Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope discovers ‘superheated planet with comet tail’

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An artist’s impression of the gas giant planet, named HD 209458b. It is orbiting so close to its star that its heated atmosphere is escaping into space.Photo: NASA

The planet, nicknamed Osiris, is 153 light-years from Earth and is only slightly smaller than Jupiter, our solar system’s biggest planet.

It was first detected in 1999 when scientists noticed a minute reduction in the brightness of its star, caused by the planet passing in front of it.

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But astronomers at the space agency have only just found that powerful stellar winds are sweeping the “superheated” planet’s atmosphere out behind it.

Experts say this has led to the tail-like effect being captured by the Hubble. The “tail” theory had been hinted at previously but not confirmed until now.

In 2003 astronomers used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, a Hubble instrument, to investigate the planet and its atmosphere but could not prove their theory.

The planet, officially called HD 209458b, orbits around the star once every three and a half days, travelling so close to the star that its surface becomes scorched.

Some of this scorched material is released as gas into the atmosphere, and swept by powerful stellar winds into a tail similar to that of a comet.

The innermost planet in our Solar System is Mercury, which takes 88 days to orbit the Sun once, 25 times longer than Osiris takes to orbit its star.

Scientists from the University of Colorado used the space agency’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, another instrument on the Hubble, which determines the nature of gases by examining how light from stars passes through them.

They found heavy elements such as silicon and carbon in the planet’s atmosphere, which suggested that the planet was being heated to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (2000° C).

The researchers also found that gas was travelling behind the planet at different velocities and in different directions, rather than in a conventional atmosphere, leading them to believe that this material was akin to the planet’s “tail”.

Dr Jeffrey Linsky, who led the study, said it was the first time that astronomers had been able to measure the gas coming off the planet at specific speeds.

“Since 2003 scientists have theorised the lost mass is being pushed back into a tail, and they have even calculated what it looks like,” he said.

“We think we have the best observational evidence to support that theory. We have measured gas coming off the planet at specific speeds, some coming toward Earth.

“The most likely interpretation is that we have measured the velocity of material in a tail.”

The loss of material caused by the extreme heat and speed of the planet is only very slight, meaning it will take “about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate,” Dr Linksy added.

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Vuvuzelas find few friends in South African rugby venues (Reuters)

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – As rugby reclaims its usual place on South Africa’s back pages, administrators countrywide are determined to ensure that the controversial vuvuzela plays no part in the sport’s post-World Cup future.

The noisy plastic trumpet was a major talking point at the soccer extravaganza but it has since been banned from most rugby venues, including Soccer City, the stadium that hosted last Sunday’s World Cup final and awaits the Springboks next month.

South Africa will play New Zealand’s All Blacks in a Tri-Nations match at the renamed 88,000-seater National Stadium on August 21 after the local Golden Lions Rugby Union decided to move the match from their regular home of Ellis Park.

“We’ve done research and the feedback from players and match officials is that it’s very difficult to communicate with the vuvuzela,” Golden Lions president Kevin de Klerk told Reuters.

“I know there’s still a lot of sentiment around. It’s not a personal thing but that’s how it stands at this stage in time.”

That view appears to be echoed around South Africa’s rugby venues, with Cape Town’s Newlands having already banned the vuvuzela from last month’s test against France.

When De Klerk’s Golden Lions play Western Province there in a provincial Currie Cup match on Saturday, fans will be greeted by numerous signboards displaying: “No vuvuzelas. No musical instruments.”

Despite the vuvuzela’s absence, De Klerk said rugby had to embrace the soccer World Cup’s legacy in order to survive, starting with utilising the stadiums built for the tournament.

Ellis Park is the spiritual home of the Springboks and was the scene of the 1995 World Cup victory over the All Blacks, but the venue’s ageing state and its location in a run-down part of Johannesburg’s business district have become negative factors.

“Ellis Park is the field of dreams, it’s where the 1995 World Cup was won but time moves on, unfortunately,” said De Klerk, a feared lock forward who played 13 tests between 1974 and 1981.

“There’s great sentiment and a great history. I understand it more than most because I started playing there in 1968 as a schoolboy but we’ve listened to our fans.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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Trapped manatees looking for love rescued (AP)

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MIAMI – A group of manatees looking for love are safe after being stranded in a shallow canal in Miami. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said four or five male manatees were trying to mate with a female in the canal. Pino said the water in the canal may have been too dirty for the sea cows to see through. Wildlife officials managed to coerce all the manatees to swim out of the shallow area on Monday.

Pino said it’s not uncommon to see several manatees in one place during the summer, when mating is most frequent. Last year, ten manatees appeared on the shores of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to mate.


Information from: The Miami Herald, Original article