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, 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.


The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space

Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]


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