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Looking To Oher Worlds To Understand The Atmosphere Of Planet Earth

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this photo of Jupiter's Great Red Spot Dec. 1, 2000.
by Denise Fitzpatrick
Louisville KY (SPX) May 30, 2007
Tim Dowling, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Louisville's Speed School of Engineering, studies the atmospheres of other planets. So, why on Earth was he chasing a thunderstorm around southern Indiana with a crew from The History Channel a few weeks ago?

"They wanted me to explain what was going on with the storm as it was happening," he said. "I talked about how weather on other planets can help us understand the weather here, and vice versa."

Dowling, who is considered a leading expert on planetary atmospheres, will appear in a new 13-part series, "The Universe," scheduled to be shown Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on The History Channel starting May 29. He will be featured on the June 19 episode about Jupiter.

A reviewer for NASA for nearly two decades, Dowling probes the composition and behavior of the gases that surround planets. A paper he wrote in 1995 about Jupiter's atmosphere is regarded as a seminal work, and he led efforts to create a planetary atmosphere model now used by scientists around the world.

He is just beginning to study Venus and how its torrid atmosphere might yield clues to global warming on our planet.

"Venus is as hot as a self-cleaning oven," he said. "If we can learn how greenhouse gases function in its atmosphere, we may learn more about how they work on Earth."

Although climatic conditions on the planets in our solar system differ a great deal, Dowling is searching for a single set of principles that might apply to atmospheres on all of them. He's also working a lot more closely these days with the National Weather Service.

"There are similarities between cyclonic activity on other planets and the tornadoes we see here," he said. "We can learn things by comparing notes about them."

Another weather phenomenon shared by other planets and Earth are "blocking" high-pressure systems that lead to droughts.

"The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is the largest high-pressure system in the solar system. If we can learn more about how it works, and why it has endured for centuries, we might be able to better understand prolonged dry spells on Earth."

Besides the History Channel, Dowling's research also will be featured this summer in the June issue of the French science magazine, "Science et Vie," and on a website for middle-school science students, "Science News for Kids."

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A Bevy Of Exoplanets Announced
Berkeley CA (SPX) May 30, 2007
The world's largest and most prolific team of planet hunters announced Monday, May 28, the discovery of 28 new planets outside our solar system, increasing to 236 the total number of known exoplanets. University of California, Berkeley, post-doctoral fellow Jason T. Wright and newly minted Ph.D. John Asher Johnson reported the new exoplanets at a media briefing at the semi-annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Honolulu.

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