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Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.

Radio astronomers might have spotted the strongest hint yet that a planet outside the Solar System has auroras similar to Earth’s Northern Lights.

Joseph Callingham at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands and his collaborators sifted through data from a sky survey by the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR), a gigantic array of antennas in northern Europe. To their surprise, the team found several sources of circularly polarized radiation, meaning that the radio signal’s electric fields spiralled like a corkscrew as it travelled across space. Astrophysical objects other than planets are not known to be sources of circularly polarized light with a steady twist, which is the type LOFAR observed.

The most intriguing signal was from CR Draconis, a pair of tightly orbiting red-dwarf stars that are 20 parsecs (65 light years) from Earth. LOFAR had observed the system for 21 periods of around 8 hours each, which revealed radiation in a pattern reminiscent of auroras observed on Jupiter. The astronomers suggest that the effect is produced in the atmosphere of a Jupiter-like planet, or by the rapid rotation of one of the stars.

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Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

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Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

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Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

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Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

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Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty

Agriculture

Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

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Metabolism

A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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