Most known exoplanets are water worlds, study reports

Scientists have found that most of the exoplanets on record hold quite a bit of water.

A group of international astronomers have found that many exoplanets two to four times the size of Earth have water on their surface, according to new research presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston.

Astronomers first uncovered exoplanets orbiting distant starts in 1992. Since that time, scientists have spent years attempting to uncover their composition. The new research — which comes from data collected by the  Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission — shows that many known worlds could be up to 50 percent water.

Such exoplanets are exciting because they could well change the way researchers search for life in the universe.

“It was a huge surprise to realize that there must be so many water-worlds,” said lead researcher Li Zeng, a researcher at Harvard University, according to Science Daily.

Researchers found that almost all of the 4000 confirmed exoplanets on record fall into one of two categories. They either have an average planetary radius that is 1.5 times Earth’s, or they have one that is 2.5 times Earth’s. That distinction helped the team piece together the internal structure of the distant bodies.

Models created from the data showed that exoplanets with a radius 1.5 times Earth’s are generally rocky, while the ones that have radii 2.5 Earth’s are likely water worlds.

Though water is not as common on such places as it is on Earth, and while the surface temperatures are much too hot to support conventional organisms, the exoplanets could still offer new insight into the universe. Researchers plan to continue exploring them and potentially gain more insight into their mechanisms in the future.

That is because the presence of water, regardless of other conditions, always means there is a chance for life. Even so, the team also states that just because a world has water does not mean there is life. More research has to be done on individual world’s before such claims could be made.

“One has to realize that, although water appears to be precious and rarer on Earth and other inner solar system terrestrial planets, it is in fact one of the most abundant substance in the universe, since oxygen is the third most abundant element after hydrogen and helium,” added Zeng, according to Discover Magazine.

Scientists conduct experiments to explain the origins of our Universe

Experiments searching for a solution to one of physics’ biggest mysteries have delivered their first rounds of results.

Right now there are four major experiments being conducted around the world, hunting for signs of barely-detectable particles undergoing rare changes. In an article for Science Alert, Mike Mcrae explains why matter shouldn’t exist based on our current understanding of physics.

As subatomic particles cooled out of the radiation following the first moments of Universe, they took one of two forms—matter and antimatter. Therein lies the paradox, however, because these mirror-opposite objects also cancel out in a flash of energy when they meet again. So, if both types of particles are created next to one another in equal amounts, the math says we should have nothing left over. However, most visible objects are made from just one kind of particle—matter.

Neutrinos (a type of neutrally charged particle) may provide answers to this paradox. Neutrinos are a million times lighter than an electron, meaning they barely interact with other particles. Properties of these ‘ghost particles’ may mean that neutrinos are matter and anti-matter in one. Exploring neutrinos may be the pathway to explaining why our universe didn’t immediately cancel itself out.

Experiments are taking place to explore this mystery. The Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE) at Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy is based on just a flash in one of 1,000 crystals of tellurium dioxide to advertise the moment of neutrinoless double beta decay. They expect to see only five decays in the next five years. CUORE member, Lindley Winslow told Jennifer Chu at MIT News that it’s a very rare process.   “If observed, it would be the slowest thing that has ever been measured,” she said. A second experiment at Gran Sasso is using isotope germanium-76 instead. They have less material to catch the decay, but the whole set-up is proving to be extremely sensitive, reducing the risk of missing the event if it happens.

In the U.S. at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, collaborators are working on an experiment called the MAJORANA Demonstrator. All of these experiments are looking for the conservation of a particular quantum number as pairs of neutrons decay within certain isotopes. To-date, the results from these experiments have narrowed the field of places to search for neutrinos.

Water ice confirmed on moon for first time

Astronomers have finally confirmed the presence of water ice on the surface of the moon.

For the first time in history astronomers have found definitive evidence of water-ice on the moon’s surface, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have long speculated that Earth’s natural satellite has ice on its surface. However, this is the first official confirmation. The frozen liquid sits at the north and south poles and is likely ancient, BBC News reports.

To find the ice, a team of international astronomers analyzed data gathered by India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. That showed the distribution is quite scattered. Most of the ice at the lunar south pole is in craters, and at the north pole it is much more widespread.

Those findings come from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard Chandrayaan, which identified three specific water-ice signatures on the moon.

Not only did it get the tell-tale reflective properties associated with ice, but it also measured the way its molecules absorb infrared light. That is important because it shows the substance is solid and not vapor.

“The abundance and distribution of ice on the Moon are distinct from those on other airless bodies in the inner solar system such as Mercury and Ceres, which may be associated with the unique formation and evolution process of our Moon,” wrote the researchers, according to Fox News.

Though the moon is quite hot during the day, ice can exist because, as the axis tilts, parts of the body never see sunlight.

The new finding supports past evidence that suggested the presence of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole. That is important because, if there is a substantial amount of ice, astronauts could one day harvest it during space missions. It may even help foster a future lunar base, and it could potentially be turned into hydrogen for rocket fuel as well.

Exoplanets with iron and titanium detected for first time

For the first time in history astronomers have observed exoplanets that have iron and titanium in their atmosphere.

A team of international astronomers have found a planet 600 light-years from Earth that has both iron and titanium atoms in its atmosphere, according to new research published in the journal Nature

The body — known as KELT-9b — is a world that is nothing like any of the planets in our solar system. It is 2.88 times the mass of Jupiter, temperatures that reach over 6,740 Fahrenheit, and a year lasts 1.5 Earth days.

Not only is it the hottest exoplanet known to science, but it is also the first one on record to have iron and titanium atoms. As a result, scientists believe it could be a step towards properly characterizing the atmospheres of potentially habitable worlds.

“It’s hard to distinguish an exoplanet like Venus from an exoplanet like Earth,” lead author Jens Hoeijmakers, a researcher from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, told Gizmodo. “We need to recognize the chemistry in the atmospheres of exoplanets. KELT-9b is an easy target, an easy system to understand. My philosophy is if you cannot do the easy cases, then you cannot do the hard cases either.”

The team made the new discovery by analyzing data from the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo, which recorded the planet as it passed in front of its host star.

That allowed researchers to observe spectral lines of both iron and titanium. In addition, the team also detected a slight shift to the spectral wavelengths. That is important because it shows the lines did not come from the star or dust. They came from the planet.

Though iron is plentiful on Earth, it is extremely hard to detect on distant planets because of its unique optical properties. This is the first time scientists have found an iron or titanium atom on an exoplanet.

Such readings are important because being able to fully understand an exoplanet’s atmosphere could help researchers figure out what worlds are most likely to host life.

“[T]he same exact technique…can be used to detect molecules interesting for biology in a future, yet-to-be-discovered exoplanet,” said study co-author Kevin Heng, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Bern, according to Popular Science.“You can say that hot exoplanets are a training ground for us to hone our techniques and prepare for the exciting targets to emerge in the coming decade.”

Opaque universe gives insight into galaxy formation

A new study sheds light on both the cosmic web, as well as what the universe was like when the first galaxies formed.

Researchers from numerous California universities found that 12.5 billion years ago the most opaque place in the universe had almost no matter, a new study in the Astrophysical Journal reports.

Almost all of the universe contains a vast, web-like network of dark matter and gas. Known as the “cosmic web,” that lattice accounts for most of the matter in the universe.

Though the gas within the network is almost completely transparent because it is kept ionized by ultraviolet radiation, it was not always that way.

Researchers first found that information roughly 10 years ago, when they realized 1 billion years after the Big Bang the gas hanging throughout the cosmos was not only opaque as a result of ultraviolet light, but also that its transparency changed greatly from region to region.

Then, a few years past that finding, the team behind the recent research found that the differences in opacity were so large that either the amount of gas — or the radiation in which it sits — also shifted in each area.

“Today, we live in a fairly homogeneous universe,” said lead author George Becker, a researcher from the University of California, Irvine, according to Science Daily. “If you look in any direction you find, on average, roughly the same number of galaxies and similar properties for the gas between galaxies, the so-called intergalactic gas. At that early time, however, the gas in deep space looked very different from one region of the universe to another.”

To take a closer look at the notable differences, scientists used the Subaru telescope in Hawaii to search for galaxies in a vast, 300-light-year stretch of the universe where intergalactic gas was extremely opaque.

In terms of the cosmic web, more opacity typically equals more gas, which means more galaxies. However, in the study the team found the exact opposite. The region they analyzed, despite being opaque, had much less galaxies on average.

Though they are not sure why that is, the researchers postulate it is because UV light could not travel very far in the early universe. As a result, any section with only a few galaxies would look much darker than one with more activity.  

This discovery is important because it could help scientists gain insight into the first billion years after the Big Bang, when ultraviolet light from the first galaxies filled the universe and permanently transformed the gas in deep space. In addition, analyzing deep space galaxies may also shed light on how the cosmic web first came to be. 

“There is still a lot we don’t know about when the first galaxies formed and how they altered their surroundings,” said Becker, according to SciTechDaily.

Scientists finally explain Jupiter’s colorful bands

A new study offers the first concrete explanation for why Jupiter is covered in bright, colorful bands.

Astronomers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Australian National University may have finally uncovered the mystery behind Jupiter’s brightly colored bands, a new study in the Astrophysical Journal reports.

Jupiter is unique because, unlike many planets, it has no solid surface. Rather, it is completely made up of gas.

As a part of that, its upper atmosphere has several strong jet streams that carry clouds of different elements across the planet. That process then creates colored bands that range from shades of red and orange to brown and yellow.

While scientists have long postulated on how Jupiter’s jets form and how they move beneath the clouds, they have never been able to observe the phenomena until now.

“We know a lot about the jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere and the key role they play in the weather and climate, but we still have a lot to learn about Jupiter’s atmosphere,” said lead author Navid Constantinou, a researcher from the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, according to Newsweek. “Scientists have long debated how deep the jet streams reach beneath the surfaces of Jupiter and other gas giants, and why they do not appear in the Sun’s interior.”

To take a close look at that mystery, the team behind the research analyzed data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. That then showed the jet streams dip down at least 1,800 miles below the clouds.

Using that data in combination with a mathematical model, the team predicts the jets can become suppressed if magnetic fields ever get strong enough. That would then explain why the streams can only penetrate so far.

This new finding is important because, not only does it provide insight into the planet, but it helps further research about gas giants in general.

“There are no continents and mountains below Jupiter’s atmosphere to obstruct the path of the jet streams,” said study co-author Jeffrey Parker, a researcher at the Livermore National Laboratory, according to “This makes the jet streams on Jupiter simpler. By studying Jupiter, not only do we unravel the mysteries in the interior of the gas giant, but we can also use Jupiter as a laboratory for studying how atmospheric flows work in general.”

New Horizons spots ‘hydrogen wall’ at edge of solar system

For the first time in history scientists believe they may be able to view the mysterious “hydrogen wall” that sits at the edge of our solar system.

For the first time in history astronomers believe they may be able to see the so-called “hydrogen wall” at the distant edge of our solar system, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The hydrogen wall is a boundary that sits at the edge of our home system. It is where the sun’s bubble of solar wind ends and where a mass of interstellar matter that is too small to break through that wind builds up. That then creates a visible boundary that has the last remains of solar wind on one side and interstellar matter on the other.

While scientists have never been able to view the odd phenomenon before, they believe that is about to change.

New Horizons, the craft that moved past Pluto in 2015, is able to see extra ultraviolet light out at the space where the wall should be. In addition, it also appears to be the same light that NASA’s probes first detected back in 1992.

While such observations are promising, they do not necessarily show that New Horizons can view the hydrogen wall. That is because the ultraviolet light detected by the probes could easily come from another source.

However, the team is still hopeful because Alice — the instrument on board New Horizons that detected the light — is much more sensitive than anything the Voyagers had on board.

“If the ultraviolet light drops off at some point, then New Horizons may have left the wall in its rearview mirror,” wrote the researchers, according to Live Science“But if the light never fades, then its source could be farther ahead — coming from somewhere deeper in space.”

The finding holds a lot of promise. To follow up on it, New Horizons will scan the cosmos for ultraviolet light twice a year and then report any findings back down to Earth. If anything unusual pops up again, astronomers will instantly know.

“It’s really exciting if these data are able to distinguish the hydrogen wall,” said David McComas, a researcher at Princeton University who was not involved in the new work, in a statement.

Distant star caught devouring planet

Researchers have finally observed a star devouring a planet.

For the first time in history astronomers have witnessed a star devouring a planet, a new study published in the Astronomical Journal reports.

This discovery comes from a team of international scientists who used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to capture the event, which took place 450 light years from Earth.

They believe a large star known as RW Aur A swallowed a pair of newborn planets that smashed into each other before collapsing down into the fiery body’s rotating disk.

The team first took note RW Aur A some 80 years ago. Since that time, they have noted that it sits in the constellation Taurus-Auriga and is part of a binary system with another star that weighs as much as the sun. 

However, what makes it particularly interesting is that it goes through a pattern where it dims for extended periods of time before slowly brightening again.

To explain its recent dimming, the team in the new study took a closer look at the star. They found that it may have gotten blocked by a thick cloud of gas and dust created by two planets smashing together and then falling into the star. That would have blocked out its light.

While computer models have long predicted that young stars can devour planets, this is the first scientists have observed such an event.

“If our interpretation of the data is correct, this would be the first time that we directly observe a young star devouring a planet or planets,” said lead author Hans Moritz Guenther, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Tech Times.

This new information is important because, not only does it mark a never-before-seen event, it could explain previous dimming episodes as well. For example, if two planets or the remains of past collisions crashed into each other it may have created debris that spun off on rogue orbits.

The new finding marks a brand new phenomenon. Researchers hope they can shed more light on it in the future.

“Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that,” added Guenther, according to Science Daily. “If our interpretation of the data is correct, this would be the first time that we directly observe a young star devouring a planet or planets.”

Jupiter’s moons emit extremely powerful waves

Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede have extremely powerful chorus waves that are much stronger than any other ones found in our solar system.

A team of international astronomers have found that the chorus waves around Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Europa are much more powerful than the waves around other planets in our solar system, a new study published in Nature Communications reports.

Chorus waves are electromagnetic waves that emit out from planets and cause different phenomena in their atmosphere. For instance, Earth’s waves cause the Northern Lights and generate extremely high-energy electrons.

In the new study, scientists analyzed such waves around the planets in our solar system and then used data gathered by the Galileo space to match that against Jupiter’s moons. That revealed the waves of Europa are 100 times more intense than average planetary waves, and the ones around Ganymede are 1 million times stronger than that.

“It’s a really surprising and puzzling observation showing that a moon with a magnetic field can create such a tremendous intensification in the power of waves,” said lead author Yuri Shprits, a professor at GFZ/ University of Potsdam, according to

While scientists are not sure why the natural satellites have such strong waves, they believe it could be partly due to the fact that they orbit within Jupiter’s magnetic field. That region is the largest field in the solar system, and it measures 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s.

At that power range, Ganymede would be able to accelerate particles to extremely high speeds and energies.

That is important because, as Earth’s chorus waves can create so-called “killer” electrons that severely damage spacecraft, there is a chance that Jupiter’s moons can generate them as well.

More research is needed, but such insight will give scientists a chance to understand the core processes that drive acceleration and loss around planets in our solar system. That may then allow them to gain new information about exoplanets as well as potential energy sources down the line.

“It’s a really surprising and puzzling observation showing that a moon with a magnetic field can create such a tremendous intensification in the power of waves,” added Shprits, in a statement.

The universe appears to expand at different rates, study reports

New measurements show that modern physics cannot succinctly understand the rate at which the universe expands.

Astronomers from John Hopkins University have found new evidence that furthers the idea that the universe expands at different speeds depending on what part is observed, according to new research in The Astrophysical Journal. 

Many recent studies on the topic have found numerous discrepancies in how fast the universe moves out to distant locations.

In fact, the “tension” could reveal that scientists need to revise the modern understanding of how physics structures the universe and change ideas surround dark matter and dark energy.

Measurements gathered from the Hubble and Gaia space telescopes revealed that the universe expands at a rate of 45.6 miles per second per megaparsec. In other words, every 3.3 million light-years a galaxy is away from Earth, it appears to move 45 miles faster.

However, previous research from the Planck telescope shows that the more distant background universe moves at a slower 41.6 miles per second per megaparsec.

The difference between both of those measurements continues to grow as researchers refine measurements over time. In fact, the data from the new study reveals a gap that is four times the size of their combined uncertainty — a value that reflects researchers’ level of confidence in the results of a trial.

“At this point, clearly it’s not simply some gross error in any one measurement,” said lead author Adam Riess, an astronomy and physics professor at Johns Hopkins University, in a statement. “It’s as though you predicted how tall a child would become from a growth chart, and then found the adult he or she became greatly exceeded the prediction. We are very perplexed.”

Nobody can explain why the universe accelerates as it expands. Some believe it may be the result of dark matter or dark energy, while others suggest that it may be the result of a yet undiscovered particle.

While researchers are still analyzing the measurements from the recent study, they will likely help scientists better predict how the early universe have evolved into the expansion rate noted today.

“The tension seems to have grown into a full-blown incompatibility between our views of the early and late time universe,” added Riess, according The Independent“At this point, clearly it’s not simply some gross error in any one measurement.