NASA Found Another Super Earth With Tantalizing Possibilities

Earth is a rather special place, quite unlike the other planets in the solar system. It’s nestled at the perfect distance from the sun to allow our water to remain liquid and for life to flourish in turn. It’s a rare thing; most planets are either too close and scorching hot, or too far and freezing cold.

NASA is always on the hunt for planets like our own, and recently found a new super-Earth by the name of TOI-715b. The planet is larger than our own, but it’s position and makeup mean that it’s a prime candidate for further study. Let’s take a look at how NASA discovered this planet, and why it’s special.

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37C3: You Think It’s Bad With Pluto? A History Of The Planets

Not every talk at the Chaos Communication Congress is about hacking computers. In this outstanding and educational talk, [Michael B√ľker] walks us through the history of our understanding of the planets.

The question “What is a planet?” is probably more about the astronomers doing the looking than the celestial bodies that they’re looking for. In the earliest days, the Sun and the Moon were counted in. They got kicked out soon, but then when we started being able to see asteroids, Ceres, Vesta, and Juno made the list. But by counting all the asteroids, the number got up above 1,200, and it got all too crazy.

Viewed in this longer context, the previously modern idea of having nine planets, which came about in the 1960s and lasted only until 2006, was a blip on the screen. And if you are still a Pluto-is-a-planet holdout, like we were, [Michael]’s argument that counting all the Trans-Neptunian Objects would lead to madness is pretty convincing. It sure would make it harder to build an orrery.

His conclusion is simple and straightforward and has the ring of truth: the solar system is full of bodies, and some are large, and some are small. Some are in regular orbits, and some are not. Which we call “planets” and which we don’t is really about our perception of them and trying to fit this multiplicity into simple classification schemas. What’s in a name, anyway?

A ceiling-mounted model of the Solar System

Ceiling-Mounted Orrery Is An Excercise In Simplicity

Ever since humans figured out that planets move along predetermined paths in the heavens, they have tried to make models that can accurately predict their motion. Watchmakers and astronomers worked together to create orreries: mechanical contraptions that illustrate the positions of all planets and the way they move over time through complex gear systems. [Illusionmanager] continues the orrery tradition but uses a different approach: he built a beautiful ceiling-mounted model of our Solar System without a gearing system.

The mechanism that makes his Solar System tick is deceptively simple. All planets can move freely along their orbit’s axis except Mercury, which is moved along its orbit by a motor hidden inside the Sun. Once Mercury has completed a full revolution, a pin attached to its arm will begin pushing Venus along with it. After Venus has completed a full circle, its own pin will pick up Earth, and so on all the way to Neptune. Neptune is then advanced to its correct location as reported by NASA, after which Mercury’s motion is reversed and the whole procedure is repeated in the opposite direction to position Uranus.

Cycling through the entire Solar System in this way takes a long time, which is why the planets’ positions are only updated once a day at midnight. An ESP32, also hidden inside the Sun, connects to the internet to retrieve the correct positions for the day and drives the motor. The planet models, sourced from a museum shop, are hanging from thin aluminium tubes attached to wooden mounts made with a desktop CNC machine.

[Illusionmanager] made a detailed Instructables page showing the process of making a miniature version of the mechanism using just laser-cut wooden parts, as an update to a version we featured earlier. We really like the simplicity of this design, which stands in stark contrast to the huge gear trains used in more traditional orreries.

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Guide To Creating Small Planets

We at Hackaday often dream of having our own personal planets where we wouldn’t have to deal with other people, but our spaceships aren’t quite ready. While we figure that out, you can do the next best thing: render small planets using Photoshop or GIMP with a few other graphics apps and this guide to making small planets like the one pictured above.

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