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Is There LIFE on Planet GJ581g?

GJ 581 g is an Earth-like planet recently discovered orbiting Gliese 581, a red dwarf star categorized as M Dwarf. This new discovery is perceived by scientists as as a Goldilocks type sphere - not too hot, not too cold. Nicknamed Zarminas World (after his wife Zarmina) by project leader Steven S Vogt, GJ581g will fascinate and enthrall Earthlings for generations to come.

GJ581G Orbiting Gliese 581

GJ581G Orbiting Gliese 581
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mars: High resolution images from Curiosity rover

Here are some of the most recent Mars images released by NASA, taken from the Curiosity rover in recent days:

Check back for MORE NASA photos and videos from Mars Curiosity mission in coming days and weeks!

Monday, February 27, 2012

EARTH News: Eco holidays to save Gaia

Sustainable Tourism: A Key to Global Solutions

by Dr. Reese Halter and Dr. Dave Randle

When most people think of tourism, they probably don't think about an industry that can contribute to global solutions for the difficult challenges facing the planet.

Tourism is in fact, the fastest growing industry in the world. According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization (WTO), tourism visits grew from about 900 to 940 million visitors last year and is projected to rise to 1.6 billion by the year 2020.

The WTO states that tourism is the largest industry in the world with an estimated 11.5% of the world GDP and employing about 12.5% of the world's work force.

Tourism can be the key for implementing many global solutions for challenges such as climate change, poverty reduction, waste reduction, preserving eco-systems and moving the world to a more sustainable planet.

Unlike the fossil fuel industries that often resist serious efforts to address climate change the tourist industry realizes that climate change left unmitigated threatens their business. One example is the Caribbean region where climate change is already threatening the region with several challenges including but not limited to:

• predictions of increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes.
• rising sea levels resulting in salt water intrusion to coastal habitat and fresh water supplies.
• changing weather patterns and new drought cycles that threaten food production.
• disruptions in rainfall patterns that threaten water supplies.
• bleaching of the coral reefs that threaten vital tourist attractions.
• increases of diseases such as dengue fever due to warmer temperatures.

Unless these climate change issues are mitigated, the quality of the tourist experience is likely to decrease and the visitors will be less likely to come to the region.

Tourism also has an strong interest in alleviating poverty. Poverty in tourist areas has the potential for:

• driving away business.
• increased crime risks.
• increased spread of infectious disease.
• destruction of the environment.
• low quality of skills and services.

Tourists often come from more wealthy countries. If tourist accommodations are surrounded by depressing poverty, high crime or security issues, or constant concerns of catching infectious disease, they will be become places tourists will avoid visiting or scheduling return visits.

Tourists are also increasingly discriminating re: local arts and crafts, quality of services expected, and opportunities of the local culture. If abject poverty keeps local artists from improving skills, the services coming from an uneducated work force, or the culture either to depressing or unsafe to venture out in, then the tourist destination or service suffers as a result.

Tourism destinations and resorts have an interest in keeping their areas clean and pristine. Fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, diving, snorkeling, swimming, boating, or walking on the beach are all experiences where pollution can quickly turn a positive activity sour.

In contrast, tourist areas that are kept clean and pristine are likely to not only be more valued experiences but also places tourists will more likely want to return.

Tourism needs not only protection. but where possible enhancement of the surrounding ecosystems to insure the continued quality of the tourism experience. As a result, tourism has a vested interest in conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable fisheries that other industries may not care as much about.

It is encouraging to note that a growing movement in support of sustainable tourism has been developing the past few years. Progress is being seen in the tourist industry, government & NGO's, and education in support of these efforts. A few examples are as follows:

In the tourist industry, Walt Disney Company that includes Walt Disney World Resort® the most visited tourist destination in the world, has taken strong leadership for sustainable tourism.

Disney corporate goals include:

1. Reduce zero net direct greenhouse emissions 50% from the 2006 baseline by 2012 and then subsequently become a net zero greenhouse gas emission company.
2. Reduce electricity consumption by 10% from 2006 baseline levels by 2012.
3. Decrease waste sent to landfills by 50% from 2006 baseline levels by 2013 and then work to send zero waste to landfills.
4. Have a net positive impact on ecosystems and continue to increase its grants from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.

Imagine the impact if the entire tourist industry would follow Walt Disney Company's lead toward sustainable tourism. While some are arguing whether it is feasible to reduce carbon emissions 10% in government forums, Disney is reducing carbon emissions 50% in a short six years. They are making these reductions in a way that also is enhancing net profits.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a global leader in promoting sustainable tourism. What began as a collaborative effort of the U.N. World Tourism Organization, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), the Rainforest Alliance, and the U.N. Foundation, has now expanded to include over 200 members from around the globe.

The GSTC represents a diverse membership including U.N. agencies, leading travel companies, hotels, country tourism boards and tour operators.

The GSTC has recently released a new global standard for sustainable tourism the "Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria" The criteria requires members of the tourist industry who want to be certified to meet standards include

• Demonstrate effective sustainable management. This includes making sure that long range planning is in place to continue to operate more sustainably.
• Maximize social and economic benefits to the local community and minimize community impacts. This includes providing a living wage to people working in the tourist industry as well as providing economic benefits to the larger community where the tourist business is located.
• Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impacts. This includes protection of indigenous people's rights as well as preserving sacred and cultural sites of the past.
• Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts. This includes addressing the critical issues of carbon emissions, water, waste management, biodiversity, and protection of ecosystems.

If implemented on a large scale throughout the tourist industry, the GSTC criteria will go a long way to address the issues of climate change, alleviation of poverty, waste reduction, conservation of water, and biodiversity, cultural heritage, and protection and enhancement of ecosystems.

See (http://new.gstcouncil.org/resource-center/gstc-criteria)

Educational Institutions are also beginning to address the issues of sustainable Tourism as well as model sustainability on their campus.

California Lutheran University (CLU) and the University of South Florida (USF), where the two of us work, have strong campus sustainability programs that work to model sustainable lifestyles for the campus community. Both universities are signatories to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. This commitment includes a 5% reduction in energy use and continuing annual reductions, as well as establishing a target date for climate neutrality.

CLU states "we make a commitment to continue to learn how to live responsibly and justly on our campus and in our communities. Sustainability must be a campus-wide effort rooted in awareness that our immediate, local practices often have global implications."

USF has begun a new Sustainable Tourism Concentration as part of their M.A. in Global Sustainability program. The program includes education on implementing the new GSTC criteria.

Working together, the tourist industry, the leadership of the GSTC, and educational institutions can begin to implement models for sustainability that others may follow.

Sustainable tourism can lead the way in demonstrating how to break the fossil fuel addiction, model good water conservation and waste management, and place a higher value on protecting biodiversity and ecosystems.

Sustainable tourism also reduce costs and increase net revenues of the business, created economic development for the community, and is projected to create 69 million new jobs in the next decade.

Each traveler can assist in sustainable tourism by choosing resorts and destinations that practice sustainable tourism as evidenced by being certified by a GSTC recognized sustainable tourism certification program.

Sustainable tourism is indeed a key to many global solutions and may be one of the most hopeful strategies for the global transition to sustainability.

This post was co-authored by Dr. David Randle. Dr. David Randle is the Director of USF Masters of Global Sustainability Sustainable Tourism concentration program, and President & CEO WHALE Center

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning science communicator:voice for ecology and distinguished conservation biologist at California Lutheran University. His latest books are: The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.

Follow Dr. Reese Halter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrReeseHalter

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DISCOVERY: New Planet is water-filled and steamy!!!

Bigger than Earth, smaller than Uranus

Scientists have discovered a new type of alien planet — a steamy waterworld that is larger than Earth but smaller than Uranus.

The standard-bearer for this new class of exoplanet is called GJ 1214b, which astronomers first discovered in December 2009. New observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggest that GJ 1214b is a watery world enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.

"GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of," study lead author Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

Adding to the diversity of discovered planets

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 700 planets beyond our solar system, with about 2,300 more "candidates" awaiting confirmation by follow-up observations.

These alien planets are a diverse bunch. Astronomers have found one planet as light and airy as Styrofoam, for example, and another as dense as iron. They've discovered several alien worlds that orbit two suns, like Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tatooine in the "Star Wars" films. [The Strangest Alien Planets]

But GJ 1214b, which is located 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer), is something new altogether, researchers said.

This so-called "super-Earth" is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs nearly seven times as much as our home planet. It orbits a red-dwarf star at a distance of 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometres), giving it an estimated surface temperature of 446 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius) — too hot to host life as we know it.

Scientists first reported in 2010 that GJ 1214b's atmosphere is likely composed primarily of water, but their findings were not definitive. Berta and his team used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to help dispel the doubts.

Hubble watched as GJ 1214b crossed in front of its host star, and the scientists were able to determine the composition of the planet's atmosphere based on how it filtered the starlight.

"We’re using Hubble to measure the infrared color of sunset on this world," Berta said. "The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favor of a steamy atmosphere."

Berta and his colleagues report their results online in the Astrophysical Journal.

A watery world

Since astronomers know GJ 1241b's mass and size, they're able to calculate its density, which turns out to be just 2 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cc). Earth's density is 5.5 g/cc, while that of water is 1 g/cc.

GJ 1214b thus appears to have much more water than Earth does, and much less rock. The alien planet's interior structure is likely quite different from that of our world.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water,' substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," Berta said.

GJ 1214b probably formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and then migrated in to its current location long ago. In the process, it would have experienced more Earth-like temperatures, but how long this benign phase lasted is unknown, researchers said.

Because GJ 1214b is so close to Earth, it's a prime candidate for study by future instruments. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated to launch in 2018, may be able to get an even better look at the planet's atmosphere, researchers said.

Source: Space.com

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy to offer stargazing vacations

by John Farrell, Contributor, Forbes.com

It’s not often a scientist decides to start his own travel agency.

I’m exaggerating–it’s not a travel agency. But Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy and his wife Marcella Setter recently founded Science Getaways to set up trips around the world for people who’d like to travel to exotic landscapes–and learn from experts.

“When we visited the Galapagos Islands a few years ago,” he writes, “we discovered that learning about the natural history, geology, and biology of the islands greatly enhanced our appreciation of their beauty and made our visit much more memorable. Discovering more about your vacation spot always makes the experience better, and it was from this idea that Science Getaways was born.”

Plait has a degree in astronomy from University of Virginia. He worked for a stretch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center helping to calibrate the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. In addition to his blog, he’s written two books, and lectures all across the country on science and science education.

The first official Science Getaways trip is for September: at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado. At an elevation of 8,300 feet, the ranch is located in a valley south of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Over the course of four days, guests will go on hikes and field trips with Plait; Holly Brunkal, a professor of geology at Western State College in Gunnison; and David Armstrong, former professor at University of Colorado–Boulder and a specialist in biogeography and ecology.

I’m hoping future Science Getaways take place during school vacation –so I can bring my kids.

Related Links:

New stargazer astronomy vacations from Science Getaways

Bad Astronomy blog on Discover Magazine's website

Hubble Space Telescope website

Friday, December 30, 2011

Chinese Space Station moving forward

BEIJING -- China plans to launch space labs and manned ships and prepare to build space stations over the next five years, according to a plan released Thursday that shows the country's space program is gathering momentum.

China has already said its eventual goals are to have a space station and put an astronaut on the moon. It has made methodical progress with its ambitious lunar and human spaceflight programs, but its latest five-year plan beginning next year signals an acceleration.

By the end of 2016, China will launch space laboratories, manned spaceship and ship freighters, and make technological preparations for the construction of space stations, according to the white paper setting out China's space progress and future missions.

China's space program has already made major breakthroughs in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the United States and Russia in space technology and experience.

The country will continue exploring the moon using probes, start gathering samples of the moon's surface, and "push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun."

It will use spacecraft to study the properties of black holes and begin monitoring space debris and small near-Earth celestial bodies and build a system to protect spacecraft from debris.

The paper also says China will improve its launch vehicles, improve its communications, broadcasting and meteorological satellites and develop a global satellite navigation system, intended to rival the United States' dominant global positioning system (GPS) network.

China places great emphasis on the development of its space industry, which is seen as a symbol of national prestige.

Its space principles – including peaceful development, enhancing international cooperation and deep space exploration – are largely unchanged from its previous two documents detailing the progress of China's space missions, released in 2000 and 2006.

In 2003, China became the third country behind the U.S. and Russia to launch a man into space and, five years later, completed a spacewalk. Toward the end of this year, it demonstrated automated docking between its Shenzhou 8 craft and the Tiangong 1 module, which will form part of a future space laboratory.

In 2007, it launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, which orbited the moon, collecting data and a complete map of the moon.

Since 2006, China's Long March rockets have successfully launched 67 times, sending 79 spacecraft into orbit.

Some elements of China's program, notably the firing of a ground-based missile into one of its dead satellites four years ago, have alarmed American officials and others who say such moves could set off a race to militarize space. That the program is run by the military has made the U.S. reluctant to cooperate with China in space, even though the latter insists its program is purely for peaceful ends.

"China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space," Thursday's white paper states.

The Chinese government's policy is to "reinforce" space cooperation with developing countries and "value" space cooperation with developed countries. The paper lists cooperation between China and countries including Russia, Brazil, France and Britain, and says of the United States: NASA's director visited China "and the two sides will continue to make dialogue regarding the space field."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

China to launch space mission in November

BEIJING — China will launch an unmanned spacecraft early next month that will attempt to dock with an experimental module, the latest step in what will be a decade-long effort to place a manned permanent space station in orbit.

In space, the Shenzhou 8 will carry out maneuvers to couple with the Tiangong 1 module now in orbit.

The ship and the modified Long March-2F rocket that will sling it into space were transferred early Wednesday to the launch pad at the Jiuquan space base on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Its exclusive report did not specify a date for the launch. Chinese space officials rarely speak to foreign media.

The 8.5-ton, box car-sized Tiangong 1 launched last month has moved into orbit 217 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth and is surveying Chinese farmland using special cameras, Xinhua said.

It is also conducting experiments involving growing crystals in zero gravity, the report said, citing the launch center's chief engineer, Lu Jinrong.

Following Shenzhou 8, two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with the module next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month.

Exploratory missions pave way for future China Space Station

Plans call for launching two other experimental modules for more tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.

At about 60 tons when completed, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the International Space Station, which is expected to continue operating through 2028.

China launched its own space station program after being rebuffed in its attempts to join the 16-nation ISS, largely on objections from the U.S. It is wary of the Chinese program's military links and the sharing of technology with its chief economic and political competitor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sat Oct 8th: Draconid meteors from Comet Giacobini-Zinner

Meteor shower to be obscured by daylight, full moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Heads-up, meteor fans.

As many as 750 meteors an hour are expected Saturday, as Earth travels through streams of dust and ice from Comet Giacobini-Zinner. The comet passes through the inner solar system every seven years.

But the timing for viewing them in the United States is terrible. These Draconid meteors are expected to peak between 3 and 5 p.m. EDT, so the sun will obscure everything.

NASA space weatherman Bill Cooke suggests popping outside and taking a look once it's dark. You might get lucky if forecasters' timing is off.

And while the meteors will be falling during nighttime in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, a nearly full moon is expected to dull the spectacle there.

"The moon sucks. It's messed up meteor showers this year. Next year will be better," said Cooke, team leader of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

It just so happens that this year's meteor showers are falling at or near the time of full moons.

Because the Draconids move relatively slowly – 12 miles per second – they're faint and the moonlight "really tends to wash them out," Cooke said in a phone interview.

The Draconids get their name from the constellation Draco, the Dragon.

In 1933 and 1946, the Draconid outbursts were major – observers reported an astounding rate of 20,000 shooting stars an hour. An Irish astronomer described the 1933 episode like a flurry of snowflakes.

The next Draconid outburst after this one will be in 2018.

If you miss this weekend's Draconids, you can catch the Orionids on Oct. 22 – remnants from Halley's Comet, expected to number 20 meteors an hour.

Then there are the Leonids in mid-November – with as many as 100 meteors an hour.

"Unfortunately, the moon will interfere with them as well," Cooke said. "We just don't have any good luck, moonwise, this year."

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