Scientists are certain a big exoplanet is close to our Solar System…

Sitting about 6 light-years away from our sun, the red dwarf named Barnard’s star is the nearest solitary star to our solar system and the fastest-moving star in our night sky. It’s also really wobbly.

Chalk up the wobbles to old age if you like: The star may have been born some 10 billion years ago — making it more than twice the age of our sun— and it has only 16 percent of the sun’s mass. But astronomers prefer a different explanation. A new paper published today (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature combines 20 years of research to conclude “with 99 percent confidence” that Barnard’s star is being tugged about its orbit by a nearby exoplanet — a world that’s roughly three times the size of Earth and loaded with ice.

Astronomers caught wind of this possible super-Earth (that is, an exoplanet that has a mass greater than Earth’s but less than the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune) nearly 20 years ago while taking velocity measurements of Barnard’s star. The scientists saw that, every 230 days or so, Barnard’s star seemed to wobble its way closer to our solar system before slowly retreating again. The presence of a large planet, which could exert its own gravitational influence on Barnard’s star as it orbits around its host, was a possible explanation. Still, more data was needed to say for certain. [9 Most Intriguing Earth-Like Planets]

Now, following 20 years of observations from telescopes around the world, the data is there. In a new study, an international team of scientists looked at more than 700 velocity measurements of Barnard’s star and determined that the likeliest explanation for the star’s wobbly behavior is the influence of a nearby planet orbiting its local sun every 233 days.

Barnard’s star is the second closest star system, and the nearest single star to us.

Credit: IEEC/Science-Wave – Guillem Ramisa

“We used observations from seven different instruments, spanning 20 years, making this one of the largest and most extensive datasets ever used for precise radial velocity studies,” study author Ignasi Ribas, of Spain’s Institut de Ciències de l’Espai, said in a statement. “We are over 99 percent confident that the planet is there.”

This probable new planet — which the astronomers have dubbed Barnard’s star b — likely sits about as far away from its host star as Mercury does from our sun. That puts the planet near the small star’s “snow line,” or the celestial border beyond which any planetary water would be frozen. Scientists have previously suggested that the snow line is a prime place for planet formation, as frozen matter can easily glom onto other bits of gas and debris swirling around the nearby star.

Unfortunately, that also puts Barnard’s star b in a precarious position for hosting life. The planet is close enough to its host star that it likely does not have an atmosphere, and far enough from it that surface temperatures likely dip to about minus 240 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 150 degrees Celsius). That means any water is likely to be permanently frozen, the researchers wrote.

This artistic impression shows what a sunset might look like on an exoplanet orbiting Barnard’s star.

Credit: Martin Kornmesser/ESO

While this might prevent Barnard’s star b from being a candidate for extraterrestrial life, the nearby super-Earth is still a prime subject for honing scientists’ exoplanet discovery and monitoring techniques. Future telescope missions might be able to image the neighboring world directly.

According to study co-author Cristina Rodríguez-López, researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, this discovery represents “a boost to continue on searching for exoplanets around our closest stellar neighbors, in the hope that eventually we will come upon one that has the right conditions to host life.”


Science: Humans in France practiced brain surgery on this cow 5,000 years ago!

[In this instance a type of brain surgery, was practiced on a cow, which was practiced quite a lot on humans. The Ancient Greeks did it, the Romans did it as did other non-whites. Scientists don’t know how much of this was based on medicine or ritual. It seems to be mostly medical related. But in Russia they found people who did it as a ritual.

Scientists could see that many people survived this process because the bone began to heal around the hole. It is incredible to think whites were trying this type of brain surgery thousands of years ago. They actually could drill through the skull of a living person. Some died during the process, but there are many who lived, and when scientists first discovered this over a century ago, they were utterly astounded by it!]

Humans Probably Practiced Brain Surgery on This Cow 5,000 Years Ago

A 3D digital image of the cow skull and its enigmatic hole, which was likely evidence of Neolithic trepanation. The bar on the left represents 4 inches (10 centimeters).

Credit: Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

About 5,000 years ago, humans used crude stone tools to puncture a hole in a cow’s head, making it the earliest known instance of skull surgery in an animal.

It’s unclear whether the cow (Bos taurus) was alive or dead when the operation took place, but if it was alive, the animal didn’t survive for long, given that its skull shows no signs of healing, researchers said in a new study.

However, the intent of the surgery remains a mystery. If the operation — known as trepanation, a primitive type of brain surgery — was meant to save the cow, it would be the oldest known evidence of veterinary surgery on an animal, said the study’s lead researcher, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, director of research specializing in human evolution at France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse. [25 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Researchers unearthed the ancient cow skull during an excavation lasting from 1975 to 1985 at the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand in Vende?e, a region on the Atlantic coast of western France. An analysis showed that the cow skull dated to sometime between 3400 B.C. and 3000 B.C., and that the animal was clearly an adult, the researchers found.

When past archaeologists first looked at the nearly complete cow cranium, they thought another cow must have caused the gouge. But the hole — which is 2.5 by 1.8 inches (6.4 by 4.6 centimeters) — was so peculiar that one of the original researchers asked Ramirez Rozzi and Froment to take a second look at it in 2012.

“At that time, we looked, and very quickly, we saw that it was trepanation in the cow skull; it was not a goring at all,” Ramirez Rozzi told Live Science.

If another animal had gored the cow, the violent blow would have caused fractures or splintering around the wound, the researchers said. And “no evidence of such a fracture, either internally or externally, can be seen,” the researchers wrote in the study. Nor does the hole look like it was caused by an infectious disease, such as syphilis or tuberculosis, Ramirez Rozzi and Froment noted.

While using a scanning electron microscope, the researchers saw cut marks around the hole in the cow’s head that looked eerily similar to scrape marks seen on the skulls of human trepanation patients, Ramirez Rozzi said.

Notice how the cut marks on the cow’s skull (a, b, c) look similar to the cut marks on a Neolithic human skull (d, e). These striking similarities indicate that the technique used for trepanation in humans was also used on the cow. The bar represents 0.4 inches (1 cm).

Credit: Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

The earliest evidence of trepanation in a human skull dates to the Mesolithic period, which lasted from about 8000 B.C. to 2700 B.C., the researchers said. Archaeologists have several ideas about why ancient people would scrape or drill a hole into a skull. Perhaps the technique was meant to solve a medical condition, such as epilepsy, or maybe it was part of a ritual, the researchers said.

In the cow’s case, it’s not clear why Neolithic people would have gone the extra mile to save a cow with some kind of medical disorder, Ramirez Rozzi said. It’s more likely that these ancient people were using the cow’s skull for trepanation practice, he said.

The study was published online today (April 19) in the journal Scientific Reports.


IMPORTANT: 4,500 year old ramp found that was used to build the Great Pyramid of Giza!

This 4,500-year-old system used to pull alabaster stones up a steep slope was discovered at Hatnub, an ancient quarry in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Two staircases with numerous postholes are located next to this ramp. An alabaster block would have been placed on a sled, which was tied by ropes to the wooden poles.

Credit: Yannis Gourdon/Ifao

Archaeologists have long wondered exactly how the ancient Egyptians constructed the world’s biggest pyramid, the Great Pyramid. Now, they may have discovered the system used to haul massive stone blocks into place some 4,500 years ago.

They discovered the remains of this system at the site of Hatnub, an ancient quarry in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. The contraption would have been used to transport heavy alabaster stones up a steep ramp, according to the archaeologists working at the site, from the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (French Institute for Oriental Archaeology)in Cairo and from the University of Liverpool in England. And it was possibly how Egyptians built the Great Pyramid, in the name of the pharaoh Khufu. [In Photos: Inside Egypt’s Great Pyramids]

“This system is composed of a central ramp flanked by two staircases with numerous post holes,” Yannis Gourdon, co-director of the joint mission at Hatnub, told Live Science. “Using a sled which carried a stone block and was attached with ropes to these wooden posts, ancient Egyptians were able to pull up the alabaster blocks out of the quarry on very steep slopes of 20 percent or more.”

“This kind of system has never been discovered anywhere else,” Gourdon said. “The study of the tool marks and the presence of two [of] Khufu’s inscriptions led us to the conclusion that this system dates back at least to Khufu’s reign, the builder of the Great Pyramid in Giza,” he added.

The Great Pyramid at Giza is Egypt's largest pyramid, built for the pharaoh Khufu.
The Great Pyramid at Giza is Egypt’s largest pyramid, built for the pharaoh Khufu.

Credit: Mikhail Nekrasov/Shutterstock

“As this system dates back at least to Khufu’s reign, that means that during the time of Khufu, ancient Egyptians knew how to move huge blocks of stone using very steep slopes. Therefore, they could have used it for the construction [of] his pyramid,” Gourdon said.

The Great Pyramid is the largest of the three Giza Pyramids, built for each of three pharaohs —Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu’s is the largest pyramid ever constructed in Egypt, standing 481 feet (146 m) tall when it was first built. It was considered a wonder of the world by ancient writers.

While archaeologists generally agree that workers at this pyramid used a ramp system to move stone blocks up the pyramid, how exactly this system worked has been a long-standing mystery, one which this discovery may help solve.

Originally published on Live Science.