Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stellar jets and super-Earths

Who knew that the Hubble would be so good at filmmaking?

Astronomers now have an entire film captured of jets of gas ejected from young stars.  These stars, known as Herbig-Haro objects, have been one of the many mysteries of space.  For whatever reason, they eject colorful blobs of gas that travel through space at supersonic speeds.  While the reason for these emissions is still unknown, astronomers can now have a much more detailed look at the process behind the occurrence.  
As a star forms, gravity yanks in dust and gas from the newborn star's vast cosmic vicinity.  This material adds mass to the fledgling star the way Gerber adds nutrients to a growing baby.  While this happens, Herbig-Haro jets are flung back out into space.  It all comes to an end when there is no longer any excess gas or dust to expel as most of the matter has either gone into the star or collected to form planets.  You can see video of the stellar gas blasts here.

There is a "super-sized Earth," sitting just on the edge of habitability.  Or what we understand "habitable" to mean.  Two astronomers have recently published a paper that debuts their own equation for determining a planet's degree of habitability.  The equation, somewhat reminiscent of the famous Drake Equation for life, considers the nature of a planet's orbit, the amount of radiation it receives from its sun, and the composition of the planet's atmosphere.  The formula was tested out from data on HD 85512b, an extrasolar planet about 20 light-years away and several times the size of Earth.  The projections from the equation are that HD 85512b is a rocky planet with an Earth-like atmosphere, meaning mostly nitrogen and oxygen.  So if we send a spacecraft now, we could be settling that planet in just under fifty years.  That is if my math is correct and judging by my GRE scores in that department...it isn't.

Yep, just more "useless" information that your tax dollars paid for.  Or at least that's what a teabagger would likely say.  After all, what could a further understanding of the universe and an undertaking of exploration ever get us?  Except for computers, the Apollo program, new medical tech...etc...oh what will these wily scientists try to gammon us with next?

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