Over the past few years the discovery of planets outside of our solar system has almost become routine. So many planets, and of such a wide variety of sizes, orbits and composition have been found that it now looks as though almost ever star comes with planets.
But the recent announcement in the journal nature ( http://www.nature.com/news/earth-sized-planet-around-nearby-star-is-astronomy-dream-come-true-1.20445) is something special. Not only does the planet orbit Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our own Sun, but the planet is similar to the Earth in size and orbits Proxima Centauri at a distance where liquid water could exist on its surface.
The newly discovered planet has been named Proxima B and has a mass estimated to be 30% greater than Earth’s. If it possesses an atmosphere and oceans it could easily be a home for life and astronomers are organized a coordinated effort to learn all we can with our present and future technology.
The sun our new planet orbits is very different from our own star. Proxima Centauri is a small red dwarf with a mass of only 12% that of our Sun and emits only 1.5% of the energy of our Sun. Notice that, while Proxima Centauri is smaller it emits much less energy. This means that the fuel powering Proxima Centauri could last almost ten times longer than the fuel remaining for our Sun. That’s true of stars in general, the larger they are the shorter their lifespan.
So here we have an interesting plot for a Science Fiction novel. It’s several billion years in the future and the Sun is running out of fuel so the inhabitants of the solar system, not necessarily Earth nor necessarily human, are striving to reach Proxima B as a new home.
Of course, that’s just fiction!
In a little more than a year from now, late 2017 or early 2018, the first commercial manned space flight will take place as either Boeing or Space-X launch their first manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
There’s much more to come. Last week in a news conference NASA’s deputy associate administrator Bill Hill discussed NASA’s goal of turning over control of the ISS to a commercial firm(s) on or around 2024.
NASA’s plan is to support private investment in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), private development of the infrastructure of Space between Earth’s surface and LEO while NASA concentrates on it’s program of exploration to Mars, Asteroids and back to the Moon.
Other corporations are also investing in the colonization of LOE, that’s what it is really. Orbital Sciences, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada are developing manned spacecraft while Bigelow has already launched an inflatable habitation module which is currently undergoing testing at the ISS.
The question of course is whether these companies can make a profit in space? For the next decade or so these Space-X and the others will be heavily if not exclusively dependent on NASA for orders. There’s been a lot of talk about space tourism or mining asteroids but it’s hard to see those industries providing the billions of dollars the commercialization of LEO will require.
The next decade will see a lot of hard work, a lot of plans that won’t fulfill their promise but by 2025 or so we should see the beginnings of the real colonization of Space.
During the past week there’s been a lot of talk about Theoretical Physics at the University of California Irvine analyzing data from the Institute for Nuclear Research at Debrecen Hungary, some news articles have even called the UC Irvine analysis a conformation. What’s all this about.
First of all, a little background. Modern Physics recognizes four Forces of nature: Gravity, Electromagnetism and two Forces that only work over the immensely short nuclear distances. These are called the Strong (or color) force and the Weak force.
For nearly forty years now physicists have been looked for something beyond the standard model of particles and forces because the standard model cannot describe gravity at the nuclear scale, nor does it describe the motions of galaxies attributed to “Dark Matter” nor finally the accelerated expansion of the universe attributed to “Dark Energy”.
Now, what the researchers in Hungary were doing was to take nuclei of Lithium and bombard them with energetic protons turning them into nuclei of Beryllium in an excited state, excited state in important. The excited Beryllium nuclei would then sometimes decay into Beryllium in the ground state by emitting a gamma ray photon (a very high energy particle of light) and the gamma ray would then split into an electron-positron pair.
Measuring the energy spectrum of the gamma rays the group in Hungary found a bump at an energy of 17 million electron volts that could be due to a particle other than the gamma photons, an unknown particle. The theoreticians at UC Irvine then looked at the Hungarian data and determined that the new particle would be a force carrying Boson. The data implied not just a new particle but a new force.
First of all, the work at UC Irvine is not a conformation it is an analysis. Conformation requires another laboratory to replicate the data from Hungary. Fortunately the energy levels involved are low enough to allow many laboratories to do the experiment and confirm the Hungarian’s work, or otherwise. we should have an answer soon, a year or so.
This is the fourth time in my career someone has announced a fifth force and each time previously the new force quickly disappeared when subject to additional scrutiny. I’m hopeful, because a new force would be really cool, and I’ll keep reading the published articles, but I’m not holding my breath.
My Name is Bob Lawler. I’m a Physicist and RF Engineer so you could say I’m an Analog rather than a Digital kinda guy.
Science and Science Fiction is going to be a place to discuss topics in many different fields of Science and Science Fiction.
Today (18Aug16) is my first post but hopefully there will soon be plenty to talk about.