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Scientists discovered a copy of our Earth and the Sun three thousand light years away

The Kepler-160 star and its satellite KOI-456.04 are more reminiscent of the Sun-Earth system than any previously known exoplanet star pair.

The Kepler-160 star probably has an orbit on a planet that is almost twice the size of Earth. The distance from the star to the planet allows you to allow the temperature of the surface of the planet, contributing to the development of life. Recently discovered by a group of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Solar System (MPS) in Göttingen (Germany), the exoplanet is more than just a potentially inhabited world.

One of the key properties that makes this world look more like the Sun-Earth system than any other previously known world is its star, similar to the Sun. Most of the exoplanets known so far similar to the Earth are found in orbit around faint stars – red dwarfs that emit their energy mainly in the form of infrared radiation, and not visible light. However, the light emitted by a star like the Sun is very similar to daylight on our home planet. Moreover, the KOI-456.04 orbital period around the star is almost identical to the Earth year.

Space telescopes such as CoRoT, Kepler, and TESS have allowed scientists to discover about 4,000 extra-solar planets (planets around distant stars) over the past 14 years. Most of these planets are the size of the gas giant Neptune, about four times the size of the Earth, which are in relatively close orbits around their host stars.

Scientists have also discovered several small exoplanets, like Earth, which could potentially be rocky. A handful of these small planets are also at the right distance from their stars to potentially have moderate surface temperatures for the presence of liquid surface water – the main ingredient of life on Earth.

“The full picture of planet habitability also includes a glimpse of the quality of a star,” explains Dr. Rene Heller, MPS scientist and lead author of the new study. 

Until now, almost all exoplanets are twice as large as the Earth, which can potentially have a mild surface temperature, are in orbit around red dwarfs.

Red dwarfs are known for their extremely long life. Life on an exoplanet in orbit around an old red dwarf can potentially last twice as long as life on Earth – for formation and development. But the radiation from the red dwarf star is mostly infrared, and not visible light, as we know it.

Many red dwarfs are also known for emitting high-energy flares and frying their planets, which subsequently become unsuitable for habitation.

Moreover, their weakness requires that any inhabited planet be so close to the star that stellar gravity begins to significantly deform the planet. As a result of tidal heating on the planet, deadly global volcanism can occur. The habitability of the planets around red dwarfs is widely discussed in the scientific community.

In a new research article, a group of scientists from MPS, the Sonneberg Observatory, the University of Gottingen, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and NASA announced the discovery of a candidate for a planet that is twice the size of the Earth and with moderate light from a solar star.

The star Kepler-160 is located at a distance of just over 3000 light years from the solar system. She was constantly in sight of the main mission of the Kepler telescope and was constantly observed from 2009 to 2013. Its radius is 1.1 of the radius of the Sun, and the surface temperature is 5200 degrees Celsius (300 degrees less than that of the Sun). It has a star-like luminosity very similar to the Sun, making it an astrophysical photograph of our own star.

The Kepler-160 star is known to be the host star of two exoplanets called Kepler-160b and Kepler-160c. Both of these planets are much larger than the Earth and are in relatively close orbits around their star.

Their surface temperature certainly makes them hotter than a baking oven. But the tiny changes in the orbital period of the planet Kepler-160c gave scientists hope for the discovery of a third planet.

A team of German and American scientists returned to archival data from the Kepler telescope to find additional planets around this star and check the planetary origin of the Kepler-160c orbit. Heller and his colleagues previously successfully discovered 18 forgotten exoplanets according to old Kepler data.

When searching for exoplanets, scientists usually look for repeated changes in the brightness of stars. These temporary blackouts, usually only one percent or less of the apparent brightness of the stars, can be caused by the fact that the planets pass through the disks of their stars – when viewed from Earth.

Their new search algorithm was critical to discovering a new candidate for the transit planet KOI-456.04. “Our analysis shows that Kepler-160 has not two, but four planets,” Heller summarizes the new study.

One of the two planets found by Heller and his colleagues is Kepler-160d, the previously suspected planet responsible for the distorted orbit of Kepler-160s. Kepler-160d does not show any transitions on the star’s light curve, and this was confirmed indirectly.

Another planet, formally a candidate for the planet, is KOI-456.04, probably a transit planet with a radius of 1.9 Earth radius and a period of 378 days. Considering its sun-like star, the orbital period very similar to the Earth, the distance from the star very similar to the Earth – both in terms of the amount of light received and in terms of the color of light.

The light from Kepler-160 is visible light, very similar to sunlight. Given all this, the planet KOI-456.04 is located in the habitable zone of the star – a range of distances around the star that allows the presence of liquid water on the surface.

“KOI-456.01 is relatively large compared to many other planets that are considered potentially habitable. But it is the combination of this planetary size and a solar-type host star that makes it so special and familiar, ”Heller explains.

As a result, the surface conditions on KOI-456.04 can be similar to those known on Earth, provided that its atmosphere is not too massive and similar to the Earth. The amount of light received from the host star is about 93 percent of the sunlight received by the Earth. If KOI-456.04 has a mostly inert atmosphere with a soft, Earth-like greenhouse effect, then its surface temperature will be on average +5 degrees Celsius, which is about ten degrees below the average global temperature of the Earth.

At present, it cannot be completely ruled out that KOI-456.04 is actually a statistical randomness or systematic measurement error instead of a real planet. The team estimates the chances of having the planet KOI-456.04 at 85%, and 99% is required to obtain the official status of the planet.

While some of the Earth’s most powerful ground-based telescopes could confirm this candidate with observations during one of his upcoming transits, there is also hope that the future PLATO (ESA) space mission will be able to do this. It is planned that PLATO will be launched in 2026, and one of its main scientific goals is the discovery of planets the size of the Earth around stars similar to the Sun.

MPS is currently building a PLATO data center and is actively participating in the PLATO mission. If PLATO is oriented in such a way as to revise the data of the main Kepler mission, then KOI-456.04 will be able to become a confirmed planet and be studied by PLATO in more detail.

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Space

Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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