NEW YORK, March 18, 2017: Is Pluto a planet or not? Giving this debate a fresh angle, Johns Hopkins University scientist Kirby Runyon wants to make one thing clear: Regardless of what people say, Pluto is a planet.
So, Runyon says, is Europa — commonly known as a moon of Jupiter — and so is the Earth’s Moon and so are more than 100 other celestial bodies in our solar system that are denied this status under the prevailing definition of “planet”.
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The definition approved by the International Astronomical Union in 2006 demoted Pluto to “non-planet,” thus dropping the consensus number of planets in our solar system from nine to eight.
“The change – a subject of much scientific debate at the time and since – made no sense,” said Runyon, lead author of a paper set to be presented next week at a scientific conference in Texas.
Icy, rocky Pluto had been the smallest of the nine planets; its diameter under three-quarters that of the moon and nearly a fifth of Earth.
Still, says Runyon, Pluto “has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet. … There’s nothing non-planet about it”.
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Runyon led a group of six authors from five institutions in drafting a proposed new definition of “planet,” and a justification for that definition.
All the authors are science team members on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, operated for Nasa by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
In the summer of 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft became the first to fly by Pluto, some 4.67 billion miles from Earth, passing within 8,000 miles and sending back the first close-up images ever made of Pluto.
Runyon and his co-authors argue for a definition of “planet” that focuses on the intrinsic qualities of the body itself, rather than external factors such as its orbit or other objects around it.
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They define a planet as “a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion” and that has enough gravitational heft to maintain a roughly round shape.
This definition differs from the IAU definition in that it makes no reference to the celestial body’s surroundings.
That portion of IAU’s 2006 formula – which required that a planet and its satellitesmove alone through their orbit – excluded Pluto.
Otherwise, Pluto fit the IAU definition: It orbits the Sun and it is massive enough that the forces of gravity have made it round.
The proposed new geophysical definition omits stars, black holes, asteroids and meteorites, but includes much of everything else in our solar system.
It would expand the number of planets from eight to approximately 110. (IANS)
London, Nov 1,2017: An international team of astronomers has found a gas giant the size of Jupiter orbiting a star half the size of the Sun, a discovery that challenges theories of planet formation which state that a planet of this size could not be formed by such a small star.
This unusual planet, NGTS-1b, is the largest planet compared to the size of its companion star ever discovered in the universe, according to the study to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us — such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars,” said lead author of the research Daniel Bayliss from the University of Warwick in England.
According to existing theories of planet formation, small stars can readily form rocky planets but do not gather enough material together to form Jupiter-sized planets.
The planet NGTS-1b which is six hundred light years away from Earth is a hot Jupiter, at least as large as the Jupiter in our solar system, but with around 20 per cent less mass.
It is very close to its star — just three per cent of the distance between Earth and the Sun – and orbits the star every 2.6 days, meaning a year on NGTS-1b lasts two and a half days.
The temperature on the gassy planet is approximately 530 degrees Celsius, or 800 kelvin.
The researchers spotted the planet using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) – a wide-field observing facility made of a compact ensemble of telescopes, designed to search for transiting planets on bright stars – run by the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin and Universidad de Chile.
The planet orbits a red M-dwarf — the most common type of star in the universe, leading to the possibility that there could be more of these planets waiting to be found by the NGTS survey.(IANS)
California, October 1, 2017 : Pluto’s surface consists of sharp blades of ice that shoot to the height of skyscrapers in Dubai. And scientists now might just be able to tell precisely how these dramatic structures arose.
The revelations of ice on Pluto first altered our understandings in July 2015 when NASA’s New Horizons mission flew past the dwarf planet and sent images of astounding terrains back to earth. Among its numerous discoveries were pictures of strange formations, resembling giant blades of ice, whose origin could not be traced.
Now scientists have come up with a scientific explanation for this ‘knife-like landscape’.
According to data obtained by New Horizons, these structures are made almost entirely of methane ice. While the cause of these peaks is still a mystery, scientists contend that they are likely to arise following a specific kind of disintegration that wore away their surfaces, leaving dramatic peaks and sharp partitions on the planet.
These land edges can be found at the extreme heights on Pluto’s surface, close to its equator and soar as high as the New York skyscrapers. Scientists identify these high cutting blades as a complex feature of the planet’s atmosphere and topographical history.
According to Jeffrey Moore, a research scientist associated with the New Horizons’ mission, presently at NASA’S Ames Research Center in California, the knife-like terrain began with methane solidifying out of the climate at extreme elevations on Pluto. This can be understood to happen in the same manner as frost freezing on Earth, the only difference being in the scale of the two.
These structures can also be found on Earth and are called penitentes. However, here they extend only up to a couple of meters in height in the high-altitude snowfields along the planet’s equator. Researchers believe slight inconsistencies can transform them into dramatic spikes of snow as sunlight sublimates a few sections faster than others and prompting longer and spikier structures.
The discovery of penitentes on Pluto highlights its complex surface and air temperature changes.
The new finding is set to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Icarus.
– prepared by Soha Kala of NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala
Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS
June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.
Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.
Confusion leads to mistakes
All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.
Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”
Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.
Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.
“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.
In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.
IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.
IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.
Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.
“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.
IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.
Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.
IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.
Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.
Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.
IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.
Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.
“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.
IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.
Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.
“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)