Monday, March 20, 2017

Traveling Telescopes: A Great Way To Spread Astronomy Awareness?

Given that a lot of young people are still clueless about astronomy, are travelling telescopes a good way to spread the knowledge about astronomy?

By: Ringo Bones 

Astronomer Susan Murabana did not have an easy time following her passion for celestial bodies while growing up in Nairobi, Kenya. Even until this day, the country has no planetarium, only a handful of astronomers and access to even an entry-level astronomical telescope in the 200-US dollar price range is nigh on impossible, it seems that spreading knowledge and awareness on astronomy in Kenya is akin to the proverbial “fool’s errand”. But now with her Travelling Telescope Initiative, she now has the means to inspire a new generation of Kenyans to the joys and fascinations to the science of astronomy. 

Together with her husband, Kenyan astronomer Susan Murabana started her Travelling Telescope Initiative back in 2013 as an astronomy outreach program by visiting primary and secondary schools across Kenya with an 8-inch astronomical telescope – about the minimum size to allow the viewer to resolve the structure of the Andromeda Galaxy, our Milky Way’s nearest galactic neighbor. Given that hands on astronomy is still largely an esoteric endeavor to children in the developing world, even seeing the moon through an astronomical telescope capable of a distortion-free 30-times magnification is enough to fascinate the uninitiated. 

Given the worldwide popularity of big-budget Hollywood space-based science fiction movies, the science of astronomy is still largely an unknown or at most a very esoteric scientific endeavor to most children in primary and secondary schools of developing nations across the world. While internet connected desktop personal computers in schools had been a boon to science education in the 21st Century in developing nations, it seems that an overwhelming majority of children in developing countries can’t even point to the planet Mars in the sky as nighttime arrives in their local time zone.    

Friday, February 24, 2017

TRAPPIST-1 Has Seven Earth Like Planets?

Even since its discovery a year ago, the red dwarf / brown dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is now believed to not contain one but seven Earth-like planets, does this make it more likely that this star system harbors Earth-like life?

By: Ringo Bones 

The most promising spot to look for Earth-like extraterrestrial life in our Milky Way galaxy just got more promising after it was found out that it not just contain three Earth-like planets but seven. The star is named after the team or astronomers manning the European Southern Observatory’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, who discovered a small dim red dwarf star about 39 light-years away last year. After other “more capable” astronomical telescopes were trained into the TRAPPIST star system, like the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s (fortunately Fake President Trump hasn’t yet made an Executive Order to disestablish NASA despite The White House is now currently overrun by the U.S. Republican Party Jesus Cult) Spitzer Space Telescope had uncovered new features of the star system that the team of astronomers led by Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium published their findings in the science journal Nature a few days ago confirming that the TRAPPIST-1 star system has not three but seven Earth-sized planets, six of which are likely rocky, and all seven could possibly support liquid water. 

Basing on the very recent discovered data, the TRAPPIST-1 star system looks very different from our own Solar System. The planets pass very close to each other as they orbit that according to NASA astronomers: “If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring words, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.” From this description alone, standing of one of TRAPPIST-1’s planets would be reminiscent of going to those “comic book” and “movie” planets as portrayed by their illustrators and set makers in those classic Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon movies and comics. 

Even though TRAPPIST-1 is a “mere” 39 light-years away which would put it right next door in cosmic terms – the planets might just have been on the other side of the cosmos from our perspective because using our current rocket technology, a spacecraft launched from Earth could only reach TRAPPIST-1 star system after 700,000 years. Given how far it is, a 595 mile-per-hour passenger jet airliner takes about 44-million years to reach it – if it could escape the Earth’s and our Solar System’s gravity. And the radio wave telemetry sent by a space-probe on one of TRAPPIST-1’s planets – travelling at the speed of light - would take 39 years to reach to NASA’s Mission Control Center.