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Hubble Finds Exoplanets With Traces Of Water – On Science

December 4, 2013

Where are astronomers seeing alien water?

What knocked the gravity socks off of the Earth?

Looking your imagination in the eye.

And a little Neanderthal home décor. Coming up…On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Astronomers are getting their feet wet in exoplanet research! NASA announced that the Hubble Telescope has identified five alien worlds that have subtle traces of water. Signals may be faint but it’s there, say researchers. These five planets orbit nearby stars and are all hot Jupiters, meaning they orbit close to their host stars. All the planets were hazy making the atmospheres difficult to detect. But, using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the scientists were able to make observations in a range of infrared wavelengths where the water signature would appear. They compared shapes and intensities of the absorption profiles, and the consistency of the signatures confirmed that they did see water. Watery alien worlds—it’s not too late for a Waterworld sequel, right?

Water shapes the world…and worlds beyond us. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics along with scientist from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research reveal that Jupiter’s moon Europa’s subsurface ocean could have deep currents and circulation patterns. This could mean life because currents and patterns have heat and energy transfers. These same patterns are also shaping Europa’s iconic ice sheet. Researchers now believe this active ocean is behind the chaos terrains concentrated in Europa’s equatorial region forming convection in that moon’s shell. ESA’s Jupiter Icy moons Explorer mission, or JUICE, hopes to learn more about this and the possibility of life on Europa. Let’s JUICE it up then!

The earthquake that rocked Japan two years ago affected the entire world and not in the way you might be thinking. ESA says that the 2011 Fukushima earthquake had an impact on Earth’s gravity. The agency’s GOCE satellite has been precisely measuring Earth’s gravity for four years. A team of scientists from the Netherlands determined that the quake had ruptured the Earth’s gravity field in the Fukushima area. Strength of gravity varies from place to place anyway on Earth and such earthquakes can deform our planet’s crust and cause tiny changes in local gravity, like in this particular case. And this is interesting; data also revealed that GOCE actually “felt” sound waves from the 9.0 earthquake. That one knocked the gravity out of us.

[ bright light ] Ahhh…My pupils! That’s too bright! Animals automatically constrict and dilate their pupils in response to light. But a new study out of Norway reveals that even just imaging a bright or dimly lit scenario can cause your eyes to react. Talk about the power of the mind! In experiments, participants’ pupils dilated when imagining bright shapes and constricted when imagining dark shapes. And the same effect occurred when they imagined a bright room and dark room. Researchers said “the presence of pupillary adjustments to imaginary light presents a strong case for mental imagery as a process based on brain states similar to those which arise during actual perception.” And presents another strong case for the statement “you imagine the world you play in.”

And living like a Neanderthal has taken on a whole new meaning. New research from the University of Colorado Denver shows that our early ancestors had a knack for interior design that we didn’t expect. From an excavation site in Italy, researchers discovered that Neanderthals didn’t just throw their stuff everywhere but observed a little cave “Feng shui” if you will. They divided their living space into different areas for different activities. The top level was used for hunting and game prep. The middle was the long-term base camp, so I guess that equates to a living room; while the bottom was a short-term base camp. And for a little décor they used ochre possibly, which was a commonly used pigment for painting walls in some cultures. Who knew Neanderthals were so sophisticated!

And that’s it for On Science.



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