Scientists investigate diamond planets ‘unlike anything in our solar system’ – CNET

diamondplanet

This sparkling illustration shows a carbon-rich planet with diamond and silica as the main minerals.

Dan Shim/ASU/Vecteezy

Diamonds might be a rare commodity here on Earth, but the wider universe doesn't seem to have any shortage of them. Just imagine the outrageous bling-rings you could make from an entire planet packed with the sought-after gemstone.

Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) and University of Chicago led a new study on carbon-rich exoplanets (planets located outside of our solar system) and found that some of these wild worlds might be made up of diamonds and silica. Diamonds are made of carbon. Here on Earth, silica is found in quartz and sand. 

"These exoplanets are unlike anything in our solar system," said ASU's Harrison Allen-Sutter, lead author of the paper published in The Planetary Science Journal, in a release last week.

What makes a diamond planet and what makes an Earth-like planet? Stars and planets are created from dust and gas clouds, but it's a matter of the ratio of certain gases that feed into their formation. "A star with a lower carbon-to-oxygen ratio will have planets like Earth, comprised of silicates and oxides with a very small diamond content (Earth's diamond content is about 0.001%)," ASU said.

This is what a diamond-anvil cell looks like. A sample is compressed between the two flat surfaces.

Dan Shim/ASU

Not all stars are just like our sun. Some have a higher carbon-to-oxygen ratio, which -- in combination with the presence of water -- could lead to carbon-rich planets. 

The research team took this idea a step further and tested it in a lab experiment using diamond-anvil cells. This is pretty much what it sounds like: two high-quality diamonds shaped like anvils are pointed at each other. 

The scientists mimicked the interior of carbide exoplanets by immersing silicon carbide in water and compressing it to a high pressure. The team added some laser heating into the mix. 

"As they predicted, with high heat and pressure, the silicon carbide reacted with water and turned into diamonds and silica," ASU said.

This latest study builds on previous investigations into planets that may be full of diamond. NASA has taken a closer look at 55 Cancri e, an exoplanet that earned the nickname "diamond planet" due to research that suggests it has a carbon-rich composition.

Even if we could reach these diamond exoplanets, they wouldn't be appealing places to visit. "While Earth is geologically active (an indicator of habitability), the results of this study show that carbon-rich planets are too hard to be geologically active and this lack of geologic activity may make atmospheric composition uninhabitable," ASU said.

Shine on, you crazy diamond planets.

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8K views of Mars on the menu for Martian moon mission spacecraft – CNET

This illustration shows MMX in orbit around Mars with the moon Phobos in view.

JAXA/NHK

Most of us on Earth are still coming to grips with 4K video and images, much less insanely high resolution 8K ones. Hopefully, we'll all have the gear to properly see the eye-popping views expected from Japan's future Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission.

Japan's space agency JAXA announced last week it's working with Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) to develop a "Super Hi-Vision Camera" that can capture 4K and 8K images from Mars. 

MMX is already an ambitious project aimed at studying the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, as well as Mars itself. The spacecraft is designed to land on Phobos, gather up a surface sample and bring it back to Earth.

JAXA and NHK are thinking through the hurdles of sending large amounts of data back to Earth and have hit on a solution. "Images taken at regular intervals are partially transmitted to Earth to create a smooth image," JAXA said in a statement. "The original image data is planned to be stored in a recording device in MMX's return capsule and brought back to Earth."

By combining high-def images with the spacecraft's flight data, JAXA and NHK will be able to show the spacecraft's journey in unprecedented detail. Imagine a view of Mars rising behind the craggy lumps of Phobos. 

MMX is aiming for a 2024 launch. We'll have to wait a bit to experience the full 8K glory of Mars, but it will be worth it.

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8K views of Mars on the menu for Martian moon mission spacecraft – CNET

This illustration shows MMX in orbit around Mars with the moon Phobos in view.

JAXA/NHK

Most of us on Earth are still coming to grips with 4K video and images, much less insanely high resolution 8K ones. Hopefully, we'll all have the gear to properly see the eye-popping views expected from Japan's future Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission.

Japan's space agency JAXA announced last week it's working with Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) to develop a "Super Hi-Vision Camera" that can capture 4K and 8K images from Mars. 

MMX is already an ambitious project aimed at studying the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, as well as Mars itself. The spacecraft is designed to land on Phobos, gather up a surface sample and bring it back to Earth.

JAXA and NHK are thinking through the hurdles of sending large amounts of data back to Earth and have hit on a solution. "Images taken at regular intervals are partially transmitted to Earth to create a smooth image," JAXA said in a statement. "The original image data is planned to be stored in a recording device in MMX's return capsule and brought back to Earth."

By combining high-def images with the spacecraft's flight data, JAXA and NHK will be able to show the spacecraft's journey in unprecedented detail. Imagine a view of Mars rising behind the craggy lumps of Phobos. 

MMX is aiming for a 2024 launch. We'll have to wait a bit to experience the full 8K glory of Mars, but it will be worth it.

Now playing: Watch this: How NASA's new Perseverance Mars rover compares with...

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Astronomy Photographer of the Year winners revel in the beauty of space – CNET

The Andromeda Galaxy looks like it could fit into a doll house in this winning image from Nicolas Lefaudeux.

Nicolas Lefaudeux/Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020

If you want a reminder of just how gorgeous our universe is, then take some time to browse the winners of the 2020 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. 

From an artful aurora to the surface of the sun, these images capture the enduring beauty of the cosmos.

The Royal Observatory Greenwich in the UK runs the competition and announced the overall winners on Thursday

French photographer Nicolas Lefaudeux took the top prize with a tilt-shift perspective on the Andromeda Galaxy. "An intriguing, highly original shot that captured the imagination of many of the judges right from the start," said judge Jon Culshaw, a UK comedian.

The full gallery of category winners contains a bounty of visual wonders.

The winning images are part of an exhibition opening on Oct. 23 at the National Maritime Museum in London and have been collected into a book.

This has been a grand week for photography as the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards announced its finalists. The two competitions couldn't be more different in focus, but they'e both a source of joy during a challenging year.

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Award-winning space photos reveal glory of the cosmos – CNET

UK photographer Julie Hill created the winner of the Annie Mauder Prize for Image Innovation with this piece called Dark River. 

"This image has transformed how the viewer experiences space by reinventing an observation of 84 million stars and moving into the three-dimensional realm," said Astronomy Photographer of the Year judge Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astrophysicist.

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Award-winning space photos reveal glory of the cosmos – CNET

UK photographer Julie Hill created the winner of the Annie Mauder Prize for Image Innovation with this piece called Dark River. 

"This image has transformed how the viewer experiences space by reinventing an observation of 84 million stars and moving into the three-dimensional realm," said Astronomy Photographer of the Year judge Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astrophysicist.

Read the article

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We just ran out of 2020 tropical storm names. Here’s what happens next – CNET

NASA and NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of Tropical Storm Rene on Sept. 8.

NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (Eosdis)

It's been an Atlantic hurricane season for the record books, and we're not even close to done yet. Tropical Storm Wilfred just took the last moniker on the list of available names for 2020. That leaves us with plan B: storms named after the letters of the Greek alphabet.

The National Hurricane Center tweeted the news of Wilfred's formation on Friday, saying, "Get out the Greek alphabet for the rest of 2020."

The World Meteorological Organization maintains a rotating list of storm names and assigns 21 names to each Atlantic hurricane season. The season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, so we may end up getting pretty deep into the Greek alphabet before it's all over.

NOAA had earlier predicted an above-normal hurricane season, and that forecast has come true. We may have to shift our expectations for what constitutes a "normal" hurricane season. Research shows that hurricanes are getting stronger and wetter.

The very first Tropical Storm Alpha formed in October 2005 during an epic and damaging Atlantic hurricane season. That season resulted in 27 named storms, including six Greek letters.  

Some storms might sound familiar. That's because Atlantic storm names are recycled every six years. "The only time there is a change in the list is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity," NOAA said.  

We might not have to wait long for Tropical Storm Alpha to earn its name. The National Hurricane Center is tracking a tropical depression known as Twenty-Two. "Slow-moving depression close to tropical storm strength," the agency tweeted on Friday.

This year's Atlantic season is one more sign of a global uptick in storm, flooding and fire activity in recent years. At this rate, the Greek alphabet will get quite a workout in the Atlantic in 2020.

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Land-walking fish might be more common than we suspected, scientists say – CNET

The cave angel fish found in Thailand walks with a gait like a salamander's. 

Zachary Randall/Florida Museum

Fish generally stay submerged, so it's understandable that scientists (and the rest of us) would get excited when a fish ventures out for a stroll. Well, prepare for more excitement, because there might be more walking fish then we realized.

A new study, from an international team of scientists, has identified at least 11 species of fish that might be able to walk on land. 

"The findings are based on CT scans and a new evolutionary map of the hillstream loach family, which includes the only living fish species caught in the act of walking: a rare, blind cavefish known as Cryptotora thamicola, or the cave angel fish," the Florida Museum of Natural History said in a release Tuesday.

Walking is a survival skill for the enigmatic cave angel fish, which needs to move around in cave streams as water levels change. It can even climb up waterfalls, according to a 2016 study led by researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.   

The researchers observed the cave angle fish in Thailand in 2019.

Zachary Randall/Florida Museum

The scientists behind the new study zeroed in on the cave angel fish's pelvic shape, which enables its amphibian-like ability to walk, and found 10 other species that shared its "unusually hefty pelvic girdle."

"The result is a greatly improved understanding of the evolution of an extremely uncommon event -- the ability of a fish to walk on land," said Lawrence Page, Florida Museum curator of fishes and co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Morphology in August. 

The investigation of these fish is ongoing, since the others haven't been caught in the act of walking yet. But the possibility is most definitely there.  

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NASA view shows hazy horror of wildfire smoke stretching across US – CNET

The NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite caught sight of this massive blanket of wildfire smoke across the US on Sept. 7.

NOAA/NASA

Here in New Mexico, I can usually stand in my front yard and see the Sandia Mountains to the east. On Tuesday, they're obscured by haze. Huge stretches of the US are filled with smoke primarily from western wildfires. A NASA satellite view shows just how severe it is.

The Suomi NPP satellite is run by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A true-color view of the US from Monday shows the effects of many active wildfires as pinpointed in red in the image. 

"Obscuring the surface is a blanket of smoke from California to Arkansas with a haze present over the East Coast as well," said NASA in a release on Tuesday.

California is a major source of smoke due to fires across the state, including one that was sparked by a pyrotechnic at a gender-reveal party. Other western states haven't escaped the devastation as wildfires burn across the Pacific Northwest and in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.  

This Suomi NPP satellite data shows the spread of aerosols from wildfires in the US on Sept. 7.

NASA/NOAA

Suomi NPP also delivered an image of aerosols released by the fire. "This image shows a significant area of deep red range which means aerosols in the area could potentially be dangerous to the health of those in that area," said NASA.

Aerosols related to wildfires can travel far on high-altitude winds. The EPA calls out a variety of potential health problems (PDF) related to aerosols, including respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

A huge portion of the mainland US is seeing some impact from 2020's rampant fires, and it isn't over yet. The National Weather Service warned of "another day of critical to extreme fire weather conditions" on Tuesday that could lead to "very dangerous fire behavior and spread." 

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Gender reveal party pyrotechnic sparks 7,000-acre California wildfire – CNET

The El Dorado fire in San Bernardino County, California as seen from Forest Falls.

Cal Fire San Bernardino/Inyo/Mono Unit

California is suffering under withering heat waves and massive swathes of enraged wildfires. While many of the Northern California fires started as lightning strikes, the El Dorado fire in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles had a very human cause: a gender-reveal party.

Cal Fire, the state agency that monitors and responds to wildfires, reported the cause of the El Dorado fire in a release on Sunday. The law enforcement arm of Cal Fire determined it "was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party." 

Gender reveal parties are popular ways to tell friends and family whether an expectant couple will have a boy or a girl. The fire-starting event took place on Sept. 5. 

As of the weekend, the fire covered over 7,000 acres. Several communities in the fire's path received evacuation orders and the San Bernardino National Forest closed a long list of trailheads and other recreation areas.

This isn't the first time gender-reveal fireworks have resulted in devastation. In 2017, a similar celebration kicked off the massive Sawmill Fire in Arizona, which eventually spread to over 45,000 acres. 

Cal Fire is currently tracking multiple blazes all across the state. Satellite views have shown massive smoke plumes, which are only getting worse, according to new imagery shared over the weekend by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University.

Cal Fire reminded the public that "those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible."

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