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Astronomers have found a very unusual exoplanet. It’s a Neptune-sized world that orbits its star every 19 hours, and it’s the brightest exoplanet ever discovered. They are still learning about this world, which is a challenge because at first glance the planet shouldn’t exist.

Planets don’t visibly shine with their own light. When we talk about how bright a planet is, we’re really talking about the fraction of light the planet reflects, known as its Bond albedo. That isn’t always the same as how bright it appears. For example, the Moon reflects about 10% of the sunlight that hits it. Though it has a light gray hue to our eyes, its surface is really more the color of dark asphalt. Venus, on the other hand, has an albedo of 0.76, which means it reflects about three-quarters of the light striking it.

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Images of Enceladus, the Earth, the Moon, and Comet 67P/C-G, with their relative albedos, scaled correctly. Credit: ESA’s Rosetta Blog

Venus is exceptionally bright for a planet. In comparison, Earth only has an albedo of 0.3, and even Jupiter only 0.5. The only worlds that are brighter than Venus are icy moons such as Saturn’s Enceladus, which has a Bond albedo of 0.81. Water ice is extremely reflective, which is why cold icy planets can be so bright. Venus is bright because it is covered in clouds of sulfuric acid, which is reflective at optical wavelengths. Earth’s water clouds are bright, but they don’t completely cover our world, which is why it has a much lower albedo. And Jupiter’s cloud layers are a mix of things such as ammonia and water.

This new exoplanet, known as LTT 9779 b, reflects about 80% of the light reaching it. It’s not the brightest world we know, but as an ultra-hot Neptune, it shouldn’t be so bright. Given its proximity to its star, the sunside temperature is about 2,000 °C. This is far too hot for bright clouds of water vapor or other similar compounds. So how can it be so bright?

Based on its spectrum, the team thinks it’s due to clouds of titanium-laced silicates. In other words, it’s so bright because it has a cloud layer of titanium sand, which acts like a mirror. This is surprising because the planet’s temperature is too hot for silicates to be stable in the atmosphere. So the team believes there is a cycle of cloud formation. It’s similar to a hot sauna. Even though the temperature of the sauna is so hot that water droplets evaporate, the humidity of the sauna is so high that droplets keep forming and evaporating. LTT 9779 b could be so rich in metals that silicates keep forming in its atmosphere.

The extremely high albedo could also help explain how the planet has survived. The world falls into what is known as the hot-Neptune desert. It’s closer to its star than any other Neptune-sized world, likely because the extreme heat of the star strips young planets of their atmosphere. Hot Jupiters can be close to their star because they have a much stronger gravity to hold onto their atmospheres. The high reflectivity of LTT 9779 b may protect it from the heat, allowing the world to survive despite being too close for its Neptune size.

Further observations will help astronomers solve these mysteries. So far, the team has relied on data from the CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite (CHEOPS). They hope to gather data using the James Webb Space Telescope in the future, which will give them infrared observations.

Reference: Hoyer, S., et al. “The extremely high albedo of LTT 9779 b revealed by CHEOPS: An ultrahot Neptune with a highly metallic atmosphere.” Astronomy & Astrophysics 675 (2023): A31.

The post Titanium Clouds Make This Exoplanet Shine Like a Mirror appeared first on Universe Today.

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Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit.

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Despite popular opinion, the first animals in space were not dogs or chimps, they were fruit flies launched by the United States in February 1947. The Soviet Union launched Laika, the first dog into space in November 1957 and now, it seems Iran is getting in on the act. A 500kg capsule known as the “indigenous bio-capsule” with life support capability was recently launched atop the Iranian “Salman” rocket. It has been reported by some agencies that there were animals on board but no official statement has been released.

The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) are gearing up to getting humans into space before 2029 but is testing its launch capability with animal passengers. The capsule was launched on December 6 2023 and attained an orbital altitude of 130 kilometres. According to their Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour, it is aimed at sending Iranian astronauts to space by 2029.

The “Salaman” solid-fuelled rocket was designed by the aerospace division of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and built and launched by the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics. It has already been used to launch a data collecting satellite and in 2013 successfully sent and returned monkeys into space.

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Ham, a chimpanzee, became the first great ape in space during his January 31, 1961, suborbital flight aboard Mercury-Redstone 2 (Credit : NASA)

To date, only three counties have human spaceflight capability; USA, Russia and China. India are attempting to become the fourth as they work on their Gaganyaan program. Will Iran become the fifth!? Iran plans further tests with further launches bearing animal occupants before attempting to send humans up.

According to the Iranian Space Agency, its satellite program is purely for scientific research and other civilian applications. There is however, international suspicion because there are suspicions that the Salamn rockets could very easily be converted to long range missiles.

Source : Iran says it sent a capsule capable of carrying animals into orbit as it prepares for human missions

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What Could a Next Generation Event Horizon Telescope Do?

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Telescopes have come a long way in a little over four hundred years! It was 1608 that Dutch spectacle maker Hans Lippershey who was said to be working with a case of myopia and, in working with lenses discovered the magnifying powers if arranged in certain configurations. Now, centuries on and we have many different telescope designs and even telescopes in orbit but none are more incredible than the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Images las year revealed the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy and around M87 but now a team of astronomers have explored the potential of an even more powerful system the Next Generation EHT (ngEHT).

There is no doubt that our understanding of the processes within our Universe have come on leaps and bounds since the invention of the telescope. The resolution of these space piercing instruments is dictated by the telescope’s aperture. The technique known as interferometry hooks individual telescopes together and combines their signal so they act as one BIG telescope, boosting the resolution. 

Telescopes like the EHT have been using interferometry to great advantage to study black holes. These enigmatic and mysterious stellar corpses defy our probing; we do not fully understand their origins and processes and indeed our laws of physics break down if you get too close to the point source in the centre, the singularity. Due to their interaction with space and time, understanding the full nature of black holes will – hopefully – unlock our understanding of the Universe. 

Previously, observations have only revealed the movement of stars around galactic centre suggesting an object was lurking there weighing in at around 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Data from the EHT collected during 2022, finally revealed an image of the object at the centre – SgrA* – a super massive black hole and the matter in the immediate vicinity of the event horizon. Whilst this image did not reveal the black hole itself – another article required to explain that – it certainly revealed the telltale signs. 

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Sag A* compared to M87* and the orbit of Mercury. Credit: EHT collaboration

A recently published paper explores the possibilities of the ngEHT and how they might be able to unpick some of the physics around black holes. The ngEHT will increase the geographical footprint of EHT by 10 further instruments that span across the Earth.  Making use of the significant improvement in resolution, the ngEHT will also improve image dynamics range, provide a multi-wavelength capability and facilitate long term monitoring. 

The team conclude that future enhancements in measurement sensitivity and data analysis techniques in ngEHT will substantially advance our understanding of black holes and the immediate environments surrounding them with particular focus on the photon ring, mass and spin analysis, binary supermassive black holes and more besides.

Source : Fundamental Physics Opportunities with the Next-Generation Event Horizon Telescope

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Déjà vu All Over Again: Backpacking in Glacier National Park

By Michael Lanza

In the second week of September, the cool air in the shade of the forest nips at our cheeks as we leave our first night’s camp beside Glenns Lake in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, starting at a reasonably early hour for a day where we will walk nearly 16 miles and 6,000 feet of combined uphill and downhill. I’m hiking in a fleece hoodie, pants, and gloves and my friends Pam Solon and Jeff Wilhelm are similarly layered up. Once the sun reaches us within an hour, we’ll strip down to shorts and T-shirts.

Where the trail crosses a meadow, the expansive view west across a calm and insistently blue Cosley Lake reveals what looks like a long wall of overlapping stone shields jammed into the earth, each 2,000 or more feet tall and tilting at different angles. At the lake’s outlet—now in warm sunshine—we ford the Belly River, ankle- to calf-deep here with just a few tiny riffles and not very cold. More hiking through quiet forest brings us to the refrigerated, cliff-shaded alcove below Dawn Mist Falls, which spills thunderously over a sheer drop and crashes onto fallen boulders at its base, its force releasing a perpetual mist. Moss wallpapers the alcove’s short cliffs.

A backpacker hiking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Pam Solon backpacking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ src=”″ alt=”A backpacker hiking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.” class=”wp-image-61144″ srcset=” 1024w, 300w, 768w, 150w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Pam Solon backpacking the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park.

After a thoroughly relaxing lunch break on the pebbly beach at Elizabeth Lake—where the perfect combination of solar warmth and soft breeze probably converts in direct value to about a thousand hours of counseling—we start the long climb to the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Reaching the open alpine terrain, I repeatedly stop to spin 180 degrees and take big bites of our view of the valley of Helen and Elizabeth lakes and the peaks on the other side, which shelter what remains of a couple of glaciers in the shade of north-facing cliffs just below the mountaintops.

I’ve backpacked this trail before; this isn’t new to me. But time slowly renders a bit fuzzier the memory of how constantly breathtaking it is—which is, in a funny way, a gift to us: We get to experience that awe anew each time.

Everyone laughed when the legendary Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” but I think I knew what he meant.

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