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What's the Buzz

2 new planets found orbiting binary stars

Astronomers have discovered two new low-density planets called Kepler-34b and Kepler-35b orbiting a binary star system.

The planets, which are comparable in size to Jupiter but much less massive, are actually a pair of gravitationally bound stars that orbit each other.

While the existence of such bodies, called “circumbinary planets,” had long been predicted, they remained just a theory until the team, including Eric B. Ford, UF associate professor of astronomy and William F. Welsh, associate professor at San Diego State University, and lead author on the paper, discovered Kepler-16b in September 2011.
They dubbed Kepler-16b “Tatooine” because of its resemblance to the two-sun world depicted in the “Star Wars” film series.

“We have long believed these kinds of planets to be possible, but they have been very difficult to detect for various technical reasons,” Ford said.

 “With the discoveries of Kepler-16b, 34b and 35b, the Kepler mission has shown that the galaxy abounds with millions of planets orbiting two stars.”

The planets were discovered by measuring the star light decrease as the planets pass in front of, or transit, either of the two stars.

Kepler also measures the star light decrease when one of the stars passes in front of the other. The mutual gravitational tugs of the stars and planets cause the times of the transits to deviate from a regular schedule, allowing astronomers to confirm the planet and measure its mass.

Compared to Jupiter, Kepler-34 is about 24 percent smaller in size, but has 78 percent less mass.

It can complete a full orbit in 288 terrestrial days. Kepler-35 is about 26 percent smaller, has 88 percent less mass, and completes its orbit around the stars much faster – just 131 days.

Internet addiction damages brain just like drugs
Internet addiction disorder may be associated with abnormal white matter structure in the brain and may be as fatal as craving for drugs, researchers say.

Previous studies of Internet addiction disorder (IAD), which is characterized by an individual’s inability to control his or her Internet use, have mostly focused on psychological questionnaires.

 The current study, on the other hand, uses an MRI technique to investigate specific features of the brain in 18 adolescents suffering from IAD.

 The researchers, led by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, found that IAD is characterized by impairment of white matter fibres connecting brain regions involved in emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.

 They also suggested that IAD may share psychological and neural mechanisms with other types of impulse control disorders and substance addiction.

7.7 mm frog in New Guinea is world’s tiniest vertebrate
A scientist has recently discovered two new species of frogs in New Guinea, one of which is now the world’s tiniest known vertebrate, averaging less than one-third of an inch.
The 7.7 millimeters vertebrate, discovered by LSU’s Chris Austin, ousts Paedocypris progenetica, an Indonesian fish averaging more than 8 millimeters, from the record.

Austin, leading a team of scientists from the United States including LSU graduate student Eric Rittmeyer, made the discovery during a three-month long expedition to the island of New Guinea, the world’s largest and tallest tropical island.

“It was particularly difficult to locate Paedophryne amauensis due to its diminutive size and the males' high pitched insect-like mating call,” Austin said.

“But it’s a great find. New Guinea is a hotspot of biodiversity, and everything new we discover there adds another layer to our overall understanding of how biodiversity is generated and maintained,” he said.

The most recent species descriptions highlight an interesting trend among the discovery of extremely small vertebrates

“The size limit of vertebrates, or creatures with backbones, is of considerable interest to biologists because little is understood about the functional constraints that come with extreme body size, whether large or small,” Austin said.

With more than 60,000 vertebrates currently known to man, the largest being the blue whale with an average size of more than 25 meters and the smallest previously being a small Indonesian fish averaging around 8 millimeters, there was originally some thought that extreme size in vertebrates might be associated with aquatic species, as perhaps the buoyancy offers support and facilitates the development of extremism.

However, both new species of frogs Austin described are terrestrial, suggesting that living in water is not necessary for small body size.

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