2016 November

Water Clouds Over a Rogue Planet

Just 7 light-years away from the Sun—practically in our laps in galactic terms—lies an amazing object. Called WISE 0855, it’s not really a star, because it is far too low in mass to ignite nuclear fusion in its core. That’s the gold standard for stardom, and WISE 0855 falls far, far short of it.

Objects like that are generally called brown dwarfs, but even then it’s not clear; WISE 0855 has between three and 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and brown dwarfs fade down into planets near the top of that range. So it may very well be a very massive planet.

But it doesn’t orbit a star. If it’s a planet, it’s a rogue planet.

Amazed yet? There’s more: The temperature of this borderline object is only about 250 Kelvins, which is -25° or so C. That means the surface temperature is below the freezing point of water.

All this has been known for a couple of years, actually, but we’re still not done. A new and difficult set of observations of WISE 0855 were made recently, and they indicate that the rogue planet may have water clouds in its atmosphere! If true, it joins just four other objects known to have them: Jupiter, Saturn, Mars … and Earth. This makes it the first object outside the solar system known to have them.



Scientists put mouse embryos in suspended animation for a month

A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco only wanted to slow down mice embryos’ cell growth in the lab. Instead, they managed to completely pause their development, putting the blastocysts (very early embryos) in suspended animation for a month. What’s more, they found that the process can put stem cells derived from the blastocysts in suspended animation, as well.

Okay, let’s face it: that doesn’t sound nearly as cool as putting humans in suspended animation. But their finding still has huge implications for various fields of medicine. Doctors could develop a way to suspend embryos for IVF and scientists could find a method to slow down aging, among other possibilities. Helps that the researchers were able to prove that the embryos can develop normally even after a pause in their growth.



Geologist uncovers 2.5 billion-year-old fossils of bacteria that predate the formation of oxygen

While researchers proclaim the first half of our 4.5 billion-year-old planet’s life as an important time for the development and evolution of early bacteria, evidence for these life forms remains sparse including how they survived at a time when oxygen levels in the atmosphere were less than one-thousandth of one percent of what they are today.

There is an ongoing debate about when sulfur-oxidizing bacteria arose and how that fits into the earth’s evolution of life, Czaja adds. “But these fossils tell us that sulfur-oxidizing bacteria were there 2.52 billion years ago, and they were doing something remarkable.”



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