Alpha Centauri is the nearest star to our solar system. It's a triple system, with two sun-like stars ("A" and "B") orbiting each other and a red dwarf ("C" or "Proxima Centauri") orbiting the pair at a greater distance. And that's about all we knew about it until now. Now, the HARPS telescope in Chile has discovered a planet in that system. It's even Earth-like ... in size. It's about 1.3 earth-masses, but orbits Alpha Centauri B much closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. So the surface is probably not very Earth-like. But if there's one Earth-like planet in the system, there might be more. Look at our system, with Earth and Venus.
A group of amateur astronomers, combing through NASA data, have found a planet about the size of Neptune orbiting two suns — the sixth example of that arrangement to be discovered. But furthermore, the binary sun is part of a quartet; there are two other suns orbiting in the system. This is the first known instance of a planet in a quadruple star system.
The Kepler orbital telescope, designed to discover planets, has found a star system with planets orbiting so tight and close around their sun, it has five planets, all a bit bigger than Earth, inside a distance only a quarter the size of the orbit of Mercury. The slowest orbiter has a year less than ten days long.
Ariel, a moon of Uranus, may have an ocean of liquid water under a crust of ice. The surface is relatively smooth, as if something smooths out the craters any moon accumulates, and it looks as if there are flows of re-frozen ice over it. Also, it may have internal sources of heat. It adds up to the possibility of a subterranean ocean. This always interests astronomers, since all the water of Earth, just about, hosts life.
Tradition has it that artists and other creative types are eccentric, and a Swedish study confirms it. In particular, writers are prone to anxiety and bipolar disorder. Dancers and photographers are likely to be bipolar, too. And their families are prone to anorexia and autism. On the other hand, the researchers remark, if a certain amount of ... eccentricity is necessary for creativity and genius, maybe such things shouldn't be labeled as "illnesses," at least not all the time.
Quantities of consciousness (Nature
A number of terrible medical conditions can leave you alive but not obviously conscious. How to tell? A new technique developed in Belgium sends a short pulse of electromagnetic energy through the brain and reads the resulting electrical response. It was used on waking subjects, on sleeping ones, and on anesthetized ones, and the results compared to those of people in "vegetative," "minimally conscious," and "locked-in" (total paralysis) states. The first two resembled anesthetized people; the locked-in people are fully conscious.
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