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

The Atlantic: The Town Where High Tech Meets a 1950s Lifestyle

Life in Green Bank, West Virginia, is far from ordinary. The small town sits inside a “national radio quiet zone” that houses one of the largest radio telescopes in the world. To ensure that astronomers work without interference, residents cannot use any product that transmits wireless signals within a ten-mile radius of the telescope. In other words: no microwave ovens, no cell phones, and no Wi-Fi.  “Just about anything that uses electricity could potentially cause interference to our telescopes,” says Jonah Bauserman, a technician for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

This documentary was produced for American Futures, an ongoing reporting project from James Fallows, Deborah Fallows, and John Tierney. Previously, the series profiled Pittsburgh’s bike scene and an arts community in Columbus.

Source: The Atlantic. View the article here.

National Geographic: Life in the Quiet Zone

The barrage of noise and distractions that are all but inescapable in most American communities is refreshingly absent in this unassuming hamlet, located in the wooded hills of Pocahontas County, four hours west of Washington, D.C. Here, no cell phones chirp or jingle, and local kids aren’t glued to the glowing screens of their mobile devices. Older residents roll down their car windows to greet each other and leave their front doors unlocked.

But Green Bank, population 143, isn’t a technological backwater. On the contrary, it is the proud home of one of the marvels of the space age: the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, or GBT for short. Towering nearly 500 feet above its wide, green valley, with a dish large enough to cradle a football field, the GBT is the world’s biggest fully steerable radio telescope—and one of the largest movable objects anywhere on land. Locals jokingly refer to it as the Great Big Thing.

The GBT and other radio telescopes enable astronomers to detect and study objects in space that give off little visible light but emit naturally occurring radio waves—objects such as pulsars, gas clouds, and distant galaxies.

Source: National Geographic. Read more on their site.