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Meet the Starless Planet That Floats Alone

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Say hello to what may just be the loneliest planet in the universe. CFBDSIR2149—as researchers unromantically refer to this orphan world—doesn't have a traditional solar system to call its own, and instead floats through the galaxy untethered to a larger sun-like body. According to a new report in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, its existence is making astrophysicists rethink what they knew about starless planets, which may be more common than previously believed. Here's what you should know about this parent-less object:

What's the planet like?

It's titanic—about four to seven times as massive as Jupiter. The free-floating object "cruises unbound through space relatively close to Earth" at roughly 130 light-years away, says Mike Wall at Space.com. Astronomers caught their first glimpse of CFBDSIR2149 ("2149" for short) while hunting for distant brown dwarf stars, or "failed stars" that never quite become massive enough to kick-start thermonuclear reactions at their cores. It's estimated that the lonely 2149 is between 50 and 120 million years old with a surface temperature of 752 degrees Fahrenheit (relatively cool compared to real stars). What's more: It may be like a lost child following a group of unfamiliar companions.

What does that mean?

The object was pinpointed moving through space among a small group of young stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group star cluster, says Irene Klotz at Discovery News. 2149 stood out among these stars because of its relatively cool temperature. Although it isn't orbiting any of them, there's a 90 percent probability that the oddball planet is "indeed associated with the group," says Space.com's Wall, since all the stars appear to be roughly the same age as it. There's still a small chance that 2149 is an unusually small brown dwarf star, but that means it would have to be billions of years older than its present company. That's why astronomers are pretty sure it's a young planet and not an old, failed star.

How did it end up orphaned?

Scientists aren't sure. Either it formed away from a parent star or was booted out from its original system by gravitational forces. For example, 2149 may have formed originally as part of a solar system, says Michael D. Lemonick at TIME, before it was "sling-shotted out in a close encounter with another planet."

Are there many others like it?

Not at all. A few orphan worlds were discovered in star-forming regions in the constellation Orion, but "this is the first time we have found one outside the cocoon of star-forming regions in the field," says astrophysicist Étienne Artigau at the University of Montreal, who co-discovered the planet. Now scientists are hoping to study the relatively close anomaly more intently — astronomers have already detected the signature of methane and water vapor in 2149's atmosphere. A separate study from 2011 found that if floating planets do in fact support life, they may act as "stepping stones" to spread life around the galaxy.

Sources: Discovery NewsNew ScientistSpace.comTIME

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]
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Animals
Elusive Butterfly Sighted in Scotland for the First Time in 133 Years

Conditions weren’t looking too promising for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that’s native to the UK. Threatened by habitat loss, the butterfly's numbers have dwindled by 96 percent since the 1970s, and the insect hasn’t even been spotted in Scotland since 1884. So you can imagine the surprise lepidopterists felt when a white-letter hairstreak was seen feeding in a field in Berwickshire, Scotland earlier in August, according to The Guardian.

A man named Iain Cowe noticed the butterfly and managed to capture it on camera. “It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” Cowe said in a statement provided by the UK's Butterfly Conservation. “It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

The white-letter hairstreak is a small brown butterfly with a white “W”-shaped streak on the underside of its wings and a small orange spot on its hindwings. It’s not easily sighted, as it tends to spend most of its life feeding and breeding in treetops.

The butterfly’s preferred habitat is the elm tree, but an outbreak of Dutch elm disease—first noted the 1970s—forced the white-letter hairstreak to find new homes and food sources as millions of Britain's elm trees died. The threatened species has slowly spread north, and experts are now hopeful that Scotland could be a good home for the insect. (Dutch elm disease does exist in Scotland, but the nation also has a good amount of disease-resistant Wych elms.)

If a breeding colony is confirmed, the white-letter hairstreak will bump Scotland’s number of butterfly species that live and breed in the country up to 34. “We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said in a statement.

Prior to 1884, the only confirmed sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland was in 1859. However, the insect’s newfound presence in Scotland comes at a cost: The UK’s butterflies are moving north due to climate change, and the white-letter hairstreak’s arrival is “almost certainly due to the warming climate,” Kirkland said.

[h/t The Guardian]

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