Chinese astronomers remain puzzled over a strange signal that was picked up by one of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes. The rare phenomenon cannot be explained and scientists say they don’t want to jump to conclusions.
China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) has detected a repeating fast radio burst (FRB) – unexplained radio signals coming from outer space – for the first time last week, according to reports.
First discovered in 2007, FRBs are extremely rare, with fewer than 100 having been documented to date.
FRBs usually only appear once, making them extremely difficult to track. Curiously, the FRB detected by the Chinese telescope has been observed before.
Known as FRB121102, the radio signal was first discovered in 2012 and later repeated in 2015. The signal came from a dwarf galaxy located three billion light-years from Earth.
Between August 30 and September 3, FAST recorded dozens of pulses from the FRB.
While undoubtedly exciting, not enough is known about the enigmatic signal to draw any conclusions about what could have created it, according to Zhang Xinxin, an assistant engineer with the National Astronomical Observatories of China.
Some theories have already been ruled out, though. The astronomers say that they are certain that the signal is not the result of interference from aircraft or satellites. The scientific community remains baffled by FRBs and where they come from.
A new study indicates that other planets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has.
(TMU) — The idea that there is no “Planet B” has long been a slogan for environmentalists trying to convey the gravity of the unfolding ecological catastrophe on our planet, but new research could render the mantra moot as scientists have revealed that exoplanets may exist in the universe that are capable of supporting abundant life-forms—and they could, in fact, be more hospitable a home than Earth.
Researchers have released a new study revealing the “surprising conclusion” that “conditions on some exoplanets with favorable ocean circulation patterns could be better suited to support life that is more abundant or more active than life on Earth,”according to geophysicist Stephanie Olson of the University of Chicago.
And while these exoplanets are so distant from our own solar system as to render it impossible to reach them with space probes, scientists are working on new remote sensing tools such as telescopes that would allow us to better understand what condition are actually like on these planets which may have the ability to support life on a scale unknown on our own planet.
Scientists have long estimated that roughly 35 percent of all known exoplanets larger than Earth are likely to be rich in water.
“NASA’s search for life in the Universe is focused on so-called Habitable Zone planets, which are worlds that have the potential for liquid water oceans,” Olson said.
“Our work has been aimed at identifying the exoplanet oceans which have the greatest capacity to host globally abundant and active life. Life in Earth’s oceans depends on upwelling (upward flow) which returns nutrients from the dark depths of the ocean to the sunlit portions of the ocean where photosynthetic life lives. More upwelling means more nutrient resupply, which means more biological activity. These are the conditions we need to look for on exoplanets.”
Olson’s team modeled a number of different types of exoplanets using ROCKE-3D software designed by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) to create simulations of planetary bodies with their own unique climates and ocean habitats.
The research discovered that those planets with thicker and more dense atmospheres, slower rates of rotation, and the presence of continents all created higher upswelling rates. Olson noted:
“A further implication is that Earth might not be optimally habitable—and life elsewhere may enjoy a planet that is even more hospitable than our own.”
The research, which was presented as a keynote lecture at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress in Barcelona, Spain, serves as a reminder that life is always more common than “detectable” life that lies in plain sight, Olson said. In the future, scientists should “should target the subset of habitable planets that will be most favorable to large, globally active biospheres because those are the planets where life will be easiest to detect—and where non-detections will be most meaningful,”she added.
Chris Reinhard of the Georgia Institute of Technology commented:
“We expect oceans to be important in regulating some of the most compelling remotely detectable signs of life on habitable worlds, but our understanding of oceans beyond our solar system is currently very rudimentary. Dr. Olson’s work represents a significant and exciting step forward in our understanding of exoplanet oceanography”.
Equipped with the knowledge contained in the study, scientists can now devise the best means through which to detect these new planets teeming with life. Olson concluded:
“Now we know what to look for, so we need to start looking.”
NASA has announced the discovery of three mysterious “missing link” planets in the TOI-270 star system.
(TMU) — NASA’s latest planet-hunting satellite has discovered three new worlds, including an entirely new alien planet with characteristics unseen within our own solar system.
The strange new exoplanets, which means they are outside of our solar system, are a part of the TOI-270 star system.
The new system, which revolves around a neighboring star, includes a rocky super-Earth that is slightly larger than our planet, as well as two other gaseous planets twice the size of Earth. Researchers claim that the planets are a “missing link” that sits between the smaller rocky worlds, including our Earth and Mars, and much larger gaseous planets such as Saturn and Jupiter.
The discovery, which is detailed in the latest issue of scientific journal Nature Astronomy, was made possible by NASA’s Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was launched into space in 2018 and has since scanned the universe for stars and planets capable of supporting alien life.
The smaller super-Earth lies within the habitable zone, meaning that it lies within the range of distance from a Sun-like star that makes it temperate enough to allow for liquid-water oceans. It is also a “quiet” planet, meaning that it has fewer flares and scientists will be able to observe it and its neighboring planets with greater ease.
However, researchers believe that its atmosphere is so thick and dense that the planet is extremely hot, potentially making the surface too warm to support the type of life found on our planet.
Stephen Kane, a UC Riverside associate professor of planetary astrophysics and member of UCR’s NASA-funded Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center, said in a press release that the discovery is exactly what NASA’s satellite was designed to find.
“We’ve found very few planets like this in the habitable zone, and many fewer around a quiet star, so this is rare. We don’t have a planet quite like this in our solar system.”
With a distance of only 73 light years away, the exoplanets are also among the closest ever found.
“The diameter of our galaxy is 100,000 light years, and our galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies … So, 73 light years means it’s one of our neighboring stars.”
Researchers hope that the “missing link” solar system will shed greater light on why so few worlds exist at that size.
Lead researcher Maximilian Gunther from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said:
“TOI-270 will soon allow us to study this ‘missing link’ between rocky Earth-like planets and gas-dominant mini-Neptunes, because here all of these types formed in the same system.”
Continuing, Gunther said:
“TOI-270 is a true Disneyland for exoplanet science, and one of the prime systems TESS was set out to discover.
It is an exceptional laboratory for not one, but many reasons – it really ticks all the boxes.”
Indeed, the researchers are hopeful that other planets within this solar system are waiting to be found.
The planets link together in what researchers describe as a “resonant chain,” meaning that their orbits line up in neat, whole integers—giving them a “resonance” with one another that gives researchers a method to discover more planets. Within our own solar system, the moons of Jupiter also line up in a “resonant” formation.
“For TOI-270, these planets line up like pearls on a string.
That’s a very interesting thing, because it lets us study their dynamical behavior. And you can almost expect, if there are more planets, the next one would be somewhere further out, at another integer ratio.”
The team remains hopeful that additional planets will be discovered in the neighboring solar system. And while the smaller planet is unlikely to host life due to its dense atmosphere, those planets lying at a greater distance from the star could be cooler and more capable of allowing water to pool on their surface.
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have conducted the first spectroscopic survey of Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system’s habitable zone. Hubble reveals that at least the inner five planets do not seem to contain puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres similar to gaseous planets such as Neptune. This means the atmospheres may be more shallow and rich in heavier gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen.
Some scientists are pushing for NASA to make looking for alien technology an official goal
WE’RE LISTENING A radio telescope in Green Bank, W.Va., was the first to listen for signals from intelligent aliens in 1960. Now scientists are using another instrument, the Green Bank Telescope (shown), to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Long an underfunded, fringe field of science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be ready to go mainstream.
Astronomer Jason Wright is determined to see that happen. At a meeting in Seattle of the American Astronomical Society in January, Wright convened “a little ragtag group in a tiny room” to plot a course for putting the scientific field, known as SETI, on NASA’s agenda.
The group is writing a series of papers arguing that scientists should be searching the universe for “technosignatures” — any sign of alien technology, from radio signals to waste heat. The hope is that those papers will go into a report to Congress at the end of 2020 detailing the astronomical community’s priorities. That report, Astro 2020: Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics, will determine which telescopes fly and which studies receive federal funding through the next decade.
“The stakes are high,” says Wright, of Penn State University. “If the decadal survey says, ‘SETI is a national science priority, and NSF and NASA need to fund it,’ they will do it.”
SETI searches date back to 1960, when astronomer Frank Drake used a radio telescope in Green Bank, W.Va., to listen for signals from an intelligent civilization (SN Online: 11/1/09). But NASA didn’t start a formal SETI program until 1992, only to see it canceled within a year by a skeptical Congress.
Private organizations picked up the baton, including the SETI Institute, founded in Mountain View, Calif., in 1985 by astronomer Jill Tarter — the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact (SN Online: 5/29/12). Then in 2015, Russian billionaires Yuri and Julia Milner launched the Breakthrough Initiatives to join the hunt for E.T. But the search for technosignatures still hasn’t become a more serious, self-sustaining scientific discipline, Wright says.
“If NASA were to declare technosignatures a scientific priority, then we would be able to apply for money to work on it. We would be able to train students to do it,” Wright says. “Then we could catch up” to more mature fields of astronomy, he says.
THE SETI VANGUARD Astronomer Jason Wright (third from the left, wearing sunglasses) and his students visited the Green Bank Telescope as part of the first-ever SETI graduate course at Penn State University.nline, November 1, 2009.
No, it’s not Pluto. Unfortunately for die-hard astronomy fans, Pluto is still languishing in its dwarf planet classification, and now it may become replaced by an even more distant planet, hidden somewhere in the mysterious Kuiper Belt. The supposed planet, creatively nicknamed Planet Nine, has not been proven to exist yet, but astronomers have a wealth of data that points to something about 10 times the size of Earth lurking at the edge of the solar system.
The search for Planet Nine started relatively innocuously with some research in 2014: astronomers Scott Shephard and Chad Trujillo published a paper studying a strange object called Sedna, a 1,000-kilometer-wide trans-Neptunian object (TNO). TNOs are minor planets, asteroids, and other bodies who orbits taken them farther out than Neptune, and include Pluto and 10-30 other objects.
The strange thing about Sedna was that it’s incredibly long and eccentric orbit seemed to tie it to an unknown planet somewhere outside the solar system, leading Shephard and Trujillo to hypothesize there may be a ninth planet beyond Pluto.
This led a different pair of astronomers, Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin, to start investigating other TNOs in hopes of finding a pattern that would show Planet Nine’s gravity in action.
In 2016, they announced that they had: several TNOs were shown to have orbits that were perpendicular to the normal orbital plane of the solar system, a phenomenon that can be explained by the existence of super-Earth-sized planet.
Based on the data collected, Brown and Batygin are 99.99% sure that Planet Nine exists.
Unfortunately, spotting Planet Nine has proved harder than they expected-even working with Shephard and Trujillo, Brown and Batygin have to rely primarily on one telescope, the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.
Inclement weather and bad luck have repeatedly foiled their attempts at observing the planet directly. There’s always the chance that Planet Nine is ever farther out than expected, or that it’s much smaller than estimated, both of which would make it harder to see.
The other option? Planet Nine might not exist at all.
Toronto-born MIT professor Sara Seager is shown in an undated handout image. Seager has pledged to spend the rest of her life searching for another Earth among the billions of stars that inhabit our night sky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-MIT-Justin Knight MANDATORY CREDIT
HALIFAX — Sara Seager has pledged to spend the rest of her life searching for another Earth among the billions of stars that inhabit our night sky.
“That’s our goal: to find life out there,” the Toronto-born astrophysicist says in a distinctly assured monotone, as if describing a walk to the local mall.
The highly acclaimed professor, who is scheduled to deliver a lecture on the heady topic later this week in Halifax, says the lofty objective is well within reach for the first time in human history.
And she should know.
“Forty years ago, people got laughed at when they searched for exoplanets,” she says, referring to planets found beyond our solar system. “It was considered incredibly fringe because it’s so hard … But there’s this shifting line of what is crazy.”
Seager, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is considered one of the world’s leading experts on exoplanets. She has been profiled by The New York Times, CNN and Cosmopolitan, and won a MacArthur “genius” grant.
In the field of astronomy, she is a certified rock star.
Ultimately, her research could help answer some of the biggest questions facing humankind. But first, Seager and her team have plenty of work to do.
And that’s what she plans to talk about Friday when she delivers the third annual MacLennan Memorial Lecture at Saint Mary’s University.
Her mission to find alien life somewhere in the cosmos may sound like it was borrowed from an episode of “The-X Files,” but recent advances in astrophysics suggest this pioneer of planet hunting has good reason to be optimistic.
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone