In Star Trek, the starship Enterprise had a very clear mission: "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
It appears that a specialized group of scientists are doing just that and they have found something interesting.
It seems that scientists have discovered several potentially inhabitable planets. They believe that if there is life beyond our solar system, it lies with three objects they have found to be relatively close to Earth. By "relatively," they mean said planets are 45 light years away from us. (A light year is a unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance that light travels in one year, which is nearly 6 trillion miles).
An international team of astronomers from MIT, the University of Liege in Belgium, and elsewhere has identified three planets orbiting an ultra cool dwarf star (a star of relatively small size and low luminosity). The sizes and temperatures of these worlds are comparable to those of Earth and Venus(the average temperature on Earth is slightly over 60 Degrees F. Average temperature on Venus is 864 Degrees F, hot enough to melt lead). Apparent, they are the best targets so far in the search for life elsewhere.
Scientists discovered the three planets usingTRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope), a 60-centimeter telescope operated by the University of Liege, based in Chile. TRAPPIST is designed to focus on 60 nearby dwarf stars (very small, cool stars that are so faint they are invisible to optical telescopes).
The team focused on an ultra cool dwarf star designated 2MASS, J23062928-0502285, now known simply as TRAPPIST-1. It is similar to Jupiter in size, one-eighth the size of our sun and significantly cooler. The discovery came when, in 2015, scientists observed the star's infrared signal fading slightly at regular intervals, suggesting that several objects were passing in front of the star. After further observation, they discovered the objects were indeed planets, with sizes similar to Earth and Venus. Given their size and proximity to an ultra cool star, all three planets may have regions with temperatures that fall in a range that is suitable for sustaining liquid water and life.
According to Julien de Wit, a post doctorate researcher in the Dept. of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, scientists will soon be able to study atmospheric conditions on the planets and assess their habitability. He believes that "All of these things are achievable, and within reach now."
For the most part, exploration of planets that revolve around a sun have been focused on finding systems around bright, solar-like stars. These stars emit radiation that is bright enough to see with optical telescopes. But because these stars are so bright, they can overpower any signal coming from a planet that orbits around them.
In contrast, cold dwarf stars are faint stars that emit radiation only in the infrared band. Because they are so faint, these tiny red stars do not drown out a planetary signal. This makes it easier for scientists to detect them. But most of exploratory systems used today are not designed to detect such stars."
"They can't detect planets around such stars," de Wit says. "So you have to design a completely different survey using special instruments and detectors. It's a risk."
Michael Gillon and Emmanuel Jehin of the University of Liege took on that risk and built TRAPPIST, the specialized telescope that looks at 60 small, nearby ultra cool stars.
"It's not looking at 100,000 stars at a time, like the Kepler Space Telescope," de Wit says. "It's a few of them that you're spending time on, one at a time. And it paid off."
Thus far, the scientists have determined that all three planets have permanent day and night sides. The two planets closest to the star may have daysides that are too hot, and night sides too cold, to support any life forms. However, there may be a "sweet spot" on the western side of both planets. This would be a region that still receives daylight, but with relatively cool temperatures, such that it may be suitable to support life.
The third planet, the one furthest from its star, may be entirely within the habitable zone.
"Now we have to investigate to see if they are habitable," de Wit says. "We will investigate what kind of atmosphere they have, and then will search for biomarkers and signs of life. We have facilities all over the globe and in space that are helping us."
If we can borrow a few words from Mr. Spock, may they "live long and prosper."
The Newseum Selects MDB Communications
to Develop Advertising Campaign
Washington, D.C. museum to launch campaign targeting
potential visitors to its award-winning museum
WASHINGTON (Nov. 1, 2016) – The Newseum has selected MDB Communications to develop and launch a new advertising campaign promoting the museum’s exhibits, programs and educational initiatives that promote, explain and defend free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
Headquartered on historic Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, the Newseum features seven levels of interactive exhibits including 15 galleries and 15 theaters. Since opening in 2008, the Newseum has welcomed more than seven million visitors from around the world. For the last three years, TripAdvisor users rated the Newseum as a “Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Museum in the U.S.”
MDB Communications, a full-service advertising agency based in Washington, D.C., was selected after a competitive review involving four agencies. The firm will provide research, strategy, creative and media-buying services. The campaign, which will begin in 2017, will use a variety of media channels and marketing initiatives that promote the Newseum and its important mission.
“Whether visitors come here to experience our interactive museum, one of our many programs or our award-winning educational initiatives, the experiences we provide are more relevant today than ever before,” said Scott Williams, chief operating officer and senior vice president of marketing at the Newseum. “We look forward to working with MDB on how to engage more people with everything we have to offer here at the Newseum.”
“Our First Amendment freedoms are part of what makes the United States a beacon of freedom and free expression for the entire world,” said MDB President and CEO Cary Hatch. “We are extremely proud to partner with the Newseum and help them tell their story.”
“The Newseum is one of the highest-profile and most popular destinations in our city, for both residents and visitors. It’s a tremendous honor to add them to our client roster of nationally known organizations,” added Jodie Warren, Director of Campaign Management at MDB.