A Better Way to Look

K-type dwarf stars are dimmer than the Sun but brighter than faint stars. These stars live for a very long time, 17 to 70 billion years, compared to 10 billion years for the Sun. This gives plenty of time for life to evolve on any planets in their habitable zones. Also, they have less extreme activity in their youth than M-type stars (red dwarfs), the most common star type in the Milky Way Galaxy.

K-stars may be in a ‘sweet spot’ between Sun-analog stars and M-type stars astronomers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and writers of a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Scientists consider the simultaneous presence of oxygen and methane in a planet’s atmosphere to be a strong biosignature because these gases like to react with each other, destroying each other. So if they are present in an atmosphere together, that implies something is producing both of them quickly, quite possibly life.

However, because exoplanets are so remote, there needs to be significant amounts of oxygen and methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere for it to be seen by observatories on Earth. The researchers found that the oxygen-methane biosignature is likely to be stronger around a K-type star than a Sun-like star.

This stronger oxygen-methane signal has also been predicted for planets around M-type stars, but their high activity levels might make M-stars unable to host habitable worlds. K-type stars can offer the advantage of a higher probability of simultaneous oxygen-methane detection compared to Sun-like stars without the disadvantages that come along with an M-star host.

Additionally, exoplanets around K-type stars will be easier to see than those around Sun-like stars simply because K-stars are dimmer. The Sun is 10 billion times brighter than an Earth-like planet around it. That’s a lot of light you have to suppress if you want to detect an orbiting planet. A K-star might be ‘only’ a billion times brighter than an Earth-like planet orbiting it.

A Brand New Dinosaur!

Paleontologists in Australia have discovered fossil fragments from a new type of dinosaur that walked the Earth during the Early Cretaceous epoch. The new dinosaur belongs to Ornithopoda (ornithopods), a major group of herbivorous bird-hipped dinosaurs.

Galleonosaurus dorisae. Image credit: James Kuether.


Dubbed Galleonosaurus dorisae, it inhabited the rift between Australia and Antarctica approximately 125 million years ago (Cretaceous period).

Five fossilized upper jaws of the ancient beast were found at the Flat Rocks locality of the Wonthaggi Formation in a region of Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. The discovery confirms that on a global scale, the diversity of these small-bodied dinosaurs had been unusually high in the ancient rift valley that once extended between the spreading continents of Australia and Antarctica.

Galleonosaurus dorisae is a close relative of Diluvicursor pickeringi, another small ornithopod from excavations along the Otway coast to the west of the Gippsland region. However, Galleonosaurus dorisae is about 12 million years older than Diluvicursor pickeringi, showing that the evolutionary history of dinosaurs in the Australian-Antarctic rift had been lengthy.

The researchers also found that the ornithopods from Victoria are closely related to those from Patagonia in Argentina. “We are steadily building a picture of terrestrial dinosaur interchange between the shifting Gondwanan continents of Australia, South America and Antarctica during the Cretaceous period,” said Dr. Matthew Herne, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New England.

The study was published in the Journal of Paleontology.

You Didn’t Build That

Last week, Forbes magazine reported that 21-year-old Kylie Jenner was the youngest “self-made” billionaire ever. She has pulled in at least $1 billion from her makeup company Kylie Cosmetics.

Jenner bent over backwards to say that she’d started her company with her own money which she earned through modeling. “None of my money is inherited,” she said in a recent interview. It should also be pointed out that Forbes’ definition of “self-made” is farcically broad, meaning simply that her business hadn’t been directly inherited.

It’s still obviously absurd to attach the phrase “self-made” to Jenner, who is part of the wildly rich and famous Jenner-Kardashian clan. While she may be savvy about marketing and promotion, Jenner grew up in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the world with access to every advantage money could buy and then some, including years of self-promotion on a successful reality television show. The value of her makeup company lies in the celebrity she inherited from her family if not by direct inheritance of money or assets.

This isn’t just about dunking on Jenner or her popular lip kits, though. She is just the most outlandish example of a bigger problem: the persistence of the idea that the wealthy succeed because of their own genius, hard work, and perseverance. Even Donald Trump, whose parents gave him hundreds of millions of dollars, has managed to promote himself as “self-made.”

The fact of the matter is: wealthy people are mostly wealthy because their parents are wealthy. The correlation between parents’ and children’s wealth is well-established in the research.

Are wealthy parents just passing on some super-amazing genes to their kids that enable them to go on to great success by virtue of their brilliance (That’s Trump theory anyway)? Or is the environment a child is raised in the reason for their success as adults?

The environment you grow up in, the quality of education your parents can afford to give you, the investments they can make in you, the relative affluence of your neighborhood, etc. is almost twice as important as biology, economics professor Sandra Black and her coauthors write in a working paper put out this month by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

For their paper, the researchers looked at the parents of adopted children in Sweden, where there is robust data on both adoption and wealth. They examined kids’ biological and adoptive parents. Then they looked at the wealth of those adopted children at around age 44, old enough to have established themselves as adults, but generally young enough to have not yet inherited their parents’ money. (They only looked at adopted children who still had at least one living parent.)

Black and her cohorts found that the adoptive parents’ wealth was a much better predictor of whether or not their adult child was wealthy.

The outcome seems obvious, wealthy parents have the money available to invest in their children, in schooling, extracurricular activities, and college funds. They also have connections to other wealthy people that poor and middle-class people simply don’t have. This means better access to investors in your new company, for example, or a leg up getting into an Ivy League school.

Or you know, access to lucrative modeling contracts.

Kids with wealthy parents also have a fabulous safety net. And they’re apt to take more chances, plowing all their money into a lipstick company or overpaying for a piece of New York real estate for example.

Entrepreneurs are much more likely to come from wealthy families, where they feel more comfortable gambling for success. Trump’s father routinely rescued him from financial collapse. Though Jenner’s parents pushed her to go out on her own, I doubt they would leave her on the streets to fend for herself if things went belly-up.

To be sure, Black says, environment isn’t the only reason someone like Jenner can make $1 billion. You do still need some amount of intelligence or savvy to succeed.

Personally, I think Donald Trump and his ne’er-do-well kids are pretty definitive evidence against that. But I’m not a professor of economics.

The Milky Way is Really Big

The Milky Way Galaxy (the one we’re in) contains an estimated 200 billion stars. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, the Galaxy is surrounded by vast amounts of an unknown material called “dark matter” (matter that we can’t normally detect because it doesn’t interact with the electromagnetic spectrum). Astronomers know it exists because, dynamically, the Milky Way would fly apart if dark matter didn’t keep a gravitational lid on things.

Image result for milky way galaxy

You are here

Still, astronomers would like to have a more precise measure of the Galaxy’s total mass to better understand how the myriad galaxies throughout the Universe form and evolve. A team of researchers from ESO, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Astrophysical Sciences, and the University of Cambridge combined observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ESA’s Gaia satellite to study the motions of globular star clusters that orbit our Galaxy. The faster the clusters move under the entire Galaxy’s gravitational pull, the more massive it is. The team concluded the Milky Way has an equivalent mass of 1.54 trillion solar masses, most of it locked up in dark matter.

This new mass estimate puts the Milky Way Galaxy on the beefier side, compared to other galaxies in the Universe. The lightest galaxies are around a billion solar masses, while the heaviest are 30 trillion, or 30,000 times more massive. The Milky Way’s mass of 1.5 trillion solar masses is fairly normal for a galaxy of its brightness.

Previous estimates of the Milky Way’s mass ranged from 500 billion to 3 trillion solar masses. This huge margin of error arose primarily from the different methods used for measuring the distribution of dark matter, which makes up about 90% of the mass of the Galaxy.

Given the elusive nature of the dark matter, the team had to use a clever method to weigh the Milky Way, which relied on measuring the velocities of globular clusters, dense star clusters that orbit the spiral disk of the Galaxy at great distances.

The scientists used Gaia’s second data release, which includes measurements of globular clusters as far as 65,000 light-years from Earth, as a basis for the study.

Observations from Hubble allowed faint and distant globular clusters, as far as 130,000 light-years from Earth, to be added to the study. As Hubble has been observing some of these objects for a decade, it was possible to accurately track the velocities of these clusters as well.

By combining Gaia’s measurements with measurements from Hubble, the scientists could better pin down the Milky Way’s mass in a way that would be impossible without both space telescopes,

The team’s results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The Dinosaurs Were Doing Fine

You know, until that whole asteroid thing.

Image result for dinosaurs asteroid

It’s probably fine…

Most paleontologists agree that the Chicxulub asteroid impact, possibly coupled with intense volcanic activity, wiped out non-avian dinosaurs (all dinosaurs except birds) at the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago.

However, there is debate about whether dinosaurs were flourishing or whether they had already been in decline due to climate change. A new study that modeled the changing environment and dinosaur species distribution in North America suggests that dinosaurs were likely not in decline before the Chicxulub strike.

According to the study, dinosaurs as a whole were adaptable animals, capable of coping with the environmental changes and climatic fluctuations that happened during the last few million years of the Late Cretaceous. It suggests previous analyses have underestimated the number of species at the end of the Cretaceous period.

During the Cretaceous, North America was split in two by a large inland sea. In the western half there was a steady supply of sediment from the newly forming Rocky Mountains, which created good conditions for fossilizing dinosaurs once they died. The eastern half of the continent was characterized by conditions far less suitable for fossilization.

This means that far more dinosaur fossils are found in the western half of North America, and this fossil record is often used to suggest dinosaurs were in decline during the few million years before the asteroid strike.

However, instead of using the fossil record exclusively, the researchers employed ‘ecological niche modeling.’ This approach models which environmental conditions, such as temperature and rainfall, each species would need to survive. The scientists then mapped where these conditions would occur across the continent over time.

This allowed them to create a picture of where groups of dinosaur species could survive as conditions changed, rather than just where their fossils had been found. The team found habitats that could support dinosaur groups were actually more widespread at the end of the Cretaceous period, but that these were in areas less likely to preserve fossils.

The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.