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The coolest exoplanets

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You may not realize it from reading the news, but so many extrasolar planets are being discovered now that most aren't even reported. Sure, we all heard about Gliese 581 C, the planet 120 trillion miles from Earth which is the most "Earth-like" body yet discovered. But since then the trickle of discoveries has turned into a flood, and the news just can't keep up. So for those of you who don't bury your heads in scientific periodicals, here are some of most interesting new planets on the block:

"¢ Upsilon Andromeda b is tidally locked to its sun like Earth is to its moon, which means that one side is always facing the sun and the other away from it. As such, it has such extreme surface temperature variations that one side of it is like the deepest part of a volcano on Earth, and the other side often below freezing.

"¢ TrES-3 is about twice the size of Jupiter, 50 times closer to its sun than Earth, and zips through its full orbit in only 31 hours, giving it a 1.3-day year. It's fast, hot and out of control!

"¢ The longest orbit, on the other hand, is that of HD 154345 b, which takes 13,100 days to complete one transit around its star.

"¢ The oldest planet is 12.7 billion years, meaning it was formed just two billion years after the Big Bang. It raises the prospect of life existing in the universe far earlier than scientists had imagined.

"¢ A year on HD209458b is only 3.5 Earth-days long. The planet orbits so close to its star that its atmosphere is being blown away by gales of stellar wind. Scientists estimate the planet is losing at least 10,000 tons of material every second. Eventually, only a dead core of the shrinking planet will remain.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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