Nasa’s Kepler Discovers Star With 3 Planets Larger Than Earth

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Nasa’s Kepler space telescope has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth.

The star, EPIC 201367065, is a cool red M-dwarf about half the size and mass of our own Sun.

At a distance of 150 light years, the star ranks among the top 10 nearest stars known to have transiting planets.

“A thin atmosphere made of nitrogen and oxygen has allowed life to thrive on Earth. But nature is full of surprises. Many exoplanets discovered by the Kepler mission are enveloped by thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres that are probably incompatible with life as we know it,” said Ian Crossfield, the University of Arizona astronomer who led the study.

“Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets,” added University of California Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura.

Petigura discovered the planets January 6 while conducting a computer analysis of the Kepler data NASA has made available to astronomers.

“There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans,” he noted.

After Petigura found the planets in the Kepler light curves, the team quickly employed telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and California to characterise the star’s mass, radius, temperature and age.

The star’s proximity means it is bright enough for astronomers to study the planets’ atmospheres to determine whether they are like the Earth’s atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.

The next step will be observations with other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, to take the spectroscopic fingerprint of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres.

“If these warm, nearly Earth-size planets have puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres, Hubble will see the telltale signal,” Petigura said.

The paper has been submitted to Astrophysical Journal and is freely available on the arXiv website.

Source : NDTV

Ripples in Space-Time Could Reveal ‘Strange Stars’

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By looking for ripples in the fabric of space-time, scientists could soon detect “strange stars” — objects made of stuff radically different from the particles that make up ordinary matter, researchers say.

The protons and neutrons that make up the nuclei of atoms are made of more basic particles known as quarks. There are six types, or “flavors,” of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm and strange. Each proton or neutron is made of three quarks: Each proton is composed of two up quarks and one down quark, and each neutron is made of two down quarks and one up quark.

In theory, matter can be made with other flavors of quarks as well. Since the 1970s, scientists have suggested that particles of “strange matter” known as strangelets — made of equal numbers of up, down and strange quarks — could exist. In principle, strange matter should be heavier and more stable than normal matter, and might even be capable of converting ordinary matter it comes in contact with into strange matter. However, lab experiments have not yet created any strange matter, so its existence remains uncertain.

Why Are Quark Stars So Strange?

One place strange matter could naturally be created is inside neutron stars, the remnants of stars that died in catastrophic explosions known as supernovas. Neutron stars are typically small, with diameters of about 12 miles (19 kilometers) or so, but are so dense that they weigh as much as the sun. A chunk of a neutron star the size of a sugar cube can weigh as much as 100 million tons.

Under the extraordinary force of this extreme weight, some of the up and down quarks that make up neutron stars could get converted into strange quarks, leading to strange stars made of strange matter, researchers say.

A strange star that occasionally spurts out strange matter could quickly convert a neutron star orbiting it in a binary system into a strange star as well. Prior research suggests that a neutron star that receives a seed of strange matter from a companion strange star could transition to a strange star in just 1 millisecond to 1 second.

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Success in the search for quiet, distant quasars

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If quasars weren’t so luminous, we couldn’t see them so far away in space and time. But how about modest quasars, also far away? Astronomers say they’ve found some.

Astronomers at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain say they have at last discovered a population of quiet, distant quasars. Nearly all the quasars we see at great distances are ultraluminous, and no wonder. They must be extremely luminous in order for us to glimpse them over the vastness of space. And yet astronomers have thought there must be, at those same vast distances, some quasars that were relatively quiet. Now, they say, they’ve found some and have been able to compare them both with the ultraluminous quasars in the early universe and also with closer quasars of moderate luminosity.

The farther away we look in space, the deeper we are looking into the past. Thus the ultraluminous quasars at great distances are showing us events taking place in the early universe: mergers of great galaxies containing gigantic black holes, with masses equivalent to billions of our suns, at their cores. These objects and events in the young universe are what we see as the distant quasars. The question has been, do the distant, tremendously high energy quasars have local relatives, in their same region of space and time, with much lower energy? And are those quiet quasars at great distances the dying versions of formerly ultraluminous quasars? Or are they something else entirely?

Jack W. Sulentic, astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC), who is leading the research, said:

Astronomers have always wanted to compare past and present, but it has been almost impossible because at great distances we can only see the brightest objects and nearby such objects no longer exist.

Until now we have compared very luminous distant quasars with weaker ones close by, which is tantamount to comparing household light bulbs with the lights in a football stadium.

Now, these astronomers say, they have detected the first distant, quiet quasars.

They say they employed the light-gathering power of the Gran Telescopio Canarias – known as GranTeCan or GTC telescope – located on the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands in Spain. This telescope let Sulentic and his team obtain the first spectroscopic data from distant, low luminosity quasars similar to typical nearby ones.

They say their data are reliable enough to let them establish essential parameters of the quiet, distance quasars such as their chemical composition, and the mass of the central black hole or rate at which it absorbs surrounding gas and dust.

Quasars appear to evolve with distance. That is, the farther away they are in space, the brighter they are. This could indicate that quasars extinguish over time. Or it could be the result of anobservational bias masking a different reality: that gigantic quasars evolving very quickly, most of them already extinct, coexist with a quiet population that evolves more slowly, but which our technological limitations have not allowed astronomers to study. Ascensión del Olmo, another IAA-CSIC researcher who took part in this study, said:

We have been able to confirm that, indeed, apart from the highly energetic and rapidly evolving quasars, there is another population that evolves slowly. This population of quasars appears to follow the quasar main sequence … There does not even seem to be a strong relation between this type of quasars, which we see in our environment and those ‘monsters’ that started to glow more than 10 billion years ago.

Are there also differences between distant, quiet quasars and the moderate quasars closer to us in space? These astronomers say there are, and these differences are not surprising. Jack W. Sulentic said:

The local quasars present a higher proportion of heavy elements such as aluminum, iron or magnesium, than the distant relatives, which most likely reflects enrichment by the birth and death of successive generations of stars.

Bottom line: Astronomers in Spain have been able to identify a population of quiet quasars located in the distant universe, that is, in the early universe. They have compared them both to ultraluminous quasars in the early universe and also to quasars closer to us in space and time … and found differences in both cases.

Source : earth sky