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Planet orbiting two stars 1300 light years away discovered with TESS

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It is called TOI 1338b and can be considered as the first exoplanet discovered by NASA’s TESS space telescope orbiting two stars. The discovery was initially made by researcher Wolf Cukier in 2019 after he joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

“I was examining the data for everything the volunteers had reported as eclipsing binary systems, a system in which two stars rotate around each other and from our point of view they eclipse each other’s orbit,” Cukier himself reveals. “About three days after my residency, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338. At first I thought it was a star eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet.”

Presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, the planet orbits the binary star system TOI 1338 which is about 1300 light years away from us and is located in the constellation of the Painter. Of the two stars, one is a little bit more massive, about 10%, than the Sun while the other is smaller, colder and darker and boasts only a third of the solar mass.

The planet TOI 1338b is instead 6.9 times bigger than the Earth and has been identified by TESS thanks to the fact that with its orbit it lowers the brightness of the biggest star (its transits in front of the smallest star are in fact too weak to be detected). It is the only known planet in this system and orbits almost on the same plane as the stars and therefore any inhabitants on this planet would enjoy regular eclipses.

The transits of TOI 1338 b are also irregular because they vary in depth and duration due to the orbital movement of the two stars. Because it orbits around two stars, locating it was not as easy as it happens with planets that orbit around a star, as the researcher Veselin Kostov explains. The researchers in fact had to use specific software to confirm that the transits were of a planet and not the result of instrumental artifacts or the transit of the smaller star in front of the larger star.

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TESS discovers TOI 700 d, its first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone

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NASA’s TESS space telescope contributed to the discovery of its first Earth-sized planet located in the so-called “habitable zone” around its star. The habitable zone of a star is that in which a planet orbits the surface of which water can exist in liquid form. Liquid water is considered by many scientists to be one of the essential or very important elements for the presence of life as we know it.

The researchers have in fact confirmed the existence of TOI 700 d and have collected several other data using the Spitzer space telescope. It is an exoplanet the size of the Earth, one of the few in the habitable range and for this reason probably one of the most interesting for those who are hunting for extraterrestrial life. The TESS space telescope was designed precisely to find planets of this size that orbit around relatively close stars, as explained in the press release that presents the study Paul Hertz, one of the heads of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington.

The planet orbits around TOI 700, a dwarf star M which is just over 100 light years away and which is located in the southern constellation of Dorado. It is smaller than the Sun (it has about 40% of its mass and size) and is also and less hot. Another interesting thing, as explained in the same statement by Emily Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago who participated in the study, is that in 11 months of observation no particular flare from the star was detected. Flare are stellar eruptions that can disrupt the atmosphere of the planet and can be considered as one of the main problems for the presence of life on a planet.

There are also two other more internal planets in the system, TOI 700 b, which is almost the size of the Earth and is probably rocky, and TOI 700 c, 2.6 times the size of the Earth, probably gaseous. The third outermost planet is TOI 700 d, the one in the habitable zone and the most interesting one which is slightly larger than the Earth (about 20%) and which makes a complete orbit around the star every 37 days. Astronomers have calculated that this planet receives 86% of the energy that the Earth receives from the Sun. They also think that the planet always shows the same face to the star, as do the other two internal planets, a feature that does not completely prohibit the possible presence of life.

In the future, it will probably be possible to investigate more about the atmospheres of these planets and confirm that they are two rocky planets and one gaseous. However it is already possible to make some simulations and one of them sees TOI 700 d covered entirely by the ocean with a dense atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide, conditions similar to those of a very young Mars.

Another model instead sees the planet with strong winds flowing from the night side of the planet converging on the side always placed in front of the star.

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Hyundai announces the new first flying taxi for Uber

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In an announcement made at CES 2020, Hyundai announced a new partnership with Uber and the creation of a new division, Urban Air Mobility (UAM), for the creation of flying taxis.

This is not the first time that there has been talk of flying taxis in relation to the vehicle escort services offered by Uber itself, but it is the first announcement made in this regard by a major car manufacturer in relation to the construction of the first models.

Hyundai has in fact revealed a new model of Personal Air Vehicles (PAV), called SA-1, which resembles a sort of drone that takes off and lands vertically (VTOL) like a helicopter and tilts the rotors to position the wings like an airplane does. The flying taxi that the Hyundai will offer to Uber will, of course, be completely electric and will use various rotors. It will also feature special technology for noise reduction and suppression.

The SA-1 will have a capacity of four passengers in addition to the driver, which may soon become redundant as a technology is being developed for this type of vehicle for autonomous driving. It will have a range of just under 60 miles and will be able to travel at a height of between 300 and 600 yards. As far as speed is concerned, it will be able to reach peaks of 200 miles per hour. There is also a system for the use of emergency parachutes in case something goes wrong.

It will be large-scale production, made possible initially precisely by cooperation with uber, that will keep the costs affordable for these airborne systems, as Jaiwon Shin, head of the company’s air mobility division, reports.

In addition to the announcement of the new taxi model for Uber, Hyundai, during the conference, also shared his vision of a future traffic-free city that can finally combine, as seen only in science fiction films of past decades, air mobility with urban ground mobility.

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New method discovered to detect life on exoplanets by looking at oxygen in atmospheres

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This is a new approach to understand more profitably and quickly the presence of life on an exoplanet developed by a team of researchers at the University of California at Riverside. The scientists have developed a new method to understand the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere.

Oxygen is a possible indicator of the presence of life, a so-called “bio signature,” because at least here on Earth, it is mostly generated by living organisms including plants, algae and cyanobacteria that use the method of photosynthesis to harness the energy of sunlight.

The new technique can be used mainly with the James Webb space telescope, which should be put into orbit within a couple of years and which could detect signals from oxygen molecules when they collide in the atmosphere. During these “collisions” part of the infrared light spectrum intercepted by the telescope is “hidden” and by examining these decreases in the light it’s possible to determine the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.

The problem, at least until now, was to understand how much light is blocked in the infrared when these collisions of oxygen molecules occur. This was the subject of the study presented in the journal Nature Astronomy, which explains the method that astronomers can use to understand levels of probability of extraterrestrial life on exoplanets or otherwise to find oxygen in their atmospheres.

Understanding the presence of life on an exoplanet, in fact, is basically very difficult because the exoplanets are too far away and any telescope, even the most powerful that could be built during this century, would not come to intercept life on the surface of a planet at a direct level. However, there are “biomarkers” that can be used to understand at least the probability that life could exist in these distant worlds. And one such marker is the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere.

The main problem, at least for the moment, is that there may be planets where there is a lot of oxygen in the atmosphere but at the same time this may not indicate the presence of life. When a planet’s atmosphere becomes very hot, in fact, for example when it receives too much light from the star, a lot of water vapour is formed and this water, precisely because of the star’s strong ultraviolet radiation, can split into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen escapes into space and oxygen remains. However, this is a process of which little is yet known and, as Schwieterman himself warns, it is not known how widespread it can be. It is, however, a process that will have to be studied in depth to understand if the presence of oxygen can really be considered a bio signature.

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