February 26, 2013

Dying White Dwarf Stars Could Support Habitable Exoplanets – The Daily Orbit

Can dying stars support life?

Do chimpanzees like a good challenge?

And movie magic meets scientific fact.

All that and more coming up on today’s Daily Orbit!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Life after death? That’s what some scientists are saying. Astronomers say that dying stars called white dwarfs could have orbiting habitable planets. Because white dwarfs emit less heat, a potentially habitable planet would have to be relatively close to the star to stay warm enough for liquid water. In the process of becoming a white dwarf, the star first becomes a red supergiant, engulfing any nearby planets. A potentially habitable exoplanet would have had to have evolved afterwards or have moved closer from the outer reaches of the system. When a white dwarf’s light shines through the ring of air around a planet, it leaves a chemical fingerprint that shows whether that air contains water vapor or oxygen. Scientists say that the 500 closest white dwarfs could contain one or more habitable exoplanets.

Well this next one is puzzling. Chimps like to do puzzles even when there is no reward! Six chimpanzees were given a challenge which involved moving objects through a maze of pipes, sometimes with Brazil nuts as a tasty reward. They found the chimps continued to play with the puzzle regardless if they were getting their “nut desserts” or not, suggesting that they just plain ole like doing the puzzle. I found it! I do puzzles for rewards.

Anyone else out there paranoid about killer robots taking over and everyone says your crazy? Well, we are vindicated! A new initiative called “Stop the Killer Robots,” led by advocacy groups and former Nobel peace prize winners is launching a campaign to stop production of robotic war machines before they reach the production stage. One member of the campaign said “These things are not science fiction; they are well into development.” Yikes! At the Pentagon they are already working on an unmanned plane that could take autonomous armed combat anywhere on the planet. Leaders of the campaign worry that the development of these unmanned killers is taking place unregulated and without regard for international law and the potential moral implications. The campaign will officially launch in April at the UK’s House of Commons. A war robot just sounds scary.

Movie magic isn’t so far off when it comes to your neighborhood hero, Spiderman. A group of physics students did a study and found that Spiderman’s webbing strength really could be hypothetically strong enough to stop a moving train. They used the driving force of a New York subway car and found that a real spider web has enough toughness, strength, and stiffness to stop the moving train. I always told everyone that when the Ford Taurus gets hit by a moving train in the movie The Fugitive and keeps driving that’s not movie magic either. I would know; I’ve been hit by pretty much everything.

And in true democratic fashion, scientists are looking to the people for help in naming Pluto’s moons. After the SETI Institute started a contest to name the last two moons discovered orbiting Pluto – currently named P4 and P5 – Star Trek’s own William Shatner threw his suggestion in the ring, “Vulcan.” Vulcan garnered nearly 175,000 votes of the 450,000 cast. “Cerberus” came in second, receiving almost 100,000 votes. SETI says they will now consider the winners when they hand over suggestions to the International Astronomical Union for final naming.

That’s all for today’s Daily Orbit! Later! Hmmm…my suggestion “Emerald” because well I think it’d be cool.

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