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How the Webb telescope could ultimately help protect Earth – Phys.Org

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UC Riverside astrophysicist Stephen Kane. Credit: Stan Lim/UCR

The James Webb Space Telescope, the most complex and expensive space laboratory ever created, is less than two weeks away from its ultimate destination a million miles from Earth. Once it arrives, it will send information about parts of space and time never seen before. It will also send previously unattainable information about parts of our own solar system.

UC Riverside astrophysicist Stephen Kane’s group will be using the telescope to look for planets like Venus in other parts of the galaxy. In addition to work with the Webb mission, Kane is also joining NASA on missions to Venus expected to launch after 2028. Here, he breaks down some unique aspects of the Webb, explains how the separate Venus projects intersect, and how both might benefit Earth.

Q: The Webb telescope cost $10 billion. What contributed to the cost, and what makes it different from other telescopes?

A: Webb is often described as a successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which is remarkably still going strong. It was launched in the early 90s and is well past its expiration date—it was never intended to last this long. Its primary mirror is just under 8 feet in diameter. The Webb’s mirror is more than 21 feet across. It’s way bigger. But there are a few other important differences.

Hubble orbits the Earth, and there’s an advantage to that. We can and have accessed it to fix it when something goes wrong. But the disadvantage is that Earth gets in the way of its observations and can limit some of the science it can do. In contrast, Webb is headed to the Lagrange point, a location in space where Earth and the sun’s gravity cancel out, so it can remain in a stable orbit. That location is about a million miles from Earth. From there, as it orbits the sun, it can point anywhere in space without having Earth get in the way.

In addition, the Hubble primarily operates at optical wavelengths, ones we can see with the human eye. Webb is primarily designed to “see” infrared light with extreme sensitivity. This will help us detect a number of things, including stars and planets that are just forming and aren’t yet otherwise visible.

Q: How will you be using Webb’s technology to help you understand more about Venus? Also, why are you studying Venus?

A: Venus could be described as a runaway greenhouse hellscape. It has of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, no water, and floats in a nest of sulfuric acid clouds. In my work, I’m trying to answer two questions: 1) how did Venus get to be the way it is? and 2) how commonly does this hellish state occur elsewhere?

Our separate mission to Venus is about answering the former question. That’s about studying Venus itself. Our work with the Webb is about the latter—are there other Venuses? We’ll be using Webb to measure the atmospheres of exoplanets—planets around stars other than our sun—and trying to determine whether they’re more like Earth or Venus. Specifically, Webb will help us look for and other gases that could indicate runaway greenhouse states.

We are going to do these measurements on planets where we already know how long it takes them to orbit their stars, how close they are to their stars, their size and their mass. But we don’t know much about their atmospheres, or whether they’re in Venus-like states. Webb can tell us this. And it will help us see whether the fate of Venus is a common fate or not.

Q: Greenhouse gases are causing devastating changes to the climate here on Earth. Can Venus science help solve this planet’s problems?

A: Whatever happened to Venus was through non-human processes, but the effect is very similar. Venus is a preview into Earth’s future. Understanding how runaway work can tell us how to prevent that future.

We know that climate change is real, that temperatures are rising. But there’s a lot of variability in predictions 50 or 100 years out because there are limits to how much we know about how planetary processes influence each other.

Volcanic outgassing, , air currents—there are so many pieces in a complex puzzle, and we’re trying to determine our fate based only on data from Earth. We need another source of data where things have already gone wrong, and that’s Venus.

It’s possible Venus could always have been in its current state, but we don’t think so. We believe it could have had water in the past because it rotates slowly, which could allow clouds to form and cool the surface enough to get water. That’s one reason we’re going back, to see the geology on the surface and get clues about its origins.

I often explain the relationship between Venus and Earth this way: it’s like we live in a nice town. There’s a nearby town that at some point burned to the ground, and we don’t know why. If it looks like that town was exactly the same as ours, we can’t ignore that. There is a really important message in there about how we can better take care of where we live.


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Video: Science with Webb: The nearby cosmos


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How the Webb telescope could ultimately help protect Earth (2022, January 11)
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Consistent Asteroid Collisions Rock Previous Thinking on Mars Impact Craters – SciTechDaily

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This image provides a perspective view of a triple crater in the ancient Martian highlands. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

New Curtin University research has confirmed the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed impact craters on <span aria-describedby="tt" class="glossaryLink" data-cmtooltip="

Mars
Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Iron oxide is prevalent in Mars’ surface resulting in its reddish color and its nickname "The Red Planet." Mars’ name comes from the Roman god of war.

“>Mars has been consistent over the past 600 million years.

New Curtin University research has confirmed the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed impact craters on Mars has been consistent over the past 600 million years.

The study, published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, analyzed the formation of more than 500 large Martian craters using a crater detection algorithm previously developed at Curtin, which automatically counts the visible impact craters from a high-resolution image.

Despite previous studies suggesting spikes in the frequency of asteroid collisions, lead researcher Dr. Anthony Lagain, from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said his research had found they did not vary much at all for many millions of years.

Impact Craters on Mars

One of the 521 large craters that has been dated in the study. The formation age of this 40km crater has been estimated using the number of small craters accumulated around it since the impact occurred. A portion of these small craters are shown on the right panel and all of them have been detected using the algorithm. In total, more than 1.2 million craters were used to date the Martian craters. Credit: Curtin University

Dr. Lagain said counting impact craters on a planetary surface was the only way to accurately date geological events, such as canyons, rivers, and volcanoes, and to predict when, and how big, future collisions would be.

“On Earth, the erosion of plate tectonics erases the history of our planet. Studying planetary bodies of our Solar System that still conserve their early geological history, such as Mars, helps us to understand the evolution of our planet,” Dr. Lagain said.

“The crater detection algorithm provides us with a thorough understanding of the formation of impact craters including their size and quantity, and the timing and frequency of the asteroid collisions that made them.”

Past studies had suggested that there was a spike in the timing and frequency of asteroid collisions due to the production of debris, Dr. Lagain said.

“When big bodies smash into each other, they break into pieces or debris, which is thought to have an effect on the creation of impact craters,” Dr. Lagain said.

“Our study shows it is unlikely that debris resulted in any changes to the formation of impact craters on planetary surfaces.”

Co-author and leader of the team that created the algorithm, Professor Gretchen Benedix, said the algorithm could also be adapted to work on other planetary surfaces, including the Moon.

“The formation of thousands of lunar craters can now be dated automatically, and their formation frequency analyzed at a higher resolution to investigate their evolution,” Professor Benedix said.

“This will provide us with valuable information that could have future practical applications in nature preservation and agriculture, such as the detection of bushfires and classifying land use.”

Reference: “Has the impact flux of small and large asteroids varied through time on Mars, the Earth and the Moon?” by Anthony Lagain, Mikhail Kreslavsky, David Baratoux, Yebo Liu, Hadrien Devillepoix, Philip Bland, Gretchen K. Benedix, Luc S. Doucet and Konstantinos Servis, 7 January 2022, Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2021.117362

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B.C. researchers uncover mechanism that keeps large whales from drowning while feeding on krill – CTV News Vancouver

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Vancouver –

New research from the University of British Columbia is shedding light on the ways that whales feed underwater without flooding their airways with seawater.

The research, published this month in Current Biology, shows that lunge-feeding whales – the type that lunge and gulp at large schools of krill – have a special mechanism in the back of their mouths that stops water from entering their lungs when eating.

“It’s kind of like when a human’s uvula moves backwards to block our nasal passages, and our windpipe closes up while swallowing food,” says lead author Dr. Kelsey Gil, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of zoology, in a statement.

Specifically, a fleshy bulb acts as a plug, to close off upper airways, while a larynx closes to block lower airways.

The humpback whale and the blue whale are both lunge-feeders, but the scientists’ research focused on fin whales, thanks in part to being able to travel to Iceland in 2018 and examine carcass remains at a commercial whaling station.

“We haven’t seen this protective mechanism in any other animals, or in the literature. A lot of our knowledge about whales and dolphins comes from toothed whales, which have completely separated respiratory tracts, so similar assumptions have been made about lunge-feeding whales,” Gil said.

Lunge-feeders are impressive, Gil said, because sometimes the amount of food and water they consume is larger than their bodies. After snapping at krill, and while blocking the water from their airways, the whales then drain the ocean water through their baleen, leaving behind the tasty fish.

The study’s senior author Dr. Robert Shadwick, a professor in the UBC department of zoology, says the efficiency of the whales’ feeding is a key factor in their evolution.

“Bulk filter-feeding on krill swarms is highly efficient and the only way to provide the massive amount of energy needed to support such a large body size. This would not be possible without the special anatomical features we have described,” he said in a statement. 

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Study confirmed the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed Mars craters – Tech Explorist

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Mapping and counting impact craters are the most commonly used technique to derive detailed insights on geological events and processes shaping the surface of terrestrial planets. Scientists from Curtin University have used a crater detection algorithm to analyze the formation of more than 500 large Martian craters.

The algorithm they used automatically counts the visible impact craters from a high-resolution image. Scientists found that the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed Mars craters has been consistent for over 600 million years.

Lead scientist Dr. Anthony Lagain from Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences said, “Despite previous studies suggesting spikes in the frequency of asteroid collisions, this research had found they did not vary much at all for many millions of years.”

“Counting impact craters on a planetary surface was the only way to accurately date geological events, such as canyons, rivers, and volcanoes, and to predict when, and how big, future collisions would be.”

“On Earth, the erosion of plate tectonics erases the history of our planet. Studying planetary bodies of our Solar System that still conserve their early geological history, such as Mars, helps us to understand the evolution of our planet.”

“The crater detection algorithm provides us with a thorough understanding of the formation of impact craters, including their size and quantity, and the timing and frequency of the asteroid collisions that made them.”

“Past studies had suggested that there was a spike in the timing and frequency of asteroid collisions due to the production of debris.”

“When big bodies smash into each other, they break into pieces of debris, which is thought to affect the creation of impact craters.”

“Our study shows it is unlikely that debris resulted in any changes to the formation of impact craters on planetary surfaces.”

Co-author and leader of the team that created the algorithm, Professor Gretchen Benedix, said“the algorithm could also be adapted to work on other planetary surfaces, including the Moon.”

“The formation of thousands of lunar craters can now be dated automatically, and their formation frequency analyzed at a higher resolution to investigate their evolution.”

“This will provide us with valuable information that could have future practical applications in nature preservation and agriculture, such as the detection of bushfires and classifying land use.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Anthony Lagain et al. Has the impact flux of small and large asteroids varied through time on Mars, the Earth, and the Moon? DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2021.117362

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