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Astronomers Directly Image Two Giant Exoplanets around Young Sun-Like Star | Astronomy – Sci-News.com

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Astronomers using the SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have discovered a second planetary-mass companion orbiting TYC 8998-760-1, a 16.7-million-year-old solar-type star previously known to host one giant planet. The researchers have also managed to directly image this multi-planet system.

This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant planets, TYC 8998-760-1b and TYC 8998-760-1c. The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the center (TYC 8998-760-1b) and bottom right (TYC 8998-760-1c) of the frame. Other bright dots, which are background stars, are visible in the image as well. Image credit: ESO / Bohn et al.

TYC 8998-760-1 is a K3-type star located 309 light-years away in the small southern constellation of Musca.

Also known as 2MASS J13251211-6456207, the star is about the same mass as our Sun, but is only 16.7 million years old.

The star was previously known to host a massive planet, TYC 8998-760-1b, with a radius of 3 times that of Jupiter and a mass of 14 Jovian masses.

The newly-discovered planet, TYC 8998-760-1c, is at least 6 times more massive than Jupiter.

The two alien worlds orbit their parent star at distances of 160 and 320 AU. This places these planets much further away from their star than Jupiter or Saturn are from the Sun.

“This discovery is a snapshot of an environment that is very similar to our Solar System, but at a much earlier stage of its evolution,” said Leiden University PhD student Alexander Bohn, lead author of the study.

“Even though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of planets in our galaxy, only a tiny fraction of these exoplanets have been directly imaged,” added Leiden University astronomer Matthew Kenworthy, co-author of the study.

“Direct observations are important in the search for environments that can support life.”

TYC 8998-760-1 is the first directly imaged multi-planet system that is detected around a young analog of our Sun.

“Our team has now been able to take the first image of two gas giant companions that are orbiting a young, solar analog,” said co-author Dr. Maddalena Reggiani, a postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven.

The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Alexander J. Bohn et al. 2020. Two Directly Imaged, Wide-orbit Giant Planets around the Young, Solar Analog TYC 8998-760-1. ApJL 898, L16; doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/aba27e

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In space, bacteria is even more deadly and resilient to antibiotics – The Next Web

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China recently launched its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. A rocket holding an orbiter, lander and rover took flight from the country’s Hainan province, with hopes to deploy the rover on Mars’s surface by early next year.

Similarly, the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission marked the Arab world’s foray into interplanetary space travel. And on July 30, we saw NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover finally take off from Florida.

For many nations and their people, space is becoming the ultimate frontier. But although we’re gaining the ability to travel smarter and faster into space, much remains unknown about its effects on biological substances, including us.

While the possibilities of space exploration seem endless, so are its dangers. And one particular danger comes from the smallest life forms on Earth: bacteria.

Bacteria live within us and all around us. So whether we like it or not, these microscopic organisms tag along wherever we go – including into space. Just as space’s unique environment has an impact on us, so too does it impact bacteria.

[Read: Why are scientists trying to manufacture organs in space?]

We don’t yet know the gravity of the problem

All life on Earth evolved with gravity as an ever-present force. Thus, Earth’s life has not adapted to spend time in space. When gravity is removed or greatly reduced, processes influenced by gravity behave differently as well.

In space, where there is minimal gravity, sedimentation (when solids in a liquid settle to the bottom), convection (the transfer of heat energy), and buoyancy (the force that makes certain objects float) are minimized.

Similarly, forces such as liquid surface tension and capillary forces (when a liquid flows to fill a narrow space) become more intense.

It’s not yet fully understood how such changes impact lifeforms.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will be launched later this month. Among other tasks, it will seek out past microscopic life and collect samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to later be returned to Earth. NASA/Cover Images

How bacteria become more deadly in space

Worryingly, research from space flight missions has shown bacteria become more deadly and resilient when exposed to microgravity (when only tiny gravitational forces are present).

In space, bacteria seem to become more resistant to antibiotics and more lethal. They also stay this way for a short time after returning to Earth, compared with bacteria that never left Earth.

Adding to that, bacteria also seem to mutate quicker in space. However, these mutations are predominately for the bacteria to adapt to the new environment – not to become super deadly.

More research is needed to examine whether such adaptations do, in fact, allow the bacteria to cause more disease.

Bacterial teamwork is bad news for space stations

Research has shown space’s microgravity promotes biofilm formation of bacteria.

Biofilms are densely-packed cell colonies that produce a matrix of polymeric substances allowing bacteria to stick to each other, and to stationary surfaces.

Biofilms increase bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, promote their survival, and improve their ability to cause infection. We have seen biofilms grow and attach to equipment on space stations, causing it to biodegrade.

For example, biofilms have affected the Mir space station’s navigation window, air conditioning, oxygen electrolysis block, water recycling unit, and thermal control system. The prolonged exposure of such equipment to biofilms can lead to malfunction, which can have devastating effects.

Another effect of microgravity on bacteria involves their structural distortion. Certain bacteria have shown reductions in cell size and increases in cell numbers when grown in microgravity.

In the case of the former, bacterial cells with the smaller surface areas have fewer molecule-cell interactions, and this reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics against them.

Moreover, the absence of effects produced by gravity, such as sedimentation and buoyancy, could alter the way bacteria take in nutrients or drugs intended to attack them. This could result in the increased drug resistance and infectiousness of bacteria in space.

All of this has serious implications, especially when it comes to long-haul space flights where gravity would not be present. Experiencing a bacterial infection that cannot be treated in these circumstances would be catastrophic.

The benefits of performing research in space

On the other hand, the effects of space also result in a unique environment that can be positive for life on Earth.

For example, molecular crystals in space’s microgravity grow much larger and more symmetrically than on Earth. Having more uniform crystals allows the formulation of more effective drugs and treatments to combat various diseases including cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

Also, the crystallization of molecules helps determine their precise structures. Many molecules that cannot be crystallized on Earth can be in space.

So, the structure of such molecules could be determined with the help of space research. This, too, would aid the development of higher-quality drugs.

Optical fiber cables can also be made to a much better standard in space, due to the optimal formation of crystals. This greatly increases data transmission capacity, making networking and telecommunications faster.

As humans spend more time in space, an environment riddled with known and unknown dangers, further research will help us thoroughly examine the risks – and the potential benefits – of space’s unique environment.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Vikrant Minhas, PhD candidate, University of Adelaide under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Annual Perseid meteor shower peaks this week: How you can catch some 'shooting stars' – CBC.ca

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Looking for a fun, physical-distancing activity in the coming days? The best meteor shower of the year is upon us. 

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best summertime treats. Under optimal conditions — clear, moonless dark skies — at its peak, the shower can produce up to 100 meteors an hour.

The meteor shower runs from July 17 to Aug. 26, with the peak occurring this year on the night of Aug. 11–12.

Meteor showers occur when Earth, as it orbits the sun, plows through debris left over from a passing comet or asteroid. These small, grain-sized pieces of debris burn up in our atmosphere, produce beautiful streaks of light, often referred to as “shooting stars.”

In this case, Earth is passing through a stream left from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. 

Try out this interactive map showing how Earth passes through the meteor shower:

When and where to watch

While last year’s shower was hampered by an almost full moon, the good news is that this year, the moon will only be 44 per cent illuminated and rise after midnight.

The biggest key to enjoying a meteor shower is getting away from light sources. That means finding a good, dark-sky location, such as a park or a beach. Also, stay away from your cellphone. As it takes our eyes some time to adjust to the dark, the phone’s bright light will make it more difficult to do so. Typically, it can take 30 minutes or longer for your eyes to adjust.

The greatest thing about meteor showers is that everyone can enjoy them. There’s no need for a telescope or even binoculars. All you need to do is grab a blanket or two, find a good location and look up.

A Perseid meteor in 2014 streaks over Starfest, a star party held annually in southwestern Ontario each August. This year, the Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of Aug. 11-12. (Submitted by Malcolm Park)

See some ‘Earth-grazers’

Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors seem to originate, called the radiant. In this case, the radiant is in the constellation Perseus, hence the name.

The constellation rises in the northern sky at about 9:30 p.m. local time and continues to rise in the northeast. But you don’t have to look exactly in that direction to see the meteors. You can simply look up. 

In fact, if you’re doing your meteor-gazing at that time of night, the meteors will leave much longer trains — or streaks — in the sky as they skim the upper atmosphere. These are called “Earth-grazers” and can be seen low in the east moving from north to south. Though earlier in the night isn’t the most active time for meteors, the ones that you will see will likely be more spectacular as a result.

And you don’t have to look straight up because more meteors will be seen at somewhat lower elevations.

As the constellation rises higher in the sky, you will likely see more meteors. Of course, as the constellation rises, so, too, does the moon. That means that only the brightest meteors will be visible. The good thing is, the Perseids do tend to put on a show with some brilliant meteors seen even over urban areas. 

Now, if the weather doesn’t look like it’ll hold up, you can try watching on either side of the peak night, on Monday or Wednesday when meteor activity will still be high.

And, if you’re willing to go the distance, you can pull an all-nighter or wake up very early in the morning, as the best time to see meteors will be in the few hours before sunrise on Wednesday.

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NASA's Rover Is Taking a Tree-Like Device That Converts CO2 Into Oxygen to Mars – ScienceAlert

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 30 July, carrying a host of cutting-edge technology including high-definition video equipment and the first interplanetary helicopter.

Many of the tools are designed as experimental steps toward human exploration of the red planet. Crucially, Perseverance is equipped with a device called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE: an attempt to produce oxygen on a planet where it makes up less than 0.2 percent of the atmosphere.

Oxygen is a cumbersome payload on space missions. It takes up a lot of room, and it’s very unlikely that astronauts could bring enough of it to Mars for humans to breathe there, let alone to fuel spaceships for the long journey home.

That’s the problem MOXIE is looking to solve. The car-battery-sized robot is a roughly 1 percent scale model of the device scientists hope to one day send to Mars, perhaps in the 2030s.

Like a tree, MOXIE works by taking in carbon dioxide, though it’s designed specifically for the thin Martian atmosphere. It then electrochemically splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and combines the oxygen molecules into O2.

It analyses the O2 for purity, shooting for about 99.6 percent O2. Then it releases both the breathable oxygen and the carbon monoxide back into the planet’s atmosphere. Future scaled-up devices, however, would store the oxygen produced in tanks for eventual use by humans and rockets.

A breakdown of the components inside the MOXIE oxygen generator. (NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

The toxicity of the carbon monoxide produced isn’t a worry, according to Michael Hecht, a principal investigator for MOXIE. The gas reenters the Martian atmosphere but won’t alter it very much.

“If you release the carbon monoxide into the Mars atmosphere, eventually it will combine with a very small amount of residual oxygen that’s there and turn back into carbon dioxide,” Hecht previously told Business Insider.

For that reason, the carbon monoxide also wouldn’t hinder a potential biosphere on Mars – a closed, engineered environment where Earthly life could thrive.

Because MOXIE is a small proof-of-concept experiment, it won’t produce much oxygen – if all goes well, it should be producing about 10 grams per hour, which is roughly the amount of oxygen in 1.2 cubic feet of Earth air. For context, humans need about 19 cubic feet of air per day.

MOXIE will test its capabilities by producing oxygen in one-hour increments intermittently throughout the duration of Perseverance’s mission, according to NASA. The device should start working soon after the rover lands on 18 February 2021.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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