An artist’s conception shows a super-Earth in orbit around HD 26965, which is Mr. Spock’s home star in “Star Trek” lore. (University of Florida Illustration) Has the planet Vulcan been found? Vulcan’s most famous fictional inhabitant, Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame, would certainly raise an eyebrow if he heard that astronomers have detected a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting the star that’s associated with him. The world orbits a sunlike star that’s a mere 16 light-years away, known as HD 26965 or 40 Eridani A, according to the team behind the . In the current , 40 Eridani A is the star that harbors Spock’s home planet. Some early references pointed to a different star, known as (which is also thought to host at least one exoplanet). But , Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a group of astronomers argued that 40 Eridani A, the brightest star in a triple-star system, was a better fit because its 4 billion years of existence provided a wider window for pointy-eared intelligent life to evolve. The latest findings suggest Roddenberry made the right choice: The planet found at 40 Eridani A is roughly twice Earth’s size, completes an orbit around its parent star every 42 Earth days, and lies just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone, said University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge. HD 26965 is an orange dwarf star, only slightly cooler and slightly less massive than our sun, with a 10.1-year magnetic activity cycle that’s nearly identical to our sun’s 11.6-year sunspot cycle. “Therefore, HD 26965 may be an ideal host star for an advanced civilization,” Tennessee State University astronomer Matthew Muterspaugh . The astronomers made their find using the 50-inch Dharma Endowment Foundation Telescope on Mount Lemmon in Arizona, and laid out the details in a paper published by the . But you don’t need a telescope to see 40 Eridani A. “This star can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the host stars of most of the known planets discovered to date,” said lead study author Bo Ma, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida. “Now anyone can see 40 Eridani on a clear night and be proud to point out Spock’s home.” Unfortunately for Star Trek fans, it’s unlikely that the planet will end up being named Vulcan. The International Astronomical Union recently , but as the name of a hypothetical planet that was once thought to exist within the orbit of Mercury. The IAU , and the same rationale would probably lead to Vulcan being counted out for exoplanets as well. Would Spock, who prides himself on his cold logic, see that as an insult? Not likely. As he once pointed out in a TV episode, “Insults are effective only where emotion is present.” Ma, Ge and Muterspaugh are among 27 authors of the paper published in the Monthly Notices, titled The authors also include Rory Barnes of the University of Washington.
September 19, 2018
News Brief: The mammoth plane that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s is testing at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port now bears the name of the billionaire and his air-launch venture. In , Stratolaunch showed off the plane’s new livery — including a legend reading “Stratolaunch: A Paul G. Allen Company” on the side of one of the twin fuselages, and the logo of plane builder Scaled Composites on the tail. In April, Stratolaunch said it . But the company still has three runway taxi tests on its to-do list, which suggests the plane won’t make it into the air before summer turns to fall on Saturday. Our aircraft has a new look! Check out the livery with and logos. — Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch)
September 18, 2018
(Princeton University, Engineering School) A team at Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics has produced new resources for research involving the roundworm C. elegans: a comprehensive view of which genes are active in each of the four major tissues of adult worms, as well as a tool for predicting gene activity across 76 more specific cell types.
September 18, 2018
An artist’s conception shows a violinist performing in zero-G during a voyage in SpaceX’s BFR spaceship. (SpaceX via Twitter) It’s been only a day since SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled, but folks are already nominating themselves (and others) for a free trip. Maezawa is paying an undisclosed but reportedly substantial amount for the journey on SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built BFR spaceship, and there are scads of details to be worked out before the launch date, which is currently set for 2023. In a series of tweets today, Musk promised that the mission would be , with the broadcast potentially . There could also be an onboard watering hole called the and the artists on the flight would be to perform in zero-G. Musk promised to take questions during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” chat that’s yet to be scheduled. “Love Reddit,” . One of the more interesting questions has to do with who will be selected for Maezawa’s Willy Wonka-style golden tickets. Seattle cartoonist Matthew Inman, creator of comic franchise and co-creator of the , put in a bid and got a smiley face from Musk: Yusaku will be bringing 8 (brave) artists & cultural figures with him on the journey around the moon! — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) *raises hand* I’m an artist. Sort of. When I’m not making poop jokes. — Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal) I will take that as an enthusiastic “yes!” — Matthew Inman (@Oatmeal)
September 18, 2018
Could you catch someone in a lie? It's harder than you think! Many thanks to the Kang Lee Lab for having us at their lab! Learn more about their research here: ...
September 18, 2018
(GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre) Nearly 13,000 years ago, pines in southern France experienced a cold snap, which scientists have now reconstructed. The study about the consequences of a drastic climate change event in past and its implications for our future will be published tomorrow in Scientific Reports. The authors are from GFZ Potsdam, Berlin, the UK, Switzerland, and France.
September 18, 2018
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses the latest version of his vision for the BFR rocket. (SpaceX via YouTube) SpaceX CEO Elon Musk today introduced Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the first paying customer for a trip around the moon’ “Finally I can tell you that ‘I choose to go to the moon,'” Maezawa said, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase. The announcement at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., followed days of speculation over the identity of the first passenger — and months of chatter about the capabilities of the BFR, an acronym for “Big Falcon Rocket” in its G-rated interpretation. Musk laid out his first design for the mammoth two-stage BFR in 2016 at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, and refined it for the 2017 IAC meeting in Australia. The BFR’s principal purpose is to carry settlers and their stuff to Mars, 100 passengers at a time. Last year, Musk said the BFR could be used for trips to the moon and other celestial destinations, as well as for suborbital point-to-point trips on Earth. Short-hop testing of the BFR’s second stage, nicknamed the Big Falcon Spaceship or BFS, could begin as early as next year. Those tests will take the form of progressively higher up-and-down flights at an earthly launch facility. If all goes according to plan, spaceflights could start in the early 2020s. Today SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was for an initial BFR flight to Mars in 2024, although she acknowledged that SpaceX’s timelines often slip to the right. SpaceX said last year that it planned to send two private citizens around the moon in a Dragon crew capsule to be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. The company said the passengers paid a “significant deposit” for the trip but did not identify them. In February, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time. However, Musk said that rocket would not be certified to carry people, which ruled out a round-the-moon trip on a Falcon Heavy. Instead, the company shifted its future focus to the BFR. , Musk emphasized that the “top SpaceX priority” is to launch national security missions and to get the company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules ready to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX’s crewed missions are currently scheduled to begin by the middle of next year. Boeing is working in parallel to get its CST-100 Starliner capsule ready for crewed flights to and from the space station. Its timeline currently lags slightly behind SpaceX’s, but both timelines are still subject to change.
September 18, 2018