German scientists creating artificial Sun

Scientists in Germany are turning on what is being described as ‘the world’s largest artificial sun.’

Scientists in Germany are turning on what is being described as ‘the world’s largest artificial sun.’

The massive honeycomb-like structure, known as the ‘Synlight’, uses 149 large spotlights typically employed in cinemas, to simulate sunlight.

The scientists will focus the enormous array of xenon short-arc lamps on a single 8/8 inch spot.

The scientists from the German Aerospace Centre hope that by doing so, they will be able to reproduce the equivalent of 10,000 times the solar radiation that would normally shine on a surface the same size.

“If you went in the room when it was switched on, you would burn directly,” said Professor Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR, where the experiment is sheltered in a protective radiation chamber.

The experiment consumes as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would in a year.

The furnace-like conditions that will be created by this energy will reach up to 5,432 Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius.)

The German government is one of the world’s biggest investors in renewable energy.

The scientists will attempt to find ways of tapping the vast amount of energy that hits the earth in the form of light from the sun.

One of the primary areas of research will be on how to produce hydrogen efficiently. This will be the first step towards creating artificial fuel for airplanes.

According to Professor Hoffschimdt, billions of tons of hydrogen would be needed to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel.

Hydrogen is considered a promising future source of fuel. This is because it does not produce carbon emissions, therefore not contributing to global warming.

Arecibo Observatory damaged by Hurricane Maria

Officials have yet to assess damage, as roads to the site remain impassable.

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, home of the world’s second largest radio telescope, used for research in radio astronomy and study of Earth’s atmosphere, sustained damage when Hurricane Maria battered the island last week.

The telescope’s 1,000-foot (300-meter) dish reflector was pierced several times by a 96-foot (29-meter) line feed antenna that tumbled from a height of more than 328 feet (100 meters), where it had been suspended.

That particular line feed was used largely for atmospheric research. It transmitted and received radio waves at 430 MHz.

Arecibo’s weather station measured 78 mile (126 km) per hour winds on Wednesday, September 20, and gusts up to 108 miles (174 km) per hour.

Also destroyed was a 39-foot (12 meter) dish that served as a phase reference for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

VLBI is a technique in which many separate radio telescopes are linked together in a network to function as a single, more powerful telescope.

In preparation for the storm, observatory staff had secured all facilities and equipment. Similar preparations had been made two weeks earlier in expectation of Hurricane Irma, but that storm took a different trajectory and did not hit Puerto Rico directly.

Staff members who remained at the facility during the hurricane are all safe. The Universities Space Research Association (USRA), one of several organizations that manage Arecibo Observatory for the National Science Foundation, is attempting to contact employees who rode out the storm in their homes or in shelters to make sure they are unharmed.

Because the island has no power, the observatory’s phone and Internet are out. All communication to and from the site is being conducted via shortwave radio.

Transportation for those not on site remains impossible because the area’s roads are filled with debris.

“We will need a full assessment of the damage, repairs that are needed, and when the observatory can resume operations,” said USRA senior vice president for science Nicholas White.

Built in the 1960s, Arecibo has been used to study a wide range of astronomical objects, from black holes and dark matter to pulsars, galaxies, planets, and asteroids.

It has sent signals into space to search for intelligent alien life and also monitored incoming signals in an attempt to determine whether any might be coming from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Arecibo’s visitor center will be closed at least through Wednesday, September 27.



Enceladus’s subsurface ocean harbors complex organic molecules

Saturn moon is now the only solar system location other than Earth to meet all requirements for microbial life.

Analysis of mass spectroscopy data returned by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft indicates Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbors complex organic molecules in its subsurface ocean, which are ejected through cracks in surface ice.

Cassini made several close flybys of Enceladus, one of the solar system’s top contenders for hosting microbial life, before the spacecraft was plunged into Saturn in September 2017. These flybys found evidence for a subsurface ocean above the moon’s rocky core and detected molecular hydrogen in plumes coming from that ocean.

Scientists believe molecular hydrogen is produced by geochemical interactions between water and rocks in hydrothermal environments, according to a paper on the findings published in the journal Nature.

“Hydrogen provides a source of chemical energy supporting microbes that live in the Earth’s oceans near hydrothermal vents. Once you have identified a potential food source for microbes, the next question to ask is, ‘what is the nature of the complex organics in the ocean?’ This paper represents the first step in that understanding–complexity in the organic chemistry beyond our expectations!” stated Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), who served as principal investigator for Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS).

Both INMS and Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) measured the contents of Enceladus’s plumes and of material in Saturn’s E ring, which is composed of ice grains from those plumes.

“Previously, we’d only identified the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even that was intriguing,” Christoper Glenn, also of SwRI and a specialist in extraterrestrial chemical oceanography, noted. “Now, we’ve found organic molecules with masses above 200 atomic mass units. That’s over 10 times heavier than methane.  With complex organic molecules emanating from its liquid water ocean, this moon is the only body besides Earth known to simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it.”

By working together, each with their own data set, the CDA and INMS teams achieved a better understanding of the organic chemistry in Enceladus’s ocean than either of the teams would have done with just their own data set, Glenn noted.

In their paper, the researchers recommend a future mission fly through Enceladus’s plumes and use a high-resolution mass spectrometer to analyze the complex organic molecules, with the goal of learning the process by which they formed.


Cyanobacteria study provides insight into future Mars colonization

Bacteria that conduct photosynthesis could provide human colonists with breathable air on other worlds.

A study at the Australian National University (ANU) that subjected cyanobacteria to inhospitable conditions is providing scientists with important insights into future human colonization of Mars.

Cyanobacteria are microbes that obtain their energy through photosynthesis and produce oxygen. One of the largest groups of bacteria on Earth, they have been around for more than 2.5 billion years.

Capable of adapting to harsh environments, cyanobacteria have been found in Antarctica, the Mojave Desert, and even the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).

Elmars Krausz of ANU suggested future human colonists on Mars and other solar system worlds could use cyanobacteria adapted to low-light environments to produce oxygen they could breathe and create a biosphere, an area where life could survive.

“This might sound like science fiction, but space agencies and private companies around the world are actively trying to turn this aspiration into reality in the not-too-distant future. Photosynthesis could theoretically be harnessed with these types of organisms to create air for humans to breathe on Mars,” Krausz said.

One particular type of chlorophyll, known as “red” chlorophyll, plays a key role in driving photosynthesis in low-light environments.

“Low-light adapted organisms, such as the cyanobacteria we’ve been studying, can grow under rocks and potentially survive the harsh conditions on the Red Planet,” he noted.

Through their pigments, “red” chlorophylls produce a signature fluorescence that colonizers of other worlds could use to track organisms indigenous to those worlds, stated Jenny Morton of ANU’s Research School of Chemistry.

Using a unique optical spectrometer along with computer modeling, the research team focused on better understanding the role of “red” chlorophylls in the process of photosynthesis.

“This work redefines the minimum energy needed in light to drive photosynthesis,” she added.

In experiments, organisms adapted to low-light environments died when exposed to full sunlight.

“All photosynthetic organisms, such as coral reefs, suffer severe environmental stresses from high temperatures, high light levels, and ultraviolet light, so this research helps scientists to better understand these limits,” Morton explained.

Findings of the study have been published in the journal Science.

Humans likely alone in universe, study reports

A new study shows that humans are likely the only intelligent life in the observable universe.

A team of international researchers have found evidence that humans are the only intelligent life in the known universe, according to a new study published online.

For the research, the team analyzed the so-called Fermi paradox that shows, while there are millions of celestial bodies throughout the cosmos, there is no concrete evidence of alien life. 

They broke down the equation initially proposed by Frank Drake in the 1960’s that states the vast size of the universe inherently suggests other intelligent life must exist.

However, when the team behind the recent study incorporated new elements into the equation they found it is open to both uncertainties and bias. As a result, it is likely not as accurate as previously believed.

“When the model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it,” wrote the team in the research, according to Fox News. “This result dissolves the Fermi paradox, and in doing so removes any need to invoke speculative mechanisms by which civilizations would inevitably fail to have observable effects upon the universe.”

Their research revealed there is a 30 percent chance that humans are alone in the Milky Way galaxy. In addition, the team also found evidence that, should extraterrestrial life exist, it is likely less advanced that what we have on Earth.

”One can answer the Fermi Paradox by saying intelligence is very rare, but then it needs to be tremendously rare,” explained lead author Anders Sandberg, a researcher at Oxford University, according to International Business Times. “Another possibility is that intelligence doesn’t last very long, but it is enough that one civilization survives for it to become visible.”

While this suggests humans are alone, the study is not definitive. Many more processes need to be analyzed before that idea can be fully confirmed in one way or another.

Astronomers find galaxy cluster obscured by quasar

Search is on for more galaxy clusters hidden by very bright, active supermassive black holes.

Astronomers have discovered a large galaxy cluster with a mass of approximately 690 trillion suns that until now was obscured by an extremely bright quasar, an active supermassive black hole feeding on material surrounding it.

Composed of several hundred individual galaxies, the cluster is located about 2.4 billion light years from Earth and surrounds the quasar.

Designated PKS1353-341, the quasar, which is 46 billion times brighter than our Sun, was long thought to be alone in its region of space. It is surrounded by a huge disk of swirling material, of which large chunks are falling into it and in the process radiating high levels of energy as light.

“This might be a short-lived phase that clusters go through, where the central black hole has a quick meal, gets bright, and then fades away again. This could be a blip that we just happened to see. In a million years, this might look like a diffuse fuzzball,” explained Michael McDonald of MIT‘s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

The discovery of the galaxy cluster suggests other, similar clusters could be hiding behind extremely bright objects. Such clusters provide important information about the amount of matter in the universe and the rate at which the universe is expanding, which is why astronomers are now searching for them.

One reason scientists missed this large cluster is their assumption that clusters appear “fluffy” and give off diffuse X-ray signals, very unlike quasars, which are bright, single-point sources.

“This idea that you could have a rapidly accreting black hole at the center of a cluster–we didn’t think that was something that happened in nature,” McDonald said.

To find more hidden clusters, he and fellow researchers set up a survey titled Clusters Hiding in Plain Sight (CHiPS), which involved looking at archival X-ray images of very bright objects. They then followed up by studying these objects using the Magellan Telescope, an optical observatory in Chile.

If the Magellan observations revealed more galaxies than expected surrounding the bright object, they then observed the point source using the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory.

“Some 90 percent of these sources turned out not to be clusters,” McDonald said.

The CHiPS survey did find one new galaxy cluster obscured by a very bright supermassive black hole.

Findings of the study have been published in the Astrophysical Journal.


Merging neutron stars likely created a black hole

Though that alone made the merger worthy of study, it was also significant because it may have created the lowest mass black hole ever found.

The merging of two neutron stars may have created one of the most interesting black holes ever recorded, according to recent research published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Last year, the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Europe-based Virgo detector detected a collision between two neutron stars that was so strong it generated gravitational waves.

Such an event had never been witnessed before. Though that alone made the merger worthy of study, it was also significant because it may have created the lowest mass black hole ever found.

In the study, scientists from Trinity University analyzed data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory taken before the technology noticed the gravitational waves in August 2017.

Matching that against data taken from LIGO, the team estimated the mass of the object created by the star merger has roughly 2.7 times the solar mass. That suggests it is either the lowest mass black hole or the highest mass neutron star ever recorded.

However, as a heavy neutron star would have produced both a strong magnetic field and X-rays — neither of which the team detected during their research — it is likely the collision led to a black hole.

“Astronomers have long suspected that neutron star mergers would form a black hole and produce bursts of radiation, but we lacked a strong case for it until now,” said study co-author Pawan Kumar, a researcher at the University of Texas, in a statement.

Though this study is compelling, it does not give definitive evidence that the merger created a neutron star. More research needs to be done on the event, including both X-ray and radio observations, before any hard conclusions can be reached.

“If the remnant is a rapidly rotating magnetized neutron star, the total energy in the external shock should rise by a factor ~102 (to ~1052 erg) after a few years; therefore, Chandra observations over the next year or two that do not show substantial brightening will rule out such a remnant,” the team wrote in their study, according to Tech Times.

NASA project could help search for extraterrestrial life

A new project headed by NASA could help astronomers get a better picture of what to search for when looking for extraterrestrial life.

A new NASA-headed project known as the Nexus for Exoplanet Systems Science (NExSS) may help scientists better detect life on distant planets, according to six new papers published in the journal Astrobiology.

There are currently over 3,500 exoplanets known to science. However, researchers are not quite sure how to find signs of life on those worlds.

To fix that, the team behind the new study outlined different ways researchers could find extraterrestrial “biosignatures” with modern technology, as well the best way to sort through that data.

The scientists believe the new method could help detect distant biosignatures by the year 2030.

This new research comes from two years of work that spans various universities and institutions across the world. The idea behind it is to gather a fully comprehensive overview of what humans know about life and then use that information to search for it throughout the cosmos.

However, that is not an easy task.

“For life to be detectable on a distant world it needs to strongly modify its planet in a way that we can detect,” explained one of the study-authors Victoria Meadows, an astronomer at the University of Washington, according to Gizmodo. “But for us to correctly recognize life’s impact, we also need to understand the planet and star—that environmental context is key.”

In one of the papers, scientists concluded that they should look for both atmospheric gases that are produced by life and any light reflected by life. In another, researchers discussed any potential false positives or negatives that might arise during a search.

The other papers detail what scientists understand about life on Earth, a framework to evaluate biosignatures on other planets, and a full evaluation of potential life-carrying worlds, as well as future ones.

Those aspects are all important, and the better they are understood the closer scientists will come to figuring out if life does exist in space.

“We’re moving from theorizing about life elsewhere in our galaxy to a robust science that will eventually give us the answer we seek to that profound question: Are we alone?” said author of one of the studies Martin Still, an exoplanet scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington, according to

3D visualization of star-forming cloud helps scientists understand formation of our solar system

Vibrating gas cloud is at very early stage of star and planet formation.

The creation of a 3D visualization of a star-forming cloud is helping scientists understand the formation process of our own solar system and the birth of stars and planets.

Led by Aris Tritsis of the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, a team of scientists from ANU and from the University of Crete in Greece created the 3D visualization as part of their study of Musca, a needle-shaped star-forming cloud in the southern sky located several hundred light years from Earth.

Composed mostly of molecular hydrogen and dust, Musca extends about 27 light years across the plane of the sky. Its depth is approximately 20 light years while its width is just a fraction of a single light year.

“We were able to reconstruct the 3D structure of a gas cloud in its very early stages of making new stars and planets, which will ultimately take millions of years to form,” Tritsis said.

“Knowledge of the 3D shape of clouds will greatly improve our understanding of these nurseries of stars and the birth of our own solar system.”

To create the visualization, the researchers used data collected by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space telescope.

Having visualized Musca’s 3D shape, the scientists now know the gas cloud is an active, complex structure surrounded by hair-like features known as striations. The latter are caused by trapped waves of gas and dust produced by the cloud’s vibrations.

“With its 3D shape now determined, Musca can be used as a laboratory for testing star formation, astrochemical, and dust-formation theories,” Tritsis stated.

Studying the model will also give scientists insight into the formation of molecules in gas clouds.

According to Konstantinos Tassis of the University of Crete, Musca was chosen for the study because it is the largest vibrating whole structure in the galaxy.

By analyzing the frequency of these vibrations, the researchers were able to convert them into songs or ringing tones and thereby determine Musca’s shape.

“This is a cloud in space that is singing to us–all we had to do was listen. It’s actually quite awesome,” said Tritsis.

A paper on the study will be published in the journal Science.

Models estimate size of neutron stars

Researchers have discovered how big neutron stars are able to grow.

New models could help researchers estimate the size of neutron stars, according to a recent study published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

These simulations — which come from scientists at Goethe University — use data collected on gravitational waves. By analyzing such information, astronomers may be able to get a more precise idea of how big neutron stars can grow.

Neutron stars are incredibly dense. So dense that they have a mass greater than our sun stuffed into the size of a large city. However, though scientists have had a rough idea of their size, nobody has managed to get their precise dimensions.

To fix that, the team behind the new study developed a formula that estimates the size of neutron stars by analyzing the gravitational waves produced by merging neutron stars.

They came up with the method after comparing the predictions of two billion theoretical models of neutron stars and then constraining their models with parameters observed in the gravitational waves created by a neutron star merger known as GW170817.

“By exploring the results for all possible values of the parameters, we can effectively reduce our uncertainties,” said study co-author Luciano Rezzolla, a researcher at Goethe University, according to UPI.

The new findings revealed that neutron stars have a diameter that sits between 7.4 and 8.4 miles. However, that measurement is not completely definitive because there are several ways neutron stars can exist.

“However, there is a twist to all this, as neutron stars can have twin solutions,” said study co-author Jürgen Schaffner-Bielich, a researcher at Goethe University, according to

While there is no proof such solutions exist, the team took them into account in their findings. That then revealed twin stars are statistically rare and are unlikely to be deformed during a merger. As a result, scientists may be able to rule out their existence in future calculations.