Follow Friday & Weekly Stumbles For 2011-02-04

This week I recommend to follow @HubbleTelescope for amazing photos of space taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. For more Twitter follow suggestions see our astronomy list @TheAstroBlog/astronomy

Weekly Stumbles:

Exoplanet hunt turns up 54 potentially habitable worlds
Astronomers have identified some 54 new planets where conditions may be suitable for life. Five of the candidates are Earth-sized. The announcement from the Kepler space telescope team brings the total number of exoplanet candidates they have identified to more than 1,200. The data release also confirmed a unique sextet of planets around a single star and 170 further solar systems that include more than one planet circling far-flung stars. The Kepler telescope was conceived to hunt for exoplanets, staring into a small, fixed patch of the sky in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.

NASA Finds Earth-Size Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone, Six Planet System
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.

EML-1: the next logical destination
The first Earth-Moon Lagrange point, or EML-1, offers a number of key advantages that make it an ideal destination for activities in cislunar space. Over the near-term, however, its utility is constrained by a lack of physical infrastructure. This can change if our approach to space moves away from destinations and towards a strategy of enabling capabilities. Talk abounds of going beyond Earth orbit, although once beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) what happens next becomes a little fuzzy in most discussions. This need not be the case, as capabilities can be built from the very first test of a trans-LEO vehicle.

Year 2100: The Emerging Milky-Way Internet
Over the next million years, a descendant of the Internet will maintain contact with inhabited planets throughout our galaxy and begin to spread out into the larger universe, linking up countless new or existing civilizations into the Universenet, a network of ultimate intelligence. Whenever microwave towers or satellites send Internet traffic, some of the energy and data leaks unintentionally into space. The first email messages transmitted via microwave towers in 1969 by the predecessor of the Internet, ARPANET, have already traveled thirty-nine light-years so far, way past the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, four light-years away. In practice, such feeble signals are probably buried in cosmic radio noise.

Epic Discovery: Our Colossal Universe -“250 Times Bigger than What We See”
Is our universe infinite or closed? Because the visible Universe is expanding, the most distant visible things are much further away than its estimated 14-billion year age. In fact, the photons in the cosmic microwave background have traveled a cool 45 billion light years to get here. That makes the visible universe some 90 billion light years across. The real universe, however, is much bigger. We now know this thanks to statistical analysis by Mihran Vardanyan at the University of Oxford and colleagues.

The Age of Cyborg Space Exploration Begins: Robonaut 2 set to Arrive at ISS in February
NASA’s Robonaut 2, a humanoid astronaut assistant ,is primed and ready for launch aboard space shuttle Discovery in February on the STS-133 mission as the first humanoid robot to travel to the International Space Station and work in space. He’s flying up head first; R2’s legs will follow on a later launch. “The robot’s legs aren’t ready yet,” said Rob Ambrose of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. “We’re still testing them. But there will be plenty for R2 to do while waiting for its lower extremities.”

Exploring an ‘Island of Inversion,’ Physicists Find New Clues to Element Synthesis in Supernovae
Elements heavier than iron come into being only in powerful stellar explosions, supernovae. During nuclear reactions all kinds of short-lived atomic nuclei are formed, including more stable combinations — the so-called magic numbers — predicted by theory. Yet here, too, there are exceptions: the islands of inversion. Headed by physicists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), an international team of scientists has now taken a closer look at the island that was first discovered.

Red Dwarfs -Prime Hunting Grounds for Life-Friendly Planets
Red or “M” dwarfs, the most common type of star, making up about 75% of all stars in the Milky Way, are prime hunting grounds in the search for Earth’s Twin. Extrasolar planets were discovered orbiting the red dwarf Gliese 581 in 2005, about the mass of Neptune, or sixteen Earth masses. It orbits just 6 million kilometers (0.04 AU) from its star, and is estimated to have a surface temperature of 150 °C, despite the dimness of the star. So far, among the 1000 plus exo-planets discovered none have shown themselves to be twin Earths. But, in the next two to three years NASA’s Kepler space telescope will provide the statistical bedrock for estimating the number of Earth clones in the galaxy.

Small Snack for Milky Way: Astrophysicists Find New Remnants of Neighboring Galaxy in Our Own
An international team of astronomers led by Mary Williams from the Astrophysical Institute Potsdam (AIP) has discovered a new stream of stars in our Milky Way: the “Aquarius Stream,” named after the constellation of Aquarius. The stream of stars is a remnant of a smaller galaxy in our cosmic neighbourhood, which has been pulled apart by the gravitational pull of the Milky Way about 700 million years ago. The discovery is a result of the measurement of the velocities of 250,000 stars with the RAVE Survey based at the Australian Astronomical Observatory’s UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia.

Earth-like Clouds Discovered on Titan, Saturn’s Largest Moon
Although Saturn’s largest moon, Titan looks like a hazy orange ball made of tiny droplets of hydrocarbons along with other, more noxious chemicals, it is the only moon in our solar system with a serious atmospheret. This atmosphere comes complete with lightning, drizzle and occasionally a big, downpour of methane or ethane-hydrocarbons. Now, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed thin, wispy clouds of ice particles, similar to Earth’s cirrus clouds, according to Carrie Anderson and Robert Samuelson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The findings, published this week in the journal Icarus, were made using the composite infrared spectrometer on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

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