The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Summer in Science

Juno+probe+captures+up-close+images+of+Jupiter.
Photo by Provided
Juno probe captures up-close images of Jupiter.

The discovery of an earth-like planet and successful rocket landings are just a few of the events headlining science news this summer. Here are five major highlights ranging from medicine to space occurring this summer.

 

Zika Virus

 

After a recent breakout in Florida, Zika virus continues to headline news throughout the medicine world.A team of researchers at A&M studying the Zika virus is playing a key role in the education and outreach to all 254 counties in Texas.

 

Lara Burhenn, manager for marketing and communications within the AgriLife Extension Service, said educating the public about the concerns of the Zika virus is a typical outreach to inform the public.

 

“When we realized this summer that Zika was emerging as such a public health crisis, we really made this a top priority for our agents across the state to go out and educate the community,” Burhenn said. “Education effort really revolved about the 4 D’s — drain standing water, dress in long sleeves and long pants, avoid dusk and dawn, use deet repellent.”

 

New Earth-like Planet

 

Discovering planets in a habitable zone where liquid water could exist is uncommon in astronomy. NASA recently discovered an earth-like planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the closest star other than the sun. This finding will allow scientists to study this planet and may help astronomers learn more about earth.

 

Ben Forrest, a physics and astronomy graduate student said even though the planet is in the habitable zone, it is a very different system from the earth-sun system.

 

“Its star is much smaller and much less massive, it gives off much less light, so in order to be in the habitable zone, it has to be much closer,” Forrest said. “There are a lot of differences we don’t know a whole lot about it, but we have to do more follow observations.”

 

SpaceX Rocket

 

Shooting rockets into space is always a risky business, as seen on Thursday when a SpaceX rocket attempting to carry two satellites into space exploded. Despite this detrimental setback, SpaceX continues to progress rocketry science. On Aug. 14, a SpaceX rocket successfully took off carrying a Japanese satellite, then landed on a barge off the coast of Cape Canaveral. With the ability to launch and land rockets, SpaceX plans to send humans to Mars by 2024.

 

Peter Chi, physics and astronomy graduate student, said it is interesting to see what SpaceX is accomplishing and believes traveling to Mars and more of space will take longer than what NASA and SpaceX expects.

 

“I would be very surprised if we got people to Mars by 2030, unless something big changes,” Chi said. “I feel like there is an increasing amount of public interest  pressure for human space exploration — I think it’s entirely possibly to see it within our lifetime.”

 

Juno Explores Jupiter

 

About two weeks later on Aug. 27, NASA’s Juno probe passed by Jupiter, capturing the closest images of Jupiter ever. After five years, the probe reached Jupiter and will be using new technology to take images that will help astronomers learn more about our solar system.

 

Forrest said while the public latches onto images on a superficial level, astronomical data comes from looking deeper into the spectra represented in the image.

 

“A lot of the science that is done is a pictures, it’s actually analyzing the different wavelengths of light that is in the image — we call that spectroscopy,” Forrest said. “In the case of Jupiter, we will be taking spectra of the atmosphere, what are the clouds like, how much water is in the atmosphere and give us a better idea of the composition of Jupiter.”

 

Universe Expanding Even Faster

 

The rate at which the universe expands is a topic debated among astronomists, but after analyzing data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA and the European Space Agency announced in June the universe is expanding 5 to 9 percent faster than originally measured.

 

Katelyn Stringer, physics graduate student, said this news does not affect us day to day, but affects our basic understanding of dark energy — a key component of the expansion of the universe. She said knowing how fast the universe expands helps researchers narrow down the possibilities of what dark energy could be.
“If observations and models don’t agree how well we think we understand, any way we can constrain how fast the universe is moving,” Stringer said.

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