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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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Korea realises its ambitions and already travels to meet the moon – Atalayar

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The Republic of Korea has been keen to demonstrate that it is in fact Asia’s fourth-largest space power and ranks just behind China, Japan and India in terms of space ambitions and development. 

With the launch of its first moon-bound probe, it has made it clear that although it is considered to be the world’s tenth largest economy, it is one of the seven nations globally with the greatest interest in outer space. The South Korean scientific spacecraft is called Danuri, which in English means “enjoy the moon”, weighs 678 kilos, is cube-shaped, measures 3.18 x 6.3 x 2.67 metres and, according to the Seoul government, cost 182 million dollars. 

PHOTO/KARI – The Danuri lunar probe carries six scientific instruments, weighs 678 kilos, is cube-shaped, measures 3.18 x 6.3 x 2.67 metres and has required an investment of 182 million dollars

In a way, Korea has followed in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, which relied on Japan and its H-IIA rocket to send its first interplanetary probe, the Al Amal Mars spacecraft, to Mars. In the Korean case, it has chosen its great ally, the United States, and Danuri’s liftoff took place late on 4 August from the Cape Canaveral launch complex in Florida. A Falcon 9 vector from US tycoon Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was responsible for launching it en route.

The spacecraft took off on the same day that US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi arrived in Seoul to support the Asian country in maintaining a strong deterrent against North Korea and seeking its denuclearisation. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office on 10 May, had the opportunity to speak to Pelusi by phone, thanking him for his gesture and explaining that Danuri will serve “to boost Korea’s space economy and scientific expertise”. 

If the probe succeeds in reaching lunar orbit, the Republic of Korea will become the seventh nation to explore the Moon in situ, as Russia, the United States, China, India, the European Space Agency and Japan have already done. But the South Korean mission is not an isolated initiative. “The first step of our national space exploration programme is the moon,” says Science Minister Lee Jong-ho. 

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PHOTO/AP – The launch of the South Korean spacecraft into space from Florida coincided in date (4 August) with a quick visit to Seoul by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi

Hyundai and Kia to be on the moon in 2031

The president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Professor Lee Sang-ryool, has confirmed that “there are technologies we need to improve, but we can travel and land on the moon with our own capabilities”. Seoul aims to launch a lunar surface module together with a small rover by 2031.

And they are already working on it. On 27 July, the car manufacturers Hyundai and Kia signed an agreement with six Korean research institutes to develop robotic technologies to equip the country’s future space rover. The project is joined by Korea’s extensive space business network, which manufactures satellites and even the KSLV-II Nuri launcher, which successfully completed its second successful flight into space from the Naro space centre in southern Korea on 21 October

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PHOTO/KARI – The KARI lunar exploration programme envisages the probe now launched, to be followed by a lander with a rover to investigate the soil of our natural satellite by 2030

Regarding the Danuri probe – also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter or KPLO – the Korean Ministry of Science and Telecommunications has already verified its proper operational status in orbit and confirmed that “the solar panels are generating sufficient power and all on-board devices are working properly”. 

It is being monitored throughout the mission by NASA’s three Deep Space Network communications stations: the US station at Goldstone, California; the Australian station near Canberra; and the Spanish station located in the municipality of Robledo de Chavela, near Madrid. Korea also maintains partial contact with the probe via the large satellite dish it has built in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.

Danuri will reach its long-awaited goal by the end of the year and not in about six days, the time it took the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 to travel nearly 400,000 kilometres. The reason is that the South Korean spacecraft does not follow a direct trajectory, which consumes a lot of energy. Instead, it flies in the direction of the Sun. It follows a so-called “lunar ballistic transfer” trajectory with low energy and fuel consumption, until it reaches the so-called Lagrange Point 1 (L1), located 1.56 million kilometres from our Blue Planet, where the Sun’s attraction is balanced by the Earth’s attraction. There it will slow down and be re-routed towards the Moon. 

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PHOTO/KARI – The probe is being tracked by NASA’s three Deep Space Network communications complexes (Goldstone, Canberra and Spain’s Robledo de Chávela) along with Korea’s Yeoju

135 days to reach lunar orbit

It is a similar path to that followed by the small American probe Capstone. Weighing 25 kilos and launched into orbit by NASA on 28 June from New Zealand, it is scheduled to reach the moon on 13 November, i.e. it will take 136 days to reach the moon.

If the Danuri mission goes according to the calculations of the KARI engineers, the probe will be captured by the Moon on 16 December after 135 days, i.e. four and a half months after the start of its flight. On 31 December, it will be placed in a circular orbit at an altitude of a hundred kilometres above the lunar surface. Once it has stabilised and the six scientific instruments on board have been checked, the spacecraft will begin observing and collecting data in early January. 

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PHOTO/KARI –  Danuri does not follow a direct trajectory. It flies on a low-energy, low-fuel-consumption lunar ballistic transfer flight on its way to LaGrange Point 1 (L1), where it will be re-routed to the Moon

One of the instruments has been provided by NASA. It is the ShadowCam camera, an evolution of the one on board the US Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probe, launched on 18 June 2009, but about 200 times more sensitive. Its task is to map with a resolution of up to 1.7 metres per pixel the ground of the lunar regions at both poles that are always in shadow. The ShadowCam is intended to locate water ice deposits and other resources to help plan future manned missions and build sustainable bases.

ShadowCam and communications are not NASA’s only contribution. The Agency is providing technical assistance, navigation technologies and, in collaboration with the Korea Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, a kind of interplanetary Internet to prevent disruption of transmissions to Earth. 

corea-luna
PHOTO/KARI – The president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Professor Lee Sang-ryool, says Korea needs to improve its space technologies, but can travel to and land on the moon with its own capabilities

The other four instruments are a magnetometer (KMAG) to track the magnetic field between the Earth and the Moon; a gamma-ray spectrometer (KGRS) to search for spontaneous gamma-ray bursts produced by massive dying stars; a wide-angle polarimetric camera (PolCam) to analyse the properties of grains deposited on the lunar surface. For the descent mission planned for 2031, it incorporates a high-resolution camera (LUTI), which will provide images for KARI technicians to determine the most suitable landing sites.

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Scientist's photo of 'distant star' was actually a slice of chorizo – USA TODAY

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A French scientist apologized after tweeting a photo of a slice of chorizo that he claimed was a deep-space image of a “distant star” snapped by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Étienne Klein, a physicist and research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, shared the spicy Spanish sausage shot on social media last week, applauding the “level of detail” it provided.

“Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This level of detail … A new world is unveiled everyday,” he posted on Twitter Sunday to more than 91,000 followers.

The first images from the $10 billion telescope – launched Dec. 25, 2021 – went viral throughout July when they were released to the public. The scientific marvel, a joint project involving NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, has traveled 1 million miles through space.

A few days after his post, Klein revealed the photo he tweeted was not from the world’s most powerful space telescope. He admitted he tweeted a slice of the reddish, speckled meat.

“When it’s time for the aperitif, cognitive biases seem to have a field day … beware, then, of them,” he played off in further tweets. “According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”

New space stamp release: James Webb Space Telescope will take flight as a US postage stamp in September

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“I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement. Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images,” he wrote, as translated by Google.

Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

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Top Scientist Admits Webb Telescope Star Photo Was Actually Chorizo – PetaPixel

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A prominent French physicist is apologizing after admitting that a viral “distant star” photo he shared on Twitter was not actually captured by the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) but was rather just a slice of chorizo pork sausage.

On July 31st, Etienne Klein, research director of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, tweeted the photo to his 90,000+ followers on Twitter and claimed that it was a new Webb telescope photo showing the closest star to our Sun.

“Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us,” Klein wrote in the Tweet (as translated by Google). “It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This level of detail… A new world is unveiled day after day.”

A screenshot of Etienne Klein’s Tweet.

The tweet went viral and was retweeted thousands of times as people marveled at the imaging power of the Webb telescope, which has been wowing the world with never-before-possible space photos, including shots of the oldest galaxies ever observed.

In follow-up tweets, Klein revealed that what he had Tweeted was just a slice of Spanish sausage.

“Well, when it’s cocktail hour, cognitive bias seem to find plenty to enjoy… Beware of it,” Klein writes. “According to contemporary cosmology, no object related to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere else other than on Earth.

“In view of some comments, I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement. Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images…”

After receiving angry backlash to his tweet, however, the scientist apologized a few days later for spreading “fake news” that confused quite a number of people, stating that it was just a joke that was intended to warn his followers to be cautious about photos seen online.

“I come to present my apologies to those whom my hoax, which had nothing original about it, may have shocked,” he writes. “I simply wanted to urge caution with images that seem eloquent on their own. A scientist’s joke.”

Prominent French physicist Etienne Klein. Photo by Thesupermat and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Klein also tweeted Webb’s recent gorgeous photo of the Cartwheel Galaxy, assuring his followers that the photo was “real this time.”

“This is the first time I’ve made a joke when I’m more on this network as a figure of scientific authority,” the physicist later told the Paris-based news magazine Le Point. “The good news is that some immediately understood the deception, but it also took two tweets to clarify, ”explains the researcher.

“It also illustrates the fact that on this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news. I also think that if I hadn’t said it was a James-Webb photo, it wouldn’t have been so successful.”

The James Webb Space Telescope launched in December 2021 and officially began making scientific observations on July 12th, 2022. Now the largest optical telescope in space, it is using its unprecedented imaging capabilities to capture pioneering astronomical and cosmological images, including shots of atmospheres of exoplanets as well as the first stars and galaxies created at the beginning of the universe.

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