Medical Cannabis for IBD: Is the Web Reliable?


The quality of information on the web about medical marijuana for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was only “average,” a researcher reported here.

On the validated DISCERN questionnaire used to assess quality of information, the average score was 42.6, which was classified as average, according to Marie Borum, MD, and colleagues from George Washington University in Washington.

IBD is one of the conditions for which medical marijuana has been approved as a treatment. “Based on observational and animal studies, it is thought that modulation of endocannabinoid receptors may improve inflammation and therefore the symptoms of IBD,” Borum’s group explained in a poster at the Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases annual meeting.

Patients increasingly use the internet to find information about alternative treatments, and no studies have evaluated online resources about medical marijuana for IBD. This study aimed to evaluate claims, warnings, and evidence on the available internet resources for IBD.

On the DISCERN quality questionnaire, scores of 66 to 75 were considered excellent, 56 to 65 were very good, 46 to 55 were good, 36 to 45 were average, and <35 were poor.

A total of 89 web sites were included, of which 75 (84%) were intended for use by consumers and 14 (16%) were aimed at medical professionals.

The average Flesch-Kincaid grade of readability was 13.3, with no significant difference between sites intended for consumers (13.2) and for medical professionals (14, P=0.41). This test estimates the grade level for readability, and reflects the average sentence length and the average number of syllables per word. For example, a Flesch-Kincaid grade of 10.6 represents an 11th grade reading level, while a grade of 14 represents the second year of college.

On the discernment quality score, there was no difference between the consumer and medical professional web sites (40 vs 48, P=0.08).

Consumer web sites did, however, offer significantly more claims of improvement in disease pathology than did sites for professionals (45% vs 15%, P=0.04) and significantly less often provided evidence-based references (40% vs 85%, P=0.04).

Only 21.3% of the sites included precautionary information regarding marijuana use in IBD, with no significant difference seen between sites aimed at consumers and those intended for medical professionals.

The study demonstrated that a multitude of online resources exist with information of medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for IBD patients.

The majority of sites were intended for consumers, but their readability grade level exceeded the NIH recommendation of a sixth grade reading level for medical information, the researchers pointed out.

There also was variability in the available evidence-based references, and inconsistency in the inclusion of precautionary information and therapeutic claims.

“It is critical that readily available online information about cannabis treatment in IBD be readable, evidence-based, and comprehensive in order to allow patients to make informed medical decisions,” they concluded.

The Therapeutic Power of Vocal Sound


How vocal sound positively affects every cell in our body and the cells of people in close proximity

The human voice has the power to fill a concert hall, without a microphone; the power to promote healing in ourselves and others; the power to transform thoughts and feelings into words and sounds to inspire others. The human voice also has the power to leave this Earthly realm and travel to the stars, as you will soon read.

Generating Amplified Thoughts

When we speak or sing or tone, we are actually generating amplified thoughts; thoughts that originate in our minds and give rise to electromagnetic signals contained within our brain. Yet those same thoughts become hugely amplified and transcribed into sound every time we speak, sing or tone. In this way, our thoughts can be shared with the world. But what if our words were transformed into light?

The light would zip through the atmosphere and carry our amplified thoughts to the stars. Is this some new high-tech science or maybe even science fiction? Actually it is science fact, although not commonly known. And you don’t need fancy equipment to convert words or song to light; your voice is all you need.

The basic principles are straightforward and by the end of this article you will understand the special relationship between sound and light and how your voice can reach the stars. You will also learn how your voice speaks the language of cells that positively affects every cell in your body and the cells of people in your close proximity.

While scientists agree that sound and light are different phenomena, much confusion exists among the general public concerning the true relationship between these two forms of energy. For example, online articles often appear in which a particular sound frequency is multiplied by forty octaves in an attempt to identify its equivalent light ‘color.’ In the chart below, colors of light are shown alongside their corresponding Ångström numbers (named after the Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström) and these are compared with frequencies of sound given in Hertz. Look, for example, at 392 Hertz, the musical note ‘G,’ shown as a deep red color. At first glance this artistic interpretation of sound as color appears valid until we realize that sound and light are in fact totally different forms of energy. It’s rather like comparing apples with oranges; they are plainly different. In reality this attempt at comparing light colors with sound frequencies is fundamentally flawed. However, there is indeed an intriguing, almost magical, relationship between sound and light, although not in the way that is commonly believed.

 

The Nature of Sound

To build a foundation of understanding concerning the physics of sound, let us first define sound.

Sound in air is the transfer of periodic vibrations between adjacent colliding atoms or molecules.

That might sound rather grand but basically it simply means that when atomic particles bump into their neighbors they pass on their vibrations. (Remember that air is a mixture of gases in which most atoms pair up to create molecules while helium is comprised of individual atoms.) This transfer of vibrations between any two adjacent atoms or molecules, is known as ‘sound.’

The energy in a sound event, for example someone toning, expands away from the mouth and nose equally in all directions, as a bubble.  This sound bubble naturally expands at the speed of sound, which is 768 miles an hour at 20 degrees C at sea level, and its outer ‘surface’ is in a state of radial pulsation or oscillation, meaning that it is expanding and contracting. The bubble’s pulsations are actually the same as those created by the vocal folds in the larynx.  In fact, the pulsations of the bubble are the sound. At this point you might be thinking “But what about sound waves?” Actually, the model of ‘sound waves’ is incomplete as well as a misnomer because it refers to the graphical representation of the mathematical law of the sound energy. While the term ‘sound waves’ is correct in terms of its graphical representation it is not how sound actually propagates or travels.

Sound bubble versus sound wave

The concept of sound as a wave is simply a label used to describe the fact that sound bubbles pulsate in and out rhythmically. It is this pulsation of the bubble’s outer surface that is typically illustrated as a wave-like graph.

Put differently, when teachers and scientists describe sound as a wave they are referring to its rhythmic pulsation depicted graphically, not its actual shape in space. The result of this confusion is that most people incorrectly visualize sounds wiggling their way through the air rather than visualizing beautiful, shimmering sound bubbles.

In the illustration above, a sound bubble has been halved to permit its internal structure to be seen. The sound event that created the bubble is in the center.

All sounds contain areas of high pressure and low pressure, called compressions and rarefactions. The illustration shows these areas as dense blue hemispheres for high pressure and pale blue hemispheres for low pressure.

If you look closely at the drawing closely you will see dotted lines rising out of the bottom half of the bubble and connecting with a wave graph in the middle. This illustrates clearly where the term ‘sound waves’ comes from: the wave-like graph of sound is a mathematical representation of an actual sound bubble. Many scientific textbooks illustrate the spherical nature of sound, even though they continue to use the term “sound waves” for acoustic energy with a bubble-like space form. A good example is the Master Handbook of Acoustics. The chapter heading on page 83 is: “Sound Waves in the Free Field”, yet on page 85 there is a helpful drawing showing the spherical nature of sound.1

 

Holographic Sound Principles

To build a deeper foundation of understanding, when sound travels through air, every atom or molecule in the path of the expanding sound bubble is involved in the process of passing on the sound vibrations, rather like the game where dominos are set up in a long row and each domino bumps into its nearest neighbor, and sets off a chain reaction of movement. In air, the vibrations that originate with the atoms and molecules in direct contact with the sound source pass on their vibrations to their nearest neighbors and the chain reaction begins, spreading out as a bubble of sound.

As an example, if a sound source produces a single frequency tone (for example when you make an ‘oo’ vowel sound with your voice) the periodic motion of every atom and molecule in the sound bubble will be of that same single periodicity and that single vibration will be passed on with each collision that occurs. On the other hand, if the sound is complex, with a multiplicity of frequencies of vibration, (for example if you make an ‘ee’ vowel sound, which is quite complex and rich in harmonics) the atoms and molecules will each carry this complex array of periodicities.

To better visualize how a single atom can carry such complex periodic motions, imagine holding an apple and moving it slowly back and forth. (Let’s say that the apple represents an atom in the air surrounding your larynx).

Next imagine quickly wobbling the apple as it moves slowly back and forth. The apple/atom is now vibrating in two different ways simultaneously.

Now imagine that same principle extended until the apple/atom is moving in a hundred different ways simultaneously.

(Not easy to imagine, but I think the point is made). This is how atoms and molecules carry all the vibrations and uniqueness of a voice, or of any sound. And when an atom bumps into its nearest neighbor all of those different vibrations are transferred to the neighboring atoms.

The human voice, whether in speech or singing, is a good example of a complex sound source that contains many frequencies. What begins in the larynx as a small high pressure (fairly monotone) spherical pearl of sound energy, rapidly expands into the mouth and sinus cavities where complex nuances are added by the tongue, lips and resonance of the sinus spaces, adding to the complexity of the vibrations and forming a given word or sound.

The word began as a thought, but now that thought has been transcribed to a sound bubble that emerges from the mouth and nose. Its outer spherical edge shimmers due to every atom and molecule vibrating in unison.  If you have a cold and your nose is blocked, the bubble emerges with a different tonal quality and the character of your voice will be modified accordingly.  But either way, the data in the bubble is, effectively, an amplified thought.

How many atomic particles are needed to represent your unique voice? Amazingly the answer is ‘one.’ As mentioned above, a single atom can vibrate with all the complex vibrations that make your voice unique to you. Therefore, sound can be said to exhibit holographic principles because every atomic particle in a sound bubble contains all the vibrational data of the sound source.

One mathematical definition of ‘holographic’ (reported by Andrew Zimmerman Jones from original work by Gerard ‘t Hooft and Leonard Susskind) is that: The total information contained in a volume of space corresponds to an equal amount of information contained on the surface of that space.2  This definition precisely describes the sonic data within a sound bubble and at all points on its periphery; therefore, sound can be said to embody holographic principles.

In the illustration above a single sound bubble is seen emerging from the woman’s mouth and nose. In reality this primary bubble would diffract backwards within a millisecond of its creation and the sound bubble would totally surround the woman’s head; but for the sake of clarity only the primary bubble is shown. The bubble’s surface pattern depicts the harmonic content (the timbre or tonal quality) of her voice.

Having summarized the nature of sound let us now explore the phenomenon of light in order to understand the special relationship between sound and light, which will lead to understanding how your songs reach the stars and how your voice speaks the language of cells.

The Nature of Light

Visible light is electromagnetism of a particular frequency or, to be more accurate, a range of frequencies. The chart at the end of the Introduction section of this article illustrates this point very well. Since light frequencies are such big numbers it is more convenient to express them in Ångströms, which is a measure of the distance moved by light as it pulsates and is commonly referred to as its ‘wave length.’ However, in common with sound, light usually propagates as a bubble so the term ‘wave length’ can be misleading. The only exception to the spherical nature of light is laser light, which generates what is termed “coherent light” in which all the vibrations of the magnetic energy are aligned or “in phase” with each other, whereas light in Nature could be termed “incoherent light” or “natural light” because its vibrations are randomly generated by the light source. All natural light propagates as a bubble, whereas coherent light propagates as a single ray.


Vocal collisions of atoms and molecules result in the creation of infrared light

Although the precise nature of electromagnetism is unknown to science, in essence, it is magnetism that is vibrating (although no one knows what magnetism is!). Light is created when static magnetism begins to vibrate sufficiently fast, or expressed differently, when static magnetism becomes ‘modulated magnetism.’ Every atom is surrounded by a magnetic shell—a magnetic force field—and when this force field collides with the force field around another atom two important things happen: first, there is a transfer of the periodic motions between the atoms—that we earlier defined as sound. The second, almost magical, thing that happens is that light is created. In fact, when collisions occur between atoms or molecules there must be a release of light, generally known as ‘electromagnetic radiation.’

So, in a nutshell, light is created as atoms collide, but unlike sound, which needs a medium to travel in, the light radiates away from the site of the collisions without needing a medium; that is, light can travel through the vacuum of space.

If this all sounds rather technical please stay with me because what comes next is the key to how your songs reach the stars and speak the language of cells.

The frequency of light created by atoms as they bump into each other is a function of the temperature of the atoms (how fast they are vibrating individually and collectively). Light created by atomic collisions in which the temperatures are too low to create visible light will create infrared light. At even lower energy states, for instance with a gentle caress of the skin, hypothetically, microwave radio frequencies will be created.

This could be why caresses can feel like electricity:  such gentle touches may spark low level microwaves into existence. On the other hand, when the temperature is extremely high it is well-tested theory that X-ray and Gamma-ray radiation is created. In simple terms, the physical temperature of an object determines the wavelength of the radiation it emits.3

We are now ready to provide the answer to the question, how our songs reach the stars. As mentioned earlier, sonic bubbles expand at approximately 768 miles an hour. Each collision within the sound bubble creates friction between the magnetic shells surrounding the atomic particles, which create heat, which is another name for infrared electromagnetism, otherwise known as light.

 


Rubbing hands together creates infrared light

Try this simple experiment: Rub your hands vigorously together and then place them over your closed eyes. You will feel warmth. The molecules that form the skin of your left hand slipped past the molecules that form the skin of your right hand. To be more accurate, the magnetic shells surrounding those molecules slipped past each other. The result is heat.

A similar phenomenon occurs every time you speak, sing or tone: trillions of atomic collisions not only carry your voice away through the air, they also create a tiny amount of heat, technically known as infrared light. The heat produced by your voice fluctuates in sympathy with the sound of your words. This simple mechanism transcribes your words into modulated infrared light that rushes away at the amazing speed of 186,000 miles per second.

While the acoustic energy in your voice bubble falls off rapidly with distance, it is not the case for the infrared bubble created by your voice. The infrared energy created by the sound of your voice propagates independently of air (remember that electromagnetism does not need a medium to travel in) and heat is not significantly attenuated by air particles. Therefore, the infrared bubble travels relatively unimpeded through the atmosphere to outer space, where theory tells us it will travel forever4 unless it encounters some dense matter. So, your words and songs should, one day, reach the stars.

At this point you might be wondering, if we can sing to the stars shouldn’t the stars be able to sing to us? The stars do indeed bathe the earth in their ‘song.’ The same principle that transcribes our vocalized sounds to modulated infrared light (colliding atoms that create heat and carry sonic modulations) is also occurring in stars, and the stars are radiating their “songs” across the Universe in both the infrared and visible light spectrums.


Artist’s impression of The James Webb Space Telescope.

A branch of astronomy called asteroseismology5 is one in which scientists ‘listen in’ to the sounds of stars. Sounds created within the heart of a star can provide important data regarding the processes at work in its atomic furnace. By studying the ‘music’ of stars it has also become possible to discover exoplanets, in some cases planets that resemble Earth in terms of size and distance from the parent star.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due for launch this year (2018), is designed to monitor the heavens primarily in the infrared spectrum and with astonishing sensitivity. Perhaps the JWST or some even more sensitive instrument of the future, may one day listen in to extraterrestrial life, not by a signal that was deliberately transmitted into space but one born of sounds that created infrared light.

Most people remain blissfully unaware that our words, songs and chants are rushing into space as modulated infrared light. Maybe someday, the very words or songs you utter today will be monitored and heard by non-human ears in a part of the galaxy far, far away.

The Therapeutic Power of Vocal Sound

The implications for knowing that your voice creates infrared light are profound because every cell in your body “sings” in the infrared spectrum of light.6

The electromagnetic component of cell-to-cell communication also occurs mainly within this spectrum, as the graphic below shows. Therefore, when we sing we are actually singing the language of cells, and not only our own cells but those of everyone who are in our close proximity.


Cell-cell communication occurs mainly in the infrared spectrum

Another aspect of vocal sound that CymaScope research has recently discovered, concerns cymatics, the science of making sound visible. Whenever sound encounters a membrane, a cymatic pattern is imprinted on the membrane’s surface. Usually invisible to the unaided eye, such patterns can be rendered visible under special lighting conditions, rather like dusting a fingerprint on glass to make it visible, we ‘dust’ the membrane with light. The cymatic principle occurs at all scales, even in the microscopic realm, therefore, every cell in your body receives a cymatic pattern when you sing or are being sung to. We have begun to image such patterns in the CymaScope laboratory and initial experiments with microscopic water droplets revealed great beauty in the patterns that formed. A video of microscopic cymatics can be viewed on the CymaScope YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0St42jfgMU


Cymatic patterns on microscopic water droplets

The biological mechanisms by which sound triggers the body’s healing response are not yet known, but my working hypothesis concerns the uptake of sonic energy by cells and the stimulation of the cell’s Integral Membrane Proteins, which project from the outer membrane of almost all cells.

IMP’s have many functions, including the transport of food into the cell and the excretion of waste. One class of IMP, known as the Primary Cilia, is a vital feature of the cell. Primary Cilia7 are antenna-like structures that respond to electromagnetism as well as specific frequencies of sound. In a sense they act in a similar manner to tuning forks that have a particular resonant frequency and are maximally excited only at that specific frequency.


Illustration of Integral Membrane Proteins, resembling tuning forks

In some categories of illness the cells of a particular bodily system become quiescent, for example, due to physical trauma, the invasion of a pathogen or the presence of a toxic substance. This quiescent state is known as the G-0 phase of the cell cycle in which the cells of a particular bodily system are effectively asleep and not replicating, which throws the body out of balance and therefore creates illness. Cells that are in this deep sleep condition can exist in that state for very long periods.

To awaken the cells, sparking them into the G-1 phase, in which the cell prepares for replication, the medical literature suggests that either time (that is, more sleep) or nutrition is the required stimulus.8, 9

In my hypothesis the stimulation needed to awaken the cell is sound energy, whether vocal or from some other source. Sound energy enters the cell in two forms: the acoustic component and the infrared component, both acting to ‘charge’ the cell with energy. In addition, sound creates a cymatic pattern on the cell membrane, which gently massages the IMP’s, including the Primary Cilia. These mechanisms, I hypothesise, are the fundamental principles that underpin sound therapy.


The cell cycle is a series of events that take place in a cell, leading to duplication of its DNA and cell division, creating two daughter cells

At the atomic level, flesh and blood consists of a delicate tracery of electromagnetic frequencies that harmonize with each other and manifest as the biological matter that comprises the components of our bodies. And like an orchestra in which the players tune their instruments to align with each other, living tissue, too, is held in an exquisitely harmonious balance. However, when disease or illness occurs it creates an imbalance in which one or more of the “players” in our cellular orchestra create discord and generate vibrations that are unnatural to our organism. This simple allegorical model contains important truths that I will expand upon in future articles.

Last, I’d like to mention the 3:2 musical ratio in the light of discoveries made by a Russian team, led by Elena S. Petukhova. Apart from the commonly known aspects of this ratio, it is less well known that this same ratio exists between frequencies of the second and third harmonics of an oscillating string, and by extension, of our vocal folds. In their 2017 paper, published by Elsevier, they discovered that complementary pairs of nitrogenous bases exist that feature 2 and 3 hydrogen bonds respectively.10 From this point of view, DNA is a chain of numbers, 3 and 2, of the hydrogen bonds. The implications of this discovery are that when we sing we are actually singing directly to the ‘music’ of our D.N.A. sequence. Petoukhov also discovered that the 3:2 ratio is mathematically related to the tensor family of genetic matrices and that if the square root from such a matrix is taken, the result is the ‘golden matrix,’ all elements of which are equal to the golden section. Thus, the ratio 3:2 and the golden section are intimately connected with our D.N.A. and with our vocal apparatus: we are actually singing a form of genetic music, music that brings healing to all life.


References

Master Handbook of Acoustics, fourth edition. F. Alton Everset, published by McGraw-Hill. Pages 83 & 85.

String Theory for Dummies, Andrew Zimmerman Jones and Daniel Robbins, Wiley Publishing Inc. Page 21.

NASA Science Beta: https://science.nasa.gov/ems/11_xrays

Department of Physics, University of Illinois. Does light travel forever? https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=21368

University of Birmingham (UK). Asteroseismology. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/physics/astronomy/solar-and-stellar/asteroseismology.aspx

World Scientific:  Biophoton Emission. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0217984994001266

PubMed: The primary cilium in cell signaling and cancer. E J Michaud, BK Yoder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16818613

G0 phase of cell cycle. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G0_phase

G0 phase of cell cycle. Nutrition, Immunity and Infection, Prakash S. Shetty, published by CABA. Page 165.

I-Ching, dyadic groups of binary numbers and the geno-logic coding in living bodies. Zhengbing Hu, Sergey V. Petoukhov, Elena S. Petukhova.

Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Elsevier.

NASA Is Testing the Telescope That Will Revolutionize Our View of the Cosmos


IN BRIEF

The James Webb Space Telescope, the highly anticipated successor of Hubble, recently successfully completed cryogenic vacuum testing. This round of testing is one of the last major milestones before the telescope is finally launched.

TELESCOPE TESTING

In 2017, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully completed cryogenic vacuum testing that lasted for over 100 days, solidifying the instrument’s capabilities and potential as a full observatory. In a NASA media briefing on January 10, officials at the Johnson Space Center in Houston discussed these efforts and the magnitude of this successful testing. The “world’s largest space freezer,” as described by Mark Voyton, Webb telescope Optical Telescope Element and Integrated Science Instrument Module (OTIS) manager at Goddard, allowed the team to successfully test the instrument and its pieces at the extreme temperatures it will endure in its missions.

Additionally, this testing showed that all mirrors and instrument models were aligned, with the primary mirror’s 18 segments all operating as one monolithic mirror. The tests also allowed NASA to exercise operations as they would occur in orbit, confirm that the integrated fine guiding system can track a star through the optical system, and ensure that the telescope could maintain correct observatory pointing. This laundry list of successful testing puts the JWST right on schedule to move forward and open our eyes to previously unseen corners of the universe.

The Webb testing was completed in Chamber A, a thermal-vacuum test facility that was first made famous in testing the Apollo spacecraft. While the Apollo tests were completed with both extreme heat and cold in mind, the chamber was heavily modified for the JWST. The Apollo craft were tested at temperatures as low as 100 Kelvin, but with these modifications, testing commenced at temperatures as low as 40 Kelvin with no high-temperature testing.

The success of this testing is not only a significant milestone for the James Webb Space Telescope and its highly-anticipated 2019 launch; it’s also a testament to the human spirit. This cryogenic testing occurred 24/7 throughout Hurricane Harvey, uninterrupted, as its international teams worked together in a collaborative effort.

MOVING FORWARD

After the success of this testing, the JWST will be transported for integration into a complete observatory and to undergo final environmental testing before traveling to its launch site. While there was a delay that pushed the launch from 2018 to 2019, the telescope is currently right on track to successfully make its launch window.

Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope observing the cosmos.
Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope observing the cosmos. 

The capabilities of the JWST will far surpass anything that has been created before. This mammoth telescope, described by Voyton as “the world’s most magnificent time machine,” proved a piece of this capability in testing: it detected, with all four instruments, the light of a simulated star for the first time. The fine guidance subsystem was successful in not only generating the position of the light, but also in tracking its movement. This was a first in testing, and it shows the remarkable applications that this telescope will have.

Because it is an infrared telescope, as opposed to a visual light telescope like Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope requires a cold environment such as the one it was tested in. This will allow it to observe light from some of the earliest moments of the universe. Additionally, it will give us clarity in viewing exoplanets that we’ve only before dreamed of, closely observing Earth-like planets that could hold the promise of solidifying the existence of extraterrestrial life.

It hasn’t even left Earth yet, but this phenomenal instrument continues to inspire.

More Than 30 Billion Light-Years Away, Hubble Captures the Most Distant Galaxy Ever Found


IN BRIEF

A new image taken using the Hubble Space Telescope has given us an image of the farthest galaxy ever imaged. More than 30 billion light-years away, we see it as it was 13.4 billion years in the past.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE

While much has been said about the planned successors to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (WFIRST and the James Webb), Hubble has shown that it can still perform admirably. In fact, a recent announcement has just added another notch to the list of Hubble’s achievements.

An international team of astronomers has used the space telescope to shatter the cosmic distance record by measuring the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This bright, infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past (just 400 million years after the Big Bang).

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” explained principal investigator Pascal Oesch.

 Astronomers are trying to focus on the first galaxies that formed in the universe and, with this discovery, they are closing in on them. The observations brought astronomers to a realm of galaxies that was previously thought to be reachable only with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
LOOKING BACK IN TIME

Scientists measure astronomical distances by determining the “redshift” of a galaxy, which is a result of the expansion of the universe. To break this down a bit, redshift is a result of light being stretched to longer (and consequently redder) wavelengths as space expands as the light travels to our telescope. By measuring this redshift, we are able to obtain a precise measure of where the light traveled from.

The previous galaxy that was a record holder had a redshift of 8.68, which means we see it as it was some 13.2 billion years in the past. GN-z11, in comparison, has a redshift of 11.1, which puts it at the aforementioned 13.4 billion years and 200 million years closer to the Big Bang. The researchers estimate that the record could only be surpassed with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Notably, scientists at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austinpreviously found galaxy z8_GND_5296, which is a staggering 30 billion light-years away. Thanks to the expansions of the universe, GN-z11 is (at the present time) even more distant than this.

SO, WHAT’S THE GALAXY LIKE?

Even though it is far away, we still know a lot about it (relatively speaking).

The imaging of GN-z11 reveals it is 25 times smaller than our galaxy and has one percent of our galaxy’s mass in stars. It is growing fast, forming stars at a rate 20 times greater than our galaxy. This is part of the reason why the galaxy is unexpectedly bright when imaged.

The results also provide new clues about the nature of the very early universe, but while these results are exciting, it is but a tantalizing preview of the observations that the James Webb Space Telescope could offer after it is launched into space in 2018.

GN-z11 Farthest Galaxy
The Galaxy GN-z11 as imaged by the researchers. Credit: NASA

An Atmosphere Has Been Detected Around an Earth-Like Exoplanet for the First Time


Astronomers have detected an atmosphere around an Earth-like exoplanet called Gliese 1132b (GJ 1132b for short), which is located around 39 light-years away in the constellation Vela.

This is the first time atmosphere has ever been detected around a planet with a mass and radius so similar to Earth’s, and that makes it a hugely promising (and exciting) target for researchers searching for signs of extraterrestrial life.

 

“While this is not the detection of life on another planet, it’s an important step in the right direction: the detection of an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b marks the first time that an atmosphere has been detected around an Earth-like planet other than Earth itself,” said lead researcher John Southworthfrom Keele University in the UK.

There’s still a lot to learn about GJ 1132b’s atmosphere, but early observations suggest it could be a “‘water world’ with an atmosphere of hot steam” – AKA, a pretty awesome place to go looking for life.

So far, we know that GJ 1132b has a mass about 1.6 times that of Earth’s, and has roughly 1.4 times its radius – which in terms of exoplanets makes it remarkably similar to our home planet.

But as with all exoplanet discoveries, the researchers are quick to remind the public that the observations to date still really don’t give us much insight into how similar GJ 1132b could be to Earth – or how habitable.

Some bad news upfront is it has an estimated surface temperature of 370 degrees Celsius (698 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes it unlikely that it could host life like us.

And let’s not forget that we’ve recently been burned by the detection of the TRAPPIST-1 ‘sister solar system’ and neighbouring Earth-like planet Proxima b, both of which are unlikely to be the friendly places for life we first thought they were.

 But none of those planets had ever gotten as far as having an atmosphere detected, so GJ 1132b is already doing pretty well in terms of a spot that could potentially host life.

Right now, the top strategy for astronomers in the search for life on another planet is to detect the chemical composition of that planet’s atmosphere, looking for certain chemical imbalances that could hint at the presence of living organisms. For example, on Earth, the large amount of oxygen in our atmosphere is that ‘smoking gun’.

We’re a long way off having that much insight into GJ 1132b, but the fact that we’ve detected its atmosphere at all is a good first step.

The planet orbits the not-too-distant red dwarf star Gliese 1132, which Southworth and his team studied using the ESO/MPG telescope in Chile.

They measured the slight dip in brightness across seven wavelengths of light as GJ1132b passed in front of its host star every 1.6 Earth days, in order to get a better idea of the size and composition of the planet.

They were surprised to find that the planet appeared larger when observed in one type of infrared wavelength of light, which suggests that the planet has an atmosphere that’s opaque to these wavelengths.

The team went on to model different possible versions of this atmosphere, and found that an atmosphere rich in water and methane could explain what they were seeing.

Prior to this, the only exoplanets that researchers have detected atmospheres around were planets that were more than eight times more massive than Earth, and gas giants similar to Jupiter.

“With this research, we have taken the first tentative step into studying the atmospheres of smaller, Earth-like, planets,” said Southworth. “The planet is significantly hotter and a bit larger than Earth, so one possibility is that it is a ‘water world’ with an atmosphere of hot steam.”

The type of star GJ 1132b is orbiting also makes the planet of particular interest – its host star is a low-mass red dwarf, which are incredibly common throughout the Universe and are frequently found to host small, Earth-like planets.

But they’ve also been shown to be particularly active, often blasting huge solar flares out at their surrounding planets – something previous research has suggested would evaporate any traces of a planet’s atmosphere.

But the new discovery suggests that an atmosphere is possible of enduring this bombardment for billions of years without being destroyed – which opens up the possibility that thousands more planets orbiting low-mass stars could potentially harbour atmospheres.

“Given the huge number of very low-mass stars and planets, this could mean that the conditions suitable for life are common in the Universe,” a press release explains.

We still have a lot to learn about GJ 1132b, and hopefully we’ll have some more answers soon – the new discovery makes it one of the highest-priority targets to be studied by instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.

Source:sciencealert.com

The ‘Earth next door’ may have a breathable atmosphere – and we could find out in 2 years


The funny thing about the discovery of Proxima b – the closest planet to our Solar System, which is also rocky, Earth-sized, and potentially habitable – is that nobody has actually seen it.

Astronomers know it exists because they have seen its gravity tug on and ‘wiggle’ Proxima Centauri, the red dwarf star that it orbits. But no telescopes in space or on the ground, nor any in serious stages of planning, can directly photograph Proxima b.

It’s very distant at 4.2 light-years away from us. Also, its ‘year’ lasts only 11.2 days – an orbit too tight to pick out a planet from the blinding glare of a star.

However, a photograph isn’t necessary to ask the most important question about Proxima b, a world that Scientific American has (optimistically) deemed “the Earth next door”: does it have an atmosphere, or is it an airless, barren wasteland like the Moon?

Two researchers at Harvard believe that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to launch in 2018, could get the job done in record time, and by merely sampling the star system’s light.
“It would only take a day’s worth of observing time,” Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, told Business Insider.

“With the light we detect, we can ask if this world looks like a bare rock. If it doesn’t, there might be an atmosphere, and there might also be an ocean, which life requires,” says Loeb, who co-authored a pre-print study on arXiv.org with Laura Kreidberg, a Harvard astronomer who studies exoplanet atmospheres.

How to sniff out Proxima b’s atmosphere

prox-1An artist’s depiction of Proxima b. 

Proxima b orbits Proxima Centauri in a Goldilocks-like habitable zone, where the strength of light is just right to melt water.

However, its close distance to the star – just 4 million miles away, or roughly 17 times as far as Earth is from the Moon – comes with a worrisome consequence.

Astronomers think Proxima b is tidally locked like the Moon, where one side of the world always faces Earth. But instead of always facing Earth, one side of Proxima b always faces its star: awash in permanent daylight, the other side trapped in an endless cold night.

If Proxima b does have an atmosphere, though, says Loeb, it’d not only circulate warmth from the day side to the night side, but also prevent the planet’s water from boiling off into space.

prox-2What a tidally locked habitable Proxima b might look like, also called an ‘eyeball Earth’. A ring of habitability could exist between the day and night sides. 

“We basically asked ourselves, ‘what would a tidally locked Earth look like if you put it right next to Proxima Centauri?'” he said. “Clouds, wind, and water make that question complicated,” he added, but said you could at least tell if it’s a bare rock or is circulating heat using air.

“On Earth, at least a third of the heat is redistributed by the ocean and atmosphere,” Loeb said.

He believes the trick to ruling out an atmosphere is to focus on infrared light – the same ‘colour’ of warm, invisible light that our bodies constantly emit.

When a rocky planet is warmed up by a star, it absorbs sunlight and re-emits it as infrared light. Yet rocky planets emit a different kind of infrared light than is given off by stars like Proxima Centauri.

And it just so happens that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is specially designed to observe infrared light.

So instead of trying to find a tiny planet in a flood of visible light, JWST may only need to hunt for specific wavelengths of infrared light.

“When we look at the Moon, it shows different phases illuminated by the Sun. If you imagine planet going around the star, we’d see different phases of the planet,” Loeb said.

“Past the star, we’d see its day side. In front of the star, we’d see its dark side. As Proxima b moves around the star over 11.2 days … we’d see the temperature or ‘colour’ of the planet changing with time.”

If Loeb and Kreidberg’s hypothetical observation reveals that the dark side of Proxima b isn’t as cold as it should be, that would mean an atmosphere may be hugging the planet – and redistributing warmth to the night side.

If it doesn’t, Proxima b may be a bare, lifeless rock.

Whatever the results, they will be crucial: red dwarf stars outnumber all other types of stars in our Milky Way galaxy by four-to-one. “Situations like this must be common,” Loeb says. “If you turn one stone and find a bug, there must be others around.”

“It’s not something we can guarantee”

prox-3The James Webb Space Telescope’s gold-plated mirrors undergo cryogenic testing. 

Although Loeb and Kreidberg’s research has not yet been peer-reviewed, two leading scientists we contacted said it’s “very promising work”, “a good study”, and “the best proposal on the table so far” – despite a number of uncertainties and hang-ups.

Ed Turner, an astrophysicist at Princeton University, told Business Insider that the study makes a lot of “ideal” assumptions about Proxima b.

“We’ve spent decades trying to figure out our own world’s atmosphere, in terms of global warming and climate change. And now we’re talking about studying an alien world,” said Turner, who has worked with at least seven major observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

“But the basic idea seems like a good one.”

He said the biggest snag with Loeb and Kreidberg’s method is that we don’t yet know the inclination or ’tilt’ of Proxima b’s orbit around its star.

“This assumes we’re not looking down on the planet,” Turner said. If that’s the case – and we can only see its north or south pole – JWST wouldn’t get clear day- and night-side views, or the evidence required to prove an atmosphere exists. “It’s statistically unlikely, but possible.”

And even if the method does work, Turner noted it couldn’t tell you much about the atmosphere. The planet might be cosy like Earth, or a blazing hellhole like Venus (which has an atmosphere that’s 90 times thicker) – and no one would be the wiser.

Mark Clampin, an exoplanet scientist at NASA and a project scientist for JWST, said the idea is “exciting”, but emphasised the fact that NASA needs to get the tennis court-size telescope off the ground first.

“The telescope’s instruments were designed in a time when we weren’t doing these kinds of observations, so we’d really be pushing the limits of what can be done,” Clampin told Business Insider. “We have to understand how the detectors perform in space. Until we can launch and fly JWST, it’s not something we can guarantee.”

Nevertheless, Clampin said he is “ready to take a shot at Proxima b with JWST” and that it’s now the observatory’s “target number one”.

Both Turner and Loeb said timing is also a legitimate concern, given years of delays with JWST – the telescope was originally supposed to launch in 2011.

prox-4A laser on Thirty Metre Telescope. 

If the project sees further delays, monster telescopes like the European Extremely Large Telescope or Thirty Metre Telescope could pick up the slack.

But no such colossal observatory is slated to open for the next 10 years, give or take a couple of years.

“JWST could give something we can chew on for a decade, until those telescopes come online,” said Loeb.

Loeb’s obsession with Proxima b – and the presence of its atmosphere – goes well beyond your standard flavour of scientific curiosity.

“I’m trying to encourage my friends to buy property on Proxima b,” Loeb said, joking. “[W]e’ll either destroy our own planet, or a natural catastrophe like an asteroid will. And if that doesn’t [kill us], the Sun warming us too much will.”

With the help of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, he’s working on Breakthrough Starshot, a project that hopes to laser-propel ‘nanocraft’ toward the Proxima Centauri star system sometime in the next 20 to 30 years.

“A spacecraft equipped with a camera and various filters could take colour images of the planet and infer whether it is green (harbouring life as we know it), blue (with water oceans on its surface) or just brown (dry rock),” Loeb previously told Business Insider.

prox-int

 

Trio of Earth-sized planets around nearby star could reveal life


In search of life

Let’s have a sniff. Three exoplanets, similar in size and temperature to our own, are in orbit around an ultra-cool dwarf star. In the future, we could analyse their atmospheres for signs of life.

A team led by Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège, Belgium, found the trio by using the Chilean-based TRAPPIST telescope to monitor the drop in brightness as the planets passed in front of their star. Two of them are at the inner edge of the habitable zone – the region around the star that allows liquid water to exist – and one is in or beyond it.

Although the exact mass of the triplets isn’t known, the team estimate these planets must be between 50 per cent and twice Earth’s mass. They are probably made of rocks and maybe ice, making them similar in composition to the solar system’s terrestrial planets or the icy moons of giant planets.

The dwarf star’s size and brightness make it particularly suitable for “transit spectroscopy”, perhaps with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. The scope could examine light absorbed by a planet’s atmosphere and sniff out its gases. The amount of the absorption varies with wavelength and depends directly on the composition and physical conditions of the atmosphere.

 We’ve seen potentially habitable worlds in the past, but these three offer the best opportunity for study, says Gillon. “For the first time, we have planets for which the atmospheric composition can be studied in detail with current technology.”

“This has been used successfully in many cases but never for planets as small as the Earth and certainly not for planets in the water-zone,” says David Kipping of Columbia University, New York. “There is a legitimate case to be made that this system could host life and we may be able to infer the presence of that life in the next decade.”

Beyond Hubble: Will Future Space Telescope Seek Alien Life by 2030?


The iconic Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 this month, and getting the ball rolling on a life-hunting successor instrument would be a fitting birthday present, one prominent researcher argues.

Hubble Space Telescope in Orbit

Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), blasted off aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Spacewalking astronauts fixed a serious problem with the telescope’s optics in 1993, and Hubble has been transforming astronomers’ understanding of the cosmos — and bringing gorgeous images of the universe into laypeople’s lives —ever since.

“It has really allowed people to participate in the excitement of discovery,” said Mario Livio, an astrophysicist based at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates Hubble’s science program.

“Hubble images have become part of our culture,” Livio told Space.com. “I regard this as an incredible contribution.”

While the venerable Hubble will likely be able to keep studying the heavens for at least five more years, it’s now time to start planning out a future space telescope that will tackle the next big frontier in space science, Livio says — the search for signs of life beyond our neck of the cosmic woods.

“Hubble has taught us that to answer the most intriguing questions in astrophys­ics, we must think big and put scientific ambi­tion ahead of budgetary concerns,” he wrote in a commentary piece published online today (April 15) in the journal Nature.

“In my view, the next priority should be the search for life beyond our solar system,” Livio added. “A powerful space telescope that can spot biological signatures in the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets would be a worthy successor.”

Hubble’s immediate successor is NASA’s $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is due to launch in 2018. The infrared-optimized JWST will be able to study the atmospheres of some nearby planets discovered by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which NASA aims to launch in 2017.

The agency is also developing a potential space-telescope mission called WFIRST/AFTA (short for Wide Field Infra­red Survey Telescope–Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets). WFIRST/AFTA, which could launch around 2024 if it gets the final go-ahead, would continue the hunt for biosignatures, among several other major tasks.

But Livio has something more ambitious in mind: A space telescope with a primary mirror at least 39 feet (12 meters) wide, with vision 25 times sharper than that of Hubble. (For comparison, the main mirrors of Hubble, WFIRST/AFTA and JWST are 7.9 feet [2.4 m], 7.9 feet and 21.3 feet [6.5 m] wide, respectively.)

Such a powerful instrument could scan the skies of enough Earthlike exoplanets to place “meaningful statistical constraints” on the abundance or rarity of alien life throughout the Milky Way galaxy, according to Livio.

“A large sample of planets — around 50 — would have to be tested,” he wrote in the Nature commentary. “Calculations show, for example, that if no biosignatures are detected in more than about three dozen Earth analogues, the probability of remotely detectable extrasolar life in our galactic neighborhood is less than about 10 percent.”

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy is expected to release a report this June on such a potential telescope, Livio wrote, urging the community to take action to help make the mission a reality.

“First, NASA, ESA and other potential international partners should convene a panel to examine such a project,” he wrote. “Technology-development studies should be accelerated to make a launch around 2030 plausible. The search for life must be prioritized in the next U.S. and international decadal surveys that guide national funding decisions about missions.”

Livio said he’s not advocating any particular design for such a space telescope; he just wants to inspire his colleagues to “think big,” and to build some momentum for a mission that could help humanity better understand its place in the universe.

“Many scientists would agree that the question of, ‘Is there extrasolar life?’ is one of the most intriguing questions in science today.” Livio told Space.com. “So let’s try to actually answer that question, and do what it takes to answer it, as opposed to maybe taking baby steps that would just push the answer into the more distant future.”

 

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‘Most distant galaxy’ discovered


An international team of astronomers has detected the most distant galaxy yet.

The galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away and is helping scientists shed light on the period that immediately followed the Big Bang.

It was found using the Hubble Space Telescope and its distance was then confirmed with the ground-based Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

Because it takes light so long to travel from the outer edge of the Universe to us, the galaxy appears as it was 13.1 billion years ago (its distance from Earth of 30 billion light-years is because the Universe is expanding).

Lead researcher Steven Finkelstein, from the University of Texas at Austin, US, said: “This is the most distant galaxy we’ve confirmed. We are seeing this galaxy as it was 700 million years after the Big Bang.”

The far-off galaxy goes by the catchy name of z8_GND_5296.

Astronomers were able to measure how far it was from Earth by analysing its colour.

Because the Universe is expanding and everything is moving away from us, light waves are stretched. This makes objects look redder than they actually are.

Astronomers rate this apparent colour-change on a scale that is called redshift.

They found that this galaxy has a redshift of 7.51, beating the previous record-holder, which had a redshift of 7.21.

This makes it the most distant galaxy ever found.

Galaxy
z8_GND_5296 is churning out stars at a remarkable rate, say astronomers

The system is small: about 1-2% the mass of the Milky Way and is rich in heavier elements.

But it has a surprising feature: it is turning gas and dust into new stars at a remarkable rate, churning them out hundreds of times faster than our own galaxy can.

It is the second far-flung galaxy known that has been found to have a high star-production rate.

Astronomer looking at the Milky Way
  • Human eyes can see long distances, but the further away an object gets the harder it is to see in detail
  • Telescopes make a distant object appear larger by collecting its light and focusing it to a point
  • The large reflecting Hubble Telescope creates images from the Universe’s visible light and can also detect infrared and ultraviolet radiation
  • The optical and infrared Keck Telescopes examine young stars and can look into the centre of galaxies

Prof Finkelstein said: “One very interesting way to learn about the Universe is to study these outliers and that tells us something about what sort of physical processes are dominating galaxy formation and galaxy evolution.

“What was great about this galaxy is not only is it so distant, it is also pretty exceptional.”

He added that in the coming years, astronomers are likely to discover even more distant galaxies when Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is launched and other ground-based telescopes come online.

Commenting on the research, Dr Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, told BBC News: “This, along with some other evidence, shows that there are already quite surprisingly evolved galaxies in the very early Universe .

“This high star-formation rate maybe is a clue as to why these galaxies can form so quickly.”

Prof Alfonso Aragon-Salamanca, from the University of Nottingham, added: “This is an important step forward, but we need to continue looking for more.

“The further away we go, the closer we will get to discovering the very first stars that ever formed in the Universe. The next generation of telescopes will make this possible.”

But Dr Stephen Serjeant from the Open University said: “Chasing ultra-high redshift galaxies is a very exciting but equally very difficult game, and many claims of extremely distant galaxies have since turned out to be more nearby interlopers.”

Super-Earth Planet Is More Like Super-Venus, NASA Says.


An alien planet declared a super-Earth by NASA might not be so habitable after all. New measurements flag the planet (called Kepler-69c) as more of a “super-Venus” that would likely be inhospitable to life.

The planetary status change is part of a larger struggle over how to define the habitable zone of a star. In recent years, scientists determined that the distance between a planet and its type of star is just one metric that hints at the likelihood of liquid water on its surface, which could fuel life. Other factors include the planet’s atmosphere and even how the star behaves.

Super-Venus and Super-Earth

“There are a lot of unanswered questions about habitability,” astrophysicist Lucianne Walkowicz, Kepler science team member at Princeton University, said in a statement.

“If the planet gets zapped with radiation all the time by flares from its parent star, the surface might not be a very pleasant place to live. But on the other hand, if there’s liquid water around, that makes a really good shield from high-energy radiation, so maybe life could thrive in the oceans.”

Kepler-69c was, as its name suggests, discovered using the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. NASA announced the find in April, declaring that the planet is about 1.7 times Earth’s size and “orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun.” A closer look at the planet’s chemistry, however, showed the planet is actually just outside the habitable zone’s inner edge.

“For example, molecules in a planet’s atmosphere will absorb a certain amount of energy from starlight and radiate the rest back out,” NASA said in a follow-up press release in June. “How much of this energy is trapped can mean the difference between a turquoise sea and erupting volcanoes.”

The researchers also took the star’s energy output and Kepler-69c‘s orbit into account when making the determination. It’s still hard to say for sure if the planet is in the habitable zone, however. A next step could be to look at the atmosphere of the planet itself, but it is difficult for current telescopes to pick up the “signatures” of water, oxygen, carbon dioxide or methane that could indicate life.

Even though the James Webb Space Telescope — slated to launch in 2018 — can examine planetary atmospheres, its capabilities are designed for planets that are far larger than Earth. Probing the atmosphere of Kepler-69c may have to wait for a more sensitive telescope, NASA said.