Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Astronomy


Genomics is a Big Data science and is going to get much bigger, very soon, but it is not known whether the needs of genomics will exceed other Big Data domains. Projecting to the year 2025, we compared genomics with three other major generators of Big Data: astronomy, YouTube, and Twitter. Our estimates show that genomics is a “four-headed beast”-it is either on par with or the most demanding of the domains analyzed here in terms of data acquisition, storage, distribution, and analysis. We discuss aspects of new technologies that will need to be developed to rise up and meet the computational challenges that genomics poses for the near future. Now is the time for concerted, community-wide planning for the “genomical” challenges of the next decade.

Concepts: Physics, Science, Knowledge, Computational genomics, Need, Universe, Astronomy, The Next Decade


The idea of computing a body’s displacement as an area in time-velocity space is usually traced back to 14th-century Europe. I show that in four ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets, Jupiter’s displacement along the ecliptic is computed as the area of a trapezoidal figure obtained by drawing its daily displacement against time. This interpretation is prompted by a newly discovered tablet on which the same computation is presented in an equivalent arithmetical formulation. The tablets date from 350 to 50 BCE. The trapezoid procedures offer the first evidence for the use of geometrical methods in Babylonian mathematical astronomy, which was thus far viewed as operating exclusively with arithmetical concepts.

Concepts: Mathematics, Planet, Computer science, Universe, Pharmaceutical formulation, Astronomy, Mesopotamia, Cuneiform script


Exoplanet detections have revolutionized astronomy, offering new insights into solar system architecture and planet demographics. While nearly 1,900 exoplanets have now been discovered and confirmed, none are still in the process of formation. Transition disks, protoplanetary disks with inner clearings best explained by the influence of accreting planets, are natural laboratories for the study of planet formation. Some transition disks show evidence for the presence of young planets in the form of disk asymmetries or infrared sources detected within their clearings, as in the case of LkCa 15 (refs 8, 9). Attempts to observe directly signatures of accretion onto protoplanets have hitherto proven unsuccessful. Here we report adaptive optics observations of LkCa 15 that probe within the disk clearing. With accurate source positions over multiple epochs spanning 2009-2015, we infer the presence of multiple companions on Keplerian orbits. We directly detect Hα emission from the innermost companion, LkCa 15 b, evincing hot (about 10,000 kelvin) gas falling deep into the potential well of an accreting protoplanet.

Concepts: Sun, Solar System, Planet, Jupiter, Astronomy, Neptune, Extrasolar planet, Planetesimal


In this article, we address the cosmic frequency of technological species. Recent advances in exoplanet studies provide strong constraints on all astrophysical terms in the Drake equation. Using these and modifying the form and intent of the Drake equation, we set a firm lower bound on the probability that one or more technological species have evolved anywhere and at any time in the history of the observable Universe. We find that as long as the probability that a habitable zone planet develops a technological species is larger than ∼10(-24), humanity is not the only time technological intelligence has evolved. This constraint has important scientific and philosophical consequences. Key Words: Life-Intelligence-Extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology 2016, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Life, Planet, Universe, Astronomy, Extraterrestrial life, Observable universe, Multiverse, Rare Earth hypothesis


We build on the work of Mooney [Colloids Sci. 6, 162 (1951)] to obtain an heuristic analytic approximation to the viscosity of a suspension any size distribution of hard spheres in a Newtonian solvent. The result agrees reasonably well with rheological data on monodispserse and bidisperse hard spheres, and also provides an approximation to the random close packing fraction of polydisperse spheres. The implied packing fraction is less accurate than that obtained by Farr and Groot [J. Chem. Phys. 131(24), 244104 (2009)], but has the advantage of being quick and simple to evaluate.

Concepts: Matter, Condensed matter physics, Chemistry, Solution, Rheology, The Advantage, Astronomy, Random close pack


The abundant forms in which the major elements in the universe exist have been determined from numerous astronomical observations and meteoritic analyses. Iron (Fe) is an exception, in that only depletion of gaseous Fe has been detected in the interstellar medium, suggesting that Fe is condensed into a solid, possibly the astronomically invisible metal. To determine the primary form of Fe, we replicated the formation of Fe grains in gaseous ejecta of evolved stars by means of microgravity experiments. We found that the sticking probability for the formation of Fe grains is extremely small; only a few atoms will stick per hundred thousand collisions so that homogeneous nucleation of metallic Fe grains is highly ineffective, even in the Fe-rich ejecta of type Ia supernovae. This implies that most Fe is locked up as grains of Fe compounds or as impurities accreted onto other grains in the interstellar medium.

Concepts: Iron, Galaxy, Supernova, Hydrogen, Atom, Universe, Interstellar medium, Astronomy


In November and December 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaged Europa’s ultraviolet emissions in the search for vapor plume activity. We report statistically significant coincident surpluses of hydrogen Lyman-α and oxygen OI130.4 nm emissions above the southern hemisphere in December 2012. These emissions are persistently found in the same area over ~7 hours, suggesting atmospheric inhomogeneity; they are consistent with two 200-km-high plumes of water vapor with line-of-sight column densities of about 10(20) m(-2). Nondetection in November and in previous HST images from 1999 suggests varying plume activity that might depend on changing surface stresses based on Europa’s orbital phases. The plume was present when Europa was near apocenter and not detected close to its pericenter, in agreement with tidal modeling predictions.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Mars, Water vapor, Antarctica, Astronomy, Pluto, Hubble Space Telescope


On 17 August 2017, the Advanced LIGO and Virgo detectors observed the gravitational-wave event GW170817-a strong signal from the merger of a binary neutron-star system. Less than two seconds after the merger, a γ-ray burst (GRB 170817A) was detected within a region of the sky consistent with the LIGO-Virgo-derived location of the gravitational-wave source. This sky region was subsequently observed by optical astronomy facilities, resulting in the identification of an optical transient signal within about ten arcseconds of the galaxy NGC 4993. This detection of GW170817 in both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves represents the first ‘multi-messenger’ astronomical observation. Such observations enable GW170817 to be used as a ‘standard siren’ (meaning that the absolute distance to the source can be determined directly from the gravitational-wave measurements) to measure the Hubble constant. This quantity represents the local expansion rate of the Universe, sets the overall scale of the Universe and is of fundamental importance to cosmology. Here we report a measurement of the Hubble constant that combines the distance to the source inferred purely from the gravitational-wave signal with the recession velocity inferred from measurements of the redshift using the electromagnetic data. In contrast to previous measurements, ours does not require the use of a cosmic ‘distance ladder’: the gravitational-wave analysis can be used to estimate the luminosity distance out to cosmological scales directly, without the use of intermediate astronomical distance measurements. We determine the Hubble constant to be about 70 kilometres per second per megaparsec. This value is consistent with existing measurements, while being completely independent of them. Additional standard siren measurements from future gravitational-wave sources will enable the Hubble constant to be constrained to high precision.

Concepts: Galaxy, Redshift, General relativity, Universe, Physical cosmology, Astronomy, Hubble's law, Cosmic distance ladder


Exoplanets that orbit close to their host stars are much more highly irradiated than their Solar System counterparts. Understanding the thermal structures and appearances of these planets requires investigating how their atmospheres respond to such extreme stellar forcing. We present spectroscopic thermal emission measurements as a function of orbital phase (“phase-curve observations”) for the highly-irradiated exoplanet WASP-43b spanning three full planet rotations using the Hubble Space Telescope. With these data, we construct a map of the planet’s atmospheric thermal structure, from which we find large day-night temperature variations at all measured altitudes and a monotonically decreasing temperature with pressure at all longitudes. We also derive a Bond albedo of [Formula: see text] and an altitude dependence in the hot-spot offset relative to the substellar point.

Concepts: Planet, Mercury, Jupiter, Astronomy, Neptune, Eris, Extrasolar planet, Hubble Space Telescope


Because of its proximity and its youth, the Pleiades open cluster of stars has been extensively studied and serves as a cornerstone for our understanding of the physical properties of young stars. This role is called into question by the “Pleiades distance controversy,” wherein the cluster distance of 120.2 ± 1.5 parsecs (pc) as measured by the optical space astrometry mission Hipparcos is significantly different from the distance of 133.5 ± 1.2 pc derived with other techniques. We present an absolute trigonometric parallax distance measurement to the Pleiades cluster that uses very long baseline radio interferometry (VLBI). This distance of 136.2 ± 1.2 pc is the most accurate and precise yet presented for the cluster and is incompatible with the Hipparcos distance determination. Our results cement existing astrophysical models for Pleiades-age stars.

Concepts: Star, Astronomy, Milky Way, Star cluster, Parallax, Cosmic distance ladder, Hipparcos, Astrometry