(TMU) – We’re in the Golden Age (likely the first of many different phases) of discovering exoplanets. For the first time in human history, we’re regularly identifying planets outside of our solar system and even identifying traits – atmospheric and core composition – that tell us which of these worlds are Earth-like.
Scientists are also discovering exoplanets that are decidedly not Earth-like and some of them are truly mind-boggling. In fact, last year NASA devoted a Halloween-themed video and webpage to showcase some of the more extreme new planets they’ve discovered.
These include: “hellscape” planet HD 189733 b, whose winds reach 5,400mph and contain “torrential rains of glass blowing sideways”; the three “zombie worlds” circling pulsar star PSR B1257+12, which flash “sickly irradiated auroras” that might be beautiful were they not extremely deadly to any organic life; Kepler-70b (a.k.a. KOI-55), which at 12,000 degrees F (6,800 C), is one of the hottest planets known to humans; and TrEs-2b, whose surface is less reflective than coal, meaning the extreme darkness of this world would be broken only by a faint Sauron-like burning in a sky that is the temperature of lava.
As sinister and exotic as these planets sound, it’s good to know that there are other worlds out there that, while not hospitable to humans, are shimmering with potential.
Astronomers and geophysicists now believe that a significant number of exoplanets in our galaxy and others could be made primarily of diamond. They base this on the fact that stars contain different proportions of elements and between 12 and 17 percent of planets are likely located around carbon-rich stars. As a contrast, our star is relatively low-carbon and in the early solar system that affected the composition of the planets orbiting it.
Researchers believe that a high-carbon star whose orbiting bodies contain less carbon will produce worlds comprised mostly of silicon carbide. Using lab experiments that tested temperatures up to 2,500 Kelvin and pressures of 50 gigapascals, they concluded that all that would be necessary to produce these almost incomprehensible alien diamond worlds would be oxidization from water caused by sufficient heat and pressure. The resulting density of silicon carbide would stifle any geologic activity.
Geophysicist Harrison Allen-Sutter said, “These exoplanets are unlike anything in our Solar System.”
He added: “This is one additional step in helping us understand and characterise our ever-increasing and improving observations of exoplanets. The more we learn, the better we’ll be able to interpret new data from upcoming future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope to understand the worlds beyond on our own Solar System.”
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will deploy next years, will catalyze a new era of exoplanet exploration. Using infrared technology, the transit method, and state of the art spectroscopy, the telescope’s powers of magnification and spectrum analysis will allow scientists to search for biosignatures in the atmospheres of alien worlds.
Perhaps a question to consider now is how far into the future we will have to go to see diamond-mining interstellar missions sponsored by De Beers.
Scientists Create First-Ever Embryos With Monkey and Human Cells
For the first time, scientists have created embryos in a lab that contain the cells of both humans and monkeys.
Scientists hope that by creating chimeric embryos – embryos containing cells from two distinct species – they might be able to create organs for people who desperately need transplants.
Over 100,000 people in the United States lone are currently on a waiting list for organ transplants crucial to saving their lives, but the supply of donor organs has dropped significantly since the pandemic began unfolding.
Researchers have attempted to inject human stem cells into the embryos of pigs and sheep in recent years in hopes of growing organs for transplants, but this hasn’t yielded positive results. Scientists are hoping that by turning to macaque monkeys, which share a greater genetic similarity to humans, they may have more success.
In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers in the U.S. and China injected 25 pluripotent stem cells from humans into embryos from macaque monkeys.
After one day, the researchers detected human cells beginning to grow in 132 of the embryos. They embryos ultimately survived for 19 days.
However, bioethicists have raised concerns about the potential for abusing medical regulations that currently govern the treatment of animal and human subjects, as well as the possibility that a rogue scientists might potentially spike living creatures with human cells.
“My first question is: Why?” Kirstin Matthews, a science and technology fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told NPR. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”
Researchers insist that the study serves purely humanitarian goals that could save countless lives in the future.
“This work is an important step that provides very compelling evidence that someday when we understand fully what the process is we could make them develop into a heart or a kidney or lungs,” said University of Michigan professor Jeffrey Platt, who was not involved in the study.
In Major First, New System Lets Paralyzed Users Control Tablet Computer Wirelessly
In what could be a major breakthrough for people suffering paralysis and other permanent disabilities, the first wireless command to a computer has been demonstrated.
According to a new study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, scientists at Brown University say that the new system called BrainGate can transmit brain signals at “single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity.”
BrainGate clinical trial participants with paralysis used a small transmitter connected to a person’s brain motor cortex to manipulate the interface of a tablet computer.
Participants were able to achieve the same typing speeds and point-and-click accuracy on the BrainGate system as they could with wired systems.
“We’ve demonstrated that this wireless system is functionally equivalent to the wired systems that have been the gold standard,” said John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering at Brown University.
“The signals are recorded and transmitted with appropriately similar fidelity, which means we can use the same decoding algorithms we used with wired equipment,” Simeral said.
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“The only difference is that people no longer need to be physically tethered to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities in terms of how the system can be used,” he added.
Neural interface technologies have attracted such high-profile figures as Elon Musk and social media titan Facebook in recent years.
“With this system, we’re able to look at brain activity, at home, over long periods in a way that was nearly impossible before,” said Brown University engineering professor and clinical trial leader Leigh Hochberg.
“This will help us to design decoding algorithms that provide for the seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis,” Hochberg added.
Scientists Discover X-Rays Coming From Uranus For Very First Time
Scientists are seeing X-rays being emitted from Uranus for the very first time, according to new research.
On Wednesday, the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research that lays out how a comparison of two images of the planet taken by the Chandra Observatory in 2002 and 2017 show a clear detection of X-rays in the first image, while the second shows a possible flare of X-rays on the enigmatic and icy planet.
According to NASA, the reason for these X-rays is “mainly the sun.”
However, “there are tantalizing hints that at least one other source of X-rays is present,” the space agency noted.
“One possibility is that the rings of Uranus are producing X-rays themselves, which is the case for Saturn’s rings,” NASA said. “Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus, a phenomenon that has previously been observed on this planet at other wavelengths.”
X-rays can be provide a crucial window into the processes and characteristics of our universe. In the case of Uranus, these characteristics can include “atmospheric, surface and planetary ring composition.”
And while X-ray lights given off by the sun have been previously observed by astronomers on Jupiter and Saturn, this hasn’t been the case for icy giants like Uranus and Neptune.
The agency hopes that by figuring out the origin of the X-rays observed at Uranus, researchers can better grasp how mysterious objects including black holes and neutron stars emit X-rays.
Uranus is roughly four times the diameter of Earth and is the seventh planet from the sun, and is known for its distinct pair of rings around its equator and its unique side rotation.
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