Exoplanet Clouds & Updates | SciByte 105

Exoplanet Clouds & Updates | SciByte 105

We take a look at exoplanetary clouds, updating atomic weights, plastic on Saturn\’s moon, viewer feedback, story and spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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— Show Notes —

Exoplanet Clouds

  • Astronomers using data from NASA\’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet known as Kepler-7b
  • Kepler-7b
  • One of the first five planets to be confirmed by NASA\’s Kepler spacecraft, and was confirmed in the first 33.5 days of Kepler\’s science operations
  • Kepler-7b is a hot Jupiter that is about half the mass of Jupiter, but is nearly 1.5 times its size, and orbits its star every five days
  • Previous observations of Kepler-7b revealed that it could float on water
  • Temperature and Light Data
  • Kepler\’s visible-light observations of Kepler-7b\’s moon-like phases led to a rough map of the planet that showed a bright spot on its western hemisphere
  • That data was not enough on its own to decipher whether the bright spot was coming from clouds or heat
  • Spitzer can fix its gaze at a star system as a planet orbits around the star, gathering clues about the planet\’s atmosphere
  • Spitzer\’s ability to detect infrared light means it was able to measure Kepler-7b\’s temperature, estimating it to be between 1,500 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 and 1,300 Kelvin).
  • What the Temperature and Lights Measurements Mean
  • Those measurements are relatively cool for a planet that orbits so close to its star, within 0.06 astronomical units (one astronomical unit is the distance from Earth and the sun)
  • The measurements are also too cool to be the source of light Kepler observed.
  • Astronomers don\’t expect to see oceans or continents on this type of world, but they do detected a clear, reflective signature that they interpreted as clouds
  • What it All Means
  • By observing Kepler-7b with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, scientists were able to produce a very low-resolution \’map\’ of this giant, gaseous planet
  • Astronomers determined that light from the planet\’s star is bouncing off cloud tops located on the west side of the planet.
  • The patterns on this planet do not seem to change much over time, indicating it has a remarkably stable climate
  • The Future
  • Combining Spitzer and Kepler data together offers scientists with a multi-wavelength tool for getting a good look at exoplanets
  • This is bringing advancements to exoplanet science, moving beyond just detecting exoplanets, and into the exciting science of understanding them
  • 3D Visualization Tool
  • A fully rendered tool, available for download at eyes.nasa.gov/exoplanets
  • The program is updated daily with the latest findings from NASA\’s Kepler mission and ground-based observatories around the world as they search for planets
  • Also Pointed Out By
  • Paul Hill ‏@P_H_9_3 on Twitter
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Space Telescopes Find Patchy Clouds on Exotic World – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory | jpl.nasa.gov
  • Clouds On Alien Planet Mapped for 1st Time | Space.com


Updating Atomic Weights

  • The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, IUPAC, has changed the official atomic weights of 19 elements
  • Atomic Weights
  • Every atom of an element, silver for example, has the same number of protons
  • Silver has 47, but not every atom of an element necessarily has the same number of neutrons
  • Different versions of an element\’s atoms are called isotopes, Silver occurs as silver-109 and silver-107
  • Chemists calculate the atomic weight of an element that you see on the periodic table from the masses of its isotopes, giving more common isotopes more weight than less common isotopes
  • This doesn\’t necessarily mean every sample of silver on Earth has an atomic weight of exactly
  • Samples of elements vary from place to place, and the differences play an important role in many sciences
  • The differences help chemists trace the origin of different materials and help date archaeological findings
  • Not a Big a Deal, But Why Do It?
  • The latest atomic weights measurements differ too little from their predecessors to really change science
  • The changes in weights mostly come from continuing improvements in atomic mass measurements thanks to advances in the technology behind mass spectrometers
  • They can also change how they view the number of isotopes an element has
  • For example, the IUPAC had previously thought that thorium-230 was too rare to include in atomic weight calculations, they now recognize it
  • The last time international chemistry really altered the periodic table was in 2009, when IUPAC decided to list the atomic weights of some elements as ranges, instead of single numbers
  • The Changes
  • Atomic weights are relative, so they don\’t have units
  • Molybdenum, Losing 0.0122
  • Thorium, Losing 0.000322
  • Yttrium and Niobium, Tied, Losing 0.00001
  • Selenium, Gaining 0.0088
  • Cadmium, Gaining 0.0026
  • Holmium, Thulium and Praseodymium, all Gaining 0.00001
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Chemistry\’s Biggest Loser: Official Atomic Weights Change For 19 Elements | Popular Science
  • Periodic Table of the Elements | chemistry.about.com


The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013

Plastic in Titan’s Clouds?

  • An essential chemical used in the creation of plastic on Earth has been found in Saturn\’s largest moon, Titan
  • Scientists used Cassini\’s composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) instrument, which measures infrared light given off by Saturn and its moon, made the discovery
  • Cassini Measures Propylene
  • NASA\’s Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn, found that the atmosphere of Titan contains propylene
  • Propylene is a key ingredient of plastic containers, car bumpers and other everyday items on Earth
  • Strung together in long chains it can form a plastic called polypropylene
  • Helps Explain Voyager 1 Data
  • This helps answer a decades old question
  • When Voyager 1 conducted the first close flyby of the moon in 1980, it recognized gasses in the moon\’s brown atmosphere as hydrocarbons.
  • Those measurement were very difficult to make because propylene weak signature is crowded by related chemicals with much stronger signals
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Clip | Plastic Moon: Propylene Detected On Titan | VideoFromSpace
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • [NASA Finds Ingredient for Plastic on Saturn\’s Moon Titan | Space.com](NASA Finds Ingredient for Plastic on Saturn\’s Moon Titan | Space.com)

Now There Are Robots Who Run …


Ice Cap Growing/Shrinking?

  • Nogal
  • In the chat room I brought up the fact that the ice caps have been growing, yet everyone called me a nut
  • Sorry, Staying Away From Hot Button Issues
  • First SciByte will neither agree or disagree with a highly hot button issue
  • Some studies can be made to agree in either direction you feel
  • There are studies that say the area of the Antarctic polar cap is expanding while the Arctic is decreasing
  • There are also studies arguing about the thickness of both polar sheets
  • Adding to the confusion and arguments is an article from National Snow and Ice Data Center showing significant shrinking of the area of the polar cap actually had an error
  • In addition there are arguments about global heating/cooling/climate change over what time span and comparing to historical data
  • For issues such as this it is important to find data from as impartial sources as you can, and to also look at the data that argues against how you feel

Food Science

  • Matt
  • Have you ever considered doing an episode on some of Chris\’ beliefs about nutrition and food?
  • Sorry, Staying Away From Some Food Health Science
  • While I might talk about what science is saying about how food interacts with the human body I’m not a dietician or a medical doctor so I’m going to stay away from dietary issue
  • Studies that talk about how one specific thing affects how interacts with your well being and health I view as somewhat bordering on fuzzy science
  • There are so many things that can affect your health it is hard to say anything specific about the general population
  • There are also many people with restrictive diets because of allergies or sensitivities that restrict diets that only affect specific portions of the population

— Updates —

Comet ISON


Private Space Travel – Orbital Science & SpaceX

  • Orbital Science – Cygnus Spacecraft
  • The Cygnus spacecraft initial docking was delayed a week due to an easily fixed communications glitch
  • After docking, the hatches to Cygnus opened on Monday, Sept. 30 after completing leak checks
  • Cygnus delivers about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew
  • SpaceX
  • Also on Sept 29 the Next Generation commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket had its demonstration test flight
  • SpaceX Falcon 9 blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
  • They deployed Canada’s 1,060 pound (481 kg) Cascade, Smallsat, and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) weather satellite and several additional small satellites.
  • Private Space Travel
  • Both Cygnus and Falcon 9 were developed with seed money from NASA in a pair of public-private partnerships between NASA and Orbital Sciences and SpaceX
  • With Orbital science\’s successful delivery there are now two commercial partner\’s with the ability to deliver supplies to the ISS
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Clip Cygnus Spacecraft Captured By Space Station | videoFromSpace
  • YouTube | [SpaceX] Launch of Inaugural Falcon 9 v1.1 Rocket with Cassiope! | SpaceVidsNet
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Doubly Historic Day for Private Space: Cygnus docks at Station & Next Gen Falcon 9 Soars | UniverseToday.com


  • Planning the Path to Prepare for Winter
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) recently succeeded in collecting “really interesting” new high resolution survey scans of Solander Point
  • The new CRISM spectrometer survey from Mars orbit will vastly improve the spectral resolution – from 18 meters per pixel down to 5 meters per pixel
  • It will take some time, a few weeks, to review and interpret the new spectral data from the MRO and decide on a course of action
  • The new MRO data are crucial for targeting the rover’s driving in coming months.
  • Solander Point
  • Opportunity rover has begun the ascent of Solander Point, the first mountain she will ever climb
  • Solander Point is an eroded ridge located along the western rim of huge Endeavour Crater where Opportunity is currently located
  • Another important point about ‘Solander Point’ is that it also offers northerly tilted slopes that will maximize the power generation during Opportunity’s six month winter
  • Recent Science
  • The rover recently investigated an outcrop target called ‘Poverty Bush’.
  • The 3 foot long (1 meter) robotic arm was deployed and the rover collected photos with the Microscopic Imager (MI)
  • They collected several days of spectral measurements with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).
  • What is interesting about this location is that there are several geologic units that are overlapping and Opportunity is sitting on the contact
  • The east side of the contact are rocks maybe a billion years older than those on the west side of the contact
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Opportunity Scaling Solander Mountain Searching for Science and Sun | UniverseToday.com


  • More Autonomy
  • Curiosity has now used a new technique, in placement of the tool-bearing turret on its robotic arm
  • The technique, called proximity placement, uses the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) as if it were a radar for assessing how close the instrument is to a soil or rock surface
  • The rover can then interpret the data and autonomously move the turret closer if it is not yet close enough
  • This will enable placement of the instrument much closer to soil targets than would have been feasible without risk of touching the sensor head to loose soil
  • It will also save extra days of having team members check the data and command arm movement in response
  • Multimedia
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Science Laboratory: Images | mars.jpl.nasa.gov


Looking back

  • October, 18 1989 : 24 years ago : Jupiter orbiter Galileo launched
    : The Galileo space orbiter was released from the STS 34 flight of the Atlantis orbiter. Then the orbiter\’s inertial upper stage rocket pushed it into a course through the inner solar system. The craft gained speed from gravity assists in encounters with Venus and Earth before heading outward to Jupiter. During its six year journey to Jupiter, Galileo\’s instruments made interplanetary studies, using its dust detector, magnetometer, and various plasma and particles detectors. It also made close-up studies of two asteroids, Gaspra and Ida in the asteroid belt. The Galileo orbiter\’s primary mission was to study Jupiter, its satellites, and its magnetosphere for two years. It released an atmospheric probe into Jupiter\’s atmosphere on 7 Dec 1995.
  • Galileo Spacecraft Website | NASA

Looking up this week

<img src=\”http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b8/ISON_Comet_captured_by_HST%2C_April_10-11%2C_2013.jpg/250px-ISON_Comet_captured_by_HST%2C_April_10-11%2C_2013.jpg” width=250 align=right>

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