Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for stars!
The alien solar system Kepler-47 joins four previously discovered double-star systems that have only one planet each. Most of the stars in our galaxy that are like our sun are in binary star systems.
The inner planet of the Kepler-47 system, a world named Kepler-47b, has 3 times the diameter of Earth and orbits its twin suns in 49.5 Earth days. The outer planet, Kepler-47c, has 4.6 times Earth’s diameter and a year of 303.2 Earth days.
With binary stars at their center, the Kepler-47 planets have two suns like Tatooine, the fictional home world of Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” universe.
Kepler 47-c orbits within the habitable zone of its parent binary star. Its orbit is the largest yet found for a planet outside our solar system.
Astronomers have confirmed about 700 planets beyond our solar system as of early 2012, but the latest statistical analysis suggests that our galaxy likely harbors more than 100 billion alien worlds. One in six of the Milky Way’s 100 billion stars may have a Jupiter-size planet, while nearly two-thirds may host a world slightly larger than Earth.
Earth’s hellishly hot “sister planet,” Venus, takes this title because of its highly reflective clouds and proximity to Earth. It’s about six times more luminous than the runners-up, Mars and Jupiter.Venus is brighter than pretty much any object in our sky apart from the sun and moon, shining at a maximum apparent magnitude of -5 or so. For comparison, the full moon blazes at magnitude -13, making it roughly 1,600 times brighter than Venus. (In astronomy, lower magnitudes signify brighter objects.) [Amazing Photos of Venus and the Moon]
The largest known star is probably VY Canis Majoris, a red M-type star that lies about 3,800 light-years from Earth in the constellation Canis Major, The Big Dog.
Researchers estimate that VY Canis Majoris could be more than 2,100 times the size of the sun. If placed in our solar system, the monster star’s surface would thus extend out past the orbit of Saturn. But VY Canis Majoris may not even have a discernible surface, since the star appears to be about 1,000 times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.
VY Canis Majoris is the source of considerable controversy, since the estimates of its size fall outside the bounds of current stellar theory. Astronomers think VY Canis Majoris will die in a “hypernova” explosion sometime within the next 100,000 years, producing a burst of energy substantially higher than that generated by typical supernovas.
In 1997, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope identified what may be the most luminous star known — a celestial mammoth 25,000 light-years away that releases up to 10 million times the energy of the sun and is big enough to fill the diameter of Earth’s orbit.
Researchers have suggested that this powerhouse star — found in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius — also created a surrounding cloud of glowing gas that has been dubbed the Pistol Nebula. As such, it’s called the “Pistol Star.”
Unfortunately, this amazing star is not visible to skywatchers here on Earth; it’s hidden behind the great dust clouds along the Milky Way. The brightest visible star is currently Sirius, the Dog Star, which is found in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius shines with an apparent magnitude of -1.44. [More on the Pistol Star]
And the star’s color can vary, too. Most of the time, Mu Cephei appears a deep orange-red, but on occasion it has seemed to take on a weird purplish tint. While The Garnet Star is slightly dim, its ruddy cast is apparent even to the unaided eye on a dark night, and it’s stunning in good binoculars.
But it’s getting closer. Astronomers estimate that Andromeda and our own Milky Way will merge about four billion years from now, bringing the once-distant galaxy into spectacular view for any skywatchers still around to look up. [Gallery: Andromeda’s Crash with Milky Way]
What a sweet cosmic find! Sugar molecules have been found in the gas surrounding a young sun-like star, suggesting that some of the building blocks of life may actually be present even as alien planets are still forming in the system.
The young star, called IRAS 16293-2422, is part of a binary (or two-star) system. It has a similar mass to the sun and is located about 400 light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The sugar molecules, known as glycolaldehyde, have previously been detected in interstellar space, but according to the researchers, this is the first time they have been spotted so close to a sun-like star.
In fact, the molecules are about the same distance away from the star as the planet Uranus is from our sun.
In the disk of gas and dust surrounding this newly formed star, we found glycolaldehyde, which is a simple form of sugar, not much different to the sugar we put in coffee,” study lead author Jes Jørgensen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, said in a statement. “This molecule is one of the ingredients in the formation of RNA, which — like DNA, to which it is related — is one of the building blocks of life.”
Glycolaldehyde can react with a substance called propenal to form ribose, which is a major component of RNA, or ribonucleic acid. RNA is similar to DNA, which is considered one of the primary molecules in the origin of life.
Astronomers found the sugar molecules using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile. Using ALMA, the astronomers monitored the sugar molecules and found that they are falling toward one of the stars in the binary system, explained study researcher Cécile Favre, of Aarhus University in Denmark. [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]
“The sugar molecules are not only in the right place to find their way onto a planet, but they are also going in the right direction,” Favre said in a statement.
When new stars are formed, the clouds of dust and gas from which they are born are extremely cold. Much of the gas turns into ice on the dust particles, bonding together and becoming complex molecules, the researchers said.
As the newborn star develops, it heats up the inner parts of the rotating cloud of gas and dust, warming it to about room temperature, the scientists explained. This heating process evaporates the chemically complex molecules and forms gases that emit radiation that can be picked up by sensitive radio telescopes.
“A big question is: how complex can these molecules become before they are incorporated into new planets?” Jørgensen said. “This could tell us something about how life might arise elsewhere, and ALMA observations are going to be vital to unravel this mystery.”
Since IRAS 16293-2422 is located relatively close to Earth, scientists will be able to study the molecular and chemical makeup of the gas and dust around the young star. Powerful instruments, including ALMA, will also help researchers see the interactions of these molecules as new alien planets form.
The detailed results of the study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Credit: © The Royal SocietyCulmenated Toucan (Raphastos culmenatus) from John Gould FRS, A Monograph of the Ramphastidæ, or Family of Toucans (London, 1834)
Credit: © The Royal SocietyPurple Heron (Ardea purpurea) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 4
Credit: © The Royal SocietyQuebec Marmot (Arctomys empetra) from Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, ed. John Edward Gray FRS (Knowsley, 1846)
Credit: © The Royal SocietyEagle Owl (Bubo maximus) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 1
Drawing for Scientists
Credit: © The Royal SocietyThe 19th century artist and author Edward Lear was best known for his nonsense poetry, including the children’s classic, The Owl and The Pussycat. However, Lear got his start drawing detailed illustrations of animals for scientists. In honor of the bicentennial of Lear’s birth in 1812, The Royal Society in London is hosting an exhibition of his work, drawn mainly from its library. The exhibition’s centrepiece is a folio containing Lear’s zoological illustrations, which records show Charles Darwin checked out of the library. Above, one of Lear’s toucan illustrations.
Malayan Giant Squirrel
Credit: © The Royal SocietyMalayan Giant Squirrel (Sciurus javensis) from Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall, ed. John Edward Gray FRS (Knowsley, 1846)
Credit: 1Ammonites, plate 37.jpg © The Royal Society 1Colaptes collaris.jpg © The Royal SocietyAmmonites, from William Buckland FRS, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (London, 1836), plate 40
Green-Winged Teal Duck
Credit: © The Royal SocietyGreen-winged Teal duck (Anas carolinensis) from The Zoology of Captain Beechey’s Voyage (London, 1839)
Credit: © The Royal SocietySpiny Turtle (formerly Emys spinosa) from Thomas Bell FRS, A Monograph of the Testudinata (London, 1832–6)
Eastern Grey Horned Owl
Credit: © The Royal SocietyEastern Great Horned Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) from John Gould FRS, The Birds of Europe (London, 1832–7), vol. 1
Archaeologists have uncovered two 9,500-year-old cultic figurines in excavations just outside of Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) reported today (Aug. 29).
Found at the Tel Moza site, one of the Neolithic figures is a limestone ram with precisely carved spiral horns. The other is a more abstract sculpture of a wild bovine fashioned from dolomite, according to the IAA. Both are about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.
Archaeologists believe these objects might have had cultic importance for the people who created them. The animal figurines were found near the remains of an ancient round building, dating back to a dynamic time in the region’s history when humans were transitioning from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one of farming and settling in villages.
“It is known that hunting was the major activity in this period,” Hamoudi Khalaily, co-excavator of the site for the IAA, said in a statement. “Presumably, the figurines served as good-luck statues for ensuring the success of the hunt and might have been the focus of a traditional ceremony the hunters performed before going out into the field to pursue their prey.” However, archaeologist and excavator Anna Eirikh thinks the artifacts may have been associated with the process of animal domestication.
Excavations at Tel Moza are taking place ahead of the expansion of Highway 1, the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Human pipe effigy
Credit: Owen JarusA human pipe effigy, it appears to offer a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site. At the Mantle site archaeologists have discovered 200,000 artifacts, LiveScience takes a look at a selection of them in this photo gallery.
Another human face
Credit: Owen JarusThis selection also offers a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site.
Close up of a human face
Credit: Photo courtesy Archaeological Services Inc.This selection also offers a tantalizing glimpse at the faces of the people of the site.
An effigy face
Credit: Owen JarusAn effigy face imprinted in pottery. This practice is associated with the Iroqouis of New York state, its presence at Mantle suggests that the inhabitants had extensive contact with them.
Attention to detail
Credit: Owen JarusThis pipe effigy shows a tattooed man. Despite its small size the artist paid careful attention to detail.
Credit: Owen JarusThe tattooed man’s face.
Credit: Archaeological Services Inc. A woodpecker pipe effigy, about 5 cm across. When you smoke the pipe do you become the woodpecker? That’s one idea behind artifacts like this.
Credit: Owen JarusAn owl effigy that would have been part of a pipe. The people of Mantle, and indeed all First Nations, held these effigies in high regard. When a pipe broke care was taken to maintain the effigy until it could be carefully deposited.
Credit: Owen JarusA complete pot, with line decoration, discovered on site.
Credit: Owen JarusHeld together by an unknown substance, this tiny artifact has archaeologists puzzled as to its use and the meaning of the notching.
Credit: Owne JarusAn antler comb found at the Mantle site.
Credit: Owen JarusA stone axe, made of chloride schist. The people of Mantle would have cleared the land using axes like these.
Credit: Owen JarusA ceramic coronet pipe with metal insert found on site.
Credit: Photo courtesy Archaeological Services Inc. The black pigments used to decorate these sherds are a type of bone black pigment which has a high calcium content (~10-12% for both sherds).
Credit: Owen JarusA model of a longhouse at the Royal Ontario Museum. The Mantle site has 98 of them. Built of wood, a material that does not preserve well archaeologically, the houses at Mantle were between 80 to 100 feet long and were as wide as they were tall. At Mantle two of the longhouses are substantially larger than 100 feet and would likely have been used for public ceremonies.
Credit: Owen JarusThe inside of the longhouse, goods were kept and fires made. An extended family would have lived in them. When a man married a woman he moved in with her family.