Newly discovered planets may boost search for life beyond Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. The discovery of three planets that circle a small, dim star could bolster the chances of finding life beyond Earth, astronomers said on Monday.The Earth-sized planets are orbiting their parent star, located in the constellation Aquarius relatively close to Earth at 40 light years away, at a distance that provides the right amount of heat for there to be liquid water on their surface, a condition scientists believe may be critical for fostering life. The discovery marked the first time that planets were found orbiting a common type of star known as an ultra-cool dwarf, the scientists said."If we want to find life elsewhere in the universe, this is where we should start to look," Michael Gillon of the University of Liege in Belgium, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature, said in a statement. The discovery was made using Europe's Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The telescope finds planets by looking for changes in the amount of light coming from a star that may be caused by a planet passing by the telescope's line of sight. The smaller the background star, the easier it is to detect and measure these transiting planets. Though the newly found planets are about the size of Earth, their host star is just 8 percent of the size of the sun and less than a half a percent as bright, the scientists said.So far, astronomers have found more than 2,000 planets beyond the solar system and are developing techniques to scan planets' atmospheres for gases related to biological activities. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Twitter lawsuit partly dismissed over U.S. information requests

SAN FRANCISCO A U.S. judge on Monday partly dismissed a lawsuit filed by Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) in which the social media company argued it should be allowed to publicly disclose more details about requests for information it receives from the U.S. government.U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California also gave Twitter the opportunity to re-file its lawsuit to include more details about government decision-making, in order to try to move its claims forward. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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Astronomers find a tailless comet, first of its kind

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Astronomers have found a first-of-its-kind tailless comet whose composition may offer clues into long-standing questions about the solar system's formation and evolution, according to research published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.The so-called "Manx" comet, named after a breed of cats without tails, was made of rocky materials that are normally found near Earth. Most comets are made of ice and other frozen compounds and were formed in solar system's frigid far reaches.Researchers believe the newly found comet was formed in the same region as Earth, then booted to the solar system’s backyard like a gravitational slingshot as planets jostled for position.Scientists involved in the discovery now seek to learn how many more Manx comets exist, which could help to resolve debate over exactly how and when the solar system settled into its current configuration. "Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the solar system when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much," paper co-author Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the European Southern Observatory in Germany, said in a statement.The new comet, known as C/2014 S3, was discovered in 2014 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS. This network of telescopes scours the night-time skies for fast-moving comets, asteroids and other celestial bodies.Typically comets coming in from the same region as the Manx grow bright tails as they approach the sun, the result of ice vaporizing off their bodies and gleaming in reflected sunlight. But C/2014 S3 was dark and virtually tailless when it was spotted about twice as far away from the sun as Earth. Later analysis showed that instead of ices typically found on comets, the Manx comet contained materials similar to the rocky asteroids located in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. And C/2014 S3 appeared pristine, an indication that it had been in the solar system's deep freeze for a long time, said University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, the lead author. The discovery of additional Manx comets could help scientists to refine computer models used to simulate the solar system's formation, Meech said. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Letitia Stein and Diane Craft)

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Facebook hit with lawsuit over plan to issue new stock

SAN FRANCISCO A Facebook Inc (FB.O) shareholder filed a proposed class action lawsuit on Friday in a bid to stop the company's plan to issue new Class C stock, calling the move an unfair deal to entrench Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg as controlling shareholder.The lawsuit, filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery, comes two days after the social networking company announced its plan to issue the shares. The rejiggering of Facebook's share structure, effectively a 3-for-1 stock split, follows the 31 year-old's announcement last December that he intends to put 99 percent of his Facebook shares into a new philanthropy project focusing on human potential and equality.The lawsuit contends that a Facebook board committee which approved the share deal "did not bargain hard" with Zuckerberg "to obtain anything of meaningful value" in exchange for granting Zuckerberg added control. Representatives for Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.Facebook plans to create a new class of shares that are publicly listed but do not have voting rights. Facebook will issue two of the so-called "Class C" shares for each outstanding Class A and Class B share held by shareholders. Those new Class C shares will be publicly traded under a new symbol. Zuckerberg "wishes to retain this power, while selling off large amounts of his stockholdings, and reaping billions of dollars in proceeds," the lawsuit said."The issuance of the Class C stock will, in effect, have the same effect as a grant to Zuckerberg of billions of dollars in equity, for which he will pay nothing," it said. Google settled a lawsuit in 2013 shortly before trial which cleared the way for that company to execute a similar plan. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Chris Reese, Bernard Orr)

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Amazon profit crushes estimates as cloud-service revenue soars

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) on Thursday reported profit and revenue that blew past analysts' expectations, sending its shares soaring in after-hours trading and demonstrating the growing market power of its core retail business and new cloud services division.The results draw a sharp contrast to the disappointing fourth quarter Amazon reported in January, which renewed worries among some shareholders about the company's comparatively thin profit margins. Shares of the world's biggest online retailer jumped nearly 13 percent to $679 in extended trading on Thursday.Amazon's performance also assuaged concerns about a broader slowdown among tech and internet companies after Apple (AAPL.O), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Intel (INTC.O) all reported disappointing earnings."It did restore my faith," said Dan Conde, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, who keeps a close eye on Amazon's cloud business. The company also offered a bright outlook, with revenue guidance for the current quarter of $28 billion to $30.5 billion, compared to the $28.33 billion analysts had expected.While Amazon displayed impressive growth for a company its size - revenues last quarter rose 28.2 percent to $29.13 billion, the biggest revenue growth since 2012 - its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing division was the highlight. Revenues at the division climbed 64 percent to $2.56 billion while operating income more than tripled to $604 million.Even though operating margins fell at the unit compared to last quarter, as Amazon spends heavily to compete with rivals like Microsoft and Google (GOOGL.O), they remain a healthy 27.9 percent. That compares to 28.5 percent last quarter, and 16.9 percent a year earlier. AWS, launched 10 years ago, delivered more profit in the quarter than Amazon's retail business. Research firms say AWS has more than 30 percent of the fast-growing cloud-computing market and it remains far ahead of rivals including Microsoft and Google.Amazon said it also has seen strong growth in subscribers to its Prime loyalty program, which offers one-hour delivery, original TV programming and access to its digital entertainment products such as Prime Music and Prime Video for an annual fee of $99. The company said it would ramp up spending to entice Prime customers through video content, particularly its "Prime Originals" - shows Amazon develops itself. That strategy builds on the success of programs including "Mozart in the Jungle" and "Transparent," which each have won Golden Globe awards."We feel that program is working," Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in a conference call with analysts. "We're going to significantly increase our spend in that area." The company recently launched a monthly subscription to the program for $10.99. Amazon has also said it plans to offer its video streaming service as a standalone service for a monthly fee of $8.99. Amazon does not break out the numbers of Prime subscribers, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners says the program has 54 million U.S. members. Amazon's growth on the revenue side suggests that the relationship model around Amazon Prime is working, said Frank Gillett, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.Amazon on Thursday also said it would continue to build its logistics operations, where it has started using its own trucks and planes to supplement carriers such as UPS and Fedex and offer-same day service. "They're still great partners, have been, and will continue to be for the future," Olsavsky said in response to an analyst who asked if Amazon would ever entertain delivering items for those companies. "But we see opportunities where we need to add additional capacity and we're filling those voids." Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also touted the success of new hardware products. "Amazon devices are the top selling products on Amazon," he said in a press release, citing the Echo voice-response system and the Fire TV Stick.The Echo has been a surprise hit and Bezos said in the statement that the company could not keep it in stock, but he declined to provide sales figures.Amazon's net sales in North America, its biggest market by revenue, increased 26.8 percent to $17 billion in the first quarter.Amazon reported net income of $513 million, or $1.07 per share, for the quarter ended March 31, marking a fourth straight quarter of profits for the once perennially money-losing company. A year earlier, Amazon reported a loss of $57 million, or 12 cents per share.Analysts on average had expected a profit of 58 cents per share and revenue of $27.98 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru and Sarah McBride in San Francisco; Editing by Kirti Pandey, Jonathan Weber and Bernard Orr)

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