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Astronomers found an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the solar system’s nearest star

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Proxima b an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of the nearest star to our own in the Proxima Centauri solar system — located just 4.2 light-years from Earth — has been confirmed by an international team of astronomers from the University of Geneva. The team used the Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) spectrograph, attached to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) located in the Chilean desert to make their observation.

The team’s findings are published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The nearest stars to the Sun, including Proxima Centauri — home to the Earth-like Proxima b, confirmed to exist by the ESPRESSO instrument. (NASA Photojournal)

Proxima b, an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star, was initially detected four years ago by an older spectrograph, HARPS, as a disturbance in the star’s orbit, which suggested the presence of another body. These measurements were followed up by the more sophisticated ESPRESSO instrument, currently the most powerful spectrograph on Earth — designed by the same team from Geneva, and essentially HARPS’ successor.

[Read: The asteroid that killed dinosaurs hit at worst possible angle, study finds]

“We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years,” says Francesco Pepe, a professor in the Astronomy Department in UNIGE’s Faculty of Science and the head of ESPRESSO. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it’s gratifying and just reward for the teamwork lasting nearly 10 years.”

ESPRESSO carried out measurements of Proxima Centauri’s radial velocity with a stunning accuracy of 30 cm/s, which is about three times more precise than the measurements of HARPS. Thus the astronomers were able to confirm that a planet of at least 1.17 times the mass of Earth orbits the tiny low-mass star once every 11.2 days. The measurement is a slight refinement on that made by HARPS, as the earlier spectrograph had placed Proxima b’s mass at around 1.3 Earth masses.

“Confirming the existence of Proxima b was an important task,” the paper’s lead author Alejandro Suarez Mascareño. “It’s one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighborhood.”

Goldilocks and the Red Dwarfs (wait… that’s not right)

Excitingly Proxima b exists with its star system’s habitable zone, the region in which water is able to exist as a liquid, as it is neither ‘too hot or too cold, but just right’ a state that results in the alternative moniker ‘the Goldilocks Zone.’

An artist’s impression of Proxima b, an exoplanet orbiting the nearest star outside the solar system, now confirmed by ESPRESSO (Observatoire européen austral, (ESO))

This may could as something as a surprise considering that Proxima b’s incredibly short orbit of just 11 days implies that it is very close to its parent star. And this is certainly the case, Proxima b is twenty times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun.

Fortunately, Proxima Centauri is much smaller than the Sun and radiates far less energy. This means that the amount of surface energy received by Proxima b is comparable to the energy we receive here on Earth from the Sun. Thus, making the presence of liquid water a possibility.

A simulation suggesting what a water-rich Proxima b may look like. Like our moon, it is likely tidally locked to its parent star, rotating once per “year.” Image credit: The Cosmic Companion / Made in Universe Sandbox

But, don’t be speculating about life on Proxima b just yet. It may be an ideal candidate for the search for biomarkers — the telltale signs of life — but there are other conditions on Proxima b that may not favour lifeforms. For example, as Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf not a star in its main sequence like the Sun, therefore it bombards Proxima b with about 400 times the X-Rays that we receive from our star.

Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE’s Astronomy Department responsible for ESPRESSO’s scientific performance and data processing, gives an idea of the kind of questions that need to be addressed before we get too excited about life on this exoplanet: “Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays? And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favorable conditions existed?

“We’re going to tackle all these questions, especially with the help of future instruments like the RISTRETTO spectrometer,” says Lovis referring to an instrument that is being built just for the purpose of examining Proxima b’s light absorption looking for distinctive fingerprints that organic molecules leave on light passing through the planet’s atmosphere.

But, even if the chances of life on Proxima b are slim, worry not. There is another…

A new hope? Maybe?

The measurements made by ESPRESSO may have delivered something of an unexpected surprise. The planet may not be alone in it’s Goldilocks Zone. The astronomers found a second signal in data collected by the spectrograph, the source of which they have yet to identify. If the origin of the signal is an exoplanet, it could be a first for the detection of such bodies.

“If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one-third of the mass of the Earth,” Pepe adds. “It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method.”

The ESPRESSO device may look unassuming but much like the science of exoplanet hunting it continues to deliver despite being in its infancy (UNIGE)

Maybe the least extraordinary element of the discovery of a tiny companion planet would be the fact that ESPRESSO was able to make it. Since it began operations in 2017, the spectrometer has met its developers’ expectations and exceeded them.

The progress made by the instrument reflects the burgeoning leaps made in the science of exoplanet hunting — afield still in its infancy. Since the discovery of the first exoplanet around a Sun-like star in 1995 the exoplanet-catalogue has exploded with thousands of examples.

And with the launch of ESO’s CHEOPS satellite last year and the forthcoming development of the James Webb Space Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, it is likely the most exciting developments are still to come.

Michel Mayor, co-winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of the first exoplanet around a Sun-like star with Didier Queloz in 1995, is one of the architects of the ESPRESSO project. Even he is impressed with the spectrograph’s latest performance.

“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth,” concludes Mayor, honorary professor in the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Science. “It’s completely unheard of.”

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by Robert Lea. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Prolific Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo is at it again with another prediction on Cupertino’s upcoming products. Specifically, Kuo believes Apple is planning to launch a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro and a new MacBook Air with the newfangled chips as early as this year, as well as 14 and 16-inch Pros next year. In a research note, Kuo says(via MacRumors):

We predict that Apple will launch new MacBook models including the new 13.3-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20, the new ‌MacBook Air‌ equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ in 4Q20 or 1Q21, and new 14- and 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models equipped with the ‌Apple Silicon‌ and all-new form factor design in late 2Q21 or 3Q21.

Apple is also rumored to announce a redesigned iMac with a design more akin to the iPad Pro this year, although it probably won’t feature an ARM processor in 2020.

The company has developed an expertise in ARM processors since the inception of the iPhone, launching devices with processors that are often a generation ahead of competitors in performance while being more efficient to boot. At WWDC, the company claimed its silicon will both be more powerful and use less power than existing desktop processors, although the announcement was light on specifics.

Developers were offered a new Mac Mini featuring an A12Z Bionic process — essentially a tweaked iPad Pro chip — after WWDC. While we may see that chip in the new MacBook Air, being Apple’s entry-level laptop, we expect to see a big leap in performance on the new MacBook Pros, as those will have to compete with the existing Intel Models.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say — we’ll (hopefully) find out more later this year.

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Published July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

Napier Lopez

Napier Lopez

July 10, 2020 — 19:05 UTC

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Far Cry 6 details leak, and our fingers are crossed for a female protagonist

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Ubisoft was apparently planning to reveal a new Far Cry game at its weekend E3 replacement event. Today, a leak gave away most of the major details about the game, including a look at the main villain. Ubisoft has also confirmed we’ll be seeing the game at the show.

Anton would not be pleased. See you on Sunday at #UbiForward. pic.twitter.com/HieToJzDxp

— Far Cry (@FarCrygame) July 10, 2020

We already suspected there was going to be a Far Cry game at this weekend’s event. Ubisoft allegedly has five games coming out this fiscal year — we could already account for Watch Dogs LegionAssassin’s Creed ValhallaRainbow Six: Quarantine, and Gods & Monsters. All we knew about the fifth game was that it was allegedly a new release in one of Ubisoft‘s major franchises. Far Cry is really the only other big series Ubisoft has that’s not already represented on that list. So here you go: Far Cry 6.

Far Cry 6 page just show up on PS HK Store. 🧐 pic.twitter.com/LXZ1EhGykG

— anjohn0422 (@anjohn0422) July 10, 2020

The game’s cover image and details leaked via the PlayStation Store, where a listing for the game appeared, presumably a few days ahead of schedule. The description that accompanied the picture describes the game thus:

Welcome to Yara, a tropical paradise frozen in time. As the dictator of Yara, Anton Castillo is intent on restoring his nation back to its former glory by any means, with his son, Diego, following in his bloody footsteps. Their ruthless oppression has ignited a revolution… Play as Dani Rojas, a local Yaran and become a guerrilla fighter to liberate the nation…

Wow, that sounds like it could almost be a description of a Just Cause game. When does Rico Fucking Rodriguez (yes, that’s his full legal name) show up with the hookshot to help Dani out?

Read: Microsoft may get Mortal Kombat and LEGO if it buys WB Games

All that said, I’m pleased that the player character will actually be a character this time around. After Far Cry 5 and New Dawn hamstrung their villains by making them menace faceless, mute player characters, we might finally get to see some more of that fun hero/villain interaction that makes Far Cry games so memorable. Also, with a name like Dani Rojas, I think there’s a good chance the hero could be a woman or at least have a selectable gender. I sure hope Dani’s a woman — it’d certainly add a new spin to things.

The other thing you’ll probably have already noticed is who they’ve cast as Anton Castillo: Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of game characters made the face and voice of a well-known actor — the ability to unbind characters from what their actors look like is one of the things I love about games (and animation). In my humble opinion no game has thus far benefited from the inclusion of such an actor’s conspicuous presence, though I’m willing to revisit that when Cyberpunk 2077 comes out and we can see how much of that game actually features Keanu Reeves. That said, I’m willing to let the man who played Gus Fring have his shot at playing a great game villain, so we’ll have to see if he changes my mind.

Expect to see the game officially unveiled at Ubisoft‘s show this Sunday. If the PlayStation Store leak is accurate, it’ll be released on February 18, 2021.

Read next:

Apple reportedly planning two MacBooks with ARM processors for 2020

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Holy Sheet: Apply Einstein’s ‘8th wonder of the world’ to your money in Google Sheets

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“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it,” Albert Einstein once said. For those who aren’t financial gurus, allow me to put this quote in layman’s terms: everyone who’s able to save up a little, and is patient enough, can get wealthy. It’s not how celebrities get rich, it’s how the millionaire next door gets born.

So how does it work?

To become this achievable millionaire next door, you don’t have to win the lottery, or have an IQ as high as Einstein’s. All you have to understand is one investment concept called compound interest, and of course make it work for you.

It works as follows. Say you invest $1000 in the broader market, using a relatively low-risk index fund (a basket of a broad range of stocks) such as the S&P 500 or an even more diversified total world stock market index fund, and you gain 8% in a year on capital gains and dividends (sort of the average annual return). After a year, your capital has grown from $1000 to $1080. Your profit is $80 after the first year.

Now let’s say you choose to keep the $1080 invested (including reinvesting the dividends). After the second year the $1080 grows another 8% (again, this is hypothetical, as the annual return fluctuates) to $1166.40, meaning your annual profit has gone up from $80 to $86.40.

Your money is growing faster because you’re not just growing your principal of $1000, but also last year’s earned interest of $80. You’re making interest on interest, in other words compound interest. On average your yearly earnings will grow, just by keeping it invested, and thus making it work for you.

How can we simulate this?

The main ingredients for generating compound interest are:

  • Investing money, preferably adding a steady amount each month. This is called dollar-cost averaging, and prevents you from going all in at the wrong time (i.e. the market’s low).
  • Time, lots of time, for your money to grow by reaping the benefits of compound interest generated by the market. You’re aiming for the so-called hockey stick effect to kick in, which means the longer you let your money work, the faster it rises.
Hockey stick effect for doubling your money each year, on a $10,000 principal

That’s all there is to it. So you’re probably wondering what would happen if you actually put aside say $500 a month for say 30 years, while the market’s 8% average return would continue to occur. Well, we’ve created a template for you just for that.

All you have to do is head over to the Google Sheet document, make a copy of it for yourself by heading to the menu and hitting File -> Make a copy. Then, change the main parameters on the right under ‘Capital already invested’ if you already have money invested in the market, ‘Extra savings invested per month’, and optionally tweak the ‘Average monthly return’ to increase the annual return (in red) if you expect a lower or higher annual return than 8%.

So there you have it. Money doesn’t necessarily just have to be for the few, as long as you have patience and perseverance.

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