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Life Outside Earth: Astronomers Discovered 18 Planets Beyond Our Solar System

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Astronomers Discovered 18 Planets Beyond Our Solar System
European Southern Observatory | Flicker | Unknown

Exoplanets continue to amaze the field of Science as they exist beyond our solar system. Thousands have been found in the past two decades, mostly with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Earlier this year, NASA was looking for a special kind of planet; one that’s the same size as Earth which orbits a sun-like star in the habitable zone. The habitable zone means that a planet’s temperature allows liquid water to form oceans — one that can be considered critical for life to exist just like Earth.

Today, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), the Georg August University of Gottingen, together with the Gottingen Observatory, have discovered 18 Earth-sized planets beyond the solar system. The new findings revealed that past observations had overlooked them, which is truly a missed opportunity for NASA and other space agencies.

One of these 18 exoplanets is the smallest so far, but the most significant finding focuses on the other one which is believed to offer conditions friendly to life. According to Sci-tech Daily, researchers re-analyzed a part of the data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope with a new and more advanced method that they developed. The team estimates that if given the chance and time, their new technique has the potential of finding 100 new exoplanets in the Kepler’s entire data set.

Records from NASA’s Kepler showed that today, more than 4000 planets are orbiting stars outside the solar system. Ninety-six percent of these so-called exoplanets are significantly larger than the Earth. Most of them are comparable with the dimensions of gas giants like Neptune or Jupiter. However, the smaller ones are the targets in the search for Earth-like planets because they potentially have a comfortable environment outside the solar system.

This discovery offers a fresher knowledge for NASA as it continues to explore the universe. Last year, the space agency announced that in the name of science, it would never stop creating significant discoveries which can benefit humans. Its main goal is to find a planet similar to Earth, which also has the same qualities that make life possible.

Today, the 18 newly discovered worlds fall into the category of Earth-sized planets. The smallest is only 69 percent smaller than Earth, and the largest is barely more than twice the Earth’s radius.

The team published the findings on the Journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, which eventually sparks hope to aspiring scientists who plan to study the same field. But the team dedicated their discovery to the people. Below are the significant developments of the group, as indicated in their journals.

They discover that most of the new planets orbit their star closer than their previously known planetary companions. While their surfaces likely have temperatures well over 100 degrees Celsius; some even have temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius. But only one of the exoplanets is an exception; it likely orbits its red dwarf star within the so-called habitable zone. In layman’s term, at this favorable distance from its star, this planet may offer conditions under which liquid water could occur on its surface- one of the necessary preconditions for life as we know it on Earth.

Moreover, the habitable zone means that a planet’s temperature allows liquid water to form oceans — one that can be considered critical for life to exist just like Earth. If this condition existed in one of the newly found planets, then it is possible that the Earth is not alone in housing living organisms.

The existence of these planets before is just wishful thinking, and for years, astronomers were convinced they were just out there. Thanks to these researchers and other space explorations, the confirmation of its existence prove how determined humans to know life outside our planet.

But what’s interesting about these 18 planets is that they could not be detected in the Kepler Space Telescope so far. This means that the algorithms used by past studies have failed to identify these exoplanets lurking outside the solar system.

The new method developed by the team opens up greater interplanetary possibilities. In addition to the 517 stars now being investigated, the Kepler mission also offers data sets for thousands of other stars. Researchers believe that their method will enable them to find more than 100 Earth-sized worlds. It will discover and characterize many more multi-planet systems around sun-like stars, some of which will be capable of harboring life.

I've been contributing news since 2010, both online and print. Aside from Z6Mag, I manage independent news blogs that provide awareness on a diverse list of topics to every reader.

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Science

‘4Ocean’ Gathers 4.7 Million Pounds Of Ocean Trash And Continues To Make History

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Ocean Waste, 4Ocean
Photo: Karen Roe | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Four years ago, two young surfers went on a post-college trip to Bali — to find relief in the comforting waves of Indonesian water. But instead of playing along the beaches, what they’ve discovered marked the beginning of a company that will eventually save millions of marine life.

Andrew Cooper, 28 and Alex Schulze 27, both from Florida, are the brainchild of a multimillion-dollar business that aims to help clean up oceans littered with garbage. They have known each other since college — where both took up business and graduated in 2014. It was a year after their graduation that the two decided to embark on a surfing trip to Bali, not knowing what the future holds.

Then an idea came up in 2015 when the two approached a lifeguard and were worried that some of the beaches hadn’t been cleaned up. The amount of garbage, mostly composed of single-use plastics, is enough to poison every aquatic organism. The event inspired Cooper and Schulze to create a start-up company that focuses on how water waste can turn into useful items, and at the same time, provides an avenue for them to clean up the world’s oceans.

The Birth of 4Ocean

It was on the said trip that led the two to build “4Ocean” – a year after their Bali tour. Going back to Florida, Cooper and Schulze brought with them a dream to build a business that focuses on removing plastic and glass waste from the ocean. The collected waste will be “repurposed” and “recycled” to create

Schulze, on an interview with CBS, said that they had a lot of “second thoughts” before establishing 4Ocean. Friends called them “nuts,” and it was their turning point.

Out of determination and passion for saving the ocean, the company was finally launched in January 2017. It shocked the world when it announced that almost 1 million pounds of plastic, glass, and other trash are collected from the ocean. These garbages were turned into 30 million dollars worth of recycled bracelets, and the company promised to get more trash to fund their ongoing clean-up efforts.

And so the birth of “4Ocean’ company — an extraordinary solution to solve global water pollution crisis.

From Trash to Cash

On its first semester, the company pledged to remove one pound of trash from the ocean and coastlines for each bracelet sold. 4Ocean gets its fund through collecting plastic and glass waste from oceans around the world — introducing the process of “repurposing.” Out of those recycled materials, the company creates bracelets and sells each one of them for a sum of 20 dollars. The money collected from each purchase will fund one pound of trash removal.

Today, each uniquely-colored bracelet represents an animal or ecosystem threatened by ocean waste pollution and backs up the organization fighting to protect them. The 4Ocean Legacy bracelet is composed of a cord that came from a recycled plastic bottle while its beads emanated from a reused glass.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Bracelet and 4Ocean Signature Bracelet are some of this year’s unique bracelets featured in 4Ocean’s online website. The former is a blue-colored stylish bracelet designed for any ages and gender, while the latter mirrors the color of sea turtles which is green.

All bracelets have the goal to create an impact, most especially in our fight against water pollution. It can be viewed and purchased at www.4Ocean.com, an online website of 4Ocean for pre-orders and other purchasing transactions.

A Million-dollar Dream to Reality

With the aid of 4Ocean, countries from different parts of the world realized the pressing issue of water pollution. Indonesia, who suffers from pollution problems, as it also lacks the necessary equipment to handle crisis such as this, sees the urgency to clean up its beaches. The government in Bali already passed various legislations to align its goal with that of 4Oceans.

Today, 4Oceans has already removed 4.7 million pounds of trash from the ocean since 2017 and is employed 300 workers in the process. It has extended its effort globally and now operates not just in the U.S, but also in Bali and Haiti, where employees’ workforce removes the trash.

According to the founders, more than 40 percent of the company’s profit from selling bracelets is kept to fund its clean-up operations, while ten percent of it goes to their charity partners, including non-profit environmental organizations. The rest is distributed as salaries for their employees, and what’s left will be invested back in the business to continue its progress.

Aside from its legendary bracelets, 4Ocean also recently put other items for sales like t-shirts and water bottles that are both from recycled materials to further fund the company’s clean-up development.

Up next: From 4.7 Million to 10 Million

Approximately, 8 million tons of plastic waste is thrown in the world’s ocean each year. From roughly 4.7 million, the company now aims to reach 10 million pounds of trash by the end of 2019.

Both Cooper and Schulze believe that they have revolutionized a solution that incorporates trash issue with an entrepreneurial twist. The company plans to recruit more paid workers so that they can hit the 10-million quota and turns 4Ocean into the world’s largest organization devoted to cleaning the ocean.

The pair hopes that for every bracelet that people are purchasing, it will set as a reminder that waste pollution is a global problem which threatens marine life and can have a severe impact once uncontrolled.

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Editors' Pick

Global Ice Melting At Rates Faster Than Expected

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Photo by Sergey Kuznetsov on Unsplash

The global ice, or the size and number of glaciers located across cold spots around the world, is a clear indicator of the effects of global warming. With human’s excessive and consistent use of o-zone depleting resources such as fossil fuels — the rate of global ice is melting will only keep accelerating.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that based on data they have gathered since the1900s, glaciers around the globe are shrinking and melting at an alarming rate.

Arctic sea ice has been in constant general low over the years following the increasing trend of greenhouse gas. Additionally, as the frozen ground across the Arctic melts, it releases a massive amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Scientists say that this effect could make global ice melt accelerate even faster.

A separate study found that parts of the Canadian Arctic are experiencing a rate of permafrost thaw six times the long-term average.

Meanwhile, melted ice is especially notable both in and around Greenland — home to the second largest ice sheet on the planet.

“Communities in #Greenland rely on the sea ice for transport, hunting, and fishing. Extreme events, here flooding of the ice by abrupt onset of surface melt call for increased predictive capacity in the Arctic,” Steffen Olsen, a climate researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute said in a tweet.

Olsen was referring to Greenland losing 2 billion metric tons of ice. “The high melt is unusual so early in the season but not unprecedented,” Greenland Ice said in a tweet.

Experts are calling the lost ice “not normal” considering that it equates to almost half of Greenland. Roughly 45 percent of the ice sheet surface has been melting. Usually, less than 10 percent of the ice sheet surface is melting at this time of year. According to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Wednesday set a daily record for the widest melt area on that date, with 275,000 square miles.

“I’m losing the ability to communicate the magnitude [of change],” Jeremy Mathis, a longtime Arctic researcher and a current board director at the National Academies of Sciences told Mashable. “I’m running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we’re seeing.”

On other parts of the globe, a city in western Alaska is experiencing drastic changes to its land formations as the state’s ice and permafrost are starting to thaw away.

“Springtime in Alaska isn’t what it used to be. This is the 3rd time past 21 years we can say” warmest spring of record.” 1998 was the warmest to date, exceeded in 2016 and now 2016 exceeded in 2019. Trend +4.0F (+2.2C) since the 1970s.” Rick Thoman said in a tweet.

The continued ice and permafrost melting in Iceland are causing significant damages in terms of requiring towns and villages like Newtok in western Alaska to relocate to avoid dangers.

“It’s a real challenge because in the US there isn’t the precedence to deal with this and there isn’t the political framework to deal with it either,” said Susan Natali, a scientist and Arctic expert at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “The numbers needing relocation will grow, the costs are going up and people’s lives and cultural practices will be impacted.

“Every year there’s a new temperature record, it’s getting worse and worse and you feel like a broken record saying it. This should be the number one urgent conversation happening right now because it’s not just going to be Alaska, it’s going to be other communities all over the US,” Natali added.

The problem does not only persist in Greenland, the Arctic or Alaska. Global ice is melting all across the globe. “The famed snows of Kilimanjaro have melted more than 80 percent since 1912. Glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya in India are retreating so fast that researchers believe that most central and eastern Himalayan glaciers could virtually disappear by 2035 […] From the Arctic to Peru, from Switzerland to the equatorial glaciers of Man Jaya in Indonesia, massive ice fields, monstrous glaciers, and sea ice are disappearing, fast,” the National Geographic reported.

This week, the Pope has talked to oil executives in the Vatican to find solutions in the growing problem of global warming. He called for a “radical energy transition” from conventional fossil fuels and develop greener energy alternatives.

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Science

Bitcoin Carbon Footprint Is As Massive As The Impact Caused By Las Vegas and Sri Lanka

A study reveals that the carbon footprint produced by bitcoin mining operations is as huge as that of Las Vegas and the entire country of Sri Lanka. Click To Tweet

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A study reveals that the carbon footprint produced by bitcoin mining operations is as huge as that of Las Vegas and the entire country of Sri Lanka and Jordan.
Bitcoin mining uses too much energy it's compared to Las Vegas. Photo: Marco Verch | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When companies operate their business solely online, one would think that they have a substantially lower environmental impact than those who conduct business traditionally; however, a study suggests that this is not the case.

A case study on bitcoin operations reveals that bitcoin’s carbon footprint — the world’s most robust cryptocurrency — is so massive to the extent that it can rival the environmental impact caused by Las Vegas or a small country like Sri Lanka. According to the study conducted by Christian Stoll, Lena Klaaßen, Ulrich Gallersdörfer from Technical University of Munich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bitcoin generates about 22 megatons in CO2 emissions each year.

While it is true that cryptocurrencies supposedly depend on online blockchain technology to process transactions like transferring of funds, and doesn’t have a physical infrastructure that is huge enough to cause such amount of carbon emissions, the researchers said that this validation process uses “vast amounts of electricity,” which causes some severe carbon emissions.

During 2018, according to the study, the computing power required to solve a Bitcoin puzzle increased more than 4-fold until October and heightened electricity consumption accordingly. Speculations about the Bitcoin network’s source of fuel have suggested, among other things, Chinese coal, Icelandic geothermal power, and Venezuelan subsidies. To keep global warming below 2°C—as internationally agreed in Paris COP21—net-zero carbon emissions during the second half of the century are crucial.

Bitcoin mining operations use too much electricity

One area of interest for researchers is the effect of bitcoin mining, the process by which people can earn bitcoins without spending money through painstakingly scavenging for small amounts across the internet. To estimate the electricity consumption, the study authors used IP addresses and hardware data from recent IPO filings. It was determined the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin, as of November 2018, to be 45.8 TWh and estimate that yearly carbon emissions range from 22.0 to 22.9 MtCO2.

The study revealed that “There is no typical size of cryptocurrency mining operations.” The operations range from college students aiming to earn enough funds to pay for their electric bills, to gamers who leverage their graphics cards whenever they are not playing (as reflected in Nvidia’s volatile sales allocated to crypto), all the way up to large-scale crypto-mining farms. These mining operations have consumed enough electricity around the world to compare with electricity consumption like that of Jordan, a small middle-eastern country.

Regulation on mining operations necessary

According to the discussion presented by the researchers, their study sets up baseline information that would lead to a better understanding of the environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies and serves as a guide for a policymaker to develop climate-positive policies. They said that the results of the study could not be overlooked and should be a basis for policymakers to build balancing regulations.

Furthermore, the results were said to highlight the necessity of cost/benefit trade-offs for blockchain applications in general. While the researchers do not invalidate the benefits of cryptocurrencies, the “current debate is focused on anticipated benefits, and more attention needs to be given to costs.” And as the researchers have been pushing, policymakers should not ignore these results.

“Naturally, there are bigger factors contributing to climate change. However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive,” one of the authors, Christian Stoll, said in a statement.

“To improve the ecological balance, one possibility might be to link more mining farms to additional renewable generating capacity.”

Tip of the iceberg

Meanwhile, the researchers said that their analysis of carbon footprint of bitcoin is just the “tip of the iceberg” as other cryptocurrencies also carry significant carbon footprints upon their shoulders as well. This highlights the need to regulate cryptocurrency mining operations as it has external impacts – specifically to the environment.

“Bitcoin’s power consumption may only be the tip of the iceberg. Including estimates for three other cryptocurrencies adds 30 TWh to our annual estimate for Bitcoin. If we assume correlation to market capitalization and consider only mineable currencies (unlike second layer tokens or coins with other consensus mechanisms), the remaining 618 currencies could potentially add a power demand over 40 TWh. This more than doubles the power consumption we estimate for Bitcoin,” the study concludes.

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