“Hot-Earths” & New Species | SciByte 108

“Hot-Earths” & New Species | SciByte 108

We take a look at a strange exo-planet, SpaceX rocket testing, an Australian ‘lost world’, simulating dinosaurs walk, viewer feedback about human regeneration, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Hot Exoplanet is NOT a \’New Earth\’

  • A team of astronomers have discovered an earth-like blazing hot planet that shouldn\’t exist
  • No matter what the headlines say, just because an exoplanet has somewhat like Earth in density or size, it doesn\’t mean it\’s habitable.
  • The Star Kepler 78
  • A sun-like G-type star
  • It is located 400 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus
  • Discovered using data from NASA\’s Kepler Space Telescope with follow up observations were made using W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii
  • Kepler 78-b
  • First known Earth-sized planet with an Earth-like density
  • Diameter of 9,200 miles, 1.2 times the size of Earth
  • Mass is 1.7 times more than Earth
  • Composed of iron and rock
  • Orbit Length | 8.5 hours
  • Distance from star | 1.6 km / 1 mi
  • Kepler 78-b Mass Measurements
  • Two independent research teams have now confirmed the planet’s mass and density by measuring “wobbles” of its sun-like host star, seen as the exoplanet orbits around it
  • Generally it is difficult to measure the mass of planets that Kepler finds because it is hard for ground-based telescopes to spot the subtle wobble of the star
  • In the case of Kepler 78-b since it orbits so close to its star, the planet exerts a greater gravitational pull on the star that it would if it were as far as Earth is from our sun
  • Breaking The Rules
  • When this planetary system was forming, the young star was larger than it is now meaning that it would have been inside the swollen star
  • The planet couldn’t have formed farther out and migrated inward, because it should have been drawn straight into the star
  • One of the more exotic possibilities is that it is the remnant core of a disrupted gas giant
  • The extreme gravitational pull from its star will draw it ever closer in, ripping the entire planet apart in about three billion years
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Earth-like planet Kepler 78b | Nature Newsteam
  • Further Reading / In the News
    +New Earth-Like Blazing Hot Planet ‘Kepler-78b’ Discovered | ScienceWorld.com
  • New-found Earth-size Exoplanet Doomed – News Watch | Newswatch.NationalGeographic.com
    +Kepler Discovers Earth-Sized Mystery Planet – Popular Mechanics


SpaceX Will Be Renting Test Space From NASA

  • SpaceX has signed a contract to research, develop and test Raptor methane rocket engines at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi
  • Testing
  • SpaceX currently does most of its rocket testing in Texas
  • Now the plan is to use the E-2 test stand at Stennis, which is able to support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests
  • The E-2 stand is big enough for components, but SpaceX would need a bigger stand for the whole Raptor
  • Reportedly SpaceX is working out a Space Act agreement to establish user fees, amongst other things, once an agreement is finalized the testing can begin as early as next year
  • Used For?
  • There is little information on SpaceX’s website about what the Raptor engine is or specific development plans
  • Space News reports that it would be used for deep-space missions
  • There are multiple reports that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has mentioned the engine previously when talking about Mars missions
  • Raptor Rocket Engine, What We Know
  • Intended to power a higher performance upper stage for SpaceX launch vehicles, powered by methane and liquid oxygen (LOX)
  • Designed to produce more than 661,000 lbf (2,940 kN) thrust in vacuum, which is the space environment that the Raptor second-stage engine is designed for.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Methane Rocket | Christopher Martinez
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Stennis Space Center
  • SpaceX Signs Pact To Start Rocket Testing At NASA Stennis | UniverseToday.com


Australian \’Lost World\’

  • An expedition to a remote part of northern Australia has uncovered three new vertebrate species isolated for millions of years
  • The Discovery
  • James Cook University and a National Geographic film crew were dropped by helicopter onto the rugged Cape Melville mountain range on Cape York Peninsula
  • Cape Melville, a plateau of boulder-strewn rainforest on top
  • The virtually impassable mountain range is home to millions of black granite boulders the size of cars and houses piled hundreds of metres high
  • National Geographic, the team plans to return to Cape Melville within months to search for more new species, including snails, spiders, and perhaps even small mammals
  • What Was Found
  • Leaf-tail gecko, a gold-coloured skink-a type of lizard-and a brown-spotted, yellow boulder-dwelling frog, none of them ever seen before
  • The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko, which has huge eyes and a long, slender body, is highly distinct from its relatives
  • A small boulder-dwelling frog, the Blotched Boulder-frog, which during the dry season lives deep in the labyrinth of the boulder-field where conditions are cool and moist. The tadpoles even develop within the egg and a fully formed frog hatches out in the absence of water
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • \’Lost world\’ discovered in remote Australia | Phys.org
  • Leaf-tailed gecko, golden-coloured skink and boulder-dwelling frog: New species found in Australia\’s lost world | independent.co.uk
  • Spectacular New Species Found in \”Lost World\” | news.nationalgeographic.com

How Dinosaurs Walked

  • Researchers have managed to use an advanced computer model to recreate the walking and running movements of the vast Cretaceous Argentinosaurus dinosaur
  • Argentinosaurus
  • The dinosaur lived on the then-island continent of South America somewhere between 97 and 94 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous
  • Not much of Argentinosaurus has been recovered, but the proportions of the bones found and comparisons with other sauropod relatives allow paleontologists to estimate the its size
  • The dinosaur weighed about 80 tons, making it one of the largest known dinosaurs, and the model showed that it would have reached about 5 mph when it walked across the Earth
  • The Computer Model
  • To create this computer model, the researchers laser scanned a 40 meter-long skeleton of Argentinosaurus
  • The simulation used the equivalent of 30,000 desktop computers to allow the dinosaur to take its first steps in over 94 million years
  • The digitization of such vast dinosaur skeletons using laser scanners brings Walking with Dinosaurs to life…this is science not just animation
  • Currently, the researchers plan to use this same computer technique in order to model the steps of other dinosaurs, such as the Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T. rex.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Argentinosaurus dinosaur digital reconstruction The University of Manchester: Dr Bill Sellers | Alison Barbuti
  • YouTube | Argentinosaurus – Planet Dinosaur – Episode 5 | BBC
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Scientists Digitally Reconstruct Movements of Largest Dinosaur in the World (Video) | Phys.org
  • Argentinosaurus | Wikipedia


Human Regeneration … Soon-ish?

  • Michael Thalleen ‏@ThalleenM
  • Regrowing human body parts: The dream comes within reach | nbcnews.com
  • Sometime in the next few decades, humans may be able to regrow a finger, toe, or among the most promising targets, maybe even fresh patches of beating heart tissue
  • Research
  • A decade ago scientists demonstrated that zebrafish have the ability to repair a badly damaged heart, thanks to a particular protein that regulates the regenerative process
  • Young mice are able to regenerate toes, and the salamander can regrow a whole arm below the joint
  • In 2010, one lab showed it was possible to enhance that same regenerative response in adult mice
  • Researchers have been studying mouse toes to understand how a similar regrowth mechanism can be reactivated or imitated in adult humans
  • In Humans
  • Humans already have demonstrated some ability to regenerate body parts, very young children can fill out the tips of chopped off fingers and toes
  • In August researchers from the Gladstone Institutes showed that they could turn human scar tissue into electrically conductive tissue in a lab dish by fiddling with just a few key genes
  • Among the hurdles that lie ahead: taking that technique out of the lab and applying it to living human hearts
  • Researchers are still cautious about predicting how studies of animal regeneration will be applied to humans and it\’s dangerous to say, \’Yes, we expect to regenerate a limb\’ although the field is reaching a turning point


+ NASA\’s Mars rover Curiosity completed its first two-day autonomous drive Monday, Oct 28
+ During an autonomous drive the rover chooses a safe route to designated waypoints by using its onboard computer to analyze stereo images that it takes during pauses in the drive
+ The autonomous drive brought Curiosity to about 80m (262 ft) from \”Cooperstown,\” an outcrop bearing candidate targets for examination with instruments on the rover\’s arm.
+ Cooperstown is about one-third of the way along the route to Mount Sharp
+ Improvements
+ A key activity planned for this week, week of Nov. 4, is uploading a new version of onboard software the third such upgrade since landing
+ Include what information the rover can store overnight to resume autonomous driving the next day.
+ It also expands capabilities for using the robotic arm while parked on slopes
+ Multimedia
+ Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
+ Social Media
+ Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
+ Further Reading / In the News
+ Mars Science Laboratory: NASA\’s Curiosity Mars Rover Approaches \’Cooperstown\’ | mars.jlp.nasa.gov


Looking back

  • November 11, 1572 : 441 years ago : Tycho\’s Supernova / SN1572 : Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe began his meticulous observations of the supernova discovered in the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. (Brahe was at the beginning of his career in 1572, and it was this supernova that inspired him to devote his lifetime to making accurate measurements of the positions of the stars and planets.) First noted by Wolfgang Schuler*of Wittenberg, for two weeks it was brighter than any other star in the sky and visible in daytime. By month\’s end, it began to fade but it remained visible to the naked eye for about 16 months until Mar 1574. Thus 16th-century astronomers learned that the heavens were not immutable, as had been believed. Brahe\’s book on his observations, De Nova Stella, originated the word “nova.”
  • SN 1572 | Wikipedia

Looking up this week

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