Discovered: Amateur astronomers find fascinating new planet; mapping Antarctica before it melts away; bigger brains correlate with greater cancer risk; shocking pants prevent bedsores.
New planet found in four star system. Combing through data from the Kepler Observatory uploaded to citizen scientist website Planet Hunters, two amateur astronomers have discovered a fascinating planet. Called PH-1, it's 5,000 light years away from us, has a radius six times longer than Earth's, could be up to 170 times heavier than our planet, and has an average cloud-top temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps the coolest thing about this new discovery is the system the newly discovered planet inhabits. PH-1 orbits a binary star, which is itself orbited by another binary star. That means this planetary system has a total of—count 'em—four stars. Our sorry little one-star solar system looks pretty lame in comparison. Though they aren't professional astronomers, Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano can add a line to their resume about being the first scientists to have discovered a planet orbiting a four star system. [Discover]
Mapping a melting Antarctica. Climate change scientists keeping track of Antarctica's steady demise are in a weird position currently. They know that huge slabs of the southernmost continent are disappearing, but they don't yet have a way for tracking specifically where or by how much. That's why a team of researchers from eight countries are traveling to the frigid climes of Antarctica with the goal of mapping its sea ice. The thickness of the ice is an important variable, making it impossible to map from the sky alone. "We've got a good idea of the area from the satellites but the satellites can't tell the thickness and without the thickness we won't know the total volume or the actual amount of sea ice," says Guy Williams of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. In order to find out, Williams and his colleagues hopped in a submarine outfitted with multi-beam sonar to measure the topography of Antarctica in 3D. Jan Lieser says this project is important because by knowing "how the thickness of the sea ice cover is changing over time we can estimate the influence of global changing climate on the overall environment down here which includes not only the physical environment in terms of sea ice, atmosphere but also the biosphere." [Reuters]