2019
June
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Three exocomets discovered in orbit around Beta Pictoris

NASA’s satellite TESS is actually supposed to be searching for exoplanets. To do this, TESS records light curves of stars, that is, the change in brightness of a star over time. If something happens in a certain rhythm in these light curves, then there must be something there covering the star repeatedly – something like a planet. Or maybe a comet! TESS has apparently just discovered three of these in orbit around the nearby star Beta Pictoris.

Sebastian Zieba, a graduate student on a team led by Konstanze Zwintz at the Institute for Astrophysics and Particle Physics at the University of Innsbruck, discovered the signal of the exocomets when he analyzed the TESS light curve from Beta Pictoris in March of this year. “The data showed a significant decrease in the intensity of the star’s light. These fluctuations due to the darkening by an object in the star’s orbit can clearly be associated with a comet,” says Zieba, explaining the discovery published in the international journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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Where the geysers on Neptune’s moon, Triton, come from

Triton is a strange moon. It is the only one of the large moons of our Solar System that rotates the wrong way about its planet – Neptune, the eighth and outermost planet. That’s also why it’s assumed that Triton is a Kuiper belt object, similar to Pluto, that was captured by Neptune. On first look, Triton appears very hostile to life – at temperatures close to 0 Kelvin, the atmosphere, which consists of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, is almost completely frozen, and thus it is very thin; Earth’s atmosphere is 70,000 times thicker.

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Fly to Mars with NASA – on board the next Mars rover

Right now, not only can you send a postcard into space, but you can also send your name to Mars – on board NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. All you need to need is enter your name and e-mail address at go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass. Your name will then be etched onto a microchip that is mounted on the rover. Your name will be arranged on a line that is 75 micrometers high. This will allow NASA to etch a million names on the chip. 2 million names flew along with the Insight probe. As a reward you’ll get a virtual boarding pass for the flight.

Similar projects have already been done – for the launch of the Insight probe and for the first Orion test flight. If you participated in those projects too (important: the e-mail addresses have to match), then you are already a “Frequent Flyer.” You will receive your own account on the NASA website and a Mission Patch for each completed mission.

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Gas-hydrate layer keeps Pluto’s ocean warm

In 2015, the dwarf planet, Pluto, received its first visitor from Earth. NASA’s New Horizons probe sent back spectacular images that showed, among other things, the “heart” of Pluto – a region named Tombaugh Regio consisting of, among other things, the unusually light-colored Sputnik Planitia. This is a plain that is up to one to nine kilometers deep, covers approximately the surface area of Texas, and is coated with nitrogen ice.

From its existence, researchers could already assume a few things – among other things, there is probably a liquid ocean under Pluto’s surface, like the kind that also exists on the moons Enceladus and Europa. However, for Pluto, which orbits far into the outer reaches of the Solar System, it is hard to imagine that this ocean didn’t freeze solid a long time ago. For the oceans on moons, for example, it is assumed that the gravity of the giant planets that they are orbiting produces enough heat to keep them in a liquid state. Pluto doesn’t have a heating mechanism like that.

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