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Astronomers discover huge exoplanet has the density of cotton candy – CBC.ca

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Roughly 212 light years away in the Virgo constellation lies a super-large exoplanet that has astronomers revising their theory of how giant gas planets form.

The exoplanet, called WASP-107b, was discovered in 2017. At the time, it was difficult to accurately pinpoint its mass. But what astronomers did know is that it was already unusual. 

It is a particularly large planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit that is just a mere nine million kilometres away from its host star, WASP-107, which is estimated to be about three billion years old.

To put that in perspective, Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, sits at 60 million kilometres. One year on WASP-107b takes roughly 5.7 days. 

However, now, after years of observations using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a team of international astronomers have uncovered something else: WASP-107b is oddly light. In fact, it’s much lighter than what was thought was needed to build gas giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.

“What was really surprising about this planet is that people have known … that it’s about the size of Jupiter, so it’s a gas giant,” said Eve Lee, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal and an assistant professor in the department of physics at McGill University and McGill Space Institute in Montreal. “So if it’s a gas giant, then the usual expectation is that it would weigh just as [much] as gas giants. Except it didn’t.”

A comparison of Earth in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a giant storm that is at least 400 years old. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go)

Jupiter is about 300 times the mass of Earth. But WASP-107b — while roughly the same size as our solar system’s biggest and most massive planet — is only 30 times that of Earth. That’s 1/10th the mass. 

The international team of astronomers inferred from their observations that the core of the planet was just four times that of Earth. But in theory, it was believed that these giant planets with such a gaseous atmosphere would require a core that was at least 10 times that of Earth’s.

After a star forms, the remaining gas and dust — called a protoplanetary disk — come together to build planets. When it comes to the gas giants, it’s believed that a core that is 10 times more massive than Earth’s is required to build — or accrete — and hold on to the gas envelopes.

This image from the European Southern Observatory shows a protoplanetary disk This picture of the nearby young star TW Hydrae reveals the classic rings and gaps that signify planets are in formation in this system. (S. Andrews [Harvard-Smithsonian CfA]; B. Saxton [NRAO/AUI/NSF]; ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO])

So what’s the deal with WASP-107b?

Lead author Caroline Piaulet of the Université de Montréal said there are two key elements in the theory of how this might have happened.

First, it’s believed that WASP-107b formed much farther out from its current location, likely around one astronomical unit, or the average distance between the sun and Earth, roughly 150 million kilometres. There, it began to accrete gas and dust relatively quickly. 

Secondly, it began to cool rather quickly.

“When it cools down efficiently, it’s able to accrete efficiently because if it cools down, it’s going to shrink,” said Piaulet. “So it’s going to have more space to accrete more gas.”

Eventually, the planet migrated inward to its current position.

Yet another surprise

WASP-107b isn’t the only “super puff” planet, as they are often called. Lee said there are four others known, though WASP-107b is the puffiest.

So just how puffy is it?

“It’s usually compared to cotton candy, because it’s about the right density,” Lee said. “But it’s not the kind that you find at carnivals. It’s more like the kind that you buy at stores.”

And, as surprising as this super-puff planet was, there was yet another surprise in store: a second planet orbiting the star, WASP-107c. 

The planet was detected because of the longer observation time and was found to be roughly one-third the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit around the star takes about three years, significantly longer than WASP-107b. 

The discovery is just a reminder that, while we may think we have an understanding of how planets form, we still have a lot to learn about what lies beyond our own solar system. Even then, Piaulet said, we still don’t even know much about the cores of our own giant gas planets, such as Jupiter. 

“What I found really exciting is that it’s kind of pushing our understanding of planet formation to its limits.”

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Spacewalking astronauts prep station for new solar wings – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts ventured out Sunday to install support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels arriving at the International Space Station later this year.

NASA’s Kate Rubins and Victor Glover put the mounting brackets and struts together, then bolted them into place next to the station’s oldest and most degraded solar wings.

They had to lug out the hundreds of pounds of mounting brackets and struts in 8-foot (2.5-meter) duffle-style bags. The equipment was so big and awkward that it had to be taken apart like furniture, just to get through the hatch.

Some of the attachment locations required extra turns of the power drill and still weren’t snug enough, as indicated by black lines. The astronauts had to use a ratchet wrench to deal with the more stubborn bolts, which slowed them down. At one point, they were almost an hour behind.

“Whoever painted this black line painted outside the lines a little bit,” Glover said at one particularly troublesome spot.

“We’ll work on our kindergarten skills over here,” Mission Control replied, urging him to move on.

With more people and experiments flying on the space station, more power will be needed to keep everything running, according to NASA. The six new solar panels — to be delivered in pairs by SpaceX over the coming year or so — should boost the station’s electrical capability by as much as 30%.

Rubins and Glover worked on the struts for the first two solar panels, due to launch in June.

The eight solar panels up there now are 12 to 20 years old — most of them past their design lifetime and deteriorating. Each panel is 112 feet (34 metres) long by 39 feet (12 metres) wide. Tip to tip counting the centre framework, each pair stretches 240 feet (73 metres), longer than a Boeing 777’s wingspan.

Boeing is supplying the new roll-up panels, about half the size of the old ones but just as powerful thanks to the latest solar cell technology. They’ll be placed at an angle above the old ones, which will continue to operate.

A prototype was tested at the space station in 2017.

Rubins’ helmet featured a new high-definition camera that provided stunning views, particularly those showing the vivid blue Earth 270 miles (435 kilometres) below. “Pretty fantastic,” observed Mission Control.

Sunday’s spacewalk was the third for infectious disease specialist Rubins and Navy pilot Glover — both of whom could end up flying to the moon.

They’re among 18 astronauts newly assigned to NASA’s Artemis moon-landing program. The next moonwalkers will come from this group.

Last week, Vice-President Kamala Harris put in a congratulatory call to Glover, the first African American astronaut to live full time at the space station. NASA released the video exchange Saturday.

“The history making that you are doing, we are so proud of you,” Harris said. Like other firsts, Glover replied, it won’t be the last. “We want to make sure that we can continue to do new things,” he said.

Rubins will float back out Friday with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to wrap up the solar panel prep work, and to vent and relocate ammonia coolant hoses.

Glover and Noguchi were among four astronauts arriving via SpaceX in November. Rubins launched from Kazakhstan in October alongside two Russians. They’re all scheduled to return to Earth this spring.

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Spacewalking astronauts prep station for new solar wings – StCatharinesStandard.ca

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacewalking astronauts ventured out Sunday to install support frames for new, high-efficiency solar panels arriving at the International Space Station later this year.

NASA’s Kate Rubins and Victor Glover put the mounting brackets and struts together, then bolted them into place next to the station’s oldest and most degraded solar wings.

They had to lug out the hundreds of pounds of mounting brackets and struts in 8-foot (2.5-meter) duffle-style bags. The equipment was so big and awkward that it had to be taken apart like furniture, just to get through the hatch.

Some of the attachment locations required extra turns of the power drill and still weren’t snug enough, as indicated by black lines. The astronauts had to use a ratchet wrench to deal with the more stubborn bolts, which slowed them down. At one point, they were almost an hour behind.

“Whoever painted this black line painted outside the lines a little bit,“ Glover said at one particularly troublesome spot.

“We’ll work on our kindergarten skills over here,” Mission Control replied, urging him to move on.

With more people and experiments flying on the space station, more power will be needed to keep everything running, according to NASA. The six new solar panels — to be delivered in pairs by SpaceX over the coming year or so — should boost the station’s electrical capability by as much as 30%.

Rubins and Glover worked on the struts for the first two solar panels, due to launch in June.

The eight solar panels up there now are 12 to 20 years old — most of them past their design lifetime and deteriorating. Each panel is 112 feet (34 metres) long by 39 feet (12 metres) wide. Tip to tip counting the centre framework, each pair stretches 240 feet (73 metres), longer than a Boeing 777’s wingspan.

Boeing is supplying the new roll-up panels, about half the size of the old ones but just as powerful thanks to the latest solar cell technology. They’ll be placed at an angle above the old ones, which will continue to operate.

A prototype was tested at the space station in 2017.

Rubins’ helmet featured a new high-definition camera that provided stunning views, particularly those showing the vivid blue Earth 270 miles (435 kilometres) below. “Pretty fantastic,“ observed Mission Control.

Sunday’s spacewalk was the third for infectious disease specialist Rubins and Navy pilot Glover — both of whom could end up flying to the moon.

They’re among 18 astronauts newly assigned to NASA’s Artemis moon-landing program. The next moonwalkers will come from this group.

Last week, Vice-President Kamala Harris put in a congratulatory call to Glover, the first African American astronaut to live full time at the space station. NASA released the video exchange Saturday.

“The history making that you are doing, we are so proud of you,” Harris said. Like other firsts, Glover replied, it won’t be the last. “We want to make sure that we can continue to do new things,” he said.

Rubins will float back out Friday with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to wrap up the solar panel prep work, and to vent and relocate ammonia coolant hoses.

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Glover and Noguchi were among four astronauts arriving via SpaceX in November. Rubins launched from Kazakhstan in October alongside two Russians. They’re all scheduled to return to Earth this spring.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Mars City design: 6 sci-fi cities that will blow your mind – Inverse

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As Perseverance inspires the entire world about the thrill of visiting our nearest solar neighbor, Mars, it’s easy to start fantasizing about what it will be like when human beings regularly live on the red planet in the future.

Between SpaceX and NASA, it feels reasonable that human beings will be living on Mars before the end of the century. The question is when they do, what will the first Martian cities look like?

Science fiction should never be used as an actual forecast for human culture, but it is a lot of fun to think about how sci-fi stories have imagined our future lives on Mars. Here are six of the best very best Martian cities, ranked not in order of livability, but instead, but pure sci-fi coolness.

6. Bradbury City – Mars trilogy

Ray BradburyGetty

There are several fictional cities in Kim Stanely Robinson’s seminal SF books about the settlement of Mars — Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars — so it’s hard to pick just one. But, if you have to choose only one Martian metropolis from his books, Bradbury City is the way to go.

Named for Ray Bradbury, who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Robinson’s Bradbury City is designed to recreate a city in Illinois. Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois. The Martian Chronicles features several unlikely Martian cities, some made by humans, some made by Martians. But, in almost all cases, like in “Night Meeting,” these towns and cities often have gas stations and pickup trucks.

5. Bowie Base One – Doctor Who

Bowie Base One in “The Waters of Mars.”BBC

Not exactly a city per se, but certainly a great Martian settlement in the pantheon of science fiction — if only for its name.

In the 2009 David Tennant-era Doctor Who one-off, “The Water of Mars,” the Doctor battles a type of sentient alien water called “the Flood,” that turns people into water zombies. Bowie Base One, in the Who-canon, is the first human colony on Mars, which leads to many, many others. Obviously, it’s named for David Bowie and the song “Life on Mars.”

4. Utopia Planitia – Star Trek

Paramount/CBS

In the 24th Century-era of Trek, most of the best ships in Starfleet are built at the Utopia Planitia Shipyards in orbit of Mars. The Trek franchise rarely visited Mars, although the final episodes of Enterprise Season 4 — “Terra Prime” and “Demons” — had a lot of action on the Martian surface.

Both Star Trek: Picard and its prequel, “Children of Mars,” revealed that the shipyards weren’t just in orbit of Mars, but also on the ground, which meant that a huge civilization population lived and worked on Mars prior to the Sythn revolt in 2285.

3. Londres Nova – The Expanse

Mars in The Expanse.Amazon

More than any other contemporary science fiction series, The Expanse — both the books and the TV series — have made a convincing projection of what a future Martian colony might be like.

The capital city, Londres Nova, is sometimes called “New London.” In the reality of The Expanse, what makes the settlement of Mars so interesting is the way in which it eventually just becomes totally independent from the Earth to the point at which its government is basically in direct competition with Earth for the entire solar system’s resources. By the future time period of The Expanse, Mars is basically an alien planet, populated by humans.

2. Mars Dome One – Babylon 5

Babylon 5 Mars Dome ONe.Warner Bros

Somewhat unique among science fiction, Babylon 5 started off with a lead character who was born on Mars, Commander Jeffery Sinclair. In B5, being from Mars isn’t that weird, but the politics of Mars are integral to the overall story of the series.

Mars Dome One

Mars Dome OneWarner Bros.

Mars Dome One is the biggest city there, and yes, it’s a giant dome. But, Mars Dome One and other cities in Babylon 5 are fascinating because unlike Earth, there’s more of an underworld on Mars, including an underground railroad for rogue telepaths.

1. Chyrse – Total Recall

Mars in Total Recall.TriStar

The Martian city visited by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Quaid is by far the most memorable Martian city in science fiction, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

In the Philip K. Dick short story upon which Total Recall was based, “We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale,” the lead character never actually goes to Mars, at least not in the realtime of the story. The triumph of Chryse in Total Recall is the edgy naturalism of this future city. It’s sleazy, dirty, and dangerous.

Total Recall

Can you grab me a copy of Mars Today?TriStar

In Blade Runner, you’re told that humans have emigrated to a variety of other planets. Chryse in Total Recall is like the Martian city equivalent of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. You can basically imagine them existing in the same shared universe. Would author Philip K. Dick approve? Maybe!

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