‘Monster’ planet discovery stuns scientists

Astronomers have discovered a planet the size of Jupiter orbiting a star that’s only half the size of the sun — a celestial phenomenon that contradicts theories of planet formation.

NGTS-1b, a massive, 986-degrees-hot ball of gas revolving around a red M-dwarf star 600 light years from Earth, is the largest planet compared to the size of its star ever found.

The discovery contradicts theories that a star so small could form a planet so large. Scientists previously theorized that small stars could form rocky planets, but they did not gather enough material to form planets the size of Jupiter.

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As red M-dwarf stars are the most common type in the universe, scientists now believe there may be many more planets like this.

MonsterPlanet2

Artist’s impression of planet NGTS-1b with its neighbouring sun (credit University of Warwick/Mark Garlick)

NGTS-1b was spotted by an international collaboration of researchers using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) facility in Chile, according to a report from the University of Warwick.

It is about 2.8 million miles away from its star — only 3 percent of the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the sun. A year on NGTS-1b — the time it takes to revolve around its star — occurs every 2.6 Earth days.

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“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us. Such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars,” said the lead author of the research, Dr. Daniel Bayliss of the University of Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group. “This is the first exoplanet we have found with our new NGTS facility, and we are already challenging the received wisdom of how planets form.”

“NGTS-1b was difficult to find, despite being a monster of a planet, because its parent star is small and faint,” said Warwick Professor Peter Wheatley. “Small stars are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to found.

“Having worked for almost a decade to develop the NGTS telescope array, it is thrilling to see it picking out new and unexpected types of planets. I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of exciting new planets we can turn up.”

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The astronomers’ report, ‘NGTS-1b: a hot Jupiter transiting an M-dwarf’, will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The massive asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was even more devastating than anyone imagined

The massive asteroid that is thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs was one of the most significant events in Earth’s history, and without it there’s a really good chance humans might never have existed at all. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine how the space rock’s impact could have been even more devastating than scientists have assumed, but new research suggests exactly that, and paints an even more dire picture of what life was like on Earth in the years that followed.

Results of the study, which focused largely on the impact of the asteroid itself and the amount of various gasses that were ejected during the event, was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

To get an idea of just how dramatic the climate shift would have been in the days, months, and years following the impact, scientists have relied on computer models of the collision. The data comes from knowledge of the impact site, which is now the Chicxulub crater located near the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in present day Mexico.

Previous computer models of the asteroid strike were not as refined as the new version, which takes into account the speed of the gasses that were released. The velocity at which the various material was sent skyward has a huge impact on whether or not it was able to enter the atmosphere and affect the climate on a longer scale. The antiquated models simply assumed all gas that was ejected made it into the atmosphere, which doesn’t appear to have been the case.

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According to this newest round of data, the impact would have released significantly more sulfur gas than previously though, by a factor of three, which would have had a devastating effect on Earth’s temperatures. Previous estimates suggested the planet’s temperature plummeted by as much as 47 degrees Fahrenheit, which would have spelled doom for many, many species, but this new study hints that it might have been even colder than that.

It’s terrifying to consider what would happen to humanity if such an event were to take place today, and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to not have a repeat thus far, but we can never be certain what the future holds.

New discovery hints at still further treasures hidden at famous shipwreck

The ship bound for Rome sunk in 1BC and was first discovered off the coast of Greece in 1900. And yet the Antikythera shipwreck is still providing new discoveries.

The Guardian reports an expedition to the site last month turned up a silver tankard, a human bone, and much more. Perhaps most exciting: the arm of a bronze statue and evidence that the remains of at least seven bronze statues are still buried there.

Previous bronze statues found at the Antikythera shipwreck were dated to the 4th century BC. Bronze statues from that time period are extremely rare, with only about 50 known in the world, according to Gizmodo.

National Geographic reports that based on the positioning of the fingers, the newly discovered arm may belong to a statue modeled on a philosopher. Recovering the rest of the statue—and the others at the site—won’t be easy.

The Antikythera shipwreck is 180 feet underwater on a slope and has been buried by boulders from a succession of earthquakes starting in the 4th century AD.

It will take a lot of time and money to move the boulders, recover the statues, and reconstruct them. Also discovered in last month’s expedition was a mysterious bronze disc that the dive team originally thought could be a missing component of the famous Antikythera Mechanism.

The mechanism, often called an “ancient computer,” could predict eclipses and the movements of various heavenly bodies and was discovered at the site. However, X-rays of the disc show it’s engraved with a bull and was likely a piece of decoration for a statue or the ship itself.

The next expedition to the Antikythera shipwreck is scheduled for spring 2018. (An odd item was found at the site in 2016.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Famous Shipwreck May Still Hold Priceless Treasures

Mars once had a lake 10 times larger than the Great Lakes

Scientists have known for some time that Mars once had lots and lots of water — in fact, some of it is still there — but exactly where it existed on the planet has been pretty difficult to figure out thanks to billions of years of surface erosion. Now, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered one place on the red planet that held a whole bunch of the life-giving liquid: an incredibly massive lake that, during its peak, held ten times the amount of water of all the Great Lakes, combined.

It’s an incredible discovery, and one that could help inform future exploration of Mars in the hopes of finding evidence that life once existed there. The idea that Mars was one a life-giving planet much like our own is one that has tantalized scientists for a long, long time, and if they ever hope to prove it, they now have a promising lead on where to start looking.

But even if Mars never hosted living organisms, its colossal lake could still help inform researchers painting the picture of life’s origins here on Earth. “Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth,” Paul Niles of NASA’s Johnson Space Center explains. “Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time — when early life was evolving here.”

The lake was discovered thanks to the detection of huge mineral deposits hiding underneath the surface. It is believed that those minerals were the byproduct of volcanic underwater vents, much like those that exist deep in Earth’s oceans. On our planet, those hydrothermal vents actually host life, but it’s unclear whether the same was true for ancient Mars.

At the moment, the idea of a massive Martian lake with hydrothermal features is incredibly exciting, but we’re still a long way from actually finding anything suggesting the existence of life there. There are no current plans to actually investigate the site, dig, or study the area beyond what is already being done, but that could change.

Cancer in elephant is being treated with unprecedented approach

An Asian elephant in the El Paso Zoo in Texas has undergone two successful rounds of electrochemotherapy.

The elephant, 50-year-old Juno, underwent her second successful treatment Friday. She was diagnosed with a malignant mass in her right mammary gland in January; she underwent her first electrochemotherapy treatment in March.

“The El Paso Zoo is on the cutting edge in terms of the cancer treatment they are providing Juno,” Dr. Jospeh Impellizeri, of Veterinary Oncology Services, said in a statement. “This type of treatment on large, exotic animals isn’t getting done anywhere else—not even Europe. It’s incredible.”

The treatment was performed by Impellizeri, along with two veterinarians from the El Paso Zoo and the zoo’s staff.

According to the zoo, this is only the second recorded case of a cancerous mass in an elephant.

“The make up of elephants is that they’re able to sequester those tumors and they don’t metastasize all over their body. But we did want to treat this cancer simply because it was uncomfortable for her,” said El Paso Zoo Director Steve Marshall.

THE WORLD OF ANIMALS

The electrochemotherapy treatment uses a chemotherapy drug that’s infused into the tumor before an electric pulse draws the chemotherapy directly into the cancer cells. Juno was put under anesthesia for an hour and a half for the treatment but is now alert and walking, according to the zoo.

The tumor is very big and the zoo said the electrochemotherapy allows for multiple treatments, unlike invasive surgery.

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“We broke the tumor down into four quadrants and treated each quadrant with the electrochemotherapy,” Impellizeri said in March after the first treatment. “This is an extremely large tumor, the largest I’ve ever treated, but if you break it down into quadrants, you can treat it like four or five smaller tumors.”

Treating the tumor and giving an accurate prognosis is a challenge for the zoo. There is no record of a malignant mammary gland tumor in all of veterinary literature, and cancer of any kind is extremely rare in elephants, according to the zoo.  As a result, the zoo can’t predict how the cancer will progress and using ultrasounds and x-rays to determine if the cancer is spreading isn’t possible because of Juno’s size. However, the zoo expects Juno to survive.

“It does not take on the characteristics of a tumor that’s going to spread throughout her body, but it was growing in size,” said Marshall.

Juno’s treatment was featured on Nat Geo Wild’s show Animal ER in August.

Gorgeous, majestic white giraffes spotted, captured on video for first time ever

A pair of rare white giraffes were spotted in Kenya and captured on film for the first time ever.

The giraffes, a mother and its child, have white skin due to a condition known as lueucism. The condition prevents pigmentation in skin cells and causes skin to turn white and pale.

The giraffes were filmed walking around the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservacy in Kenya’s Garissa county. Several times during the video, the mother giraffe appears to recognize she is being filmed and looks directly at the camera.

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In a blog post, Hirola Conservancy said this was the first time the white giraffes had been spotted by a number of its community rangers. The post also noted that the giraffes were first reported by a local villager.

“The mother kept pacing back and forth a few yards in front of us while signalling the baby giraffe to hide behind the bushes,” the post read.

White giraffes have been spotted twice before. In January 2016, the first report of a white giraffe came from Tarangire National park, Tanzania. The second time was in March of 2016 in Ishaqbini conservancy, Garissa county, Kenya.

This is the first time the creatures are believed to have ever been captured on video.

Giant, dinosaur-eating crocodile discovered in Texas

A giant, 20-foot long crocodile from the Cretaceous Period has been discovered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas.

Dubbed the Deltasuchus motherali, the ancient beast was discovered by a local teenager, Austin Motheral. Motheral worked with paleontoligists from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who spent a decade excavating the bones.

The creature existed approximately 95 million years ago, at the same time as Tyrannosaurus Rex. During that era, modern-day Texas was largely covered by a shallow sea. In addition to T. rex, the area was home to other dinosaurs, turtles, crocodiles, mammals and fish.

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UT paleontologist Stephanie Drumheller-Horton said, based off the fossils and bite marks, the animal ate whatever it wanted. However, there is much to be learned from this era.

“We simply don’t have that many North American fossils from the middle of the Cretaceous, the last period of the age of dinosaurs, and the eastern half of the continent is particularly poorly understood,” Drumheller-Horton said in a press release. “Fossils from the Arlington Archosaur Site are helping fill in this gap, and Deltasuchus is only the first of several new species to be reported from the locality.”

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“Prior to this discovery, the only identified crocodyliforms from the Woodbine Formation had been the longirostrine taxa Terminonaris and Woodbinesuchus,” according to a research journal, detailing the findings.

The research has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

‘Harvey the Hurricane Hawk’ released back into the wild

Harvey the Hurricane Hawk is back in the skies over North Texas.

The bird became famous after taking refuge in a Houston man’s taxi during Hurricane Harvey refusing to leave. She was featured in a series of YouTube videos and became an instant viral sensation.

The taxi driver took care of Harvey until she could be turned over to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition.

The Houston-based animal care facility then took Harvey to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center in Lucas for rehabilitation.

“Cooper hawks eat songbirds and other types of birds,” said Jess Glotzbach of the Raptor Center. “And with all the flooding down [in Houston], the food source wasn’t like what they wanted it to be. So they said, ‘Let’s release it in Dallas, where we know everything is fine.'”

Harvey was released Wednesday afternoon in the parking lot of Oak Point Amphitheater in Plano.

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How NASA is tracking Tropical Storm Harvey

NASA is using a host of technology to track Tropical Storm Harvey, which made landfall again Wednesday.

The government agency is harnessing satellites and other platforms, including aircraft and even the International Space Station to provide continuous updates and new data on the storm.

NASA has used items such as the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on the agency’s Aqua satellite to capture clouds over Dallas. Data from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite has been harnessed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland to capture the storm’s center of circulation with thunderstorms that are located in the center of Harvey, according to Phys.org. These thunderstorms have stretched as far east as Louisiana.

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“NASA focuses on developing new research capabilities that can be used by our partners in the operational and response communities,” said Dalia Kirschbaum, Research Physical Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement. “While we continue to innovate in the type of information from satellites, models, and airborne platforms, the main focus is to ensure that the partners that are responding operationally to this event have the information in the format that they need to make effective decisions on emergency response.”

Kirschbaum added that NASA is continuing to make sure “that the data pipeline is as effective and useful as possible.”

NASA has also used its Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard the Aqua satellite to detail the flood threat from Harvey.

According to the data provided by AIRS, NASA was able to see the coldest cloud top temperatures and thunderstorms over the southern Texas coast, while also spotting an “area of intense precipitation” over southeast Louisiana.

As of Tuesday night, the storm had dumped nearly 52 inches of rain on the state of Texas, setting the preliminary record for a tropical storm, according to data from the National Weather Service.

The storm has done significant amounts of damage, with more expected to come. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 30,000 have applied for mass care and medical care and 195,000 have applied for federal assistance.

The U.S. Coast Guard is also using heat maps to find trapped people, as well as taking surplus 911 calls, at the rate of 1,000 calls per hour.

Fox News’ Catherine Herridge contributed to this story.

Wreckage of lost World War II bomber discovered in the North Sea

Engineers working on a sub-sea power link have found what is believed to be the wreckage of a World War II Royal Air Force bomber off the coast of Norway.

The engineers were conducting surveys of the seabed as part of the North Sea Link project to build a power cable between the U.K. and Norway when they found the plane wreckage. The discovery off the Norwegian city of Stavanger may help solve a decades-old mystery.

Experts consulted by the North Sea Link program identified the wreck as an RAF Short Stirling heavy bomber, which played a key role in delivering supplies from Britain to Norwegian resistance fighters during the war.

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The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) brought in World War II aviation enthusiast Bengt Stangvik to study the find. In a statement released by North Sea Link partner National Grid, Stangvik explained that several Short Stirlings disappeared without a trace on missions to Norway during the winter of 1944 to 1945. “Based on the location of this wreck, it is probable that it was on a mission to drop supplies to the resistance forces in western Norway,” he said.

Stangvik noted that, of 30 British aircraft that went missing on missions to the Norwegian resistance, 19 were Short Stirlings. The discovery off Stavanger is likely to be one of six Short Stirlings that are still unaccounted for, he said.

The Short Stirling was the RAF’s first four-engine heavy bomber during World War II, according to Stangvik, who said that the planes encountered problems flying above 15,000 feet when fully loaded. With other RAF bombers able to fly higher, German Luftwaffe nightfighters concentrated their efforts on the Short Stirlings during attacks.

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A spokesman for National Grid in the U.K., which is working with Norwegian electricity company Statnett to build the North Sea Link, told Fox News that engineers have made a careful record of the wreckage site. “We have noted where the wreckage is,” he said, adding that the cable route will bypass the remains. “We will go around it to ensure that the wreck is not disturbed.”

National Grid contacted the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre within the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence to notify them of the find.

In the statement, JCCC team member Sue Raftree acknowledged the potential discovery, but could not confirm it definitively. “Discoveries at sea are relatively rare due to their very location. A number of aircraft are known to have been lost in the North Sea during the course of the Second World War but we need positive evidence before we can confirm,” she said. “We would class this aircraft as a war grave. It is protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which covers crashed military aircraft in both UK territorial and international waters.”

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Nigel Williams, North Sea Link project director for National Grid, explained that sonar equipment is used to scan the sea bed at depths between 328 feet and 1969 feet. Any objects or structures detected are marked as “target points” and investigated using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) or a ‘drop cam,’ he added.

“When images of what appeared to be an aircraft wheel came through, you can imagine our surprise. It was only when experts investigated the images in more detail that we learnt there was a strong possibility it could be a British aircraft that served during World War Two,” Williams said, in the statement. “Sadly, it appears the pilot and the crew of this particular aircraft were never able to complete their mission.”

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The 447-mile North Sea Link, which is expected to become operational in 2021, will enable the U.K. and Norway to trade electricity.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers