10 Interesting Facts About Neptune

Reconstruction of Voyager 2 images showing the Great Black spot (top left), Scooter (middle), and the Small Black Spot (lower right). Credit: NASA/JPL

Neptune is a truly fascinating world. But as it is, there is much that people don’t know about it. Perhaps it is because Neptune is the most distant planet from our Sun, or because so few exploratory missions have ventured that far out into our Solar System. But regardless of the reason, Neptune is a gas (and ice) giant that is full of wonder!

Below, we have compiled a list of 10 interesting facts about this planet. Some of them, you might already know. But others are sure to surprise and maybe even astound you. Enjoy!

Continue reading “10 Interesting Facts About Neptune”

Are Aliens Watching Old TV Shows?

Are Aliens Watching Old TV Shows?

You’ve probably heard the trope about how aliens have been watching old episodes of “I Love Lucy” and might think these are our “historical documents”. How far have our signals reached?

Television transmissions expand outward from the Earth at the speed of light, and there’s a trope in science fiction that aliens have learned everything about humans by watching our television shows. If you’re 4 light-years away, you’re see the light from the Earth as it looked 4 years ago, and some of that light includes television transmissions, as radio waves are just another form of electromagnetism – it’s all just light.

Humans began serious television service in the 1930s, and by the modern era, there were thousands of powerful transmitters pumping out electromagnetic radiation for all to see. So are aliens watching “I Love Lucy” or footage from World War II and believing it all to be part of our “Historical Documents”?

The first radio broadcasts started in the early 1900s. At the time I’m recording this video, it’s late 2014, so those transmissions have escaped into space 114 years ago. This means our transmissions have reached a sphere of stars with a radius of 114 light-years.

Are there other stars in that volume of space? Absolutely. It’s estimated that there are more than 14,000 stars within 100 light years of Earth. Most of those are tiny red dwarf stars, but there would be hundreds of sunlike stars.

As we’re discovering, almost all of those stars will have planets, many of which will be Earthlike. It’s almost certain some of those stars will have planets in the habitable zone, and could have evolved life forms, technology and television sets and were able to learn of the Stealth Haze and the Mak’Tar chant of strength.

Will the signals be powerful enough to stretch across the vast distances of space and reach another world so that many generations of aliens can hang their hopes that James Tiberius Kirk never visits their planet with his loose morals, questionably applied prime directive, irresistible charms and pants aflame with who knows what kinds of interstellar STIs?

Here’s the problem. Broadcast towers transmit their signals outward in a sphere, which falls under the inverse square law. The strength of the signal decreases massively over distance. By the time you’ve gone a few light years, the signal is almost non-existent.

 The Square Kilometer Array
The Square Kilometer Array

Aliens could build a huge receiver, like the square kilometer array being built right now, but the signals they could receive from Earth would be a billion billion billion times weaker. Very hard to pick out from the background radiation. And by Grabthar’s hammer, I assure you it’s only by focusing our transmissions and beaming them straight at another star do we stand a chance of alerting aliens of our presence. Which, like it or not, is something we’ve done. So there’s that.

We’ve really been broadcasting our existence for hundreds of millions of years. The very presence of oxygen in the atmosphere of the Earth would tell any alien with a good enough telescope that there’s life here. Aliens could tell when we invented fire, when we developed steam technology, and what kinds of cars we like to drive, just by looking at our atmosphere. So don’t worry about our transmissions, the jig is up.

What do you think? Is it a good idea to alert aliens to our presence? Should we get rid of all that oxygen in our atmosphere and keep a low profile?

There Are Now Officially Over 1,000 Confirmed Exoplanets!

More than 1,000 exoplanets have been confirmed and cataloged (PHL @ UPR Arecibo)

It was just last week that we reported on the oh-so-close approach to 1,000 confirmed exoplanets discovered thus far, and now it’s official: the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia now includes more than 1,000! (1,010, to be exact.)

21 years after the first planets beyond our own Solar System were even confirmed to exist, it’s quite a milestone!

The milestone of 1,000 confirmed exoplanets was surpassed on October 22, 2013 after twenty-one years of discoveries. The long-established and well-known Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia now lists 1,010 confirmed exoplanets.

Not all current exoplanet catalogs list the same numbers as this depends on their particular criteria. For example, the more recent NASA Exoplanet Archive lists just 919. Nevertheless, over 3,500 exoplanet candidates are waiting for confirmation.

The first confirmed exoplanets were discovered by the Arecibo Observatory in 1992. Two small planets were found around the remnants of a supernova explosion known as a pulsar. They were the surviving cores of former planets or newly formed bodies from the ashes of a dead star. This was followed by the discovery of exoplanets around sun-like stars in 1995 and the beginning of a new era of exoplanet hunting.

A "Periodic Table of Exoplanets" as listed by the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia (PHL)
A “Periodic Table of Exoplanets” as listed by the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia (PHL)

(The first exoplanets to be confirmed were two orbiting pulsar PSR B1257+12, 1,000 light-years away. A third was found in 2007.)

Exoplanet discoveries have been full of surprises from the outset. Nobody expected exoplanets around the remnants of a dead star (i.e. PSR 1257+12), nor Jupiter-size orbiting close to their stars (i.e. 51 Pegasi). We also know today of stellar systems packed with exoplanets (i.e. Kepler-11), around binary stars (i.e. Kepler-16), and with many potentially habitable exoplanets (i.e. Gliese 667C).

Read more: Earthlike Exoplanets are All Around Us

“The discovery of many worlds around others stars is a great achievement of science and technology. The work of scientists and engineers from many countries were necessary to achieve this difficult milestone. However, one thousand exoplanets in two decades is still a small fraction of those expected from the billions of stars in our galaxy. The next big goal is to better understand their properties, while detecting many new ones.”

– Prof. Abel Mendéz, Associate Professor of Physics and Astrobiology, UPR Arecibo

Source: Press release by Professor Abel Méndez at the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) at Arecibo

Read more: Kepler Can Still Hunt For Earth-Sized Exoplanets

While not illustrating the full 1,010 lineup, this is still a mesmerizing visualization by Daniel Fabrycky of 885 planetary candidates in 361 systems as found by the Kepler mission. (I for one am looking forward to the third installment!)

Of course, scientists are still hunting for the “Holy Grail” of extrasolar planets: an Earth-sized, rocky world orbiting a Sun-like star within its habitable zone. But with new discoveries and confirmations happening almost every week, it’s now only a matter of time. Read more in this recent article by Universe Today writer David Dickinson.