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Exoplanet may be brimming with oxygen but not life, say Researchers

Astronomer Laura Schaefer and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere

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Little Cub galaxy
The Little Cub galaxy - so called because it sits in the Ursa Major or Great Bear constellation. Galaxy (Representational Image). Wikimedia

New York, August 19: A Venus-like exoplanet may have an atmosphere with oxygen but not life, researchers report, adding that their magma ocean-atmosphere model can help solve the puzzle of how Venus evolved over time.

The distant planet GJ 1132b is located just 39 light-years from Earth. It might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This planet might be the first time we detect oxygen on a rocky planet outside the solar system,” said study co-author Robin Wordsworth from Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Astronomer Laura Schaefer from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere.

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Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet or UV light.

UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space.

However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.

“On cooler planets, oxygen could be a sign of alien life and habitability. But on a hot planet like GJ 1132b, it’s a sign of the exact opposite — a planet that’s being baked and sterilised,” said Schaefer in a statement.

Since water vapour is a greenhouse gas, the planet would have a strong greenhouse effect, amplifying the star’s already intense heat.

As a result, its surface could stay molten for millions of years.

If any oxygen does still cling to GJ 1132b, next-generation telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and analyse it.

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Venus probably began with Earth-like amounts of water, which would have been broken apart by sunlight.

Yet it shows few signs of lingering oxygen. The missing oxygen problem continues to baffle astronomers. (IANS)

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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

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NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars.
NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)

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Astronomers discovered Sun-like star that devoured its own planets

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Astronomers discovered Sun-like star that devoured its own planets

New York, Oct 13: Astronomers have discovered that a Sun-like star lurking around 350 light-years away consumed the rocky equivalent of 15 Earths.

Dubbed Kronos after the child-eating Titan of Greek mythology, the star is the clearest and most dramatic case yet of a Sun-like star consuming its own planets, said Semyeong Oh, astrophysicist at Princeton University in New Jersey and lead author of the study.

“Even if our Sun ate the entire inner solar system, it wouldn’t come close to the anomaly we see in this star,” study co-author David Hogg from the Flatiron Institute in New York added.

The research did not begin as a hunt for a planet-eater.

Oh was analysing a catalog of new star data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft for pairs of stars with similar speeds and trajectories.

Such duos are typically twin stars that formed close together from the same ingredients.

The analysis ultimately led to the identification of Kronos and its lesser known brother Krios.

Their official designations are HD 240430 and HD 240429, and they are both about 350 light years from Earth.

The keys to the discovery were first confirming that the widely separated pair are in fact a binary pair, and secondly observing Kronos’ strikingly unusual chemical abundance pattern, Oh explained in a statement released by the Princeton University.

Other co-moving star pairs have had different chemistries, Oh explained, but none as dramatic as Kronos and Krios.

Most stars that are as metal-rich as Kronos “have all the other elements enhanced at a similar level,” she said, “whereas Kronos has volatile elements suppressed, which makes it really weird in the general context of stellar abundance patterns.”

In other words, Kronos had an unusually high level of rock-forming minerals, including magnesium, aluminium, silicon, iron, chromium and yttrium, without an equally high level of volatile compounds — those that are most often found in gas form, like oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and potassium, the study said. (IANS)

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Researchers Claim The Existence Of Planet Nine

Researchers from an American University have laid evidences to prove the presence of Planet Nine

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Planet Nine
Kuiper Belt indicates the presence of Planet Nine
  • The science communities since a long time have been debating upon the existence of Planet Nine. 
  • Space highlights different shreds of evidence based on which scientists are stating the claim.

What Is Planet Nine?

Planet Nine is a hypothetical planet present in the far outer Solar System, whose mass is estimated to be 10 times more than the mass of Earth. The planet is said to be 20 times farther than the sun than Neptune is.

What Do Researchers Have To Say?

Dr Konstantin Batygin, a planetary astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology, said that there were five different lines of observational evidence which pointed to the existence of Planet Nine. He stated that if this theory does not sound believable, then people would have to come up with the answers of the five pieces of evidence which could lead to further confusion.

Also Read: Five Students from Telangana Selected for the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

Batygin in 2016 published a study examining the six known objects in the Kuiper Belt, a  circumstellar disc in the Solar System beyond the planets that extends from the orbit of Neptune towards interstellar space.

The study examines all the objects have elliptical orbits pointing in the same direction and are tilted the same way. These serve as evidence to the planet’s existence.

It is being said that the objects are tilted 30 degrees downward compared to the plane where the eight official planets circle the sun. Researchers also made use of computer simulations of the solar system including the Planet Nine and to demonstrate that there should be more objects tilted a whopping 90 degrees to solar plane. It was revealed that five such objects, which fit these parameters were already known.

The study led to the birth of two more ideas. Researchers said that this planet could have tilted the planets of the solar system during the last 4.5 billion years.

Planet Nine’s existence could also tell the reason as to why Kuiper Belt objects orbit in the opposite direction as compared to other things in the solar system.

-Prepared by Megha Acharya of NewsGram.

(the story was originally published in PTI)