Tag Archives: ‘Rogue

Astronomers Spot Earth-Sized Rogue Planet Wandering the Galaxy

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Astronomers have identified more than 4,000 exoplanets orbiting other stars but just a few “rogue planets” wandering the galaxy without a star to call home. A new study claims to have spotted one of these worlds, and it may be a small, rocky world like Earth. If confirmed, the planet known as OGLE-2016-BLG-1928 would be a major milestone in our efforts to spot these unattached worlds. 

While scientists believe rogue planets are common throughout the universe, they’re very difficult to find. We currently lack the technology to directly image exoplanets in most instances, so we can only locate them by observing the stars they orbit. The dearly departed Kepler Space Telescope single-handedly detected more than 2,500 exoplanets, and that number continues to rise as scientists analyze its data. Kepler used the transit method, which involves watching stars for dips in brightness as a planet passes in front of them. Scientists have also used radial velocity measurements of stars to look for small wobbles caused by the mass of planets. 

Without a host star, spotting planets gets a lot harder. The Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) project found the potential rogue planet using gravitational microlensing, which superficially similar to the transit method. This approach monitors the light from a distant star in hopes a massive object like a planet will pass in front of it. While the star and planet may be many light-years away, the planet bends or “lenses” the star’s light from our perspective on Earth. This can reveal the foreground object’s mass and size, but only if you happen to be looking in the right place at the right time. 

This light curve indicates a massive object passed in front of the star.

Andrzej Udalski of the OGLE project notes that you could watch a single star for a million years and only see a single lensing event. Luckily, Udalski and his team didn’t have to go one star at a time. They used the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, which scans millions of stars in the direction of the galactic center on a daily basis. In analyzing this data, the OGLE team spotted a lensing event dubbed OGLE-2016-BLG-1928. At just 42 minutes long, it’s the shortest such detection ever recorded. That suggests the planet, if indeed that’s what it is, would be somewhere between the size of Earth and Mars. 

The team believes this object is a rogue planet because there are no known stars to which it could be connected. The data also showed no light sources within eight astronomical units of the lensing event. Other researchers will need to confirm this object is a planet before it goes in the history books, but if current theories are right, there are uncountable millions of similar objects out there just waiting to be discovered.

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A Rogue Raspberry Pi Let Hackers Into NASA’s JPL Network

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) works with some of the most advanced technology in the world, including Mars rovers and space telescopes. However, it was a relatively simple piece of consumer technology that allowed hackers to break into its network and steal data. According to a report from the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG), someone connected an unauthorized Raspberry Pi to a JPL network, giving hackers a way into the systems.

The comprehensive federal review of JPL’s systems stemmed from an April 2018 incident when someone at JPL attached the Raspberry PiSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce to the network there for an unknown purpose. This small computer had an unfiltered connection to the internet, acting as a glowing beacon for hackers. It was apparently quite simple for the unknown attackers to get into the systems attached to the same network as the Raspberry Pi.

While inside JPL’s network, the hackers reportedly stole about 500MB of data related to human spaceflight. If they were just some jokers on the internet, that data isn’t terribly useful. If, however, they represented an adversarial nation, the data could be extremely valuable. This would be bad enough, but the OIG review dived deeper and revealed more issues with the way JPL runs its networks.

After ransacking the JPL computers, the attackers found a route deeper into JPL’s network. They were able to access sensitive systems like the Deep Space Network, an array of radio antennas that NASA uses to communicate with distant spacecraft. The security breach was so severe that officials at Johnson Space Center decided to disconnect from the JPL network to protect projects like the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and International Space Station. Johnson remained disconnected from JPL until November 2018, but some connections are still restricted.

JPL is good at visiting other planets, not so much at network security.

The OIG lambasts JPL for the shared nature of its network. A properly segmented network would have kept the attackers from branching out into other systems and threatening flight operations. The system JPL uses to track network hardware is apparently woefully incomplete and poorly maintained. Network administrators even admitted they don’t regularly check the list of new devices.

NASA and JPL have pledged to address the issues cited in the report, and the OIG will circle back to make sure that happens. We can’t take chances with major endeavors like the Artemis Program coming up.

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There May Be 50 Billion Rogue Planets in Our Galaxy

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People used to argue about whether or not planets like the eight (or more) in our solar system were rare. Starting in the 1990s with the discovery of the first exoplanets, it became clear planets are common around other stars. What about planets without stars? Astronomers have identified a handful of such planets, but a new simulation developed at the University of Leiden suggests there could be as many as 50 billion rogue planets in the Milky Way.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” Rogue planets, even the largest among them, are but tiny specs floating in the infinite cosmic void without a star to point the way. That we’ve spotted any of them is a minor miracle, but the technology doesn’t exist to conduct an accurate survey of rogue planets. Thus, the importance of the new simulation.

The team built a simulation of 1,500 stars in a region of space called Orion Trapezium. Of course, we don’t know how many planets really exist around these stars, but the model included between four and six planets in orbit around about 500 of those planets. That’s a total of 2,522 planets in the model.

Over the course of millions of simulated years, gravitational interactions between the stars kicked more than 350 of those planets out of their solar systems. That works out to approximately 14 percent of all the planets in the model becoming rogue planets.


We don’t know how many planets exist in the galaxy, but there are about 200 billion stars. Most of them are in clusters not unlike Orion Trapezium. Estimating even a modest number of planets on average, that could mean billions of rogue planets in the Milky Way. The team used a number of guesstimates to arrive at 50 billion. Some of those might even have come from our own solar system.

Most of the confirmed or suspected rogue planets we’ve spotted are under 100 light years away, and several of those are too faint to characterize beyond the most basic details. If there are anywhere close to 50 billion planets without a star, it’s likely astronomers will discover more of them that are close enough to study with instruments like the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

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2018 Nissan Rogue Review: Slick Self-Driving Compact SUV

The 2018 Nissan Rogue is one of the more desirable mainstream compact SUVs with a roomy interior, comfortable front seats, useful storage features, solid safety offerings, and excellent crash test results. Add the ProPilot Assist option to the high-end Rogue SL and you’ve got a car that more or less drives itself on interstates. Just understand that you have to keep your hands lightly on the wheel and pay attention along with the car.

The Rogue does not aspire to be a sporty SUV or a 0-60 champ. Nor does it have the smoothest ride on rough roads and the engine gets noisy if you push hard on the throttle. The infotainment system got a 2018 upgrade but not a bigger screen. While safety offerings are good, you need to buy the highest trim line to get everything.

This is the second-generation Rogue, which dates to the 2014 model year, with a 2017 refresh. (The 2019 Rogue will be essentially the same as the 2018 model I tested.)  The Rogue no longer offers the third-row seat, which proffered false hope in a vehicle 184.5 inches long.

Front seat passengers are coddled in Nissan’s zero-gravity (their term) seats. It’s not bad in back and passengers sit up high with good legroom, if not best-in-class. Cargo capacity is very good (for a compact) and helped by Nissan’s load-floor covers that can be placed at different heights.

The ride is decent for a car with a short wheelbase (this applies to all compact SUVs) except on rougher roads. Similarly, Nissan’s 170-hp four-cylinder engine (no turbo) is pleasant unless ridden hard, at which point it sounds strained. The CVT (continuously variable transmission) is pretty well tamed; no one is putting more effort into CVTs than Nissan. It takes just under 10 seconds to reach 60 mph, on the slower end for small SUVs. In almost 2,000 miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 32 mpg (regular fuel) for my all-wheel-drive Rogue, which is rated at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, 27 mpg combined. The front-driver is rated 29 mpg combined and the hybrids are rated at 33 mpg combined (AWD) and 34 mpg combined (front-drive).

ProPilot Assist functions are shown in the instrument panel: The blue icon means PPA is active. The green steering wheel means steering assist is active. The converging vertical green lines mean the camera sees both left and right pavement markers. And the car icon shows adaptive cruise control has locked onto the vehicle in front, as it’s pacing the front-runner’s speed.

ProPilot Assist: Unmatched in a $ 30K Vehicle

ProPilot Assist (blue), speed, and following distance controls.

ProPilot Assist is Nissan’s Level 2 autonomous driving technology, Level 2 meaning two or more systems working together. In Nissan’s case, it’s lane centering assist (keeps the car in the middle of the lane) and adaptive cruise control (maintains a set speed and follow the car in front).

To activate ProPilot Assist, you need lane centering assist turned on (one of the many buttons by the driver’s left knee). On the right of the steering wheel, enable ProPilot Assist by pressing the blue button. Get to your desired speed, at least 20 mph, and press the speed Set or Resume button. The car checks its sensors, following distance, and wiper setting (off or intermittent). It waits for all systems to lock on (instantaneously to as much as five seconds), the gray steering wheel in the instrument panel goes green, and then your Rogue is driving you. Just keep your hands lightly on the wheel. Take them off for 5-10 seconds and the car warns you, then warns again and goes to standby.

ProPilot Assist takes the hassle out of long, boring stretches of interstate highway. Also, slow moving traffic. PPA drove straight and true in our tests on more than 1,000 miles of interstate, tracking perfectly through curves. Only on some twisty sections of West Virginia Interstate was ProPilot Assist unable to stay centered and it disengages as it alerts the driver to take over. Unlike an earlier version of ProPilot Assist I drove in the Nissan Leaf, the car no longer favors the right-side lane markings that take you onto exit ramps. ProPilot Assist is well-behaved, the driver remains in control, and it does ease the monotony of long-distance driving.

In comparison, Cadillac’s Super Cruise is a superior autonomous Level 2 system, but it’s a $ 5,000 option or requires the $ 85,000 version of the CT-6. Super Cruise lets you drive hands off, but an eye tracker scolds if your gaze wanders for more than 5-10 seconds.

What if you don’t like ProPilot Assist? If you’re not a fan, do this: Don’t press the blue button.

The “around view monitor” gives a 360-degree view from (seemingly) overhead. It stitches the output from four cameras and also alerts you to movement near the car (children, pets). Nissan is a pioneer in surround cameras.

Technology, Safety, Infotainment

All three trim lines — S, SV, SL — have blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert plus forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking.  The Rogue S for 2018 also gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and adds a second USB jack, as do the higher trim lines.

The midrange SV premium package has adaptive cruise control (stop and go), Nissan’s excellent surround view monitor (“intelligent around view monitor), navigation, voice recognition for navigation and audio, and a SiriusXM Travel and Travel Link data feed.

The SL has standard adaptive cruise control, navigation, and pedestrian detection as part of automatic emergency braking. The SL premium package combines LED headlamps with a huge moonroof. It’s required in order to get the platinum package with ProPilot Assist, electronic parking brake, and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 55-series tires, which is borderline safe for people in pothole country.

The Rogue Pilot has nicely sculpted lines. They do a lot for looks, but not much for rear vision. This Rogue has the signature Monarch Orange paint ($ 395).

The Nissan Rogue Trim Lines

The Nissan Rogue comes in three variants: S, SV, and SL. Prices range from $ 24,800 (including the $ 975 freight charge) for the front-drive Rogue S with no options to $ 36,760 for the all-wheel-drive Rogue SL with the signature Monarch Orange paint job and all three options packages. All-wheel-drive is a $ 1,350 cost-adder on all three trim lines. A hybrid drivetrain adds $ 1,000 to the SV, $ 1,200 to the SL. A Midnight Edition with just about everything blacked out adds $ 1,095.

The S value package provides 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, roof rails, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering and shifter.

The SV gets a motion-activated liftgate in 2018. The Premium Package is $ 2,870. A sun-and-sound Touring Package is $ 3,220 with Bose premium audio, navigation, traffic and travel, the around view monitor, ACC, moonroof, healer leather steering wheel, and memory for driver’s seat and mirrors.

The SL integrates navigation, stop-and-go cruise control, and leather seats. The SL  premium package of moonroof and LED headlamps is $ 1,820; the platinum package of ProPilot Assist, electronic parking brake, and 18-inch alloys is $ 790 and requires the premium package. A platinum reserve package brings quilted leather inserts for $ 250.

Infotainment is controlled by a 7-inch touch screen. Others in the compact class have 8-inch displays and 2019 small SUV intros may bring a 10-incher.

Infotainment System Shows Its Age

The Rogue sometimes comes off as a crossover that’s better than the sum of its pieces. There are a half-dozen minor dissatisfiers. The infotainment screen is small at 7 inches diagonal, the buttons flanking the screen are smaller than most fingers, and there’s just one USB jack, one 12-volt socket, and an aux-in jack at the base of the center stack. Passengers in the second row must share a 12-volt socket in the cargo bay. There is, however, legacy entertainment in the form of a CD player.

The Nissan Rogue led all compact SUVs with 195,689 sales in the first half of 2018, up 31 percent. Only Mitsubishi Outlander did better, up 34 percent. Nissan includes sales of its smaller, similarly named subcompact SUV, Rogue Sport. If Honda did that with H-RV and Toyota with C-HR, they’d be at 233,884 and 211,005 sales. (Source: GoodCarBadCar.com)

Should You Buy?

Rogue sales (2018 projected based on 2017)

The second generation Rogue is aging well in the years before the third generation arrives in 2020. Most of the key competition is newer. The fifth-generation Honda CR-V was new as of the 2017 model year. The third-generation Chevrolet Equinox is new this year. The fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 ships later this year. The fifth-generation Ford Escape is due in North America next year.

Even against newer competition, Rogue holds its own on crash safety and basic safety features. It rides reasonably well. The $ 1,000-$ 1,200 hybrid upcharge is fair. Last year there was a Star Wars special edition; this year there’s a Midnight Black Edition, $ 1,095 extra. Honda and Toyota beat Nissan with safety suites on their comparable SUVs. Having a named safety package such as Honda Sensing or Toyota Safety Sense gives the customer something to ask for. But Nissan has blind spot detection standard across the Rogue lines, where the named Honda and Toyota packages lack BSD except as an extra-cost option on some trim levels.

For most buyers, the Rogue SV makes the most sense. If you appreciate technology, we suggest you look to the top-line Rogue SL with the options packages that give you ProPilot Assist, and a price in the mid-thirties if you choose all-wheel-drive. ProPilot Assist eases the boredom and occasional safety concerns of long-distance highway driving as well as daily commuting on limited access roads. For now, among mainstream vehicles, Nissan Rogue is in a class of one when it comes to assisted driving among affordable small SUVs.

Now read: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: Solid, Roomy Performer Gets 30+ MPG2017 Honda CR-V improves comfort, adds volume knob, loses LaneWatch, and 2017 Mazda CX-5 first drive review: Will more tech, quieter cockpit match Audi, BMW?

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Mysterious ‘Rogue Planet’ Roams the Stars Alone, Not So Far From Earth

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Researchers have detected a rogue planet traveling the void between stars some 20 light years away. Rogue planets or brown dwarfs (which this might be) aren’t exactly rare, cosmologically speaking, but they tend to be very difficult to see. And yet, the way we found this particular planet/brown dwarf suggests we might locate other similar stellar objects through an application of the same technique.

SIMP J01365663+0933473 is either a brown dwarf or a planet — initially, it was thought to be a brown dwarf, but later mass estimates suggest it’s 12.7x the mass of Jupiter, which puts it right on the cusp of the planet / brown dwarf distinction. Brown dwarfs are typically thought to begin at 13 Jupiter masses (MJ), which is why SIMP J01 (etc) was originally thought to be a brown dwarf. In fact, it’s not clear this is a settled issue — some of the write-ups on this story explicitly refer to SIMP J01365663+0933473 as a brown dwarf, while others call it an enormous planet. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory site refers to a discovery late last year that suggests the planet is only 200 million years old and is too young to be a star. But regardless, it’s one for the record books.

First, it’s relatively close, at just 20 light years away. It possesses an enormous magnetic field some 200x stronger than Jupiter’s. It has 12.7x Jupiter’s mass, but it wouldn’t actually be much larger than Jupiter itself. Brown dwarfs, even those vastly more dense than Jupiter (60-90MJ), aren’t actually all that much larger than our fifth planet, and brown dwarf sizes only appear to vary by 10-15 percent. This object, for example, is just 1.22x the diameter of Jupiter, despite its mass.

Astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array used the radio telescope to detect the rogue planet, making this the first time we’ve identified a planetary-mass object using radio astronomy.

A brown dwarf (artist’s depiction). Note the similarity to the planet above.

One feature of some brown dwarves — and of this planet — are exceptionally strong auroras. Auroras on Earth are created by the interaction of our own magnetic field and the solar wind from the Sun. There isn’t a sun near SIMP J01365663+0933473 to be interacting with its magnetic field, but it’s possible that the planet could have a moon in orbit interacting with and modifying its field. Jupiter and Io, for example, are known to have this kind of relationship. Its surface temperature is remarkably low for an object of this size, estimated at 825C or roughly 1500F. The Sun’s temperature, in contrast, is roughly 5,500C.

“This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star,’ and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets,” said Melodie Kao, who led this study while a graduate student at Caltech, and is now a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at Arizona State University. “Studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in extrasolar planets — planets beyond our Solar System. We think these mechanisms can work not only in brown dwarfs but also in both gas giant and terrestrial planets.”

Now Read: Astronomers Discover the First Water Clouds Outside Our Solar System, We Found the First Normal Planet to Orbit a Brown Dwarf, and Another Star May Have Skimmed the Solar System 70,000 Years Ago

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