Friday, June 30, 2017

Dr Jill Tartar Gets Profiled on Nature

As a child in the 1950s, Jill Tarter would gaze at the stars and wonder, “Are we alone?” That monumental question has driven the astronomer's lifelong quest to find alien life in the Milky Way.

I've met Jill. She has a brilliant mind and is a wonderful woman.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Systematic Discusses Machine Learning & Detecting Hot Jupiters

There’s no denying the fundamentally alien climates on the hot Jupiters. It’s not clear, however, how hot Jupiters form, and it’s not clear why so many of them are badly distended. Moreover, it’s only vaguely clear what the weather patterns on one would look like up close. (One thing that is clear is that the flights would all be canceled).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Planetary Society on WFIRST's Planned Coronograph

I have previously written about WFIRST (Summer 2015 Planetary Report). This NASA mission, planned to launch into space in the mid-2020s will have a coronagraph at least 1,000 times more powerful than any existing coronagraph. The power of a coronagraph is measured by the 'contrast ratio'—the ratio of the brightness of the central star to the brightness of the planet being studied. Current coronagraphs have a contrast ratio of about 100,000-1 million, which means that astronomers can see objects that are 100,000-1 million times dimmer (less bright) than the central star. WFIRST is being designed to achieve a contrast ratio of one billion to one! The primary difficulty in designing any coronagraph is in blocking all of the starlight. Once light has entered the telescope, it is extremely difficult to block it all with a coronagraph, partly due to a process called 'diffraction.' This is a process in which light is bent around corners or is scattered at the edges of objects. An analogy would be when you close the curtains, but there is a little gap and the light spreads as it passes through the small gap. In a telescope, this scattered light sometimes finds its way to the camera recording the telescope observations. So, achieving a contrast ratio of one billion to one requires us to keep that scattered light level very, very low.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kepler Finds 219 New Exoplanets

This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog release of candidate exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, from Kepler's first four years of data. It's also the final catalog from the spacecraft's view of the patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation.

NASA's Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

With the release of this catalog, derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive, there are now 4,034 planet candidates identified by Kepler. Of which, 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets. Of roughly 50 near-Earth size habitable zone candidates detected by Kepler, more than 30 have been verified.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The SETI Decrypt Challenge

Decryption of Messages from Extraterrestrial Intelligence Using the Power of Social Media - The SETI Decrypt Challenge


Heller et al

With the advent of modern astronomy, humans might now have acquired the technological and intellectual requirements to communicate with other intelligent beings beyond the solar system, if they exist. Radio signals have been identified as a means for interstellar communication about 60 years ago. And the Square Kilometer Array will be capable of detecting extrasolar radio sources analogous to terrestrial high-power radars out to several tens of light years. The ultimate question is: will we be able to understand the message, or, vice versa, if we submit a message to extraterrestrial intelligence first, how can we make sure that they understand us? Here I report on the largest blind experiment of a pretend radio message received on Earth from beyond the solar system. I posted a sequence of about two million binary digits ("0" and "1") to the social media that encoded a configuration frame, two slides with mathematical content, and four images along with spatial and temporal information about their contents. Six questions were asked that would need to be answered to document the successful decryption of the message. Within a month after the posting, over 300 replies were received in total, including comments and requests for hints, 66 of which contained the correct solutions. About half of the solutions were derived fully independently, the other half profited from public online discussions and spoilers. This experiment demonstrates the power of the world wide web to help interpreting possible future messages from extraterrestrial intelligence and to test decryptability of our own deliberate interstellar messages.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

ALMA Detects Debris Disk Around Fomalhaut

An international team of astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made the first complete millimeter-wavelength image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding the young star Fomalhaut. This remarkably well-defined band of rubble and gas is likely the result of exocomets smashing together near the outer edges of a planetary system 25 light-years from Earth.

Earlier ALMA observations of Fomalhaut -- taken in 2012 when the telescope was still under construction - revealed only about one half of the debris disk. Though this first image was merely a test of ALMA's initial capabilities, it nonetheless provided tantalizing hints about the nature and possible origin of the disk.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Is there anybody out there?

Is there anybody out there?


Anchordoqui et al


The Fermi paradox is the discrepancy between the strong likelihood of alien intelligent life emerging (under a wide variety of assumptions) and the absence of any visible evidence for such emergence. We use this intriguing unlikeness to derive an upper limit on the fraction of living intelligent species that develop communication technology \langle \xi_{\rm biotec} \rangle. \langle \cdots \rangle indicates average over all the multiple manners civilizations can arise, grow, and develop such technology, starting at any time since the formation of our Galaxy in any location inside it. Following Drake, we factorize \langle \xi_{\rm biotec} \rangle as the product of the fractions in which: (i) life arises, (ii) intelligence develops, and (iii) communication technology is developed. In this approximation, the number of communicating intelligent civilizations that exist in the Galaxy at any given time is found to be N = \langle \zeta_{\rm astro} \rangle \langle \xi_{\rm biotec} \rangle L_\tau, where \langle \zeta_{\rm astro} \rangle is the average production rate of potentially habitable planets with a long-lasting (\sim 4 Gyr) ecoshell and L_\tau is the length of time that a typical civilization communicates. We estimate the production rate of exoplanets in the habitable zone and using recent determinations of the rate of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and their luminosity function, we calculate the probability that a life-threatening (lethal) GRB could make a planet inhospitable to life, yielding \langle \zeta_{\rm astro} \rangle \sim 2 \times 10^{-3}. Our current measurement of N =0 then implies \langle \zeta_{\rm biotec} \rangle < 5 \times 10^{-3} at the 95\% C.L., where we have taken L_\tau > 0.3 Myr such that c L_\tau >> propagation distances of Galactic scales (\sim 10 kpc), ensuring that any advanced civilization living in the Milky Way would be able to communicate with us.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

ALMA Finds Organic Compounds in Protoplanetary Disks

Two teams of astronomers have harnessed the power of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to detect the prebiotic complex organic molecule methyl isocyanate [1] in the multiple star system IRAS 16293-2422. One team was co-led by Rafael Martín-Doménech at the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain, and Víctor M. Rivilla, at the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri in Florence, Italy; and the other by Niels Ligterink at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands and Audrey Coutens at University College London, United Kingdom.

"This star system seems to keep on giving! Following the discovery of sugars, we've now found methyl isocyanate. This family of organic molecules is involved in the synthesis of peptides and amino acids, which, in the form of proteins, are the biological basis for life as we know it," explain Niels Ligterink and Audrey Coutens [2].

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trappist-1e Among Initial Observational Targets for the James Webb Space Telescope

Mission officials for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope announced some of the science targets the telescope will observe following its launch and commissioning. These specific observations are part of a program of Guaranteed Time Observations (GTO), which provides dedicated time to the scientists that helped design and build the telescope's four instruments.

"From the very first galaxies after the Big Bang, to searching for chemical fingerprints of life on Enceladus, Europa, and exoplanets like TRAPPIST-1e, Webb will be looking at some incredible things in our universe," said Eric Smith, James Webb Space Telescope Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With over 2100 initial observations planned, there is no limit to what we might discover with this incredible telescope."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Are Niven Rings Around Pulsars Detectable?

Are the Dyson rings around pulsars detectable?



In the previous paper (Osmanov 2016) (henceforth Paper-I) we have extended the idea of Freeman Dyson and have shown that a supercivilization has to use ring-like megastructures around pulsars instead of a spherical shell. In this work we reexamine the same problem in the observational context and we show that facilities of modern IR telescopes (VLTI and WISE) might efficiently monitor the nearby zone of the solar system and search for the IR Dyson-rings up to distances of the order of 0.2kpc, corresponding to the current highest achievable angular resolution, 0.001mas. In this case the total number of pulsars in the observationally reachable area is about 64±21. We show that pulsars from the distance of the order of ∼1kpc are still visible for WISE as point-like sources but in order to confirm that the object is the neutron star, one has to use the UV telescopes, which at this moment cannot provide enough sensitivity.

Friday, June 9, 2017

U Oklahoma IDs Potential Make up of Trappist-1 Exoplanets

A University of Oklahoma post-doctoral astrophysics researcher, Billy Quarles, has identified the possible compositions of the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Using thousands of numerical simulations to identify the planets stable for millions of years, Quarles concluded that six of the seven planets are consistent with an Earth-like composition. The exception is TRAPPIST-1f, which has a mass of 25 percent water, suggesting that TRAPPIST-1e may be the best candidate for future habitability studies.

"The goal of exoplanetary astronomy is to find planets that are similar to Earth in composition and potentially habitable," said Quarles. "For thousands of years, astronomers have sought other worlds capable of sustaining life."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Kelt-9b: A hot Jupiter Hotter Than Most Stars

A newly discovered Jupiter-like world is so hot that it's stretching the definition of the word "planet."

With a day-side temperature of 4,600 Kelvin (more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit), planet KELT-9b is hotter than most stars, and only 1,200 Kelvin (about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than our own sun.

In this week's issue of the journal Nature and at a presentation at the American Astronomical Society spring meeting, an international research team led by astronomers at The Ohio State University and Vanderbilt University describes a planet with some very unusual features.

For instance, it's a gas giant 2.8 times more massive than Jupiter but only half as dense, because the extreme radiation from its host star has caused its atmosphere to puff up like a balloon. And because it is tidally locked to its star--as the Moon is to Earth--the day side of the planet is perpetually bombarded by stellar radiation, and as a result is so hot that molecules such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane can't form there. The properties of the night side are still mysterious--molecules may be able to form there, but probably only temporarily.

"It's a planet by any of the typical definitions based on mass, but its atmosphere is almost certainly unlike any other planet we've ever seen just because of the temperature of its day side," said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and a leader of the study.

KELT-9b orbits a star, dubbed KELT-9, which is more than twice as large and nearly twice as hot as our sun. Keivan Stassun, a professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt who directed the study with Gaudi said, "KELT-9 radiates so much ultraviolet radiation that it may completely evaporate the planet. Or, if gas giant planets like KELT-9b possess solid rocky cores as some theories suggest, the planet may be boiled down to a barren rock, like Mercury."

Monday, June 5, 2017

Detecting Prior Indigenous Technological Species in our Solar System

Prior Indigenous Technological Species



One of the primary open questions of astrobiology is whether there is extant or extinct life elsewhere the Solar System. Implicit in much of this work is that we are looking for microbial or, at best, unintelligent life, even though technological artifacts might be much easier to find. SETI work on searches for alien artifacts in the Solar System typically presumes that such artifacts would be of extrasolar origin, even though life is known to have existed in the Solar System, on Earth, for eons. But if a prior technological, perhaps spacefaring, species ever arose in the Solar System, it might have produced artifacts or other technosignatures that have survived to present day, meaning Solar System artifact SETI provides a potential path to resolving astrobiology's question. Here, I discuss the origins and possible locations for technosignatures of such a prior indigenous technological species, which might have arisen on ancient Earth or another body, such as a pre-greenhouse Venus or a wet Mars. In the case of Venus, the arrival of its global greenhouse and potential resurfacing might have erased all evidence of its existence on the Venusian surface. In the case of Earth, erosion and, ultimately, plate tectonics may have erased most such evidence if the species lived Gyr ago. Remaining indigenous technosignatures might be expected to be extremely old, limiting the places they might still be found to beneath the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, or in the outer Solar System.

Transit Detection of a "Starshade" at the Inner Lagrange Point of an Exoplanet

Transit Detection of a "Starshade" at the Inner Lagrange Point of an Exoplanet 


All water-covered rocky planets in the inner habitable zones of solar-type stars will inevitably experience a catastrophic runaway climate due to increasing stellar luminosity and limits to outgoing infrared radiation from wet greenhouse atmospheres. Reflectors or scatterers placed near Earth's inner Lagrange point (L1) have been proposed as a 'geo-engineering" solution to anthropogenic climate change and an advanced version of this could modulate incident irradiation over many Gyr or "rescue" a planet from the interior of the habitable zone. The distance of the starshade from the planet that minimizes its mass is 1.6 times the Earth-L1 distance. Such a starshade would have to be similar in size to the planet and the mutual occultations during planetary transits could produce a characteristic maximum at mid-transit in the light-curve. Because of a fortuitous ratio of densities, Earth-size planets around G dwarf stars present the best opportunity to detect such an artifact. The signal would be persistent and is potentially detectable by a future space photometry mission to characterize transiting planets. The signal could be distinguished from natural phenomenon, i.e. starspots or cometary dust clouds, by its shape, persistence, and transmission spectrum.

How Likely are we to Detect SETI Radio Signals

Signal coverage approach to the detection probability of hypothetical extraterrestrial emitters in the Milky Way 
The lack of evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, even the simplest forms of animal life, makes it is difficult to decide whether the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is more a high-risk, high-payoff endeavor than a futile attempt. Here we insist that even if extraterrestrial civilizations do exist and communicate, the likelihood of detecting their signals crucially depends on whether the Earth lies within a region of the galaxy covered by such signals. By considering possible populations of independent emitters in the galaxy, we build a statistical model of the domain covered by hypothetical extraterrestrial signals to derive the detection probability that the Earth is within such a domain. We show that for general distributions of the signal longevity and directionality, the mean number of detectable emitters is less than one even for detection probabilities as large as 50\%, regardless of the number of emitters in the galaxy.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Detecting a Nicoll-Dyson Beam

Detecting the Ultimate Power in the Universe with LSST



Large time-domain surveys, when of sufficient scale, provide a greatly increased probability of detecting rare and, in many cases, unexpected events. Indeed, it is these unpredicted and previously unobserved objects that can lead to some of the greatest leaps in our understanding of the cosmos. The events that may be monitored include not only those that help contribute to our understanding of sources astrophysical variability, but may also extend to the discovery and characterization of civilizations comprised of other sentient lifeforms in the universe. In this paper we examine if the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will have the ability to detect the immediate and short-term effects of a concave dish composite beam superlaser being fired at an Earth analog from an alien megastructure.

Do not look into laser with remaining civilizaion.

Could Tabby's Star's Dimming be due to a Ring of Debris in OUR Solar System?

Tabetha's Rings



Could the dips of "Tabetha's Star" (KIC 8462852) have been caused by matter in our Solar System? The interval between periods of deep dips is nearly twice the orbital period of the Kepler satellite. I consider a clumpy particulate ring in the outer Solar System that grazes the line of sight to the star once per orbit of Kepler. The hypothesis predicts that future dips may be observed from Earth during windows separated by a year, although their detailed structure depends on the distribution of particles along the ring. Dips observed at separated sites will be decorrelated, with correlation lengths ≲1012 cm, and possibly as short as ∼600 m.

Did a Large Ringed Exoplanet With Trojans dim Tabby's Star?

KIC 8462852: Will the Trojans return in 2021?


Ballesteros et al

KIC 8462852 stood out among more than 100,000 stars in the Kepler catalogue because of the strange features of its light curve: a wide and asymmetric dimming taking up to 15 per cent of the total light, together with a period of multiple, narrow dimmings happening approximately 700 days later. Several models have been proposed to account for this abnormal behaviour, most of which require either unlikely causes or a finely-tuned timing. We aim at offering a relatively natural solution, invoking only phenomena that have been previously observed, although perhaps in larger or more massive versions. We model the system using a large, ringed body whose transit produces the first dimming and a swarm of Trojan objects sharing its orbit that causes the second period of multiple dimmings. The resulting orbital period is T≈12 years, with a semi-major axis a≈6 au. Our model allows us to make two straightforward predictions: we expect the passage of a new swarm of Trojans in front of the star starting during the early months of 2021, and a new transit of the main object during the first half of 2023.

Did Tabby's Star Ingest an Exoplanet?

Secular dimming of KIC 8462852 following its consumption of a planet


Metzger et al

The Kepler-field star KIC 8462852, an otherwise apparently ordinary F3 main-sequence star, showed several highly unusual dimming events of variable depth and duration. Adding to the mystery was the discovery that KIC 8462852 faded by 14 per cent from 1890 to 1989, as well as by another 3 per cent over the 4 yr Kepler mission. Following an initial suggestion by Wright & Sigurdsson, we propose that the secular dimming behaviour is the result of the inspiral of a planetary body or bodies into KIC 8462852, which took place ∼10–104 yr ago (depending on the planet mass). Gravitational energy released as the body inspirals into the outer layers of the star caused a temporary and unobserved brightening, from which the stellar flux is now returning to the quiescent state. The transient dimming events could then be due to obscuration by planetary debris from an earlier partial disruption of the same inspiralling bodies, or due to evaporation and outgassing from a tidally detached moon system. Alternatively, the dimming events could arise from a large number of comet- or planetesimal-mass bodies placed on to high-eccentricity orbits by the same mechanism (e.g. Lidov–Kozai oscillations due to the outer M-dwarf companion) responsible for driving the more massive planets into KIC 8462852. The required high occurrence rate of KIC 8462852-like systems that have undergone recent major planet inspiral event(s) is the greatest challenge to the model, placing large lower limits on the mass of planetary systems surrounding F stars and/or requiring an unlikely probability to catch KIC 8462852 in its current state.

Sonneberg Plate Photometry for Boyajian's Star in Two Passbands

Sonneberg Plate Photometry for Boyajian's Star in Two Passbands


Hippke et al

The F3 main-sequence star KIC 8462852 (Boyajian's Star) showed deep (up to 20%) day-long brightness dips of unknown cause during the four years of the Kepler mission. A 0.164 mag (16%) dimming between 1890 and 1990 was claimed, based on the analysis of photographic plates from the Harvard Observatory. We have gathered an independent set of historic plates from Sonneberg Observatory, Germany, covering the years of 1934–1995. With 861 mag in B, and 397 mag in V, we find the star to be of constant brightness within 0.03 mag per century (3%). Consistent outcomes are found using by-eye estimates of the best 119 plates. Results are supported by data from Sternberg Observatory, Moscow, which show the star as constant between 1895 and 1995. The previously claimed century-long dimming is inconsistent with our results at the $5\sigma $-level, however, the recently reported modest dimming of 3% in the Kepler data is not inconsistent with our data. We find no periodicities or shorter trends within our limits of 5% per five year bin, but note a possible dimming event on 1978 October 24.