Here are some top stories from cosmology, astronomy and evolutionary biology in the past couple of weeks.
Newly Found Planets Might Support Life. From CNN: Astronomers now are upping the likelihood that their may be other inhabitable planets, announcing that they’ve identified a star system with up to seven planets — three of which could potentially host life — 22 light-years away. The likelihood that conditions could support life on at least one of those planets, given that there are three terrestrial-mass planets in the habitable zone of one system, is “tremendous,” according to at least one scientist. [Editor’s Note: This is definitely an interesting find but there is much more to the conditions that support organic life than being in a hospitable zone]
Kepler Data Reveal First Transiting Planets in a Star Cluster. From NASA: Astronomers have found two planets smaller than three times the size of Earth orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded stellar cluster approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. This finding demonstrates that small planets can form and persist in a densely packed cluster environment, and implies that the frequency and properties of planets in open clusters are consistent with those of planets around field stars not associated with clusters, like our sun, in the galaxy.
NASA Telescope to Probe Long-Standing Solar Mystery. From Reuters: A small NASA telescope was launched into orbit on Thursday on a mission to determine how the sun heats its atmosphere to millions of degrees, sending off rivers of particles that define the boundaries of the solar system. Scientists have been trying to unravel the mechanisms that drive the sun for decades but one fundamental mystery endures: How it manages to release energy from its relatively cool, 10,000 degree Fahrenheit (5,500 degree Celsius) surface into an atmosphere that can reach up to 5 million degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 million Celsius).
NASA Probe Finds New Zone at Doorstep to Interstellar Space. From Reuters: Reports last summer than NASA’s long-lived Voyager 1 space probe had finally left the solar system turned out to be a bit premature, scientists said on Thursday. Rather, the spacecraft, which was launched in 1977 for a five-year mission to study Jupiter and Saturn, has found itself in a previously unknown region between the outermost part of the solar system and interstellar space.
How Dinosaur Switched From Four Feet to Two. From Science Daily: Tracking the growth of dinosaurs and how they changed as they grew is difficult. Using a combination of biomechanical analysis and bone histology, palaeontologists from Beijing, Bristol, and Bonn have shown how one of the best-known dinosaurs switched from four feet to two as it grew.
Cloud Behavior Expands Habitable Zone of Alien Planets. From Science Daily: A new study that calculates the influence of cloud behavior on climate doubles the number of potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs, the most common type of stars in the universe. This finding means that in the Milky Way galaxy alone, 60 billion planets may be orbiting red dwarf stars in the habitable zone.