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SciShow News serves up the latest pictures from Comet 67-P, that media darling, and the discovery of what may be the oldest, rocky Earth-like worlds yet found.

Hosted by: Caitlin Hofmeister

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Sources:
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6220/aaa0571.full
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150122141802.htm
http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2015/01/22/watching-the-birth-of-a-comet-magnetosphere/
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6220/387.full
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It's been a hectic few months for 67-P, what with us landing on it, and suddenly making it famous for a few days, and then losing contact and everything. But through all the drama Rosetta, the probe launched by the European Space Agency in 2004 has kept orbiting the comet, collecting data and sending it back for analysis. And last week, the new data started arriving, revealing aspects of 67-P, or any comet for that matter, that we've never seen before.

With all the new findings coming in, there's plenty to talk about, like the secrets of 67-P's past and the transformations we're watching it go through now as it approaches the Sun. Rosetta has sent us a whole slew of new, highly detailed pictures of the comet's surface. In addition to just being incredibly cool to look at, these pictures are important because comets like 67-P date back to the origin of the solar system.

So features like bumps, cliffs, and pits on the surface are indicators of what it's been through, probably signs of collisions with other large objects, but the new pictures show way more signs of impact than we expected. So this probably means that there was a lot more bouncing and crashing around among the comets in the early solar system than we thought. And Rosetta's also letting us watch 67-P as it undergoes a pretty amazing transformation: it's growing its own magnetosphere.

67-P has different types of gas, like carbon dioxide and water vapor shooting out from its surface, but so far these gases haven't developed into an atmosphere around the comet partly because it doesn't have a magnetic field around it to repel the highly charged solar wind that whisks these gases away. But according to Rosetta, the comet won't stay that way for long. As Comet 67-P approaches the Sun, the solar radiation and wind hitting the gases just above the surface ionize some of the particles, and soon, these fast-moving charged particles become so dense that they create an electrical field, which in turn starts to create a magnetic field that can actually resist the solar wind, so eventually, the comet will end up with a magnetosphere.

The hope is that as we learn more about how 67-P gets its magnetic protection, we'll found out more about how Earth developed its own. And the comet's time in the science spotlight is by no means over. The Rosetta mission has plenty of time left since 67-P doesn't reach its closest point to the Sun until August. So keep a look out for more news from this rightfully famous chunk of rock.

Now as Rosetta is giving us a peek at our solar system's past, we're also getting a new picture of our planet's future. On Tuesday, a team of British astronomers announced that they had discovered five rocky exoplanets 117 light-years away orbiting a star called Kepler 444. Three of them are the size of Mars, and the other two are the size of Venus and Mercury. In addition to being just a bonanza of new worlds, these planets may be the oldest rocky, Earth-like worlds we've found yet.

The scientists found them by analyzing data from our old friend, Kepler, the telescope that trails Earth in its orbit around the Sun while taking pictures of stars. By monitoring changes in the star's brightness, Kepler can detect when objects that might be planets pass in front of them, but it can also tell how old the stars are using a technique called astroseismology. The frequencies of a star's flickering tell us what chemical reactions are happening inside the star, and these chemical reactions change depending on the star's age. So using the readings of these frequencies, astronomers determine that Kepler-444 is around 11.2 billion years old, and the planets orbiting are probably around that age too. 

With current technology, it's tough to get a closer look at these worlds, but finding exoplanets this old could some day give us a peek at our own future and where our own planetary evolution will take us.

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