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Alien megastar more hungry than mysterious, scientists say it ate a planet

The theories about the strange and mysterious light patterns surrounding a distant star some 1,500 light years away from Earth have abounded since it’s discovery in 2009, especially the possibility that aliens were somehow behind it.

The dipping or dimming light surrounding the star named KIC 84622852, also known as Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star, was identified by the Kepler Space Telescope and has been tracked by scientists ever since.

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Scientists said the irregular light patterns are an indication that something unusual is orbiting the planet.

One of the most unusual theories about the cause of the erratic light emitted from Tabby’s Star, something straight out of a science fiction film, suggested that aliens could have built a megastructure of some sort around the star, maybe a huge sphere of solar panels to harness energy.

Another theory, equally as strange, suggested an advanced alien civilization was building something gigantic near the star.

Perhaps a large number of comets orbiting the star caused the erratic light, or maybe the star was extremely active, emitting periodic and gigantic outburst, scientists theorized.

Now a more convincing theory about KIC 84622852 suggests the star consumed a planet about 10,000 years ago.

“We propose that the secular dimming behavior is the result of the inspiral of a planetary body or bodies into KIC 8462852,” researchers from Columbia University and UC Berkley said in a new research paper.

If the star did consume a planet, it could explain the unusual light pattern, researchers said.

It would have caused Tabby’s Star to suddenly brighten erratically, especially if a detached moon system from the engulfed planet was still circling the star irregularly blocking its light. The star would show a dimming pattern of light as it returned to normal, the research suggested.

Breast cancer treatment unnecessary a third of the time, says new Danish study

Too many women were unnecessarily treated for breast cancer after mammograms detected slow-growing tumors that are basically harmless, according to a Danish study published in the journal “Annals of Internal Medicine.”

The research indicated that overdiagnosis of breast cancer is more frequent than previously thought.

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The Danish study looked at the incidence of early-stage and advanced breast cancer in women between the ages of 50 and 84 years old, both before and after the country began offering mammograms, between 1986 and 2010.

They found that one in three women diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammogram were unnecessarily treated for the disease, something that officials said can endanger women’s health and lives

The chief medical officer with the American Cancer Society, Dr. Otis Brawley, was not involved in the study but wrote an accompanying editorial.

The study raised the uncomfortable possibility that some women who believe their lives were saved by mammograms were actually harmed by surgery, radiation and even chemotherapy they didn’t need, Brawley said in the editorial.

The problem is that all breast cancers essentially look the same under a microscope, Brawley said, but researchers are recognizing that they don’t pose the same risk.

"By treating all the cancers that we see, we are clearly saving some lives," according to news reports on an interview with Brawley. "But we're also 'curing' some women who don't need to be cured."

The release of the study has stoked a long-running debate, again, over what age women should begin screenings for breast cancer.

The age varies from between 40 to 50 years old, depending on the health agency.

More than 40,000 women in the United States die from breast cancer every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Ring in the New Year with cosmic fireworks, best way to see Comet 45P

 Stargazers are excited. Comet 45P is taking center stage on New Year’s Eve, promising a cosmic fireworks display as it blazes by Earth for the first time in more than five years.

Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, or Comet 45P as it’s commonly called, should be easy to spot on New Year’s Eve as it nears the crescent moon.

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It should be visible for a few hours right after sunset, above the western horizon, if the skies are clear, before setting with the moon.

The best way to find it is to first search for the planet Venus, the brightest light in the western sky.

You won’t be able to see the comet with the naked eye. You’ll need a pair of binoculars or a telescope to get a good look at it.

It won’t look like a planet or a star because it will cast off a bluish-green light with a fan-shaped tail trailing behind it.

The darker the area and the less light pollution, the better to see the comet.

If you miss the comet on New Year’s Eve, don’t worry. The best time to see it is next year on Feb. 11, when it passes closest to Earth.

NASA wraps up stellar year of space travel to distant destinations

NASA has had quite a year. From the Juno mission to study Jupiter to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, and New Horizons journey to Pluto and the outer reaches of the solar system, the space agency has traveled quite a distance in 2016 in its continued exploration of the universe and beyond.

The Juno deep space probe arrived at Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system and fifth from the sun, on July 4 after its launch in 2011.

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NASA said the goal of the mission is to understand the “origin and evolution” of the planet. Juno’s mission includes mapping the planet’s magnetic fields, measuring water and ammonia in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and more.

NASA’s other robotic missions include the Cassini spacecraft, which is circling Saturn in its final year of orbit, studying the planet’s iconic rings close-up. The Cassini mission is scheduled to end next year with the probe’s crash into Saturn.

New Horizons, which arrived at Pluto in 2015 for a flyby, beamed back the last of its Pluto data late this year and is now traveling onward to an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt.

The space agency is also making progress on its planned human mission to Mars in the 2030’s. This year NASA has been choosing its next generation of astronauts who will make deep space missions. They are  scheduled to begin training next summer.

Other major achievements for NASA in 2016 include the completion of the largest-ever space telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope was finished in November and is now on schedule for a 2018 launch. The agency also made strides in aeronautics research and robotic technology.

NASA wraps up stellar year of space travel to distant destinations

NASA has had quite a year. From the Juno mission to study Jupiter to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, and New Horizons journey to Pluto and the outer reaches of the solar system, the space agency has traveled quite a distance in 2016 in its continued exploration of the universe and beyond.

The Juno deep space probe arrived at Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system and fifth from the sun, on July 4 after its launch in 2011.

NASA said the goal of the mission is to understand the “origin and evolution” of the planet. Juno’s mission includes mapping the planet’s magnetic fields, measuring water and ammonia in Jupiter’s atmosphere, and more.

NASA’s other robotic missions include the Cassini spacecraft, which is circling Saturn in its final year of orbit, studying the planet’s iconic rings close-up. The Cassini mission is scheduled to end next year with the probe’s crash into Saturn.

New Horizons, which arrived at Pluto in 2015 for a flyby, beamed back the last of its Pluto data late this year and is now traveling onward to an even more distant object in the Kuiper Belt.

The space agency is also making progress on its planned human mission to Mars in the 2030’s. This year NASA has been choosing its next generation of astronauts who will make deep space missions. They are  scheduled to begin training next summer.

Other major achievements for NASA in 2016 include the completion of the largest-ever space telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope was finished in November and is now on schedule for a 2018 launch. The agency also made strides in aeronautics research and robotic technology.

Comet 45P to make appearance on New Year's Eve

You may want to take a break from ringing in the new year on Saturday to check out Comet 45P which will be at that time reaching its closet point to the sun in its five-year orbit.

Comet 45P, whose proper name is Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, will be visible in the night sky, just after dusk.

You’ll need binoculars to see the comet, it’s too faint for the naked eye. 45P will get closer to Earth over the next several weeks, and be the closest to us on Feb. 11 when it will be a mere 7.4 million miles away. You may be able to see it without binoculars then.

Here’s how to find it:

Comet 45P is in the constellation Capricornus, close to Venus. Venus is bright in the sky and gives off a red color. 45P will be very low in the sky.

Look to the southwestern horizon to try to spot it. It will be about 10 degrees above the horizon at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. It will be close to the crescent moon in the southwestern part of the night sky – look about 3 degrees to the left of the moon to help spot it. It will appear greenish.

Rare total solar eclipse visible from America in 2017

In the New Year, scientists and armchair astronomers nationwide will get the chance to see a total solar eclipse, marking the first time the phenomenon has occurred from coast-to-coast in nearly 100 years.

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In August, the moon will block all of the sun but its vast, outer atmosphere, known as the corona. According to NASA, people can expect to see the corona present itself in "pearly white rays and streamers radiating around the lunar disk."

The total solar eclipse will start on Aug. 21 near Lincoln City, Oregon, around 10:15 a.m. PDT. Over the next hour and a half, it will travel across the country, ending around 2:50 p.m. EDT near Charleston, South Carolina, NASA said in a news release. A partial eclipse will be visible before and after those times.

Scientists from NASA, the University of Texas Arlington and the University of Hawaii presented an overview of the event earlier this month at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco.

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"An eclipse teaches us so many things, but the 2017 eclipse is especially unique because of the uninterrupted land masses it will pass over," said Lika Guhathakurta, an astrophysicist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will allow us to maximize our chance to collect data and connect the shadow of the moon to Earth science."

Among the researchers eagerly awaiting August is University of Hawaii astronomer Shadia Habbal, who uses specialized cameras to photograph and study the corona. The outer atmosphere is where scientists see significant eruptions, including solar flares, and the beginnings of solar wind.

Researchers believe understanding the corona and its role in the solar system can shed light on its relationship with not only planets and stars like the sun, but also the environment satellites and astronauts will inevitably pass through as space exploration expands.

"There is a whole spectrum of colors of light that our eyes cannot see," Habbal said. "From these different colors, we can directly probe into the physics of the corona."

The eclipse will be visible to viewers across the nation, however, NASA warned, it will only be safe to look directly at the sun during the brief period when the moon entirely blocks the star.

"The only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed sun is through a specialized filter," like those in eclipse glasses, according to NASA.

Baby screenings for SIDS might be next after groundbreaking Australian study

A breakthrough Australian study has linked the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, to a lower level of a specific brain protein.

The discovery could lead to screenings at birth that might help reduce the number of SIDS deaths.

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Some 3,500 babies die every year in the U.S. from SIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children found that the brain protein orexin was 20 percent lower in babies who died from SIDS. Orexin is a neuropeptide that regulates sleep. It also controls wakefulness and appetite.

The sudden death of a baby under a year old is generally referred to as a SIDS death because doctors can’t explain it or determine the cause.

The study offers up the first biological explanation for the cause of the fatal infant syndrome, also known as “cot death.”

The research could lead to the development of tests that could measure the levels of orexin in babies to help determine an infant’s risks for SIDS, scientists said.  

Winter solstice 2016: What is it; when does it happen; Stonehenge connection

Get ready, Wednesday night is going to be a long one.

Wednesday marks the winter solstice, so that means we will see the least amount of sunlight making the night the longest of the year.

What’s a solstice and why is my day going to drag on? Here are six things to know about the longest night of the year.

1. What is a winter solstice?

The winter solstice (solstice is Latin for “sun standing still”) happens at the same time for everyone on Earth. It represents the exact moment when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun.

2. Why is this night any longer than any other night?

The night is longer because you will see the fewest hours of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere today as the earth hits its farthest tipping point. The sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, with more sunlight seen in the Southern Hemisphere.

3. Is the winter solstice celebrated?

It sure is, and has been for centuries. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, just days after the solstice, and many believe the date of Dec. 25 was chosen to overshadow the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti, according to timeanddate.com.

The word “Yule” -- used to describe the Christmas season -- is believed to have come from the Norse word “jol” which referred to the winter solstice festival. Wiccans celebrate Alban Arthan – or the rebirth of the Sun God. Today, celebrations are set for Poland, Pakistan, Iran and Guatemala, among other places around the world. 

4. Is the solstice always on Dec. 21?

Technically, the solstice can happen any day between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23 because the calendars we use aren’t the same length as a solar year. The 2016 solstice happens on Wednesday at 5:44 a.m. EST

5. When is the shortest night of the year?

 The summer solstice happens in June. Take the winter solstice explanation and flip it – Northern Hemisphere tilted toward the sun, longer days, shorter nights.

6. What does Stonehenge have to do with it?

Stonehenge is an ancient monument in England that is often mentioned in the same breath as the winter solstice. Some say the monument, which dates to between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, could have been a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. Others, say it’s a landmark for visits from space aliens. The only thing that is known for sure about the structure -- built without the aid of cranes or computers -- is that it sits perfectly along a straight line with sunrise on the winter solstice.

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