Science News: Spock's homeworld found, neutron star pasta

Brian G Turner

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#1
spock.png


A flood of interesting news this week:

1. Spock's homeworld found

A planet has been found orbiting 40 Eridani A - which, according to the original Star Trek canon, is the system where Spock's home world of Vulcan is: Exoplanet News: Astronomers have found Vulcan!

The DPS astronomers found a clear 42.4 day signal in Keid’s motion. This indicates the star is orbited by a planet (which would be called Keid b, or 40 Eri Ab… or, y’know, Vulcan) with a mass of about 8.4 times Earth’s (at a minimum; it could be more). This puts it almost exactly between Earth and Neptune in mass — Neptune’s mass is 17 times Earth’s. This makes it either what we call a super-Earth or a mini-Neptune.
40 Eridani A, also know as Keid, is just over 16 light years from our own sun - relatively close - hence why it was probably chosen as the star system for Vulcan.

And, while the headlines today scream "Vulcan found!" there are a couple of interesting notes about this:

i) As Phil Plait mentions above, the planet's mass suggest it's either a rocky "superearth" or a gassy mini-Neptune. We don't know which yet, so it may be a little premature to break out the Romulan Ale;

ii) Science already knows of a planet Vulcan - it was originally suggested to lie between the sun and Mercury, in order to explain Mercury's odd orbital period. However, the Theory of Relativity finally put that idea to rest.


2. Disturbing galactic clouds

The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are both small satellite galaxies around our Milky Way that are relatively near to each other - but a new theory suggests there may have been a third galaxy which was absorbed by the Large Magellanic Cloud: Magellanic clouds duo may have been a trio

Although our Milky Way is likely to absorb both mini-galaxies in future, it also appears that the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy may have passed close to us around 500 million years ago - which would explain why some of the stars in our galaxy have disturbed motions: Gaia detects a shake in the Milky Way


3. Neutron star disks and pasta

Neutron stars offer such extreme stellar environments that we tend to imagine them alone in space - even though the first exoplanets were found around one. However, recent observations of RX J0806.4-4123 suggest it may have a large disk of matter around it - though there's an alternative explanation: The surprising environment of an enigmatic neutron star

Additionally, what's stronger than the material on the surface of a neutron star? The theoretical geometric shapes - aka, pastas - that reside beneath it: Simulation shows nuclear pasta 10 billion times harder to break than steel


4. Originators of life found?

RNA helps to build and regulate DNA, but how it might arise naturally remains a mystery. Now a group of scientists have looked at various organic molecules to identify which could have helped form the first RNA molecules - and therefore begun the process of life: New study identifies possible ancestors of RNA


5. Moving fossils confuse mass extinctions

We all know that the Earth has experienced a number of mass extinctions - but contrary evidence has always suggested that these may have been gradual rather than sudden. A recent test of fossil evidence suggests that changing environments may give the illusion of mass extinctions: The walking dead: Fossils on the move can distort patterns of mass extinctions


BONUS Miscellaneous news!

Artificial gravity required to stop astronauts going blind: To avoid vision problems in space, astronauts will need some kind of artificial gravity
Boundary between brown dwarfs and active stars remains blurred: When is a star not a star? The line that separates stars from brown dwarfs may soon be clearer
Earth's spin axis drift explained by 3 recent causes: Scientists ID three causes of Earth's spin axis drift

And now for something different: Greek island covered by spider webs: Giant spiderweb cloaks Greek coast
 

Robert Zwilling

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Artificial gravity required to stop astronauts going blind
Looks like the choice of space stations with artificial gravity versus burrowing underground might not be an option. Long term residence in low gravity requires an environment that has some kind of gravity in it. The health hazards of prolonged low gravity exposure are not short term. It appears that the Moon and Mars are not suitable as places to build permanent residences. The easiest way to maintain a healthy environment is aboard an orbiting station built as a ring or cylinder. The Moon and Mars would only be a place to visit for short periods of time. This would make building stations the destination and not the actual place being visited or worked on.

Planet Of The Apes, revisited. We could start looking for an animal whose circulatory system is not dependent on a strong presence of gravity. Once found, a part of that animal's population could be raised to understand how to operate our technology and introduced to getting a higher education to facilitate comprehensive communication built on mutual understanding. School for amoebas now in session.

Making choices is always a strange experience. Making decisions has to be hard wired in, imitating the way logical systems arrive at solutions. Making decisions leads to movement. There are four main possibilities, plus all the variants. Between two choices one could be a good way to do something, the other a bad way. It could also be that either choice is a bad choice. Then we have the situation where both choices are a way to do something, equally beneficial. That leaves the situation where there is no choice, both options have to be done. What looked like a choice, a fork in the road, was in fact an artificial fork, a set of choices that never existed. Instead of having a 50/50 chance of picking the right choice, it looks more like a 1 out of 4 situation.

Where did the building blocks for RNA come from. I think it will turn out there were/are many paths to creating the molecules needed to build life. An old idea that is interesting idea uses layers of clay holding the various compounds together in a semi pervious framework that is stable for very long periods of time and conditions. Clay was an early format used to make molds to reproduce things.

Putting together various substances and exposing them to various kinds of radiation has yielded promising results. From organic compounds to ground up rocks containing essential elements like phosphorous to ground up meteorites pushing the idea that life originated off planet. People have used electrical discharges and proton rays that simulate harsh solar radiation to facilitate chemical reactions.

The undersea hot sulfur smoking vents has also been put forward as a mechanism and places where life could have originated.

It definitely seems like there are multiple channels that lead to the same results. People routinely have races to get goals accomplished, maybe we are just copying a race between natural processes that kicked off the whole show to start with.

I have also read that the initial proteins that formulated the production of RNA-like substances could be extinct. That means we could be using procedures that most likely existed on substances that were most likely present but we are not trying to create what was actually created, but instead we are creating the second or third step in the process.

The extinction of the cryosphere looked interesting. I could not tell how far the center of rotation could move, or how long a time period it covered. The movement due to ice loss is small, but that could take a lot less time then expected. The rebound probably happens faster then expected. The plate movement is the only predictable component but without a timeline it is hard to tell if it slows up or speeds up the axis drift. Is the center of rotation going so far down as to be pointing more towards the sun than at the North Star.
 
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psikeyhackr

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it may be a little premature to break out the Romulan Wine;
That's Romulan Ale, not wine.

You will have to be kicked out of the Federation of Star Trek Fanatics.

Ale is a form of beer, it is not wine. Of course I can't stand beer.
 

Vertigo

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In the very interesting neutron star report did anyone clock the slightly odd wording in one place:

As the neutron star travels through the interstellar medium at greater than the speed of sound...
Is it just me or does the concept of the speed of sound applied to the movement of objects in space strike you as being a bit absurd? The speed of sound in what medium for goodness sake. Also the speed of sound in the context of cosmology is, I would have thought, an extremely slow speed. Maybe it was just a reporting error.

@Robert Zwilling, I might have missed it but in the report about the effects of gravity on vision I didn't see any reference to moon or Mars gravity specific to this issue. It only seemed to be referring to microgravity. That said there are obviously health considerations regarding lower gravities but this specific issue of vision impairment is, I think, here only as issue in micro gravity.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I might have missed it but in the report about the effects of gravity on vision I didn't see any reference to moon or Mars gravity specific to this issue. It only seemed to be referring to microgravity.
There isn't any information about long term exposure to low gravity because there aren't any studies done on it yet. While there haven't been any people living on the Moon or Mars to study, it would be quite easy to set up a hamster habitat that was a miniature O'neill Cylinder inside the space station. You could run it for a year and get a lot of physical data from individuals and maybe even some genetic information passed on to the next generation. If people are going to be sent there sooner than later it would be strange that this test isn't run.

The fact that you have breathable bubbles of carbon dioxide in the air floating around in the space station and bubbles of carbon dioxide in the blood and fluids in the organs that is not being flushed out indicates to me that the problem is operating over a wide range. A fan will move the air in the space station so the air can be thoroughly homogenized but we can't put fans inside our arteries. It's possible a drug could be used to thin the blood so it slides around better and less likely to develop pockets or the pockets would be so small as to be inconsequential, but the side effects would not be good for healing woulds of any kind. A simple bruise would not be so simple.

There are other fluid based systems in the body, one is the intra muscle zone that extends allover the body. It is very difficult to treat an infection in the intra muscle zone on Earth because there is no mainstream place to tap into. While it is physically connected the sluggishness of the connection makes it seem as if there is no connection. The lymph system is fluid based. We also have problems with the buildup of fluids in the tissues, edema.

The flow of material is also present at the cellular level, that has two components, the flow between the outside of the cell and the inside of the cell and the flow between cells. Problems for that type of system could easily be studied by putting a small but well represented greenhouse in the space station.

There have been plant and animal experiments done but I don't think any of them were run long enough to get a good idea of what can happen. There definitely are not any artificial gravity environments set to mimic the Moon or Mars for plants or animal for an extended period of time.

People solve problems by a variety of methods that have enabled us to explore the bottom of the ocean and gotten us to the Moon. Not all of our problem solving techniques are the best way to do things but they get the job done and enable the human race to continue. Some are simple blunt force push your way through to see what happens. Others are stick our heads in the sand and wait till what ever it is passes by and hope it's not accompanied by a flood. It is well documented that under adverse conditions humans will do what ever it takes to get by. Working on the surface of Earth that has worked quite well. Working in an environment such as space or the Moon (Mars is too far away for now) if those kinds of kind of techniques result in temporary diminished returns that could be considerably different from running out of gas on Earth.

As far as our ability to solve serious problems goes, at the moment, the current weather patterns seem to be getting the better of us, all we are doing is responding to mindless physical events, we aren't doing anything to ( and no, we can't stop the rain or change the weather) make these responses unnecessary. That type of reasoning in space or on the Moon definitely isn't going to fly anyone anywhere. The Moon is a harsh mistress. At the moment I would say we need bigger boats and houses that float. Take that to space and add some rotation and problems solved. Instead of fly me to the Moon where I'll make my home, it's fly me to the Space Side Extended Stays Hotel, with daily excursions to the Moon and beyond.
 

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