Thursday, October 30, 2014

Astronomers use spectroscopy to determine the atmospheric make-up of an exoplanet


Yeah, that's pretty trippy, huh? As it turns out, this planet is 130 light years away -- not a small distance to cover, that's for sure. So naturally, it brings up the issue of how to really observe it? How can we even know the most basics things about the planet when all we have to study are blips in starlight patterns that only indicate a planet might be orbiting the star?

It wouldn't be the first time astronomers made a miscalculation with an exoplanet -- it happens all the time, really. Some of them are figments of the imagination, and future space explorers might be sad to discover they aren't even really there! But this one, so lovingly named "HAT-P-11b," is about the size of Neptune, and has been observed rather stunningly, thanks to transmission spectroscopy.

By studying the way the light from its parent star is altered as the exoplanet passed in front of it, we can tell what sort of chemical composition the planet has, and thus any possible atmosphere it might have as well. In a feat of science, we successfully determined that HAT-P-11b's atmospher is mostly hydrogen, which little bits of oxygen and the heavier atoms spiced around.

Now, if could only find a rocky planet with high carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere...

Through the Galactic Looking Glass: one of the faintest, oldest galaxies ever spotted

Seeing galaxies that formed soon after the Big Bang (within the first 500 million years, that is) is a difficult task indeed. The fact that light can only travel so fast in the incredibly vast universe means that light from the oldest galaxies doesn't get to Earth for billions of years. Recently, astronomers focusing on galaxy clusters discovered a faint, almost invisible galaxy formed in this early time -- one of maybe only ten that we know of.

You might have a hard time fathoming the sheer distance the light had to travel, because it took 13 billion (yes, that's almost the age of the Universe itself) years for the light from this galaxy to even reach Earth. What we get is the rare opportunity to look at the Universe in it's very early stages, thanks to gravity's effect of bending light. The galactic clusters massive gravitational power refracted the light in just the perfect way.

Just goes to show that there is always something new to discover in our Universe. The number of stars and planets and galaxies and clusters out there is so astronomical (maybe that's why we call big names "astronomical," eh?) that it almost impossible for regular people to quantify. We have to use scientific notation just to give an idea!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

White dwarfs in binary systems emit massive nuclear 'novae' explosions -- w/ a trippy cause!

This is pretty nuts, but it isn't at all surprising considering the nature of space: white dwarfs in binary systems are letting off incredible novae explosions (not to be confused with supernovae, which are the explosive deaths of stars), fireballs the size of gas giants hurtling off into space in every direction. Reminds me a lot of a quasar/pulsar blast from a black hole, which emits enough gamma radiation to, at the very least, sterilize anything that gets in its way -- except this one isn't just gamma radiation, it's explosive nuclear energies.

Why this happens has been a perennial mystery to astronomers, but recent research is shedding some light on the matter.  To start, a white dwarf in a binary system will leech the partner star for its hydrogen, causing it to deposit on the surface of the white dwarf like some kind of ethereal ocean. When this "ocean" reaches depths of around 200 meters, the intense gravity and pressure set off a thermonuclear reaction that culminates in a massive cosmic fireball.

Pretty terrifying, huh? Let's count our blessings that we're in a rather regular, stable solar system.

Eric Coles, 70, snaps incredible shots of the universe from his backyard

Eric Coles, Astrobin
Courtesy of Eric Coles @ Astrobin
If you think that you can't be an active participant in the field of astronomy, or even just an armchair-astronomer, then maybe you'd better take an example from a one Eric Coles. Coles is a sweet seventy years old, something that would force most of us to be armchair-everythings -- but for Coles, it seems to only drive him further.

In fact, Coles is doing something magnificent without ever leaving his home. Setting up in his backyard, the starry-eyed geezer is taking photographs of the cosmos using five different telescopes and a wide variety of filters. Normally these areas are invisible to the naked eye, and even if they were close enough to observe there wouldn't be much to see. That's because much of the energy emitted in the Universe isn't even visible light!

Coles was able to beautify the cosmic imprints by assigning colors to wavelengths of energy, a process known as false colorization. This is why most of the pictures you see of space are fanciful, with blues and reds and yellows -- in reality, they look more like blacks and grays to human eyes. They are, however, very rich in other wavelengths, like radio and gamma waves.

That's what Cole utilized to make his photographs. You can see his incredible works over at Astrobin.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How much would you pay to get in on some Google Inbox mail action?

Google Inbox is in beta -- for now
Google Inbox is in beta -- for now
If your answer to that question is greater than or equal to $50 USD, then you may be in luck. We don't know for how long this offer will be around, of course, but it seems like an enterprising person/group is/are making some quick cash by selling invites to the Google Inbox beta program on eBay for a solid fifty bucks. Naturally, this isn't for all people (you won't catch me dropping $50 on the internet for the promise of an invite to Inbox), but it's still an interesting option.

And apparently people are buying. It's huge right now, as people flock to nab up every invite they possibly can. Google is keeping Inbox in the beta stage for now, so details are scarce -- and there is no surety any features will make it to full release. One thing is clear, though; the makers of Inbox, which include members from the Gmail team, are trying to steer this project in a different direction than that of Gmail.

Google Inbox's hook is not receiving emails, because any old site can do that these days. The point is to provide an alternative viewing method to what has become standard email layout. Inbox seems to be, at its core, designed to organize emails in the same way social bookmarking / aggregation does for links. The questions is, will it be worth the hype?

Twitter now offering picture-in-picture -- under a different name, of course

Twitter tweep tweeting tweets
Twitter tweep tweeting tweets... say that 5x fast
Twitterception? Looks like it could be finally happening, with the latest update from the Twitter machine. The Big Blue Bird has been gobbling up media attention in the recent tech frenzy they themselves stirred up, with a little help from TechCrunch's Disrupt London event. This time around, it's Twitter's version of PIP (picture-in-picture, for those of you without the tacky glory of PIP television), and it's only purpose is to make your ADHD a little less manageable.

Say you're on someone's Twitter and a video comes up in their feed (not an unlikely scenario). You'd like to check this vid out, but you also really want to just keep browsing through the messy annals of your Twitter feed. Well, Twitter took a cue from the Old El Paso taco girl and considered, "Why not both?" Now you can have a little version of your video in the bottom corner of your already-spacially-constrained screen!

Regardless of what I've said thus far, it's a neat feature. Some people out there will find it very satisfying, I'm sure -- and who knows, perhaps it will make Twitter more bearable for me to be on... Ha!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Twitter unveils Fabric tool suite for mobile developers


Twitter announced at Flight a couple of days ago that it would be releasing a tool set for mobile app developers -- something Twitter fans and regular tweeps alike have been dying to hear. Long turning a blind eye and a deaf eye towards devs, Twitter has decided to up its developer devotion recently with a three-pronged unveiling, culminating in the overall suite that is Twitter's Fabric.

Number one on the list is Crashlytics, a powerful and lightweight crash analysis service that is designed for both iOS and Android. This will allow apps to become more user-friendly as errors and crashes are more appropriately handled. Reporting on Crashlytics is top-notch, providing more than enough information to put the developer back in control of the app.

Following up in MoPub, a mobile advertising revenue and exchange service (what a mouthful). Basically they're a lot like the other ad companies out there, except that MoPub optimizes all aspects of advertising, especially transparency for publishers. There's even an exchange that's pretty well-spoken about, in which you can find profitable advertising sources galore. So good, apparently even Fruit Ninja had to give it a try!

And finally, we've got the brand-spankin' new Digits tool. This one allows smartphone and tablet users to log in to their accounts via a phone number by itself, no username or password required. Twitter servers relay SMS verification to the mobile device being used, and so this is a two-step verification process. It should make logging in significantly simpler, though to be honest it was already pretty easy.

You can read more in-depth on each of the tools offered in Fabric by clicking their linked names above. Just remember, it's a great day to be a mobile dev.