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Gizmorama - February 7, 2018

Good Morning,

Ready to learn about new planets? Astronomers has identified numerous exoplanets beyond the Milky Way. I'm sure they are nice to see, but you wouldn't want to live there.

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Astronomers identify first planets outside the Milky Way --*

Astronomers have for the first time identified extragalactic exoplanets -- planets outside the Milky Way.

Using telescopes at NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and an observation technique called microlensing, scientists at the University of Oklahoma discovered a population of exoplanets inside a distant galaxy.

"We are very excited about this discovery. This is the first time anyone has discovered planets outside our galaxy," astronomer Xinyu Dai said in a news release. "These small planets are the best candidate for the signature we observed in this study using the microlensing technique. We analyzed the high frequency of the signature by modeling the data to determine the mass."

Microlensing is the magnifying effect caused by the gravitational influence of intermediary objects. As light from distant objects travels past an object on the way to Earth, the gravitational phenomena magnifies the faraway light.

Scientists were able to observe the magnified signatures of extragalactic exoplanets. Astronomers identified a planet as small as Earth's moon and as big as Jupiter.

"This is an example of how powerful the techniques of analysis of extragalactic microlensing can be," said postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras.

Dai and Guerras published their discovery in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"This galaxy is located 3.8 billion light years away, and there is not the slightest chance of observing these planets directly, not even with the best telescope one can imagine in a science fiction scenario," said Guerras. "However, we are able to study them, unveil their presence and even have an idea of their masses. This is very cool science."

Last year, scientists identified several extragalactic comets.

*-- Lasers reveal ancient Mayan civilization hiding beneath Guatemalan canopy --*

A series of LiDAR surveys has revealed some 60,000 ancient Mayan structures hiding under the jungle canopy in Guatemala.

The hundreds of houses, palaces and roads identified by the surveys have offered new insights into the sophisticated organization of the Mayan civilization at the height of their cultural and political dominance between 250 and 900 AD.

LiDAR stands for "Light Detection and Ranging." The technology uses short laser pulses to measure the distance between the airplane-mounted instrument -- which combines a laser, scanner and unique GPS receiver -- and Earth's surface.

Over several years, scientists have conducted surveys of large swaths of Central America, where thick jungles make field work difficult. The tiny laser pulses squeeze through gaps in the dense canopy. Scientists can take the data, filter out the LiDAR data and laser light that bounced off trees, and leave behind only what lies beneath the canopy.

In this case, what lies beneath are the remnants of an ancient civilization.

The surveys are forcing archaeologists to completely rethink their understanding of the Mayans.

"Everyone is seeing larger, denser sites. Everyone," Thomas Garrison, an assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College, said in a news release. "There's a spectrum to it, for sure, but that's a universal: everyone has missed settlement in their [previous] mapping."

"Frankly, it's turning our discipline on its head," he said.

Garrison's research is responsible for the largest-ever LiDAR survey for an archaeological project. He and his team scanned some 800 square miles of Maya Biosphere Reserve in the lowlands of Guatemala.

The results revealed Mayan structures and organization at a scale underestimated by all previous studies. The Mayan people constructed massive terraces for farming, as well as canals and irrigation systems. They built highways linking dense urban centers.

"This was a civilization that was literally moving mountains," Marcello Canuto, an archaeologist at Tulane University, told National Geographic.

"We've had this western conceit that complex civilizations can't flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die," Canuto said. "But with the new LiDAR-based evidence from Central America and [Cambodia's] Angkor Wat, we now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there."

As monumental as the survey findings are, scientists say their work is only beginning. The massive datasets offer a giant map for future on-the-ground studies.

"That's the challenge now. Now we have so much data," Garrison said. "How do we handle it and how do we move forward with it? We've still got to get to those places, we've still got to check them out. It's difficult to convey how exciting this time is for us."


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