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Found 2 results

  1. Astronomers on Monday added 219 candidates to the growing list of planets beyond the solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, boosting the chances for life. Scientists found the planet candidates in a final batch of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus. The candidates include 10 newly discovered rocky worlds that are properly distanced from their parent stars for water, if it exists, to pool on their surfaces. Scientists believe liquid water is a key ingredient for life. ?An important question for us is, ?Are we alone?'" Kepler program scientist Mario Perez said in a conference call with reporters. ?Maybe Kepler today is telling us indirectly ... that we are not alone.? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Kepler telescope in 2009 to learn if Earth-like planets are common or rare. With the final analysis of Kepler data in hand, scientists said they will now work on answering that question, a key step in assessing the chance that life exists beyond Earth. During a four-year mission, Kepler found 2,335 confirmed planets and another 1,699 candidates, bringing its tally to 4,034. That number includes about 50 worlds that may be about the same size and temperature as Earth. Including other telescope surveys, scientists have confirmed the existence of nearly 3,500 planets beyond the solar system. Kepler?s data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet has a solid surface, like Earth, or is made mostly of gas, like Neptune. The distinction will help scientists home in on potential Earth-like planets and better the odds for finding life. The Kepler team found that planets which are about 1.75 times the size of Earth and smaller tend to be rocky, while those two- to 3.5 times the size of Earth become gas-shrouded worlds like Neptune. ?It?s like finding what we thought was a single species of animal is really two different things,? said Benjamin Fulton, a graduate student in astronomy who analysed the Kepler data. So far, these planets, which scientists refer to as ?super-Earths? and ?mini-Neptunes,? have not been found in Earth?s solar system, though scientists are on the hunt for a potential ninth planet far beyond Pluto. ?It is interesting that we don?t have what appears to be the most common type of planet in the galaxy,? Fulton said.
  2. China successfully launched on Thursday its first X-ray space telescope to study black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts, state media reported. A Long March-4B rocket carried the 2.5-tonne telescope into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert at 11:00 am (3:00 GMT), according to the official Xinhua news agency. The Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), named Insight, will allow Chinese scientists to observe magnetic fields and the interiors of pulsars and better understand the evolution of black holes. It will also help scientists search for gamma-ray bursts corresponding to gravitational waves and study how to pulsars can be used for spacecraft navigation, Xinhua said. "We are looking forward to discovering new activities of black holes and studying the state of neutron stars under extreme gravity and density conditions, and physical laws under extreme magnetic fields," Xinhua quoted HXMT lead scientist Zhang Shuangnan as saying. "These studies are expected to bring new breakthroughs in physics," Zhang added. The telescope will seek out new black hole activity by repeatedly scanning the Milky Way for active celestial bodies that emit X-rays. Black holes are usually undetectable, but when matter falls into a black hole, it is accelerated and heated, emitting X-rays in the process, Zhang explained. Compared with other countries' space telescopes, HXMT has a larger detection area and broader energy range -- providing advantages in finding black holes and neutron stars that emit bright X-rays -- and making scanning the galaxy more efficient, according to Zhang. Very bright objects have a large number of photon particles, which can result in image over-exposure, but HXMT designers solved the problem by diffusing photons instead of focusing them. "No matter how bright the sources are, our telescope won't be blinded," chief designer Chen Yong said. Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a symbol of its rise and of the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation. In April, China's first cargo spacecraft successfully docked with an orbiting space lab -- a key development toward China's goal of having its own crewed space station by 2022. Last month, China opened a "Lunar Palace" laboratory on Earth to simulate a moon-like environment and house students for up to 200 days as the country prepares for its long-term goal of sending humans to the natural satellite.