Earth Resides in Oddball Solar System, Alien Worlds Show

Original Article

Our solar system may be an oddball in the universe. A new study using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope shows that in most cases, exoplanets orbiting the same star have similar sizes and regular spacing between their orbits.

By contrast, our own solar system has a range of planetary sizes and distances between neighbors. The smallest planet, Mercury, is about one-third the size of Earth — and the biggest planet, Jupiter, is roughly 11 times the diameter of Earth. There also are very different spacings between individual planets, particularly the inner planets.

This means our solar system may have formed differently than other solar systems did, the research team suggested, although more observations are needed to learn what the different mechanisms were. [The Most Intriguing Alien Planet Discoveries of 2017]

“The planets in a system tend to be the same size and regularly spaced, like peas in a pod. These patterns would not occur if the planet sizes or spacings were drawn at random,” Lauren Weiss, the study’s lead author and an astrophysicist at the University of Montreal, said in a statement.

The research team examined 355 stars that had a total of 909 planets, which periodically transit across their faces (as seen from Earth). The planets are between 1,000 and 4,000 light-years away from Earth.

After running a statistical analysis, the team found that a system with a small planet would tend to have other small planets nearby — and vice-versa, with big planets tending to have big neighbors. These extrasolar systems also had regular orbital spacing between the planets.

“The similar sizes and orbital spacing of planets have implications for how most planetary systems form,” researchers said in the statement. “In classic planet-formation theory, planets form in the protoplanetary disk that surrounds a newly formed star. The planets might form in compact configurations with similar sizes and a regular orbital spacing, in a manner similar to the newly observed pattern in exoplanetary systems.”

In our own solar system, however, the story is very different. The four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are very widely spaced apart. The team pointed to evidence from other research that Jupiter and Saturn may have disrupted the structure of the young solar system. While the statement did not specify how, several other research studies have examined the movements of these giant planets and their potential impact on the solar system.

Each of the exoplanets examined in the study was originally found by Kepler, which launched in 2009 and continues to send data today. But more-detailed information was obtained with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii; Weiss is a member of the California-Kepler Survey team there, which is examining the light signatures of thousands of planets discovered by Kepler.

Weiss said she plans a follow-up study at Keck to look for Jupiter-like planets in multiplanet systems. The aim is to better understand if the presence of a Jupiter-size planet would alter the position of other planets in the same system.

“Regardless of their outer populations, the similarity of planets in the inner regions of extrasolar systems requires an explanation,” researchers said in the statement. “If the deciding factor for planet sizes can be identified, it might help determine which stars are likely to have terrestrial planets that are suitable for life.”

The study was published Jan. 3 in The Astronomical Journal.

Astronomers Are Gearing Up to Listen for Evidence of Aliens from a Mysterious Interstellar Object

Original Article

By Patrick Caughill

LISTENING IN

Our solar system was recently introduced to the first interstellar object in late November. The object, called ‘Oumuamua (a Hawaiian word for “messenger”), has caught the attention of astronomers and space enthusiasts who are toying with the possibility of it being an interstellar space probe sent by an advanced civilization elsewhere in the universe.

Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire behind the Breakthrough Listen research program, is intrigued by this possibility. Shortly after meeting with Harvard’s astronomy department chair, Avi Loeb, Breakthrough Listen announced it will be focusing on ‘Oumuamua to investigate if the object is transmitting radio signals, a telltale sign that it’s not just a space rock.

Image credit: Brooks Bays / SOEST Publication Services / Univ. of Hawaii

In an email to Milner, Loeb says, “The more I study this object, the more unusual it appears, making me wonder whether it might be an artificially made probe which was sent by an alien civilization,” which put a great deal of heft behind such a claim.

The object was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii and has since been discovered to have some uncharacteristic qualities of a typical asteroid or comet. ‘Oumuamua was first thought to be a comet but since it lacked a coma, or tail of evaporated material, that was quickly ruled out. The shape of the object also is peculiar as it is much longer than it is wide, while most asteroids are rounder in shape. This certainly doesn’t disqualify it as an asteroid as the lack of a coma did for its prospects of being a comet but it still raises some questions.

ALIEN SHOUT OUTS

Breakthrough Listen will begin listening to the object using the Green Bank Telescope starting this Wednesday, December 13, at 3 p.m. Eastern time. The telescope will look at the asteroid for ten hours across four bands of radio frequency in the hopes of intercepting a radio signal transmitted from the object. The technology could allow for a rapid turn-around time of just days

Scientists do admit that the likelihood of this object being anything other than naturally occurring is very small. However, science does not tend to work in the realm of absolute impossibility. Andrew Siemion the director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and leader of the center’s Breakthrough Listen Initiative told The Atlantic,  “It would be difficult to work in this field if you thought that every time you looked at something, you weren’t going to succeed,” a sentiment that is likely to be common in other SETI pursuits.

‘Oumuamua is just the latest development to excite SETI enthusiasts. Its appearance in our solar system is just one of the closest objects of potential extraterrestrial influence. The Kepler Space Telescope has noticed a distant star, known as KIC 8462852, which also exhibits some uncharacteristic qualities, leading to observers questioning whether an advanced civilization is present.

Many humans seem to be eager to prove that we are not alone in the universe. To that end, they can tend to cling to any remote possibility more than the evidence should afford. While mysterious signals or strange objects should absolutely pique our interests, we shouldn’t focus on the answer being aliens. There is plenty we have yet to learn about the universe around us, and yes, intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might be part of that elusive knowledge. We can get just as excited about learning more about the mechanics of the universe which can help us gain important insight on just how we got here, and on a cosmic scale, where we are headed.

‘Monster’ planet discovery stuns scientists

Original Article

By Fox News

Astronomers have discovered a planet the size of Jupiter orbiting a star that’s only half the size of the sun — a celestial phenomenon that contradicts theories of planet formation.

NGTS-1b, a massive, 986-degrees-hot ball of gas revolving around a red M-dwarf star 600 light years from Earth, is the largest planet compared to the size of its star ever found.

The discovery contradicts theories that a star so small could form a planet so large. Scientists previously theorized that small stars could form rocky planets, but they did not gather enough material to form planets the size of Jupiter.

STARGZERS FIND TWENTY NEW EARTH-LIKE PLANETS THAT COULD HOST LIFE

As red M-dwarf stars are the most common type in the universe, scientists now believe there may be many more planets like this.

MonsterPlanet2

Artist’s impression of planet NGTS-1b with its neighbouring sun (credit University of Warwick/Mark Garlick)

NGTS-1b was spotted by an international collaboration of researchers using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) facility in Chile, according to a report from the University of Warwick.

It is about 2.8 million miles away from its star — only 3 percent of the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the sun. A year on NGTS-1b — the time it takes to revolve around its star — occurs every 2.6 Earth days.

NASA RELEASES EERIE PLAYLIST OF SPELLBINDING SPACE SOUNDS

“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us. Such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars,” said the lead author of the research, Dr. Daniel Bayliss of the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group. “This is the first exoplanet we have found with our new NGTS facility, and we are already challenging the received wisdom of how planets form.”

“NGTS-1b was difficult to find, despite being a monster of a planet, because its parent star is small and faint,” said Warwick Professor Peter Wheatley. “Small stars are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to found.

“Having worked for almost a decade to develop the NGTS telescope array, it is thrilling to see it picking out new and unexpected types of planets. I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of exciting new planets we can turn up.”

SUNSCREEN ‘SNOW’ FALLS ON SCORCHING-HOT ALIEN PLANET

The astronomers’ report, ‘NGTS-1b: a hot Jupiter transiting an M-dwarf’, will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

First interstellar object from beyond our solar system spotted by astronomers

Original Article

By Chloe Farand

Mysterious space rock passes near Earth at ‘extremely fast’ 15.8 miles per second asteroid-getty.jpg

For the first time ever a comet or asteroid that likely originated from outside our solar system has passed close enough to Earth to be visible by astronomers.

The interstellar object has sparked huge enthusiasm from scientists who are urgently working to gather information on the mysterious body before it disappears from sight.

According to astronomers, the object is on a hyperbolic trajectory which suggests the body has escaped from a star from outside our solar system.

Early findings published by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre state: “If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet.”

The mysterious object, named A/2017 U1, was discovered by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii.

Rob Weryk from the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy was the first to identify the moving object. Comparing his findings with images taken at the European Space Agency’s telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, he concluded the object came from somewhere else in our galaxy.

The alien space rock, believed to have come from the direction of the constellation Lyra, is less than 400 metres in diameter and is travelling through space at a remarkable 15.8 miles (25.5 kilometres) per second.

interstellar-object.jpg
A/2017 U1 passed through our inner solar system in September and October (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists have long believed in the existence of such interstellar objects because huge amounts of material is thought to be ejected when planets are formed. However, this sighting is the first of its kind.

Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), said: “We have been waiting for this for decades. It’s long been theorised that such objects exist – asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system – but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help confirm it.”

New information obtained from observing the object could allow astronomers to know more about its origin and possibly its composition.

“This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen,” said David Farnocchia from CNEOS’ Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back.”

The small body came closest to the Sun on 9 September before making a hairpin turn and passing under the Earth’s orbit on 14 October at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometres), or about 60 times the distance to the Moon.

“Our Universe Should Actually Not Exist” –CERN Scientists Attempt to Find Out Why It Does

Original Article

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“All of our observations find a complete symmetry between matter and antimatter, which is why the universe should not actually exist,” explained Christian Smorra, with the BASE collaboration at the CERN research center. “An asymmetry must exist here somewhere but we simply do not understand where the difference is. What is the source of the symmetry break?”

The search goes on. No difference in protons and antiprotons have yet been found which would help to potentially explain the existence of matter in our universe. However, physicists in the BASE collaboration at the CERN research center have been able to measure the magnetic force of antiprotons with almost unbelievable precision. Nevertheless, the data do not provide any information about how matter formed in the early universe as particles and antiparticles would have had to completely destroy one another. 

The most recent BASE measurements revealed instead a large overlap between protons and antiprotons, thus confirming the Standard Model of particle physics. Around the world, scientists are using a variety of methods to find some difference, regardless of how small. The matter-antimatter imbalance in the universe is one of the hot topics of modern physics.

The multinational BASE collaboration at the European research center CERN brings together scientists from the RIKEN research center in Japan, the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the University of Tokyo, GSI Darmstadt, Leibniz Universität Hannover, and the German National Metrology Institute (PTB) in Braunschweig. They compare the magnetic properties of protons and antiprotons with great precision. The magnetic moment is an essential component of particles and can be depicted as roughly equivalent to that of a miniature bar magnet. The so-called g-factor measures the strength of the magnetic field.

“At its core, the question is whether the antiproton has the same magnetism as a proton,” explained Stefan Ulmer, spokesperson of the BASE group. “This is the riddle we need to solve.”

The BASE collaboration published high-precision measurements of the antiproton g-factor back in January 2017 but the current ones are far more precise. The current high-precision measurement determined the g-factor down to nine significant digits. This is the equivalent of measuring the circumference of the earth to a precision of four centimeters. The value of 2.7928473441(42) is 350 times more precise than the results published in January.

“This tremenduous increase in such a short period of time was only possible thanks to completely new methods,” said Ulmer. The process involved scientists using two antiprotons for the first time and analyzing them with two Penning traps.

Antiprotons are artificially generated at CERN and researchers store them in a reservoir trap for experiments. The antiprotons for the current experiment were isolated in 2015 and measured between August and December 2016, which is a small sensation as this was the longest storage period for antimatter ever documented. Antiprotons are usually quickly annihilated when they come into contact with matter, such as in air. Storage was demonstrated for 405 days in a vacuum, which contains ten times fewer particles than interstellar space. A total of 16 antiprotons were used and some of them were cooled to approximately absolute zero or minus 273 degrees Celsius.

The new principle uses the interaction of two Penning traps. The traps use electrical and magnetic fields to capture the antiprotons. Previous measurements were severely limited by an ultra-strong magnetic inhomogeneity in the Penning trap. In order to overcome this barrier, the scientists added a second trap with a highly homogeneous magnetic field.

“We thus used a method developed at Mainz University that created higher precision in the measurements,” explained Ulmer. “The measurement of antiprotons was extremely difficult and we had been working on it for ten years. The final breakthrough came with the revolutionary idea of performing the measurement with two particles.” The larmor frequency and the cyclotron frequency were measured; taken together they form the g-factor.

The g-factor ascertained for the antiproton was then compared to the g-factor for the proton, which BASE researchers had measured with the greatest prior precision already in 2014. In the end, however, they could not find any difference between the two. This consistency is a confirmation of the CPT symmetry, which states that the universe is composed of a fundamental symmetry between particles and antiparticles.

The BASE scientists now want to use even higher precision measurements of the proton and antiproton properties to find an answer to this question. The BASE collaboration plans to develop further innovative methods over the next few year and improve on the current results.

The image at the top of the page shows a small galaxy, called Sextans A, in a multi-wavelength mosaic captured by the European Space Agency’s Herschel mission, in which NASA is a partner, along with NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Jansky Very Large Array observatory near Socorro, New Mexico. The galaxy is located 4.5 million light-years from Earth in the Sextans constellation.
The environment in this galaxy is similar to that of our infant universe because it lacks in heavy metals, or elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. In this image, the purple shows gas; blue shows young stars and the orange and yellow dots are newly formed stars heating up dust.(ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/NRAO)

The Daily Galaxy via Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet

Half the Universe’s Missing Matter Has Just Been Finally Found

Original Article

By Leah Crane

The missing links between galaxies have finally been found. This is the first detection of the roughly half of the normal matter in our universe – protons, neutrons and electrons – unaccounted for by previous observations of stars, galaxies and other bright objects in space.

You have probably heard about the hunt for dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to permeate the universe, the effects of which we can see through its gravitational pull. But our models of the universe also say there should be about twice as much ordinary matter out there, compared with what we have observed so far.

Two separate teams found the missing matter – made of particles called baryons rather than dark matter – linking galaxies together through filaments of hot, diffuse gas.

“The missing baryon problem is solved,” says Hideki Tanimura at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, leader of one of the groups. The other team was led by Anna de Graaff at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Because the gas is so tenuous and not quite hot enough for X-ray telescopes to pick up, nobody had been able to see it before.

“There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.”

So the two groups had to find another way to definitively show that these threads of gas are really there.

Both teams took advantage of a phenomenon called the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich effect that occurs when light left over from the big bang passes through hot gas. As the light travels, some of it scatters off the electrons in the gas, leaving a dim patch in the cosmic microwave background – our snapshot of the remnants from the birth of the cosmos.

Stack ‘em up

In 2015, the Planck satellite created a map of this effect throughout the observable universe. Because the tendrils of gas between galaxies are so diffuse, the dim blotches they cause are far too slight to be seen directly on Planck’s map.

Both teams selected pairs of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that were expected to be connected by a strand of baryons. They stacked the Planck signals for the areas between the galaxies, making the individually faint strands detectable en masse.

Tanimura’s team stacked data on 260,000 pairs of galaxies, and de Graaff’s group used over a million pairs. Both teams found definitive evidence of gas filaments between the galaxies. Tanimura’s group found they were almost three times denser than the mean for normal matter in the universe, and de Graaf’s group found they were six times denser – confirmation that the gas in these areas is dense enough to form filaments.

“We expect some differences because we are looking at filaments at different distances,” says Tanimura. “If this factor is included, our findings are very consistent with the other group.”

Finally finding the extra baryons that have been predicted by decades of simulations validates some of our assumptions about the universe.

“Everybody sort of knows that it has to be there, but this is the first time that somebody – two different groups, no less – has come up with a definitive detection,” says Ralph Kraft at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

“This goes a long way toward showing that many of our ideas of how galaxies form and how structures form over the history of the universe are pretty much correct,” he says.