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Science

Astronomers have discovered a planet around one of the closest stars to our Sun.

It orbits Barnard’s star, which sits six light-years away.

The planet’s mass is thought to be more than three times that of our own, placing it in a category of world know as “super-Earths”.

“We think that this is what we call a Super-Earth – that would be possibly a mostly rocky planet with a massive atmosphere. It’s probably very rich in volatiles like water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide – things like this. Many of them are frozen on the surface,” Guillem Anglada Escudé, an astronomer from Queen Mary University of London said.

Astronomers have called this new planet Barnard’s Star b. It is about as far away from its star as Mercury is from the Sun.

Barnard’s Star b is known as an exoplanet. It’s the second closest exoplanet to Earth after Proxima Centauri b, whose discovery was announced in 2016.

On distance alone, it’s estimated that temperatures would be about -150C on the planet’s surface. However, a massive atmosphere could potentially warm the planet, making conditions more hospitable to life.

When the next generation of telescopes come online, scientists will be able to characterise the planet’s properties. This will likely include a search for gases like oxygen and methane in the planet’s atmosphere, which might be markers for biology.

“The James Webb Space Telescope might not help in this case, because it was not designed for what’s called high contrast imaging. But in the US, they are also developing WFirst – a small telescope that’s also used for cosmology,” said Dr Anglada Escudé.

What is an exoplanet?
Exoplanets are planets that obit a different star than our Sun – in a different solar system to the one we are in.

The world’s largest postcard was displayed on the shrinking Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps on Friday.

Organisers set the challenge to raise awareness of climate change.

The huge mosaic postcard is actually made from 125,000 drawings and messages about climate change.

They measure 2,500 sq m and were created by children from all over the world.

Seen from above, the whole picture read: “STOP GLOBAL WARMING #1.5 DEGREES C” – echoing scientists’ calls to limit the rise in Earth’s temperature.

The Aletsch Glacier is visible from space, but is shrinking by up to 12m a year. It is the largest in Western Europe at 23km, but experts have warned that it could disappear altogether by 2100.

Palau is set to become the first country in the world to ban sunscreen.

The move has been enforced to protect its vulnerable coral reefs.

The government has signed a law that restricts the sale and use of sunscreen and skincare products that contain a list of ten different chemicals.

Researchers believe that these ingredients are highly toxic to marine life. On top of that, they can make coral more susceptible to bleaching.

The ban comes into force in 2020 and people could be fined around $1500NZD.

Scientists are particularly worried over the role of two ingredients called oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are used as sun protection factors as they absorb ultraviolet light.

Research published in 2015 showed that the oxybenzone could stunt the growth of baby corals and was toxic to several different coral species in laboratory tests.

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has unveiled the first private passenger it plans to fly around the Moon.

42 year old Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, will be the first ‘Moon Tourist’.

The mission is planned for 2023, and would be the first lunar journey by humans since 1972.

But the rocket meant to take him to the moon still has not been built yet, and Mr Musk cautioned: “It’s not 100% certain we can bring this to flight.”

Only 24 humans have visited the Moon – all of them Americans; 12 of them landed on the moon. Nasa’s Apollo 17 in December 1972 marked the last time humans landed on the moon, or went beyond low Earth orbit.

Mr Maezawa will not land on the moon.

Rescuers continued to search for survivors of a powerful earthquake on Japan’s island of Hokkaido.

The magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck on Thursday. 16 people are confirmed dead, and dozens are still missing with many feared buried under rubble.

Some 1.6 million residents across Hokkaido remain without power.

The village of Atsuma was among the hardest hit, where roads and houses collapsed after huge landslides.

Authorities said it could take at least one week to restore power lines to the sparsely populated countryside.

Officials are warning people to remain cautious and be prepared for aftershocks.

The earthquake is the second disaster to hit Japan within a week.

Jebi, the strongest typhoon to hit the country in 25 years, killed at least 10 people and caused widespread damage and disruption.

Japan is one of the world’s most seismically active nations and accounts for around 20% of quakes worldwide of magnitude 6.0 or more.

Once upon a time, two early humans of different ancestry met at a cave in Russia.

Some 50,000 years later, scientists have confirmed that they had a daughter together.

DNA extracted from bone fragments found in the cave show the girl was the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

Neanderthals and Denisovans were humans like us, but belonged to different species.

This cave, called Denisova cave, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia is the only known site where fossil evidence of both Denisovans and Neanderthals has been found.

When and where did Neanderthals and Denisovans live?
Neanderthals and Denisovans are known to have overlapped in time in Eurasia.

The two groups lived until about 40,000 years ago; Neanderthals in the west and Denisovans in the east.

What is a Neanderthal?
Neanderthals are an extinct species or subspecies of humans, who lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago. Compared to modern humans, Neanderthals were stockier, with shorter legs and bigger bodies. They had a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges.

What is a Denisovan?
An extinct species of human of robust build. They lived mainly in modern day Asia, from Siberia to South East Asia.

London-based artificial intelligence (AI) company says its AI robot doctors can diagnose patients just as well as a human clinician.

Babylon Health has created software that can interpret symptoms and tell a person what might be wrong with them after answering a number of questions.

But general practitioners say while the program has some benefits, it will never replicate the level of care offered by humans.

“What we’re trying to do with Babylon is make healthcare accessible, affordable, put it in the hands of every human being on earth,” Babylon’s founder, Dr Ali Parsa.

He says the app isn’t intended to replace GPs but can be used to free-up already overworked doctors and also help improve waiting times for patients.

NASA has successfully launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.

The Parker Solar Probe rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, on Sunday evening.

The probe is set to become the fastest-moving manmade object in history.

Its goal is to provide data about the Sun’s behaviour.

It is the first spacecraft to be named after a living person – astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

What will the probe do?
The probe aims to dip directly into our star’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

It will zip past Venus in six weeks and make the first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that.

Over the course of seven years, Parker will make 24 loops around our star to study the physics of the corona, the place where much of the important activity that affects the Earth seems to originate.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km from the Sun’s broiling “surface”.

It will also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/hr. That is the same as traveling from Tokyo to New York in one minute.

A rare set of teeth from a giant prehistoric mega-shark have been found in Australia.

The teeth, twice the size of a normal great white, have been found on an Australian beach by a keen-eyed amateur enthusiast.

Philip Mullaly was strolling along a beach area on the country’s famous Great Ocean Road, which is around 100 kilometres from Melbourne.

The shark, which stalked Australia’s oceans around 25 million years ago, feasting on small whales and penguins, could grow more than 18 metres long, almost three the length of today’s great white shark.

A severe heatwave has hit the northern hemisphere.

From Tokyo to Toronto, from Stockholm to Seoul, and from Lapland to London – the northern hemisphere is sweltering in a heatwave which is rewriting the record books and causing drought and wildfires.

An “unprecedented” heatwave in Japan killed at least 65 people in one week.

Last week Britain baked in its hottest day of the year when temperatures hit 35 °C – hotter than spots on the Mediterranean such as Greece, Italy and the south of France.

Record temperatures have also been reported in northern Norway with a top temperature of 33 °C – more than 15 ° higher than normal, according to the Norwegian meteorological institute.

And near the Arctic Circle at Kvikkjokk in Sweden temperatures climbed to 32.5 °C last week, while the Finnish Lapland saw 33.4°C .

In the US, California has been under scorching heat, including record temperatures on July 6 of 48.9 °C in Chino in the west of the state, and the next day 47.2 °C in the Van Nuys neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

At the Furnace Creek station in Death Valley on July 8, the mercury registered 52 °C – still below the contested 56.7 °C hit on July 10, 1913.