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NASA’s Tess spacecraft begins search for new planets

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NASA’s Tess spacecraft has blasted off from Earth in a search for new planets that could support life.

Tess lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Wednesday evening local time, riding a SpaceX Falcon rocket.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will spend two years scouring 85% of the sky and hundreds of thousands of its brightest stars.

The satellite, about the size of a washing machine, will scan the stars for signs of periodic dimming, which may mean that planets are orbiting around them.

It is hoped that Tess will find around 20,000 exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – with more than 50 expected to be Earth-sized.

There are already 3,700 exoplanets that we know of, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list.

Tess is looking for the ones that are Earth-like and close enough to allow scientists to study them further.

They are particularly interested in those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star, where temperatures are right for water and, therefore, human life.

Once Tess has discovered the planets, strong telescopes will be used to learn more about them, looking for signs such as oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The mission is inexpensive by space exploration standards – £237m – and Wednesday’s launch went without a hitch.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said: “We are thrilled Tess is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbour life.

“With missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to help us study the details of these planets, we are ever the closer to discovering whether we are alone in the universe.”

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Mystery of Jupiter’s polygon storms solved by scientists | Science & Tech News

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Scientists have solved the mystery of Jupiter’s polygon storms, which were first spotted by NASA’s Juno space probe in 2019.

At the gas giant’s south pole, hidden from view from Earth, is a herd of storms arranged in a perfect geometric pattern.

This is unlike anything else humanity has observed in the universe. The most comparable gas giant we know of, Saturn, has single massive storms at each of its poles – not a collection of them arranged in such a mathematical formation.

Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, with two of its satellites, Io on the left and Europa on the right
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The gas giant held a secret geometric pattern at its south pole

But a research team at the California Institute of Technology, working in the Andy Ingersoll laboratory, has now figured out why the storms arrange themselves in this pattern.

The answer – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – was inspired by a mathematical proof developed long before the space age – and almost 150 years ago by the British mathematical physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin.

Working alongside American physicist Alfred Mayer, he observed in 1878 that when circular magnets were floated in a pool of water, they would spontaneously arrange themselves into geometric shapes.

“Back in the 19th century, people were thinking about how spinning pieces of fluid would arrange themselves into polygons,” Professor Ingersoll said.

“Although there were lots of laboratory studies of these fluid polygons, no one had thought of applying that to a planetary surface.”

This is what the scientists at Ingersoll’s laboratory did, building a computer model of what might be happening on Jupiter and running the simulations to see if their model held any value.

The storms are very similar to those on Earth, which form close to the equator and drift towards the poles – but on Earth the hurricanes and typhoons tend to dissipate when they get too far away from the equator.

However, because Jupiter’s storms do not experience any friction from the land or the oceans, they keep on going until they reach the poles.

Pic: Jupiter and several of its large moons appear above the mountains of Utah. Pic: NASA/Bill Dunford
Image:
Jupiter’s south pole was hidden from eyes on Earth

In the early trial runs of the simulations, the team found that the cyclones tended “to merge at the pole due to the rotation of the planet” said Dr Cheng Li, lead author of the study and a researcher at UC Berkeley.

But they found that the stable geometric arrangement could occur when the storms were each surrounded by a ring of winds turning in the opposite direction to the storms themselves, called an anticyclonic ring.

The made the storms repel each other rather than merge.

This phenomenon could help researchers understand how Earth’s weather behaves – but also solves a particularly fascinating and modern mystery.

“Other planets provide a much wider range of behaviours than what you see on Earth, so you study the weather on other planets in order to stress-test your theories,” Professor Ingersoll said.

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Coronavirus: Denmark, Slovakia and Iceland added to England’s travel quarantine list | UK News

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Denmark, Slovakia and Iceland have been added to England’s travel quarantine list – meaning travellers returning from 4am on Saturday will have to self-isolate for two weeks.

The Caribbean island of Curacao has also been added to the list.

The government’s “red list” is aimed at stopping coronavirus spreading from countries with high infection rates.

Anyone who fails to quarantine after returning from these countries – apart from a small list of exemptions – faces a fine starting at £1,000.

No countries have been removed from the red list this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed.

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Coronavirus: Where are Europe’s infection hotspots? | World News

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European Union health officials are urging member nations to move quickly to slow the latest wave of COVID-19 infections to avoid a repeat of the broad lockdowns that paralysed the continent’s economy in the spring.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the most recent risk assessment showed that some countries are reporting more cases now than they did during the earlier pandemic’s peak.

She said now “might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring”.

More than three million cases have been reported in Europe since the beginning of the year, including 187,509 deaths, according to figures from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

These maps and graphs show how the picture is changing across Europe.

This map shows that Montenegro has become a coronavirus hotspot within Europe, with 305.4 cases per 100,000 people in the week of 14-20 September.

Spain is next with 165.6 per 100,000, and then the Czech Republic with 122.6 cases.

When we look at this second map you can see that Montenegro has seen a 64% week-on-week increase from 7-13 September.

Iceland had the highest weekly increase, 654.2%, with a rise from 6.7 per 100,000 to 50.7 per 100,000.

Another island which saw a big rise was Cyprus which had a 335.3% increase from 1.9 per 100,000 to 8.4.

Spain is still seeing the most significant rise in infections after rates started rising steadily again from the start of July.

France is also on a similar trajectory and the UK is following the same pattern, though a few weeks behind.

Germany’s rate is still largely flat with a small rise since the beginning of September.

The UK has an infection rate of 38.6 cases per 100,000 people, while Ireland’s rate is just above that on 39.7.

When a country is above 20, the home nations of the UK consider imposing two-week quarantine restrictions on people travelling to the UK from there. Such countries currently include France and Spain.

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