This Week in Space: From Paranal to Proxima B

Jessica Hall

We won’t know if Proxima b is habitable until we can get some sharp telescopes pointed straight at it, which doesn’t happen until next year. But until then, everyone’s an armchair astronomer, speculating about the little red dot. What if it’s habitable? It lies within the habitable radius around its star. If it has an atmosphere, it could even support life.
A team of scientists based in the UK has been running models to see what they can tease out of the data we currently have on Proxima b, and they’ve got optimistic results. Whether Proxima b is tidally locked or rotates like Mercury, the researchers found, it would likely still have much of any nitrogen-rich atmosphere it started out with. Not all parts of the planet would necessarily be habitable at all times, but the model’s results are encouraging to those interested in exploring — or colonizing — the nearby exoplanet.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched an Inmarsat communications satellite into orbit this week. The satellite was designed to provide internet and data services to airline passengers, maritime crews, and U.S. and international military units. “It’s for passenger connectivity, so it’s wifi services for passengers for web browsing, email, video downloads and uploads,” said Michele Franci, CTO of Inmarsat. “On ships, our biggest market today is in merchant shipping, and there it will provide a combination of operational services and crew welfare.”
In mid-August 2010, ESO photo ambassador Yuri Beletsky snapped this amazing photo at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. “A group of astronomers were observing the centre of the Milky Way using the laser guide star facility at Yepun, one of the four Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). Yepun’s laser beam crosses the majestic southern sky and creates an artificial star at an altitude of 90 km high in the Earth’s mesosphere.” Image and caption: ESO
There’s also a bit of news concerning the early solar system. Earth and Mars are both small, rocky planets in the inner solar system — almost as much alike as they are different. But a new study from the Tokyo Institute of Technology suggests Mars may have different origins than Earth. Mars has a different ratio of isotopes than Earth does; the researchers paid particular attention to the discrepancies in chromium, titanium, and oxygen content between the two planets. The researchers report that Mars’ isotopic composition suggests that it was originally formed in the asteroid belt, and then migrated inward to its current position.
And finally, on a note of pure personal enjoyment: The ESO spends a great deal of time looking up at the heavens, but the folks at the observatory also turn their eye to their own equipment. They have an always-on live feed of several ESO installations including the VLT, as well as their headquarters in Germany. For a lovely look at what the ESO spies with its little eyes, check out their webcam page. If you’re up late, you can catch Paranal by night.
This Week in Space: From Paranal to Proxima B Reviewed by Bizpodia on 22:30 Rating: 5

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