Category Archives: By Daniel Sternklar

Why haven’t we encountered aliens yet? The answer could be climate change

By David Waltham, Royal Holloway

Enrico Fermi, when asked about intelligent life on other planets, famously replied, “Where are they?” Any civilisation advanced enough to undertake interstellar travel would, he argued, in a brief period of cosmic time, populate its entire galaxy. Yet, we haven’t made any contact with such life. This has become the famous “Fermi Paradox”.

Various explanations for why we don’t see aliens have been proposed – perhaps interstellar travel is impossible or maybe civilisations are always self-destructive. But with every new discovery of a potentially habitable planet, the Fermi Paradox becomes increasingly mysterious. There could be hundreds of millions of potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way alone.

This impression is only reinforced by the recent discovery of a “Mega-Earth”, a rocky planet 17 times more massive than the Earth but with only a thin atmosphere. Previously, it was thought that worlds this large would hold onto an atmosphere so thick that their surfaces would experience uninhabitable temperatures and pressures. But if this isn’t true, there is a whole new category of potentially habitable real estate in the cosmos.

Finding ET

So why don’t we see advanced civilisations swarming across the universe? One problem may be climate change. It is not that advanced civilisations always destroy themselves by over-heating their biospheres (although that is a possibility). Instead, because stars become brighter as they age, most planets with an initially life-friendly climate will become uninhabitably hot long before intelligent life emerges.

The Earth has had 4 billion years of good weather despite our sun burning a lot more fuel than when Earth was formed. We can estimate the amount of warming this should have produced thanks to the scientific effort to predict the consequences of man-made greenhouse-gas emissions.

These models predict that our planet should warm by a few degrees centigrade for each percentage increase in heating at Earth’s surface. This is roughly the increased heating produced by carbon dioxide at the levels expected for the end of the 21st century. (Incidentally, that is where the IPCC prediction of global warming of around 3°C centigrade comes from.)

Over the past half-billion years, a time period for which we have reasonable records of Earth’s climate, the sun’s surface temperature increased by 4% and terrestrial temperatures should have risen by roughly 10°C. But the geological record shows that, if anything, on average temperatures fell.

Simple extrapolations show that over the whole history of life, temperatures should have risen by almost 100°C. If that were true, early life must have emerged upon a completely frozen planet. Yet, the young Earth had liquid water on its surface. So what’s going on?

Get lucky

The answer is that it us not just the sun that has changed. The Earth also evolved, with the appearance of land plants around 400m years ago changing atmospheric composition and the amount of heat Earth reflects back into space. There has also been geological change with the continental area steadily growing through time as volcanic activity added to the land-mass and this, too, had an effect on the atmosphere and Earth’s reflectivity.

Remarkably, biological and geological evolution have generally produced cooling and this has compensated for the warming effect of our ageing sun. There have been times when compensation was too slow or too fast, and the Earth warmed or cooled, but not once since life first emerged has liquid water completely disappeared from the surface.

Our planet has therefore miraculously moderated climate change for four billion years. This observation led to the development of the Gaia hypothesis that a complex biosphere automatically regulates the environment in its own interests. However, Gaia lacks a credible mechanism and has probably confused cause and effect: a reasonably stable environment is a precondition for a complex biosphere not the other way around.

Other inhabited planets in the universe must also have found ways to prevent global warming. Watery worlds suitable for life will have climates that, like the Earth, are highly sensitive to changing circumstances. The repeated cancelling of star-induced warming by “geobiological” cooling, required to keep such planets habitable, will have needed many coincidences and the vast majority of such planets will have run out of luck long before sentient beings evolved.

However, the universe is immense and a few rare worlds will have had the necessary good fortune. It may just be that Earth is one of those lucky planets – a precious, fragile jewel in space. So, perhaps inevitably, climate change will remain a bane of the continued existence of life on such planets.

 

David Waltham is the author of Lucky Planet (http://davidwaltham.com/lucky-planet/).

The Conversation

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/why-haven%E2%80%99t-we-encountered-aliens-yet-answer-could-be-climate-change

The Meaning of “Peer Review” Explained So That Even Breitbart Writers Can Understand

Another day, another dangerous claimfrom far-right opinion blog Breitbart. Usually, their reporting doesnt warrant a response article as their unproven allegations are easily andquickly dismissed by fact, but when they begin to threaten scientists with violence, it is obvious that the affable faade of the so-called alt-right is just a front for the unsavoury views of people who want to silence their opponents by any means necessary.

Climate denier James Delingpole wrote an article for Breitbart recently, titled“When You Hear A Scientist Talk About Peer Review You Should Reach For Your Browning” a sentence taken almost word for word from the Nazi play Schlageter.

Although the author appears to be familiar with pre-war German plays, he seems to not really get what the peer review process, in terms of scientific research, is all about. So what does peer review mean?

Peer review is an important part of the scientific process. It is an evaluation of a scientists work by other experts working in their field. The aim of it is simple, to make sure that whats written down is correct and well-analyzed.

This doesnt meanthat the peer review process is flawless and shouldnt be improved upon or challenged, but theargument “Id rather shoot another human being because they disagree with my view of the peer review process” is not an argument, it’s a worrying world view.

He continued by saying that peer review is just a claim to authority so people will not question the scientists’ work when they hear the phrase peer reviewed. It seems to be working, right? No-one has ever questioned the overwhelming evidence for global warming.

Unironically, and in an attempt to plug his book, Delingpole does his own claim to authority by saying “be sure to point out as I do in my book Watermelons that neither Watson and Crick nor Einstein were peer reviewed,” which is only partly true,so if you take his words at face value you would be misinformed. And in that he forgets how even the most famous scientists can make mistakes, and thus need others to review their work.

For example, Einstein added some fudge terms to his laws of general relativity to make the universe unchanging (its actually expanding) but when other scientists showed the evidence against his correction, he dropped it.

Peer review doesnt guarantee that no mistakes are published but it makes them more unlikely. Science journalists also need to keep a critical eye on whats released, as we are another quality check in the scientific process of reporting accurate information to the general public. Delingpole has previously declared that its not his job to read peer review papers. Sorry, but if you are writing and reporting on science, then it should be.

Science is a communal effort in reducing our shared ignorance. It is about producing an idea, testing if it is correct and then having other people confirm your observations and results. Threatening your opponents with violence only shows that your side has no other argument to support your unproven and untested claims.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/the-meaning-of-peer-review-explained-so-that-even-breitbart-writers-can-understand/

Five “Twins” Of Once-Erupting Super Star System Eta Carinae Located

Eta Carinae is inarguably one of the most incredible celestial objects humanity has ever observed. Composed of two stars located 7,500 light-years away from Earth, this truly massive stellar system radiates over 5 million times more energy than that of our own Sun. The expanding veil of erupted gas and dust shrouding Eta Carinae made it the only object of its kindin our galaxy for hundreds of years. Now, using archival data from NASAs Spitzer and Hubble telescopes, five twins,” also with the same type of eruption-produced dust shroud, have been located within the Milky Way, as reported in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Eta Carinaes first star is roughly 90 times the mass of the Sun, whereas the second companion star is perhaps up to 30 solar masses. They orbit violently and eccentrically around each other, passing very close to each other once every 5.5 years. The most novel feature of this binary star system is that, between 1837 and 1856, it brightened significantly. Careful observation revealed that the star was erupting a vast amount of material into space.

This Great Eruption released approximately 10 percent of the energy that would have been released if the primary star went supernova. Even though the eruption has long ceased, astronomers can still trace its light echoes: the light that is still reflecting off dust particles in the nebula surrounding Eta Carinae. However, the eruption mechanism is poorly understood, and in order to properly comprehend it, star systems behaving similarly were required for study.

Eta Carinae imaged here by Hubble, shrouded by the billowing Homunculus Nebula. NASA/ESA/Hubble SM4 ERO

The team decided to search for these elusive star systems by trawling through the archive data of two of NASAs most powerful telescopes, Hubble and Spitzer, the latter of which looks for energy in the infrared part of the spectrum. Fortunately, they came up trumps, finding five systems exhibiting the same dust shroud as Eta Carinae.

We knew others were out there, said co-investigator Krzysztof Stanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus, in a statement. It was really a matter of figuring out what to look for and of being persistent.

The way the dust shroud absorbs and emits both visible and ultraviolet light is very distinctive; thus, by looking at the characteristic energetic signature of Eta Carinae, its stellar fingerprint was determined and used to search for its twins.

The nearby spiral galaxy M83 contains at least two Eta Carinae twins. NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team, R. Khan

Last year, two twins were found in the galaxy M83, located 15 million light-years away. Soon after, others were found in galaxies NGC 6946, M101, and M51, all of which are at a distance of between 18 and 26 million light-years away. Their energetic fingerprints are very similar to that of Eta Carinae, indicating that they each likely contain at least one heavy star shielded behind five to 10 solar masses of stellar gas and dust.

The authors of the study put forward several hypotheses as to why these eruption mechanisms occur, although no definitive answer can yet be given. One idea is that less frequent eruptions are triggered by the sudden onset of the burning of carbon in a later stage of the stars life. This would cause the pulsation of the star the expansion and contraction of its outer shell to suddenly change, perhaps leading to a massive ejection event.

Another theory is that the eruptions are more frequent and episodic, and that later burning stages cause even more eruptions, but until the star systems are observed more carefully, the ultimate explanation will remain tantalizingly mysterious.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/five-twins-once-erupting-super-star-system-eta-carinae-located

Quantum Computer Makes Finding New Physics More Difficult

Physicists often work unusual hours. You will find them running experiments at 4am and 10pm. This is because, so long as the pertinent conditions inside a lab – such as temperature or light level – are fixed, the outcome of an experiment should not depend on location of the lab in space or time.

This property of the world to behave according to the same laws of physics everywhere is called Lorentz covariance, after the Dutch Nobel-Prize winner Hendrik Lorentz. All existing evidence suggests that the world is naturally Lorentz covariant.

Even a small violation of this property would be shocking. In particular, it would imply the existence of a “preferred frame”: by travelling at an appropriate velocity, in just the right part of the universe, an observer would perceive physics to be significantly simpler than it is from all other points of view. Such a violation would break the standard model, our best description of the behaviour of light and matter.

Disappearing Aether

Historically Lorentz covariance has not always been accepted. In the late 19th century, many scientists supported the idea of an aether, a homogeneous material permeating the universe, relative to which all light moves. As the Earth travels through the aether, light travelling in the same direction as the Earth should appear to move slowly, while light travelling in the opposite direction should appear to zoom past – like an express train on the other side of the tracks. In 1887, this idea was soundly rebuffed by an experiment by Michelson and Morley, who showed that the speed of light is constant, regardless of the orientation or motion of the lab.

Since the Michelson-Morley experiment, Lorentz covariance has been tested in a wide variety of experiments, to increasingly high precision. Even a very tiny asymmetry would break our models and so these new experiments can only ever increase our confidence in a Lorentz-covariant world: it remains conceivable that a violation will one day be detected. Some modern quantum field theories flaunt the rules. Searching for experimental violations has the appeal of a lottery – with very small probability, you could discover fundamentally new physics.

If new physics is waiting to be found, it just lost a big hiding place. New results, published today in Nature, dramatically improve the precision with which Lorentz covariance can be tested. The research was performed by the research group of Hartmut Häffner at the University of California at Berkeley.

Quantum Computers To The Rescue

Häffner’s day job is quantum computing. Using electrons associated with single atoms (ions) of calcium, suspended in an electric trap at extremely low temperatures, Häffner and his team can create qubits.

Qubits are the quantum-mechanical analogue of classical bits – the 0s and 1s that run our classical computers. But they are unlike classical bits and more like Schrodinger’s cat, because they can be “dead” and “alive” at the same time, which is to say they can be in two different states at once.

The world at the scale of an electron works very differently than the one we live in. But suspending our beliefs of the world of big things has plenty of benefits. Quantum computing has the promise of very powerful applications, including efficient code-breaking and fast simulation of chemical reactions. It has driven massive development of quantum computing hardware, drawing interest from Google, Microsoft and the UK government.

Häffner realised that this new fancy hardware could be used for experiments unrelated to quantum computing. It occurred to him that two entangled qubits could serve as sensitive detectors of slight disturbances in space.

“I wanted to do the experiment because I thought it was elegant and that it would be a cool thing to apply our quantum computers to a completely different field of physics,” he said. “But I didn’t think we would be competitive with experiments being performed by people working in this field. That was completely out of the blue.”

Häffner and his team conducted an experiment analogous to the Michelson-Morley experiment, but with electrons instead of photons of light. In a vacuum chamber, he and his colleagues isolated two calcium ions, partially entangled them as in a quantum computer, and then monitored the electron energies in the ions over a period of 24 hours.

If space were squeezed in one or more directions – if the world is not Lorentz-covariant – then the orientation of the lab would make a difference to the energy of the electrons. This would give rise to a noticeable oscillating signal over a 12-hour period, as the earth rotates. It didn’t, showing that space is uniform in all directions, and doesn’t change shape for any reason. Häffner’s experiment achieved a precision of one part in a billion-billion, 100 times better than previous experiments involving electrons, and five times better than optical tests such as the Michelson-Morley experiment.

Häffner now hopes to make more sensitive quantum computer detectors using other ions, such as ytterbium, to gain another 10,000-fold increase in the precision measurement of Lorentz symmetry. He is also exploring with colleagues future experiments to detect the spatial distortions caused by the effects of dark matter particles, which are a complete mystery despite comprising 27% of the mass of the universe.

“For the first time we have used tools from quantum information to perform a test of fundamental symmetries, that is, we engineered a quantum state which is immune to the prevalent noise but sensitive to the Lorentz-violating effects,” Häffner said. “We were surprised the experiment just worked and now we have a fantastic new method at hand which can be used to make very precise measurements of perturbations of space.”

The Conversation

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/physics/quantum-computer-makes-finding-new-physics-more-difficult

Micro-Lending Is an Alternative to Payday Small Business Loans

Micro_banking

Image: Mashable Composite, Getty Creative, Kathy Konkle

Every day, 10% of Claudia Diniz’s sales disappear. Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit lender, siphons off the money and treats it as payment on a $35,000 loan Diniz used to stock the shelves of her Los Gatos, Calif., clothing store. Diniz, 37, loves how easy the process is. “We have months that we sell and months that we struggle,” she says. “So I say, when I sell well I pay more — and when I’m struggling I pay less.”

Opportunity Fund developed the EasyPay loan in order to serve businesses who don’t qualify for regular term loans. The organization also hopes the loan will prevent entrepreneurs from turning to merchant cash advances, a similar but much more expensive form of credit. “It’s just ridiculous, how much money they pay,” Diniz says of friends who are paying off cash advances from private companies.

Although she’s never had to resort to high-interest loans or merchant cash advances, Diniz knows what it’s like to be desperate for credit. She decided to open a store after her son was born, figuring that owning her own business would allow her to control her hours. Envisioning a rival to Lululemon Athletica, an upscale chain, Diniz — who is originally from Brazil — called her store Viva O Sol Brazilian Fitness & Fashion.

“It was five years ago. The market crashed, people were losing stocks and houses, and everybody in my town was closing their doors,” Diniz says of other retailers. She needed a loan, but after the financial crisis, banks were much warier about lending, especially to brand-new businesses. A retired business adviser in town recommended she contact Opportunity Fund, one of the largest micro-lenders in the state.

Opportunity Fund has provided micro-loans (from $2,600 to $10,000) and small-business loans (from $10,000 to $100,000) to California entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. The average small-business owner who works with the organization has an annual household income of just $22,000. Clients own dry cleaners and restaurants, trucking companies, and daycare centers. Most are Latino or African-American, and many are recent immigrants who don’t speak fluent English.

Diniz’s financials were strong enough that she qualified for a small-business loan right away. But many entrepreneurs who were coming to Opportunity Fund were unable to qualify for loans, even if they had strong sales. An entrepreneur might have a poor personal credit score, for example, or run a highly seasonal business, like a flower shop.

So the organization decided to create a loan that could be repaid through automatically deducting a small share of credit- and debit-card sales. The technology wasn’t new — it had long been used by merchant cash-advance providers. “The intention of EasyPay was: How can we look at this business a little differently? How can we give more weight to the cash flow side of the business?” says Alex Dang, a business development officer.

The automatic daily payments decrease the risk of lending considerably, allowing Opportunity Fund to serve more businesses and to extend larger loans than it would have otherwise. Established business owners, like Diniz, like the product because it’s convenient. EasyPay loans have a fixed interest rate of between 8.5 and 15 percent, typically have longer repayment terms than cash advances, and take a smaller share of sales — usually about 6 percent. Like payments on any other loan, payments contribute to a borrower’s credit score.

Opportunity Fund has lent $5 million through 250 EasyPay loans so far. (In February, Opportunity Fund was awarded a $50,000 grant from Wells Fargo, a sponsor of National Journal‘s Next America project.) Meanwhile, merchant cash-advance providers lend about $2 billion to small businesses nationwide each year, says Janinne Dall’Orto, senior manager at First Annapolis Consulting, a consulting firm that studies the payments industry. Merchant cash advances aren’t regulated, so there aren’t legal limits on the fees companies can charge. A typical $10,000 advance, due in six months, might carry a $3,500 fee.

One reason Opportunity Fund can afford to charge low rates is because it’s a nonprofit and a community-development financial institution, or CDFI: it’s partly supported by philanthropists and the government. It’s a lender out to charge borrowers what they can afford, not to deliver big profits. “One question that we ask every borrower is: What is a comfortable payment for you? And then we work around that,” Dang says of EasyPay loans.

In its bid to provide an alternative to merchant cash advances, Opportunity Fund is something of a David competing against a Goliath. The merchant cash-advance industry is expanding rapidly, fueled by private investment and demand from business owners like Diniz’s neighbors in Los Gatos. Dang says some of his clients report fielding repeated calls from marketers within the merchant cash-advance industry, and some have taken out several cash advances — a second to pay off a first.

But Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, a network of CDFI’s, says that EasyPay loans still have the potential to scale — through Opportunity Fund, other CDFI’s, or other kinds of lenders — and make an impact. “I think it’s going to put a lot of downward pressure on merchant advances,” he says. Savvy business owners always look for the best deal. In California right now, the best deal might be with Opportunity Fund.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/27/manageable-small-business-loans/

Bullet Time Fire Breathing With GoPro Array

Bullet Time Fire Breathing With GoPro Array

This new video by Tyler Johnson puts The Matrix’s bullet time special effects to shame. Using his own homemade camera array out of 24 GoPro cameras, Tyler captured Go Pro Camera‘s music supervisor David Kelley breathing fire in flow motion that has the web drooling.

 

Read more: http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2013/10/17/fire-breathing-with-gopro-array/

Should We Edit Out Genetic Disease?

As genomic medicine advances, the possibility of manipulating our genetic makeup, and that of our future children, is rapidly becoming a reality. But, even if we could edit out genetic disease, does that mean we should?

The launch of the 100,000 Genomes Project by the government in 2012 is part of a wider trend to launch whole-genome sequencing into mainstream healthcare. Whole genome sequencing the examination of a persons entire DNA sequence is set to drastically alter the ways we approach health and disease. By providing detailed information about a persons genetic constitution, genome sequencing has the potential to explain both current health problems as well as forecast future ones. This may be through identifying susceptibility to late-onset diseases, such as Alzheimers disease, or revealing our carrier status for inheritable conditions that is, conditions we unknowingly carry in our genes that we could pass on to our children.

Starting To Become A Reality

Genome sequencing appears set to eventually become a standard part of pregnancy planning. Private genetics companies already use the techniques to screen couples for large numbers of genetic conditions simultaneously, before the female partner even becomes pregnant. If the couple is found to be at risk of passing on a genetic condition, they are offered various interventions to prevent the birth of an affected child. It is anticipated that embryo genome editing techniques techniques to remove disease-causing genetic mutations might one day be among these interventions.

While genome sequencing on a mass scale is now largely feasible, important questions are yet to be answered about the ways they could, and should, be used. One group whose voices have been underrepresented in these debates are those of people already living with genetic disease.

Imagining Futures

We conducted 36 in-depth interviews. FeudMoth/www.shutterstock.com

My research, the Imagining Futures project which has now also been transformed into an art installation by Esther Fox at the Science Museum, London explored the perspectives of people affected by a genetic disorder, focusing on one particular condition: spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Like many of the other genetic diseases for which genome sequencing could be used to prevent, spinal muscular atrophy is both variable and unpredictable. It causes muscle weakness and breathing problems across a wide spectrum of severity, ranging from death in infancy to adult-onset disability.

Through 36 in-depth interviews with people living with spinal muscular atrophy (meaning either they or their family member had the condition), followed by a nationwide survey of 337 families affected by the condition, I explored attitudes towards genetic screening, and its associated social and ethical dilemmas. The results were, perhaps unsurprisingly, complex.

While most people (75%) supported some form of screening for spinal muscular atrophy, there was marked ambivalence. Concerns were raised particularly by people diagnosed with the disorder about the implications for society should people with their condition stop coming into the world.

For people with the disorder who live full and satisfying lives in spite of, or even because of, their condition, it is not hard to see how even the idea of screening is threatening. Amelia, who is in her late twenties with spinal muscular atrophy, said:

I cant support screening, for the simple reason that I have SMA. If I, of all people, support screening, then what I am saying about my own life? It would be the same as me saying that people like me shouldnt have been born.

Among parents who had lost a young child to spinal muscular atrophy, however, support for screening was understandably stronger. Nevertheless, even within this group, experience with the disorder was not usually presented as entirely negative. Rebecca, the mother of a baby (Oliver) who died from the disorder at nine months, viewed the situation in a way that was typical of other parents in her situation, even those who supported screening:

For all the heartache and pain we went through, I wouldnt look back now and wish Oliver hadnt been born. He changed the lives of everyone he met. I would have missed out on that too had he not been born. So yes, we might have had a different child (without SMA), but that child wouldnt be Oliver. And for me thats the point.

When considering whether (and how) to eradicate a genetic disorder from the human gene pool, its important that we consider the views of people like Rachael and Amelia, whose experiences would disappear alongside the condition. Life with genetic disease is usually difficult and painful, but it is also often filled with positivity, triumph and growth not only for the person with the disorder, but also their families and wider society. The stories told by these families highlight the various ways that even stories of pain and difficulty have something positive to offer society. Ultimately, they reflect a fundamental part of what makes us human.

Felicity Boardman, Senior Research Fellow, University of Warwick

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/should-we-edit-out-genetic-disease

SpaceX Releases Inspiring Video of Dragon’s Historic Journey Through Space

Spacex-releases-inspiring-video-of-dragon-s-historic-journey-through-space-96c50411dd

SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first privately-built spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. Now, the company has released a YouTube video that follows its historic journey through space, from liftoff to its return drop in the Pacific Ocean.

The video begins with footage from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch on May 22 that carried the Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It also features footage of it orbiting the Earth, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit opening Dragon’s hatch and SpaceX’s reaction to the successful mission.


Not only was the Dragon the first privately developed vehicle in history to ever successfully attach to the International Space Station, only four governments — the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency — had previously achieved this feat.

SpaceX — which has a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 supply missions — is gearing up for more launches in the near future. The first contracted cargo flight is scheduled for September.

What do you think of the video? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of SpaceX

BONUS: SpaceX and NASA’s Historic Dragon Capsule ISS Docking in Pictures

Where Is Planet Nine?

How close arewe tofinding Planet Nine? A new paper seems to suggest that the solution to the mystery is actually much closer than we previously thought.

Matthew Holman and Matthew Payne fromthe Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have used observations by the Cassini spacecraftto reduce the potential area in the sky where Planet Nine might be hiding. The region is found in the southern sky, roughly in the direction of the constellation of Cetus. The likely area extends over 20 degreesin all directions;by comparison,the full moon measuresonly half a degree across.

Planet Nine is a hypothetical planet proposed in January by Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin to explain why objects beyond the orbit of Neptune have their closest point to the Sun in the same location.

In February, French researchers announced that by using data from the NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, they were able to narrow down the area where Planet Nine might be hiding. They used the perturbations, or lack thereof,in Saturn’s orbitto establish where the planet might be. Saturn would only be perturbed if Planet Nine was at its closest approach, so not seeing any perturbationstells us that Planet Nine is not very close to the Sun right now.

In the latest study, available online, the two researchers used a sophisticated statistical technique called MarkovChain Monte Carlo to reduce the potential hiding place of Planet Nine even further. While the data from Cassini doesnt showany perturbations that cannot be explained with current models, those studies dismiss the perturbations as noise.Holman andPayne, therefore, decided to lookfor potential Planet Nine models that would not onlyfit the values, but alsobolster support for the perturbations as a real effect.

We put Planet Nine at a whole different slew of locations all different possibilities on the sky, different distances, different masses and tried to find out whether that constrains things even more, said Payne to New Scientist.

According to the model, Planet Nine could be located in two narrow strips of the sky. The team thenoverlapped these regions with Batygin and Browns suggested orbit and got an even smaller area.

Astronomers are already looking at the suggested region andwillhopefully soon find out whether there are nine planets in the Solar System.

[H/T:New Scientist]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/scientists-further-reduce-search-area-planet-nine