exhausted Christer Fuglesang

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An exhausted Swedish astronaut answering questions to reporters representing different Swedish newspappers.

Godspeed Christer! Good luck with your mission! It truly means a lot for Sweden to have a representative out in space.

To follow STS-128 visit one of the NASA links bellow. NASA put some effort in reporting the progress for the 30th ISS mission and I would think they will air the launch live by streaming it through their website on the 24th of August. I will get back with more links.


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Aftonbladet warns readers about threats coming from space

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I recently went to my daughter’s school in order to make a 3 hour presentation about space. I took with me my laptop, a projector, photos, video sequences, illustrations and paper models on famous satellites and robots that human beings used during the Gemini and Apollo era back in the sixties and seventies. And believe me I was surprised by how much these 8 years old kids knew in advance!

One of the first questions that popped was, “What about comets, meteors and black holes?”. The kids where in need to know about the outer threats, a threat caused not by humanity itself, not by the nature on earth but about a threat coming from outer terrestrial flying objects within the inner solar system. They were fascinated on how threats from far away could cause such devastation. I tried to avoid scaring the kids by telling them about the consequences of these threats. I will tell you how I responded later.

Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper published an article today (Nasa kan inte skydda jorden“NASA cannot protect the earth”) about space and this time in particular they thought of writing about NASA’s NEO (Near-Earth Objects) program. It is certain that the budget in the US is currently restrained within many levels of the departments in the government. It is rough times for US economy and that has a great impact for NASA projects as well. History repeats itself, if we bring up Apollo missions as an example. Been there, done that, dont need that anymore!

Despite threats from budget cuts, the NEO program actually made some remarkable progress. It takes a great deal of time and sophisticated equipment to detect, analyze and catalogue tiny objects in space and scientists need to re-analyze these objects several times in order to detect their velocity and direction in order to predict future movements near earth.
We also have to remember that astronomy’s terms regarding distances and time are enormous in comparison to the timeframes and distances used in daily life. When an astronomer is talking about “Recent events” then she could be talking about hundreds of millions of years back in time. Or the term “close encounter” would be if a rock passes far away and behind the path of our moon. Remember that Apollo ships took 4 days to reach the moon travelling at the speed of a bullet!

In history, impacts that threatened life on earth have actually occurred. It is confirmed and well documented both from Apollo expeditions and by scientists on Earth. We also know that these kinds of impacts ending life will with all probability occur again. The question is rather “when” than “if” and if we think statistically about the time between these events it is currently believed that they occur more or less 20 million years apart. Statistically and theoretically we are currently quite close to an impact event – but nothing is certain. It may happen in 100 years or in 1000.

Again, astronomy is dealing with vast distances. Outer solar system members, such as the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, are our defence. Due to their large mass, stones are often pulled into their gravitational field before reaching Mars or Earth (ex. is Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet).

So all in all, things called “soon” or “close to us” are still very far away and most likely will not occur during our lifetimes.

Back to my daughter’s class: when I saw the importance of giving a good answer, I told them threats from these objects are not going to affect us during our lifetimes. And by the time humanity will face these threats our technology will be far more advanced and we will be able to deal with these rocks!

Enjoy the sight of Perseids that can be seen out in the summer night as we speak. They will only last for a couple of days and it is a beautiful event. Unfortunately the weather in the south regions of Sweden has not allowed me to see them yet.

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