Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kepler Sees World with Distant Orbit

Artist's impression of Kepler-421b
 The new world completes one orbit of its star every 704 days

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has spotted a distant world with the longest year of any planet in the mission's inventory. The exoplanet completes one circuit of its parent star every 704 days. Most of the 1,800 or so confirmed worlds beyond our Solar System orbit much closer to their stars than this one. Close-orbiting, large planets are easier to detect.
The study is to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. The planet, named Kepler-421-b orbits an orange star that is cooler and dimmer than our own Sun. It orbits this host star at a distance of 177 million km (110 million miles).
That's further out than the Earth orbits from the Sun (our planet's average distance is 150 million km) but less than Mars' distance of 228 million km. By comparison, the Red Planet takes some 780 days to complete one orbit of our host star.

With the information from Kepler, the scientists were able to calculate that the average temperature of the Uranus-sized exoplanet is around -93C (-135F). It orbits a star around 1,040 light-years away,
"Finding Kepler-421b was a stroke of luck," said the study's lead author David Kipping, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, US.
"The farther a planet is from its star, the less likely it is to transit the star from Earth's point of view. It has to line up just right."

The Kepler telescope was uniquely suited to make this discovery: The spacecraft stared at the same patch of sky for four years, watching for stars that dim as planets cross in front of them. This technique for discovering exoplanets is known as the transit method. Despite this, the space observatory only detected two transits of Kepler-421b due to the planet's long orbital period. The distant world's orbit places it outside the "snow line" - the line in space that divides rocky planets like Earth from the gas giants like Jupiter. Beyond this line, water condenses into ice grains that stick together to build gas planets.
"The snow line is a crucial distance in planet formation theory. We think all gas giants must have formed beyond this distance," Dr Kipping said.
Since gas giants can be found extremely close to their stars, in orbits lasting days or even hours, theorists believe that many exoplanets migrate inward early in their history. Kepler-421b demonstrates that this planetary migration isn't necessary; the planet could have formed exactly where it currently is.

The ability to discover planets this distance from their host stars is crucial for understanding the diversity of planetary systems beyond our own.

Kepler space telescope mission

An illustration of Kepler

  • Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescope set out to find Earth-like worlds orbiting distant stars in the Constellation Lyra
  • It used the so-called transit technique - looking for the periodic dips in light as exoplanets pass in front of their host stars
  • Last year, astronomers used Kepler's data to estimate that one in five stars like the Sun hosts an Earth-sized world

How Rare is Our Blue Planet?
In astronomy and astrobiology, the circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ), or simply the habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks zone, is the region around a star within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at their surfaces. The bounds of the CHZ are calculated using the known requirements of Earth's biosphere, its position in the Solar System and the amount of radiant energy it receives from the Sun. Due to the importance of liquid water to life as it exists on Earth, the nature of the CHZ and the objects within is believed to be instrumental in determining the scope and distribution of earth-like extraterrestrial life and intelligence.

Since the concept of the CHZ was first presented in 1953, numerous planets have now been discovered in the CHZ. Most such planets, being super-Earths or gas giants, are more massive than Earth, because such planets are easier to detect. On November 4, 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy. 11 billion of these estimated planets may be orbiting sun-like stars. The nearest such planet may be 12 light-years away, according to the scientists. The CHZ is also of particular interest to the emerging field of natural satellite habitability, because planetary-mass moons in the CHZ might outnumber planets.

In subsequent decades, the CHZ concept began to be challenged as a primary criterion for life. Since the discovery of evidence for extraterrestrial liquid water, substantial quantities of it are now believed to occur outside the circumstellar habitable zone. Sustained by other energy sources, such as tidal heating or radioactive decay or pressurized by other non-atmospheric means, the basic conditions for water-dependent life may be found even in interstellar space, on rogue planets or their moons. In addition, other circumstellar zones, where non-water solvents favorable to hypothetical life based on alternative biochemistries could exist in liquid form at the surface, have been proposed.

Dedicated to my NASA Junior Scientists...Jonny and Chris

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

World on a hot streak: Globe sizzles to temperature record in June, after breaking May record

WASHINGTON - The globe is on a hot streak, setting a heat record in June. That's after the world broke a record in May. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that last month's average global temperature was 61.2 degrees (16.2 Celsius), which is 1.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. It beat 2010's old record by one-twentieth of a degree. While one-twentieth of a degree doesn't sound like much, in temperature records it's like winning a horse race by several lengths, said NOAA climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt.
And that's only part of it. The world's oceans not only broke a monthly heat record at 62.7 degrees (17 Celsius), but it was the hottest the oceans have been on record no matter what the month, Arndt said.
"We are living in the steroid era of the climate system," Arndt said. He reported both the June and May records were driven by unusually hot oceans, especially the Pacific and Indian oceans. The combined average temp. over land and ocean surfaces was a record high for the month at 16.22 Celsius. The combined average temp. over land and ocean surfaces was a record high for the month at 16.22 Celsius.
Heat records in June broke on every continent but Antarctica, especially in New Zealand, northern South America, Greenland, central Africa and southern Asia. The United States had only its 33rd hottest June. All 12 of the world's monthly heat records have been set after 1997, more than half in the last decade. All the global cold monthly records were set before 1917. And with a likely El Nino this year — the warming of the tropical Pacific which influences the world's weather and increases global temperatures — it is starting to look like another extra warm year, said University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck.
The first six months of the year are the third warmest first six months on record,  according to NOAA. Global temperature records go back to 1880 and this is the 352nd hotter than average month in a row.
"This is what global warming looks like," Overpeck said in an email. "Not record hot everywhere all the time, but certainly a gradual creeping up of record hot weather going on everywhere around the planet." 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Johns Hopkins Hospital pays out $190m over doctor tapes

Dr Nikita Levy, undated handout image 

Dr Nikita Levy killed himself shortly after he was fired from the hospital

Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US state of Maryland has agreed to pay $190m after some 8,000 women joined a legal case claiming a gynaecologist had secretly recorded them. Dr Nikita Levy, who killed himself last year, reportedly used cameras in pens and key fobs to tape patients. Lawyer Jonathan Schochor said all of the women had been "brutalized" and described it as a "betrayal".
The settlement is believed to be the largest of its kind in US history. The hospital said in a statement that one individual "does not define Johns Hopkins".
"It is our hope that this settlement, and findings by law enforcement that images were not shared, helps those affected achieve a measure of closure," the statement said.

Levy's misconduct was first brought to light by a colleague, who saw a pen camera around his neck.
Authorities later discovered more than 1,200 images and videos clips of patients on hard drives in Levy's home. The women also alleged that Levy ordered an "excessive number" of invasive exams and engaged in inappropriate physical contact.
An investigation later determined Levy participated in the misconduct on his own and did not record underage patients. Levy was fired by the hospital on February 8/2013 after the allegations came to light and was found dead 10 days later. He apparently could not live with the consequences of his conduct and committed suicide.

Boston Marathon bombing: Tsarnaev friend found guilty

In this courtroom sketch, Azamat Tazhayakov (centre) appeared in a Boston, Massachusetts, courtroom on 21 July 2014 

Azamat Tazhayakov (centre) was convicted in a Boston, Massachusetts, court

A friend of one of the men suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing has been convicted of hindering the investigation into the attack. Azamat Tazhayakov discarded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's laptop and backpack in the days after the 15 April 2013 attack. Tazhayakov, a Kazakhstan national who faces up to 20 years in prison, said another man threw out the potential evidence.
Three people died and more than 260 were injured in the blasts.

Lawyers for Tazhayakov argued another friend of Mr Tsarnaev's, Dias Kadyrbayev, was responsible for removing the items from a dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where Tazhayakov and Mr Tsarnaev were students.Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued both men, who hail from Kazakhstan, were responsible for the decision to destroy the items, including altered fireworks, to protect Mr Tsarnaev.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev seen on 19 April 2013  
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces 30 criminal charges

The backpack and fireworks - emptied of their explosive powder - were later found in a Massachusetts landfill. Mr Kadyrbayev faces a trial in September, while a third friend, US citizen Robel Phillipos, has been charged with lying to investigators in connection with the matter.
Mr Tsarnaev - who faces the death penalty if convicted - will stand trial in November.
He has pleaded not guilty to 30 charges, of which 17 carry the possibility of capital punishment.
Prosecutors allege Mr Tsarnaev set off two pressure cooker bombs with his older brother Tamerlan, who later died in a police shoot-out. Mr Tsarnaev will be charged under the federal death penalty law; Massachusetts abolished the use of capital punishment in 1984.

Pro Russian Rebels Agree to Hand Over Black Boxes In an About Face...Why??

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands guard near the train transporting the remains of victims from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane before its departure, with bags and suitcases of passengers seen in the foreground, from the railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez, Donetsk region July 21, 2014. A train carrying victims from the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed has set off from the rebel-held town of Torez in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters witness said on Monday. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: DISASTER POLITICS TRANSPORT)

Reuters/REUTERS - An armed pro-Russian separatist stands guard near the train transporting the remains of victims from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane before its departure, with bags and suitcases …more  of passengers seen in the foreground, from the railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez, Donetsk region July 21, 2014. A train carrying victims from the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed has set off from the rebel-held town of Torez in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters witness said on Monday.

Meanwhile, the remains of 282 of the crash victims are being moved by train from the eastern Ukrainian city of Torez to Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, Najib said. From there, they will be flown to Amsterdam on a Dutch C130 Hercules military plane and handed over to Dutch authorities.
"I must stress that although an agreement has been reached, there remain a number of steps required before it is completed," Najib said at a hastily arranged news conference at his residence just after midnight Monday. "There is work still to be done, work which relies on continued communication in good faith. Mr. Borodai and his people have so far given their co-operation."

The Boeing 777 crashed in rebel-held territory, and the separatists are being blamed for shooting it down by much of the international community, including the United States.Najib said that following any necessary forensic work, the remains of the 43 Malaysian citizens who were aboard the plane would be flown to their home country.
On Sunday, he had said that the remains of the Malaysian victims must be returned to Malaysia before the Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. This year, it falls on July 28.

Anger and resentment toward the Russian-backed rebels and Moscow have been escalating worldwide, including in Malaysia, where there have been calls for economic sanctions against Russia. Is Putin afraid of bad public relations. I don't think so; he shrugs that kind of thing off. Perhaps the flight recorders did not have anything damning on them.

Russia 'Told Rebels To Hide MH17's Black Boxes' and bring them to Russian Authorities

   A pro Russian worker carries a flight data recorder at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

Kiev on Sunday released fresh recordings of what it says are intercepted conversations between rebels organizing to hide the flight’s black boxes from international monitors.
And the US embassy confirmed as authentic, recordings released by Kiev of an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer as they realized they had shot down a passenger jet.
The Washington Post said Ukraine’s counterintelligence chief had photographs and related evidence that three Buk M-1 anti-aircraft missile systems moved from rebel-held territory into Russia less than 12 hours after the crash. However, top Russian officials and state media have suggested that Kiev’s new leaders staged the attack to blame the rebels.
The UN Security Council voted at on Monday on a resolution demanding that armed groups controlling the area “refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site... and immediately provide safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the site and surrounding area for the appropriate investigating authorities.”
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany also signalled they could ramp up sanctions against Russia as early as Tuesday - barely a week after the last round of toughened embargoes.
The separatists’ violent bid to join Russia is the latest chapter in a prolonged crisis sparked by Kiev’s desire for closer ties with the EU - a sentiment many in the Russian-speaking east do not share.

'Rebels Told To Hide Black Boxes'
Ukraine's security service has released a recording it says features pro-Russian separatists talking about trying to hide the black boxes from flight MH17 at the request of Moscow. The claim was made as footage emerged of at least one of the flight data recorders - which are in fact orange - being picked up by a rescue worker on Friday.
In the audio clip which contains three separate conversations, a fighter who is identified as "O.Khodakovskyi" tells a second person named as "Andriy": "I have a request for you. It is not my request."
"Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes."
"I mean people from Moscow. "Please, co-operate with the Ministry of Emergency. All that you find must not come into somebody else's hands."
"Try to take everything that you find so that it doesn't get into somebody else's hands. All those people that are coming, OSCE and so on."

Kiev claims it is proof of the "efforts of the Russian side to hide the evidence of its involvement in (a) terrorist act". The pro-Russian separatists and Moscow have both denied having any part in the disaster, which killed 298 people. But Ukraine has made repeated claims that pro-Russian rebels with Russian equipment blew the jet out of the sky before Moscow helped them cover it up by allowing the missile launcher blamed for the attack to be transported  back across the Russian border. It has also been claimed that rebels tampered with evidence and bodies at the crash site and also looted the victims baggage and belongings.

 Ukraine Pro-Russian separatists and Moscow deny having a part in the disaster The separatists have now acknowledged that they have what are presumed to be the flight recorders from the Boeing 777-200 in the eastern city of Donetsk.
"Some items, presumably the black boxes, were found, and they have been delivered to Donetsk and they are under our control," Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, told a news conference.
"There are no specialists among us who could pinpoint the look of the black boxes, but we brought to Donetsk some technical items which could be the black boxes of the airliner." He said they would be handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization  ( whatever that is ) and also repeated that the rebels do not have the capability to shoot down a plane flying at 33,000ft.

Even as Putin pledged to work toward dialogue between the Ukrainian rivals, intense shelling rained down in the rebel stronghold Donetsk, just 60 kilometres from Torez where the bodies are being held.

Buk 9K37 Missile System...shot down doomed airliner

Weapon behind the crash: How the Buk 9K37 missile system works

Ukrainian PM: MH17 attackers 'were trained in Russia'

The missile which shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine could not have been operated by a "drunken pro-Russian terrorist", according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Yatsenyuk said those responsible were "expert people", adding "we have information that this training took place on Russian territory."
He vowed to bring those responsible to justice.