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Super Earth? Planet Hunters Find Another ‘Earthy’ Planet in Our Galactic Neighborhood

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This planet is located in the liquid water habitable zone surrounding its host star, named LHS 1140. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA VOA

April 19, 2017: The hits, they just keep coming!

News was made in February when astronomers found seven potential earth-like planets orbiting the red dwarf star Trappist-1.

Wednesday, another red dwarf star is making headlines with the announcement of a ‘super earth’ found orbiting around the small red star LHS 1140.

Super Earth?

Artist’s impression of the super-Earth exoplanet LHS 1140b. Credit: ESO/spaceengine.org

VOA spoke with Jason Dittmann, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, about the find.

He is the lead author of the paper laying out the new findings, which is being published Thursday in the journal Nature.

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He calls the planet a “Super Earth,” not because it’s any better than our blue-green sphere, but because it “is somewhere between the size of the Earth (the largest rocky planet in the Solar System) and Neptune. These planets are actually pretty common, but we don’t have any of them in our own Solar System so we don’t know much about them.”

Finding one is a big deal in general. But this one, dubbed LHS 1140b, is extra-special because it has turned up in the dwarf star’s habitable zone, that area in space where liquid water can exist on the surface.

The planet is 10 times closer to the star than Earth is to the sun, but red dwarfs are much smaller and much cooler than the giant inferno that keeps us warm.

The other special thing about this planet is that it’s about 5 billion years old, and according to Dittmann, “Five billion years should be more than enough time for life to develop [if it’s easy to develop, no one knows!] So this is definitely a good thing.”

Too close for comfort

In general, one big problem with the habitable planets scientists have found around red dwarfs — and this goes for a few of the seven they’ve found on Trappist-1 — and Proxima b, another found last year — is that they are so close to their star that the stellar radiation that is bombarding the planets can literally strip away any atmosphere.

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And this may be the case here.

But LHS 1140, according to team member Nicola Astudillo-Defru, “spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars.” That’s good news because the planet is so old and so big that chances are decent that it’s managed to hold onto an atmosphere.

Another bit of good news is that terrestrial planet LHS 1140b as seen from earth passes almost directly in front of its star, and that makes it a lot easier to do follow up research that Dittmann and his colleagues are already planning.
“We’re definitely already applying for as much telescope time as we can get our hands on,” Dittmann says, “to start looking at this planet’s atmosphere. And when the next generation of telescopes come online [The James Webb Space Telescope, and the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and European-Extremely Large Telescope (EELT) ], we’ll be in a great spot to find out what sorts of atmospheres planets around M dwarfs have.”

The Webb telescope is expected to launch next year, but the Giant Magellan telescope won’t be online until 2025, and the EELT won’t be working until 2024.

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That’s a long time to wait, and undoubtedly there’ll be a long list of planets to explore by then. But the hope is that by studying the atmosphere of all these planets in the habitable zone, we might find some of the biological signatures of living things. Two of the European members of the team, Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils say that it’s the best candidate so far.

“The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1. This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries!” wrote Delfosse and Bonfils.

And there certainly will be more on the way. (VOA)

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Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays Come From Outside The Milky Way

Travelling with a speed of lights, cosmic rays are atomic nuclei. Scientist says that high energy cosmic rays coming from outer space are hitting the earth.

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Cosmic rays
Source: Pixaby

New York, September 24, 2017: Researchers have found that some ultra-high energy cosmic rays that occasionally hit Earth come from a distant source outside the Milky Way.

Cosmic rays are atomic nuclei that travel through space at speeds close to that of light. Low-energy cosmic rays come from the Sun or from our own galaxy, but the origin of the highest-energy particles has been the subject of debate ever since they were first discovered fifty years ago.

Do they come from our Galaxy or from distant extragalactic objects?

The study published in the journal Science demonstrated that those cosmic rays with energies a million times greater than that of the protons accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator – come from much further away than from our own galaxy.

They were detected from 2004 to 2016 at the largest cosmic ray observatory ever built, the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

“We are now considerably closer to solving the mystery of where and how these extraordinary particles are created — a question of great interest to astrophysicists,” said Karl-Heinz Kampert from University of Wuppertal in Germany.

“Our observation provides compelling evidence that the sites of acceleration are outside the Milky Way,” Kampert who is spokesperson for the Auger Collaboration, which involves more than 400 scientists from 18 countries, said.

Cosmic rays are the nuclei of elements from hydrogen to iron. The highest-energy cosmic rays, those of interest in this study, only strike about once per square kilometre per year — equivalent to hitting the area of a soccer field about once per century.

Such rare particles are detectable because they create showers of secondary particles — including electrons, photons and muons – as they interact with the nuclei in the atmosphere.

These cosmic ray showers spread out, sweeping through the atmosphere at the speed of light in a disc-like structure, like a dinner plate but several kilometres in diameter.

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At the Auger Observatory, the shower particles are detected through the light they produce in several of 1,600 detectors, spread over 3,000 square kilometres of western Argentina and each containing 12 tons of water.

Tracking these arrivals tells scientists the direction from which the cosmic rays came.

After racking up detections of more than 30,000 cosmic particles, the scientists found one section of the sky was producing significantly more than its share.

The probability of this happening by a random fluctuation is extremely small, the scientists said — a chance of about two in ten million.

“This result unequivocally establishes that ultra-high energy cosmic rays are not just random wanderers of our nearby universe,” Paolo Privitera of University of Chicago who heads the US groups participating in the project, said. (IANS)

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Astronomers Detect Strange ‘Radio Signals’ Coming From Dwarf Star 11 Light Years Away

Dwarf stars have been shown to have planets orbiting the habitable, or ‘goldilocks,’ zone, as is the case with the recently discovered TRAPPIST-1

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Dwarf stars
Dwarf stars sending strange signals to earth. Pixabay
  • The signals came from a red dwarf star, around 2,800 times dimmer than the Sun
  • The possibility that signals came from extraterrestrial life cannot be ruled out yet, said an astrobiologist
  • The signals could have also come from some kind of man-made object in space, such as a satellite

London, July 18, 2017: To the delight of those trying to find life beyond our solar system, a team of astronomers has claimed to have picked up “strange signals” emanating from a star 11 light years away.

The signals were detected by researchers from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico who are studying red dwarf stars.

On May 12 this year, the team observed mysterious radio signals emanating from a star called “Ross 128”.

“We realized that there were some very peculiar signals in the 10-minute dynamic spectrum that we obtained from ‘Ross 128’ (GJ 447), observed May 12,” wrote professor Abel Mendez, planetary astrobiologist, and director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico in a blog post.

“In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations,” Mendez added.

ALSO READ: NASA Spacecraft circling Jupiter Reveals Beauty of Solar System’s Biggest Planetary Storm

However, the source of the mysterious signals still eludes the team.

“We do not know the origin of these signals but there are three main possible explanations: they could be emissions from ‘Ross 128’ similar to Type II solar flares, emissions from another object in the field of view of ‘Ross 128′, or just burst from a high orbit satellite since low orbit satellites are quick to move out of the field of view,” Mendez added.

The signals are probably too dim for other radio telescopes in the world and are currently under calibration.

“Therefore, we have a mystery here and the three main explanations are as good as any at this moment,” the professor said.

Dwarf stars have been shown to have planets orbiting the habitable, or ‘goldilocks,’ zone, as is the case with the recently discovered TRAPPIST-1, RT reported. (IANS)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • 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.

Confusing scenarios

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.

Families displaced

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.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

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.

Darzab district

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.

Hit-and-hide strategy

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)