Scientists discover a large planet orbiting two stars

This artist's illustration shows a gas giant planet circling a pair of red dwarf stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349.

This artist’s illustration shows a gas giant planet circling a pair of red dwarf stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349.  (NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI))

Astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting two stars 8,000 light years from Earth, NASA announced on Thursday.

While the system was first found in 2007, at that time experts were uncertain whether it contained one planet and two stars, or two planets and one star.

“The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star,” David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and a technique called gravitational microlensing, they’ve figured out that it’s the first scenario: one big planet and two stars. The space agency said that this is the first time that the gravitational microlensing strategy has been used to confirm the makeup of a three-body system like this one.


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The technique utilized the effect of a star behind the stars they wanted to study to help them figure out that the system had two stars, not one.

“We were helped in the analysis by the almost perfect alignment of the foreground binary stars with the background star, which greatly magnified the light and allowed us to see the signal of the two stars,” Bennett added, in the statement.

The two stars are both red dwarfs, and are about seven million miles apart from each other. About 300 million miles away is the gas giant planet that orbits them, and it takes about seven Earth years to go around once.

This isn’t the first time that scientists have discovered a planet orbiting twin stars— a configuration sometimes compared to the planet Tatooine from “Star Wars.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

‘Shangri-La’ on Saturn moon Titan teeming with sand dunes

  • The "Xanadu Annex" on Titan: This synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) image was obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 25, 2016, during its "T-121" pass over Titan's southern latitudes.

    The “Xanadu Annex” on Titan: This synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) image was obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 25, 2016, during its “T-121” pass over Titan’s southern latitudes.  (NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI / Université Paris-Diderot)

New close-up photos of Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon, show its mysterious and massive dunes in more detail than ever before.

NASA’s Cassini orbiter obtained these images when it flew by Titan for the 122nd time on July 25, 2016. The spacecraft was just 607 miles above the alien moon’s southern hemisphere, according to NASA officials.

The new images include an area called the “Shangri-La Sand Sea,” a large dark region with hundreds of long and linear sand dunes. A part of this region had been imaged before, but the new image covers more ground and in greater detail. You can see new video of Titan’s ‘Shangri-La Sand Sea’ by NASA here.

Another image reveals the never-before-seen “Xanadu annex,” which lies just south of Xanadu, a region with an Earth-like landscape first imaged by Cassini in 1994.

Because Titan’s atmosphere is thick and hazy, its surface is not easily visible with ordinary cameras. But Cassini comes equipped with a special radar instrument that allows it to see through the obstructing fog by beaming radio waves down to the surface.

Cassini’s radio waves bounce off of Titan’s surface, and the different ground features reflect the waves back at Cassini with different timing and slightly altered wavelengths. By recording these changes to the radio waves, Cassini’s radar instrument can construct an image of the landscapes beneath Titan’s atmosphere.

Titan’s surface is teeming with dunes similar to sand dunes here on Earth, but they aren’t made of silicates like our sand. Instead, Titan’s sand contains grainy hydrocarbons that formed in its atmosphere before precipitating onto the ground.

The dunes reach heights of more then 300 feet, which is aboutas large as the tallest sand dunes on Earth. Compared with the average Earthly sand dune, though, Titan’s dunes are gigantic. Their structures can reveal information aboutTitan’s surface topography and wind patterns. [Titan Sand Dunes Reveal Clues of Saturn Moon’s Past]

“Dunes are dynamic features. They’re deflected by obstacles along the downwind path, often making beautiful, undulating patterns,” Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said in a statement.

These new images of Titan’s southern terrain will also be Cassini’s last. The spacecraft will spend the remainder of its mission checking out lakes and seas in the north. After four more flybys of Saturn’s giant moon, Cassini will end its mission by plunging straight into Saturn’s atmosphere.

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7-foot-tall Michigan teen can’t stop growing

  • Broc Brown with (L-R) his aunt Stacy Snyder, his mother Darci Moss Elliot and his grandmother Joy Moss at his grandmother's house on January 22, 2016 in Jackson, Michigan.

    Broc Brown with (L-R) his aunt Stacy Snyder, his mother Darci Moss Elliot and his grandmother Joy Moss at his grandmother’s house on January 22, 2016 in Jackson, Michigan.  (Ruaridh Connellan / BarcroftImages)

Every year, Broc Brown, 19, grows 6 inches, and the Michigan young man has already reached 7 feet 8 inches tall. At this rate, he could surpass the current world’s tallest man, who stands at 8 feet 2 inches.

Brown was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, Sotos Syndrome, when he was 5 years old, Barcroft Media reported. Sotos Syndrome affects one in every 15,000 individuals. While his mother, Darci, was initially told the boy wouldn’t live beyond his teen years, doctors are now confident he will have a normal life span.

Brown also suffers from learning difficulties, strain on his heart, curvature of the spine and narrowing of the spinal cord, Barcroft reported. He also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and intermittent explosive disorder, which involves repeated, sudden outbursts of aggressive behavior. The young man was born with one kidney and can’t take painkillers despite suffering constant back pain.

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“It kind of feels like a big tennis racket has gone through my back,” Brown told Barcroft. “I just wish the doctors could do something to help my pain.”

When Brown was in kindergarten, he was already 5 feet 2 inches tall, his mother told Barcroft. He needs to have his clothes and shoes specially made to fit his size 28 feet and requires a specially made 8-foot bed.  His community raised around $10,000 for the boy, which was used to buy clothing and shoes.

Brown traveled to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and met with Dr. G. Bradley Schaefer, a specialist in Sotos, who was unable to relieve Brown’s pain, but told the family he believes the boy will have a regular lifespan.

“It’s the best thing I could have heard,” Brown told Barcroft. “I’m so happy that I will live for a long time.”

Rare, gold Roman coin discovered in Jerusalem

(Shimon Gibson)

(Shimon Gibson)

A rare and remarkable Roman coin made of gold and featuring the image of Nero has been discovered in Jerusalem, archaeologists announced on Tuesday.

Over 1,900 years old, the coin likely dates to the year 56 or 57 AD, around 13 years before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem.

“The coin is exceptional, because this is the first time that a coin of this kind has turned up in Jerusalem in a scientific dig,” Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist and adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, said in astatement. “Coins of this type are usually only found in private collections, where we don’t have clear evidence as to place of origin.”

The archaeologists discovered it this summer during a dig on Mount Zion in Jerusalem; it was found in rubble near villas that might have been the homes of the wealthy Jewish residents of the time, possibly members of a well-to-do priestly class. At the site, the archaeologists have also found the rooms of a large mansion and even a ritual pool.


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When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, the precious coin could have been lost in the fray, the archaeologists behind the discovery think.

“It’s a valuable piece of personal property and wouldn’t have been cast away like rubbish or casually dropped,” Gibson said in the statement. “It’s conceivable that it ended up outside these structures in the chaos that happened as this area was destroyed.”

Nero, the Roman leader on the coin, ruled the empire from 54 to 68 AD, and isn’t thought to have traveled to Jerusalem himself. The text surrounding his bust on the coin is: “NERO CAESAR AVG IMP.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Stunning map of the cosmos reveals over 1 billion stars

Gaia’s first sky map, annotated (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Gaia’s first sky map, annotated (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

A stunning and vast map of the cosmos has been published by the European Space Agency (ESA), showing over one billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

The map represents “the largest all-sky survey of celestial objects to date” the ESA said.

A spacecraft called Gaia collected the information over more than a year, from July of last year to September, 2016.

“The beautiful map we are publishing today shows the density of stars measured by Gaia across the entire sky, and confirms that it collected superb data during its first year of operations,” Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA, said in astatement.

The map shows the locations of more than 1.1 billion stars, as well as features like open clusters, globular clusters, and even other galaxies like the Large Magnetic Cloud, Small Magnetic Cloud, and Andromeda. The middle of the image shows the horizontal plane of the Milky Way, our own galaxy.

The ESA said that Gaia will eventually assemble “the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy” and that what it has already created is two times as precise as the previous best catalogue of the stars.

“Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before,” Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science, said in the statement.

High-resolution images of the map– both annotated and not— are available for download via the ESA.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Hubble telescope captures jaw-dropping beauty of nearby galaxy

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.(ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A spectacular new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows bright-blue wisps of glowing gas and hot, sparkling, young stars within a satellite dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

The LMC is one of the smaller satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, and it’s among a collection of galaxies known as the local group. It is one of the closest galaxies to Earth, at about 163,000 light-years away.

This dazzling new Hubble image peers into a stellar nursery known as N159, which measures more than 150 light-years across and houses many hot, newborn stars. [Hubble in Pictures: Astronomers’ Top Picks (Photos)]

“These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs and filaments from the surrounding material,” Hubble researchers said in a statementwhen debuting the photo.

Within this stellar nursery lies a butterfly-shaped cosmic cloud known as the Papillon Nebula. The region consists of vast amounts of dense gas that give way to the birth of new stars.

N159 is located south of the Tarantula Nebula, which is designated heic1402 — another region known for massive star birth within the LMC. The Tarantula Nebula is located 170,000 light-years from Earth and is believed to house hundreds of thousands of stars. Inside the Tarantula Nebula lies an incredibly bright region known as 30 Doradus, which is considered a hotspot for star formation, according to the statement, released jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.

This beautiful new image, one of many taken by the Hubble telescope, was captured using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

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Rare discovery: Ancient synagogue mosaic may depict Alexander the Great

NOW PLAYINGDoes newly uncovered mosaic depict Alexander the Great?

A remarkable mosaic unearthed during the excavation of an ancient synagogue in northern Israel may portray Alexander the Great.

Experts are thrilled to reveal the mosaic that was discovered on the floor of the fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq. “The quality of the mosaic is extraordinary, the fact that it may depict a meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest is also amazing,” Excavation Director and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Jodi Magness told Fox News Monday.

The purported Alexander the Great mosaic is the first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue.

Magness explained that the mosaic is divided into three horizontal strips, known as registers, which are read from bottom to top. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two male figures that are bigger than the other figures portrayed, highlighting their importance.


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One figure, an elderly bearded man dressed all in white, is believed to be a Jewish high priest. Magness explained that the other figure, who is younger, but also bearded, is dressed in an elaborate military outfit and has the trappings of a king, such as a diadem, or headband that indicates sovereignty, and a purple cloak.

“He is accompanied by all sorts of figures that indicate that he is a Greek king – there’s a Greek military formation next to him, there are battle elephants,” Magness said. “These are all things that are associated with the Greek kings from the time of Alexander the Great on.”

However, the professor notes that the meeting between Alexander the Great and the high priest depicted in the mosaic probably never occurred. “This was a story that was circulated a lot in antiquity,” she said. “In the centuries following Alexander the Great’s death when he became so famous that he became ‘the Great’, the Jews sought to associate themselves with Alexander and stories began to circulate about a meeting like this having taken place.”

Not everyone is convinced the mosaic shows the famous Macedonian king. Art historian Karen Britt of Western Carolina University, who is the excavation’s mosaics specialist, believes that Seleucid King Antiochus VII is depicted, according to National Geographic. Antiochus VII led a Seleucid attack on Jerusalem in 132 B.C. and Britt believes the mosaic shows him negotiating a truce with Jewish high priest and Judean leader John Hyrcanus I.

“We came to the conclusion that the story being depicted in the mosaic simply does not correspond to the Alexander traditions,” added Ra‘anan Boustan, an associate history professor at UCLA, in an email to

Boustan, who worked on the project with Britt, explained that the defeated army depicted in part of the mosaic does not fit the history of Alexander the Great’s early conquests in the Middle East. Instead, Boustan saw evidence of the later Hellenistic kings, who maintained Greek traditions.

“Right there in an impressive range of ancient sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish, we found a story about the siege of Jerusalem by a later Seleucid king named Antiochus VII Sidetes, who battled with and ultimately made peace with one of the most famous and admired Jewish leaders of the Hellenistic period, the high priest John Hyrcanus,” he wrote. “Not only did the story told in the sources match the details of the mosaic, but text and art both seemed to capture the spirit of the encounter between Jew and Greek, which was characterized by tension as well as mutual respect.”

The Huqoq Excavation Project involves the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto.

The Huqoq site offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s lower Galilee.

Excavations at Huqoq began in 2011, and the first mosaic was discovered the following year. Notable mosaics unearthed at the site include Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders, which was discovered in 2013.

This summer the excavation team also unearthed stunning mosaics depictingNoah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea. Further excavations at the site will continue next summer.

The mosaic allegedly depicting Alexander the Great was excavated in stages between 2013 and 2015. “Only a portion of it had been released to the public previously,” Magness told “This is the first time that an image of the entire mosaic has been released.”

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation and all the excavated areas have been backfilled, Magness said. “We hope that the site will be developed for tourism after the excavations end,” she added.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Curiosity rover sends back striking images of Mars rock formations

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA has released new color images taken by the Curiosity Mars rover, which it says will help increase understanding of the red planet’s landscape.

The pictures, taken on Thursday, were taken in the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp, an 18,000ft mountain, where the Rover has been based since 2014.

Curiosity is looking into how and when habitable conditions on Mars that were once present evolved into drier conditions less favourable for life on the planet.

Curiosity Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said the team was “thrilled” to undertake the expedition, describing the landscape as “a bit of American desert Southwest on Mars”.

The striking rock formations captured by the rover’s Mast Camera, are the remnants of ancient sandstone which were formed when winds deposited sand on the lower regions of the mountain.

Mr Vasavada said: “Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today.”

Since the images were taken, the rover has left the buttes and is set to continue its journey higher up Mount Sharp.

The Curiosity team plan to create several mosaics from the images, with NASA saying they compare to photos taken in American national parks.

Click for more from Sky News.

‘Magic’ picture frame slows time — or so it seems

Can a picture frame slow time? This one appears to.

Can a picture frame slow time? This one appears to.(Jeff Lieberman)

Have you ever wished that you could speed up time, slow it down, or stop it entirely? Maybe we all have, but unless you have Hermione Granger’s Time Turner, the ability to control the clock’s hands is probably not in your toolbox.

However, an invention called the “Slow Dance” frame opens a window into what it might look like to see things move in slow motion in the real world.

When you place them in the frame, delicate objects such as leaves and feathers quiver and undulate, as you might expect them to when they’re stirred by a gentle breeze. But there’s a subtle difference — the movements appear to happen at a fraction of their normal speed, taking place right in front of your eyes. [The Most Amazing Optical Illusions (and How They Work)]

Let’s do the time warp

Jeff Lieberman, the creator of “Slow Dance,” is no stranger to slow motion. He formerly hosted the Discovery Channel program “Time Warp,” a science-themed show that used high-speed cameras to film everyday actions, capturing up to 40,000 frames per second (a normal camera’s shooting rate is typically 30 frames per second). Using extreme slow motion, the show explored dynamic physics principles that were demonstrated by a diverse range of activities — from explosions to body piercing.


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Lieberman recognized that watching things happen in slow motion creates a sense of wonder, and allows the viewer to appreciate the beauty of movement — something that they might miss if they were watching it in real time, he said in a statement.

But could he take that sense of wonder from watching slow motion on a screen, and recreate it in reality? Lieberman decided to find out.

Building a mystery

Lieberman unlocked the secret of the slow-motion illusion he created in “Slow Dance” by using strobe lights that blink at a rate that’s too fast for the human eye to register. The pulsing lights flicker on and off 80 times per second, and are synced to vibrations that animate whatever object is suspended within the frame. While the light pulses are too fast to see, they combine with the high-speed vibration to imperceptibly vary the sequence of moving images, changing how they reach the eye and creating an illusion of movement that seems to be happening more slowly than normal.

“It creates a weird juxtaposition where everything in front of your eyes confirms the reality of this thing, but every other experience in your life has said that this is impossible,” Lieberman said in the statement.

Lieberman crafted the first version of “Slow Dance” as a wedding gift for two friends who happened to be dancers; they inspired him to create an object that captured the feeling of paired, graceful movement in a shared space. Enthusiastic responses from people who saw it in action prompted him to make the frame more widely available, through a campaign on Kickstarter.

The “Slow Dance” wooden frame measures 12.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches high. Lightweight objects can be attached to springs within the frame, and are illuminated by recessed lighting. Variable controls allow users to cycle between different “frame rates,” changing the motion patterns of the objects as they move.

“This piece is a metaphor for all the unseen aspects of reality” that are affecting us all the time, Lieberman said in the same statement. “It expresses a desire to remind myself, and anyone who uses it, that there is something beyond what we see with our senses” he added.

The Kickstarter campaign for “Slow Dance” launched on Aug. 15 with a goal of raising $70,000, and backers have been anything but slow in their response. As of Sept. 7 — with six days to go — total pledges amounted to more than five times that original amount, reaching over $440,000. The product is expected to ship in early 2017, with “Slow Dance” slated to appear in stores by late 2017 for $299.

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Rare fossil captures a snake that ate a lizard that ate a beetle


(Springer Heidelberg)

The circle of life has been captured in a unique 48-million-year-old fossil.

Sometime in the very distant past, this is what presumably happened: A lizard ate an unlucky beetle, and then a roughly 41-inch snake gobbled down that unfortunate lizard. Then the snake, a Palaeophython fischeri, also met its end, and was fossilized. It was probably just a juvenile.

Like Russian nesting dolls, the resulting fossil shows a three-part sequence— a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake.

The rare find originated from theMessel Pit Fossil Site in Germany, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“In the year 2009, we were able to recover a plate from the pit that shows an almost fully preserved snake,” Krister Smith, of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum Frankfurt, said in astatement. “And as if this was not enough, we discovered a fossilized lizard inside the snake, which in turn contained a fossilized beetle in its innards!”


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There are other fossils similar that show what a deceased animal had in its stomach— for example, scientists have found leaves and grapes in the stomach of fossilized horses at Messel, according to the snake/lizard/beetle study, which was published in the journal Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments in August. But there is only one other three-part fossil like this one, and it’s an ancient shark.

The lizard, for its part, was a Geiseltaliellus maarius, which was the type that could disconnect its tail, although in this case it didn’t do so.

“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation,” Smith added, in the statement, “we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger