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NASA’s Kepler finds 1,284 new planets

Gorkha Post

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CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA has announced that the discovery of 1,284 new planets outside our solar system, more than doubling the number of known exoplanets found with the Kepler space telescope.

“This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington.

The unmanned Kepler space observatory, which launched in 2009, has been scanning 150,000 stars for signs of orbiting bodies, particularly those that might be able to support life.

It works by observing a dimming in the light of a star, known as a transit, each time an orbiting planet passes in front of it.

“Of the nearly 5,000 total planet candidates found to date, more than 3,200 now have been verified, and 2,325 of these were discovered by Kepler,” NASA said in a statement.

Of the new trove, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size, the US space agency said.

“Nine of these orbits in their sun’s habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool.”

The addition of these nine means that 21 exoplanets are now known to be possibly circling their stars in the habitable zone, and may harbor life.

However, Kepler is a “statistical mission”, NASA scientists said, and is not designed to probe further into the conditions of certain planets that exist in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” of their stars — neither too hot nor too cold to sustain life.

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That means even the most advanced space telescopes now being built, including the James Webb Space Telescope, may not be able to shed much more light on the nature of life on another of these exoplanets, if life does exist.

“Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy,” said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA headquarters.

“Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars.

“This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.”

The latest trove of planets was confirmed by a new statistical method, instead of the time-consuming one-by-one process that was used previously.

This statistical analysis method can be applied to many planet candidates simultaneously, according to Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University, and lead author of a paper describing the findings in The Astrophysical Journal.

Kepler survived an emergency last month, when some kind of “transient event… triggered a barrage of false alarms that eventually overwhelmed the system”, NASA said.

AFP

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Researchers successfully grow human cells in sheep embryos

Raghu Kshitiz

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Researchers successfully grow human cells in sheep embryos. Represenatational image

KATHMANDU — In an incredible development that could possibly go a long way in medical practices, scientists in California are working on a way to reduce organ transplants and rejections: Growing embryos in sheep and pigs containing human patients’ cells.

In a transplant breakthrough, scientists at the University of California said they have achieved sheep embryos in which around one in every 10,000 cells was human, according to UPI report.

The researchers presented preliminary findings Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

The new finding paves way for genetically tailoring the organs to be compatible with the immune system of the patient receiving them, thus removing the possibility of rejection, the report said.

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The hybrid embryos contain both human and sheep cells and were created in an early step toward growing human organs in farm animals before transplanting them into patients.

Last year, the same researchers introduced human stem cells into early pig embryos, producing embryos with about one in every 100,000 cells being human.

The experiment began with Hiro Nakauchi, from the University of Tokyo, who grew a mouse with a rat pancreas and a rat with a mouse pancreas.

When cells from the rat-grown mouse pancreas were transplanted into a diabetic mouse, they made enough insulin to cure the condition without being rejected.

Mice and rats are different types of rodents with the former having thin slightly hairy tails, while rats have thicker hairless scaly tails.

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“The next step was to move into large animals,” Nakauchi said. Since this was prohibited in Japan, he moved to the Stanford University in the US.

Nakauchi’s rodent work has demonstrated that you can “grow organs in a different species and cure a disease without [suppressing the immune system],” added co-researcher Pablo Ross, Professor at from the University of California, Davis.

“We are working together to translate the technology into humans, to solve the terrible shortage of organs for transplantation. In the US, 20 people die every day because they cannot get the organs they need,” Ross explained.

With Agency Inputs

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