Asteroid As Large As A Mountain Will Fly Near Earth This Weekend

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Asteroid As Large As A Mountain Will Fly Near Earth This Weekend


By Dr Alfredo Carpineti

20 AUG 2021, 10:54

On Saturday, August 21, a potentially hazardous asteroid will safely fly past Earth at a distance of just 3.4 million kilometers (2.1 million miles), the closest approach for several decades. That’s just 8.9 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Asteroid 2016 AJ193 is larger than 99 percent of all known Near-Earth objects and so it is good to keep an eye on it.

The space rock measures 1.37 kilometers (0.85 miles) according to measurements from NASA’s spacecraft NEOWISE. It is also surprisingly dark, reflecting very little light back making this close (and safe) approach an important chance to better study the object.

It was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) facility – located at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii in January 2016. It is important to stress that an asteroid with the potential to devastate our planet was only discovered five years ago.

The asteroid orbits around the Sun every 5.9 years going far beyond the orbit of Jupiter and then as far as the orbit of Venus, with quite the inclination with respect to the plane of the solar system. Its next really close passage to Earth will be August 19, 2080, where the asteroid will be at about twice the distance that it will be on Saturday.

The orbital path of 2016 AJ193 around the Sun. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Professional astronomers will study this object using the Goldstone Observatory in California together with observatories in Spain, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The observations will cover the period August 20 to August 24, roughly the time that it is observable for them.

But if you are passionate about astronomy and you have a telescope, you to can look for it in the sky. Despite its dimness, astronomers expect that it should brighten to at least the 14th magnitude during its close approach.

Telescopes of 20 centimeters (8 inches) or larger should be able to spot it. It will appear in the constellation of Lepus, near the Mu Leporis star. Better watch it just before dawn.

“Not only is 2016 AJ193 a near-Earth asteroid, but it is too classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid. The flyby from a roughly 1-mile (~1.4 kilometers) large body does not only require specific attention, but it is also a clear reminder of the importance of building a community of observers capable of observing the sky from everywhere and all the time,” Franck Marchis, chief scientific officer at Unistellar, told IFLScience.

Asteroid the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza to fly (safely) by Earth Sunday

By Jeanna Bryner – Live Science Editor-in-Chief about 2 hours ago

3D illustration of an asteroid flying past Earth. (Image credit: Aleksandra Sova via Shutterstock)

An asteroid about as long as the Great Pyramid of Giza is tall will make a “close” approach with Earth on Sunday (July 25), according to NASA calculations.

There is no worry that the space rock poses any threat to Earth, but NASA monitors such rocks to both learn more about the early solar system — asteroids are rocky fragments from that time — and because if their orbits were to change, the asteroid could pose a future risk to Earth.

Related: Top 10 ways to destroy Earth

On its closest approach, the near-Earth asteroid, called 2008 GO20, will swing within 2.8 million miles (4.5 million kilometers) of our blue marble. It will be trekking at a whopping 18,000 mph (nearly 29,000 km/h), according to news reports. RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…

The rock is estimated to be anywhere from 318 to 720 feet (97 to 220 meters) across. (The Great Pyramid of Giza stands at 450 feet, or 138 m, tall.) Any space rock larger than about 490 feet (150 m) across that is expected to make a shave with Earth within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million km) is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA); NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies monitors all PHAs. For comparison, that distance is 19.5 times the span between Earth and the moon.

And in reality, that distance doesn’t hold a candle to the closest known flyby by an asteroid (at least one that didn’t smash into us), which occurred on Aug. 16, 2020, when 2020 QG zipped just 1,830 miles (2,950 kilometers) above the Indian Ocean, Live Science sister site reported. Such little space rocks pose no danger to life on Earth.RELATED CONTENT

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On the other hand, 2008 GO20 is “potentially hazardous” because over time the gravitational tug of the planets could change the object’s orbital path so that it crosses Earth’s orbit. If that were to happen, a future collision with our planet is possible, NASA said.

This isn’t the first time 2008 GO20 has visited Earth’s quarters. It made its closest approach on Aug. 4, 1901, when the asteroid swung to 806,856 miles (1.3 million km) of our planet, according to NASA records. Its next closest flyby happened on July 31, 1935 at a distance of 1.15 million miles (1.85 million km) of Earth. When it next flies by Earth, on July 24, 20342008 GO20 will get as close as 3.1 million miles (5 million km).

Bezos’s Space Stunt Got Almost as Much TV Time as Climate Crisis in All of 2020

Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard during a press conference on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas.
Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard during a press conference on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas.

BYSharon ZhangTruthoutPUBLISHEDJuly 21, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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READING LISTECONOMY & LABORPoverty Wages and Tax Dodging Funded Bezos’s Ridiculous Space TripPOLITICS & ELECTIONSTrump Has Convinced His Followers He’s About to Return to Office This SummerWAR & PEACEBiden Promised Diplomacy, But He’s Overseeing Military Buildup Against ChinaPOLITICS & ELECTIONSInvestigating Trump Is “Absolutely” a Possibility, Says Jan 6 Commission ChairPOLITICS & ELECTIONSAOC Calls GOP Refusal to Advance Infrastructure Bill Tactics for “Killing Time”IMMIGRATIONLet’s Call the “Border Crisis” What It Is: Another Big Lie From the Right

Broadcast news networks are notoriously bad at covering the climate crisis, dedicating a vanishingly small amount of airtime — year after year — to the grave existential threat despite the many potential stories they could be running about it.

Their neglect of the climate crisis is on stark display in a new statistic: According to Media Matters for America, morning TV shows spent nearly as much time on Jeff Bezos’s space launch on July 20, 2021 as they did on the climate crisis in all of 2020.

The morning shows on broadcast networks combined spent 212 minutes covering Bezos’s space trip just on Tuesday alone, Media Matters researchers found. Meanwhile, in the entirety of last year, the shows spent a combined 267 minutes on the climate crisis.

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Bezos’s space trip was 11 minutes long. By contrast, the climate crisis has been ongoing for decades and daily threatens the fabric of our society and the continued existence of our species, if it continues unabated.

Further, Bezos’s trip to space was largely a PR stunt, meant to garner excitement around the billionaire and his space company while also buying fawning coverage from news outlets. It comes at a time when billionaires have come under increased scrutiny for paying zero or fewer taxes than ordinary working people and progressives put forward the argument that nobody should be allowed to accrue as much wealth as people like the Amazon CEO.

As progressives argue, the space trip was wasteful and almost insulting to the Amazon workers, who, under Bezos, suffer terrible work conditions. “Amazon workers did pay for this — with lower wages, union busting, a frenzied and inhumane workplace, and delivery drivers not having health insurance during a pandemic,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter.

And yet, judging by the amount of coverage that the morning broadcast shows dedicated to the Bezos flight versus the climate crisis, it would almost seem as though they’re of equivalent importance.

In fact, CNN recently bumped climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who was slated to discuss the climate crisis as Death Valley was hitting record high temperatures, in order to cover the other recent billionaire space stunt — businessman Richard Branson’s brief jaunt to the edge of space.

CNN’s decision to bump Hayhoe for Branson’s stunt “shows that cable news, and TV news as a whole, still largely continues to fail at grasping the climate crisis as the existential threat it is,” wrote Earther’s Molly Taft. “Instead, coverage prioritizes entertainment and sensationalism that keeps people watching the commercial breaks.”

What makes it especially frustrating too, Taft writes, is that TV news networks appear to be reaching a breakthrough with covering climate this year. Networks linked recent heat waves in the American West to climate change in 27 percent of segmentsMedia Matters research showed, and have improved coverage in recent months.

Mentioning the climate crisis in 27 percent of segments on the heat wave is still quite low, especially when researchers have found that it was almost certainly brought on and worsened by climate change.

Indeed, climate advocates have expressed frustration for years that broadcast news as a whole largely ignores the climate crisis. In 2019, according to Media Matters, broadcast news shows dedicated less than 1 percent of their reporting to the climate crisis.

That’s despite the fact that 2019 was a landmark year for the climate crisis as the second warmest year on record at the time. It’s now been bumped to third place, with 2020 tying for first place with 2016. And 2019 was even an improvement on 2018’s coverage, with networks having spent a combined 238 minutes on climate in 2019 versus only 142 minutes the year before.

Media analysts and climate communication researchers argue that broadcast news — and media at large — can make a difference with more urgent and frequent climate coverage. The American public is growing more and more concerned about the climate crisis despite a dearth of coverage from corporate news outlets, and that impact could be even higher if the networks dedicate the time and effort to cover it.

The largest comet ever discovered in modern times is zooming toward the sun

Doyle RiceUSA TODAY0:001:14

  • “We have the privilege of having discovered perhaps the largest comet ever seen.”
  • It has not visited the solar system in more than 3 million years.
  • People here on Earth will likely need to rely on telescopes to capture photographs of it.

This is a big one.

A giant comet – which scientists say is arguably the largest comet discovered in modern times – is on its way toward the sun and will make its closest approach to Earth in 2031.

“We have the privilege of having discovered perhaps the largest comet ever seen – or at least larger than any well-studied one – and caught it early enough for people to watch it evolve as it approaches and warms up,” said University of Pennsylvania astronomer Gary Bernstein, a co-discoverer of the object.

It is the most distant comet to be discovered on its incoming path, giving us years to watch it evolve as it approaches the sun, the National Science Foundation said. 

The comet is also an infrequent visitor to our neck of the woods: “It has not visited the solar system in more than 3 million years,” Bernstein said in a statement.

The comet, which is estimated to be 60 to 120 miles across, or about 10 times the diameter of most comets, is an icy relic flung out of the solar system by the migrating giant planets in the early history of the solar system.

This comet is quite unlike any other seen before, the National Science Foundation said, and the huge size estimate is based on how much sunlight it reflects. 

This illustration shows the distant Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein as it might look in the outer solar system. Comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein is estimated to be about 1,000 times more massive than a typical comet, making it arguably the largest comet discovered in modern times.

At its current pace, the comet will travel from its current point just past Neptune’s orbit to nearly reach Saturn’s orbit in 2031, Smithsonian magazine said.

The object probably will only be about as bright as Pluto’s moon Charon at that point, according to New Atlas, so people here on Earth will likely need to rely on telescopes to capture photographs of it. Then it will head back into distant space from where it came.

Comet Neowise:7 awe-inspiring photos show Comet Neowise light up the sky

The comet probably came from the Oort Cloud, which is believed to be a giant spherical shell that surrounds the solar system, according to NASA. Most long-period comets such as this one come from the Oort Cloud, NASA said.

It could be the largest object from the Oort Cloud ever detected, and it is the first comet on an incoming path to be detected so far away.

Astronomers suspect that there may be many more undiscovered comets of this size waiting in the Oort Cloud. These giant comets are thought to have been scattered to the far reaches of the solar system by the migration of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune early in their history.

The comet is dubbed Bernardinelli-Bernstein after the two astronomers who discovered it: Pedro Bernardinelli (also from the University of Pennsylvania) and Gary Bernstein. Its official name is 2014 UN271.

Scientists identify 29 planets where aliens could observe Earth

Astronomers estimate 29 habitable planets are positioned to see Earth transit and intercept human broadcasts

The scientists identified 1,715 star systems where alien observers could have discovered Earth in the past 5,000 years by watching it ‘transit’ across the face of the sun. Photograph: c/o Cornell

Ian Sample Science editor@iansampleWed 23 Jun 2021 11.00 EDT

For centuries, Earthlings have gazed at the heavens and wondered about life among the stars. But as humans hunted for little green men, the extraterrestrials might have been watching us back.

In new research, astronomers have drawn up a shortlist of nearby star systems where any inquisitive inhabitants on orbiting planets would be well placed to spot life on Earth.

The scientists identified 1,715 star systems in our cosmic neighbourhood where alien observers could have discovered Earth in the past 5,000 years by watching it “transit” across the face of the sun.

Among those in the right position to observe an Earth transit, 46 star systems are close enough for their planets to intercept a clear signal of human existence – the radio and TV broadcasts which started about 100 years ago.Advertisement

The researchers estimate that 29 potentially habitable planets are well positioned to witness an Earth transit, and eavesdrop on human radio and television transmissions, allowing any observers to infer perhaps a modicum of intelligence. Whether the broadcasts would compel an advanced civilisation to make contact is a moot point.

“One way we find planets is if they block out part of the light from their host star,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University in New York. “We asked, ‘Who would we be the aliens for if somebody else was looking?’ There is this tiny sliver in the sky where other star systems have a cosmic front seat to find Earth as a transiting planet.”

Earthly astronomers have detected thousands of planets beyond the solar system. About 70% are spotted when alien worlds pass in front of their host stars and block some of the light that reaches scientists’ telescopes. Future observatories, such as Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope due to launch this year, will look for signs of life on “exoplanets” by analysing the composition of their atmospheres.

To work out which nearby star systems are well placed to observe an Earth transit, Kaltenegger and Dr Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, turned to the European Space Agency’s Gaia catalogue of star positions and motions. From this they identified 2,034 star systems within 100 parsecs (326 light years) that could spot an Earth transit any time from 5,000 years ago to 5,000 years in the future.

One star known as Ross 128, a red dwarf in the Virgo constellation, is about 11 light years away – close enough to receive Earth broadcasts – and has a planet nearly twice the size of Earth. Any suitably equipped life on the planet could have spotted an Earth transit for more than 2,000 years, but lost the vantage point 900 years ago. If there is intelligent life on any of the two known planets orbiting Teegarden’s star, 12.5 light years away, it will be in a prime position to watch Earth transits in 29 years’ time.

At 45 light years away, another star called Trappist-1 is also close enough to eavesdrop on human broadcasts. The star hosts at least seven planets, four of them in the temperate, habitable zone, but they will not be in position to witness an Earth transit for another 1,642 years, the scientists write in Nature.

The findings come as the US government prepares to publish a hotly anticipated report on unidentified flying objects (UFOs). The report from the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, which was set up to gain insights into the nature and origins of unknown aircraft, is not expected to reveal evidence of alien antics, or rule it out.

Prof Beth Biller at Edinburgh University’s Institute for Astronomy, who was not involved in the Nature study, said the work could change how scientists approach Seti, the search for extraterrestrial life. “What was striking to me was how few of the stars within 100 parsecs could have viewed a transiting Earth,” she said.

“The transit method requires a very precise alignment between the transiting planet, its star, and the sun for a given planet to be detectable, so this result is not surprising. Now I am curious about what fraction of the stars in the Gaia catalogue of nearby stars have the right vantage point to detect the Earth via other exoplanet detection methods, such as the radial velocity method or direct imaging!”

An enormous ‘mega comet’ is flying into our solar system

SPACE 21 June 2021

By Jonathan O’Callaghan

New Scientist Default Image
A large object in the outer solar system may be a “mega comet”MARK GARLICK/Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

Astronomers have discovered a huge and previously unknown object entering our solar system that will reach the orbit of Saturn in 2031. It is possibly the largest body from the outer reaches of our solar system ever found to make such a close approach to the sun.

Known as 2014 UN271, it is estimated to be between 100 and 370 kilometres across. The object was spotted by the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a project using the Victor …

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The surface of Venus is geologically active

22 June 2021/

Amalyah Hart

New study of the ‘hellish’ planet reveals tectonic activity, disproves solid lithosphere theory.

A 1,100 km-wide, false-color radar view of Lavinia Planitia, one of the lowland regions on Venus where the lithosphere has fragmented into blocks (purple) delineated by belts of tectonic structures (yellow). Image credit:NC State University based upon NASA/JCL imagery

Venus’ surface is not a single, solid “lithosphere”, as once thought, but a patchwork of tectonic plates with similar activity to – but not the same as – those here on Earth, according to a new study out today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

The study shows that these tectonic plates jostle and bump against one another like pack ice on a frozen lake, suggesting Venus is still geologically active.

“We’ve identified a previously unrecognised pattern of tectonic deformation on Venus, one that is driven by interior motion just like on Earth,” says Paul Byrne, associate professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University, the lead and co-corresponding author of the work. “Although different from the tectonics we currently see on Earth, it is still evidence of interior motion being expressed at the planet’s surface.”

Byrne and an international team of researchers used radar images from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, which imaged the entire surface of Venus before plunging into the Venusian atmosphere in the summer of 1993 and breaking apart. Looking at the extensive Venusian lowlands, the team saw areas where large blocks of the lithosphere appeared to have moved, some pulling apart, others pushing together, and others sliding past one another.

By creating a computer model of this deformation, the team found that sluggish motion in the planet’s interior explains the more gentle tectonic activity occurring on Venus – as opposed to the violent tectonic motions on Earth, which can create huge mountain ranges or vast subduction systems.

The find is significant because Venus was once thought to have a motionless, solid surface just like Mars or the Moon, rather than a geologically active, moving surface.

“We know that much of Venus has been volcanically resurfaced over time, so some parts of the planet might be really young, geologically speaking,” Byrne says. “But several of the jostling blocks have formed in and deformed these young lava plains, which means that the lithosphere fragmented after those plains were laid down. This gives us reason to think that some of these blocks may have moved geologically very recently – perhaps even up to today.”

The new “pack ice” pattern identified on our furnace-hot neighbour may offer clues about the deformation of tectonic plates on planets outside the solar system, as well as the geological formation of early Earth.

“The thickness of a planet’s lithosphere depends mainly upon how hot it is, both in the interior and on the surface,” Byrne says. “Heat flow from the young Earth’s interior was up to three times greater than it is now, so its lithosphere may have been similar to what we see on Venus today: not thick enough to form plates that subduct, but thick enough to have fragmented into blocks that pushed, pulled, and jostled.”

The new study is part of a renaissance in interest surrounding our neighbouring planet. Both NASA and the European Space Agency recently approved three new missions to Venus that will observe the planet’s surface and assess whether it once held oceans – and potentially life.

“It’s great to see renewed interest in the exploration of Venus, and I’m particularly excited that these missions will be able to test our key finding that the planet’s lowlands have fragmented into jostling crustal blocks,” Byrne says.

Hundreds of mysterious fast radio bursts detected in space

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

Updated 1:28 AM ET, Thu June 10, 2021

(CNN)Hundreds of mysterious fast radio bursts have been detected in space thanks to a Canadian telescope and an international group of researchers.The origins of these bright, millisecond-long flashes of light are unknown because the bursts, or FRBs, are unpredictable and vanish quickly. Scientists first observed them in 2007. In the decade following, they only observed about 140 bursts across the universe.”The thing about FRBs is that they are really hard to catch,” said Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics at MIT and member of the university’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “You have to have your radio telescope pointed at just the right place at just the right time and you can’t predict where or when that will be.”

Most radio telescopes only see a patch of sky the size of the moon at a given time, meaning the vast majority of FRBs go unseen, Masui said.

That all changed when the CHIME telescope, located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia, Canada, began receiving radio signals in 2018 during its first year of operation.

The CHIME radio telescope array, pictured here, detected 535 fast radio bursts in its first year of operation.The CHIME radio telescope array, pictured here, detected 535 fast radio bursts in its first year of operation.The stationary radio telescope, called the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, detected 535 new fast radio bursts between 2018 and 2019.This enabled scientists to create the CHIME catalog of fast radio bursts, which was presented Wednesday at the 238th American Astronomical Society Meeting, an event that’s occurring virtually.

Not only does the catalog expand on the known number of fast radio bursts, but it also broadens the information available about their locations and properties. While most of the fast radio bursts occurred just once, 61 of them were repeating fast radio bursts from 18 sources. The repeating bursts appear differently — each flash lasts a little longer than the single bursts.When a burst repeats, scientists have a much better chance of tracing it back to its point of origin. These locations could help scientists determine what causes the bursts as well.

Fast radio burst may have come from the Milky Way

Fast radio burst may have come from the Milky WayBased on their observations, the researchers believe that single fast radio bursts may have sources that are different from repeating ones.”With all these sources, we can really start getting a picture of what FRBs look like as a whole, what astrophysics might be driving these events, and how they can be used to study the universe going forward,” said Kaitlyn Shin, CHIME member and a graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Physics, in a statement.

How CHIME works

The CHIME telescope functions a bit differently from others used for radio astronomy. The array of four giant radio antennas, comparable to the size and shape of half-pipes used for snowboarding, are entirely motionless. As Earth rotates on its axis, this array receives radio signals from half of the sky.Typically, radio dishes move to capture light from different areas in the sky. Instead, CHIME uses an all digital design and has a correlator, a digital signaling processor to capture incoming radio signals. It can churn through massive amounts of data — about 7 terabits per second, or the equivalent of a small percentage of global internet traffic.

Mysterious fast radio bursts traced to spiral galaxy arms

Mysterious fast radio bursts traced to spiral galaxy arms“Digital signal processing is what makes CHIME able to reconstruct and ‘look’ in thousands of directions simultaneously,” Masui said. “That’s what helps us detect FRBs a thousand times more often than a traditional telescope.”The 535 bursts detected by CHIME came from all parts of the sky — and space. Based on the information they gathered, the researchers calculated that these bright fast radio bursts likely occur about 800 times per day across the entire sky.”That’s kind of the beautiful thing about this field — FRBs are really hard to see, but they’re not uncommon,” Masui said. “If your eyes could see radio flashes the way you can see camera flashes, you would see them all the time if you just looked up.”While these bursts would be intriguing enough based on their mysterious nature alone, scientists also believe they can use the bursts to have a better understanding of the universe and even map the distribution of gas across it.Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.When these radio waves travel through space, it’s likely they’re encountering gas or plasma. This can distort the waves, change their properties and even their trajectory. Determining this information about a radio burst could help scientists estimate the distance it traveled and how much gas it encountered.”This carries a record within it of the structure of the universe that it has traveled through on its way to get from the source to us,” Masui said. “Because of this, we think that they are going to be the ultimate tool for studying the universe.”Many of these bright radio bursts detected by CHIME traveled from distant galaxies and were likely created by incredibly energetic sources — but researchers are still trying to determine the exact nature of those sources.This sky map shows fast radio bursts based on CHIME detections. This sky map shows fast radio bursts based on CHIME detections.

With enough fast radio bursts, it may be possible to map out the large-scale structure of the universe.”These large structures make up the filaments of the cosmic web,” said Alex Josephy, a doctoral student in physics at McGill University in Canada. “With the FRB catalog, we have detected this correlation between FRBs and large-scale structure. This is really, really exciting and ushers in a new era of (fast radio burst) cosmology.”

Scientists discover new exoplanet with an atmosphere ripe for study

JUNE 9, 2021

by University of New Mexico

Scientists discover new exoplanet with an atmosphere ripe for study
An artist’s impression shows an exoplanet orbiting the Sun-like star. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

An international group of collaborators, including scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and The University of New Mexico, have discovered a new, temperate sub-Neptune sized exoplanet with a 24-day orbital period orbiting a nearby M dwarf star. The recent discovery offers exciting research opportunities thanks to the planet’s substantial atmosphere, small star, and how fast the system is moving away from the Earth.

The research, titled TOI-1231 b: A Temperate, Neptune-Sized Planet Transiting the Nearby M3 Dwarf NLTT 24399, will be published in a future issue of The Astronomical Journal. The exoplanet, TOI-1231 b, was detected using photometric data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and followed up with observations using the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS) on the Magellan Clay telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. The PFS is a sophisticated instrument that detects exoplanets through their gravitational influence on their host stars. As the planets orbit their hosts, the measured stellar velocities vary periodically, revealing the planetary presence and information about their mass and orbit.

The observing strategy adopted by NASA’s TESS, which divides each hemisphere into 13 sectors that are surveyed for roughly 28 days, is producing the most comprehensive all-sky search for transiting planets. This approach has already proven its capability to detect both large and small planets around stars ranging from sun-like down to low-mass M dwarf stars. M dwarf stars, also known as a red dwarf, are the most common type of star in the Milky Way making up some 70 percent of all stars in the galaxy.

M dwarfs are smaller and possess a fraction of the sun’s mass and have low luminosity. Because an M dwarf is smaller, when a planet of a given size transits the star, the amount of light that is blocked out by the planet is larger, making the transit more easily detectable. Imagine an Earth-like planet passing in front of a star the size of the sun, it’s going to block out a tiny bit of light; but if it’s passing in front of a star that’s a lot smaller, the proportion of light that’s blocked out will be larger. In a sense, this creates a larger shadow on the surface of the star, making planets around M dwarfs more easily detectable and easier to study.

Although it enables the detection of exoplanets across the sky, TESS’s survey strategy also produces significant observational biases based on orbital period. Exoplanets must transit their host stars at least twice within TESS ‘s observing span to be detected with the correct period by the Science Processing Operations Center (SPOC) pipeline and the Quick Look Pipeline (QLP), which search the 2-minute and 30-minute cadence TESS data, respectively. Because 74 percent of TESS’ total sky coverage is only observed for 28 days, the majority of TESS exoplanets detected have periods less than 14 days. TOI-1231b’s 24-day period, therefore, makes its discovery even more valuable.×280&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=7tK2NikwAf&p=https%3A//

NASA JPL scientist Jennifer Burt, the lead author of the paper, along with her collaborators including Diana Dragomir, an assistant professor in UNM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, measured both the radius and mass of the planet.

“Working with a group of excellent astronomers spread across the globe, we were able to assemble the data necessary to characterize the host star and measure both the radius and mass of the planet,” said Burt. “Those values in turn allowed us to calculate the planet’s bulk density and hypothesize about what the planet is made out of. TOI-1231 b is pretty similar in size and density to Neptune, so we think it has a similarly large, gaseous atmosphere.”

“Another advantage of exoplanets orbiting M dwarf hosts is that we can measure their masses easier because the ratio of the planet mass to the stellar mass is also larger. When the star is smaller and less massive, it makes detection methods work better because the planet suddenly plays a bigger role as it stands out more easily in relation to the star,” explained Dragomir. “Like the shadow cast on the star. The smaller the star, the less massive the star, the more the effect of the planet can be detected.

“Even though TOI 1231b is eight times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, its temperature is similar to that of Earth, thanks to its cooler and less bright host star,” says Dragomir. “However, the planet itself is actually larger than earth and a little bit smaller than Neptune—we could call it a sub-Neptune.”

Burt and Dragomir, who actually initiated this research while they were Fellows at MIT’s Kavli Institute, worked with scientists specializing in observing and characterizing the atmospheres of small planets to figure out which current and future space-based missions might be able to peer into TOI-1231 b’s outer layers to inform researchers exactly what kinds of gases are swirling around the planet. With a temperature around 330 Kelvin or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, TOI-1231b is one of the coolest, small exoplanets accessible for atmospheric studies discovered thus far.

Past research suggests planets this cool may have clouds high in their atmospheres, which makes it hard to determine what types of gases surround them. But new observations of another small, cool planet called K2-18 b broke this trend and showed evidence of water in its atmosphere, surprising many astronomers.

“TOI-1231 b is one of the only other planets we know of in a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will let us determine just how common (or rare) it is for water clouds to form around these temperate worlds,” said Burt.

Additionally, with its host star’s high Near-Infrared (NIR) brightness, it makes an exciting target for future missions with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The first set of these observations, led by one of the paper’s co-authors, should take place later this month using the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The low density of TOI 1231b indicates that it is surrounded by a substantial atmosphere rather than being a rocky planet. But the composition and extent of this atmosphere are unknown!” said Dragomir. “TOI1231b could have a large hydrogen or hydrogen-helium atmosphere, or a denser water vapor atmosphere. Each of these would point to a different origin, allowing astronomers to understand whether and how planets form differently around M dwarfs when compared to the planets around our Sun, for example. Our upcoming HST observations will begin to answer these questions, and JWST promises an even more thorough look into the planet’s atmosphere.”

Another way to study the planet’s atmosphere is to investigate whether gas is being blown away, by looking for evidence of atoms like hydrogen and helium surrounding the planet as it transits across the face of its host star. Generally, hydrogen atoms are almost impossible to detect because their presence is masked by interstellar gas. But this planet-star system offers a unique opportunity to apply this method because of how fast it’s moving away from the Earth.

“One of the most intriguing results of the last two decades of exoplanet science is that, thus far, none of the new planetary systems we’ve discovered look anything like our own solar system,” said Burt. “They’re full of planets between the size of Earth and Neptune on orbits much shorter than Mercury’s, so we don’t have any local examples to compare them to. This new planet we’ve discovered is still weird—but it’s one step closer to being somewhat like our neighborhood planets. Compared to most transiting planets detected thus far, which often have scorching temperatures in the many hundreds or thousands of degrees, TOI-1231 b is positively frigid.”

In closing, Dragomir reflects that “this planet joins the ranks of just two or three other nearby small exoplanets that will be scrutinized with every chance we get and using a wide range of telescopes, for years to come so keep an eye out for new TOI1231b developments!”

This article is in press at The Astronomical Journal.

Explore furtherNew sub-Neptune exoplanet discovered by astronomers

NASA aims for 2 new missions to Venus to learn more about ‘lost habitable’ world

13 hours ago

In 1989, NASA used a space shuttle to send its Magellan spacecraft into orbit around Venus

By Edmund DeMarche | Fox News


Fox News Flash top headlines for June 2

For the past few years, Mars has been having its moment. 

The planet has captured the fascination of Hollywood, the U.S. and China both landed rovers on its surface and Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, recently announced that his company hopes to launch its next-generation rocket in 2022 from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico. His sights are set on Mars.

Other planets have become something of an afterthought. When was the last time you caught yourself thinking about Neptune? Pluto had the worst fate of all and in 2006 was downgraded to dwarf planet.


But NASA on Wednesday announced its intention to bring more attention to Venus, the second planet from the sun. The planet–which is one of the brightest objects in the night sky–  is considered an “inferno-like world” but may have been “the first habitable world in the solar system, complete with an ocean and Earth-like climate.”

NASA said in a statement that the two missions to the planet will be part of its Discovery Program and will award about $500 million per mission for development. The voyages are expected to take place at the end of the decade.

One will study the planet’s atmosphere, which could shed light on whether the planet once had an ocean. The other mission will study the planet’s surface in hopes to learn “why it developed so differently than Earth.”

The U.S. and the former Soviet Union sent multiple spacecraft to Venus in the early days of space exploration. NASA’s Mariner 2 performed the first successful flyby in 1962, and the Soviets’ Venera 7 made the first successful landing in 1970.

In 1989, NASA used a space shuttle to send its Magellan spacecraft into orbit around Venus.


The European Space Agency put a spacecraft around Venus in 2006.

“It is astounding how little we know about Venus, but the combined results of these missions will tell us about the planet from the clouds in its sky through the volcanoes on its surface all the way down to its very core,” Tom Wagner, NASA’s Discovery Program scientist, said in the statement. “It will be as if we have rediscovered the planet.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report