Earth-like exoplanets may have life-protecting magnetic fields

Earth-like exoplanets near smaller stars are likely to have magnetic fields which protect their environments from radiation. This magnetic protection could allow for conditions to exist on those planets to make them habitable.

According to Phys.Org, a group of astronomers from the University of Washington combined models of orbital interactions between planets and small stars with planetary heating patterns to study the likelihood of life-supporting conditions existing on close-orbit planets with small star hosts.

A planet’s magnetic field serves as a shield against solar radiation and helps keep the planet’s atmosphere intact. As the magnetic field protects a planet’s surface, it also protects any life forms on the planet from excessive radiation exposure.

It is believed that magnetic fields get their start when a planet’s interior cools.

Stars of a low mass are common in the universe, and planets orbiting those stars are easier to detect and study than planets of large stars, since planets in transit of smaller stars block out a larger percentage of the star’s light and are more visible to Earth observers.

Smaller stars also offer a tighter orbit for planets to exist in the habitable zone, or the distance from a star at which liquid water could exist.

The closer orbital distance also involves a greater gravitational pull on the planet, which could cause such planets to become tidally locked with their host star, with one side always facing the star as the planet orbits. Tidal locking creates tidal heating in the planet’s interior, which drives volcanic activity on bodies such as Jupiter’s moon Io.

“The question I wanted to ask is, around these small stars, where people are going to look for planets, are these planets going to be roasted by gravitational tides?” lead author Peter Driscoll said.

The team also looked at whether tidal heating would affect a planet’s magnetic field over time. There had been a general thought that tidally locked planets would lose their magnetic fields, but the new research showed that not to be the case.

In fact, the team found that tidal heating can actually increase the effectiveness of a planet’s magnetic field. When a planet’s mantle is heated, it becomes better at dissipating heat, thereby ultimately cooling the core.

“I was excited to see that tidal heating can actually save a planet in the sense that it allows cooling of the core. That’s the dominant way to form magnetic fields,” model creator Rory Barnes said.

The team also found that planets that begin with noncircular orbits and tidal heating eventually settle into circular orbits with no tidal heating.

“These preliminary results are promising, but we still don’t know how they would change for a planet like Venus, where slow planetary cooling is already hindering magnetic field generation,” Driscoll said. “In the future, exoplanetary magnetic fields could be observable, so we expect there to be a growing interest in this field going forward.”

The findings were published in the journal Astrobiology.


India launches Astrosat space observatory

India’s first multi wavelength satellite space observatory launched successfully on Monday.

According to Spaceflight Now, the spacecraft called Astrosat launched on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle at the Satish Dhawan Space Center at 10:00 a.m. Indian time.  The Astrosat spacecraft is the first space observatory sent into orbit by India.

The craft successfully entered orbit and deployed its power-generating solar panels.  Astrosat’s five astronomical instruments will be activated over the next two months from the Indian Space Research Organization’s ground control.

Astrosat’s five payloads consist of the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, Large Area X-ray Proportional Counter, Soft X-ray Telescope, Cadmium Zinc Telluride Imager, and the Scanning Sky Monitor, all of which contribute to the satellite’s ability to monitor the cosmos in X-rays and in varying wavelengths of light.

Astrosat’s five-year mission will focus on the study of black holes and neutron stars, the dense collapsed remnants of supernovae.  The observatory will also turn its attention to X-ray binaries, in which a black hole or neutron star draws matter from a neighboring star.

“These are not your run-of-the-mill stars and galaxies,” John Hutchings of the National Research Council Canada and Astrosat collaborator said. “Some are so powerful, they affect the whole universe. We’ll be able to see how they form and study their brightness, distribution, life cycle and more.”

The orbiting craft will make observations in visible light as well as ultraviolet light of various wavelengths to focus in on gaseous areas of new star formation and developing solar systems.  Astrosat will also collect X-ray signals to accompany the ultraviolet readings.

“All of the hottest and most exotic objects in the universe radiate strongly in the ultraviolet range,” Hutchings said.  “By exploring distant galaxies in ultraviolet light, we can study the formation and life cycle of galaxies, as well as star formation within galaxies. That’s one of the science drivers of this project.”

HEALTH TECH_Technology

Medtronic purchases company along with advanced blood clot removal technology

Medtronic PLC announced it had spent $100 million dollars to purchase Lazarus Effect, a California-based company that recently made headlines for its advanced equipment developed to assist those affected by acute ischemic stroke.

According to the Star Tribune, the equipment from Lazarus Effect known as the ReCover works with a Medtronic device named the Solitaire to remove blood clots caused by strokes, grabbing blood clots and wrapping them up “like a Halloween candy” in order to be cleanly removed.

The purchase is Medtronic’s eighth this year. Martin Dieck, co-founder, president, and CEO of Lazarus Effect, hopes that by handing the company over it will better assist the thousands who suffer from acute ischemic stroke each year.

“Medtronic has been a significant supporter of the recent clinical work showing improved outcomes of ischemic stroke patients treated with endovascular therapy,” said Dieck. “Their support of data driven clinical evidence and the success with their Solitaire stent retriever device make them the clear market leader for treating ischemic stroke.”

New industry guidelines by the American Heart Association recommend using devices such as the Solitaire or the ReCover along with drugs used to treat blood clots. Recent studies have also documented the benefits of patients who were currently using anti-blood clot drugs along with these devices.

Likewise, the ReCover would be able to reduce leaving behind clotted material, a flaw in other devices that increases the chances of ischemic stroke in a new region of the brain to 5.6 percent. ReCover’s wrapping before extracting procedure dropped this number down to 0.4 percent in tests.

“We look forward to working closely with Medtronic to bring this next generation platform forward to the benefit of future patients,” concluded Dieck.


Air quality in Malaysia nosedives, causing officials to close schools

Malaysian officials have deemed the air quality in the capital as “very unhealthy, ” causing schools to close as a result of the unsafe conditions.

According to Channel News Asia, slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia has caused smoke to drift towards the Asian country. A thick haze has settled over the land, lowering air quality levels at a drastic rate.

“This is not a natural disaster. Haze is a man-made problem that should not be tolerated. It has caused major impact on the health, society and economy of our region,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, the Environment Minister in Singapore. He continued to say that this was a problem that has gone on “for far too long.”

This is the second time in the past month officials have had to take these measures to assure the safety of their people. The haze has caused Indonesia to declare a state of emergency in the Riau providence of Sumatra, and if things don’t improve other countries in the chain of volcanic islands could be faced with similar actions.

Those countries affected have taken action against companies that continue to contribute to the air pollution problem. reports that leaders in the affected areas are coming together to take a stand.

“We have offered Indonesia our help to put out the fires, and asked them to share with us the identity of companies responsible for causing the haze,” wrote Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an announcement over Facebook. Despite efforts, the air quality is to remain in the hazardous range for up to 24 hours.
Tourism is also taking a hard hit from the haze, as residents as well as tourists are reporting respiratory problems due to conditions, and flights have been cancelled due to decreased visibility.
“This is the first time I’m experiencing the haze firsthand,”  said Gokulnath Durai from Chennai, India. “Today it really has worsened. You feel that.”

American doctor who battled Ebola returns to Liberia to continue work

Many can remember the widespread panic of the notion that Ebola could make its way into the US when a doctor from Massachusetts returned from Africa with the disease after doing mission work in the country of Liberia. Many were relieved to learn he was cured of the life-threatening illness, and when the chaos was over the Ebola crisis in the United States faded away into obscurity.

While the panic has subsided, Dr. Rick Sacra’s mission to help others hasn’t. Valley News reports that Dr. Sacra will be returning to Liberia to continue his work.

“I’m doing fine, 100 percent,” said Sacra, explaining that Ebola was still a major health concern in a few African countries. Those in West Africa who have survived the disease still have major complications.

Survivors also include the loved ones that those who didn’t make it left behind.

“Of course I knew that I might die,” said Sacra. “It made me very aware of how grateful I am for every day I’m given. [But] some risks are worth taking.” He went on to highlight the plight of survivors and family members, as well as those who are now returning to hospitals with other ailments such as HIV and heart disease.

Surprisingly, this isn’t Dr. Sacra’s first trip back to Liberia after recovering from Ebola. In April and July he visited the mission hospital outside of the country’s capital of Monrovia. He plans to make the trip again come November.

“When Liberia is on its feet again and it doesn’t need help anymore, I’ll probably move on to someplace else. But as long as the needs are there and I can make a difference, I think I ought to keep doing it.”


Archaeologists unearth fossil belonging to gigantic lizard

The komodo dragon holds the title of the largest lizard on earth. Weighing in at 150 pounds with the largest growing up to 10 feet long, this giant reptile with a deadly bite lives at the top of the food chain on the islands of Indonesia where they live.

But archaeologists have found quite the contender that the komodo dragon’s large size would pale to in comparison. According to R & D Magazine, a new fossil suggests that early humans living in Australia lived alongside a beast of a lizard.

“Our jaws dropped when we found a tiny fossil from a giant lizard during a 2-m deep excavation in one of the Capricorn Caves, near Rockhampton,” said Dr. Gilbert Price of the University of Queensland. “The find is pretty significant, especially for the time frame that it dates.”

This new species is double the size of the komodo dragon. Measuring at up to 20 feet long, it joins the ranks of the other large reptiles that roamed the earth during the Pleistocene period nearly 50,000 years ago.

“It’s been long-debated whether or not humans or climate change knocked off the giant lizards, alongside the rest of the megafauna,” said Price.

The Capricorn Caves, located just outside of Rockhampton, Queensland in Australia, has been a haven for archaeologists, who have unearthed thousands of fossils since the early 1900s. Whether more of this giant lizard will be discovered in the same area is yet unknown, but researchers remain hopeful.

“There is great opportunity to look at the fine scale change of fauna over time in the…region in the last 40,000 years,” said the Capricorn Cave’s website advertising the caves to tourists and scientists.


UC Davis treats pets badly burned by wildfire

The California wildfires haven’t just been hard on residents of the Golden State. According to The Sacramento Bee, dozens of pets, mostly cats, have been admitted to the UC Davis Medical Teaching Hospital for burn treatment.

“We don’t see significant burn injuries very often,”said Dr. Erik Wisner who works as a radiology specialist at UC Davis. Injuries range from small burns and respiratory problems due to smoke to faces burned raw and bandages on all four legs.

UC Davis has seen other animals amid this string of horrific wildfires. Four horses, two chickens, two pigs, a dog, and a goat have all been checked in as patients at the Medical Teaching Hospital. Cats have been the main victims among pets though, as felines are more likely to run and hide during the chaos whereas dogs are easier to get out of the house.

Thankfully, nearly all of the pets coming in for treatment will survive. And many of the animals found have been picked up by their owners thanks to messages on the UC Davis Facebook page. Those who haven’t will be put up for adoption once they have recovered, and a number of firefighters have shown interest in adopting if the original owners don’t return.

But there is a long road of recovery ahead for the felines with the worst injuries. Like Aida, who had severe burns on her paw pads and face.

“I’m just going to hold her for awhile, until she gets a little more comfortable,” said Robin Fisher, the veterinary technician who had just given Aida a thorough cleaning and some medicine to stave off the pain. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can for her.”

The UC Davis Medical Teaching Hospital is doing all it can for all of its patients, and is collecting donations from the public to help with the costs of treating the sudden influx of animals. Readers who are interested in donating can follow the link to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine webpage.


Four humpback whales spotted near Astoria in search of food

According to the Daily Times Gazette, four humpback whales have been spotted in the Columbia River near Astoria. These gentle giants  have come to the shores of Oregon in search of food, providing an added beauty and serenity to this commercial neighborhood.

“When there’s not a lot of rain and there’s not a lot of river flow pushing the ocean water out, the tides bring a lot of ocean water in and with that ocean water come these small fish,” said Bruce Mate when offering up an explanation for this rare occurrence.

The director of the Marine Mammal Institute at OHSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, Mate continued that the weather was responsible for an influx in anchovies in the waters close to Astoria. Anchovies are a favorite treat for whales, and when one came in others quickly followed.

“It’s really great to be able to see it, but you also wonder what’s going on out in the ocean,” said Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium, who snapped a few beautiful pictures of the mammals when they came up for air.

It leaves more than just Boothe wondering what could be happening in the ocean. Researchers point to the climate phenomenon known as El Niño. The National Ocean Service defines El Niño as a warming of ocean waters, particularly at the surface.

“It’s a very strong El Niño so the productivity is low and animals are seeking out resources where they can find them,” said Mate.

According to GWS News, the warmer temperatures towards the surface means that fish at the bottom of the water cannot survive, and have followed the warmer temperatures to the top. The whales have been seen in the area since mid-August.


Quarter of fish sold worldwide consume man-made material

As if the majority of birds eating plastic wasn’t bad enough, a new study in Scientific Reports says that fish sold in markets around the world had plastic or fibers inside of their stomach.

The University of California, Davis, and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia conducted the study and published results this past week, showing that 25% of fish sold in markets had man-made material inside of their stomach. It is the first study of its kind to show just how garbage tossed into the water finds its way back onto consumer’s tables.

Interestingly enough, two different types of waste were found. Indonesia’s markets had fish that had directly consumed plastic, whereas in California the culprit was fibers found in washing detergent.

“It’s interesting that there isn’t a big difference in the amount of debris in the fish from each location, but in the type, plastic or fiber,” said Chelsea Rochman. The lead author of the study, Rochman is studying at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and is hopeful that the study will contribute to better waste management systems.

“We think the type of debris in the fish is driven by differences in local waste management,” she said. “To mitigate the issue in each location, it helps to think about local sources and differences in waste management strategies.”

The study had researchers sampled 74 fish markets in Indonesia and 64 in California. Plastic was in a surprising amount of fish in Indonesia, whereas 80% of fish from California contained any given amount of fibers.

Maritime Executive reports that consumers will only ingest plastic or fibers if the fish is consumed as whole. In Indonesia this is common practice. Californians on the other hand would only consume fibers if they ate sardines or anchovies.



Indonesia earthquake clocks in at 6.6 on Richter scale

An earthquake clocking in at 6.6 on the Richter scale has rocked Indonesia’s easternmost providence, with much of the damage reported from the West Papau capital of Manokwari. Temporary shelters have been built for those affected, and authorities are looking at just how much damage has been done.

“The West Papua Disaster Management Agency has deployed a team to help the victims of the earthquake,” stated Derek Abner to Antara News. Authorities have only just started assessing the damage, with up to 260 houses wrecked during the quake.

Casualties were avoided due to evacuation measures, with only 39 injuries reported thus far. Broken bones were the most common injury, many obtained during the panicked rush as residents and tourists fled from their homes and hotels. The majority fled to the neighboring city of Sorong, which sustained little to no damage.

“A total of 35 people suffered minor injuries, and four others were seriously injured as a result of the earthquake,” reported Abner. Despite the lack of casualties and the severity of injuries, the damage to homes and businesses in Manokwari will take thousands of dollars to fix.

It’s still a far cry from the damage a 2004 quake off the shores of Aceh caused, where tsunamis triggered by the tremors resulted in 230,000 deaths. Budi Waluyo, an official from the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency in Indonesia, stated that the recent activity doesn’t have potential to trigger tsunami waves.

According to New York Daily News, earthquakes are a common occurrence in Indonesia. The country rests along an arc of volcanoes located in the Pacific Basin known as the “Ring of Fire.”