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Posts Tagged ‘mercury’

NASA Announces Discovery of First Rocky Planet Outside Solar System

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The Kepler Spacecraft. Photo: NASA

It seems every couple weeks there is another story regarding exoplanets.

Oh well, they always seem exciting to me.

In a statement released today, NASA said

NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

The Kepler mission is designed specifically to search for exoplanets roughly the size of Earth. It does this through a technique called the Transit Method.

Essentially, Kepler will watch a star for several hours. If a planet orbits that star, it may pass in front of the star and briefly reduce the apparent brightness. By measuring how much dimmer the star gets, and how often it happens, it is possible to determine the size and orbit period of the planet.

While this is a pretty cool discovery, don’t get your hope up about habitable planets yet.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

Score One For the Good Guys!

November 25, 2010 1 comment

Every so often, a victory comes along that reminds me why we do this.

Blogging about science and skepticism can be tough. You wonder “are we really making a difference?”

Yes, we are.

The anti-vax group SafeMinds.org tried to purchase ad time to show a “PSA” trying to convince people not to receive the flu shot containing any mercury-based preservatives.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This group is anti-vax, and trying to sneak their message in under the guise of being “pro-safe vaccines” as opposed to “anti-vaccines”.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that vaccines containing mercury are associated with health problems. Further, there is no evidence that links any adverse health effects to the fetus by administering the flu vaccine to pregnant women, as the SafeMinds ad contends.

Yet the fear mongering continues. If this ad had run, vaccination rates would have dropped. This is a large health risk and puts young children and the elderly in particular danger.

However, a glimmer of hope. AMC refused to show the ad in their theatres, as was announced by SafeMinds.org

SafeMinds was notified late yesterday afternoon that AMC Theaters has decided to block the SafeMinds Public Service Announcement (PSA) on influenza vaccines with mercury. The PSA alerts parents and pregnant women of the presence of mercury in most influenza vaccines and the ample availability of mercury-free alternatives. The CDC has declined to give a preference for the mercury-free versions, so it is important that the public is aware of its options. AMC’s advertising representative had reviewed and approved the PSA to run in AMC cinemas over the Thanksgiving weekend. A small group of vocal vaccine proponents dismissive of mercury concerns learned of the PSA and bombarded the AMC website, leading to the company’s decision to prevent its release. SafeMinds thanks its supporters who viewed the PSA and contributed to its efforts to educate the public to avoid unnecessary mercury exposure. Mercury in all forms is dangerous, especially to the developing fetus and infants, as referenced on the PSA website www.safemindsflu.org. SafeMinds will continue its mission to educate the public on this important healthcare topic.

More info on the whole situation can be found on SkepChick and Science-Based Medicine.

This is a big win for the good guys. Fear of vaccinations is a major threat to public health, particularly children. So we will continue to fight, and hopefully we will see more wins like this one.

Our Glorious Planet: As Seen From Mercury

August 20, 2010 3 comments

I never ceases to amaze me just how massive the universe is.

Take for example, this photo of the Earth and our moon, taken from roughly 114 million miles away.

Image Courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Click on the image to wonderfully aggrandize (thank you Thesaurus.com).

The image was taken from a NASA mission called MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging). MESSENGER was launched in 2004 and has done 3 flybys of Mercury, on its way to be in a permanent orbit to study the planet in 2011.

It is truly humbling to see our planet as a tiny speck in the vastness of space.

As Carl Sagan would say: “One voice in the cosmic fugue.”