Three potentially habitable Earth-size planets have been discovered orbiting a dim, cold nearby star that is barely larger than Jupiter, researchers say.
"These kinds of tiny, cold stars may be the places we should first look for life elsewhere in the universe, because they may be the only places where we can detect life on distant Earth-sized planets with our current technology," study lead author Michaël Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, told Space.com.
Astronomers focused on a star originally named 2MASS J23062928-0502285 that was discovered using TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope), a telescope in Chile. This dim cold red star, now known as TRAPPIST-1, is located in the constellation of Aquarius about 39 light-years from Earth. In comparison, Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, is about 4.3 light-years from Earth.
TRAPPIST-1 is 2,000 times less bright than the sun, a bit less than half as warm as the sun, about one-twelfth the sun's mass, and less than one-eighth the sun's width, making it only slightly larger in diameter than Jupiter. TRAPPIST-1 is a type of star known as an ultracool dwarf that is very common in the Milky Way, making up about 15 percent of the stars near the sun.
Scientists spotted the three planets by observing TRAPPIST-1 dimming at regular intervals as the worlds crossed in front of it. This is the first time that distant planets, called exoplanets, have been found around an ultracool dwarf, the researchers said.
"So far, the existence of such 'red worlds' orbiting ultracool dwarf stars was purely theoretical, but now we have not just one lonely planet around such a faint red star, but a complete system of three planets," study co-author Emmanuël Jehin, an astronomer at the University of Liège, said in a statement.
These three planets are each only about 10 percent larger in diameter than Earth. "The kind of planets we've found are very exciting from the perspective of searching for life in the universe beyond Earth," study co-author Adam Burgasser at the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement.
The two innermost planets are about 60 to 90 times closer to their star than the Earth to the sun, with orbits only 1.5 and 2.4 days long, respectively. The orbit of the third planet is currently less certain, ranging between 4.5 and 73 days long. The small size of the star and its planets' orbits means "the structure of this planetary system is much more similar in scale to the system of Jupiter's moons than to that of the solar system," Gillon said in the statement.
Although all three planets orbit very near their star, the inner two planets receive only four times and two times, respectively, the amount of radiation that Earth receives, since their star is much fainter than the sun. The third outer planet probably receives less radiation than Earth does, the researchers said.
Given how close TRAPPIST-1's trio of planets are to its star, the researchers suggest TRAPPIST-1's gravitational pull likely forced these worlds to become "tidally locked" to it. When a planet is tidally locked to its star, it will always show the same side to its star, just as the moon always shows the same face to Earth. This causes those worlds to each have one permanent dayside and one permanent nightside.
The third of TRAPPIST-1's planets, the one farthest from the star, may lie within the star's habitable zone — the area around a star where planets have surfaces warm enough to have liquid water, a key ingredient to life as it is known on Earth. The two planets closest to TRAPPIST-1 may have daysides that are too hot and nightsides that are too cold to host any kind of life as it is known on Earth, but the researchers suggest that the borders of the planets' day- and nightsides may be sweet spots temperate enough for life.
For the most part, exoplanet-hunting missions have focused on finding systems around sun-like stars emitting visible light, but these stars can be so bright, they can drown out key features of their planets, the researchers said. In contrast, cold dwarf stars emit mostly infrared light, and are so faint they would not overwhelm details of their planets. TRAPPIST was designed to look for planets around 60 nearby ultracool dwarfs. [7 Ways to Discover Alien Planets]
"The detection of these planets [around TRAPPIST-1] should intensify the search for more systems around ultracool dwarfs," Gillon said. "Exciting scientific adventures are now beginning."
Since the planets around TRAPPIST-1 are relatively nearby, scientists can in principle analyze the compositions of their atmospheres, "and further down the road, which is within our generation, assess if they are actually inhabited," study co-author Julien de Wit, a planetary scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "All of these things are achievable, and within reach now. This is a jackpot for the field."
The masses of these worlds remain unknown, but future research can pinpoint how much each of these planets gravitationally pulls at its siblings when they get close to each other, Gillon said. The strength of each planet's gravitational pull will help scientists deduce its mass, which in turn will help them estimate the planets' densities and, thus, compositions, he added.
"We can tell if the planets are probably rocky, or rich in ice like the moons of Jupiter, or rich in metal like Mercury," Gillon said.
The researchers noted that the Hubble Space Telescope and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope could help analyze the atmospheres of those planets for molecules linked with life, such as water, carbon dioxide and ozone.
"Now we have to investigate if they're habitable," de Wit said in the statement.
The scientists detailed their findings online today (May 2) in the journal Nature.
Scientists have made a breakthrough in physics. They succeeded in transporting heat maximally effectively ten thousand times further than ever before. The discovery may lead to a giant leap in the development of quantum computers.
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BOTHELL, Wash. -- When Keith and his girlfriend moved into their quiet home in a Bothell subdivision two years ago, he says strange things started happening right away.
"The first thing we heard on day one was a kid cough coming from upstairs," said Keith, who doesn't want his last name used. The couple doesn't have kids.
The IT guy did have several cameras and started documenting disturbances.
"This is no Casper," he warned.
Keith claims candles started flying, cupboards began opening, and crosses kept disappearing.
Keith says three bibles burned, group pictures packed away had burn marks but only on his face, chandeliers shook, and paintings, tables, and an armoire was knocked to the ground with no one in sight.
Paranormal investigator and host of Darkness Radio Dave Schrader is skeptical but intrigued. He questioned Keith's calm demeanor on all the videos and wondered why so many incidents happen off camera. But he added it could be a poltergeist at work because cameras captured a lot of activity and someone living inside could be the agent for the spirit.
Keith says he's tried crucifixes, prayers, holy water, and sweet grass, but bibles still burned -- three of them. And he claims one cross went missing from the wall and ended up in the washing machine while it was operating.
Keith recently contact the previous residents, who he says told him that it was "a living hell" in that home and only lasted five months.
Even though friends tell him he should get out, Keith says he hasn't exhausted his resources. He is now working with a priest in Bothell to find peace in his home.
Many moons ago, when I was happy to get 32kb/s from my dial-up internet connection, I found The Daily Grail. I registered then, long before the site was updated requiring a second registration. In those days I was very interested in subjects arising out of books such as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.
I visited the tiny, hilltop village in southern France and loved to ponder the mystery and history behind all those codes and symbols. But, over the years, my interest waned somewhat - partly as a result of the commercial hype around the Dan Brown books but mostly because of the debunking campaign that had succeeded in squeezing the fun out of speculation and investigation.
Nevertheless, I kept an eye on developments from time to time and recently I was drawn to the controversial subject of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Last week I came across a Norwegian TV series which seems to have stirred to controversy even more. The four part TV documentary is now freely available on Vimeo, here:
When I watched it I couldn't help but see the similarity between the claimed codes in the Shalespeare First Folio and those described in HBHG. I was expecting Arcadia to be mentioned at any moment and, sure enough, later on the the documentary, it is. I'd love to know what some of the Daily Grail regulars make of Petter Amundsen's code-breaking efforts and of the links, if any, to the Rennes-le-Chateau story in particular, or Templars/Rosicrucians/Freemasons in general.
We all have that stereotype image of an ugly woman flying in her scrum or dancing around a pot preparing a potion with an evil spell. They got a better reputation after the popular Harry Potter and we love to decorate our house and office with their images in Halloween. Witchcraft and its associated ideas are never far from the surface of popular consciousness and—sustained by folk tales—find explicit focus from time to time in popular television and films and in fiction.  But, could be possible their existence in the past and, even more intriguing , today ? What is real and what is fantasy behind this mythic figure that we usually called "witches"?
I resorted to the dictionary to start with a good definition and I found that a witch is a person who practices witchcraft, the exercise or invocation of alleged supernatural powers to control people or events, practices typically involving sorcery or magic. That sounds pretty cool, but in the past witches were far from being cool at all. The intensity of these bad fame is best represented by the European witch-hunts of the 14th to 18th century, and even in the bible where the punishment of witchcraft is mention to be death.
However magic was not always frowned. Early converts to Christianity looked to Christian clergy to work magic more effectively than the old methods under Roman paganism, and Christianity provided a methodology involving saints and relics, similar to the gods and amulets of the Pagan world. As Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, its concern with magic lessened.
Saint Boniface declared in the 8th century that belief in the existence of witches was un-Christian. The emperor Charlemagne decreed that the burning of supposed witches was a pagan custom that would be punished by the death penalty. In 820 the Bishop of Lyon and others repudiated the belief that witches could make bad weather, fly in the night, and change their shape. This denial was accepted into Canon law until it was reversed in later centuries as the witch-hunt gained force. Other rulers such as King Coloman of Hungary declared that witch-hunts should cease because witches (more specifically, strigas) do not exist.
Subsequently, the Protestant Christian explanation for witchcraft, such as those typified in the confessions of the Pendle witches, commonly involves a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil. The witches or wizards engaged in such practices were alleged to reject Jesus and the sacraments; observe "the witches' sabbath" (performing infernal rites that often parodied the Mass or other sacraments of the Church); pay Divine honour to the Prince of Darkness; and, in return, receive from him preternatural powers. Witches were most often characterized as women. Witches disrupted the societal institutions, and more specifically, marriage. It was believed that a witch often joined a pact with the devil to gain powers to deal with infertility, immense fear for her children's well-being, or revenge against a lover.
Witch-hunts first appeared in large numbers in southern France and Switzerland during the 14th and 15th centuries. The peak years of witch-hunts in southwest Germany were from 1561 to 1670. Current scholarly estimates of the number of people executed for witchcraft vary between about 40,000 and 100,000. The total number of witch trials in Europe known for certain to have ended in executions is around 12,000.
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