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A second planet might orbit the closest star to the sun, and astronomers think it's a super-Earth – Business Insider



The closest star to the sun might have a second planet in its orbit.

Proxima Centauri is our nearest neighboring star; it’s just 4.2 light-years away. It has one planet that astronomers know of, a potentially habitable world called Proxima b.

But in a new study, researchers from Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics report that they have observed changes in the star’s activity that indicate it could have another planet. They dubbed the world Proxima c in their paper, which was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

The potential new planet seems to be a super-Earth – the term for a planet with a mass larger than Earth but significantly smaller than the ice giant Neptune.

„Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to the sun, and this detection would make it the closest planetary system to us,“ astronomer Mario Damasso, the paper’s lead author, told Business Insider in an email.

Proxima c (if it exists) is probably not habitable – given its distance from its star, the planet is probably freezing or shrouded in a suffocating hydrogen-helium atmosphere. But its proximity to us could offer a unique opportunity to study another star system.

Proxima c could be a super-Earth in an unexpected place

Foto: An artist’s illustration of Earth-sized planets.sourceNASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)

If it’s real, Proxima c should not exist where it is.

Astronomers think super-Earths form around the „snowline“: the closest distance to a star where water can become ice. That’s because icy solids accumulate in that region when a star system is in its infancy, helping to form planets.

Proxima c is far beyond that snowline, though, so its existence could challenge that theory.

snowline star planetary system

Foto: An artist’s impression of the water snowline around a young star.sourceA. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Then again, researchers still aren’t sure whether planet exists at all.

The team discovered Proxima c using a technique called radial velocity. It works like this: Planets tug slightly on their stars as they orbit. When the star’s position moves, even in this small way, it changes the colors of its light. If those changes are cyclical, that suggests the cause is an orbiting planet.

radial velocity exoplanet detection method

Foto: The radial velocity technique involves watching stars for changes in the color of their light. That could indicate a star is moving slightly as a planet orbits it.sourceNASA

Damasso’s team identified this type of cyclical change in Proxima Centauri’s light, and determined that it is unrelated to the movements of the planet Proxima b.

That suggested the presence of another planet, though Damasso said the researchers still „cannot discard the possibility that the signal is actually due to the activity of the star.“

So the team hopes to find more clues in data from the Gaia space telescope.

Help from Gaia and James Webb

Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way

Foto: An artist’s illustration of the Gaia space telescope observing the Milky Way.sourceESA

The Gaia telescope launched in December 2013 with the ambitious goal of making a 3D map of the galaxy.

„Gaia is still observing, and we calculated in its final data release there will be enough data to confirm or disprove the existence of Proxima c,“ Fabio Del Sordo, a co-author of the paper and an astrophysicist at the University of Crete in Greece, told Business Insider via email.

The next release of Gaia’s data is planned for this summer, followed by another in 2021. The timeline for the full data release has not yet been announced.

While Damasso and Del Sordo wait for that, they’re working with another team to scan photos of Proxima Centauri in search of signs of a second orbiting planet.

„Direct imaging may give results in a shorter time, but it cannot give a definitive answer,“ Del Sordo said. „In other words, if we will not see anything in the image, it doesn’t necessarily mean Proxima c does not exist.“

Another telescope, NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), could help researchers answer these questions, too.

James Webb telescope

Foto: The primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, consisting of 18 hexagonal mirrors, in the clean room of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, October 28, 2016.sourceNASA/Chris Gunn

The telescope is slated to launch in March 2021, equipped with a 21-foot-wide beryllium mirror and new infrared technology to make it sensitive to longer wavelengths of infrared light.

That could help astronomers study nearby stars and, specifically, Proxima c, in great detail.

„It will surely be a target for JWST, but since the planet is likely very cold, we do not know if JWST will be able to detect it,“ Del Sordo said.

Even if James Webb can’t spot Proxima c, its neighboring planet, Proxima b, will be a prime target.

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Texas youth hockey coach, 29, dies from coronavirus complications days after feeling sick – Fox News



A 29-year-old North Texas youth hockey coach died late last month from coronavirus complications after feeling sick for just three days, according to reports.

Tyler Amburgey was a “loving husband and a loving father” who had played hockey since he was 7 years old, his wife, Aimee Amburgey, told WFAA-TV in Dallas. Their daughter, Rylee, is 8 years old.

She said her husband first thought he had caught a cold traveling from rink to rink like he usually did in late summer.

“It started out like originally…with him getting like all…normal cold symptoms,” she told the station.

He then started to suffer from nausea, sleeplessness, shortness of breath, fatigue and migraines, FOX 4 in Dallas reported.


By the third day, Aug. 29, his wife said he finally canceled his hockey practice, where some players had already tested positive, and went to bed at their home in Lavon, Texas, north of Dallas.

Soon after, she found him unresponsive in bed. She called 911 but it was too late, she told WFAA.

The medical examiner said a sleeping pill Amburgey took combined with the virus to slow his heart until it stopped, his grandfather, Paul Hinds, told the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois. Amburgey was a former Peoria Rivermen hockey player.

“He told us sleeping pills slow your heart rate, and in combination with COVID-19, which also slows your heart, Tyler’s heart stopped,” he said. “We were unaware he had COVID-19. No one knew that when he gathered to see him.”

Amburgey played for several minor league teams before becoming a coach, The New York Times reported.


He suffered several concussions and had five hip surgeries during his career. It’s unclear if any of that made him more vulnerable to the virus.

He only tested positive for the virus after his death, Hinds told the Journal Star.

“Hockey meant everything to him,” Aimee Amburgey told The Times. “When he got a new pair of skates, he was like a kid at Christmas. You never saw anyone so pumped up about new equipment, even shin guards.”

“I just want him to be remembered for more than just a person that… passed away from COVID,” she added.


Nearly 30 youth players and coaches have tested positive for the virus this month, which could be linked to a recent tournament in the area, the Dallas County Health and Human Services said, FOX 4 reported.

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How to spot a Starlink satellite in the night sky – Trading U



There are hundreds of SpaceX satellites in the sky. A successful sighting just requires a bit of luck, writes Abigail Beall


16 September 2020

Denise Taylor/Getty Images

What you need

The Find Starlink website or something similar

A spot of sky viewed away from light pollution

OUR skies are filling up with satellites. Starting in May 2019, the firm SpaceX has deployed around 700 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit over 11 launches. SpaceX plans to deploy 12,000, and perhaps later 42,000, satellites with the aim of providing internet access to the entire world.

These satellites have the potential to change the way that the night sky looks. For comparison, there are only around 2600 satellites currently orbiting Earth. These days, …

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Australian stinging tree could pave way for novel painkillers – News-Medical.Net



Australia is well known for having many of the world’s most venomous creatures, ranging from snakes, spiders, jellyfish, centipedes, fish, ticks, bees, and ants. 21 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world are all from Australia. The country is also home to dangerous plants, like the Australian stinging tree.

Close up of the heart-shaped leaf of the most toxic of the Australian species of stinging trees Dendrocnide moroides, also known as the stinging brush, gympie stinger, moonlight plant among others. Image Credit: Victoria Tucholka / Shutterstock

Now, a team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane examined the toxins produced by two species of Australian stinging trees- the shrub-sized Gympie-Gympie (Dendrocnide moroides) and the giant Australian stinging tree (Dendrocnide excelsa).

Leaves of the fearsome giant stinging tree, Dendrocnide excelsa. Image Credit: Lakeview Images

Leaves of the fearsome giant stinging tree, Dendrocnide excelsa. Image Credit: Lakeview Images

The Gympie-Gympie stinging tree is one of the world’s most toxic plants and may cause excruciating long-lasting pain. From these plants, the researchers found a new family of toxins, which they called “gympietides” after the name of the tree. Usually, these trees are found in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales and at the tip of the Cape York Peninsula.

“Our research on the venom of Australian stinging trees, found in the country’s northeast, shows these dangerous plants can inject unwary wanderers with chemicals much like those found in the stings of scorpions, spiders and cone snails,” the researchers said.

Long-lasting pain

The Australian stinging tree is covered with hollow needle-like hairs called trichomes, which are bolstered with silica. Like common nettles, the hairs contain toxins and substances, which can induce extreme pain.

The scientists reported that stinging trees produce extremely persistent and painful stings upon contact of their trichomes with mammalian skin. The pain typically lasts for several hours, and intermittent painful flares may occur for days and weeks.

“The Australian stinging tree species are particularly notorious for producing an excruciatingly painful sting, which unlike those of their European and North American relatives can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks,” Irina Vetter, associate professor at the UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said.

“Like other stinging plants such as nettles, the giant stinging tree is covered in needle-like appendages called trichomes that are around five millimeters in length—the trichomes look like fine hairs, but act like hypodermic needles that inject toxins when they make contact with skin,” she added.

The team reported that the pain and stinging sensation might be tied to small-molecule neurotransmitters and inflammatory mediators. However, these compounds cannot explain the observed sensory effects.

In the study, published in the journal Science Advances, the team demonstrated that the venoms of the stinging trees contain unknown pain-inducing peptides.

Discovering gympietides

To arrive at the study findings, the team studied the stinging hairs from the giant Australian stinging tree, obtaining an extract from them. They separate them into their singular molecular contents. The substances produced extreme pain responses when they were tested in the laboratory.

The team discovered that the extract contains a small family of mini-proteins. Further, the team examined the genes that are found in the leaves of the Gympie-Gympie to find out which one could produce the toxin. From there, the team revealed molecules that can reproduce the pain response even when developed synthetically in the laboratory.

Gympietides contain an intricate three-dimensional structure maintained by links within the molecule that forms a knotted shape. Hence, the toxin is kept stable, which stays intact for a long time once it gets injected into the victim. The structure of the gympietides is similar to the toxins from the cone snail, scorpion, and spider venom, which affect ion channels in nerve cells that are known as mediators of pain.

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“The 3D structure of these gympietides is reminiscent of animal venom toxins targeting the same receptors, thus representing a remarkable case of inter-kingdom convergent evolution of animal and plant venoms,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

“Our work clarifies the molecular basis for the pain caused by these plants while enabling structure-activity and convergent evolution studies to define how ancestrally distinct peptides in venoms may elicit the same response at pain receptors,” they added.

The researchers hope that the toxins will provide new information on how pain-sensing nerves function, paving the way for the development of novel painkillers.

Journal reference:

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