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Astronomers Discover Two Super-Earths Orbiting a Star 11 Light-Years Away

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Astronomers have discovered two super-Earth exoplanets orbiting a star 11 light-years away from Earth, according to a new study. There is also a potential third planet orbiting a bit further away from the star, according to the researchers.

The proximity of this intriguing nearby planetary system will enable it to be studied more in the future, the researchers said.

The star, Gliese 887, is a small, dim red dwarf star with about half the mass of our sun. But given its proximity, it’s the brightest red dwarf in the sky. It’s also one of the closest stars to our sun, even though it’s far from the reach of any spacecraft technology we have today.

A team of astronomers working on the Red Dots project, which is attempting to find terrestrial exoplanets closest to our sun, observed the star using the European Southern Observatory in Chile. The team observed the star every night for three months. The High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, known as the HARPS spectrograph, detected two planets around Gliese 887.

The spectrograph was able to detect the planets using a technique astronomers call the “Doppler wobble” or radial velocity method. This so-called wobble occurs when the star moves back and forth due to the gravitational pull of the planets orbiting it. The HARPS instrument can measure these tiny wobbles.

This data was combined with other archival data including measurements of the star that went back 20 years.

The astronomers dubbed the planets Gliese 887b and Gliese 887c. The first planet completes one orbit around the star every 9.3 Earth days, while the second takes 21.8 Earth days to complete one orbit.

They also detected a signal further out that could correspond to a planet that takes 50 Earth days to complete an orbit around the star.

This study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The planets are referred to as super-Earths because they are larger than Earth but still smaller than planets like Uranus and Neptune. And both of them are close to the habitable zone of the star, a place where terrestrial planets can support liquid water on their surfaces.

Since the star is much cooler than our sun, its habitable zone is much closer in range to the star — meaning that the planets closely orbiting it are also potentially within that range. The two super-Earths, however, are a little too close for comfort, meaning they’re too hot to maintain liquid water.

Both receive between 2.5 and eight times more energy from their star than Earth receives from the sun.

FAVOURABLE CONDITIONS

But the third potential planet, which could also be a super-Earth, could exist in the star’s habitable zone.

In observing and studying the star, the researchers discovered some good news.

“The host star is the best star that is in close proximity to the Sun because it is an unusually quiet star,” said Sandra Jeffers, lead study author and lecturer at the Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Göttingen in Germany, in an email to CNN. “By a quiet star, I mean that it doesn’t have the dark starspots or the energetic outbursts [flares] that we see on the Sun.”

If the star was as active as our sun, its stellar wind would erode and sweep away the atmospheres of the planets. The researchers believe that since the star is quiet, the planets around it could have retained their atmospheres. They may have atmospheres thicker than Earth’s.

“If someone had to live around a red dwarf, they would want to choose a quieter star like GJ 887,” wrote Melvyn Davies, professor of astronomy at the department of astronomy and theoretical physics at Lund University in Sweden, in a related Perspective article. Davies was not involved with the study.

The star’s brightness is also very constant, which means it might be easier to detect the potential atmospheres of these planets, making them perfect targets for upcoming missions like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope, expected to launch next year, can peer through the atmospheres of exoplanets and help characterize their compositions.

“By studying the atmospheres of these planets scientists will be able to understand if the conditions are amenable for life,” Jeffers said.

Previously, the Red Dots team found other exoplanets close to our sun, like the planets orbiting Proxima Centauri and Barnard’s star. Studying these nearby exoplanets could help astronomers learn more about the formation and evolution of stars and planets, as well as search for life beyond Earth.

In the future, Jeffers and her team want to observe Gliese 887 more to determine if the third signal belongs to a planet.

“If further observations confirm the presence of the third planet in the habitable zone, then GJ 887 could become one of the most studied planetary systems in the Solar neighborhood,” Davies wrote.

CNN Digital Contact

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Satellite-Carrying Rocket ‘Lost’ After New Zealand Launch

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By Reuters:

A rocket from small-satellite launch firm Rocket Lab failed to reach orbit minutes after a successful liftoff from New Zealand on Saturday, the company said, losing its payload of seven small satellites it had intended to carry to space.

“An issue was experienced today during Rocket Lab’s launch that caused the loss of the vehicle,” the company said on Twitter, adding more information will be shared as available.

“We are deeply sorry to the customers on board Electron,” the Auckland, New Zealand-based company said. “The issue occurred late in the flight during the 2nd stage burn.”

Rocket Lab is one of a growing group of launch companies looking to slash the cost of sending shoebox-sized satellites to low Earth orbit, building smaller rockets and reinventing traditional production lines to meet a growing payload demand.

The rocket’s altitude peaked at 121 miles (195 km) roughly seven minutes after liftoff before quickly decreasing, according to in-flight telemetry on the company’s live video feed.

It was aiming to send five tiny Earth imaging satellites from Planet Labs, one microsatellite from Canon Electronics, and a cubesat from British company In-Space Missions into a sun-synchronous orbit 310 miles above Earth.

The failed mission, the company’s 13th payload launch, had been named “Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”.

“While it’s never the outcome that we hope for, the risk of launch failure is one Planet is always prepared for,” Planet Labs said in a statement on Saturday, adding it looked “forward to flying on the Electron again” in the future.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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Lunar Eclipse July 2020: Date, Timings, and How to Watch Live Stream

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Today is the third lunar eclipse of 2020. The third lunar eclipse of the year will start in India today. We have been witnessing eclipse back to back since the beginning of the year 2020. Now, we are gearing up for the third lunar eclipse or Chandra Grahan of 2020, which is scheduled to take place on July 5, 2020. The penumbral lunar eclipse will take place during the day time here in India, which means most of us will not even notice it. It also coincides with the US Independence Day which is good news for US residents as they are among the people who will get to witness this celestial phenomenon. The first lunar eclipse of 2020 was in January, followed by the second in June, making it the third lunar eclipse for the year.

However, for people in India, the penumbral lunar eclipse may not be visible as it will take place in the day time. It will be difficult for Indians to witness the phenomenon. In certain regions, the penumbral lunar eclipse has also been referred to as “buck moon”, a name which Algonquin tribes used to call. South/West Europe, much of Africa, much of North America, South America, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Antarctica will be able to witness the phenomenon.

Lunar eclipse July 2020: What is a penumbral lunar eclipse?

On July 5, 2020, we will be witnessing a partial penumbral eclipse (upchaya chandra grahan in Hindi). It happens when Earth is between the sun and a full moon. While eclipses begin when Earth’s shadow falls on the moon, this time around the moon won’t be passing through Earth’s dark, inner shadow, known as the umbra. Instead, the moon will go through Earth’s outer, lighter shadow, known as the penumbra.

As per NASA, as there will be a full moon at 12:44 am EDT on July 5 (10:14 am IST on July 5) and will be the first full Moon of summer (US), the Algonquin tribes used to call this full Moon the Buck Moon.

When will the lunar eclipse occur?

As per data by TimeandDate, the lunar eclipse will start at 11:07 pm EDT on July 4 (8:37 am IST on July 5) and reach its peak at 12:29 am EDT on July 5 (9:59 am IST on July 5). It will last for 2 hours and 45 minutes after which the lunar eclipse will end at 1:52 am EDT on July 5 (11:22 am IST on July 5).

Who will be able to witness the lunar eclipse?

Unfortunately for people in India, the penumbral lunar eclipse may not be visible as it will take place in the day time. It will be difficult for Indians to witness the phenomenon. However, people in much of North America, South America, South/West Europe, much of Africa, Indian Ocean, Pacific, Antarctica, and Atlantic will be able to witness it.

How to watch the July 2020 lunar eclipse?

The penumbral lunar eclipse, and other such celestial events are often streamed on popular YouTube channels including Slooh and the website Virtual Telescope. If you live in one of the regions where this lunar eclipse will be visible, you should be able to watch it without any special equipment.

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Japanese Startup Creates ‘Connected’ Face Mask for Coronavirus New Normal

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As face coverings become the norm amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese startup Donut Robotics has developed an internet-connected ‘smart mask’ that can transmit messages and translate from Japanese into eight other languages.

The white plastic ‘c-mask’ fits over standard face masks and connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone and tablet application that can transcribe speech into text messages, make calls, or amplify the mask wearer’s voice.

“We worked hard for years to develop a robot and we have used that technology to create a product that responds to how the coronavirus has reshaped society,” said Taisuke Ono, the chief executive of Donut Robotics.

Donut Robotics’ engineers came up with the idea for the mask as they searched for a product to help the company survive the pandemic. When the coronavirus struck, it had just secured a contract to supply robot guides and translators to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, a product that faces an uncertain future after the collapse of air travel.

Donut Robotics’ first 5,000 c-masks will be shipped to buyers in Japan starting in September, with Ono looking to sell in China, the United States and Europe too. There has been strong interest, he said.

At about $40 (roughly Rs. 3,000) per mask, Donut Robotics is aiming at a mass market that did not exist until a few months ago. One aim, he said, is to generate revenue from subscriber services offered via an app that users will download.

Donut Robotics built a prototype connected mask within a month by adapting translation software developed for its robot and a mask design that one of the company’s engineers, Shunsuke Fujibayashi, created four years ago for a student project to interpret speech by mapping face muscles.

Ono raised JPY 28 million (roughly Rs. 1.98 crores) for development by selling Donut Robotics shares through Japanese crowdfunding site Fundinno.

“We raised our initial target of 7 million yen within three minutes and stopped after 37 minutes when we had reached 28 million yen,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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