The scientific community is buzzing after news broke that NASA’s Kepler telescope has honed in on the most Earth-like planet ever seen outside our solar system.
The findings suggest it could be a large, rocky planet with a surface temperature of about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, comparable to a comfortable spring day on Earth.
It is the first planet that NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed orbits in a star’s habitable zone – the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could exist.
The star the earth-like planet orbits is about 600 light-years away from us toward the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus. The planet – dubbed Kepler-22b – orbits its star over a period of 290 days, compared to 365 days for Earth, at a distance about 15 percent closer than the Earth is to the sun. That explains why the planet has such a warm temperature.
More on this fascinating find when we talk with Dr. Alan Boss, one of the researchers on NASA’s Kepler project, this Friday on the blog and also on this weekend’s radio edition of “Science World.”
Vampire star feeds on its neighbor
No, it’s not another installment of the Twilight series.
However, astronomers do say they’ve gotten the best images ever of a star which lost most of its material to a nearby vampire star.
The star system, observed by the astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory, is called Leporis. It contains two stars – one hot, the other cool – which orbit each other over a 260-day period.
Located in the constellation of Lepus, the stars are just a bit further apart than the sun is from Earth. Scientists say that proximity between the two stars explains why the hot companion has sucked up about half the mass of the larger star.
And it’s not as violent a process as one might think. The new images suggest the transfer of mass from one star to the other is gentler than expected. The astronomers think matter from the giant star expels as a stellar wind, which is captured by the hotter companion, rather than streaming from one star to the other as previously thought.
The astronomers were able to render their images by combining the light captured by four telescopes to create a virtual telescope measuring 130 meters across, with a vision that’s 50 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.
There’s nothing like a mother’s touch
A study of rats suggests attentive and nurturing mothering permanently alters genetic activity in the brain, leaving young rats better able to resist the temptation of drugs later in life.
According to the researchers at Duke University and the University of Adelaide in Australia, a rat mother’s attention to her young during early childhood changes the immune response in her pups’ brains by permanently altering genetic activity.
They found high-touch mothering caused an increase in the brain’s production of an immune-system molecule called Interleukin-10, which left these rats better able to resist the temptation of a dose of morphine much later in life.
Researchers found that the rat pups who experienced high-touch mothering were found to have more active genes for producing the Interleuken-10 in their brains, which apparently knocks out drug-seeking behavior.
“The nurturing moms can profoundly change outcomes,” says Staci Bilbo, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, who led the research.
Next, the team wants to look at the long-term effects of maternal stress on the brain’s immune response.
Fight against malaria gets tougher
A newly unveiled global malaria map is the first to identify where – in large parts of South Asia and some part of Latin America – a long-lasting and a potentially-deadly form of malaria has established a strong foothold.
The map’s makers say malaria caused by the vivax parasite has become endemic and that its transmission is significant in many parts of the world.
The researchers also characterize the current tools to fight this type of malaria as ineffective to non-existent.
The vivax parasite, while not as deadly as the Plasmodium falciparum – the malaria parasite that is predominant in Africa – is more common throughout the world, with 2.85 billion people estimated to be at risk of infection.
To make matters worse the vivax parasite is harder to detect and cure because it has the ability to cause relapse by hiding in the liver for months or even years.