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Unprecedented Discovery: An Earth-Sized Exoplanet Which May Have an Atmosphere

Bursts of radio waves likely caused by a star's solar winds interacting with an exoplanet's magnetic field have caused excitement in the search for potentially life-bearing planets.
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Radio telescopes help scientists search for Earth-like planets

Two US astronomers recently discovered an Earth-sized rocky exoplanet located roughly 12 light years away. This represents an exciting step forward in the search for potentially habitable or life-bearing worlds in other solar systems. Researchers have been able to confirm that the exoplanet (a planet existing outside our Solar System) may, like Earth, possess its own strong magnetic field and possibly even atmosphere.

Unusually strong bursts of radio waves, hypothesized to be caused by the interaction of the exoplanet with plasma spewed out from its star, caught the attention of the two researchers, Sebastian Pineda and Jackie Villadsen, when they were assessing data from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio telescope in the state of New Mexico, USA.

“Whether a planet survives with an atmosphere or not can depend on whether the planet has a strong magnetic field or not,” said Pineda. Such fields are believed to be essential for the protection of the planet’s atmosphere and potential life from harmful solar winds emitting from its star.

The exoplanet, called YZ Ceti b, orbits a red dwarf star called YZ Ceti within the constellation Cetus. The duration of its orbit around the star is just two days. In contrast, the closest planet to our Sun, Mercury, has an orbit time of 88 days. The fact that YZ Ceti b is very close to its star could have maximized the interaction between its magnetic field and the plasma winds, leading to what are referred to as bright radio signals.

“This research shows not only that this particular rocky exoplanet likely has a magnetic field but provides a promising method to find more,” says Joe Pesce of the US’s National Science Foundation.

Study Finds Medieval Eclipse Records Reveal Timing of Volcanic Activity

Monks looking at the moon to try to predict the biblical end times have inadvertently left accurate data to help researchers understand the era's massive volcanic eruptions.
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A darker moon during a lunar eclipse can indicate the presence of volcanic dust in the atmosphere

Careful records of the color of lunar eclipses made by medieval monks, keeping watch for the blood-red moon predicting the end times in the Book of Revelation, have helped an international team of researchers understand almost exactly when some of the biggest volcanic eruptions in human history happened. The innovative study documenting these findings, a result of an almost five-year research process, was published in the journal Nature.

Information found in historical texts from Europe and the Middle East, combined with ice core samples and tree ring data, has given new insights into what is seen to be the most volcanically active period in human experience. Specifically, this is the time span between 1100 and 1300, where the amount of volcanic dust interacting with the atmosphere and reducing sunlight reaching Earth is thought to have caused a subsequent cool period known as the Little Ice Age.

When asked what caused him to look to monks’ records to help determine the time of the major eruptions, lead author of the study Sébastien Guillet from the University of Geneva pointed to an unlikely inspiration. “I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album when I realized that the darkest lunar eclipses all occurred within a year or so of major volcanic eruptions. Since we know the exact days of the eclipses, it opened the possibility of using the sightings to narrow down when the eruptions must have happened.”

Between the years 1100 and 1300, Europe witnessed a total of 64 lunar eclipses. Of these, 51 instances have been recorded and documented by diligent chroniclers of the era. In five of these chronicles, it was noted that the moon appeared unusually dark during the eclipse, indicating recent volcanic activity where the resultant atmospheric dust dimmed the reflected lunar light.

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Plants do ‘talk’ – scientific study finds

You’ve heard of the adage “talk to your plants”. Well, that appears to be very sage advice because a recent study proves that plants can communicate.
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Researchers have found that the more stressed plants are, the more they "talk"
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Plants are not silent. According to a study, plants talk by making clicking noises. In fact, they become very talkative when under stress, such as when they are thirsty.

These new findings vastly contradict previous beliefs held by botanists – that the plant kingdom is silent. Researchers suggest that the world is a cacophony of noise made by plants – sounds that cannot be detected by the human ear.

The study was conducted by Lilach Hadany of Tel Aviv University. She is the program head of the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and a professor at the university’s School of Plant Sciences and Food Security.

Prof Hadany admits that she has always been skeptical about the silence of plants because organisms respond to sound, so why should plants be mute and deaf? Previous studies proved that plants vibrated. However, it had not been established if these vibrations were in fact sound waves that became air borne.

Ultrasonic microphones recorded stressed plants talking up to 30 to 50 times an hour

Prof Hadany’s interest in the subject was first ‘pricked’ by a cactus in her laboratory six years ago that she recorded with an ultrasonic microphone. However, she could not overrule the possibility that the sounds recorded were not made by the plant but by something else in the environment.

In the latest study, researchers used soundproof acoustic boxes, fitted with ultrasonic microphones, into which tomato and tobacco plants were placed. Some of the plants had damaged stems and had not been watered for five days. The other plants were untouched.

These microphones record frequencies between 20 and 250 kilohertz, while the maximum frequency detected by the human ear is about 16 kilohertz.

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Technology to Create World’s First Man-Made Meteor Shower in 2025

A Japanese company with a dream to light up the night sky with multicolored shooting stars may in fact increase our understanding of the mysterious mesosphere.
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The planned artificial meteor shower could outshine natural shooting stars

Tokyo-based space company ALE (Astro Live Experiences) has announced a new project called Sky Canvas, which aims to create the world’s first artificial meteor shower in 2025. This is conceptualized to be a unique and groundbreaking project, merging entertainment and scientific research.

The occurrence of shooting stars is a natural phenomenon that happens when meteoroids, which are small rocky or metallic bodies in outer space such as space dust and mini asteroids, penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. In the process, they leave behind a luminous trail of gas that can be seen from the Earth’s surface. This phenomenon can be vividly observed during meteor showers when the Earth passes through a trail of dust left by asteroids or comets.

The Japanese company plans to create a dazzling artificial meteor shower by using a satellite to release tiny metal-based pellets 249 miles (400 km) above the Earth’s surface. These pellets will be approximately 1 cm in size and will glow upon re-entry into the atmosphere, appearing as human-made shooting stars which will move more slowly and burn for longer through the night sky than their natural counterpart.

Scientists could study the light emission and trajectory of each “star” in the hopes of gaining more knowledge about wind speed and atmosphere composition in the mesosphere, which has not been well researched due to its altitude above Earth.

The mesosphere remains largely unexplored; Astro Live Experiences plans to change that

Weather balloons and aircraft are incapable of documenting this altitude, while satellites are too high to reach it. The project developers say that a greater understanding of this atmospheric layer could be achieved through this event, which they emphasize could contribute towards climate change research.

ALE has conducted experiments on the ground that have yielded successful results in the production of multicolored shooting stars. However, the company has stated that it remains uncertain whether the same results can be achieved in orbit.

The innovative company has assured the public that they will take every possible measure to ensure that the product is not a threat to other man-made objects in space. This commitment includes preventing the accumulation of space debris, which can be harmful to spacecraft and other equipment in orbit.

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