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Strange radio signals detected from Earth-like planet could be a magnetic field necessary for life

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On Earth, we often take our planet’s magnetic field for granted. It protects living creatures from the sun’s rays, draws compass needles north and even creates beautiful auroras. Other worlds in our solar system have magnetic fields too — but what about Earth-like planets around other stars? New research may have revealed a promising lead.

Recent observations from the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescopes in New Mexico revealed evidence of a magnetic field on the rocky exoplanet YZ Ceti b, which orbits a star about 12 light-years away from Earth. This is the first possible detection of a magnetic field on a planet beyond our solar system, according to a study published April 3 in the journal Nature Astronomy (opens in new tab).

“This research shows not only that this particular rocky exoplanet likely has a magnetic field but provides a promising method to find more,” study author Joe Pesce (opens in new tab), director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Magnetic fields are particularly interesting to astronomers because they’re an important part of making a planet habitable. Without a magnetic field, energetic particles from a star can erode a planet’s atmosphere, stripping away the blanket of gas that can support life.

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“The search for potentially habitable or life-bearing worlds in other solar systems depends in part on being able to determine if rocky, Earth-like exoplanets actually have magnetic fields,” Pesce said.

New Mexico’s Very Large Array hunts for signs of extraterrestrial life across the cosmos. (Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF)

YZ Ceti b, however, isn’t a habitable planet. To detect the radio waves from a small, far-away exoplanet’s magnetic field, astronomers had to look towards a particularly extreme example. YZ Ceti b is quite close to its star — far too close to be a pleasant temperature for life — and it’s also orbiting at such a pace  that one of its years is only two Earth days long.

This is so close in that the planet “plows” through material sloughing off of the star, according to the researchers. The planet’s magnetic field pushes electrically charged plasma back toward the star, which then interacts with the star’s own magnetic field, emitting bright flashes of energy.

Essentially, the radio waves the team observed were an aurora on the star, likely created by the interactions with the planet, the team said.

“There should also be an aurora on the planet if it has its own atmosphere,” Sebastian Pineda (opens in new tab), University of Colorado Boulder astronomer and co-author on the new research, said in the statement.

“This is telling us new information about the environment around stars,” Pineda added. “This idea is what we’re calling ‘extrasolar space weather.'”

The team isn’t 100% certain whether the stellar aurora is entirely caused by YZ Ceti b, though. Further observations are needed to confirm this is actually due to a rocky planet’s magnetic field, and not just a feature of the star itself. However, the team remains optimistic that these findings could lead to future breakthroughs in the search for habitable alien planets.

Study co-author Jackie Villadsen (opens in new tab), an astronomer at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, said in the statement that this “could really plausibly be” the first detection of a magnetic field on a rocky exoplanet. “But I think it’s going to be a lot of follow-up work before a really strong confirmation of radio waves caused by a planet comes out,” she added.

 

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How to watch the Axiom-2 mission depart from the ISS on Tuesday

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This Tuesday, the crew of the second-ever all-private mission to the International Space Station will be returning to Earth. The Axiom 2 or Ax-2 mission launched last week and saw private astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi traveling to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Axiom Mission 2 Undocks From the International Space Station (Official NASA Broadcast)

Now, the crew of four will be traveling back to Earth in the same Crew Dragon, and NASA will be livestreaming the departure of the spacecraft from the station. A separate stream will also be available showing the Crew Dragon splashing down off the coast of Florida. We’ve got the details on how to watch both below.

How to watch the mission departure

The Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members pose for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station. NASA

Coverage of the departure of the Crew Dragon from the ISS will begin at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 30. NASA will show a short introduction before the closing of the hatch of the station’s Harmony module at 9:10 a.m. ET (6:10 a.m. PT). There will then be a short break in coverage, which will resume at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT) to show the undocking of the Dragon at 11:05 a.m. ET (8:05 a.m. PT), with coverage ending 30 minutes after undocking.

You can watch the livestream of the hatch closing and the undocking on NASA’s YouTube channel, or by using the video embedded near the top of this page.

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The crew will then travel back to Earth throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, May 31. When the Crew Dragon is approaching Earth for splashdown, you’ll be able to tune into a livestream from Axiom Space. That will be available on Axiom’s website, but the company has not yet confirmed the exact time that coverage is expected to begin on Wednesday. You can find the latest updates on Axiom Twitter.

What to expect from the mission departure

The Ax-2 crew will have spent 10 days in space before heading home, and they will be bringing around 300 pounds of cargo back with them. The mission is notable for including the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as famous American astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more days in space than any other American or any other woman.

Axiom Space launched its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with a third mission planned for November this year and a fourth planned for 2024.

 

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NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Captures ''Heart-Shaped'' Glacier On Pluto's Surface – NDTV

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Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system

Space agency NASA routinely captures stunning images of our universe, leaving space lovers mesmerized. On Sunday, NASA shared a stunning image on Instagram taken by its New Horizons spacecraft showing a heart-shaped glacier on Pluto’s surface. The heart-shaped region is known unofficially as Tombaugh Regio and is made of nitrogen and methane.

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The image was captioned as ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our New Horizons spacecraft captured this heart-shaped glacier. It lies on Pluto’s surface, which also features mountains, cliffs, valleys, craters, and plains, thought to be made of methane and nitrogen ice ”

See the image here:

It described the image as ”Pluto’s surface is marked with cracks and craters in shades of brown. The partially visible heart appears in the lower right of the small world, which is surrounded by black space.⁣”

New Horizons launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, flying within 7,800 miles of its surface, and becoming the first probe to fly by Pluto and its moons. The far-traveling spacecraft also visited a distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in January 2019. 

Instagram users loved the picture and shared a variety of comments.  One user wrote, ”Wouahh what a great capture, thanks to New Horizon spacecraft.” Another commented, ”For me, Pluto will always be a planet.” 

A third said, ”Why is Pluto, not a plane? it literally has a heart!” A fourth added, ”Being afar doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”

Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, however, it was demoted in 2006 and reclassified as a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet.

Pluto is slightly over 1,400 miles (2250 km) wide or about half the breadth of the United States or two-thirds the width of the Moon. With its average temperature of -387F (-232C) – Pluto’s surface is coated in ice made of water, methane, and nitrogen and is believed to have a rocky core and possibly a deep ocean. 

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This Week @NASA: Private Astronaut Mission, Autonomous Snake-Like Robot Explorer, TROPICS Launch – SciTechDaily

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Illustration of the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) concept. Credit NASA/JPL-CalTech

The second all-private astronaut mission to the space station …

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Completing the set of tiny severe weather trackers …

And a robotic explorer – with a twist …

A few of the stories to tell you about – This Week at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

NASA
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot; NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA!

[embedded content]

Second Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station

On May 21, a <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

SpaceX
Commonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Axiom Mission 2, the second all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.

The four-person crew, commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, is scheduled to spend several days conducting research, outreach, and commercial activities on the space station.

Rocket Lab TROPICS CubeSats

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand at 11:46 a.m, on May 25, 2023, carrying two TROPICS CubeSats for NASA. Credit: Rocket Lab

Final Pair of Storm-Observing CubeSats Launched

The final two CubeSats for NASA’s TROPICS mission launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on May 26. The small satellites will join two other identical spacecraft that launched to orbit earlier this month.

All four will fly, as a constellation, in a unique low Earth orbit that will allow them to observe tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, more often than what is possible with
current weather satellites.

Snake Robot EELS at Ski Resort

Team members from JPL test a snake robot called EELS at a ski resort in the Southern California mountains in February. Designed to sense its environment, calculate risk, travel, and gather data without real-time human input, EELS could eventually explore destinations throughout the solar system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Autonomous Snake-Like Robotic Explorer

A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS, short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. The self-propelled, autonomous robot is
being developed to go where other robots can’t go.

Although it was inspired by a desire to look for signs of life in the sub-surface ocean on <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and has the second-largest mass in the Solar System. It has a much lower density than Earth but has a much greater volume. Saturn's name comes from the Roman god of wealth and agriculture.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, EELS is not currently part of any NASA mission.

Hot Fire RS-25 Certification Engine

NASA completed a crucial hot fire test of the RS-25 engine, part of a 12-test certification series for future Artemis missions. This achievement brings NASA one step closer to landing the first woman and person of color on the Moon, as well as establishing a long-term lunar presence. Credit: NASA / Stennis

Artemis Rocket Engine Test Series Continues

On May 23, NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a hot fire test of an RS-25 rocket engine. It was the eighth hot fire of the current 12-test series to certify production of new RS-25s.

Four of the engines will help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon.

That’s what’s up this week @NASA.

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