Astronomers Conduct First Remote Reconnaissance of Another Planetary System

Researchers have conducted a remote reconnaissance of a distant planetary system with a new telescope imaging system that sifts through the blinding light of stars. Using a suite of high-tech instrumentation and software called Project 1640, the scientists collected the first chemical fingerprints, or spectra, of this system's four red exoplanets, which orbit a star 128 light years away from Earth.

A detailed description of the planets -- showing how drastically different they are from the known worlds in the universe -- was accepted Friday for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

"An image is worth a thousand words, but a spectrum is worth a million," said lead author Ben R. Oppenheimer, associate curator and chair of the Astrophysics Department at the American Museum of Natural History,according to Science Daily.

Oppenheimer is the principal investigator for Project 1640, which uses the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. The project involves researchers from the California Institute of Technology, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cambridge University, New York University, and the Space Telescope Science Institute, in addition to Oppenheimer's team at the Museum.

The planets surrounding the star of this study, HR 8799, have been imaged in the past. But except for a partial measurement of the outermost planet in the system, the star's bright light overwhelmed previous attempts to study the planets with spectroscopy, a technique that splits the light from an object into its component colors -- as a prism spreads sunlight into a rainbow. Because every chemical, such as carbon dioxide, methane, or water, has a unique light signature in the spectrum, this technique is able to reveal the chemical composition of a planet's atmosphere.

"In the 19th century it was thought impossible to know the composition of stars, but the invention of astronomical spectroscopy has revealed detailed information about nearby stars and distant galaxies," said Charles Beichman, executive director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology. "Now, with Project 1640, we are beginning to turn this tool to the investigation of neighboring exoplanets to learn about the composition, temperature, and other characteristics of their atmospheres."

With this system, the researchers are the first to determine the spectra of all four planets surrounding HR 8799. "It's fantastic to nab the spectra of four planets in a single observation," said co-author Gautam Vasisht, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 

The results are "quite strange," Oppenheimer said. "These warm, red planets are unlike any other known object in our universe. All four planets have different spectra, and all four are peculiar. The theorists have a lot of work to do now."

Researchers are already collecting more data on this system to look for changes in the planets over time, as well as surveying other young stars. During its three-year survey at Palomar, which started in June 2012, Project 1640 aims to survey 200 stars within about 150 light years of our solar system.

"The variation in the spectra of the four planets is really intriguing," said Didier Saumon, an astronomer at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was not involved in this study. "Perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising, given that the four gaseous planets of the solar system are all different. The hundreds of known exoplanets have forced us to broaden our thinking, and this new data keeps pushing that envelope."

M.W       

workshop on producing bio fuels

DAMASCUS, (ST) - Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs in cooperation with the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology recently held a workshop on establishing a station for producing bio fuels of household waste, fats and used oils.  The workshop focused  the general framework for the design and implementation of the project and its economic feasibility.

And Minister of State for Environmental Affairs, Dr. Nazira Sarkis, confirmed the importance of applying scientific researches on the ground and turn them into projects of social, economic and environmental interest through the use of waste and residues in a scientific way to turn into eco-friendly materials and contribute to providing employment opportunities for many groups in society.

"The ministry encourages projects of environmental benefit and works with all universities and scientific research centers on linking scientific and applied research environment, particularly in the area of clean energies. The ministry also coordinates with all public and private entities and associations of civil society to undertake projects and activities designed aim at shifting to renewable and clean energies," the Minister pointed out.

For his part, Head of Laboratory of Renewable Energies in the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, Dr. Suleiman Suleiman, clarified the importance of linking scientific research with the social benefit, providing moral, technical and material support for scientific research and ensuring the legal and legislative frameworks to make use of them, pointing to the existence of many researches that can be applied in the field of saving energy and preserving environment to support the national economy.

During the workshop, the team work at the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, Dr. Suleiman Suleiman, Dr. Fayez Mustafa and eng. Ayman Hodbah gave lectures dealt with the general frameworks for the design and implementation of a plant for producing bio fuels and prospects of its development.

 

Sh. Kh.

Volcanic Aerosols, Not Pollutants, Tamped Down Recent Earth Warming

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder looking for clues about why Earth did not warm as much as scientists expected between 2000 and 2010 now thinks the culprits are hiding in plain sight -- dozens of volcanoes spewing sulfur dioxide.

The study results essentially exonerate Asia, including India and China, two countries that are estimated to have increased their industrial sulfur dioxide emissions by about 60 percent from 2000 to 2010 through coal burning, said lead study author Ryan Neely, who led the research as part of his CU-Boulder doctoral thesis. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide emissions from Earth's surface eventually rise 12 to 20 miles into the stratospheric aerosol layer of the atmosphere, where chemical reactions create sulfuric acid and water particles that reflect sunlight back to space, cooling the planet.

Neely said previous observations suggest that increases in stratospheric aerosols since 2000 have counterbalanced as much as 25 percent of the warming scientists blame on human greenhouse gas emissions. "This new study indicates it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been slowing the warming of the planet," said Neely, a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A paper on the subject was published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. Co-authors include Professors Brian Toon and Jeffrey Thayer from CU-Boulder; Susan Solomon, a former NOAA scientist now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jean Paul Vernier from NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Catherine Alvarez, Karen Rosenlof and John Daniel from NOAA; and Jason English, Michael Mills and Charles Bardeen from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Builder.

The new project was undertaken in part to resolve conflicting results of two recent studies on the origins of the sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, including a 2009 study led by the late David Hoffman of NOAA indicating aerosol increases in the stratosphere may have come from rising emissions of sulfur dioxide from India and China. In contrast, a 2011 study led by Vernier -- who also provided essential observation data for the new GRL study -- showed moderate volcanic eruptions play a role in increasing particulates in the stratosphere, Neely said.

The new GRL study also builds on a 2011 study led by Solomon showing stratospheric aerosols offset about a quarter of the greenhouse effect warming on Earth during the past decade, said Neely, also a postdoctoral fellow in NCAR's Advanced Study Program.

The new study relies on long-term measurements of changes in the stratospheric aerosol layer's "optical depth," which is a measure of transparency, said Neely. Since 2000, the optical depth in the stratospheric aerosol layer has increased by about 4 to 7 percent, meaning it is slightly more opaque now than in previous years.

"The biggest implication here is that scientists need to pay more attention to small and moderate volcanic eruptions when trying to understand changes in Earth's climate," said Toon of CU-Boulder's Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. "But overall these eruptions are not going to counter the greenhouse effect. Emissions of volcanic gases go up and down, helping to cool or heat the planet, while greenhouse gas emissions from human activity just continue to go up."

The research for the new study was funded in part through a NOAA/ ESRL-CIRES Graduate Fellowship to Neely. The National Science Foundation and NASA also provided funding for the research project. The Janus supercomputer is supported by NSF and CU-Boulder and is a joint effort of CU-Boulder, CU Denver and NCAR.

Source Story:Science Daily

M.Wassouf

Effects of Human Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Examined in Landmark United Nations Report

Many synthetic chemicals, untested for their disrupting effects on the hormone system, could have significant health implications according to the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO.

The joint study calls for more research to understand fully the associations between endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) -- found in many household and industrial products -- and specific diseases and disorders. The report notes that with more comprehensive assessments and better testing methods, potential disease risks could be reduced, with substantial savings to public health.

Human health depends on a well-functioning endocrine system to regulate the release of certain hormones that are essential for functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. Some substances known as endocrine disruptors can alter the function(s) of this hormonal system increasing the risk of adverse health effects. Some EDCs occur naturally, while synthetic varieties can be found in pesticides, electronics, personal care products and cosmetics. They can also be found as additives or contaminants in food.

The UN study, which is the most comprehensive report on EDCs to date, highlights some associations between exposure to EDCs and health problems including the potential for such chemicals to contribute to the development of non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit /hyperactivity in children and thyroid cancer.

EDCs can enter the environment mainly through industrial and urban discharges, agricultural run-off and the burning and release of waste. Human exposure can occur via the ingestion of food, dust and water, inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and skin contact.

"Chemical products are increasingly part of modern life and support many national economies, but the unsound management of chemicals challenges the achievement of key development goals, and sustainable development for all," said UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"Investing in new testing methods and research can enhance understanding of the costs of exposure to EDCs, and assist in reducing risks, maximizing benefits and spotlighting more intelligent options and alternatives that reflect a transition to a green economy," added Mr Steiner.

 

 

In addition to chemical exposure, other environmental and non-genetic factors such as age and nutrition could be among the reasons for any observed increases in disease and disorders. But pinpointing exact causes and effects is extremely difficult due to wide gaps in knowledge.

"We urgently need more research to obtain a fuller picture of the health and environment impacts of endocrine disruptors," said Dr Maria Neira, WHO's Director for Public Health and Environment. "The latest science shows that communities across the globe are being exposed to EDCs, and their associated risks. WHO will work with partners to establish research priorities to investigate links to EDCs and human health impacts in order to mitigate the risks. We all have a responsibility to protect future generations."

The report also raises similar concerns on the impact of EDCs on wildlife. In Alaska in the United States, exposure to such chemicals may contribute to reproductive defects, infertility and antler malformation in some deer populations. Population declines in species of otters and sea lions may also be partially due to their exposure to diverse mixtures of PCBs, the insecticide DDT, other persistent organic pollutants, and metals such as mercury. Meanwhile, bans and restrictions on the use of EDCs have been associated with the recovery of wildlife populations and a reduction in health problems.

Recommendations

The study makes a number of recommendations to improve global knowledge of these chemicals, reduce potential disease risks, and cut related costs. These include:

    Testing: known EDCs are only the 'tip of the iceberg' and more comprehensive testing methods are required to identify other possible endocrine disruptors, their sources, and routes of exposure.

    Research: more scientific evidence is needed to identify the effects of mixtures of EDCs on humans and wildlife (mainly from industrial by-products) to which humans and wildlife are increasingly exposed.

    Reporting: many sources of EDCs are not known because of insufficient reporting and information on chemicals in products, materials and goods.

    Collaboration: more data sharing between scientists and between countries can fill gaps in data, primarily in developing countries and emerging economies.

"Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago," said Professor Åke Bergman of Stockholm University and Chief Editor of the report. "As science continues to advance, it is time for both management of endocrine disrupting chemicals and further research on exposure and effects of these chemicals in wildlife and humans."

Source story: Science Daily

M.Wassouf

Environment Ministry, GORS to Enhance Cooperation

State Ministry for Environment Affairs and the General Organization of Remote Sensing (GORS) have agreed to enhance cooperation. In a recent meeting, both sides discussed the activities and projects being carried out jointly in accordance with the understanding memorandum signed between the two sides.

Minister of State for Environment Affairs Dr. Nazira Sarkis stressed the importance of technical and scientific cooperation and coordination between the ministry and the GORS to serve environmental issues and urged concerned parties to eliminate all obstacles hampering the implementation of joint projects. 

The Minister, who called for using digital maps and space images techniques to boost environment work, reiterated the ministry's readiness to put its potentials and expertise at the service of all plans aiming to carry out more joint projects, pointing out that the ministry has been keen to bolster cooperation and exchange expertise with other ministries and all environment-concerned bodies through signing understanding memos aiming to preserve environment.

The minister said these memos provide for implementing joint activities and adopting suitable procedures to enhance the situation of environment and achieve best investment of human and natural potentials within the framework of the scientific environmental work and sustainable development.

For his part, Director General of the GORS, Dr. Osama Ammar underscored the real partnership between the GORS and the ministry, embodied in exchanging expertise and discussing new ideas to improve the environmental situation.

During the meeting, the two sides followed up the implementation of joint projects and the discussed ways of overcoming the difficulties facing the implementation of some projects being carried out in Al-Sweida province and Al-Ghab plain area.

He underlined the importance of benefitting from the available national expertise in serving the environmental process and working out scientific studies that cope with world technical and scientific research development.

Rawaa Ghanam