01/11/2016: Tabby’s mystery – Something 20 times Jupiter’s size may be orbiting a nearby star

science_line_2016The graph made astronomer Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian sit up at her desk at Yale University. Something was definitely strange — the line was mostly flat but had two sharp dips resembling stalactites hanging from the ceiling of a cave.

The dips implied that light coming from the star KIC 8462852, more than 1,400 light years away, had dimmed twice in a most unexpected way.

The starlight graph Boyajian was looking at in the summer of 2013 is part of a large data set that the space-based Kepler telescope collected during its four-year mission to hunt for Earth-like planets around other stars. Dips in the amount of light coming from a star can indicate a planet passing in front of it. The bigger the planet, the larger the light dip. Boyajian’s graph suggested the presence of a planet more massive than any astronomer has ever seen — or maybe something stranger.

The two dimming events she observed from KIC 8462852 happened around the 800th and 1,500th days of observation, when the star’s light dropped by 15 and 22 percent, respectively. A planet the size of Jupiter, roughly 11 times the size of Earth, would cause a dip of only 1 percent — so whatever is orbiting KIC 8462852 is much bigger than the largest planet in our solar system.

Published by Science Line.  See more at: http://scienceline.org/2016/01/tabbys-mystery/

01/06/2016: How residents of a tiny West Virginia community live without any kind of modern technology

Business_insider_2016In West Virginia, just 200 miles away from Washington, DC, you’ll find a community of roughly 8,000 people who live completely off the grid.

In the 13,000-square-mile “National Radio Quiet Zone,” all cell phone, Wi-Fi, microwaves, and even some vacuum use are all banned by law.

The restrictions were put in place because of the 11 large-scale telescopes installed in the area by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the 1950s. The observatory houses the world’s largest fully steerable telescope, which has a staggering surface area of 2.3 acres.

Nothing, not even a Hoover vacuum or commercial cell phone tower, is allowed to interfere with the telescope’s readings. While some Pocahontas County residents are long-time locals, others are self-proclaimed “technological lepers” who moved there to adopt a device-free lifestyle.

Photographer Emile Holba was extremely fascinated by the off-the-grid lives led in the National Radio Quiet Zone, so he began documenting the people and landscapes of Pocahontas County. We spoke with Holba about the characters he met, as well as what it was like to briefly live without an iPhone, GPS, or email.

Published by Business Insider.  See more at: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-life-is-like-off-the-grid-2016-1

01/04/2016: Watch this space: Telescope releases mass of data

Astronomers in China working with one of world’s largest optical telescopes released a huge collection of data over the new year holiday, increasing the chances of “significant findings” in space exploration, experts say.

The latest update to the National Astronomical Observatories’ sky survey, conducted using the LAMOST telescope, includes some 4.62 million spectral data relating to the structure, formation and evolution of the Milky Way.

LAMOST-short for Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope-has been used to carry out a massive sky survey since September 2012. So far, it has collected more data than all previous sky surveys combined, according to the NAO.

“As more and more data are released, there will be more significant findings,” said Yan Jun, director of the NAO.

Chu Yaoquan, deputy director of operations and development at LAMOST, described the survey as like a census of the stars. “The project gives us a large sample of stars. With the large sample-say, a few million-we can know more about the past and present of the galaxy,” he explained in an earlier interview.

Published by ECNS China.  See more at: http://www.ecns.cn/2016/01-04/194497.shtml

NPR: Enter the Quiet Zone

There are no physical signs you’ve entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia. But the silence gives you a signal. Somewhere around the Virginia-West Virginia state line, the periodic buzzes and pings of our smartphones stopped.

“Zero [service]. Searching,” said photographer John Poole, who traveled with me to the zone.

Almost every radio station disappeared, too, except forAllegheny Mountain Radio, which broadcasts at a low enough frequency to avoid being banned.

“We didn’t realize the rest of the world was getting connected and staying connected constantly, via phones and computers and all that,” said radio host Caleb Diller, who grew up in Pocahontas County, W.Va. “So we were kinda back in time a little bit. We hadn’t progressed to that.”

The county still hasn’t progressed to constant connectivity. That’s because it sits within a zone designed to protect a sophisticated radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from interference. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.

Radio telescopes work by tracking and reading the energy waves that come from stars or gases, but they have to be located in sparsely populated areas to avoid electromagnetic interference.

The Green Bank Telescope looks like a giant dish. It’s as tall as the Washington Monument and large enough to fit 2 acres of land in it.

“It’s a huge collecting area and it’s what allows us to see these incredibly small energies that we’re trying to study,” says Karen O’Neil, who oversees the site. “The types of energies we look at are less than the energy of a single snowflake falling on the earth.”

Source: NPR, All Tech Considered. Get the transcript here.