• Countdown to 2/10/2012

    Lots going on in astrobiology/planetary science today…

    3… The talk of the town planets is the brouhaha between NASA and the Office of Management and Budget over a Mars flagship. The short story is that OMB is taking the funding out of NASA’s planetary sciences budget that NASA had been planning to use on a Mars flagship. But it’s not quite that simple, as foreign space agencies – ESA in particular – were partners with NASA on the mission. Furthermore, the Congress actually sets spending levels and so is also a part of the story. Needless to say, there are a lot of stakeholders here and this is a very complicated story. I suggest you read more than one take on it.

    2… The current issue of Astrobiology (the journal) has some good stuff in it, including a brilliantly simple article on how planets around cooler-type might have the outer edges of their “habitable zones” extended outwards. This is due to the interaction of the star’s “distribution of colors” and a feedback between ice and surface temperatures. Basically, when a planet gets colder, ice forms. That ice is reflective, and so more incoming energy gets reflected back to space, and less gets absorbed by the surface. Less energy being absorbed —> more cooling, which in turn causes more ice, more reflectivity, and so on. BUT! Cooler stars emit less of their energy at the wavelengths that ice is really good at reflecting. So this “runaway feedback” isn’t as strong around those stars as it is around the Sun. Because the runaway that causes global glaciation (and death) is weaker, the planet can sit at a greater distance from its parent star without freezing over. Good stuff. There was another very interesting article that gives a conceptual and theoretical framework for determining which gases may serve as good biosignatures on another planet. To be honest, I haven’t the time to read this yet but will print it for my plane ride home on Sunday. Based on a quick skimming, this looks like a paper I’ll cite many, many times in the future.

    1… FameLab Denver is tomorrow! We’ll be starting at 10 AM at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. If you’re in the area, and eligible to compete (i.e. you’re a researcher in an astrobiologically-relevant field), come on down! We’ll accept signups right up until the start of the competition. If you’re not in the area… then sign up/attend FameLab DC, or the online FameLab YouTube prelims. More here. And if you’re not a researcher, stop by the public portions of the events. Tomorrow’s public event will start at 7 PM at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science…


    * – An earlier version of this credited the two papers in the second part of the countdown to the Astrobiology Magazine… not the journal. You’d think someone that’s published in both would know the difference, but sleep deprivation does strange things to our minds.