Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Demoted

The votation made by the delegates of the International Astronomical Union in Prague did not bode well for Pluto - the controversial body demoted from its planet status to a "dwarf planet." The new designation leaves the solar system with eight planets and four dwarf planets: Pluto, Ceres, previously designated an asteroid, Charon (previously Pluto's moon) and 2003 UB313, also known as Xena. The three will also be known as trans-Neptunian objects.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dark Matter Confirmed

NASA scientists using data from the Chandra-X space telescope has confirmed the existence of dark matter. The little-known dark matter - deemed to composed 80-90% of all the matter in the Universe - was observed when two giant gas clouds collided, an event observed by Chandra-X, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan Telescope. This is the first direct evidence that the the-theoretical dark matter is not just a stuff of theoretical astrophysics.

Picture credit:

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Solar System Gains 3 More Planets

An executive committee formed by the International Astronomical Union has approved a new definition of what a planet is, and by the new definition, the Solar System will have 12 planets, up from the present nine. Three bodies will be upgraded to the planet status: Charon, Ceres (formerly an asteroid), and Xena. The decision of the executive panel will be put on vote on August 24 by the delegates composing the IAU.

The new definition of a planet is: an object that circles the Sun, large enough to have gravitational forces that will compress it into a spherical shape, and at is least 250-500 miles in diameter.

The committee also came up with a new designation, called plutons, that encompasses planets that take at least 200 years to orbit the Sun. Plutons include Pluto, Charon and Xena. Ceres would just be an ordinary planet under the new definition, while Pluto and Charon, which orbit close to one another, will be a double planet system.

Many other objects might be upgraded to planet status, including Kuiper Belt Objects such as Sedna, Orcus and Quaoar, as well as asteroids such as Vespa, Pallas and Hygeia.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quo Vadis, Pluto?

Members of the International Astronomical Union are gathering in Prague to discuss the fate of Pluto - whether to still consider the body as a planet or to demote it into a lesser status: asteroid, Kuiper Belt object, planetissimal. More importantly the outcome of IAU's discussio would be to define, for once and for all, what really a planet is. The group will also discuss the classification of newly discovered bodies like Xena and Segna. (And we think taxonomists had it easy classifying the platypus...)

My stance for the manner is that the IAU can set Pluto as the mininum size for a planet. This way Pluto's historical significance can still be preserved and saving us the trouble of updating all the books about the Solar System.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Carbon-based molecules found in space

It was reported that researchers using data gathered by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope found eight types of complex carbon-based molecules in interstellar space. The molecules include acetamide, cyclopropenone, propenal, propanal and ketenimine, found in Sagittarius B2, and methyl-cyano-diacetylene, methyl-triacetylene and cyanoallene, found in the Taurus Molecular Cloud (TMC-1).

Sagittarius B2 is in the center of the Milky Way galaxy, around 26,000 ly from earth, while the TMC-1 is about 450 ly from Sagittarius B2.

Picture: model of acetamide

Sunday, August 06, 2006

This day in Astronomy: August 6

Ten years ago, NASA biochemist David McKay presented a Martian meteorite, named ALH84001, found to contain microscopic structures scientists surmise to be biological in origin. These structures are called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, commonly produced by biological processes - the main argument used by McKay in his thesis that life could have existed in Mars, but many scientists have argued that PAHs can also be produced by non-biological means.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Moon as DNA Vault

The International Herald Tribune has recently run a story about the Alliance to Rescue Civilization, which advocates turning the Earth's satellite into a repository of DNA from all of earth's creatures, as well as a "compendium of all knowledge" . The vault and its contents, according to the group, will act as an insurance from catastrophic events, such as a major world war or an asteroid collission, that could wipe out civilizations.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

SETI Coverup?

The Register is reporting the controversy regarding the alleged cover-up committed by the SETI Institute on the detection of alien signals from space. According to the report, SETI watcher Steven Greer accused the SETI Institute of covering up the the detection of signals that he believes to be part of an alien transmission. Greer also alleges that an organization also stepped in to block the said signals.

Sounds like Mulder and Scully are back again.

Stardust@home to go online August 1

Stardust@home, a new distributed computing project designed to look for microscopic interstellar dust grains collected by the Stardust mission, is set to go online on August 1. The program will use web-based virtual microscope programs to look for the tiny dust grains collected by the Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector. Around 50 dust grains are expected to be found from the tiles of aerogel used to collect the dusts. The Stardust spacecraft gathered samples near the comet Wild 2.

If you want to volunteer your computer time for the project, go here. The project is a joint effort between the Planetary Society and University of California at Berkeley.