Newly uncovered super-Earth 31 light-years away may be habitable

An illustration of the 3 planets around a star known as GJ 357. Photo: NASA

NASA announced Wednesday that its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has uncovered a potentially habitable planet just 31 light-years away from our solar system.

Why it matters: TESS member and associate professor of astronomy Lisa Kaltenegger, who led the international team and who is also director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, said in a statement the discovery of the exoplanet, named GJ 357 d, "is humanity's first nearby super-Earth that could harbor life."

The big picture: Astronomers from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and the University of La Laguna, Spain, published the findings on the GJ 357 system in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, and they were presented at an exoplanet conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday.

  • The astronomers detected via TESS another planet orbiting the same star, named GJ 357, and deeper research by Spanish astronomers led to the discovery of 2 more planets in the system — including the super-Earth, GJ 357 d, which takes almost 56 days to orbit its host star at a distance roughly one-fifth of that between Earth and the sun.
  • The other 2 known planets in the star system, GJ 357 b and GJ 357 c, are believed to be far too hot to be habitable, according to Kaltenegger.

What's next? Kaltenegger said a pair of next-generation telescopes in Chile should reveal more details once operating in 2025 about the super-Earth, including whether it is rocky or has oceans, per NBC News.

Go deeper: What scientists look for to tell if an exoplanet is habitable

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NIH's All of Us program will begin offering genetic counseling soon

People from a rural and financially struggling area of New York waiting to see doctors in a mobile clinic. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health on Wednesday announced a $4.6 million award in initial funding to health tech company Color to provide results and genetic counseling when desired to the participants in its huge research project, All of Us.

Why it matters: The All of Us project aims to create the largest health database that's inclusive of diverse communities to improve precision medicine. But, the agency also wants the participants — many of whom are in underrepresented communities and may not normally have access to genetic testing and counseling — to receive benefits as well.

The Amazon rainforest is being ravaged by wildfires burning at record rates

A darkened skyline in São Paulo, Brazil on August 19, 2019. Photo: Andre Lucas/picture alliance via Getty Images

The largest swaths of the Amazon rainforest, located in Brazil and Peru, are burning at the highest rates since records began in 2013 — an increase of 84% compared to the same period last year, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).

What's happening: On Tuesday, "Inpe registered a new fire roughly every minute" across Brazil, the Wall Street Journal reports. 2019's sharp increase is largely due to illegal loggers "burning newly cleared land for cattle ranching and agricultural use," according to environmental experts.

A black hole eats a neutron star

The LIGO detector in Louisiana. Photo: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Astronomers think they've detected the ripples in space and time sent out by a black hole and neutron star colliding.

The big picture: Scientists have detected gravitational waves sent out by 2 black holes merging and 2 neutron stars merging, but if confirmed, this will be the first detection of a black hole and neutron star colliding.

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