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Super-puff worlds: These Jupiter-sized planets are light as cotton candy

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Astronomers once believed that most solar systems would be much like our own, with small rocky planets near their sun, accompanied by gas giants orbiting the star at greater distances. Beginning in 1992, researchers began to find worlds orbiting alien stars, and soon found solar systems came in a wide variety of formations.

Today, astronomers know of more than 4,000 worlds orbiting other stars. Of these, 15 have exceedingly low densities, lower than that of cotton candy.

Three of these planets — dubbed super-puff worlds — are found in the Kepler 51 star system, 2,600 light years from Earth. Larger than the size of Jupiter, these planets contain less than one percent of the mass of the largest planet in our solar system.

Kepler 51 d (closeup) with Kepler 51 C in the background, as it would appear near closest approach between the two worlds. Image credit: The Cosmic Companion | Created in Universe Sandbox

These super-puff worlds have densities less than 0.1 grams per cubic centimeter. By comparison, the density of Earth is around 55 times greater, at around 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. Jupiter weighs in at around 1.33 grams per cubic centimeter, while Saturn (the least-dense planet in our solar system) checks in just shy of 0.7 grams per cubic centimeter.

“We knew they were low density. But when you picture a Jupiter-sized ball of cotton candy — that’s really low density,” said Jessica Libby-Roberts, a graduate student in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Libby-Roberts examined these worlds in an effort to better understand their composition and to learn how such bizarre worlds may have formed.

A size comparision of the three worlds of Kepler 51 compared to the planets of our solar system
A look at how the three known planets orbiting Kepler 51 compare in size to the planets of our own solar system. Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, her team found something unusual — the atmospheres of these worlds was not transparent as they expected —the air surrounding these planets was covered in an obscuring haze.

“We observed two transits each of Kepler 51b and 51d with the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the Hubble Space Telescope. Combining new WFC3 transit times with re-analyzed Kepler data and updated stellar parameters, we confirmed that all three planets have densities lower than 0.1 [grams per cubic centimeter],” researchers reported in The Astronomical Journal.

Utilizing computer simulations and other tools, the team determined these fluffy worlds are largely composed of hydrogen and helium, which fill the atmosphere with low-mass material, lowering the density of the worlds. at high altitudes, the air contains methane. When this gas encounters ultraviolet light, it forms a haze, similar to the one seen on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

“It definitely sent us scrambling to come up with what could be going on here. We expected to find water, but we couldn’t observe the signatures of any molecule,” Libby-Roberts explained.

Currently, astronomers know of three exoplanets orbiting Kepler-51. Kepler 51-b and c were discovered in 2012, and Kepler 51-d was first spotted two years later. Each of these worlds orbits significantly closer to their sun than the Earth does around the Sun — between one-quarter and one half of the Earth-Sun distance. The NASA video below shows a look at how the Kepler and Tess spacecrafts search for worlds around other stars.

These super-puff worlds were also found to be shedding their atmospheres to space, the team found. The innermost of these worlds, Kepler 51-b, is thought to be losing tens of billions of tons of its atmosphere to the void of space ever second. At that rate, this planet will lose its puffiness over roughly one billion years. After that time, the world will resemble a smaller version of the planet Neptune, researchers determined.

The star around which these worlds orbit, Kepler 51, has about the same mass and temperature as our Sun, but is only 90 percent of the size of our local star. By comparison, this trio of worlds have masses a few times greater than the Earth, and orbit their stars in a matter of months.

This research suggests that these weird super-puff planets may be common in young solar systems.

If planets resembling cotton candy weren’t enough, astronomers also recently revealed a massive candy cane near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s a sweet time for astronomy.

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by James Maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat. 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.

Celebrate Pride 2020 with us this month!

Why is queer representation so important? What’s it like being trans in tech? How do I participate virtually? You can find all our Pride 2020 coverage here.

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How to turn off political ads on Facebook

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Welcome to TNW Basics, a collection of tips, guides, and advice on how to easily get the most out of your gadgets, apps, and other stuff.

It’s election year in the US, which means you’re probably going to see lots of political ads. While some social media platforms have banned them — such as Twitter — Facebook has yet to do so. But luckily, as of this June, it does offer an option to shut them off yourself.

Facebook‘s history with political ads, and politics in general, is a complicated and unpleasant one. Suffice to say the platform’s infamous for hosting a great deal of disinformation, much of it centered in the political sphere, and several ads have had some nasty imagery accompanying them. Word from Bloomberg and New York Times is that Facebook is considering banning political ads ahead of the next election, so it’s likely the company finds them as thorny and problematic as a lot of users do.

Read: Instagram now lets you pin 3 comments on your posts – here’s how

So if you want to take the initiative and remove political ads from Facebook yourself, here’s how you can do it.

First, you’ll need to use the Facebook app, as the settings are much easier to access there. Go to the settings menu under “Settings and Privacy” on the app’s menu. Once you’re there, find the Ad Preferences Setting.

Once you find that, tap on it and scroll until you find “Ad topics,” which will be listed under your interests. The Ad Topics in question are a motley collection, with alcohol, parenting, and pets being put on the same level as politics.

Select the ellipsis next to “Social Issues, Elections or Politics.” You’ll see the option to “See fewer ads on this topic.” Tap this. While it probably won’t completely eliminate political ads from your feed (Facebook doesn’t guarantee it will, hence the use of the word “fewer”), it’ll help cut down on what you do see.

And that’s it! Now you’ll see fewer political ads on Facebook. Good luck!

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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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