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Gizmorama - January 1, 2018

Good Morning,

Happy New Year! Scientists believe that it's possible for planets orbiting pulsars to be habitable. Thanks, 2018!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Possible for planets orbiting pulsars to be habitable, scientists say --*

New calculations suggest a pulsar could host habitable planets. It's theoretically possible, scientists say.

Researchers published their theoretical work this week in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. It's the first time scientists have calculated the size of a neutron star's habitable zone.

The latest calculations suggest a pulsar's habitable zone -- the ring in which water could exist in liquid form -- could stretch as wide as the distance between Earth and the sun.

Pulsars are small neutron stars that aggressively accrete matter. They periodically send explosive pulses of X-rays and high-energy particles out into space -- hence the name.

The extreme conditions surrounding a pulsar would appear to spell doom for the possibility of life, but the latest models suggest certain types of planets with the right kind of atmosphere could prove habitable.

The planet would have to be a super-Earth, scientists found, with a mass 1 to 10 times greater than Earth's. Its atmosphere would also need to be at least a million times as thick as Earth's. Only an extremely thick atmosphere, capable of converting the pulsar's radiation into thermal energy, would be able to protect the planet from high-energy particles.

Scientists based their calculations on observations of PSR B1257+12, a pulsar found 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Astronomers discovered three planets around the star using the Chandra Space Telescope. Two of the planets are super-Earths with a mass four to five times the mass of Earth.

"According to our calculations, the temperature of the planets might be suitable for the presence of liquid water on their surface," Alessandro Patruno, a scientist at the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy, said in a news release. "Though we don't know yet if the two super-Earths have the right, extremely dense atmosphere."

To improve the accuracy of their calculations, scientists need to study more pulsars and pulsar planets.

Of the roughly 1 billion neutron stars in the Milky Way, approximately 200,000 are pulsars. Scientists have observed 3,000 of them, and their observations have revealed the presence of only 5 pulsar planets.

*-- Electric device slows growth of deadly brain tumors --*

In a recent clinical trial, researchers at Northwestern Medicine successfully slowed the growth of a deadly type of brain tumor using a new electric device.

The device is attached to a shaved portion of the patient's scalp and delivers a constant supply of low-intensity electric fields. The device's network of insulated electrodes direct so-called tumor-treating fields at the glioblastoma.

Aside from a few short breaks to replace the device's electrodes, the patient wears the device 24-7. A small battery provides the electrode network with power.

Patients who received tumor-treating fields in conjunction with chemotherapy survived an average of nearly 21 months. Those who received only chemo survived an average of 16 months.

"This trial establishes a new treatment paradigm that substantially improves the outcome in patients with glioblastoma, and which may have applications in many other forms of cancer," Dr. Roger Stupp, professor of neurological surgery and of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release.

The group of patients who received tumor-treating fields included a great number of patients still alive two, three and four years after diagnosis.

"With TTFields therapy combined with radiation and temozolomide chemotherapy, up to 43 percent of glioblastoma patients will survive longer than two years," Stupp said. "In a disease where, until 2004, the great majority of patients died within one year, this is yet another example how systematic and interdisciplinary research will benefit patients in everyday care."

Researchers published the results of their clinical trial this week in JAMA. The findings showed both groups of patients experienced similar levels of treatment-related side effects. Mild to moderate skin irritation on the scalp was the most common complaint from patients treated with tumor-treating fields.


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