Physicists Finally Narrowed Down the Mass of the Tiniest ‘Ghost Particle’ in the Universe

This photo shows the inside of a cylindrical antineutrino detector designed to detect the rare fundamental particles.

(Image: © Roy Kaltschmidt photo, LBNL)

We’re full of neutrinos all the time. They’re everywhere, nearly undetectable, flitting through normal matter. We barely know anything about them — not even how heavy they are. But we do know that neutrinos have the potential to alter the shape of the entire universe. And because they have that power, we can use the shape of the universe to weigh them — as a team of physicists has now done.

Because of physics, the behaviors of the smallest particles alter the behaviors of whole galaxies and other giant celestial structures. And if you want to describe the behavior of the universe, your have to take into account properties of its tiniest components. In a new paper, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers used that fact to back-calculate the mass of the lightest neutrino (there are three neutrino masses) from precise measurements of the large-scale structure of the universe.

They took data about the movements of roughly 1.1 million galaxies from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey , stirred it up with other cosmological information and results from much smaller-scale neutrino experiments on Earth, and fed all that information into a supercomputer.Click here for more Space.com videos…CLOSEVolume 0%This video will resume in 5 seconds 

“We used more than half a million computing hours to process the data,” study co-author Andrei Cuceu, a doctoral student in astrophysics at University College London, said in a statement. “This is equivalent to almost 60 years on a single processor. This project pushed the limits for big data analysis in cosmology.”

The result didn’t offer a fixed number for the mass of the lightest type of neutrino, but it did narrow it down: That species of neutrino has a mass no greater than 0.086 electron volts (eV), or about six million times less than the mass of a single electron.

That number sets an upper bound, but not a lower bound, for the mass of the lightest species of neutrino. It’s possible that it doesn’t have any mass at all, the authors wrote in the paper.

What physicists do know is that at least two of the three species of neutrinohave to have some mass, and that there’s a relationship between their masses. (This paper also sets an upper boundary for the combined mass of all three flavors: 0.26 eV.)

Confusingly, the three mass species of neutrino don’t line up with the three flavors of neutrino: electron, muon and tau. According to Fermilab, each flavor of neutrino is made up of a quantum mixture of the three mass species. So a certain tau neutrino has a bit of mass species 1 in it, a bit of species 2 and a bit of species 3. Those different mass species allow the neutrinos to jump back and forth between flavors, as a 1998 discovery (which won the Nobel Prize in physics) showed.

Physicists may never perfectly pinpoint the masses of the three neutrino species, but they can keep getting closer. The mass will keep getting narrowed down as experiments on Earth and measurements in space improve, the authors wrote. And the better physicists can measure these tiny, omnipresent components of our universe the better physics will be able to explain how the whole thing fits together.

We’re full of neutrinos all the time. They’re everywhere, nearly undetectable, flitting through normal matter. We barely know anything about them — not even how heavy they are. But we do know that neutrinos have the potential to alter the shape of the entire universe. And because they have that power, we can use the shape of the universe to weigh them — as a team of physicists has now done.

Because of physics, the behaviors of the smallest particles alter the behaviors of whole galaxies and other giant celestial structures. And if you want to describe the behavior of the universe, your have to take into account properties of its tiniest components. In a new paper, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, researchers used that fact to back-calculate the mass of the lightest neutrino (there are three neutrino masses) from precise measurements of the large-scale structure of the universe.

They took data about the movements of roughly 1.1 million galaxies from the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey , stirred it up with other cosmological information and results from much smaller-scale neutrino experiments on Earth, and fed all that information into a supercomputer.

“We used more than half a million computing hours to process the data,” study co-author Andrei Cuceu, a doctoral student in astrophysics at University College London, said in a statement. “This is equivalent to almost 60 years on a single processor. This project pushed the limits for big data analysis in cosmology.”

The result didn’t offer a fixed number for the mass of the lightest type of neutrino, but it did narrow it down: That species of neutrino has a mass no greater than 0.086 electron volts (eV), or about six million times less than the mass of a single electron.

That number sets an upper bound, but not a lower bound, for the mass of the lightest species of neutrino. It’s possible that it doesn’t have any mass at all, the authors wrote in the paper.

What physicists do know is that at least two of the three species of neutrinohave to have some mass, and that there’s a relationship between their masses. (This paper also sets an upper boundary for the combined mass of all three flavors: 0.26 eV.)

Confusingly, the three mass species of neutrino don’t line up with the three flavors of neutrino: electron, muon and tau. According to Fermilab, each flavor of neutrino is made up of a quantum mixture of the three mass species. So a certain tau neutrino has a bit of mass species 1 in it, a bit of species 2 and a bit of species 3. Those different mass species allow the neutrinos to jump back and forth between flavors, as a 1998 discovery (which won the Nobel Prize in physics) showed.

Physicists may never perfectly pinpoint the masses of the three neutrino species, but they can keep getting closer. The mass will keep getting narrowed down as experiments on Earth and measurements in space improve, the authors wrote. And the better physicists can measure these tiny, omnipresent components of our universe the better physics will be able to explain how the whole thing fits together.

Scientists are building a real-life version of the Starship Enterprise’s life scanner

The Starship Enterprise in the original 'Star Trek' series.

The Starship Enterprise in the original ‘Star Trek’ series. (AP)

When the crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise pull into orbit around a new planet, one of the first things they do is scan for life-forms. Here in the real world, researchers have long been trying to figure out how to unambiguously detect signs of life on distant exoplanets.

They are now one step closer to this goal, thanks to a new remote-sensing technique that relies on a quirk of biochemistry causing light to spiral in a particular direction and produce a fairly unmistakable signal. The method, described in a recent paper published in the journal Astrobiology, could be used aboard space-based observatories and help scientists learn if the universe contains living beings like ourselves.

In recent years, remote-life detection has become a topic of immense interest as astronomers have begun to capture light from planets orbiting other stars, which can be analyzed to determine what kind of chemicals those worlds contain. Researchers would like to figure out some indicator that could definitively tell them whether or not they are looking at a living biosphere.

For instance, the presence of excessive oxygen in an exoplanet’s atmosphere might be a good hint that something is breathing on its surface. But there are plenty of ways that nonliving processes can generate oxygen molecules and trick remote observers into believing a world is teeming with life.

Therefore, some researchers have suggested looking for chains of organic molecules. These living chemicals come in two arrangements — a right-handed and a left-handed version that are like mirror-flipped images of each other. In the wild, nature produces equal amounts of these right- and left-handed molecules.

“Biology breaks this symmetry,” Frans Snik, an astronomer at Leiden University in the Netherlands and co-author of the new paper, told Live Science. “This is the difference between chemistry and biology.”

On Earth, living creatures select one molecular “hand” and stick with it. The amino acids that make up the proteins in your body are all left-handed versions of their respective molecules.

When light interacts with long chains of these different-handed arrangements, it becomes circularly polarized, meaning that its electromagnetic waves will travel in either clockwise or counterclockwise spirals. Inorganic molecules won’t generally impart this property to rays of light.

In previous work published online in the preprint journal arXiv, Snik and his colleagues looked at freshly picked English ivy leaves in their lab and watched as the chlorophyll (a green pigment) created circularly polarized light. As the leaves decayed, the circular polarization signal grew weaker and weaker, until it entirely disappeared.

The next step was to test the technique in the field, and so the researchers took an instrument that detects such polarity to the roof of their building at Leiden University and aimed it at a nearby sports field. They were perplexed to see no circularly polarized light, Snik said, until they realized that this was one of the few sports fields in the Netherlands using artificial grass. When the researchers aimed their detector at a forest a few miles away, the circularly polarized signal came through loud and clear.

The million-dollar question is whether or not organisms on another world would exhibit a similar favoritism for single-handed molecules, Snik said. He believes it is a fairly good bet, since carbon-based chemicals best fit together when they all share the same handedness.

His team is now designing an instrument that could be flown to the International Space Station and map the circular polarization signal of Earth to better understand how an analogous signature might look in the light of a distant planet.

That will be an extreme but worthwhile challenge, Edward Schwieterman, an astronomer and astrobiologist at the University of California, Riverside who was not involved in the work, told Live Science. Capturing an exoplanet’s light means blocking out the light from its parent star, which is usually around 10 billion times brighter, he added. If the world is alive, only a tiny fraction of its light will contain the circular polarization signal.

“The signal is small, but the level of ambiguity is also small,” Schwieterman said, making the method useful despite its difficulty.

Future enormous space-based telescopes, such as the Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor(LUVOIR) observatory, might be able to tease out this faint signature. LUVOIR is still just a concept, but would have a mirror diameter six times wider than the one in the Hubble Space Telescope and could probably fly in the mid-2030s, officials estimate.

Snik thinks the circular polarization technique could also be brought to bear closer to home, on an instrument flown to potentially habitable moons in the outer solar system such as Europa or Enceladus. By aiming such a detector at these frozen worlds, scientists might see the signal of living creatures.

“Maybe our first detection of extraterrestrial life will be in our backyard,” said Snik.

Scientists Discover 2nd Alien Planet Around Star Beta Pictoris — and It’s Huge

An artist's depiction of the newly discovered planet Beta Pictoris c, top left, as seen with its solar system neighbor Beta Pictoris b and backlit by the star itself.

An artist’s depiction of the newly discovered planet Beta Pictoris c, top left, as seen with its solar system neighbor Beta Pictoris b and backlit by the star itself.(Image: © P Rubini/AM Lagrange)

The solar system around a star called Beta Pictoris was already a pretty interesting place, with a large planet scientists have actually seen and a huge amount of rubble flying around. But it just got even more intriguing.

That’s because astronomers now think they’ve picked up on a second planet orbiting the nearby star. The discovery is based on more than 10 years of data about miniscule changes in the star’s orbit caused by the gravitational tug between the star and what scientists now believe to be a planet.

The Beta Pictoris solar system is a special one for scientists because it is fairly close to Earth, at just 63.4 light-years away, and relatively young, at about 23 million years old. That means scientists can study it to better understand the tumultuous adolescence of developing solar systems.

From what scientists knew before the new research, Beta Pictoris’ adolescence already looked awfully messy. 

A disk of planetary rubble clutters the outer reaches of this solar system; astronomers think hunks of rock called planetesimals ricocheting into each other continues to create that debris. Those planetesimals fill the solar system from 50 astronomical units (or AU, the average distance from Earth to our sun) away from Beta Pictoris out to 100 AU. One AU is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.Click here for more Space.com videos…Giant Exoplanet Rotates 36X Faster Than EarthVolume 0%

About a decade ago, astronomers identified a large planet, nine to 13 times more massive than Jupiter and dubbed Beta Pictoris b, orbiting about 9 AU from the star. Unusual for exoplanets, this one has been imaged; typically, worlds are identified as shadows passing over a star’s disk or as tiny wobbles in the star’s location. And scientists have even spotted exocomets darting across the Beta Pictoris system, slowly losing steam as they go.

But astronomers combing through 10 years of data gathered by the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) program realized that what they knew about the Beta Pictoris solar system still didn’t quite add up.Click here for more Space.com videos…Colliding Comets May Be Hiding Alien PlanetVolume 0%

HARPS measures tiny changes in a star’s light caused by slight movements of the star as its gravity interacts with that of a planet. For a star like Beta Pictoris, which regularly grows and shrinks, those tiny changes are very difficult to parse out from these pulses, but that is precisely what the team behind the new research did.

The astronomers were left with signals that they believe can be explained only by a second planet, one that is about nine times the mass of Jupiter and orbits its star once every 1,200 or so days. The planet is about 2.7 AU away from its star, equivalent to the distance from our sun to the asteroid belt.

The researchers said they hope that other techniques will be able to spot the planet, dubbed Beta Pictoris c, as well. This planet may pass directly between its star and Earth, which means scientists could study the world’s atmosphere and any rings or moons that orbit it. If astronomers can directly image Beta Pictoris c, as they have its neighbor, they may also be able to answer questions about how these planets formed.

The research is described in a paper published Monday (Aug. 19) in the journal Nature. 

NASA to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, which may hold life

NASA has officially confirmed a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life.

Known as the Europa Clipper mission, which was originally explored in 2017, the government space agency is now in the phase of completing the final design of the spacecraft that will visit the moon. From there, it will move on to construction and, ultimately, test the spacecraft and science payload.

“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”

2018 study expressed concerns that Europa’s surface may be extremely porous, which could harm any probe that touches down on its surface.

The space agency said the purpose of the mission will be to investigate whether Europa, the sixth-largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, “could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.”

The conditions on Europa have been previously likened to exoplanet Barnard B, a “super-Earth” 30 trillion miles from Earth. It likely has a surface temperature of roughly 238 degrees below zero and may have oceans underneath its icy surface, according to a July 2018 statement from NASA.

It’s unclear what the oceans on Europa are made up of, but the Hubble Space Telescope detected the presence of sodium chloride (NaCl) on its surface, according to a study published in June.

“If this sodium chloride is really reflective of the internal composition, then [Europa’s ocean] might be more Earth-like than we used to think,” the study’s lead author, Samantha Trumbo, told Space.com.

NASA said its goal for the Europa Clipper mission is to launch as soon as 2023, but it added that its baseline commitment “supports a launch readiness date by 2025.”

‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies forever: ‘It’s all very new science’

‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies forever

New discoveries lead scientists to believe ‘UFOs’ are coming out of black holes and altering galaxies.

Black holes are still a mysterious force of spacetime, with the first image of one having been released just a few short months ago. Now, a new study suggests that “UFOs” are coming out of them, helping to reshape galaxies along the way.

According to research published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, hot ionized gas — known as an ultra-fast outflow (UFO) — is flying out of supermassive black holes and could help explain why there is nearly empty darkness encompassing the center of several galaxies.

“These winds might explain some surprising correlations that scientists have known about for years but couldn’t explain,” said the study’s lead author, Roberto Serafinelli, in a statement.

Artist's impression showing how ultrafast winds blowing from a supermassive black hole interact with interstellar matter in the host galaxy, clearing its central regions from gas. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

Artist’s impression showing how ultrafast winds blowing from a supermassive black hole interact with interstellar matter in the host galaxy, clearing its central regions from gas. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

“For example, we see a correlation between the masses of supermassive black holes and the velocity dispersion of stars in the inner parts of their host galaxies,” Serafinelli added. “But there is no way this could be due to the gravitational effect of the black hole. Our study, for the first time, shows how these black hole winds impact the galaxy on a larger scale, possibly providing the missing link.”

The scientists were studying galaxy PG 1114+445, which is described as “active,” where they were able to see the UFOs escaping, using the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton) telescope.

According to the researchers’ data, the energy from the UFO is being transferred to other winds (such as “warm absorbers”) near the black hole, causing these winds to move at incredible speeds.

“We believe that this is the point when the UFO touches the interstellar matter and sweeps it away like a snowplough,” Serafinelli added. “We call this an ‘entrained ultra-fast outflow’ because the UFO at this stage is penetrating the interstellar matter. It’s similar to wind pushing boats in the sea.”

A “warm absorber” is a slower moving outflow from the black hole, which often travels “at much lower speeds of hundreds of km/s and have similar physical characteristics – such as particle density and ionization – to the surrounding interstellar matter.”

This type of UFO, known as entrained UFO, is rare, Serafinelli noted, adding it’s only the sixth time it has ever been seen and the first time it was seen interacting with the other types of outflows.

“This is the sixth time these outflows have been detected. It’s all very new science,” Serafinelli continued. “These phases of the outflow have previously been observed separately but the connection between them wasn’t clear up until now.”

The discovery of UFOs and the three outflows together is exciting to researchers, but Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA, wants to know whether this is a common occurrence in space or if it was a one-off event.

“Finding one source is great, but knowing that this phenomenon is common in the Universe would be a real breakthrough,” said Schartel. “Even with XMM-Newton, we might be able to find more such sources in the next decade.”

NASA glimpses surface of distant rocky exoplanet

Data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has given scientists a first glimpse into conditions on the surface of a rocky exoplanet beyond the solar system.

Planet LHS 3844b is located 48.6 light-years from Earth and has a radius 1.3 times that of Earth, according to NASA. The exoplanet, which is orbiting a small star called an M dwarf, was first spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) in 2018.

A light-year measures distance in space and equals 6 trillion miles.

New research indicates that the mysterious planet’s surface may resemble Earth’s Moon or Mercury, NASA said in a statement released Monday. “The planet likely has little to no atmosphere and could be covered in the same cooled volcanic material found in the dark areas of the Moon’s surface, called mare,” it explained.

Artist's illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b.

Artist’s illustration depicts the exoplanet LHS 3844b. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt [IPAC])

The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope was able to detect light from the surface of LHS 3844b. “The planet makes one full revolution around its parent star in just 11 hours,” NASA said in the statement. “With such a tight orbit, LHS 3844b is most likely ‘tidally locked,’ which is when one side of a planet permanently faces the star. The star-facing side, or dayside, is about 1,410 degrees Fahrenheit (770 degrees Celsius).”

The research study was published in the journal Nature.

“We’ve got lots of theories about how planetary atmospheres fare around M dwarfs, but we haven’t been able to study them empirically,” said Laura Kreidberg, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., in the statement. “Now, with LHS 3844b, we have a terrestrial planet outside our solar system where for the first time we can determine observationally that an atmosphere is not present.”

TESS discovered the planet via what is known as the “transit method,” which uses the dimming of a parent star to identify the transit of the objects orbiting it.

The Spitzer Space Telescope studied the planet’s surface reflectiveness. “LHS 3844b appears to be the smallest planet for which scientists have used the light coming from its surface to learn about its atmosphere (or lack thereof),” said NASA, in its statement.

The planet is believed to be covered in basalt, or volcanic rock.

In 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, nearly 40 light-years away from Earth.

In a separate project, a black hole swallowing a neutron star has likely been detected for the first time, according to scientists.

Tesla Roadster with ‘Starman’ completes first orbit around the sun

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster that SpaceX launched into space on their Falcon Heavy rocket last year has completed its first orbit around the sun, according to a tracking report.

If you have somehow forgotten about what is one of the coolest things to happen ever, here’s a quick reminder.

In February 2018, SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket and it needed a ‘dummy load’ to send into space in order to demonstrate the capability.

Musk, who is the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla, decided to launch his own Tesla Roadster.

Due to the higher risk of failure with a brand new rocket, SpaceX didn’t want to put something too valuable, like a satellite, but at the same time, Musk didn’t want to just launch a weight into space.

He figured that launching a Tesla Roadster would be more interesting and inspiring.

They installed the electric car inside the fairings on top of the second stage of the Falcon Heavy rocket:

They also strapped a dummy equipped with a spacesuit in the driver’s seat. They named it ‘Starman’.

On February 6, 2018, Falcon Heavy was successfully launched and it released the Tesla Roadster into space:

It resulted in some stunning images of Starman in the Roadster moving, away from Earth, at a higher speed than any other Tesla before it:

The Tesla Roadster is still moving through space at an extremely high speed and according to the ‘whereisroadster‘ website, which has been tracking the veichle’s trajectory, it has now completed a full orbit around the sun:According to the site, the Roadster is making its way closer to Mars:

“The car is 70,093,131 miles (112,803,994 km, 0.754 AU, 6.27 light minutes) from Mars, moving towardthe planet at a speed of 26,628 mi/h (42,854 km/h, 11.90 km/s).”

It has exceeded warranty’s mileage limit by now/ 

Electrek’s Take

While some saw it as a waste of a good Tesla Roadster or creating space debris, I am a big fan of the project.

I liked it so much that I had Canvaspop make print outs of the Roadster in space from high-res images that SpaceX released on Flickr and display it in my house:

The video of the launch was viewed by millions of people and it inspired many to be interested in space again.

At the same time, it also created some great publicity for Tesla with the Roadster being the first car launched into space.

Now it keeps breaking the record of being the car the furthest away from Earth.

NASA Sun Probe Spies the Solar Wind in 1st Birthday Photo

Now all we need is a candle.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe observed the solar wind streaming past during the spacecraft's first solar encounter in November 2018.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe observed the solar wind streaming past during the spacecraft’s first solar encounter in November 2018.(Image: © NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe)

This past Monday (Aug. 12), NASA’s newest solar probe celebrated its first year in space and began preparing for another close swoop by the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will make a close approach on Sept. 1 as it tries to collect information that will help scientists to better understand the forces behind the solar wind, solar flares and other kinds of “space weather” emanating from the sun. The probe has so far completed two close approaches and NASA expects to release data from these flybys later this year.

One of Parker’s main objectives is to investigate what mechanism might be driving extreme heating in the sun’s outermost layer, known as the corona. Scientists are mystified as to why the corona is over a million degrees Fahrenheit (over 555,000 degrees Celsius), while the solar layers below are only a few thousand degrees Fahrenheit each. 

Parker aims to travel multiple times within Mercury’s orbit to find out more. It’s a difficult mission because, since the spacecraft is so close to the sun, the extreme heating requires special shielding so that Parker’s instruments don’t get fried by radiation. Parker’s heat shield is so dense that even a blowtorch doesn’t disturb it. This allows the spacecraft to nestle close to the sun and make valuable observations.

“The data we’re seeing from Parker Solar Probe’s instruments is showing us details about solar structures and processes that we have never seen before,” Nour Raouafi, the project scientist of the Parker Solar Probe mission, said in a statement. “Flying close to the sun — a very dangerous environment — is the only way to obtain this data, and the spacecraft is performing with flying colors.”CLOSEVolume 90%This video will resume in 12 seconds 

NASA also released a new video from Parker that shows the structures of the solar wind — the constant stream of particles emanating from our sun. The 6-second clip shows a bright “streamer,” or a dense flow of solar wind, flowing off the sun, which sits just off-screen. Particles of dust streak across the field of view, backdropped by the planet Mercury (the bright dot in the background) and the Milky Way’s star-filled galactic center. The video is based on data obtained Nov. 6 to 10, 2018.

There Are Thousands of Tardigrades on the Moon. Now What?

Did they survive their crash landing? If so, what happens to them now?

Dehydrated tardigrades that crash-landed on the moon in April won't come back to life anytime soon

Dehydrated tardigrades that crash-landed on the moon in April won’t come back to life anytime soon.

Tardigrades, which live on every continent on Earth, are also (maybe) living on the moon, following the crash of a lunar lander carrying thousands of the microscopic water bears.

Did any of them survive the impact? If they did, what happens to them now?

When the tardigrades were placed on the Israeli moon mission Beresheet, they were in a tun state — dehydrated, with their chubby limbs and heads retracted and all metabolic activity temporarily suspended. Their arrival on the moon was unexpectedly explosive; Beresheet’s crash landing on April 11 may have scattered the microorganisms onto the lunar surface. 

Tubby tardigrades are notoriously tough, but were the Beresheet tardigrades hardy enough to survive that impact? It’s certainly possible that some of them made it to the moon intact. But what would that mean for the moon to have what might be thousands of Earth microbes as new inhabitants? And what might it mean for the tardigrades?

First of all, is anyone in trouble for accidentally spilling tardigrades on the moon? That’s a complicated question, but the short answer is no. Space agencies from around the world follow a decades-old treaty about what is permissible to leave on the moon, and the only explicit prohibitions are against weapons and experiments or tools that could interfere with missions from other agencies, according to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

In the decades that followed the treaty, other guidelines were created that acknowledged the risks of seeding other worlds with Earth microbes, and these stipulations outlined practices for sterilizing mission equipment to avoid contamination. But even though large space agencies typically follow these rules, there is no single entity enforcing them globally, Live Science previously reported.

Scientists have yet to find any evidence that the moon ever hosted living organisms (other than visiting astronauts and microbial hitchhikers from Earth) that could be threatened by microscopic invaders. However, contamination could carry serious consequences for missions to planets where life might yet be found, such as Mars; experts suggest that one potential consequence of colonizing Mars could be the extermination of native microbial life through exposure to Earth bacteria.Beresheet Spacecraft’s Moon Crash Site Seen by OrbiterVolume 0% 

It’s possible that even before the Beresheet tardigrades crashed on the moon, other forms of terrestrial microbes were already there: gut bacteria in abandoned bags of astronaut poo, said Mark Martin, an associate professor of biology at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

“I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t culture a few things out of the center of that freeze-dried material,” Martin told Live Science. “Especially spore-formers. They make a very thick outer layer of their spore proteins that’s known to protect them against dehydration, radiation — a variety of things.”

Sole survivor

Tardigrades survive conditions that would destroy most other organisms; they do so by expelling the water from their bodies and generating compounds that seal and protect the structure of their cells. The creatures can remain in this so-called tun state for months and still revive in the presence of water; scientists even resuscitated two tardigrades from a 30-year deep freeze in 2016.

As a tun, a tardigrade can weather boiling, freezing, high pressure and even the vacuum of space, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported in 2008, after sending water bears into orbit. Ultraviolet radiation turned out to be the tardigrades’ kryptonite, as few of the creatures survived full exposure to UV light during the ESA experiments.

This could be good news for the desiccated Beresheet tardigrades. If they landed in a spot on the moon shielded from UV radiation, the microscopic creatures might stand a chance of survival, Martin said.It’s Alive! ‘Water Bears’ Revived After 30+ Frozen Years | VideoVolume 0% 

“My guess is that if we went up in the next year or so, recovered the wreckage, and found these tiny, little tuns and put them in water, a few of them would come back to life,” he explained. 

But as long as the tardigrades remain on the moon, their chances of spontaneously awakening are low. Without liquid water, the tiny creatures will remain in a tun state, and while there’s evidence of ice on the moon, liquid water is nowhere to be found. 

Even if the lunar tardigrades did somehow encounter liquid water while still on the moon, without food, air and a moderate ambient temperature, they wouldn’t last very long once they revived, Kazuharu Arakawa, a tardigrade researcher with the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tokyo, told Live Science in an email.

“Much as I would love to see the establishment of the Lunar Tardigrade Republic, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Martin said.

Something Weird Is Happening to the Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way

An artist's depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy.

An artist’s depiction of a black hole at the center of a galaxy.(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have been watching the black hole at the center of our galaxy for 20 years, and in May, they saw something they’d never seen before.

Well, technically, they aren’t watching the black hole itself, which scientists call Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. Instead, they’re looking at the matter around that black hole. When the Milky Way’s black hole is more active than usual, that event horizon becomes brighter as it heats up due to friction. Usually, Sgr A* is pretty calm for a black hole, but in May, that changed, according to new research.

“The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we’ve seen in the infrared so far,” Tuan Do, an astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the new study, said on Twitter. “It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!”

That hypothesis is based on the fact that, when the astronomers focused on the area on May 13, they only saw relatively high brightness decreasing, suggesting that the black hole had passed an unknown peak that was even brighter. According to the new paper, the recent flare brought Sgr A* to twice the brightness of the highest previous measurement to date.

Do and his colleagues made the observations using the Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That instrument can see the world in near infrared light, which encompasses wavelengths a bit longer than those our eyes can see.

Here’s a timelapse of images over 2.5 hr from May from @keckobservatory of the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. The black hole is always variable, but this was the brightest we’ve seen in the infrared so far. It was probably even brighter before we started observing that night!4,5848:53 PM – Aug 10, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy2,368 people are talking about this

They think the black-hole flare may have been caused by the close passage of either a star called S0-2 last year or a dusty object called G2 in 2014.

The scientists hope more observations of Sgr A* will help them sort out what the massive black hole is doing. Those observations include measurements made overnight on Aug. 13 and 14 after a hiatus due to protests at Mauna Kea.

Other instruments, including the Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes and ground-based instruments, have pointed to Sgr A* on and off throughout the past few months, although those data have yet to be analyzed. ART-XC, a new Russian space telescope that launched about a month ago, also has turned its eye on the black hole despite still being in its calibration period.

The black hole is also the target of the globe-spanning Event Horizon Telescope, a collaboration that published the first image of a black hole in April. The historic image was of the black hole at the heart of a galaxy called M87, but the scientists are also working on processing data about Sgr A*.

The original observations are described in a paper posted to the preprint server arXiv.org on Aug. 5 that was recently accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Cause of mysterious methane spikes on Mars still unknown.

A few months after detecting an “unusually high” level of methane on Mars, researchers have yet to figure out what’s causing the spike. They have, however, ruled out one possibility and appear to be getting closer to answering whether life exists on other planets.

According to a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers from Newcastle University in the U.K. have ruled out that the spike could have been caused by wind erosion of rocks that had trapped the methane from fluid inclusions and fractures on the Red Planet’s surface.

“The questions are — where is this methane coming from, and is the source biological? That’s a massive question and to get to the answer we need to rule out lots of other factors first,” principal investigator Dr. Jon Telling said in a statement.

This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle on Vera Rubin Ridge in Gale crater on Mars. North is on the left and west is on the right, with Gale crater’s rim on the horizon of both edges. This mosaic was assembled from dozens of images taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). They were all taken on Jan. 23, 2018, during Sol 1943. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

On Earth, methane is produced both from biological and geological sources.

Telling added that over the last decade, winds on Mars have driven more sand movement than previously thought and that the erosions could be similar to those of sand dunes seen on Earth. Using the data they had, they found that wind erosion was not the source of the methane spikes and is coming from another source.

“What’s important about this is that it strengthens the argument that the methane must be coming from a different source,” Telling said. “Whether or not that’s biological, we still don’t know.”

Methane was first detected in the Martian atmosphere in 2003, but the recent spike in levels discovered by NASA’s Curiosity rover has perplexed researchers. In June, the space agency confirmed the rover measured the largest level of methane, 21 parts per billion units by volume, since landing on the Red Planet on Aug. 6, 2012.

The New York Times reported in June that sunlight and chemical reactions would break up any methane in Mars’ thin air “within a few centuries,” adding that the newly-detected spike was likely released recently.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Emmal Safi, noted that although the new research is “just a little part of a much bigger story,” he hopes it leads scientists to the answer of whether life exists on other planets.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to discover is if there’s the possibility of life existing on planets other than our own, either living now or maybe life in the past that is now preserved as fossils or chemical signatures,” Safi said.

The Mars methane spike has surprised experts. Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard laboratory to “sniff” methane in the Martian atmosphere 12 times over a 20-month period that ended in 2014.

“During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion,” said NASA in a 2014 statement. “Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.”

Sudden spikes of methane also have been recorded, but scientists don’t know how long these “transient plumes” last or why they differ from seasonal patterns.

NASA finds evidence of ‘interplanetary shock’ for first time

NASA has captured a phenomenon in space that has eluded humanity for centuries — an “interplanetary shock.”

Four spacecraft from the space agency, which are part of the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) that launched in 2015, managed to get a view of the event in January 2018. The craft were just 12 miles away from one another, which made seeing the spectacle possible.

“MMS was able to measure the shock thanks to its unprecedentedly fast and high-resolution instruments. One of the instruments aboard MMS is the Fast Plasma Investigation,” the space agency said in a statement on its website. “This suite of instruments can measure ions and electrons around the spacecraft at up to 6 times per second. Since the speeding shock waves can pass the spacecraft in just half a second, this high-speed sampling is essential to catching the shock.”

Data from the Fast Plasma Investigation aboard MMS shows the shock and reflected ions as they washed over MMS. The colors represent the amount of ions seen with warmer colors indicating higher numbers of ions. The reflected ions (yellow band that appears just above the middle of the figure) show up midway through the animation, and can be seen increasing in intensity (warmer colors) as they pass MMS, shown as a white dot. (Credit: Ian Cohen)

Data from the Fast Plasma Investigation aboard MMS shows the shock and reflected ions as they washed over MMS. The colors represent the amount of ions seen with warmer colors indicating higher numbers of ions. The reflected ions (yellow band that appears just above the middle of the figure) show up midway through the animation, and can be seen increasing in intensity (warmer colors) as they pass MMS, shown as a white dot. (Credit: Ian Cohen)

NASA continued: “Looking at the data from Jan. 8, the scientists noticed a clump of ions from the solar wind. Shortly after, they saw a second clump of ions, created by ions already in the area that had bounced off the shock as it passed by. Analyzing this second population, the scientists found evidence to support a theory of energy transfer first posed in the 1980s.”

An interplanetary shock, which emanates from the Sun, is a type of “collisionless shock,” where particles transfer energy through electromagnetic fields as opposed to bouncing into one another, NASA added.

“These collisionless shocks are a phenomenon found throughout the universe, including in supernovae, black holes and distant stars. MMS studies collisionless shocks around Earth to gain a greater understanding of shocks across the universe,” the space agency continued.

The researchers behind the observation hope that additional instances are spotted by the MMS that will give them more detailed looks at these interplanetary shocks.

NASA has released a video describing the charged particles, also known as the solar wind, in greater detail.

The research describing the find was published in the journal JGR Space Physics.

Asteroid the size of the Washington Monument will fly past Earth this month

Asteroid the size of the Washington Monument will fly past Earth this month

Washington Monument-sized asteroid to fly past Earth at 42,650 feet per second later this month

Just days after an asteroid the size of the Empire State Building flew past Earth, another “potentially hazardous” space rock will do the same.

Asteroid 2019 OU1 will safely pass by Earth on Aug. 28, coming within 639,000 miles or 0.00687 astronomical units of the planet. At an estimated diameter of 71 to 160 meters (233 to 524 feet), 2019 OU1 has sparked comparisons to the 555-foot tall Washington Monument.

2019 OU1 is also hurtling through space at roughly 42,650 feet per second, according to data compiled by NASA.

The space rock is known as a near-Earth object (NEO) and “potentially hazardous” NEOs are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units and measure more than 460 feet in diameter, according to NASA.

According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

NASA has been preparing for planetary defense from asteroid strikes for years. A recent survey showed that Americans prefer a space program that focuses on potential asteroid impacts over sending humans back to the moon or to Mars,

In 2016, NASA formalized the agency’s prior program for detecting and tracking NEOs and put it inside its Science Mission Directorate.

Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan that detailed the steps the U.S. should take to be better prepared for NEOs — such as asteroids and comets — that come within 30 million miles of the planet.

Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said at the time that the country “already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”

In addition to enhancing NEO detection, tracking and characterizing capabilities and improving modeling prediction, the plan also aims to develop technologies for deflecting NEOs, increasing international cooperation and establishing new NEO impact emergency procedures and action protocols.

NASA awarded a $69 million contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Elon Musk, in April to help it with asteroid deflection via its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

Separately in April, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that an asteroid strike is not something to be taken lightly and is perhaps Earth’s biggest threat.

“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” Bridenstine said at the International Academy of Astronautics’ 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Md., according to Space.com. “This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life, and that is the planet Earth.”

Dark matter may be older than the Big Bang

Dark matter, which researchers believe make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, is one of the most elusive mysteries in modern physics. What exactly it is and how it came to be is a mystery, but a new study now suggests that dark matter may have existed before the Big Bang.


Big Bang illustration (stock image).Credit: © Andrea Danti / Adobe Stock

Dark matter, which researchers believe make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, is one of the most elusive mysteries in modern physics. What exactly it is and how it came to be is a mystery, but a new Johns Hopkins University study now suggests that dark matter may have existed before the Big Bang.

The study, published August 7 in Physical Review Letters, presents a new idea of how dark matter was born and how to identify it with astronomical observations.

“The study revealed a new connection between particle physics and astronomy. If dark matter consists of new particles that were born before the Big Bang, they affect the way galaxies are distributed in the sky in a unique way. This connection may be used to reveal their identity and make conclusions about the times before the Big Bang too,” says Tommi Tenkanen, a postdoctoral fellow in Physics and Astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University and the study’s author.

While not much is known about its origins, astronomers have shown that dark matter plays a crucial role in the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters. Though not directly observable, scientists know dark matter exists by its gravitation effects on how visible matter moves and is distributed in space.

For a long time, researchers believed that dark matter must be a leftover substance from the Big Bang. Researchers have long sought this kind of dark matter, but so far all experimental searches have been unsuccessful.

“If dark matter were truly a remnant of the Big Bang, then in many cases researchers should have seen a direct signal of dark matter in different particle physics experiments already,” says Tenkanen.

Using a new, simple mathematical framework, the study shows that dark matter may have been produced before the Big Bang during an era known as the cosmic inflation when space was expanding very rapidly. The rapid expansion is believed to lead to copious production of certain types of particles called scalars. So far, only one scalar particle has been discovered, the famous Higgs boson.

“We do not know what dark matter is, but if it has anything to do with any scalar particles, it may be older than the Big Bang. With the proposed mathematical scenario, we don’t have to assume new types of interactions between visible and dark matter beyond gravity, which we already know is there,” explains Tenkanen.

While the idea that dark matter existed before the Big Bang is not new, other theorists have not been able to come up with calculations that support the idea. The new study shows that researchers have always overlooked the simplest possible mathematical scenario for dark matter’s origins, he says.

The new study also suggests a way to test the origin of dark matter by observing the signatures dark matter leaves on the distribution of matter in the universe.

“While this type of dark matter is too elusive to be found in particle experiments, it can reveal its presence in astronomical observations. We will soon learn more about the origin of dark matter when the Euclid satellite is launched in 2022. It’s going to be very exciting to see what it will reveal about dark matter and if its findings can be used to peek into the times before the Big Bang.”


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Materials provided by Johns Hopkins UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Something Just Smacked Jupiter and Here’s the Photo to Prove It

Ouch, that looks painful!

A photograph captured by amateur astronomer Ethan Chappel appears to show an asteroid slamming into the gas giant Jupiter on Wednesday (Aug. 7). So far, astronomers are still waiting to see whether anyone else spotted the sudden flash, which was located over the planet’s South Equatorial Belt.

“Today has felt completely unreal to me,” Chappel wrote on Twitter. “Hoping someone else also recorded the impact to seal the deal.” Chappel and fellow astrophotographer George Chappel post amazing views of the night sky at their website Chappel Astro.

There’s plenty of precedent for such impacts at Jupiter: The planet’s massive gravity tugs asteroids and other space debris toward itself. One group of astronomers has estimated an object 16.5 feet to 65 feet (5 to 20 meters) across slams into the planet between one and five times a month.

Those impacts are inevitable given the huge amount of rubble floating through the vastness of space. Astronomers have already identified more than 20,000 objects hanging around in Earth’s neighborhood alone, and they know that tally is just a fraction of the total. Such space rocks hit Earth as well, and protecting Earth from them is the purview of a field known as planetary defense, but Jupiter takes more blows because of its mass.

Here’s an animation that’s more representative of how fast the flash on #Jupiter occurred. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make this work without cutting out 6 frames for every 7.4,0679:28 PM – Aug 7, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy1,469 people are talking about this

Jupiter’s most famous bruise came from the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994. The comet fragmented and then, over the course of two years, about 20 different chunks fell into the gas giant’s banded clouds, leaving dark scars in the clouds.

This impact is unlikely to leave such scars, according to astronomer Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute on Twitter, who spearheaded Hubble Space Telescope observations of Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact.

(That’s the same telescope that recently unveiled a stunning new image of Jupiter and its slowly shrinking Great Red Spot. That image was captured June 27, long before Chappel’s photograph.) 

We’ve reached out to Ethan and George Chappel to find out more about their amazing Jupiter flash photo. This story will be updated as more details are available. 

Dead planets can ‘broadcast’ their ‘zombie signals’ for almost a billion years, study says

Dead planets can ‘broadcast’ their ‘zombie signals’ for almost a billion years, study says

Planets that have been dead for almost a billion years may still be able to “broadcast” their signals in space, according to a new study.

According to research published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, planets that have been stripped down to their cores by their stars interact with that star (likely at the end of its lifespan and thus, a white dwarf) and send out radio waves, thanks to the magnetic field between the two celestial bodies. The radio waves are often picked up by radio telescopes on Earth.

“There is a sweet spot for detecting these planetary cores: a core too close to the white dwarf would be destroyed by tidal forces, and a core too far away would not be detectable,” the study’s lead author, Dimitri Veras, said in a statement.

This artist's rendering provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows an asteroid slowly disintegrating as it orbits a white dwarf star.

This artist’s rendering provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows an asteroid slowly disintegrating as it orbits a white dwarf star. (AP)

“Also, if the magnetic field is too strong, it would push the core into the white dwarf, destroying it,” Veras continued. “Hence, we should only look for planets around those white dwarfs with weaker magnetic fields at a separation between about 3 solar radii and the Mercury-Sun distance.”

It’s still unclear how long the planetary cores can survive after the planet is stripped by the star. The researchers’ model dictates that in certain cases, the core can last for over 100 million years and perhaps as long as 1 billion years.

Veras added that no one has yet found the “bare core” of a major planet before, a major planet via magnetic signatures or a major planet around a white dwarf. “Therefore, a discovery here would represent ‘firsts’ in three different senses for planetary systems,” Veras said.

Still, the researcher, along with his co-author, Pennsylvania State University professor Alexander Wolszczan, believe that the research they are doing now will eventually lead them to this discovery.

“We will use the results of this work as guidelines for designs of radio searches for planetary cores around white dwarfs,”  Wolszczan commented. “Given the existing evidence for a presence of planetary debris around many of them, we think that our chances for exciting discoveries are quite good.”

Mysterious, Ancient Radio Signals Keep Pelting Earth. Astronomers Designed an AI to Hunt Them Down.

Sudden shrieks of radio waves from deep space keep slamming into radio telescopes on Earth, spattering those instruments’ detectors with confusing data. And now, astronomers are using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the source of the shrieks, in the hope of explaining what’s sending them to Earth from — researchers suspect — billions of light-years across space.

Usually, these weird, unexplained signals are detected only after the fact, when astronomers notice out-of-place spikes in their data — sometimes years after the incident. The signals have complex, mysterious structures, patterns of peaks and valleys in radio waves that play out in just milliseconds. That’s not the sort of signal astronomers expect to come from a simple explosion, or any other one of the standard events known to scatter spikes of electromagnetic energy across space. Astronomers call these strange signals fast radio bursts (FRBs). Ever since the first one was uncovered in 2007, using data recorded in 2001, there’s been an ongoing effort to pin down their source. But FRBs arrive at random times and places, and existing human technology and observation methods aren’t well-primed to spot these signals.

Now, in a paper published July 4 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of astronomers wrote that they managed to detect five FRBs in real time using a single radio telescope. [The 12 Strangest Objects in the Universe]

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007.

An animation shows the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have discovered about 85 since 2007. (NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Wael Farah, a doctoral student at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, developed a machine-learning system that recognized the signatures of FRBs as they arrived at the University of Sydney’s Molonglo Radio Observatory, near Canberra. As Live Science has previously reported, many scientific instruments, including radio telescopes, produce more data per second than they can reasonably store. So they don’t record anything in the finest detail except their most interesting observations.

Farah’s system trained the Molonglo telescope to spot FRBs and switch over to its most detailed recording mode, producing the finest records of FRBs yet.

Based on their data, the researchers predicted that between 59 and 157 theoretically detectable FRBs splash across our skies every day. The scientists also used the immediate detections to hunt for related flares in data from X-ray, optical and other radio telescopes — in hopes of finding some visible event linked to the FRBs — but had no luck.

Their research showed, however, that one of the most peculiar (and frustrating, for research purposes) traits of FRBs appears to be real: The signals, once arriving, never repeat themselves. Each one appears to be a singular event in space that will never happen again.

‘Earth-like exoplanets’ 12.5 light-years away could have liquid water and be home to life, study suggests

Two recently discovered “Earth-like” exoplanets could have liquid water on their surfaces and potentially support life, according to a new study.

Known as Teegarden b and Teegarden c, the exoplanets are likely within the star’s “habitable zone,” according to the abstract of the study, which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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“They are among the most Earth-like exoplanets yet discovered,” the study’s abstract reads. “Applying an analytic habitability model we find that surface liquid water could be present on both planets for a wide range of atmospheric properties, which makes them attractive targets for biosignature searches.”

(Credit: PHL, UPR Arebio)

The planets orbit the star known as Teegarden’s star, a red dwarf in the Aries constellation that is 12 light-years from Earth. They were first discovered in June as part of the CARMENES search for exoplanets, according to a press release.

Teegarden b and c have extraordinarily short orbits, at just 4.9 and 11.4 days, respectively. They also always face Teegarden’s star with the same side, a condition known as “tidal locking,” which could help support life, the researchers noted.

In an interview with New Scientist, Amri Wandel, the study’s lead author, said tidally locked planets may be more likely to have liquid water and have more extreme temperatures on different parts of the planet.

“This gives a wider range of possible atmospheres that allow for life,” Wandel said.

According to the June press release, there is a 60 percent chance that Teegarden b has a temperature between 0 and 50 degrees Celsius. Teegarden c only has a 3 percent chance of having a temperate surface environment and is believed to have a temperature akin to Mars, approximately -47 degrees Celsius.

Astronomers are convinced they’ve found two new Earth-like planets in our galaxy, and both appear so similar to our own, they’re now among the top 19 known exoplanets with potentially habitable environments.

Orbiting a neighbouring star in the constellation of Aries just 12.5 light years away, one of these two planets might in fact hold the greatest similarity to Earth we’ve discovered so far.

“The two planets resemble the inner planets of our Solar System,” explainslead author Mathias Zechmeister, an astrophysicist at the University of Göttingen.

“They are only slightly heavier than Earth and are located in the so-called habitable zone, where water can be present in liquid form.”

Despite its proximity, this nearby Teegarden’s star was only discovered back in 2003. About ten times lighter than our own Sun and one of the smallest stars we know of, the old red dwarf, which is roughly 8 billion years old, has proved a challenge to research.

According to the team, other planetary systems around similar stars have always been detected using the transit method, when an orbiting planet passes in front of a star, blocking Earth’s view and causing the bright celestial object to darken for a brief moment.

The alignment and dimness of Teegarden wouldn’t lend itself to this method however, so astronomers instead used the CARMENES next-generation telescope designed specifically for such situations. Located at Spain’s Calar Alto Observatory, the instrument allowed the researchers to look for any changes in the mini-star’s radial velocity.

After three years of close observation, watching for any ‘wobbles’ produced by orbiting objects, more than 200 measurements indicate the existence of two new planets, now denominated as Teegarden b and Teegarden c.

To make sure the radial velocity data indicating these planets wasn’t spoofed by variations in the star’s brightness, the researchers complemented their observations with photometric (light measurement) data gathered about Teegarden’s Star.

“These studies demonstrate that the signals of the two planets cannot be due to the activity of the star, even though we could not detect the transits of the two new planets,” says astronomer Victor Sánchez Béjar from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (AIS).

Teegarden b is the innermost planet; according to the international team, it has a 60 percent chance of having a temperate surface environment, somewhere between 0° to 50°C and probably closer to 28°C. Teegarden c, on the other hand, sits farther out, and has a surface temperature more like Mars, sitting at roughly -47°C.

01 teegardensstar image.adapt.1190.1

(A Mendez/PHL)

Given their minimum mass and their exposure to solar radiation, both planets have made the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog. In fact, Teegarden b has actually scored the highest Earth Similarity Index (ESI) ever.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that either planet is indeed habitable, it’s certainly a promising sign. Zechmeister told The Guardian that if these planets are equipped with atmospheres, they could very well be hospitable to life.

“The planets Teegarden’s Star b and c are the first planets detected with the radial velocity method around such an ultra-cool dwarf,” the team writes in a paper describing the discovery.

“Both planets have a minimum mass close to one Earth mass, and given a rocky, partially iron, or water composition, they are expected to have Earth-like radii.”

Lauren Weiss, an astrophysicist at the University of Hawaii who was not involved in this research, told National Geographic there were still some technical details that need to be teased out, but she was impressed by the overall quality of data.

While the team predicts that Teegarden b completes its orbit in 4.9 Earth days, and c does so in 11.4 days, Weiss argues that their journey might go even faster than that, which would inevitably reduce their habitability.

What’s more, she adds, we don’t yet know precisely how long it takes Teegarden to rotate on its axis; given that astronomers used radial velocity measurements to obtain their discovery, one of these planet detections might still be an artefact of the star’s rotation – but probably not both.

As the 24th nearest star system to our own and the nearest fourth with potentially habitable planets, Teegardeen is an excellent candidate for future research, and its potential to harbour life has left us quite excited.

The research has been published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Gigantic black hole with mass 40 billion times the Sun discovered by astronomers

Astronomers believe they have discovered a supermassive black hole located 700 million light-years from Earth — it has a mass 40 billion times that of the Sun.

The black hole resides in Holmberg 15A, a so-called supergiant elliptical galaxy located within a group of over 500 galaxies called Abell 85, according to SciNews.

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“This is the most massive black hole with a direct dynamical detection in the local Universe,” the researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and University Observatory Munich told the publication.

“This makes it the most massive in our region of the universe, and one of the most massive ever found.”— Andrew Coates, astronomer

“This black hole is not only one of the most massive known, it is also 4 to 9 times larger than expected given the galaxy’s bulge stellar mass,” they said.

An artist's impression of a black hole accretion disk.

An artist’s impression of a black hole accretion disk. 

This supermassive black hole is twice as large as two other huge black holes, scientists noted.

“This is a remarkable observation of an extremely massive black hole at 40 billion solar masses. This makes it the most massive in our region of the universe, and one of the most massive ever found,” Andrew Coates, from University College London’s Department of Space and Climate Physics, told Newsweek.

The work was completed by astronomer Kianusch Mehrgan and her colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and University Observatory Munich.

The findings will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Millions of Black Holes Are Hiding in Our Galaxy. Here’s How Astronomers Plan to Find Them.

It’s time to find all the missing black holes.

That’s the argument advanced by a pair of Japanese astrophysicists, who wrote a paper proposing a new search for millions of “isolated black holes” (IBHs) that likely populate our galaxy. These black holes, lost in the darkness, sip matter from the interstellar medium — the dust and other stuff floating between stars. But that process is inefficient, and a great deal of the matter gets expelled into space at high speeds. As that outflow interacts with the surrounding environment, the researchers wrote, it should produce radio waves that human radio telescopes can detect. And if astronomers can sift out those waves from all the noise that’s in the rest of the galaxy, they might be able to spot these unseen black holes.

“A naive way to observe IBHs is through their X-ray emission,” the researchers wrote in their paper, which has not yet been formally peer reviewed and which they made available July 1 as a preprint on arXiv. 

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Why is that? As black holes suck the matter from space, that matter at its fringes accelerates and forms what’s known as an accretion disk. The matter in that disk rubs against itself as it spins toward the event horizon— a black hole’s point of no return — spitting out X-rays in the process. But isolated black holes, which are small compared to supermassive black holes, don’t emit a great deal of X-rays this way. There simply isn’t enough matter or energy in their accretion disks to create large X-ray signatures. And past searches for IBHs using X-rays have failed to produce conclusive results.

“These outflows can possibly make the IBHs detectable in other wavelengths,” the researchers, Daichi Tsuna of the University of Tokyo and Norita Kawanaka of Kyoto University, wrote in their paper. “The outflows can interact with the surrounding matter and create strong collisionless shocks at the interface. These shocks can amplify magnetic fields and accelerate electrons, and these electrons emit synchrotron radiation in the radio wavelength.” 

 In other words, the outflow sliding through the interstellar medium should get electrons moving at speeds that produce radio waves.

“Interesting paper,” said Simon Portegies Zwart, an astrophysicist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in Tsuna and Kawanaka’s research. Portegies Zwart has also studied the question of IBHs, also known as intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs).

“It would be a great way to find IMBHs,” Portegies Zwart told Live Science. “I think that with LOFAR [the Low-Frequency Array in the Netherlands], such research should already be possible, but the sensitivity may pose a problem.”

IBHs, Portegies Zwart explained, are thought of as a “missing link” between the two types of black holes astronomers can detect: stellar-mass black holes that can be two to possibly 100 times the size of our sun, and supermassive black holes, the gargantuan beasts that live at the cores of galaxies and are hundreds of thousands of times the size of our sun.

Stellar-mass black holes are occasionally detectable in binary systems with regular stars, because the binary systems can produce gravitational waves and companion stars can provide fuel for large X-ray bursts. And supermassive black holes have accretion disks that emit so much energy that astronomers can detect and even photograph them.

But IBHs, in the midrange between those two other types, are far more difficult to detect. There are a handful of objects in space that astronomers suspect might be IBHs, but those results are uncertain. But past research, including a 2017 paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, which Portegies Zwart co-authored, suggests millions of them could be hiding out there.

Tsuna and Kawanaka wrote that the best prospect for a radio survey of IBHs probably involves using the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a multi-part radio telescope due to be built with sections in South Africa and Australia. It’s slated to have a total radio-wave collecting area of 1 square kilometer (0.39 square miles). The researchers estimate that at least 30 IBHs emit radio waves that the SKA will be able to detect during its first, proof-of-concept phase, which is scheduled for 2020. Down the road, they wrote, the complete SKA (scheduled for the mid-2020s) should be able to detect up to 700.

Not only should SKA be able to spot radio waves from these IBHs, they wrote, it should also be able to precisely estimate the distance to many of them. When that time comes, finally, all these missing black holes should start to come out of hiding.