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If you ever wanted to help find new planets, now’s your chance – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / The telescope array of the Next Generation Transit Survey.

If you’ve ever wanted to search for distant worlds, your time has come. The team behind a planet-hunting telescope array called the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) is looking for help with the large volume of data the instrument has produced. The NGTS scans large areas of the sky with a collection of small, robotic telescopes to detect dips in stars’ light that are caused by a planet passing between the stars and Earth.

The team now has a lot of data, which it has sifted through using computers. But computers have difficulty distinguishing a likely planet from various sources of noise, so the researchers are asking the public to double-check the computers and provide a final call on what a signal is.

Public transits

One of the most successful means of searching for exoplanets has been the transit method, in which a telescope repeatedly observes the amount of light originating from a star. If a planet wanders in front of that star, the amount of light will dip slightly. These dips have a very stereotypical shape if you plot them over time in what’s called a light curve, with a fairly steep drop as the planet swings in front of the star, followed by a long, flat reduction.

Exoplants can produce dips in the light from a star that tend to have steep sides and a flattened bottom.
Enlarge / Exoplants can produce dips in the light from a star that tend to have steep sides and a flattened bottom.

But there are other phenomena that can cause similar-looking dips in a light curve, plus a bunch of factors that create noise that computers have a hard time distinguishing from a signal. For example, the equivalent of sunspots (sunexospots? exosunspots?) on other stars will rotate across the field of view, and many stars experience short-term variations in their activity. These things can combine to make for a noisy signal with numerous dips. In addition, the telescopes have regular periods of downtime in which they briefly stop observations, which also confuses the software analysis.

Finally, NGTS is on Earth and suffers from noise due to the atmosphere—something that the Kepler telescope did not have to deal with.

As a result of these difficulties, the NGTS team has many potential transits that have been flagged as interesting-looking by its software. But they need to be verified before they’re accepted as actual transits, and the NGST team simply isn’t large enough to do the work. So it has teamed up with the Zooniverse citizen science platform to get the public’s help.

What kind of dip is that?

Those interested in participating can navigate to the project’s page on the Zooniverse platform and click the button in the “Get started” section. If you’re a new user, this will start a tutorial that explains the different types of light curves flagged by computer algorithms. These include things like gaps in the data, a mischaracterized curve, and the chaotic mess caused by stellar variability.

Before starting, there's a tutorial showing you examples of all the different options you'll have to choose from.
Enlarge / Before starting, there’s a tutorial showing you examples of all the different options you’ll have to choose from.
Is this a U- or V-shaped curve? With relatively sparse data, it can be hard to tell.
Is this a U- or V-shaped curve? With relatively sparse data, it can be hard to tell.

You’ll also have to make calls on whether a light curve has a flat bottom or is V-shaped. This is harder than it may sound because the NGTS doesn’t have the same frequency of imaging as nice, neat Kepler curves. Instead, as seen above, the curve has fewer individual data points in it, and the atmosphere produces more scatter between them.

But don’t worry too much about getting it wrong. Past Zooniverse projects have typically had multiple volunteers scan each image to ensure they didn’t put too much weight on any one individual’s judgment. And anything that looks interesting will ultimately be examined by someone who does astronomy for a living.

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Scientists observe total solar eclipse in Antarctica – Global Times

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Scientists from the Chilean Union Glacier Station observe a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, Dec. 4, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

 
Scientists from the Chilean Union Glacier Station observe a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, Dec. 4, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

Scientists from the Chilean Union Glacier Station observe a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, Dec. 4, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

 

Scientists from the Chilean Union Glacier Station observe a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, Dec. 4, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

Scientists from the Chilean Union Glacier Station observe a total solar eclipse in Antarctica, Dec. 4, 2021.Photo:Xinhua

 

Photo taken from Chilean Union Glacier Station in Antarctica on Dec. 4, 2021 shows a total solar eclipse.Photo:Xinhua

Photo taken from Chilean Union Glacier Station in Antarctica on Dec. 4, 2021 shows a total solar eclipse.Photo:Xinhua

 

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Dinosaur Tail Found In Chile Could Point To Discovery Of New Species – NDTV

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Paleontologists have discovered 80 percent of the dinosaur’s skeleton.

Santiago:

Chilean paleontologists on Wednesday presented their findings on a dinosaur discovered three years ago in Patagonia which they said had a highly unusual tail that has stumped researchers.

The remains of the Stegouros elengassen were discovered during excavations in 2018 at Cerro Guido, a site known to harbor numerous fossils, by a team who believed they were dealing with an already known species of dinosaur until they examined its tail.

“That was the main surprise,” said Alexander Vargas, one of the paleontologists. “This structure is absolutely amazing.”

“The tail was covered with seven pairs of osteoderms … producing a weapon absolutely different from anything we know in any dinosaur,” added the researcher during a presentation of the discovery at the University of Chile.

The osteoderms — structures of bony plaques located in the dermal layers of the skin – were aligned on either side of the tail, making it resemble a large fern.

Paleontologists have discovered 80 percent of the dinosaur’s skeleton and estimate that the animal lived in the area 71 to 74.9 million years ago. It was about two meters (almost seven feet) long, weighed 150 kilograms (330 pounds) and was a herbivore.

According to the scientists, who published their research in the journal Nature, the animal could represent a hitherto unknown lineage of armored dinosaur never seen in the southern hemisphere but already identified in the northern part of the continent.

“We don’t know why (the tail) evolved. We do know that within armored dinosaur groups there seems to be a tendency to independently develop different osteoderm-based defense mechanisms,” said Sergio Soto, another member of the team.

The Cerro Guido area, in the Las Chinas valley 3,000 km (1,800 miles) south of Santiago, stretches for 15 kilometers. Various rock outcrops contain numerous fossils.

The finds there allowed the scientists to surmise that present-day America and Antarctica were close to each other millions of years ago.

“There is strong evidence that there is a biogeographic link with other parts of the planet, in this case Antarctica and Australia, because we have two armored dinosaurs there closely related” to the Stegouros, said Soto.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Chinese Rover Exploring What Appears to Be Cube-Shaped Object on Moon – Futurism

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There’s a Moon cube now! At least, it looks that way based on some intriguing photos from the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2, released by the country’s space agency this week.

The photos show a distant object that looks like a perfect cube, and China say the rover is headed to check it out.

It’s worth worth noting a few caveats about the photo, spotted yesterday by space journalist Andrew Jones, who described the formation as a “cubic shape.” For one thing, the object is just a few pixels in the photo, meaning it could easily be some sort of optical illusion that’ll be a disappointment up close.

And China has struggled with lunar science communication in the past. In 2019, Yutu-2 “discovered” a “gel-like substance” on the lunar surface, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be, well, rocks. It also trumpeted the discover of a “shard” on the Moon earlier this year, but that turned out to just be another interesting rock. Did we mention that there’s not a lot other than rocks on the Moon?

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Jones, for his part, is managing expectations.

“So yeah, it’s not an obelisk or aliens, but certainly something to check out,” Jones tweeted in followup.

The idea of alien artifacts on the Moon runs deep in popular culture — remember that one scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey”? — but, needless to say, none have been found in reality.

The apparent cube sits in the Von Kármán crater, and China’s space program has been dubbed it, evocatively, the “mystery house.”

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Yutu-2 will spend two or three lunar days traveling to investigate the cube; lunar days are about 50 minutes longer than solar days on Earth.

Jones speculated that the object could be a boulder carved out by an asteroid impact, and posted a photo of a similarly sharply defined boulder found previously on the Moon’s surface.

CNET’s coverage of the most recent discovery agrees with Jones’ analysis, saying the most likely explanation is that the Moon cube is a boulder.

That’s not to say Yutu-2 hasn’t ever found anything cool. In 2019, CNET reported the rover discovered that the Moon’s surface was made of different materials than we previously thought, a discovery that could better predict how Earth’s internal layers might change over time.

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We’re not saying there isn’t weird stuff on the Moon. After all, we just recently found enough buried oxygen under its surface to sustain billions of people. But suffice it to say we aren’t holding our breath over Moon cube, and if it turns out to be anything other than a rock we’ll be really impressed.

More on space: Scientists Discover Enormous Black Hole Right Near Our Galaxy

Care about supporting clean energy adoption? Find out how much money (and planet!) you could save by switching to solar power at UnderstandSolar.com. By signing up through this link, Futurism.com may receive a small commission.

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