NASA Discovers ‘Super-Earth’ Exoplanet With an Atmosphere

Astronomers from NASA and ESA have, for the first time, been able to analyse the atmosphere of an exoplanet that is classified as a ‘Super-Earth’. Exoplanet 55 Cancri e, which is located around 40 light-years from Earth was observed by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and found to have a dry atmosphere comprising mainly of hydrogen and helium with no signs of water vapour.

A ‘super-Earth’ is quite simply a solid rocky planet with a greater mass than the Earth and are thought to be one of the most common types of planet in our galaxy. 55 Cancri e is an unusual super-Earth, being held in a very close orbit to its parent star. While this results in years on the exoplanet taking only 18 hours and an utterly inhospitable surface temperature of around 2000 degrees Celsius. This close orbit did allow the astronomers to employ new analysis techniques to examine the planet and gather information as it passes in front of the star.This finding is groundbreaking as it marks the first time that the spectral fingerprints that give away gasses present in the atmosphere have been discovered on a super-Earth.

This finding is groundbreaking as it marks the first time that the spectral fingerprints that give away gasses present in the atmosphere have been discovered on a super-Earth. “This result gives a first insight into the atmosphere of a super-Earth. We now have clues as to what the planet is currently like and how it might have formed and evolved, and this has important implications for 55 Cancri e and other super-Earths,” said Giovanna Tinetti, of  University College London.

While 55 Cancri e is certainly not a planet that anyone would want to live on, between extreme heat and a toxic atmosphere, the discovery of some of its features have proven the ability to detect the atmospheric qualities of other planets. It may still be a few years until a new generation of infrared telescopes prove the current discoveries correct, it is exciting that we develop more and more ways to learn about the nature of our neighbours in the universe.

Image credit to NASA

Largest Plane on Earth Will Be Airborne as Early as Next Year

Meet Stratolaunch, the largest plane on Earth! Codenamed the “Roc” after the mythical bird of prey, this ‘beast’ looks to be a true king of the sky. In terms of size, it is said to be 65 feet wider than the “Spruce Goose” H-4 Hercules and 95 feet wider than the spaceship-carrying Soviet Antonov An-225, so you can imagine how small you may feel when next to it.

In addition to the size, the “Roc” boasts six Pratt & Whitney jet engines, 28 landing gear wheels and a 385 foot wingspan. But the plane was not made to enter the Guinness record book. Microsoft’s co-founderm Paul Allan, is the guy behind the project and he aims to make the “Roc” the next big alternative to launching rockets into space.

The plane is able to hold a three-stage rocket between its fuselages, as shown in the picture above, which can then be launched at extremely high altitude and detatch its payload into space. So why is this helpful? Well, think about weather conditions. Having to launch a satellite from the edge of Earth’s atmosphere takes away a lot of unwanted variables, so it makes it easier and somewhat safer to launch from up above the clouds.

This is why Stratolaunch was designed so big and massive, weighing in at 1.3 million pounds (including the rocket). But will it do what is expected of it? We won’t know until they do the test runs, which are said to begin as early as next year. If they prove to be a success, Stratolaunch’s first mission is said to be planned for 2018. Until then, here’s a simulation of how the plane and rocket launch should take place. Enjoy!

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CleanSpace One to Use Pac-Man Approach for Cleaning the Atmosphere of Debris

CleanSpace One, the project involved in finding a solution for cleaning up our atmosphere, was tasked to find the most efficient way of getting rid of the old SwissCube satellite. Together with students from the University of Applied Science in Geneva, they came up with a radical idea to do just that.

Before finding a suitable approach, a lot of solutions span from articulated arms with claws to tentacles. However, it is hard to find a solution to get the cleanup satellite to actually see the debris. There are a lot of things to take into account when searching for debris in space, such as the angle of illumination of the Sun, physical data from the satellite, relative speed at which it is moving, etc.

Given the above, the scientists are still testing the visual algorithm to perfect it. In the meantime, the students came up with the most radical idea for the satellite’s design, which is supposed to be similar to how Pac-Man interacts in the game. This means that the system will be made out of a cone-shaped net, which opens and closes once the debris are in the cage.

The CleanSpace One project plans to launch the cleanup satellite in early 2018 and things already look promising. The development and capture system are said to have passed the prototype test, having the project move to the first engineering model tests.

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