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H2-NO: Water blow in the hunt for Earth-like planets

No place like home: Blow in hunt for Earth-like planets Credit: PA

The hunt for planets similar to the Earth could be hampered by low water levels, Cambridge scientists have said.

Three planets which orbit stars similar to the sun had been seen as ideal candidates for detecting water vapour - a key characteristic of Earth-like climates.

But a team of astronomers using Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope studying HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b - which are between 60 and 900 light-years away, with temperatures ranging from 900 to 2200C - have found the planets are virtually dry.

Scientists from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge said it highlighted the challenges in searching for planets capable of sustaining life.

They found water levels which are only one-tenth to one-thousandth of the amount predicted.

Dr Nikku Madhusudhan of the University of Cambridge said

"These very hot planets with large atmospheres orbit some of our nearest stars, making them the best possible candidates for measuring water levels, and yet the levels we found were much lower than expected. "These results show just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exo-planets in our search for potential life elsewhere. "We expected these planets to have lots of water in their atmospheres. We have to revisit planet formation and migration models of giant planets, especially hot Jupiters, to investigate how they're formed. There are so many things we still don't understand about exo-planets - this opens up a new chapter in understanding how planets and solar systems form."

– Dr Nikku Madhusudhan

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easyJet to be the first to use new ash cloud detection system

An ash cloud rising from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano which forced airlines to ground their planes in May 2010. Credit: Press Association Images.

A Luton-based airline is set to become the first to use new technology designed to help aircraft detect volcanic ash.

The AVOID system is a radar for ash and aims to prevent a repeat of the Icelandic volcanic ash-cloud crisis of spring 2010.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull led to days of no flights into and out of the UK in April and May 2010, with the whole of Europe affected.

The new system has been created by Norway's Nicarnica Aviation with the support of Luton-based easyJet.

It uses infra-red technology fitted to aircraft to supply images to pilots and an airline's operations control centre.

It will enable pilots to see an ash cloud up to 60 miles ahead of the aircraft and at altitudes between 5,000ft and 50,000ft.

The technology was tested by European planemaker Airbus last November. It will now go into commercial production.

Today, easyJet's engineering director Ian Davies said that move was "a tangible and significant step forward in bringing this technology from conception into reality".

He added: "easyJet has supported the development of this innovative technology since the 2010 volcanic eruption which brought aviation to a halt in Europe. We look forward to being the first airline to fit this technology on our aircraft."

Scientists develop barley plant that has four times the drought tolerance

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich are developing a barley plant that has four times the drought tolerance of their parent stock.

The effects of drought on a crop can be devastating – yield is generally reduced and the grain which is collected is often of poor quality compared to that grown under optimal conditions.

Barley is the world's fourth most commonly grown crop and has diverse uses such as cattle feed and in the production of beer and whiskey.

Click below to watch Kate Prout's report:

Research breakthrough into antibiotic resistance

Professor Changjiang Dong, University of East Anglia Credit: ITV News Anglia

Scientists at the University of East Anglia in Norwich have released research which could lead to finding a solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

The research they've carried out could help in the development of a new type of drug to kill superbugs.

It comes as the World Health Organisation warns that antibiotics are becoming less effective in treating some common conditions.

Professor Changjiang Dong from the UEA said. "We have identified the path and gate used by the bacteria to transport barrier building blocks to the outer surface. Importantly, we have demonstrated that the bacteria would die if the gate is locked.

The number of superbugs are increasing at an unexpected rate, this research provides the platform for urgently needed new generation drugs."

Researchers says this discovery may pave the way to a new generation of antibiotic drugs.

  1. Stuart Leithes

Cambridge computer predicting the Earth's future

Computer scientists in Cambridge have created a computer program which could help to predict how the Earth will look hundreds of years in the future.

They've called this prototype the 'Madingley model' - named after the Cambridgeshire village and it can be used to show how humans damaging the Earth's ecosystems would impact on animal life around the world.

Click below to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Stuart Leithes

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Essex has worst street in UK for Broadband

A street in Essex has been declared the slowest in the UK for broadband internet speeds.

Download speeds on Wheatley Road in Stanford-Le-Hope have been measured at 30 times slower than the UK national average according to comparison site uSwitch.com

It means people living there would have to wait 15 hours to download a movie while people living in other areas could download the same film in less than 10 minutes

New way of repairing potholes

A new machine that can repair potholes in just two minutes is set to be rolled out across our region.

Potholes on our roads Credit: ITV Anglia

The robotic device can fill a hole in the road with tar and gravel around 30 times faster than the standard method.

It's already been trialled in Bedfordshire and will soon be seen in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes.

University of Hertfordshire study suggests that technology is preventing sleep

Technology keeping us awake Credit: ITV Anglia

New research from the University of Hertfordshire suggests computers, tablets and smart phones are adding to an epidemic of sleep deprivation.

A survey indicates that almost seventy eight percent of people in the UK are exposed to sleep-disruptive blue lights from gadgets before going to bed.

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