Science Scanner: NASA Telescope Spots Earth-like Planet

Posted December 7th, 2011 at 11:30 pm (UTC-4)

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, an earth-like planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, an Earth-like planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. (Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

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.”

>>> Read more…

Vampire star feeds on its neighbor

Vampire double star system SS Leporis The system consists of a red giant star orbiting a hotter companion. Note that the stars have been artificially colored to match their known temperatures. (Photo: ESO/PIONIER/IPAG)

Vampire double star system SS Leporis. The stars have been artificially colored to match their known temperatures. (Photo: ESO/PIONIER/IPAG)

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.

>>> Read more…

There’s nothing like a mother’s touch

(Photo: Ojie Paloma Photograph via Flickr)

(Photo: Ojie Paloma Photograph via Flickr)

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.

>>> Read more…

Fight against malaria gets tougher

Micrograph reveals a mature Plasmodium vivax trophozoite (Photo: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Micrograph reveals a mature Plasmodium vivax trophozoite (Photo: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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.

>>> Read more…

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

20 responses to “Science Scanner: NASA Telescope Spots Earth-like Planet”

  1. emansnas says:

    The gravity on this planet would be ~14 times greater than on Earth. Thus, based on physics, any inhabitants would have to quite small, only a few inches tall. So no worries, when it comes to intergalactic combat they could be easily crushed.

    • clearly now says:

      No, the gravity would be about 2.5 times that of earth, if it has an earth-like density. If it were all water, it would have less than half the gravity of earth. If it’s all metallic materials, it would have perhaps 5 times the gravity of earth.

  2. Dan says:

    Awesome! What I want to know is just how much detail we’ll get from the ground-based follow-up telescopes. How much can our best telescopes zoom in? Will we be able to see these planets on the scale of the artists’ renderings? Spy on the potential inhabitants ‘Google Earth’ style?

  3. Zebra Girl says:

    wait a minute… if its close to the sun how did people not see it???!!!

  4. Joe says:

    We wont see it Dan McFly.

    • Dan says:

      McFly? Interesting…I never offered my last name. You must be implying that your character is like Biff.

  5. Bushwick says:

    Its probably got the same stuff, like poverty, corruption.

  6. emansnas says:

    @ clearly now: The radius of the planet is 2.4 times that of Earth. The volume of a sphere is proportional to the cube of its radius, thus is its mass, thus is its gravity. Look it up – do the math, you’ll see that I’m right. Did you take any science classes in school? You really should do some research before you post.

  7. This is science not dogma. 800 years of religious oppression (dark ages) horribly snubbed mankind. People thought the world was flat!…etc. religion is used to fill the gaps in our scientific knowledge. Furthermore it is arrogant for Christians to assume theirs is the only true explanation for all things. Warring religion’s are the cause for all the wars and hate.Christianity had Inquisitions where they burned(mass murdered) people who they considered outside their faith. Lets not forget fun stuff like Salem witch trials. Or that Galileo was just pardoned by the Vatican who labeled him a heretic.

    Science has given us many gifts. Pasteurization -anti biotics-computers etc …I invite all those religious types who reject science for dogma to cast of the shackles of science and live as primitive cave men. And the rest of can move on.

    Religion being the primary reason. Mankind is still a child race. We kill each other.we force slavery on children (Nike shoes and most clothing you wear is made from slave labor)we have multiple wars etc. It is good that the planet discovered is 600 ly from us…because they are protected from the animals that run this world. Like the bush family. The Pope and the entire right-wing religiIdiot regime that continues to allow corporations to pollute our oceans and feed us deadly poisons. Our planet is one big land fill. Not pessimism. TRUTH.
    And to show you just how ridiculous the Bible is read det23 1

    • Dan says:

      Congrats on sounding like the rebellious adolescent who just discovered his parents’ religion is wrong. Brash and crediting religion with too much, perhaps what is most ironic is the sidestepping of science in the manner of sweeping statements that are too black and white to be true.

      Religion responsible for all wars and hate?!

      Very funny! … Very naive and apparently uninformed as to the basic human condition.

      Pipe down turbo!

  8. emansnas says:

    ScienceNotDogam is: off topic – off his meds – and hopefully off the board. This is for comments on a real world science discovery, not a place for delusional paranoic ramblings by pathetic marxist lunatics. Need a moderator here.

  9. Emansnas. My comments are based on facts. Real world discovery does NOT negate the truth.
    You in your limited way are trying to make me look bad.I would say you should spend your time more wisely. Like sweeping out your cave.
    And IF YOU HAD BEEN PAYING ATTENTION you would notice that there were people making religious discussion and trying to inject their dogma into a scientific discussion. So my contribution was to counter those people.

    It is obvious to me based on the simplistic way I have had to explain this all to you that your intellect is severely lacking so as to understand. And I am sure that you have to have everything spelled out for you…

    Also you seem to assume I MUST be male.
    Obviously your are a simplistic creature incapable of seeing anything outside of your tiny little scope..And this is why mankind as a whole is still a child race..Small inferior minds like you require much coddling.
    I suggest that after you leave your office at night (m.c. Donalds obviously) that you perhaps enroll in a community college or trade school. Then you can begin to gain the necessary skill to communicate with the adults. Maybe even improve upon that atrophied brain of yours.

    I sincerely hope I have successfully “dumbed down” this post so that a simple creature like you can understand …it is unfortunate for mankind that the ratio of thinkers to dumb dumb is a mathematical reality(spelled out. There are more dumb dumbs ) instead of science and technology our schools are teaching football ,basketball,home ec and other such useless rubbish . We build stadiums instead of observatories. We take funding away from the arts and give it to football. Just a few examples …so while I have enjoyed this sojourn with the simple minded ..I must move on. And one final thought : Religion is for the weak minded.

    • Dan says:

      Wow, what an interesting post!

      Things that stand out…

      The punishment seems way beyond the crime. If the crime was that someone was talking religion or dogma (where?), the punishment was this man (or woman’s) rant.

      The writer, whether male or female, seems to have a superiority complex.

      Perhaps he (or she) is angry over something personal and just venting here? The content and tone of ScienceNotDogma’s post are so disproportionate to anything that was said in any preceding post as to make me think it is truly more of a personal matter which he (or she) would do better to take up with some kind of therapist.

  10. clearly now says:

    Two points:
    – ScienceNotDogma makes some valid points, and almost makes a couple more, but little has to do with the subject at hand.

    Emansnas (with whom I agree regarding ScienceNotDogam’s remarks) takes me to task regarding the gravity of the newly discovered planet. Unfortunately, I had seen only reports that it was “2.5 times the size of the earth.” Unfortunately, I should have not assumed that referred to total volume, and sought out the more specific reports that the measure was of the planet’s radius (which is a horse of a different color). I still stand by my statement that the gravity nonetheless will also depend on the density of the planetary material, as that will greatly influence the mass. If the planet were comprised of uranium, it would have a specific gravity of 18.9 -or have 18.9 times more mass than if it were made entirely of water. Either scenario is extremely unlikely, of course, for a variety of reasons in either case. Oh, and please note that it is possible to criticize another’s statements without impugning his or her intelligence and education. I have, in fact, taken many a science class -and even worked most of my now-retired life as a scientist. I have admitted my sin of assumption of facts presented without doing my due diligence. and point out that you made assumptions about my reasoning without being aware of its basis.

  11. Communications with the simpletons in here seems pointless. I made valid scientific points. All of which were ingnored in my first post. Then some Neanderthal tried to challenge me intellectually. I don’t have a superiority complex. I AM SUPERIOR. because I believe in scientific fact. Not fairy-tales like unicorns ,virgin births,talking snakes and fox news ramblings.

    Someone in here indicated that-God made the earth- and rambled on with his stupidity.
    I can not in good conscious allow such random stupidity to exist without immediately nipping it in the bud. So to speak. Science not some God gave us technology to detect far away planets. Physics not God is what the universe is about. Not praying popes and nuns running around with sadistic symbolics of their Savior being murdered.
    but I am sure I struck a nerve with most of you with the football commentsfootball idiots used to get passed so the could continue to run around with their idiot friends. Most of them graduated and can barely read.
    So the movie idiocracy is based on reality. Humorous but sadly true.

    Nevertheless my original post was aimed at scientists and it was my hope that other scientists would join in driving my point home. However. It is abundantly clear now that web site is for dilettantes and simpletons

    I think you should all go back to your fox news and football and stay out of science.
    I remember when the shrub tried to appoint George duetsch to NASA. This fool tried to dispute science of the BBT but was slapped down when it was discovered he didn’t have a degree.

    Have a nice day

    • Dan says:

      Simpletons deal in the following..

      1) Black and white thinking (e.g., blaming religion for ALL war and hate. You have a lot of hate. Is religion to blame?)

      2) Assumptions (e.g., assuming that the “simpletons” in this comment thread believe in unicorns, virgin births, and talking snakes, or enjoy watching fox news and football)

      Such overboard assumption-making, and your tone in general, and the fact that nobody was talking about the supernatural other than you, confirm the suspicion that this thread is not about science, or science vs. religion, but is now about you and your personal crisis. Please find help ASAP!

      PS – I hate to break it to you, but chances are you are part Neandertal. So much for superiority! 😉

  12. clearly now says:

    Science Not Dogma: Like the other “simpletons” in here, I am unable to find any reference by anyone other than yourself to the supernatural anywhere among these posts. Are you sure you didn’t read something on another Web site and get the two confused?