Our Closest Single-Star Solar System May Contain a Habitable Planet

David Wagner
Our Closest Single-Star Solar System May Contain a Habitable Planet

Discovered: Once Earth's ruined we should hightail it for the Tau Ceti system; how reindeers get red noses; one in two men will get cancer; what flying squirrels have in common with Top Gun

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A planetary back-up plan. Since it looks like we're bringing Earth down in a blaze of greenhouse-gassed choked glory, we might want to start thinking about where we'll go once we've made our home planet inhabitable. One of the five new planets discovered by a team of astronomers led by the University of Hertfordshire's Mikko Tuomi could make a good candidate. It orbits Tau Ceti, which, at only 12 light-years away, is our closest single-star solar system. The five planets these scientists discovered weigh between two to six the mass of the Earth and have orbital periods of anywhere between 14 to 640 days. Our potential new home—assuming NASA develops technology needed to get us there—weighs five times more than the Earth and has a considerably shorter year of 168 days. [ScienceNews]

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Scientists explain Rudolph's red nose. Members of Santa's stable aren't the only ones who have red noses. The species Rangifer tarandus have naturally rosy schnozes, and researchers from the Netherlands and Norway have found that the coloration stems from an overabundance of blood vessels around the nose, which supply blood to this sensitive zone in chilly climates. "These results highlight the intrinsic physiological properties of Rudolph’s legendary luminous red nose," the cheeky authors write. "[They] help to protect it from freezing during sleigh rides and to regulate the temperature of the reindeer’s brain, factors essential for flying reindeer pulling Santa Claus’s sleigh under extreme temperatures." [Smithsonian]

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Men have a one-in-two shot of someday developing cancer. Some scary statistics have come out of a Cancer Research UK effort to study the prevalence of cancer in British men. The last time this survey was carried out, in 2010, doctors found that 44 out of 100 UK men stood a chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. Now that figure has gone up to 50 in 100, with bowel, prostate, and skin cancer rates climbing. "Some men are fatalistic about cancer and screening," comments Alan White, Men's Health Forum chairman Leeds Metropolitan University professor. "But screening does make a difference. If cancers are spotted earlier they are easier to treat." [BBC News]

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Flying squirrels like showing off. What do flying squirrels have in common with the cocky pilots from Top Gun? When they fly, they're not just getting around—they're showing off. A new study in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface shows that the critters move their limbs to control their speed and direction while flying. "We determined that flying squirrels do not glide at equilibrium, and instead demonstrate continuously changing velocities, forces and force coefficients, and generate more lift than needed to balance body weight," the researchers write. [Science Now]