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Presence of Methane on Pluto confirmed: NASA

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Pluto_for_wikiWashington: NASA’s New Horizon probe — set for a Pluto flyby on July 14 — has confirmed that there is frozen methane on Pluto’s surface.

The Earth-based astronomers first observed Methane on Pluto in 1976.

“We already knew there was methane on Pluto but these are our first detections,” said Will Grundy, team leader with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Soon, we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another, he added in a statement.

New Horizons is now about 16 million km from the Pluto system – around 4.75 billion km from the Earth.

Methane was detected by a team of ground-based astronomers led by New Horizons team member, Dale Cruikshank of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California.

The detection was made possible with the help of  the infrared spectrometer on New Horizons spacecraft.

Methane is an odourless, colourless gas that is present underground and in the atmosphere on the Earth.

On Pluto, methane may be primordial, inherited from the solar nebula from which the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.

Just hours after its flyby of Pluto on July 14, the spacecraft will observe sunlight passing through the planet’s atmosphere, to help scientists determine the atmosphere’s composition.

“It will be as if Pluto were illuminated from behind by a trillion-watt light bulb,” noted New Horizons scientist, Randy Gladstone.

The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

“We are really on the final path. It just gets better and more exciting every day,” said project manager Glen Fountain. (IANS)

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NASA’s Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft

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Countless galaxies exist in the universe, each hiding secrets that humankind is yet to unearth. Pixabay
  • NASA’s Kepler has discovered nearly 100 new exoplanets
  • Some of the planets discovered are as large as Jupiter
  • NASA has also found planet which orbits very bright stars

An international team of scientists have confirmed the discovery of nearly 100 new exoplanets — planets located outside our solar system.

The discovery was based on data from the second mission of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope or K2 released in 2014.

NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has discovered nearly 100 exoplanets. Wikimedia Commons

K2 searches for exoplanet transits by registering dips in light caused by the shadow of an exoplanet as it crosses in front of its host star.

NASA researchers found that some of the signals were caused by multiple star systems or noise from the spacecraft.

But they also detected planets that range from sub-Earth-sized to the size of Jupiter and larger.

Also Read: Milky Way’s neighbouring galaxy is of the same size, not bigger

One of the planets detected was orbiting a very bright star.

“We validated a planet on a 10-day orbit around a star called HD 212657, which is now the brightest star found by K2 missions to host a validated planet,” said lead author Andrew Mayo, a doctoral student at the National Space Institute (DTU Space) at the Technical University of Denmark.

Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA
Some of the planets found are as big as Jupiter. VOA

For the study, appearing in the Astronomical Journal, the team started out analyzing 275 candidates of which 149 were validated as real exoplanets.

In turn 95 of these planets have proved to be new discoveries, Mayo said.

The Kepler spacecraft was first launched in 2009 to hunt for exoplanets in a single patch of sky, but in 2013 a mechanical failure crippled the telescope.

NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons
NASA has found many planets before as well. Wikimedia Commons

However, astronomers and engineers devised a way to repurpose and save the space telescope by changing its field of view periodically. This solution paved the way for the follow up K2 mission.

Adding the newly discovered exoplanets brings the total number of exoplanets by K2 mission to almost 300, the study said.

Also Read: NASA sounding rocket probing dark regions of space falter

The first planet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun was detected only in 1995. Today some 3,600 exoplanets have been found, ranging from rocky Earth-sized planets to large gas giants like Jupiter. IANS