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University of Montreal
University of Montreal

'Super-Earth' Exoplanet Could Potentially Support Life (And It Also Has a Neighbor)

University of Montreal
University of Montreal

A mysterious exoplanet that astronomers have dubbed K2-18b might be a “super-Earth” that could potentially harbor extraterrestrial life, Phys.org reports. Adding to scientists’ excitement, they’ve recently discovered that this distant body is orbited by yet another Earth-like planet, called K2-18c. The findings were recently published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics [PDF].

Discovered in 2015, K2-18b orbits a red-dwarf star named K2-18 in the constellation Leo (about 111 light years from Earth), as does its more recently located counterpart. While both planets have masses similar to Earth, K2-18c probably can’t support life—it’s too close to the star and therefore too hot. K2-18b, on the other hand, is situated in perfect range from K2-18 to have liquid surface water, which all organisms need to live. 

Astronomers discovered the exoplanets using the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The data they collected also allowed them to calculate the mass and density of K2-18b. According to preliminary findings, the exoplanet is either rocky with an Earth-like gaseous atmosphere, or watery and covered in ice. Further research with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which launches in spring 2019, will help astronomers determine K2-18b’s true nature.

In addition to revealing K2-18b’s mass, HARPS data also revealed the presence of K2-18c. Discovering an additional exoplanet was still “lucky and equally exciting," even if it probably couldn't support life, said lead author Ryan Cloutier, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto Scarborough's Center for Planet Science, according to a news release.

[h/t Phys.org]

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Space
Now You Can Train to Be an Astronaut on Your Smartphone
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Just because you don't work for NASA doesn't mean you'll never make it as an astronaut. In the world of private space tourism, a little training could be all you need. And there's an app for that.

Space Nation, a Finnish space tourism startup, recently launched Space Nation Navigator, which the company touts as the first astronaut training app in the world. The app aims to train future space travelers using games, quizzes, and fitness challenges that fall into three categories: "body," "mind," and "social."

Each of the challenges is tailored to help you develop the skills you'd need to survive in space—even the mundane ones. One mission is called "Did you clean behind the fridge?" and is designed to highlight the unpleasant chores crew members on the ISS have to do to keep things tidy. There are "survival" quizzes that test your knowledge of how to properly build a fire, read a map, and dispose of your poop in the forest. The app also plugs into your smartphone fitness data so that you can participate in athletic challenges, like a 650-foot sprint designed to train you to escape a meteor impact zone.

Screenshots of the Space Nation Navigator app
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"Space Nation Navigator offers a way for anyone, anywhere to have a 15-minute astronaut experience every day. These astronaut skills—team building, problem solving, positive life hacks—are not just vital to survive in space," Space Nation CEO Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola said in a press statement. "They are also crucial in your daily life."

New challenges are added to your queue every few hours, and you can compete against other users for high scores. If you get enough points, you can become eligible for real-life training experiences with Space Nation, including a trip to Iceland. In 2019, Space Nation plans to hold an international competition to find one astronaut that the program will send to space.

If you're going to start training, we suggest you take some of the tests Project Mercury applicants faced back in 1958 to see how you'd stack up against the first NASA astronauts.

Get it: iOS, Android

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Big Questions
If Earth is Always Moving, Then How Do We See the Same Constellations Every Night?
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Luis Medrano:

6700 mph is nothing in cosmological speeds and distances. Constellations are freakin’ far away.

Get in a car at night and drive on a straight road, then look at the moon. The angle of the moon in respect to your point of view doesn’t change; it seems like the moon is following you wherever you go. Meanwhile, things that are really close to you—like electric poles, roadside buildings, and trees—seem to fly by really fast.

The effect is known as parallax. Things that are close seem to move faster and “travel more distance” (not really) than things that are far away.

In the video above, there are several objects in perspective. The light in the center, which represents the sun, was placed so far away you can barely see it move.

The sun is only eight light-minutes away; that’s 146 million km on average. At human scale it seems like a lot, but in cosmic distances it is nothing. Orion, for example, has stars that are from 243 to 1360 light years away from us. Imagine traveling at the speed of light for 1360 years. That’s how far these stars are. And these are not even the farthest stars. Some stars are Giga-light years away from us.

Now, with the proper precision instruments you can indeed notice the parallax in distant stars, just not with the naked eye. Furthermore, our solar system has moved so much since the early days of astronomy and astrology, the constellations do not correspond to the early astrology maps. The constellations appear shifted.

As a free info nugget: In case your life is ruled by astrology, whatever sign you think you are, you are not.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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