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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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Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Red dwarfs -- especially young red dwarfs -- are active stars, producing flares blast out energy

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NASA, space, red dwarf
Superflares from red dwarfs may affect habitability of planets Pixabay

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that violent outbursts, or superflares, from red dwarf stars could affect the habitability of any planets orbiting it.

Young low-mass stars flare much more frequently and more energetically than old stars and middle-age stars like our Sun, the findings of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal showed.

The findings are based on observations of the flare frequency of 12 red dwarfs.

Hubble is observing such stars through a large programme called HAZMAT — Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

“M dwarf” is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star — the smallest, most abundant and longest-living type of star in our galaxy.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
Hubble Telescope. Flickr

The HAZMAT programme is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages — young, intermediate, and old.

“The goal of the HAZMAT programme is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars,” explained the programme’s principal investigator, Evgenya Shkolnik from Arizona State University.

“These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres,” Shkolnik added.

Stellar flares from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars.

Red dwarf  planet
Artist’s view of planets transiting red dwarf star in TRAPPIST-1 system. Flickr

Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares.

The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere.

When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed — just about 40 million years old — are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older.

This younger age is when terrestrial planets are forming around their stars.

Red dwarf
This illustration shows a red dwarf star orbited by a hypothetical exoplanet. NASA

About three-quarters of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy’s “habitable-zone” planets — planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface — orbit red dwarfs.

In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

However, red dwarfs — especially young red dwarfs — are active stars, producing flares that could blast out so much energy that it disrupts and possibly strips off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets. (IANS)