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Uranus Ejected a Giant Plasma Bubble During Voyager 2’s Visit – The New York Times

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Uranus is unquestionably weird. Swirling with mostly water, methane and ammonia, the solar system’s seventh planet is tipped over at 98 degrees, so its magnetic poles take turns directly facing the sun. And its magnetic field is strangely misaligned with the planet’s rotation, causing it to wildly lurch about.

Back in 1986, the ice giant world got what remains its only visitor from Earth — Voyager 2, which is now more than 11 billion miles from Earth, but at that time flew a mere 50,600 miles above Uranus’s cloudy skies. As it passed, Voyager 2 heard an odd magnetic whisper, a signal so ephemeral that it went unnoticed.

More than three decades later, scientists were taking a deep dive into the venerable spacecraft’s data pool, hoping to find scientific mysteries that could help support a return mission to Uranus and its ice giant sibling, Neptune. They unearthed that magnetic hiccup, and realized it represented the detection of a mass of electrically excited gas with a width 10 times Earth’s circumference.

This ginormous bubble was a jettisoned part of Uranus’s atmosphere. Although only one was spotted, other gassy missiles may also be launched every 17 hours, the time it takes Uranus to complete one rotation.

This process is draining the planet’s atmosphere, but scientists aren’t anticipating a vanishing act.

“Even with moderate gassiness, it’s likely that Uranus will be able to hold on to most of its atmosphere for the remainder of the solar system’s life,” said Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at North Carolina State University who was not involved in the research. “Uranus just has that much gas.”

Gina DiBraccio and Dan Gershman, space physicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, were enthralled by Uranus’s pandemonious magnetic field, so they plumbed Voyager 2’s data to see if they could find any hidden curiosities. While reviewing data from the robotic probe’s 45-hour-long close encounter with Uranus in January 1986, they spied a 60-second jolt in its magnetic recording.

As highlighted in a recent NASA blog post, based on a paper published last year, this anomaly was the signal emitted by a 250,000-mile thick cylindrical mass of electrified hydrogen gas from Uranus. The ice giant was losing its atmosphere, a fate it shares with many worlds.

Mars’s ancient, substantial atmosphere kept its abundant surface water liquid. But roughly four billion years ago, its outer core stopped swirling, its global magnetic field collapsed and the solar wind stripped away much of its atmosphere, transforming it into an arid realm. Earth’s magnetic field largely shields its atmosphere from this destructive behavior, but 100 tons of our planet’s gases still disappear into space every single day.

Uranus’s global magnetic field may help it avoid a Mars-like fate. But as Voyager 2 discovered, that protection doesn’t stop it from discharging gassy cannonballs into space.

That colossal, vaporous blob was something called a plasmoid. Plasmoids have been found around several planets, and like snowflakes, no two are alike. This one’s neat, closed magnetic loops suggest it was flung off Uranus by the planet’s speedy rotation.

Plasmoids are known to roll off the elongated magnetic tail that stretches behind a planet’s dark side. If Voyager 2 had spent more time in Uranus’s magnetic tail, said Dr. Gershman, many more plasmoids could have been seen. But we’ll have to go back to spot more.

“This discovery provides yet another reason for blasting off a dedicated mission to Uranus,” Dr. Byrne said.

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COVID-19: Fanshawe team studies possible way to stop virus's spread in body – London Free Press (Blogs)

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Fanshawe College researchers in London are studying a process that could lead to an effective treatment for COVID-19.

“When a virus enters the body, its ability to produce devastating effects is due to its capacity to make copies of itself while evading the body’s immune system,” said Abdulla Mahboob, manager of Fanshawe’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in Biotechnology (CARIB) labs, where the study is underway.

The college team is testing a custom inhibitor they hope will block virus proteins from binding together to help the virus’s genetic material get past cell defences, he said. “If we stop the proteins from binding together, we can expose the virus to the cell’s immunity, which in turn will stop the spread of the virus itself in the patient.”

Scientists are testing the inhibitor using mammalian cells containing the specific proteins targeted in the study, with promising results, the college said.

If effective, the inhibitors would then be tested on the virus in lab-grown cells and work would begin to turn it into a viable treatment for the respiratory disease.

It’s the latest in a number of studies by college scientists, including one looking at the potential benefits of cannabis extract in treating blood clots and inflammation in life-threatening COVID-19 cases.

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Take 2 for SpaceX's first astronaut launch with more storms – CTV News

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. —
SpaceX pressed ahead with its second attempt to launch astronauts for NASA — a historic first for a private company — but more stormy weather threatened more delays.

Elon Musk’s company came within 17 minutes Wednesday of launching a pair of NASA astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the U.S., before the threat of lightning forced a delay.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said managers were debating whether to bump the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of a slightly improved forecast at Kennedy Space Center.

At an outdoor news conference Friday, Bridenstine stressed the need for safety for astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — no matter how many times it takes to launch them in a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.

“We cannot forget this is a test flight. This — is — a — test — flight,” he repeated. “We will go when everything is as safe as we can possibly make it.”

Forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather conditions Saturday at 50-50, with the outlook improving to 60% favourable on Sunday. Rain and clouds were the main concerns for both days.

While NASA urged spectators to stay home because of the pandemic, prime viewing spots at area parks and beaches were packed Wednesday. A weekend launch could draw even bigger crowds. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex reopened Thursday, after a 2 1/2-month shutdown, and within a few hours, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up for Saturday’s launch attempt.

President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were expected to return for the Saturday attempt. The number of employees, journalists and guests inside remained extremely limited because of the pandemic.

Whether an attempt is made Saturday or Sunday, “There will be no pressure. We will launch when we’re ready,” Bridenstine said.

The last time astronauts launched to orbit from the U.S. was in 2011 when Atlantis closed out the 30-year space shuttle program. Hurley was on that mission as well.

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to get the ball rolling again — kicking off a commercial revolution for getting people to low-Earth orbit, according to officials. In the meantime, NASA has spent billions of dollars to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules for U.S. astronauts, in order to keep the space station staffed.

Boeing’s first astronaut flight, on the company’s Starliner capsule, is not expected until next year.

Bridenstine offered high praise for Musk on Friday and all his personal touches: spiffy spacesuits, Tesla rides to the launch pad, a colour-co-ordinated rocket and capsule — and more.

Musk has brought “vision and inspiration” to the American space program, Bridenstine said. While there’s occasionally a little tension between NASA and SpaceX, “he gives me a commitment and he delivers on that commitment. That has happened every single time.”

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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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Proxima b, a confirmed — potentially habitable — Earth-sized planet, is a mere 4.2 light years away – The Post – Ontario

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At 1.17 Earth masses and in the habitable zone, scientists says it’s orbiting the nearest star to our sun

An artist’s depiction of what the surface of Proxima b might look like.

ESO

A team of scientists from the University of Geneva has confirmed the existence of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to the sun. The planet, called Proxima b, is 1.17 times the mass of Earth and is located in the habitable zone of Promixa Centauri, 4.2 light years away.

Because Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, much smaller and cooler than the sun, its habitable zone or Goldilocks zone — neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist — is very close to the star. Proxima b orbits about 20 times closer to its star than Earth does to the sun, and a year on the planet is just over 11 Earth days long.

Red dwarf stars emit huge quantities of X-rays, and the scientists estimate the planet gets 400 times as much radiation as Earth. But Christophe Lovis, a researcher in the astronomy department of the university, was optimistic that this might not rule out the possibility of life, or at least habitability.

“Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” he asks. “And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life — oxygen, for example? How long have these favourable conditions existed?”

Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.

Such questions will, he hopes, be answered in the next few years by the next generation of spectrometers, which will tease out data from the light of the star and its planet. The recent confirmation of Proxima b came from data from a spectrograph called ESPRESSO (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) mounted on the Very Large Telescope (yep, that’s its name) in Chile.

Proxima b was first detected by an earlier instrument called HARPS, or High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher. “We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years”, says lead researcher Francesco Pepe. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements.”

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In addition, data from ESPRESSO included a second signal that could indicate yet another planet orbiting even closer to the star. “If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method,” says Pepe. Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.

Despite the relative nearness of Proxima Centauri as the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, we will have to rely on spectrographic data for the foreseeable future. Our fastest interplanetary probes, the Voyagers and New Horizons, would take tens of thousands of years to reach Proxima Centauri, even if they were headed in that direction. A plan called Breakthrough Starshot imagines a tiny probe travelling at 20 per cent of light speed, and making the journey in 20 years, but it’s still very much on the drawing board.

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