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Astronomers find strange ‘Manx’ comet that lacks a tail and may hold clues to Earth’s formation

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Astronomers have found a first-of-its-kind tailless comet whose composition may offer clues into long-standing questions about the solar system’s formation and evolution, according to research published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.

The so-called “Manx” comet, named after a breed of cats without tails, was made of rocky materials that are normally found near Earth. Most comets are made of ice and other frozen compounds and were formed in solar system’s frigid far reaches.

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Researchers believe the newly found comet was formed in the same region as Earth, then booted to the solar system’s backyard like a gravitational slingshot as planets jostled for position.

Scientists involved in the discovery now seek to learn how many more Manx comets exist, which could help to resolve debate over exactly how and when the solar system settled into its current configuration.

“Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the solar system when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much,” paper co-author Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory in Germany, said in a statement.

The new comet, known as C/2014 S3, was discovered in 2014 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS. This network of telescopes scours the night-time skies for fast-moving comets, asteroids and other celestial bodies.

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Typically comets coming in from the same region as the Manx grow bright tails as they approach the sun, the result of ice vaporizing off their bodies and gleaming in reflected sunlight.

But C/2014 S3 was dark and virtually tailless when it was spotted about twice as far away from the sun as Earth.

Later analysis showed that instead of ices typically found on comets, the Manx comet contained materials similar to the rocky asteroids located in a belt between Mars and Jupiter.

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And C/2014 S3 appeared pristine, an indication that it had been in the solar system’s deep freeze for a long time, said University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, the lead author.

The discovery of additional Manx comets could help scientists to refine computer models used to simulate the solar system’s formation, Meech said.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Letitia Stein and Diane Craft)

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Quantum dots that light up TVs could be used for brain research

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While many people love colorful photos of landscapes, flowers or rainbows, some biomedical researchers treasure vivid images on a much smaller scale – as tiny as one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

To study the micro world and help advance medical knowledge and treatments, these scientists use fluorescent nano-sized particles.

Quantum dots are one type of nanoparticle, more commonly known for their use in TV screens. They’re super tiny crystals that can transport electrons. When UV light hits these semiconducting particles, they can emit light of various colors.

That fluorescence allows scientists to use them to study hidden or otherwise cryptic parts of cells, organs and other structures.

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If impeachment comes to the Senate – 5 questions answered

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Editor’s note: If the House of Representatives concludes its impeachment inquiry by passing articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump, attention will turn to the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is known as a master of the Senate’s rules, and has been raising campaign donations with ads touting the power he would have over impeachment proceedings. Constitutional scholar Sarah Burns from the Rochester Institute of Technology answers some crucial questions already arising about what McConnell might be able to do, to either slow down the process or speed things along.

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Andrew Yang’s ‘freedom dividend’ echoes a 1930s basic income proposal that reshaped Social Security

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Entrepreneur and political novice Andrew Yang is hoping a wild gambit will help him win the Democratic presidential nomination: give 10 American families US$1,000 a month.

The announcement of a test run of his signature universal basic income proposal, which Yang argues is necessary to counter automation’s threat to millions of American jobs, garnered cheers from the student audience at the September debate and gave his candidacy a boost. At least half a million people have entered Yang’s basic income raffle.

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