A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘science

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

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  • Language Hat reports on the Wenzhounese of Italy.
  • Language Log writes about the tones of Cantonese.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money writes about the costs of law school. (They are significant, and escalating hugely.)
  • Marginal Revolution reports on the problems facing the Brazilian pension system, perhaps overgenerous for a relatively poor country facing rapid aging.
  • Neuroskeptic reports on the latest re: the crisis of scientists not being able to replicate evidence, now even their own work being problematic.
  • Personal Reflections considers the questions of how to preserve the dignity of people facing Alzheimer’s.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes a Financial Times article looking at the impact of aging on global real estate.
  • Spacing Toronto talks about the campaign to name a school after Jean Earle Geeson, a teacher and activist who helped save Fort York.
  • At Wave Without A Shore, C.J. Cherryh shares photos of her goldfish.
  • Window on Eurasia notes growing instability in Daghestan, looks at the latest in Georgian historical memory, and shares an article arguing that Putin’s actions have worsened Russia’s reputation catastrophically.

[BLOG] Seven links on the TRAPPIST-1 system

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News of the remarkable density of planets, including potentially Earth-like planets, in the system of nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 spread across the blogosphere. This NASA JPL illustration comparing the TRAPPIST-1 worlds with the four rocky worlds of our own solar system, underlining the potential similarity of some worlds to the worlds we know like Venus and Mars and even Earth, went viral.

Supernova Condensate provided a good outline of this system in the post “A tiny red sun with a sky full of planets!”.

One interesting thing is that TRAPPIST-1 is tiny. Really tiny! It’s a class M8V ultracool red dwarf, which really is about as small as a star can get while still being a star. Much smaller and it wouldn’t be able to even fuse hydrogen. I’ve put it side by side with a few other familiar celestial objects in this image. As you can see, it’s a little bigger than Jupiter. It’s actually roughly the same size as HD189733b, a much studied hot jupiter, and noticeably smaller than Proxima, our friendly neighbourhood red dwarf. Lalande 21185 is on the larger end of the scale of red dwarfs, and is also one of the few you can actually see in the night sky (though you’ll need a dark sky to find it).

Ultracool red dwarfs really are tiny, but they’re also extremely long lived. Quietly burning stellar embers which exemplify the old saying that slow and steady wins the race. Because these little stars don’t burn their fuel too quickly, and because they’re low enough in mass to be fully convective, they can burn for trillions of years. Long after the Sun exhausts the fuel in its core, flares into a red giant and then cools silently in the darkness, TRAPPIST-1 will still be burning, providing warmth for it’s little planetary entourage.

Not much warmth, mind you. TRAPPIST-1’s handful of planets are huddling around their parent star as if it were campfire on a cold night. The entire star system would fit inside Mercury’s orbit and still have cavernous amounts of room to spare. So close are those planets, that they have years which pass by in mere Earth days. The shortest has a year which is just 1.5 Earth days long. The longest year length in the system is still less than a month.

aureliaOf course, I say Earth days, because these planets don’t have days as such. They’re so close to their parent star that they’re certain to be tidally locked. The gravitational forces are sufficiently different that they cannot rotate at all. One side constantly faces the tiny red sun in the sky, and the other side constantly faces outwards towards the cold night. It’s quite likely that the night sides of these planets may be frozen in a permanent winter night, never gaining enough warmth to thaw. Half a planet of permanent Antarctica.

Supernova Condensate was kind enough to produce an illuminating graphic, hosted at “Model Planets”, comparing the TRAPPIST-1 system to (among others) the Earth-Moon system and to Jupiter and its moons. The TRAPPIST-1 system is tiny.

The Planetary Society Blog’s Franck Marchis wrote a nice essay outlining what is and is not known, perhaps most importantly pointing out that while several of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are in roughly the right position in their solar system to support life, we do not actually know if they do support life. Further research is called for, clearly.

Centauri Dreams’ “Seven Planets Around TRAPPIST-1” has great discussion in the comments, concentrating on the potential for life on these worlds and on the possibility of actually travelling to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. The later post “Further Thoughts on TRAPPIST-1” notes that these worlds, which presumably migrated inwards from the outer fringes of their solar system, might well have arrived with substantial stocks of volatiles like water. If this survived the radiation of their young and active sun, they could be watery worlds.

The cultural implication of these discoveries, meanwhile, has also come up. Jonathan Edelstein has written in “We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back” about how TRAPPIST-1, by providing so many potentially habitable planets so close to each other, would be an ideal setting for an early spacefaring civilization, and for imaginings of said. If a sister world is scarcely further than the moon, why not head there? Savage Minds, meanwhile, in “The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets”, hosts a discussion between Michael P. Oman-Reagan and Lisa Messeri talking about the cultural significance of these and other discoveries, particularly exploring how they create points of perceived similarity used as markers of cultural import.

[LINK] “Astronomers discover 7 Earth-like planets orbiting nearby star”

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Facebook’s Leeman shared Ashley Strickland’s CNN report noting NASA’s announcement that nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 has been found to have seven broadly Earth-like planets, of which three are located in that star’s circumstellar habitable zone.

Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-like planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.

“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.

The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.

The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.

The Nature paper is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 22, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Science

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[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • blogTO looks at deserted Mirvish Village.
  • Crooked Timber reenages with the Rachel Carson and DDT myth.
  • The Crux looks at the Mandela Effect, exploring false memories.
  • Dangerous Minds makes the case for the musical genius of Bobbie Gentry.
  • From the Heart of Europe’s Nicholas Whyte recounts his visit to Albania’s bunker museum.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes Brazil’s retirement of its only aircraft carrier.
  • The LRB Blog looks at the extent and speed of events in the Trump Administration.
  • Marginal Revolution engages with a book examining France’s carving out a “cultural exception” in international trade agreements.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reports on the passing of rulership of the Australian micronation of Hutt River.
  • Peter Rukavina shares good advice for visiting museums: visit only what you can take in.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russian Orthodox Church opposition to a certain kind of Russian civic nationality, and argues Russia is losing even its regional superpower status.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell reports on how local councils in the United Kingdom are speculating on commercial property.

[LINK] On Canadian and American science and government repression

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CBC News’ Nicole Mortillaro reports on how American scientists are facing communications restictions similar to those imposed on Canadians during the Harper government.

Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the federal government made it progressively more difficult for Canadian government scientists to communicate their findings to the public.

Efforts by journalists to communicate directly with scientists to obtain information about something as benign as “rock snot” ran into roadblocks. Funding was cut to various scientific agencies, including Environment Canada, and thousands of scientists were laid off.

The scientists’ counterparts in the United States quickly rallied to their defence. Op-eds were penned in major scientific publications lamenting the lack of independence for Canada’s science community. Petitions were signed.

Today, it’s the Canadian government scientists — now free to speak directly to the press without pre-approval by intermediaries after changes implemented by the Trudeau government — battling on behalf of American scientists.

Just days after Donald Trump became president of the United States, alarms were raised after it was revealed that he had emailed several government departments advising them to refrain from posting anything to social media.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 14, 2017 at 6:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • blogTO shares ten facts about Union Station.
  • Centauri Dreams describes possible ice volcanoes on Ceres.
  • Crooked Timber argues in favour of implementing a basic income before a universal income, on grounds of reducing inequality and easing the very poor.
  • The Crux shares an argument against dark matter.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze talks about nitrogen and oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres as biomarkers.
  • Far Outliers looks at intertribal warfare on the American plains in the 19th century.
  • The LRB Blog talks about critical shortages of translators, and funding for said, at official functions in the United Kingdom.
  • Language Log tries to translate the Chinese word used by the head of the Chinese supreme court to insult Donald Trump.
  • The Map Room Blog shares a map showing how particular areas of the United States are especially dependent on foreign trade.
  • pollotenchegg maps areas of relative youth and agedness in Ukraine.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at what happened to his Twitter stats after he quite.
  • Towleroad links to a new duet featuring Chrissie Hynde and Neil Tennant.
  • Window on Eurasia warns of a Russian invasion of Belarus and argues that Novgorod’s proto-democratic tradition no longer exists.

[CAT] “Cats’ memories may be as good as dogs”

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Seriously Science linked to a paper, “Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats”, which suggests cats actually have very good memory compared to dogs.

“We examined whether cats could retrieve and utilize incidentally encoded information from a single past event in a simple food-exploration task previously used for dogs (Fujita et al., 2012). In Experiment 1, cats were led to four open, baited containers and allowed to eat from two of them (Exposure phase). After a 15-min delay during which the cats were absent and all containers were replaced with empty ones, the cats were unexpectedly returned to the room and allowed to explore the containers (Test phase). Although the cats’ first choice of container to visit was random, they explored containers from which they had not previously eaten for longer than those from which they did previously eat. In the Exposure phase of Experiment 2, two containers held food, one held a nonedible object, and the fourth was empty. Cats were allowed to eat from one of them. In the post-delay Test phase, the cats first visited the remaining baited-uneaten container significantly more often than chance and they spent more time exploring this container. Because the cats’ behavior in the Test phase cannot be explained by association of the container with a pleasant experience (eating), the results suggest that cats retrieved and utilized “what” and “where” information from an incidentally encoded memory from a single experience.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 4, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Science

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