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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
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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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Superstar Eta Carinae’s Cosmic Rays May Reach Earth: Study

Astronomers know that cosmic rays with energies greater than one billion electron volts (eV) come to us from beyond our solar system.

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Superstar Eta Carinae's Cosmic Rays May Reach Earth: Study
Superstar Eta Carinae's Cosmic Rays May Reach Earth: Study. Pixabay

Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light years, is accelerating particles to speeds comparable to that of light — some of which may reach Earth as cosmic rays, suggests a new study.

“We know the blast waves of exploded stars can accelerate cosmic ray particles to speeds comparable to that of light, an incredible energy boost,” said the lead author of the study Kenji Hamaguchi, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Similar processes must occur in other extreme environments. Our analysis indicates Eta Carinae is one of them,” Hamaguchi said.

Astronomers know that cosmic rays with energies greater than one billion electron volts (eV) come to us from beyond our solar system.

But because these particles — electrons, protons and atomic nuclei — all carry an electrical charge, they veer off course whenever they encounter magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and masks their origins.

For this study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the researchers used data from NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope.

Launched in 2012, NuSTAR can focus X-rays of much greater energy than any previous telescope.

Using both newly taken and archival data, the team examined NuSTAR observations acquired between March 2014 and June 2016, along with lower-energy X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite over the same period.

“We’ve known for some time that the region around Eta Carinae is the source of energetic emission in high-energy X-rays and gamma rays,” said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR.

Carina Nebula
Carina Nebula. Pixabay

“But until NuSTAR was able to pinpoint the radiation, show it comes from the binary and study its properties in detail, the origin was mysterious,” said Harrison, who also serves as a professor of astronomy at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena.

Eta Carinae, located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, is famous for a 19th century outburst that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky.

This event also ejected a massive hourglass-shaped nebula, but the cause of the eruption remains poorly understood.

The system contains a pair of massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them unusually close every 5.5 years.

Also read: Brain Damage Caused by Cosmic Rays Can be Prevented With this Drug

The stars contain 90 and 30 times the mass of our Sun and pass 225 million km apart at their closest approach — about the average distance separating Mars and the Sun. (IANS)