Monday, November 26, 2012

Planets Without Suns

There are a number of starless planets roaming about in space, but one in particular is creating a lot of excitement among astronomers. It is only 100 light years away from Earth, which in astronomical distances is practically a hop, skip and a jump away, and it is very young.

The planet, a gas giant, has no name, at least as yet. It is known by its catalog number, CFBDSIR2149-0403. The reason astronomers are so excited is that they have a chance for a close-up study of an object without interference from starlight. Astronomers theorize that there may be billions of these objects wandering around in our galaxy.

CFBDSIR2149-0403 was detected in 2009 by astronomers in Hawaii using heat signals and an infrared camera. A second team at the Paranal Observatory in Chile then aimed a large telescope at the object and found the object. They describe it as being nearly identical in circumference to Jupiter, although it appears to be from four to seven times larger in mass. They analyzed its atmosphere and found ammonia, methane and water vapor. These same gases are found in our own solar system’s gas giants, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus.

The “substellar object” was found near the southern constellation Dorado, but may actually not be part of the AB Doradus group, which is a collection of 30 stars that formed from the same cloud of galactic gas. Astronomers have also found that it is a very young “planet,” aged somewhere between about 50 and 120 million years old.

Objects like CFBDSIR2149-0403, wandering without a star to illuminate them, are very hard to spot. Some of the younger objects, however, still carry a residual glow caused by their own heat.

Some of these stars may eventually be captured by a sun if they happen to wander close enough to be pulled in by the star’s gravity field. Others may wander for an eternity. One pair, however, found one another, circling around each other rather than around a sun.

 Since our solar system’s giant gas planets share gases in common with CFBDSIR2149-0403, one has to wonder whether they were once roaming stars that happened to wander into the Sun’s gravitational influence and become part of our own system. Perhaps there’s hope yet that CFBDSIR2149-0403 will yet find a home.

There’s more information on this orphan planet here

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Meat-Eating Sponges?

Relax. You’re not likely to encounter one of these carnivorous sponges. They live about 2 miles below the ocean’s surface, and the biggest ones found so far are only about 14 inches tall.

Its scientific name is Chondrocladia lyra, but it’s better known as the “harp sponge” for its unusual, and beautiful form. It was actually discovered in 2000 by scientists using a deep-diving, remote operated vehicle, but researchers only reported its existence in an article published in the journal Intertebrate Biology in October 2012. It lives deep in Monterey Bay off the coast of California.

Scientists have known of the existence of carnivorous sponges for less than twenty years. But little was known about their lives since they usually live in very deep water. But researchers were able to retrieve two live specimens which allowed them to study the sponges in some detail.

Harp sponges use barbed hooks which cover their branching limbs to catch their dinner. They wait for tiny fish and crustaceans to be swept past them by deep-sea currents, then wrap their prey in thin membranes while they slowly digest their victims.

They also have an interesting way of reproducing. While most sponges release their sperm to swim in the water around them, all carnivorous sponges studied so far transfer their sperm in condensed packages. The swollen balls at the tips of the sponges’ branches hold these sperm packets, releasing the spermatophores into the passing currents. When other sponges capture the packets, the sperm works its way into its new host from the packets and fertilizing their eggs. These sponges are able to produce both sperm and eggs, although they cannot fertilize their own eggs.

The discovery was made by Senior Research Technician Lonny Lundsten of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which has made other remarkable discoveries in the past, including a squid which has elbows.

If you’re interested in seeing a photo of this interesting new animal, go here

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pueblo, Colorado’s Haunted Fire Museum

One of the most active haunted sites in Pueblo is The Hose Co. No. 3 Fire Museum. And it is
definitely active.

The museum is housed in the old Station No. 3 of the Pueblo Fire Department, which was built in 1895. It was built by the Masonic Temple in Pueblo and was originally leased to the City of Pueblo for $75 a month. The city bought the station and the land it sat on for $500 in 1890. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that no alcohol was ever to be allowed on the property.  The fire house also served as a local hospital, and people in the neighborhood brought injured people there to be treated.

The building has been the scene of unusual events dating back at least to the 1930s. The museum boasts all the usual paranormal phenomena, such as footsteps and disembodied voices, things falling, cold spots, glowing orbs and EVP phenomena. And these ghosts are not shy.

One of the best documented examples of possible ghostly activity involves a Model T Ford that once was driven by the Fire Chief. The car was taken outside the station in 2006 and left idling while its battery was charged. Suddenly it started off by itself and took a trip around the block, eventually parking itself in the front of the building. The incident was witnessed not only by people at the station, but by a woman who worked across the street and a couple who lived not far away. The car had traveled 520 feet without a driver, and had made several turns in its trip around the block, running through a stop sign at one corner.

It turns out that the Model T is not the only vehicle to take itself for a short drive. Back in the early 1960s a 1960 Seagraves fire truck started itself about 3:30 in the morning and drove out through the door onto the street, a short trip of only about 20 feet. The firefighters in the building were asleep upstairs at the time.

Researchers, accompanied by a reporter, investigated the building just before Halloween in 2012 asked “What’s your name?” They did not hear a reply at the time, but later, when they reviewed their tape, they heard a male voice say, “I’m Ted.”

Later, the team heard footsteps, and experienced nausea in certain rooms. They also reported becoming nauseous when sitting in the old Model T. A stuffed animal fell off a desk on the ground floor while everyone was upstairs.

These stories represent only a few of the phenomena experienced by visitors, researchers, and firefighters over the many years of the station’s existence. The museum was featured in 2011 on the SyFy channel’s “The Haunted Collector.”

The museum does not have regular visiting hours, but Museum Curator Mark Pickerel, whose father was a firefighter working out of Hose Company No. 3 when it was still a working fire station, has posted many of the stories on the museum’s website at