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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 13:45 EDT

Searching For Superhabitable Exoplanets – On Science

January 27, 2014

Some exoplanets are more super than Earth.

What interstellar blast is lighting up the sky?

Looking to polar bears for insulation tips.

And how about a little organic electricity. Coming up today…On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Now here’s an exoplanet classification that goes beyond “super-Earth.” Scientists are saying that “superhabitable” exoplanets could exist! A duo from McMaster University and Weber State University based their new assumption on the idea of tidal heating, which would allow planets outside of the stellar habitable zone to have conditions favorable for life and maybe even more favorable than Earth. They say the problem to date has been that we’ve been trying to find other planets with conditions just like Earth, which has mislead researchers into thinking some non-Earth-like planets were in habitable. But tidal heating, by which heat is released into the crust of a planet via orbital and rotational energy, could turn what would normally be a frozen, snowball planet far away from its star into a superhabitable world. Here are some prerequisites for an SHP: a larger terrestrial area than Earth that permits liquid water, planetary spin, an atmosphere, and biological diversification. Well, isn’t that just super!

Here’s more super-science news. The solar system saw an epic blast on January 21. The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst mission’s Ultraviolet/Optical telescope captured a type Ia supernova in the neighboring galaxy M82. This is the nearest optical supernova in over 20 years. The Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory are now studying the stellar explosion. However, thick interstellar dust clouds in the galaxy are thinning the light. But this is also a good thing because it allows scientists to study how this interstellar dust affects light. Also, the incredible light from the blast is like a “standard candles” by which to explore the distant universe. What caused the supernova? One of two scenarios. Either it was a white dwarf star that sucked matter from its normal host star until it met its threshold and exploded. Or there were two white dwarfs in a binary system that spiraled inward and collided. The supernova will continue to brighten into the first week of February, at which time is will be able to be seen with binoculars.

A team of scientists are looking at why polar bear hair is a much more successful insulator than what we humans have developed for housing. The team of international researchers says that it’s the hair, which reflects infrared light, that gives the bear such great insulating power. Through computer models they found that repeated backscattering of infrared light between radiation shields, i.e. the hairs, “could be the chief mechanism for the thermal insulation advantages of fur.” It had previously been assumed it was due to thermal conduction. Just to give you picture, we need at least 60 cm of rockwool or glasswool to do basically what two inches of hair does for the polar bear. The scientists hope their work will one day result in better insulation technology for we humans.

And here’s an organic solution to battery power. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a tiny, patch-like battery that uses the natural movement of organs, like the heart or lungs, to generate electricity inside the human body. The device works on the principle of piezoelectricity, where a metal or metal composite generates electricity under mechanical stress. The device is made up of a metal nanoribbon embedded in an ultra-thin, flexible material that clings to the surface of an organ. The scientists say it generates more electricity than needed by conventional implants like pacemakers or nerve stimulators. The scientists are currently testing out the reliability and safety of long-term use of the battery.

Remember the time when you were like two-years-old…and…wait you don’t remember? Then you must suffer from “childhood amnesia!” But when exactly did you stop remembering? A study from Emory University says that “childhood amnesia” occurs around age seven. Sigmund Freud coined the term to refer to memory loss from infant years. After following 83 children over several years, the team found that children between the ages of five and seven could recall 63% to 72% of events that happened before age 3. However, children who were eight or nine years old only retained about 35% of the events. Though the older children may have remembered fewer events, their memories were more detailed. Scientists said that younger children don’t have the neural processes yet to make up a complex autobiographical memory.

And that’s what’ s up On Science! See you tomorrow.