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Wed, 24 May 2017
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Astronomers discover moon orbiting 'Snow White' dwarf planet

These two images, taken a year apart, reveal a moon orbiting the dwarf planet 2007 OR10.
A new study has revealed that the third-largest dwarf planet in our solar system has its own moon.

Researchers used three different space observatories to confirm that dwarf planet 2007 OR10, which is nicknamed "Snow White," is orbited by a moon.

Snow White is a 1,530 kilometer-wide (950 mile) dwarf planet, while the new moon has been measured at between 240 to 400 kilometers (150-250 miles) in diameter. They are located in the frigid Kuiper Belt, on the outskirts of our solar system, beyond Neptune.

The moon was spotted in archival images of Snow White taken by NASA's Hubble telescope. Observations of the dwarf planet by the agency's Kepler Telescope first alerted astronomers to the possibility of a moon circling it.


NASA probe Juno completes latest flyby of gas giant Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft collected more crucial data during its latest flyby of Jupiter, the probe's fifth science orbit since beginning its monumental mission.

Juno's many onboard instruments collected various forms of data during the close flyby. These readings will be returned to Earth for analysis along with images captured by the spacecraft's JunoCam.

The spacecraft got closest to the center of the gas giant at about 2,200 miles (3,500km) above Jupiter's "mysterious cloud tops" - the secrets of which, NASA believes, the flyby will help reveal.


Magnetic field detected between magellanic clouds

© Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ.
This visible-light mosaic shows the Magellanic Clouds in the context of the Milky Way's galactic plane.
A magnetic field appears to span the space between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two dwarf galaxies being consumed by our Milky Way Galaxy.

For stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere, it's easy to forget that the Milky Way is actively consuming two dwarf galaxies. Those in the Southern Hemisphere have a front row seat to watch our galaxy wreak havoc on the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC). But there's more to the story — the dwarfs are not only gravitationally interacting with the Milky Way but with each other as well.

The gravitational effects evident from these interactions can tell us a lot about the history and evolution of these galaxies as well as the environments surrounding them, but gravity isn't the only force at work here. Magnetic fields play a role as well, one astronomers are still trying to puzzle out. Now, for the first time, researchers using the Australia Telescope Compact Array radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, have detected a magnetic field in the space between the Magellanic Clouds. Called the Magellanic Bridge, this structure is a 75,000 light-year long filament of gas and dust that stretches from the LMC to the SMC. These results are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (full text here).


Researchers study mice and mindfulness

© Illustration by Renaud Vigourt
Mice do not, so far as we know, practice meditation. But in order to study how that activity affects human brains at the cellular level, researchers at the University of Oregon managed to put murine brains into a somewhat equivalent state. Their experiments, reported in March in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest new ways of investigating how a person's brain can constantly reshape itself.

Past studies have suggested that people who meditate tend to have more white matter in and around the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions. Meditation also seems to intensify theta-wave activity, a type of rhythmic electrical pulsation often associated with a state of calm. Psychologists at Oregon speculated that the surge in theta waves stimulated the production of cells in the white matter. But they needed to develop an animal model of this activity; they obviously couldn't examine the living brain tissue in meditating humans.


Steven Hawking says humanity has 100, not 1,000, years to find new planet to live on

© NASA / Reuters
Renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has again called on humanity to redouble its efforts to colonize other worlds before the Earth becomes uninhabitable. This time, however, the deadline is even tighter.

Speaking to The Royal Society in London ahead of the Starmus IV festival to be held this June in Trondheim, Norway, Hawking reiterated his desire for humanity to unite with the singular purpose of becoming a multi-planetary species.


Tabby's star is dimming again

© Ars Technica
Image of the star KIC 8462852 at infrared (left) and ultraviolet (right) wavelengths.
For the last few years, a distant star in the constellation Cygnus, known officially as KIC 8462852 and unofficially as Tabby's star or the WTF star, has intrigued astronomers due to its irregular but significant dimming. Astronomers have struggled to find a natural explanation for why the star dims so much, 20 percent, before returning to its regular brightness.

These observations have led to various hypotheses, including the exotic notion of some kind of alien megastructure passing between the star and Earth-based telescopes. Now the enigmatic star has been observed to be dropping in flux again, and astronomers have put out a call for telescopes around the world to measure light coming from the system.

As of Friday morning, it appeared that the light curve coming from the star had only just begun to dip, offering observatories a chance to observe most of dimming cycle.


A radical approach for the age of superbugs: Don't fight infections, learn to live with them

© Sandy Huffaker
Janelle Ayres argues for a radically new approach to treating infection: Don't fight it. Help the body tolerate it.
As her father lay dying of sepsis, Janelle Ayres spent nine agonizing days at his bedside. When he didn't beat the virulent bloodstream infection, she grieved. And then she got frustrated. She knew there had to be a better way to help patients like her dad.

In fact, she was working on one in her lab.

Ayres, a hard-charging physiologist who has unapologetically decorated her lab with bright touches of hot pink, is intent on upending our most fundamental understanding of how the human body fights disease.

Scientists have focused for decades on the how the immune system battles pathogens. Ayres believes other elements of our physiology are at least as important — so she's hunting for the beneficial bacteria that seem to help some patients maintain a healthy appetite and repair damaged tissue even during bouts of serious disease.

If she can find them — and she's already begun to do so — she believes she can develop drugs that will boost those qualities in patients who lack them and help keep people alive through battles with sepsis, malaria, cholera, and a host of other diseases.


China makes 'flammable ice': Believed to be the best replacement for natural gas and oil

Chinese miners have managed to extract 'combustible ice' from the seafloor of the South China Sea, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources. The successful collection of the frozen fuel was "a major breakthrough that may lead to a global energy revolution," said China's Minister of Land and Resources, Jiang Daming. 'Flammable Ice' is methane hydrates with molecules of methane gas trapped in a lattice of ice crystals. It can exist only in conditions of very low temperatures and high pressure. One cubic meter of combustible ice is equal to 164 cubic meters of natural gas, according to the US Energy Information Agency.

"It looks like ice crystals, but if you zoom into a molecular level, you see the methane molecules are caged in by the water molecules," said Associate Professor Praveen Linga from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore, as quoted by BBC. In spite of the low temperature, the hydrates are easily flammable, as the gas encased in the ice catches fire once you bring it to a flame. The discovery is China's first success in the mining of flammable ice following almost twenty years of research and exploration, according to the ministry.

Comment: Seven years ago BP hit a technical obstacle in the form of methane hydrates, or flammable ice, when they were trying to lower a giant containment dome to trap oil from a blown-out Gulf of Mexico oil well on the sea floor.

See also:


High altitude nuclear weapons testing impacted space weather

© Wikimedia Commons
“Ivy Mike” atmospheric nuclear test, taken in November 1952.
The overdrawn game of nuclear chicken between the USSR and the United States—now known as the Cold War—lasted about 45 years. While neither superpower ever deployed nukes on each others' soil, high-altitude bomb testing caused a kerfuffle in Earth's atmosphere. Though the conflict has (thankfully) long since ended, newly declassified information suggests it might have impacted space weather in ways we never anticipated.

According to a new paper published in Space Science Reviews, the high altitude nuclear testing conducted by both the USSR and United States created "artificial radiation belts" near Earth. Our planet is naturally surrounded by Van Allen radiation belts—zones of highly-charged particles. But the energy from nuclear explosions created hot, electrically charged regions within the atmosphere that induced geomagnetic disturbances, and even produced radiation belts of its own. As you can probably guess, the results were not so great—according to the study's authors, this resulted in "major damages to several satellites" that orbited Earth at a fairly low altitude.

Radiation and high-energy particles from the Sun frequently interact with Earth's geomagnetic field, in the phenomenon known as space weather. When enough of these high energy particles rain down on the magnetosphere, it can severely damage communications satellites and even electrical power grids on the ground. But the radiation from nuclear blasts in the '60s is an extreme example of how humans can also fuck with our geomagnetic field, which is salient to understand but also terrifying.

Comet 2

Study of 3 billion-year-old minerals shows comets helped build Earth's atmosphere

© University of Manchester
Scientists have revealed that some of Earth's atmosphere may have been brought to the planet by comets billions of years ago.

The mystery of how the Earth's atmosphere was formed has long baffled scientists. Some researchers think comets might have originally brought some of the water, organic and atmospheric molecules to Earth that now make up its life.

Now a new study, published in Nature Communications, by researchers from The University of Manchester, UK, Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques (CRPG) and Université de Lorraine (Nancy, France), has found evidence to back up the theory.

The scientists have been analysing tiny samples of ancient air trapped in water bubbles found in the mineral, quartz, which dates back more than three billion years. The team found that the air in the rocks is partly made up of an extremely rare form of the chemical element, xenon. It is known as U-Xe and what makes it so rare is that it isn't usually found on Earth. The component is not present in the Earth's mantle, nor is it found in meteorites.

Therefore, the team believe that the U-Xe must have been added to the Earth after a primordial atmosphere had developed. Simply put, comets are the best candidates for carrying the U-Xe to the planet.

Comment: Earth's Atmosphere May Be Extraterrestrial in Origin