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Red dwarf stars, also known as M-dwarfs, dominate the Milky Way’s stellar population. They can last for 100 billion years or longer. Since these long-lived stars make up the bulk of the stars in our galaxy, it stands to reason that they host the most planets.

Astronomers examined one red dwarf star named SPECULOOS-3, a Jupiter-sized star about 55 light-years away, and found an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting it. It’s an excellent candidate for further study with the James Webb Space Telescope.

SPECULOOS stands for the Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars. It’s a European Southern Observatory effort that searches for terrestrial planets orbiting cool stars like red dwarfs. (Its odd name is an homage to a Belgian sweet biscuit.) Its goal is to find planets that are good targets for spectroscopy with the JWST and the ELT.

The new planet is named SPECULOOS-3b, and its discovery was presented in a recent paper in Nature Astronomy. The paper is titled “Detection of an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting the nearby ultracool dwarf star SPECULOOS-3.” The lead author is Michaël Gillon from the Astrobiology Research Unit, Université de Liège, Belgium.

SPECULOOS is an automated search using four telescopes around the world: one at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, one at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, one at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and one at the Oukaïmden Observatory in Morocco. The project is searching 1,000 ultra-cool stars and brown dwarfs for terrestrial planets.

One of the problems in detecting planets around these stars is their low luminosity. Since they’re so dim, transiting exoplanets are difficult to detect, making their planetary populations difficult to characterize and study. So far, astronomers have found only one planetary system around one of these stars, and it’s rather well-known: the TRAPPIST-1 system. When it began, the SPECULOOS program expected to find at least one dozen systems similar to TRAPPIST-1.

“We designed SPECULOOS specifically to explore nearby ultra-cool dwarf stars in search of rocky planets,” lead author Gillon said. “With the SPECULOOS prototype and the crucial help of the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, we discovered the famous TRAPPIST-1 system. That was an excellent start!”

The dimness of these stars can’t be understated. “Though this particular red dwarf is more than a thousand times dimmer than the Sun, its planet orbits much, much closer than the Earth, heating up the planetary surface,” said co-author Catherine Clark, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s JPL in Southern California.

The new planet is an Earth-sized world that orbits its star in only 17 hours. The star has a spectral type M6.5, and it delivers 16.5 more solar irradiation to its planet than the Sun does to Earth. That may sound surprising since the star is much cooler than the Sun. The Sun’s surface temperature is 5,772 K (5,500 C), while SPECULOOS-3’s temperature is only 2,900 K (2,627 C.) But SPECULOOS 3 bombards the planet with radiation due to the small distance separating them.

Since the irradiation is largely infrared and the star is only Jupiter-sized, it makes the planet an exceptional candidate for follow up observations, which is exactly what the SPECULOOS program is all about. The SPECULOOS Program 1 has found about 365 temperate, Earth-sized targets for further study with the JWST.

This chart shows the classifications by spectral type for main sequence stars according to the Harvard classification. Image Credit: By Pablo Carlos Budassi - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92588077
This chart shows the classifications by spectral type for main sequence stars according to the Harvard classification. Image Credit: By Pablo Carlos Budassi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92588077

The SPECULOOS-3 system is about 6.6 billion years old. Its luminosity, mass and radius are 0.084%, 10.1% and 12.3% of those of the Sun. “Just slightly larger than TRAPPIST-1, SPECULOOS-3 is the second-smallest main sequence star found to host a transiting planet,” the authors explain in their paper.

Two

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Bear Essentials: How to Store Food When Backcountry Camping

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By Michael Lanza

On our first night in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park on one of my earliest backpacking trips, two friends and I—all complete novices—hung our food from a tree branch near our camp. Unfortunately, the conifer trees around us all had short branches: Our food stuff sacks hung close to the trunk.

During the night, the predictable happened: We awoke to the sound of a black bear clawing up the tree after our food.

Despite our nervousness and incompetence, we somehow managed to shoo that black bear off, though not before he (or she) departed with a respectable haul from our food supply. But by virtue of having started out with way more food than we needed—another rookie mistake that, ironically, compensated for this more-serious rookie mistake (read my tips on not overpacking)—we made it through that hike without going hungry and ultimately had a wonderful adventure.

And we went home with a valuable lesson learned.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A black bear along the Sol Duc River Trail in Olympic National Park.
” data-image-caption=”A black bear along the Sol Duc River Trail in Olympic National Park.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg?fit=300%2C201&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg?fit=900%2C602&ssl=1″ tabindex=”0″ role=”button” src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2-1024×685.jpg?resize=900%2C602&ssl=1″ alt=”A black bear along the Sol Duc River Trail in Olympic National Park.” class=”wp-image-34782″ srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg 1024w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg 300w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg 1080w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/06232206/Olym6-070-Black-bear-Sol-Duc-River-Trail-Olympic-NP-WA-2.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />A black bear along the Sol Duc River Trail in Olympic National Park.

I’ve learned much more about storing food properly in the backcountry over the more than three decades since that early trip, including the 10 years I spent as the Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. This article shares what I’ve learned about protecting food from critters like bears and, more commonly, mice and other small animals and some birds like ravens.

Follow the tips below and you’ll not only save yourself and your party or family from going hungry, you might save a bear from developing a habit of seeing humans as sources of food, which too often leads to a bad outcome for that animal.

If you have any questions or tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments section at the bottom of this
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The Rugged Desert Moss Best Equipped to Survive on Mars

Mars

For decades, we have seen Mars as a desolate landscape devoid of any signs of life. Attempt to identify ways of growing plants and food on the red planet have focussed on greenhouse like structures to enable plants to survive, that is, until now! A desert moss called ‘Syntrichia caninervis’ has been identified and it can grown in extreme environments like Antarctica and the Mojave Desert. A new study revealed the moss can survive Mars-like environments too including low temperatures, high levels of radiation and drought. 

Mars has often be referred to as the “Red Planet” for its distinct red hue. It is the fourth planet from the Sun and to some extent resembles the Earth. Polar ice caps, seasonal weather patterns, extinct volcanoes, ancient riverbeds and flood plains are among the many surface features and. This cold world has fascinated us for centuries and its thin atmosphere, mostly made up of carbon dioxide, has been subjected to lots of studies. It has been thought for many years that it experiences some of the harshest weather conditions, including planet-wide dust storms but the recent study suggests there may just be a plant on Earth capable of surviving these conditions. 

Mars 1
Mars, Credit NASA

Exploring and colonising planets like Mars can enhance human sustainability. Since no life forms have been found on Mars, introducing Earth organisms might be necessary for creating suitable conditions for human life in a process known as terraforming. This will involve selecting or engineering plants that can thrive in the harsh environments of an alien world. Few studies have tested organisms’ ability to withstand extreme environments of space or Mars, focusing mainly on microorganisms, algae, and lichens. However until recently, studies including mosses and whole plants have been lacking.

There have been many long term plans and even whimsical ideas to establish settlements on Mars. Pivotal to the success is the establishment of adapted crops that can grow in controlled, synthetic environments. However, to develop such a plant requires significant progress and development before plants are capable of growing in the soils and harsh conditions. In the report by lead author Xiaoshuang Li and team the incredible resilience of a moss called Syntrichia caninervis (S. caninervis) to survive a Mars-like environment even after having lost more than 98% of its water content.

Studies into the resilience of the plants have shown they can withstand extremely low temperatures and regenerate even after being stored in a freezer at -80°C for five years or in liquid nitrogen for one month. S. caninervis also demonstrates high resistance to gamma radiation and can survive in simulated Martian conditions.

The study concluded that S. caninervis is among the most stress-tolerant organisms known. It shows how it is a real potential species for the colonisation of alien worlds like Mars. The resilience to extreme conditions such as desiccation, low temperatures, and high radiation makes it an ideal for future terraforming efforts. It helps to understand the unique properties of this moss (in particular) and how it can form a foundational layer for biologically sustainable human habitats in space.

Source : The extremotolerant desert moss Syntrichia caninervis is a promising pioneer plant for colonizing extraterrestrial environments

The post The Rugged Desert Moss Best Equipped to Survive on Mars appeared first on Universe Today.

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Do Planets Have the Raw Ingredients for Life? The Answer is in their Stars

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Finding planets that already have, or have the ingredients for intelligent life is a real challenge. It is exciting that new telescopes and spacecraft are in development that will start to identify candidate planets. Undertaking these observations will take significant amounts of telescope time so we need to find some way to prioritise which ones to look at first. A new paper has been published that suggests we can study the host stars first for the necessary raw elements giving a more efficient way to hunt for similar worlds to Earth. 

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. They have been identified in the thousands since the first discovery in 1992, totalling currently 5,288. They vary widely in size, composition, and orbit, ranging from gas giants like Jupiter to rocky, potentially habitable planets similar to Earth. Advanced telescopes and detection methods like the transit and radial velocity techniques have enabled the discovery of Earth-sized exoplanets. Their study not only enhances our understanding of planetary formation and evolution but also the search for extraterrestrial life. 

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This illustration shows what the hot rocky exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 b could look like. A new method can help determine what rocky exoplanets might have large reservoirs of subsurface water. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI)

The search for extraterrestrial life is no easy feat. Looking for aliens or at least environments where extraterrestrial life could one day evolve means knowing what to look for. To star with we can assume life has three basic requirements; I) building block elements (i.e., CHNOPS – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur,) II) a solvent to life’s reactions (generally, liquid water) and III) a thermodynamic disequilibrium. It is assumed that similar requirements might be universal in the Cosmos. There is of course a chance of life based on a completely different set of needs but if we are going to start somewhere then we may as well start looking for life like that found on Earth, otherwise well, who knows what to look for!

Life on Earth can gain energy from a wide range of different thermodynamic disequilibria, a great example is life that thrives at the bottom of the ocean, taking energy and indeed nutrients from thermal vents. More widely it relies upon chemical reactions where the an electron is lost or gained changing its oxidation state. This is known as redox disequilibrium. Each reaction requires special proteins called oxidoreductases. The process requires metals as catalysts and without them, the process is unable to progress. 

hydrothermal vent
A black smoker hydrothermal vent discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 1979. It’s fueled from deep beneath the surface by magma that superheats the water. The plume carries minerals and other materials out to the sea. Courtesy USGS.

The distribution of these metals (which are more accurately known as transition metals) in the Universe varies significantly over time and space. Despite this wide ranging distribution across the cosmos, the role of these metals in enabling life has been largely overlooked in identifying astrobiological targets. The paper published by Giovanni Covone and Donato Giovannelli propose that the presence of certain elements is essential for
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