Wil je een videoclip bekijken en stoort het X-files-deuntje jou daarbij. Schakel het deuntje gewoon uit door in deze kolon, helemaal beneden op de 2 witte balkjes in het blauwe cirkeltje te klikken, tot een pijltje verschijnt. Veel kijk- en luisterplezier en bedankt voor jouw bezoek.
The purpose of this blog is the creation of an open, international, independent and free forum, where every UFO-researcher can publish the results of his/her research. The languagues, used for this blog, are Dutch, English and French.You can find the articles of a collegue by selecting his category. Each author stays resposable for the continue of his articles. As blogmaster I have the right to refuse an addition or an article, when it attacks other collegues or UFO-groupes.
UFO'S - MET HET LAATSTE NIEUWS OVER UFO'S BOVEN BELGIË EN IN ANDERE LANDEN...
UFO's in België en de rest van de wereld In België heb je vooral BUFON of het Belgisch UFO-Netwerk, dat zich met UFO's bezighoudt. BEZOEK DUS ZEKER VOOR ALLE OBJECTIEVE INFORMATIE ww.ufo.be.
Verder heb je ook het Belgisch-Ufo-meldpunt en Caelestia, die prachtig, doch ZEER kritisch werk leveren, ja soms zelfs héél sceptisch...
Voor Nederland kan je de mooie site www.ufowijzer.nl bezoeken van Paul Harmans. Een mooie site met veel informatie en artikels.
MUFON of het Mutual UFO Network Inc is een Amerikaanse UFO-vereniging met afdelingen in alle USA-staten en diverse landen.
MUFON's mission is the analytical and scientific investigation of the UFO- Phenomenon for the benefit of humanity...
Je kan ook hun site bekijken onder www.mufon.com.
Ze geven een maandeliiks tijdschrift uit, namelijk The MUFON UFO-Journal. Since 02/01/2013 is Pieter not only president (=voorzitter) of BUFON, but also National Director MUFON / Flanders and the Netherlands. We work together with the French MUFON Reseau MUFON/EUROP.
Euclid: ESA's Search for Dark Matter & Dark Energy
Euclid: ESA's Search for Dark Matter & Dark Energy
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor
Euclid is a mission planned by the European Space Agency (ESA) that aims to learn more about the parts of the universe we can't see — specifically, dark energy and dark matter. These form most of the universe and are thought to be responsible for phenomena such as the acceleration of the universe's expansion.
Euclid is expected to launch in 2020 from French Guiana aboard a Soyuz rocket. It will take roughly 30 days for Euclid to make its way to its planned location in space, which is a gravitationally stable area known as a Lagrange point. Euclid will be at L2, which lies about a million miles from Earth but in the opposite direction of the sun. At this point, with the Earth, moon and sun behind it, a spacecraft can get a clear view of deep space.
As a survey mission, Euclid will last at least six years and cover 15,000 square degrees of sky. Its survey will be performed as a "step and stare," meaning that the telescope will do measurements on about 0.5 square degrees of the sky at a time.
The ESA's current guideline for science missions is called Cosmic Vision 2015-2025. In 2007, a proposal process for Cosmic Vision resulted in two missions that were intended to measure the geometry of the universe: DUNE (Dark Universe Explorer) and SPACE (Spectroscopic All Sky Cosmic Explorer.)
DUNE was supposed to image the sky across a wide field to study dark energy and dark matter. Its primary measurement method was weak gravitational lensing. SPACE was supposed to create a 3-D evolutionary map of the universe across 10 billion years, by measuring galaxy redshifts and spectra. However, after an assessment study those two missions were combined into one: Euclid. (Euclid is named after an Ancient Greek mathematician who is sometimes called the "father of geometry.")
In 2011, ESA selected Solar Orbiter and Euclid as the first two of its medium-class or M-class missions, among several proposals. Solar Orbiter is expected to launch in 2018, and Euclid in 2019.
In 2013, NASA signed a memorandum of understanding with ESA to provide 20 detectors for Euclid's near-infrared instrument. NASA also nominated 40 U.S. scientists to join the Euclid consortium, which builds the instruments and will later parse the mission's science data. Later that year, Italy's Thales Alenia Space was selected as prime contractor for the mission. Euclid passed its preliminary design review in 2015, and the first parts of the flight hardware — four detectors for the visible imager – were delivered to ESA in early 2017.
We can only see a fraction of the known universe. Ordinary matter makes up about 4 percent, while dark matter makes up 20 percent and dark energy makes up 76 percent. Understanding more about dark matter and dark energy could help scientists, for example, learn why the universe is accelerating in its expansion. There is not enough "ordinary" matter to account for the acceleration.
Euclid will show scientists more about the dark universe. One of its main goals is to accurately map galaxy redshift, which occurs when an object moves away from us. The light shifts to the red end of the spectrum, as its wavelengths get longer. If an object moves closer, the light moves to the blue end of the spectrum, as its wavelengths get shorter. The mission will look back to galaxies that formed as early as 10 billion years ago, or more than double the solar system's age. In its prime mission, Euclid will map about half of the sky.
Specifically, Euclid's detectors are supposed to conduct two cosmological probes. One will study weak gravitational lensing, which happens when a concentration of matter bends light as light travels toward the observer. This is useful for mapping dark matter and for inferring dark energy by measuring how much galaxy images are distorted by the lensing.
The other probe will study baryonic acoustic oscillations (BAO), which measures the spatial distribution of galaxies. Across very large scales, galaxies tend to cluster in pairs separated by a standard distance. This standard distance is linked to sound waves in plasma (supercharged gas) from the early universe; the sound waves propagated from dark matter halos, or concentrations of dark matter associated with galaxies. BAOs are therefore a standard ruler to measure the universe's expansion, and dark energy as well.
Euclid's science will be performed by two instruments, and the spacecraft's 1.2-meter mirror will split light between them for analysis:
A visible imager (VIS), which will include dozens of charge-coupled devices specially formulated for the mission. ESA said the devices will include high efficiency, low noise and good radiation tolerance. The field of view of VIS is a little larger than the area covered by two full moons.
The Near-Infrared Spectrometer and Photometer (NISP), which will provide near-infrared photometry of galaxies. The aim is to combine NISP's and VIS's observations to show the galaxy redshift observed by Euclid.
The overall goals of Euclid (in ESA's words) are:
Investigate the properties of the dark energy by accurately measuring both the acceleration as well as the variation of the acceleration at different ages of the universe;
Test the validity of general relativity on cosmic scales;
Investigate the nature and properties of dark matter by mapping the 3-dimensional dark matter distribution in the universe;
Refine the initial conditions at the beginning of our universe, which seed the formation of the cosmic structures we see today.
Other dark-matter missions
Dark matter is still a relatively young science, but there have been some observations by other space missions to assist with Euclid's work.
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope launched in 2008. One of its science goals is to look at dark matter, specifically by probing phenomena such as excess gamma-rays from the Milky Way's center. In 2014, NASA announced that the excess emission seen in that area "is consistent with some forms of dark matter." In 2017, observations of the nearby Andromeda Galaxy revealed the same phenomena.
Other space missions have glimpsed dark matter, even though it wasn't in their primary missions. One example is a 2015 study of 72 galaxy cluster collisions that used data from both the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. At the time, scientists said the study helped set limits on the nature of dark matter. "Astronomers can map the distribution of dark matter by analyzing how the light from distant sources beyond the cluster is magnified and distorted by gravitational effects," the Harvard University Chandra X-Ray Observatory page said in a press release.
ESA's Gaia mission launched in 2013 to create the most accurate map of star locations in the sky. It is thought that charting their movements will reveal more information about the nature of dark matter, and how it influenced the universe's history.
Gliese 581c is a super-Earth planet that was discovered in 2007. It resides in the Gliese 581 system, which at 20 light-years from Earth is relatively close to our planet (in celestial terms). While early research suggested that Gliese 581c may have liquid water on its surface because it resides in its star's "habitable zone," more recent research suggests it may have a Venus-like environment.
The existence of Gliese 581c was announced in 2007 in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The paper was led by Stephane Udry, an astronomer at Geneva Observatory. Gliese 581c was one of two super-Earth planets his team found, both at the edge of the star's habitable zone.
Gliese 581c was found using the radial-velocity method, meaning that it was detected through tugs on its parent star. The instrument that made the discovery was the HARPS spectrograph on a 3.6-meter telescope managed by the European Southern Observatory in Chile. (HARPS is one of the more prolific planet-hunting instruments available to astronomers today.)
At the time, the researchers said Gliese 581c is "the known exoplanet which most resembles our own Earth" because it was only five times the mass of our planet. (Subsequent searches have found many planets much closer to our Earth's mass.)
While Gliese 581c was classified as Earth-like, the researchers cautioned that actual conditions on the planet may be very different than our own. The surface temperature, for example, would depend on the composition and thickness of the atmosphere. The atmosphere also determines how much light is reflected off the planet, and the magnitude of the greenhouse effect.
The parent star of Gliese 581c, called Gliese 581, is an M-class dwarf star. It's cooler than the sun, which means its habitable zone would be closer in than our own solar system. M dwarfs are favored for planetary searches because they are dimmer, meaning that planets passing across the star would be easier to see. There also is a smaller relative size between the planet and the star, making their gravitational effects more obvious.
Characteristics and habitability
Researchers examining Gliese 581 have had different opinions over the years about how many planets were there; one example was the discovery of Gliese 581g in 2010. Signatures of the planet did not show up in independent searches, and today most astronomers in that field consider that the planet does not exist.
Not knowing the number of planets exactly makes it difficult to determine the radius of Gliese 581c. The planet has not been seen directly passing across the face of its star, so astronomers can only learn about its characteristics from Gliese 581c's influence on other planets and the star. The radius would in turn determine such matters as whether the planet is closer to an Earth-like planet (with a smaller atmosphere) or closer to a Neptune-like planet (with a much thicker atmosphere).
Gliese 581c takes about 13 days to orbit its parent star. (By contrast, Mercury's orbit around our much larger sun takes about 88 days.) Because Gliese 581c is so close to its star, a common belief is that the planet is tidally locked. This means that as it orbits, the planet always keeps the same side toward the sun. This phenomenon is common among moons of Jupiter and Saturn in our own solar system. Earth's moon is also tidally locked to our own planet.
If a planet is tidally locked, this means that one side (the star-facing side) is always warmer than the other side (which always faces away from the star.) Any considerations of habitability would have to take this into account. The only firm example of a habitable planet that we know of – our own Earth – has a regular day-night cycle in most areas of the planet, except the poles. Over billions of years, lifeforms have adapted to this cycle. It's unclear how life would survive in an area of perpetual day or perpetual night, but studies are ongoing.
A 2007 follow-up paper in Astronomy and Astrophysics, led by Werner von Bloh at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, suggested that Gliese 581c is too hot to support life because it is so close to its parent star. This means that the planet may have more of a Venus-like environment, with an extremely hot surface and a runaway greenhouse effect under a thick atmosphere. This was confirmed in a 2011 study in Astronomy and Astrophysics led by Y. Hu, who is with Peking University's laboratory for climate and ocean-atmosphere studies.
While Gliese 581c has not been discussed much in scientific literature in recent years, astronomers are working more generally to improve their models of planets that are close in to their parent stars. An example is a 2013 article published in the journal Nature, in which a team led by Jeremy Leconte examines the conditions under which runaway greenhouse effects happen on Earth-like planets. This line of research is receiving increased attention again after the discovery of Proxima Centuari b, a potentially habitable planet just four light-years from Earth, in 2016.
Dwarf Planet Ceres' Water-Ice Deposits Tied to Its Changing Tilt
Dwarf Planet Ceres' Water-Ice Deposits Tied to Its Changing Tilt
By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor
The location of newfound water-ice deposits on Ceres is linked to wild swings in the dwarf planet's tilt over the eons, a new study suggests.
Ice on Ceres — the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — survives in permanently shadowed regions that don't receive sunlight. But these regions change drastically over a period of just 24,500 years, researchers determined.
Ceres' tilt relative to the plane of its path around the sun changes tenfold, from 2 degrees to about 20 degrees, in that time. The dwarf planet's current tilt, also known as obliquity, is 4 degrees; by contrast, Earth's tilt (which is responsible for the seasons) is 23.5 degrees. [Amazing Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres]
"We found a correlation between craters that stay in shadow at maximum obliquity, and bright deposits that are likely water ice," study lead author Anton Ermakov, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a NASA statement. "Regions that never see sunlight over millions of years are more likely to have these deposits."
The last time Ceres reached its maximum tilt was 14,000 years ago. When the tilt of Ceres is at a minimum, which is close to the conditions happening right now, there are large portions of the dwarf planet — roughly 800 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) — that don't receive direct sunlight, most of which are near the poles, study team members said.
But when Ceres' tilt gets closer to 20 degrees, the regions protected from sunlight diminish to just 0.4 to 4 square miles (1 to 10 square km). Those regions that remain in shadow even during maximum obliquity could be the same areas that maintain surface ice, the researchers said.
The new study used data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the 590-mile-wide (950 km) Ceres since March 2015, to take measurements of the dwarf planet's shape and gravity, and to try to reconstruct its history. It focused on polar craters and looked at how the shadowing shifts in these regions as Ceres' axial tilt changes.
The researchers found that, in the northern hemisphere, only two of the persistently shadowed regions that exist today will still be dark when Ceres reaches a 20-degree tilt. Both regions have bright deposits today, which could indicate water ice. Two persistently shadowed regions are also present in the southern hemisphere, and one of those regions has a bright area, the researchers said.
In 2016, a study that analyzed Dawn data indicated that there is bright material in 10 craters on Ceres. Dawn's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer determined that one of these regions contains water ice.
Ceres isn't the only spot in the solar system known to have permanently shadowed regions on its surface; Mercury and Earth's moon also have these zones. However, Ceres has much more variability in its tilt because it is not stabilized by the sun (as Mercury is) or a planet (as Earth's moon is), the researchers said.
While scientists believe that Mercury and Earth's moon both received most of their surface water from small, impacting asteroids and comets, there is more debate regarding Ceres. The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory detected a tenuous water atmosphere around the dwarf planet in 2012 to 2013. This means that the ice could come from water falling back from Ceres' atmosphere, scientists have said, though the stuff could also come from small impactors.
"The idea that ice could survive on Ceres for long periods of time is important as we continue to reconstruct the dwarf planet's geological history, including whether it has been giving off water vapor," study co-author and Dawn deputy principal investigator Carol Raymond, also of JPL, said in the same statement.
The new study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Breaking the 'Speed Limit': Simulation Shows Monster Black Holes' Rapid Growth
Breaking the 'Speed Limit': Simulation Shows Monster Black Holes' Rapid Growth
By Sarah Lewin, Staff Writer
The massive black hole shown at left in this drawing is able to rapidly grow as intense radiation from a galaxy nearby shuts down star-formation in its host galaxy.
Illustration Courtesy of John Wise, Georgia Tech
They grow up so fast: A new simulation shows how supermassive black holes could have gotten so large, so quickly in the early universe — by taking a shortcut via a star.
Supermassive black holes form the cores of many galaxies, including the Milky Way, and researchers have found evidence of them dating to very early in the universe's history. In fact, seemingly too early — supermassive black holes take a long time to form, and researchers have been searching for explanations of how they were able to grow so massive (several billion times the sun's mass) within the first billion years after the Big Bang, surpassing their apparent "speed limit" on growth.
According to a new simulation, black holes can only grow so fast, but stars can expand to incredible size even faster in certain conditions before collapsing down into a black hole. That way, the energetic galactic centers can form earlier than expected. The researchers also explained their simulation in a new video.
"It turns out that while supermassive black holes have a growth speed limit, certain types of massive stars do not," Joseph Smidt, a researcher at the theoretical design division of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the first author on the new work, said in a statement. "We asked, what if we could find a place where stars could grow much faster, perhaps to the size of many thousand suns; could they form supermassive black holes in less time?"
The researchers compared their models to the most distant known energetic galactic center, called a quasar, and one of the most massive of those objects, which is also ancient, to see whether that method could have quickly grown them to full size. If ultralarge stars are born in the right environment — one with the ideal combination of rapidly incoming material and local conditions — they could indeed collapse and form quasars of that mass and age, the researchers found.
The simulation also ended up accurately modeling star formation and other phenomena that happen around black holes, the distribution of galaxy densities, gas temperature changes and ionization, the researchers said in the statement.
"This was largely unexpected," Smidt said. "I thought this idea of growing a massive star in a special configuration and forming a black hole with the right kind of masses was something we could approximate, but to see the black hole inducing star formation and driving the dynamics in ways that we've observed in nature was really the icing on the cake."
The new work has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, and it is currently available online at arXiv.org.
Ceres' rotatie-as blijkt aan grote veranderingen onderhevig
Ceres' rotatie-as blijkt aan grote veranderingen onderhevig
In de laatste drie miljoen jaar liep de axiale variatie van de dwergplaneet uiteen van 2 tot wel 20 graden, zo suggereert nieuw onderzoek.
De rotatie-as is de denkbeeldige as waar dwergplaneet Ceres omheen draait. Die denkbeeldige as maakt een hoek met het omloopvlak (het vlak van Ceres in de baan om de zon). Als een rotatie-as loodrecht op dat omloopvlak staat, wordt gesproken van een axiale variatie van 0 graden. Staat de rotatie-as op het omloopvlak (zoals in het geval van Uranus) dan is de axiale variatie 90 graden. De rotatie-as van de aarde staat een beetje schuin op het omloopvlak en heeft een axiale variatie van 23,45 graden.
Veranderingen Op dit moment heeft dwergplaneet Ceres een axiale variatie van 4 graden. Maar dat is in het recente verleden nog wel anders geweest, zo schrijven onderzoekers in het blad Geophysical Research Letters. In de afgelopen drie miljoen jaar zijn er perioden geweest waarin de axiale variatie van de dwergplaneet tussen de 2 en 20 graden lag. En zelfs in de laatste 24.500 jaar is de axiale variatie aan grote veranderingen onderhevig geweest. De laatste keer dat de dwergplaneet een axiale variatie van zo’n 19 graden had, was 14.000 jaar geleden.
Hier zie je het noordelijk halfrond op het moment dat dit maximaal door de zon belicht wordt en Ceres een axiale variatie van 2 graden heeft. De gebieden die zich continu in de schaduw bevinden, zijn met blauw aangegeven.
Dawn De onderzoekers trekken die conclusie op basis van waarnemingen van ruimtesonde Dawn die momenteel rond Ceres cirkelt. Dat de stand van de rotatie-as door de jaren heen zo veranderd is, schrijven de onderzoekers toe aan gasreuzen Jupiter en Saturnus. Hoewel deze honderden miljoenen kilometers van Ceres verwijderd zijn, oefent hun zwaartekracht toch invloed uit op de dwergplaneet.
Hier zie je opnieuw het noordelijk halfrond op het moment dat dit maximaal door de zon belicht wordt, maar nu heeft Ceres een axiale variatie van 12 graden. Je ziet dat een veel groter gebied door de zon beschenen wordt. De gebieden die zich continu in de schaduw bevinden, zijn met blauw aangegeven.
Kraters Het onderzoek naar de axiale variatie van Ceres is belangrijk, omdat de stand van de rotatie-as van invloed is op het waterijs dat de dwergplaneet herbergt. Dat ijs kan alleen standhouden op plekken die geen zonlicht zien. Je moet dan met name denken aan de schaduwrijke kraters. Wanneer de axiale variatie klein is, zijn er relatief grote gebieden op Ceres aan te wijzen die nooit zonlicht ontvangen (denk bijvoorbeeld aan de polen). Die gebieden beslaan samen een oppervlak van zo’n 2000 km2. Anders wordt het als de axiale variatie toeneemt. Er zijn dan veel meer kraters in de poolgebieden die direct zonlicht ontvangen. De gebieden die nooit zonlicht zien, beslaan dan samen nog maar zo’n 1 tot 10 km2.
Hier zie je opnieuw het noordelijk halfrond op het moment dat dit maximaal door de zon belicht wordt, maar nu heeft Ceres een axiale variatie van 20 graden. Nu zijn er nog maar twee kraters die continu beschaduwde gebieden herbergen.
Voor zover we nu weten, zijn er drie hemellichamen in het zonnestelsel die permanent in de schaduw gelegen gebieden hebben: Mercurius, de maan en Ceres. Aangenomen wordt dat Mercurius en de maan het ijs dat in die gebieden rust cadeau kregen tijdens inslagen. Hoe Ceres aan ijs komt, is nog niet duidelijk.
Kraters die langdurig geen zonlicht zien, worden ook wel ‘cold traps’ genoemd, omdat ze zo koud en donker zijn dat vluchtige stoffen (substanties die gemakkelijk verdampen) die in deze kraters terechtkomen daar eigenlijk niet meer uit kunnen ontsnappen. Vorig jaar maakten onderzoekers bekend dat ze in tien van deze ‘cold traps’ helder materiaal hebben ontdekt en in zeker één van deze cold traps lijkt dat heldere materiaal ijs te zijn. Tijdens dit onderzoek keken astronomen hoe het ‘cold traps’ vergaat als de stand van de rotatie-as van Ceres verandert. Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat er op het noordelijk halfrond slechts twee cold traps zijn die zelfs bij een axiale variatie van 20 graden nog in de schaduw liggen. Beide gebieden bevatten vandaag de dag heldere afzettingen. Op het zuidelijk halfrond zijn er ook twee cold traps die zelfs bij een axiale variatie van 20 graden standhouden en één ervan herbergt heldere afzettingen
Hubble ziet supermassief zwart gat dat verbannen is uit het galactische centrum
Hubble ziet supermassief zwart gat dat verbannen is uit het galactische centrum
Astronomen hebben een supermassief zwart gat ontdekt dat uit het galactische centrum van het verre sterrenstelsel 3C186 is geworpen. Dit sterrenstelsel staat acht miljard lichtjaar van de aarde.
Het is voor het eerst dat astronomen een superzwaar zwart gat zien dat op een grote afstand verwijderd is van het centrum van een sterrenstelsel. Normaal gesproken blijft een supermassief zwart gat zitten waar die zit: midden in een sterrenstelsel.
Je kunt supermassieve zwarte gaten vergelijken met die praatgrage buurman op je verjaardagsfeest: je komt er niet makkelijk van af. Om een supermassief zwart gat ter grootte van het object in 3C186 te verbannen is de hoeveelheid energie van honderd miljoen supernova’s nodig. Je begrijpt wel dat het voor een sterrenstelsel onmogelijk is om honderd miljoen sterren tegelijkertijd te laten ontploffen. Daarom wijzen onderzoekers naar een andere oorzaak: zwaartekrachtsgolven.
Quasar Op beelden – gemaakt door de Hubble-ruimtetelescoop – is een heldere quasar te zien in het sterrenstelsel. Een quasar is de actieve kern van een jong sterrenstelsel. Het gaat hierbij om een actief zwart gat dat veel energie produceert. Deze quasar bevindt zich niet in het centrum van 3C186, maar op een afstand van 35.000 lichtjaar van de kern. Wetenschappers berekenden dat het supermassieve zwarte gat met een snelheid van 7,5 miljoen kilometer per uur de kern verlaat.
Zwaartekrachtsgolven Wie of wat kan hiervoor verantwoordelijk zijn? Astronomen vermoeden dat het is gebeurd onder invloed van zwaartekrachtsgolven. Deze zwaartekrachtsgolven kunnen ontstaan zijn toen twee massieve zwarte gaten in het centrum samensmolten. Mogelijk vond deze gebeurtenis 1,2 miljard jaar geleden plaats, toen twee sterrenstelsels op elkaar botsten. De twee zwarte gaten cirkelden om elkaar in het nieuwe samengestelde sterrenstelsel en produceerden flinke zwaartekrachtsgolven. Omdat de zwarte gaten niet even zwaar waren, werden de zwaartekrachtsgolven niet mooi in alle richtingen verdeeld. Uiteindelijk smolten de zwarte gaten samen en zorgden de asymmetrische gewichtsverdeling en de ongelijke verdeling van zwaartekrachtsgolven ervoor dat het zwarte gat direct werd verstoten.
Nieuwe beschadigingen ontdekt op een wiel van Marsrover Curiosity
Nieuwe beschadigingen ontdekt op een wiel van Marsrover Curiosity
Na bijna 16 kilometer op Mars te hebben afgelegd, is het profiel op het middelste wiel aan de linkerzijde van de Marsrover op twee plaatsen gescheurd.
Dat blijkt uit foto’s die Curiosity eerder deze maand van zijn eigen wielen heeft gemaakt. Te zien is dat het profiel op het middelste wiel aan de linkerzijde van de rover op twee plaatsen kapot is gegaan. Beide beschadigingen moeten recent zijn ontstaan: op de foto’s die Curiosity eind januari van zijn wielen maakte, zijn de beschadigingen nog niet te zien.
De wielen Curiosity heeft zes wielen die ongeveer 50 centimeter groot zijn. Ze zijn gemaakt van aluminium. Op de wielen rustten zigzag-lijntjes die ongeveer 7,5 millimeter uitsteken. Deze dragen het gewicht van de rover, voorzien de rover van grip en voorkomen dat deze omkukelt op ongelijk terrein. En op één van de zes wielen zijn die zigzag-lijntjes nu dus op twee plekken kapot.
Levensduur Wat betekenen de beschadigingen voor de missie van Curiosity? Een onderzoeksprogramma op aarde suggereert dat een wiel als het profiel op drie plaatsen kapot is, over de helft (op zo’n 60 procent) van zijn leven is. Curiosity heeft op dit moment zo’n 16 kilometer in de benen. Dus zelfs als er nu een derde beschadiging bij zou komen, zou het wiel nog wel wat kilometers kunnen maken. Vooralsnog lijkt Curiosity dan ook prima in staat om de gebieden die deze nog op Mars zou moeten bestuderen, te bereiken. “De zes wielen kunnen nog lang genoeg mee om het voertuig naar alle geplande bestemmingen te brengen,” bevestigt projectmanager Jim Erickson.
Op de voorgrond zie je het middelste wiel dat beschadigd is. Boven op het wiel zie je duidelijk dat de zigzag-lijn doorbroken is.
Afbeelding: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.
Onderzoek NASA houdt de wielen van Curiosity sinds 2013 nauwlettend in de gaten. In dat jaar moest men vaststellen dat de wielen veel sneller beschadigden dan verwacht. Besloten werd om de rover te ontzien door routes met veel scherpe stenen te mijden. In die tijd werd ook een onderzoeksprogramma op aarde gestart om te achterhalen wat verschillende beschadigingen – waaronder beschadigingen aan het profiel – betekenen voor de levensduur van de rover.
NASA benadrukt dat de beschadigingen aan het profiel niet als een verrassing komen. In augustus is het alweer vijf jaar geleden dat Curiosity op Mars landde en de rover heeft al zo’n 16 kilometer afgelegd. Het belangrijkste missiedoel heeft Curiosity reeds behaald: de rover heeft vastgesteld dat dit deel van Mars ooit omstandigheden kende die gunstig waren voor eventuele microbiële levensvormen op Mars. Momenteel doet Curiosity onderzoek naar Mount Sharp: een uit laagjes opgebouwde heuvel in het hart van de Gale-krater. Om de nieuwe missiedoelen die in het kader van dat onderzoek gesteld zijn, te behalen moet de rover nog zo’n 6 kilometer rijden.
Astrophysicists have detected a massive cluster of galaxies millions of light-years wide is hurtling through space at velocities so high that modern physics can’t explain their motion. The galaxies are all part of the Local Group, a ring of galaxies which contain the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies at the center. Andromeda, our closest neighbor, is predicted to collide with our own galaxy in 3.75 billion years; however, new research from the University of St. Andrews suggests that the Milky Way and Andromeda might have once already collided or at least passed dangerously close by one another, an event that sent ripples throughout the galactic neighborhood which are still being observed today.
Galactic collisions are not uncommon but take billions of years.
This theory is based on the distribution and velocity of the galaxies in the Local Group. According to lead researcher Indranil Banik, the outwardly spiraling motion and speed of these galaxies likely could have only been set in motion if some unknown and extremely powerful phenomenon occurred at their center:
The ring-like distribution is very peculiar. These small galaxies are like a string of raindrops flung out from a spinning umbrella. I found there is barely a 1 in 640 chance for randomly distributed galaxies to line up in the observed way. I traced their origin to a dynamical event when the Universe was only half its present age.
The researchers speculate that at some point between 7 and 11 billion years ago, our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy passed closely by one another, creating a “mini Big Bang.” This event could have caused wave-like gravity ripples in space that could have sent smaller galaxies flinging out into space.
Artist rendering of what such a collision would look like on Earth.
However, if Einstein’s theory of relativity is correct, the two galaxies should have instead merged under their collective gravities. The only possible solution? You guessed it: dark matter. Large shells of dark matter surrounding both galaxies could have shielded each galaxy from each other’s gravity. That is, if dark matter exists at all. If it doesn’t, and this research is confirmed, this discovery could force us to rewrite the laws of gravity as we know them. Sorry, Einstein.
Wait…wrong mini Big Bang. Aw, but look at that little mohawk! Ok fine, you can stay, mini Big Bang. Just don’t touch my stuff.
The ritualistic killing of animals and humans to appease the gods had played an integral role in many societies through the centuries. A recent controversial study hypothesizes that these religious rituals may…
Children from all over the world innately put their hands in their mouths as babies toddlers, whether it be thumb-sucking or nail-biting. Pediatric researchers have long assumed that this was some sort…
While Saturn’s largest moon Titan remains a source of constant mystery for astronomers, one its enduring enigmas might have just been solved by NASA. The space agency has been conducting research on the “magic islands” spotted by the Cassini spacecraft in 2013. On one of its 2013 flybys, Cassini’s radar instruments detected in one of Titan’s lakes what appeared to be a set of islands. The “islands” did not appear in previous images and disappeared just a few days later, leaving astronomers scratching their heads in wonder.
The islands seemed to appear and disappear over time.
Luckily, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory weren’t content with letting that mystery stand and set to work on an experiment to determine what could have caused such disappearing “islands.” The experiment involved recreating the chemical and physical conditions of Titan’s lakes and then subjecting that solution to the same temperature and chemical changes that occur during rainfall. When ethane-rich solutions similar to Titan’s rainfall were added to the simulated Titan lake fluid, the process of exsolution occurred, causing nitrogen to boil violently out of the solution.
Heavy rainfall on Titan could release large amounts of ethane into Titan’s seas, which could then cause nitrogen to boil out. According to Cassini radar investigator Jason Hofgartner, the resulting nitrogen bubbles could form giant fields of dense nitrogen foam which might explain the “magic” islands:
Thanks to this work on nitrogen’s solubility, we’re now confident that bubbles could indeed form in the seas, and in fact may be more abundant than we’d expected.
“Foam on one of Saturn’s moon’s seas? Who cares,” you might find yourself asking. Well, besides being interesting, this research is important for any future exploration of Titan which is looking more and more like a possibility. Foam in Titan’s seas could really jam up the propellers and sensors on those deep-sea space submarines NASA is working on. We can’t have that happening, can we?
The only kind of nitrogen foam I’m interested in.
Of all the objects in our solar system, Titan is most similar to Earth in terms of atmospheric composition. Titan has a dense gaseous atmosphere complete with rainfall which forms rivers and lakes of methane on Titan’s −290 °F (−179 °C) surface. However cold and inhospitable that might sound, a Cornell University study last year speculated that Titan could be home to primitive life forms due to its abundance of hydrogen cyanide, a compound believed to be one of the chemical building blocks of primordial life.
Titan is thought to have the prerequisites for life. What are we waiting for?
When Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin announced earlier this week that Russia would stop supporting the International Space Station (ISS) after 2020 due to tension between his country and the United States,…
Scientists Have New Information About the Massive Bands of Radiation Surrounding Earth
Scientists Have New Information About the Massive Bands of Radiation Surrounding Earth
Recent findings have shown that the particles that astronomers thought made the inner Van Allen Belt so dangerous usually aren't even present.
Now that astronomers know that this belt is safe to study, they can do research that was thought impossible before.
A RADIATION BELT
Massive bands of radiation, known as the Van Allen Belts, surround Earth. Discovered in 1958, these belts of charged particles are routinely monitored by the Van Allen Probes. However, because of the previously perceived danger of these belts, scientists have been wary of sending spacecraft to conduct further studies of them. But new observations from the probes have shown that what we’ve thought about these belts might not be true.
Recent findings have shown that the particles that astronomers thought made the inner belt so dangerous — namely, the ultra-fast (relativistic), highest-energy Electrons — aren’t usually even present.
That’s right — the area that was thought to contain destructive electrons circling 640 to 9,600 km (400 to 6,000 miles) above the surface of Earth is typically (more often than not) entirely devoid of these electrons. It is now known that especially intense solar storms sometimes push high-energy electrons into the inner belt. While these instances are the exception to the rule, the belt takes a while to return to “normal,” so it was thought that the electrons were a usual fixture.
So, how did they figure this out? What technology could have been used with the probe to determine this new information? Well, it turns out that they used a specialized instrument called the Magnetic Electron and Ion Spectrometer (MagEIS). This device allowed scientists to more easily determine the energy and charge of different particles. This allowed them to distinguish between relativistic electrons and high-energy Protons. Seth Claudepierre, a Van Allen Probes scientist, said in a NASA press release that subtracting these protons from the measurements was key to these findings.
“We’ve known for a long time that there are these really energetic protons in there, which can contaminate the measurements, but we’ve never had a good way to remove them from the measurements until now,” Claudepierre.
Purple depicts the relativistic electrons.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith
A NEW FRONTIER
They have also found that not only is the inner belt a lot “weaker,” as some might put it, than previously thought, it is also much less stable. It is expected for the outer belt to fluctuate in size in response to solar activity, but now astronomers can see that the inner belt acts similarly.
The inner belt is no longer known as an unchanging band of high-energy, relativistic electrons. It has now been revealed to be an ever-changing belt that is (usually) made up of low-energy electrons and high-energy protons.
Because of the previous notions surrounding these belts, there has been relatively little study of them. This new information opens up an entirely new door for discovery. As we continue to explore our solar system, new information about these belts and the ways in which solar winds, Earth’s magnetic field, and radiation interact could be invaluable. Especially as scientists consider the possibilities of terraforming Mars, a planet lacking an atmosphere, research of the Van Allen Belts could catapult progress forward.
This animated gif shows how particles move through Earth’s radiation belts, the large donuts around Earth. The sphere in the middle shows a cloud of colder material called the plasmasphere. New research shows that the plasmasphere helps keep fast electrons from the radiation belts away from Earth.
Credits: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio
A Teenager Just “Delighted” NASA By Pointing Out a Significant Error in Their Data
A Teenager Just “Delighted” NASA By Pointing Out a Significant Error in Their Data
A British school student recently contacted NASA to point out that there was an error in data recorded on the International Space Station (ISS), earning him thanks from the US space agency.
Miles Soloman, a 17-year-old student from Tapton School in Sheffield, was working on the TimPix project, which lets school students in the UK access data recorded by radiation detectors during British astronaut Tim Peake’s six-month stay on the ISS.
Amongst other projects, Peake participated in a research program that aims to understand the impact of space radiation on humans. Radiation on the ISS is monitored with USB-shaped Timepix detectors, which are plugged into computers and regularly send data back to Earth.
Soloman and his fellow students were given these Timepix measurements in a giant pile of Excel spreadsheets, allowing them to practice data analysis on real-world scientific information.
When they sorted the data by energy levels, Soloman noticed something odd.
“I went straight to the bottom of the list, and went to the lowest bits of energy there were,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One current affairs program.
“I noticed that where we should have no energy, where there was no radiation, it was actually showing -1. The first thing I thought was ‘Well you can’t have negative energy,’ and then we realised that this was an error.”
Soloman and his physics teacher James O’Neill jumped into action and emailed NASA straight away.
As Soloman explained to BBC Radio, researchers at NASA responded that they were aware of the error, but thought it had only been happening once or twice a year. They were wrong.
“What we actually found was that they were happening multiple times a day,” says Soloman.
“They thought they had corrected for this,” said physicist Lawrence Pinsky from the University of Houston, who is involved with the TimPix project, and is a collaborator of the radiation monitoring project on ISS.
“The problem is that some of the algorithms which converted the raw data were slightly off, and therefore when they did the conversion, they wound up with a negative number.”
Prompted by BBC’s World at One host Martha Kearney on whether such a revelation by a schoolboy was embarrassing, Pinsky answered that he didn’t think so.
“It was appreciated more so than being embarrassing,” he said. “The idea that students get involved at a real level means that there’s an opportunity for them to find things like this.”
The TimPix project is one of many initiatives organized by IRIS (the Institute for Research in Schools), a UK-based charitable trust that gives students and teachers opportunities to do actual scientific research at school.
IRIS has partnered with organizations such as CERN, NASA, Wellcome Trust, and the UK Royal Horticultural Society to bring real science projects into the classroom and get kids excited about pursuing careers in science.
“We’re also tapping into the potential of young minds and what they can do,” said Soloman’s teacher O’Neill. “As far as I’m concerned, the greatest research group we can form is our students around the country.”
At least for Miles Soloman, IRIS has definitely given him inspiration to pursue more science, although he hastens to explain that he wasn’t trying to outsmart NASA researchers when he pointed out the data error.
“I’m not trying to prove NASA wrong, I’m not trying to say I’m better, because obviously I’m not – they’re NASA,” he said. “I want to work with them and learn from them.”
Game photo of "Mass Effect: Andromeda" fromMassEffect.com.
If latest reports are to be believed, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” is full of SpaceX Easter Eggs. While a group of daring pioneers to travel outside the galaxy, the game never forgets those who are pioneering such journeys in the real world. It lovingly references ESA and SpaceX among others.
Humans will discover alien technology on Mars in the year 2148, as per the game. This technology will rapidly enhance the technology of the humans in turn. Mankind will soon reach to the edge of solar system and to a galaxy beyond. As per a codex in the game, all this is possible because of the pioneering space exploration company SpaceX. Players will find a “SpaceX Model” in Ryder’s cabin on the Tempest. The model looks very similar to Falcon Heavy. This SpaceX rocket will become the most-powerful in the world.
ESA also gets it own shout-out in the game. ESA, along with the theoretical Lowell City, are a big player in “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” Players will be surprised to see some of the space missions in the game have already been carried out in the real world. The game includes past missions such as ExoMars and also planned missions like JUpiter ICy moons Explorer or “Juice” and Mercury explorer BepiColombo, reports Gizmodo AU. “Mass Effect’s” timeline shows that humans will establish first colonies in Mars by the year 2103.
However, in real life, NASA aims to achieve this goal as early as 2030. Meanwhile, there are certain things every player should keep in mind while playing the BioWare game. A player’s action on each planet has long-lasting effects. Turning on vaults and monoliths expands the area one can explore over time. This opens up new side missions and locations. Players can visit certain planets multiple time and some they can’t visit at all. Unless Suvi tells about an anomaly, players can simply orbit and scan them.
According to Polygon, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” players can argue with crewmates without affecting the finality of the mission. A lot of conversations and missions in the game end with a binary choice. Selling ones salvage is important when hunting for the perfect weapon and armour. Players will tend to collect tons of stuffs from containers and fallen enemies. Selling them will give extra cash. Players can also go back to a particular part of the game and redo their skills.
“Mass Effect: Andromeda” players generally tend to focus only on one skill tree. It is okay to do so early on in the game. But as the game progresses, other skills should not be ignored. Players should not get too much involved in side missions. Instead, they should have an evening just for these missions to earn XP and AVP points.
Alien in 'Life' Raises Some Philosophical Questions for Humanity, Director Says
Alien in 'Life' Raises Some Philosophical Questions for Humanity, Director Says
By Calla Cofield, Space.com Staff Writer
The new science-fiction-horror movie "Life" centers on a bloodthirsty alien life-form, but the film's director, Daniel Espinosa, told Space.com that viewers shouldn't be too quick to cast the alien as a villain.
The film begins when a dormant, single-celled life-form is discovered on Mars and is brought to the International Space Station to be studied. A group of astronauts manages to revive the creature — nicknamed "Calvin" — only to see it grow rapidly in size, intelligence and strength. Soon, Calvin escapes its captors and realizes it can gain sustenance from their bodies.
Is Calvin's behavior vindictive, or is it a natural response to being a test subject? Does the creature behave any differently from the way humans have behaved and treated one another throughout our shared history? Espinosa thinks Calvin's behavior should prompt humans to do some self-reflection. [Best Space Movies in the Universe]
"For me, Calvin is not malicious," Espinosa told Space.com. "He is only reacting."
What would happen if humanity were to encounter an alien species? That's a question that science-fiction movies have explored for about as long as science-fiction movies have been around. These flicks often explore how humanity might cope with an aggressive alien species, or how humans might end up being the aggressors. Espinosa said Calvin's behavior in "Life" is perhaps no different from that of any other animal in a similar situation. Perhaps the problem is not with Calvin, but with how his captors treat him.
"I think we have to think about … how we as a human species have reacted when we encounter the unknown," Espinosa said. "I mean, if you look into the history of the human species and how we have encountered new territories and new peoples, we have not been open-minded and gentle."
"I truly believe that space could make us better. It could unite us," Espinosa continued. "But we have to get to a place where we are willing to [do] a bit of self-reflection [about] mankind's history."
Actor Ariyon Bakare plays scientist Hugh Derry, who awakens Calvin and watches him grow. Despite Calvin's horrible behavior, Derry can't help but love this creature. [The Scariest Space Movies in the Universe]
"I thought it would be like when you go in for that first [pregnancy] scan and you see your baby: It was like I was a father to this great discovery," Bakare told Space.com. "And yet, like a child in the teenage years, [the life-form] can become exceptionally unruly. But you still love them. Then, it became a dilemma between my rational mind and my irrational mind — yes, I know we've got to destroy this thing, but this is also the greatest discovery ever! And we've got to contain it; we've got to look after it; we've got to teach it."
Bakare brought up an interesting question: If a life-form is hostile toward humanity but only because the life-form is acting on its instincts, can the two species ever respect each other? Or would that scenario erode any possible trust?
Astrophysicists and people who are looking for signs of intelligent civilizations in the universe have also discussed whether an alien species with the technology to visit our planet would be more likely to be peaceful or hostile. Astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan said he thought such a civilization would be totally peaceful. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has said he thinks it's more likely they'll be conquerors — similar to the Europeans who colonized the Americas and nearly wiped out the native populations in the process. If humans discover a kind of life that we can initially dominate, will we treat it with respect or dominance?
"Life" is first and foremost a horror movie (and viewers should be aware that the flick earns its "R" rating from some gory and disturbing scenes), but there's some philosophy to be found in it as well. It's contributing a few words to a discussion that's been going on in science-fiction movies for decades.
"Life" debuts in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 24.
Tiny Folding Robots Could Explore Alien Worlds (Video)
Tiny Folding Robots Could Explore Alien Worlds (Video)
By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer
Future NASA robots exploring Mars and other alien worlds may be even more productive, thanks to a pocketful of tagalong minirovers.
NASA engineers are developing the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER), a lightweight, origami-inspired bot capable of flattening itself out, squeezing into tight spots and clambering up steep slopes. (You can see the PUFFER in action in this video.)
"They can do parallel science with a rover, so you can increase the amount you're doing in a day," Jaakko Karras, PUFFER's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "We can see these being used in hard-to-reach locations — squeezing under ledges, for example."
Karras came up with the basic idea behind PUFFER's body while experimenting with origami designs, NASA officials said. He and his colleagues swapped out paper in favor of printed circuit boards like those in ordinary smartphones.
"The circuit board includes both the electronics and the body, which allows it to be a lot more compact," PUFFER team member Christine Fuller, a mechanical engineer at JPL, said in the same statement. "There are no mounting fasteners or other parts to deal with. Everything is integrated to begin with."
PUFFER originally had four wheels, but the design evolved into a two-wheel variant whose wheels could be folded over the body, allowing the little rover to crawl as well as roll. PUFFER also features a tail for stability, a high-resolution "microimager" camera and solar panels on its belly. (PUFFER can flip over when its batteries need a recharge.)
The project team has already built a PUFFER prototype and put it to the test. Over the past 18 months, NASA officials said, PUFFER has performed field tests in Big Bear, California; a ski resort in Grand Junction, Colorado; and on Antarctica's Mount Erebus, the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
PUFFER isn't ready to fly just yet, the officials said. The team's planned next steps include incorporating scientific instruments, such as gear that can identify carbon-containing organic molecules, and giving the robot more autonomy. (PUFFER can currently be controlled remotely via Bluetooth.)
The robot will also probably get bigger before it's ready to blast off. Future planetary-exploration versions may be about the size of a bread box, NASA officials said.
"Small robotic explorers like PUFFER could change the way we do science on Mars," Karras said. "Like [the small Mars rover] Sojourner before it, we think it's an exciting advance in robotic design."
Earth’s magnetic field affects the planet’s climate, tectonic shifts, gravity, and even its rotation. However, its most important function is deflecting harsh solar radiation and particles that could upend our very existence here. Up until now, technology wasn’t advanced enough to allow scientists to fully map the magnetic field, but, thanks to the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission, they finally have a more complete understanding.
The Swarm satellites are three spacecraft launched into Earth’s orbit — two in low elevation, one in high — in 2013 to survey the magnetic field, better understand the planet’s evolution, and measure the electric field in the atmosphere. After three years of collecting data, scientists were able to create the highest resolution map of the magnetic field to date.
“We had a very high volume of data and good coverage of Earth’s lower elevation,” Dhananjay Ravat, a geophysicist at the University of Kentucky who helped ESA complete the map, tells Inverse. “We took a different approach and also used data from the lower altitude CHAMP satellite, which helped us to achieve 250 km wavelength in resolution, which was not possible before.”
With the map, scientists can essentially peer 1,800 miles into Earth’s molten iron outer core, which generates the magnetic field and sends currents to magnetized rocks in the upper lithosphere — the rocky surface we dwell on.
The findings show that the magnetic field isn’t evenly distributed across the planet. In some places, there are higher deposits of iron and nickel, both highly magnetized elements. For example, in the Central African Republic, the field is sharper and stronger than anywhere else on the planet, possibly because of a meteorite that hit Earth 540 million years ago.
“The meteorite could have been made of iron and nickel and those fragments could have impacted the planet making it highly magnetized in that area,” explains Ravat.
The map shows how the magnetic field seems to spike in the Central Africa Republic, scientists believe this may be because of a meteorite that struck the planet 540 million years ago.
Another interesting aspect of the map is that it shows the stripes on the sea floor. Those stripes are believed to be caused by shifts in the magnetic field. About every 700,000 years, the poles reverse, meaning the pointer on your compass would face south when it used to face north. This theory is evident in the stripes, which, as Ravat explains, are caused by rock formations that grow in the direction of the magnetic field and shift when the field shifts.
“These stripes are symmetric with the mid-oceanic ridge and can really only be seen from high altitudes or some satellites,” Ravat says. “They tell us about how the Earth’s magnetic field behaved in the past, that is why this map is so important, it’s a continuous record of 200 million years.”
This animation shows how the stripes are continuously formed on the sea floor.
The next step for the scientists is to collect data during the solar minimum, a time when the 11-year solar cycle is at its least active. Ravat says during this time there will be less radiation from the sun, and the satellites will be able to generate even higher quality maps.
Medieval Europe wasn’t the only place in the universe marred by war during the Middle Ages. In the 1400s, there was a celestial battle raging in the night sky. A group of stars were fighting for their gravitational territory in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, which ended in at least three of them being hurtled off into the galaxy without so much as a clue as to where they went. Though two drifting stars had been found in the 90s, it wasn’t until 2015 that astronomers identified the third star and could finally confirm the location of the original event, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope.
In results published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday, the research team details learning how the rogue star, which they are calling “Source-X,” had moved significantly compared to Hubble images taken in 1998, judging that it must be moving at 130,000 mph. With that information they were able to trace Source-X back to the Kleinmann-Low Nebula, near the center of the Orion Nebula complex, about 1,300 light-years away — the same location where they had also traced back two other runaway stars.
The motion of the newly discovered runaway star in the Orion Nebula.
Those stars, which go by the names Source I and Becklin-Neugebauer (BN), were both found in the ‘90s. BN traveled at about 60,000 mph, while Source I was moseying along at 22,000 mph. But, without Source-X, astronomers really couldn’t pinpoint where they had come from.
A Hubble close-up view of the stars is shown at top right. The birthplace of the multi-star system is marked "initial position." Two of the stars — labeled BN, for Becklin-Neugebauer, and "I," for source I — were discovered decades ago. Source I is embedded in thick dust and cannot be seen. The third star, "x," for source x, was recently discovered to have moved noticeably between 1998 and 2015, as shown in the inset image at bottom right. Source x is traveling at an unusually high speed of 130,000 miles per hour, which is 30 times faster than the velocity of most stars in the nebula.
Now, after wrangling all three, scientists can point to the exact time and location of the event, giving them very rare evidence of a star cluster tearing apart.
“The new Hubble observations provide very strong evidence that the three stars were ejected from a multiple-star system,” lead researcher Kevin Luhman, a professor at Penn State University, said in a press release. “Astronomers had previously found a few other examples of fast-moving stars that trace back to multiple-star systems, and therefore were likely ejected. But these three stars are the youngest examples of such ejected stars.”
Luhman says the stars are probably only a few thousand years old and still show remnants of their pre-natal disks, which are rings of dust that spin rapidly around a star while it is forming.
This remarkable discovery is helping scientists understand how young star clusters eventually duke it out for their place in the galaxy, which they believe happens when two stars get too close and form so much pressure that they push out all of the stars in the cluster in a cosmic explosion.
Astronomers are eager to hunt for more runaways drifting through the Milky Way once the James Webb Telescope launches in October 2018 to further understand how these events unfold.
Photos via NASA, ESA, and K. Luhman, NASA, ESA, K. Luhman, M. Robberto, NASA, ESA, M. Robberto
Some day, astronauts packed into rocketing tin cans bound for other planets may be protected from radiation and space sickness by having their metabolisms depressed to a fraction of their typical rate. They’ll hibernate like bears as they hurtle through space for months at a time. Perhaps they’ll sleep in white coffin-like pods, as the cryo-preserved astronauts in futuristic fantasies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and Avatar did.
More likely, though, astronauts and space colonists will learn a few tricks from dehydrated snails, which survive for a year or more ingesting nothing; giant pandas subsisting on low-calorie bamboo; leeches that survive a liquid nitrogen bath; children who have been submerged in frozen ponds yet can still be resuscitated; or skiers buried in an avalanche and brought back to life ever so slowly, reborn from a super-cooled, dreamless state.
Scientists call this phenomenon “torpor-induced hibernation.” Once considered outlandish, torpor induction—the old term was “suspended animation”—is under serious study for long-duration spaceflight.
This interest is due in part to advances in low-temperature surgery, but also to an increased understanding of cases like one documented in 1995 in the journal Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. A four-year-old boy fell through the ice of a frozen lake in Hanover, Germany. A rescue team pulled him out but could not resuscitate him in the field. His pupils were fixed and dilated, and he remained in cardiac arrest a full 88 minutes. Upon admission to the hospital, his core body temperature was 67.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a sign of severe hypothermia.
Twenty minutes later, as doctors worked to warm the boy’s chest cavity, the ventricles of his heart started contracting. Ten minutes after that, his heart resumed normal sinus rhythm. The boy made a full recovery and was discharged two weeks later. His doctors believed the icy lake had rapidly cooled his body to a state of protective metabolic torpor, preserving all vital organs and tissues while reducing the need for blood oxygen—in effect, saving the boy’s life. Cases like this are “exactly why we think that very deep hypothermia can allow our patients to survive,” writes Samuel Tisherman, director of the Center for Critical Care and Trauma Education at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in an email. “The key is cooling the brain either before blood flow stops or as soon as possible after blood flow stops. The colder [it gets], the longer the brain can tolerate not having blood flow.”
Therapeutic hypothermia has become a part of surgical practice. Experimental procedures with cooling started as early as the 1960s, mostly in cardiac and neonatal cases. Babies were placed in cooling blankets or packed in ice and even snow banks to slow circulation and reduce oxygen requirements before heart surgery.
Today, physicians use moderate hypothermia (roughly 89 degrees) as a staple of care for some newborns in medical distress, such as those born premature or suffering from fetal oxygen deprivation (hypoxia). The babies are treated with cooling caps for 72 hours, which lower their metabolism just enough to reduce tissue oxygen requirements and allow the brain and other vital organs to recover.
By the same token, surgeons apply cooling and metabolic suppression to patients who’ve suffered various physical traumas: heart attack, stroke, gunshot wounds, profuse bleeding, or head injuries resulting in brain swelling. In emergency situations, anesthetists can insert a cannula—a slim tube—into the nose that feeds cooling nitrogen gas directly to the base of the brain. In one experimental therapy, surgeons insert a cardiopulmonary bypass cannula through the chest and into the aorta, or through the groin and into the femoral artery. Through these tubes, they infuse cold saline to reduce core body temperature and replace lost blood. Once the trauma surgeon has control of bleeding, a heart-lung machine restarts blood flow and the patient is given a blood transfusion.
“If you get cold fast enough before the heart stops, the vital organs, particularly the brain, can tolerate cold without blood flow for a time,” Tisherman explains. He is performing a clinical trial of this cold saline replacement technique in critically injured trauma victims in Baltimore, and he expects the study will last at least until the fall of 2018 and possibly later. The ensuing hypothermia rapidly decreases or stops blood flow for an hour or so, cutting oxygen requirements and giving surgeons time to repair critical wounds and then, ideally, warm the patient back to life.
The Torpor Enigma
Today, some in the aerospace community are looking to medically induced hypothermia and the resulting metabolic stasis as a way to save space and mass, along with freight, fuel, food, and frustration on the months-long flights to Mars or more distant planets. The studies are just beginning. One challenge is medical: What’s the best method for putting healthy astronauts into torpor? Even though therapeutic hypothermia is well understood in operating rooms, keeping people in deep space chilled and sedated for weeks, months, or years on end is an entirely unknown area of inquiry. Some scientists studying hibernation in animals suggest that other means of suppressing metabolism would be better: Specialized diet, low-frequency radiation, even the use of proteins that trigger hibernation in animals like bears and Arctic ground squirrels, which can regulate their metabolic rates safely and, in most cases, reversibly.
Another obvious hurdle is funding. How much will NASA prioritize research into metabolic stasis, both animal and human, when exploratory budgets are being reduced? Pete Worden, former director at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and now the executive director of Breakthrough Starshot, says that with NASA’s emphasis on synthetic biology and the ability of organisms to survive and function in exotic environments like Mars, “it’s probably inevitable that the hibernation area is going to get funded.”
That optimism is hardly universal. “People are frustrated,” says Yuri Griko, a Moscow-trained NASA radiobiologist and lead senior scientist in Ames’ space biosciences division. “When Sputnik was put up in space in 1957, our generation was so excited, so inspired, and we believed that we’d be on Mars in the millennium. But…we’re still not on Mars. It’s personal for people like me because we expected to be much more progressed than we are right now.”
Griko acknowledges that metabolic suppression research is in limbo itself. He began at NASA in 2005 after spending five years at the biotech outfit Clearant, Inc., using ionizing radiation to inactivate pathogens in therapeutic blood products, transplant organs, and commercial biopharmaceuticals. NASA then invited Griko to research ways to protect astronauts from space radiation. It turns out that metabolic suppression is one of the most effective mechanisms nature provides.
When animals go into hibernation their bodies survive radiation without significant damage to their cells. Griko believes metabolic suppression mitigates radiation-induced damage by reducing biochemical processes and excessive oxidative stress. Hypoxia—lower oxygen consumption—is one possible explanation for the radio-protective effect: In hypoxia, production of oxygen free radicals and hydroxyl radicals is reduced. Because ionizing radiation releases free radicals causing cell damage, suppressing metabolism and oxygen consumption appears to do the reverse: it reduces normal cell death and prolongs healthy cell life.This protective effect is even more pronounced at lower temperatures.
Griko speculates that hibernation may also protect animals from the muscle atrophy and bone loss people typically experience in microgravity. Humans who eat a balanced diet while confined to bed rest for 90 days lose a little more than half of their muscle strength, Griko says. But bears that consume nothing and are confined to their dens for the same length of time or slightly longer lose only 25 percent of muscle strength and exhibit no signs of bone loss. He notes that animals capable of hibernation—tortoises and pocket mice—haven’t been flown in space in decades.
NASA did not fund his request for flight experiments involving hibernating animals. His current research is limited to surveys of existing hibernation studies, along with his own laboratory work on stasis in mice, leeches, and snails. Griko proposed a 2015 international conference on torpor that would have brought together the world’s hibernation experts to discuss deep-space applications. NASA declined to fund it, though Griko still hopes to raise the money.
“There are significant barriers to torpor research if we’re serious about going farther in space,” says Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut and International Space Station commander who spent 193 days in orbit between October 2004 and April 2005. Animal research is a particularly sticky problem, one that has landed NASA in the crosshairs of animal-rights groups before. “Even research on simple primates starts getting people up in arms,” he says.
The Two-Planet Solution
Jason Derleth, a program executive with NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts in Washington, D.C., sees reason to hope. Under Derleth’s watch, NIAC has awarded two innovation grants since 2013, supporting one company’s detailed plans for torpor-enabled Mars transfer habitats. The project leader, SpaceWorks Enterprises, Inc., of Dunwoody, Georgia, about 20 miles north of Atlanta, is an aerospace design contractor for NASA and the Department of Defense and has done work in the development of tiny CubeSat satellite constellations. But it’s torpor that’s captured the imagination of SpaceWorks president and chief operating officer John Bradford.
“I’ve asked myself for 15 years how to engineer materials, structures, and propulsion systems to enable a mission to Mars and its moons,” he says. Bradford is a Ph.D. aerospace engineer who has led several NASA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Air Force Research Laboratory projects designing military spaceplanes. He was also a consultant on the 2016 science fiction film Passengers, wherein Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt played interplanetary settlers who wake from hibernation early. “We’re not in the vein of an Apollo mission anymore—no more ‘flags and footprints,’ ” he says. “We need to become a two-planet species.”
Bradford’s engineering and medical team used the first of those NIAC grants, issued in 2013, to design a compact zero-gravity, rigid-structure habitat based on the International Space Station crew module designs. The habitat featured closed-loop oxygen and water production systems, direct access to the Mars ascent and descent vehicles, and support for a crew of six, all of whom would be kept in torpor for the entire six- to nine-month Mars journey.
The proposed medical treatment relies on using techniques similar to the ones surgeons perfected to induce hypothermia. For example, cooling nitrogen gas could be fed to astronauts via nasal cannula, lowering brain and body temperatures to between 89 and 96 degrees—close enough to normal to maintain torpor without overcooling the heart or increasing the risk of other complications. Cooling tends to decrease the body’s ability to clot, Tisherman says. He has also noted that patients who are cooled to mild levels of hypothermia—93 degrees—for 48 hours or more have more infections than uncooled people.
In the SpaceWorks habitat, robotic arms in the module would be programmed to carry out routine chores, manipulate astronaut limbs, and check body sensors, urine evacuation lines, and chemical feeds. Robots would administer electrical stimuli to astronauts’ muscles to maintain tone, along with sedation to prevent a natural shivering response. The astronauts would also receive total parenteral nutrition, in which all nutrients—electrolytes, dextrose, lipids, vitamins, etc.—are administered via liquid through a catheter inserted in the chest or the thigh. SpaceWorks outfitted TPN supplies in the experimental module to last 180 days; should the habitat be required for a prolonged Martian stay, the module would have another 500 days’ worth of nutrition.
In all, the SpaceWorks Mars Transfer Habitat reduced total habitat mass, including consumables, to 19.9 tons (low-Earth-orbit weight). By comparison, NASA’s TransHab habitat, with consumables specified in the agency’s Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0, weighs 41.9 tons. That’s a 52 percent decrease in mass. Compared with the NASA model, SpaceWorks was able to shrink total habitat consumables by 70 percent.
NIAC officials were intrigued. “SpaceWorks made an interesting proposal,” Derleth says. “People have been studying torpor for medical applications. But no one as far as we could find is actually doing an engineering study of what cryo-sleep or torpor would actually do to the architecture of a mission.”
In 2013 NIAC awarded SpaceWorks a Phase 1 grant of $100,000 to develop a rough torpor-enabled architecture for exploration-class missions—those with four to eight crew members heading to Mars or its moons. But the agency balked at the idea of putting all crew members in torpor for the entire journey. What about medical or spacecraft complications? How long could astronauts stay under without psychological or physical damage? What if some complication required their premature awakening? What about the slow waking and warming times to get the astronauts out of hibernation?
These questions sent the SpaceWorks team back to work. They designed a crew habitat for torpor that would keep at least a few astronauts awake on a rotating basis for piloting and interventions (as in the 1968 movie 2001, in which two crew members of the Jupiter-bound spacecraft Discovery remain awake while the others sleep).
Then Bradford’s team moved further. Designing three interconnected habitat modules for a 100-passenger “settlement class” Mars mission—colonists, in other words—the team produced a spacecraft and habitat that departed completely from anything in NASA’s plans. The SpaceWorks settlement-class craft includes two compact, rotating habitat modules, each accommodating 48 passengers in torpor. Rotation at varying speeds would produce artificial gravity to mitigate astronauts’ bone loss.
But in the bolder “sentry mode” proposal, a separate habitat module would accommodate four care-taking astronauts on duty throughout the mission. One or more could be rotated with others in torpor to keep crews fresh.
“You get 80 percent of the benefits by cycling through the hibernating crew and waking some up, rather than turning out the lights on everybody for six months,” Bradford says. Spacecraft accommodating settlers in torpor would be lighter, which would enable much greater velocities, shorter voyages, and, possibly, more efficient radiation shielding because of the radio-protective effect of metabolic stasis. Further, Bradford says, hibernating astronauts wouldn’t experience motion sickness, a common problem on the International Space Station.
Sleep Like a Bear
But what would torpor in space feel like? Not like being frozen dead in cryogenics, then being revived, according to Doug Talk, an obstetrician and SpaceWorks consultant who has used therapeutic hypothermia to treat oxygen-deprived babies. “[Cryogenics] has had zero success with that,” Talk says. “The human body isn’t meant to be frozen; it’s mostly water, and when water expands [as it does when it freezes], it produces cellular damage.”
More likely, astronaut torpor will be like coma, a state hovering between dreamless sleep and semi-conscious awareness. “Coma patients display cycles of brain activity that alternate between seeming wakefulness and non-REM sleep,” Talk explains. Even though coma patients are unable to move, their brains remain active and even responsive to outside stimuli, including verbal commands.
Bears experience hibernation in similar ways; their core temperature drops only a few degrees (similar to the mild-hypothermia temperature range in humans), while their metabolism drops 75 percent. Bears in northern climates can remain in torpor for seven to eight months without eating or drinking, and pregnant female bears will give birth to their young and nurse them even while in hibernation.
“Someone in torpor will act like the bear does,” Talk theorizes. “They’ll cycle through non-REM sleep and being awake. And like bears when they finally wake up, they’ll be sleep deprived.”
In May 2016, NIAC approved a second phase of the SpaceWorks project, this time releasing $250,000 to extend first-phase engineering, operational, and medical research plans. “Phase 1 projects have proven that what they’re talking about is real,” Derleth says. “We’re very happy to see Dr. Bradford’s progress.”
In addition to habitat engineering refinements, the SpaceWorks team initially proposed a two- to three-week hibernation test with a small number of healthy pigs. Pigs, like humans, are natural non-hibernators; therefore their physiological responses to torpor induction will offer better clues to what humans may expect than studies of mice or snails, obviously. Derleth says agency regulations prevented NASA from funding the pig study.
So SpaceWorks submitted an alternate proposal: to research existing metabolic suppression experiments comprehensively in order to establish a near-term road map for technology development, including more-methodical animal research leading to human trials. This summer, NIAC will conduct a mid-term review of SpaceWorks’ progress and determine whether to award them an additional $250,000.
“We continue to believe that live-subject research will be necessary to advance this torpor technology toward longer durations,” SpaceWorks founder and CEO John Olds wrote in a follow-up email. “That step may require private sponsors.”
Regardless of who pays for it, testing with animals can be difficult to do because it continues to raise ethical questions.
“I think NASA is right: Slow is the way to go,” says Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. While there’s enthusiasm for suspended animation for long durations in space, NASA doesn’t need any more troubles from animal rights activists, in his opinion.
“Pigs are somewhat physiologically similar to humans, so pigs are a reasonable animal model for testing,” says Caplan. “Though it’s fair to say to critics: The number of pigs involved in this kind of study wouldn’t amount to one’s week’s breakfast for the average American.”
The Human Factor
Sci-fi movies and novels have romanticized torpor, Caplan says, suggesting humans could move in and out of that coma-like state without difficulty. That might not be the case.
The humans in which torpor will first be tested will be unusual people—most likely test pilots, Caplan predicts. “These people take risks every day; they understand the physiological risks because they test jets and know many colleagues who have died. I’ve had astronauts tell me they’ll enroll in any experiment just to get into space. Our job is to rein them in.”
Human trials would be an unprecedented step. No one has ever tried to use hypothermia to suppress the metabolism of a person who wasn’t severely sick or injured, much less super-healthy astronauts.
“We’ve had lots of healthy people who have volunteered for long-term torpor experiments,” Talk says. “There’s a pent-up demand for people who want to punch out of life for six months. I’m sure the FDA wouldn’t approve of that.”
Meanwhile, Talk has invited two experts on therapeutic hypothermia—Alejandro Rabinstein, the medical director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the Mayo Clinic, and Kelly Drew, a University of Alaska Fairbanks neuroscientist investigating animal hibernation—to join SpaceWorks’ research team. Drew and other scientists at the University of Alaska’s Institute of Arctic Biology are studying the hibernation patterns of endothermic animals like hedgehogs, Arctic ground squirrels, and bears. Their hope is to find the key to a healthy hibernation state—and the signaling cascade in the brain that induces it—that could be adapted to human astronauts without side effects.
The Arctic ground squirrel, for example, cools itself to 32 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. No scientist understands exactly what triggers its hibernation, although a particular brain and muscle receptor—the A1 adenosine receptor—appears to make the squirrel grow cold and sleepy, only to emerge with minimal bone and muscle loss eight months later.
“Adenosine is a neuromodulator that plays a role in sleep and in reducing brain excitability,” Drew says. “It’s ubiquitous in animal brains.” She has induced hibernation in Arctic ground squirrels by using a drug to stimulate their A1 adenosine receptors. Drew can also wake squirrels up from hibernation by using another drug to block the same receptor.
But the signaling cascade and genetic makeup of humans are far more complex and difficult to decipher. Adding to the complexity of the task is the fact that not all hibernators hibernate the same way.
The only primate known to do it, Madagascar’s fat-tailed dwarf lemur, spends seven months a year in torpor, mostly in hot weather; it survives by consuming fat stored in its tail. Low metabolic rates in animals do not require low body temperatures.
Meanwhile, Rabinstein, who plans to help SpaceWorks evaluate mild hypothermia to induce torpor, says the techniques that work in an ICU might not be so reliable in space.
“The fact that little children have ‘drowned’ and survived in ice ponds and lakes is remarkable and has given us hope,” he says. “But can we transform this [understanding of deep hypothermia] into a more mild degree of hypothermia and allow people to tolerate it for a longer period of time and get away with it, without psychological or physiological stress? We have to see, but we think there is a chance.”
A new discovery could change how we see ourselves in the universe
Illustration by Mariam Zagub
by Mariam Zagub,
Seven new exoplanets were discovered several weeks ago by a Belgian team of astronomers in the Atacama desert in Chile. These discoveries were made with the help of NASA telescopes but were not first discovered by NASA.
The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) was used to discover the incredibly cool dwarf star named Trappist-1. This star is right in our backyard, being only 40 light years away.
An illustration shows the possible scene on the surface of the planet called TRAPPIST-1f.
ILLUSTRATION BY NASA/JPL-CALTECH
According to Jerome Fang, an astronomy instructor at Orange Coast College, the discovery was made when the planets orbiting Trappist-1 passed in front of it.
“So these are seven planets found around the star, Trappist-1. They were detected by watching the star they go around. They can actually see the planets go in front of the star, and that makes the star slightly dimmer,” Fang said.
All the planets orbiting this star are similar to Earth in size and mass, experts say. Only three of them are the right distance from Trappist-1 which makes them likely to have water, spelling the potential for life in the Trappist-1 system.
“These planets are all similar to the Earth in terms of how big they are, how much mass they have. And three of them are, yes, they’re the right distance from the star that they could have liquid water on the surface, which makes them maybe habitable,” Fang said.
The reason this discovery is so important is because this is the largest number of temperate, Earth-sized planets that have been discovered to date. The Trappist-1 system, while it has many differences, is very similar to our solar system.
“I guess the unusual thing with that is that there are seven Earth-like planets. Most of them will tend to be a little larger, and not that they haven’t found a few that are sort of similar to the Earth in size, mass, maybe. But seven in one system is pretty unusual I’d say,” Nicholas Contopoulos, an astronomy instructor at OCC said.
One big difference is that all seven planets orbit very close to their star, all closer than Mercury orbits the sun. The reason three of them are still theorized to have water and be hospitable for life is because the planets all orbit an incredibly cool dwarf star.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets are snuggled close enough to their dim, red star to potentially have liquid water on their surfaces.
ILLUSTRATION BY NASA/JPL-CALTECH
Today, astronomers aren’t sure if these planets have water. They aren’t sure if the radiation from Trappist-1 has stripped the planets of their atmospheres, or if this star is still relatively young and hasn’t stripped much of the planets’ atmospheres.
“We don’t actually know definitively what’s on the surface because we can’t tell. We hope that the composition of these planets is similar to the Earth’s. We think they’re rocky. That’s about all we can say. Beyond that we can’t say if there’s an atmosphere, I don’t think we know that. We can’t say that they have moons because moons are impossible to find. Just bare-boned, we kind of know they’re like the Earth,” Fang said.
Despite all these advances and discoveries in the field of astronomy, financial support toward the sciences is being cut from the federal budget.
“They’re certainly withdrawing funds from science related content, like EPA is going to be defunded. Basically the military is going up $54 billion so they’re going to find the money somewhere. So I think they’re just taking it from things that they don’t feel are necessary,” Contopoulos said.
Some instructors believe that NASA is too important to continue to cut from the federal budget.
“Studying astronomy with NASA and all that is giving us a sense of perspective, like how do we fit into this crazy thing we call the universe. It puts into perspective maybe the issues we deal with. I talk to students and they tell me, ‘hey, our problems don’t seem so big when we study things that are out there.’ A lot of the greatest successes in NASA is because we put in the money. So if we’re taking away money that just makes the chances of doing something great and amazing even less likely,” Fang said.
Recently private industry is filling in the gaps where NASA isn’t able to from a lack of funding. SpaceX announced recently that it will send two private citizens on a trip around the moon before the end of next year. Its CEO, Elon Musk, has even discussed plans to colonize Mars in the future.
“I guess what’s different this time is you’re looking at private industry doing a lot, not that it didn’t do that before, but it’s not just NASA anymore. It’s sort of more private industry, where before NASA was sort of the head,” Contopoulos said.
Although the astrophysics as an industry isn’t as popular as it used to be, some students claim that the industry is expected to pick up in the near future.
“If anything, the space engineering industry is growing and it’s about to experience a really big boom probably within the next 10 years,” Garrett Prechel, a 30-year-old physics major said.
OCC’s Astronomy Club is filled with students of all majors ranging from physics and astronomy to even art and childhood education. The students, however, have the same positive sentiment toward astrophysics.
“It is concerning to have a government that doesn’t support it but at the same time you can’t rely on them for everything. Things will change eventually. The work has a lot more meaning than some people telling you that it’s not worth funding,” Junell Brown, an 18-year-old astrophysics major said
One faculty adviser to the club stresses the importance of advancing in the realm of science and continuing to learn about the world in a scientific manner.
“Anytime a country or a civilization diminishes the curious component, you endanger the strength of that civilization because that’s kind of what drives this curiosity. You’re trying to find your place in the cosmos. By understanding that and the fundamentals, we can better understand our purpose. We don’t have all the answers, and we definitely need science to push a civilization forward. If you diminish that you’re kind of cutting yourself at the legs, and just going, ‘well, things will just work out.’ Well they don’t, and I think that’s a dangerous path,” Contopoulos said.
7 Alien 'Earths' May Be Swapping Life via Meteorites
7 Alien 'Earths' May Be Swapping Life via Meteorites
Tiny life-forms can move easily between these recently described planets, according to a study of the travel times between worlds.
By Shannon Hall
The discovery of alien life would be revolutionary. But what if we uncovered it on two—or even seven—planets all orbiting the same star?
That’s the tantalizing possibility offered by the cosmic grouping called TRAPPIST-1, where seven Earth-size worlds circle a star roughly 39 light-years away. According to a new study, those planets are packed so tightly around their stellar host that the seeds of life could be hopping between them with ease.
The study, conducted by Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is based on a theory known as panspermia, which in turn is based on the fact that planetary debris can be swapped between the worlds in our solar system. This is especially true for neighboring rocky planets—for instance, asteroid strikes have sent fragments of Mars crash-landing onto Earth.
Panspermia takes this a step further and suggests that life could catch a ride on that debris, hitchhiking from one planet to the next. It might sound wild, but recent research shows that some extreme forms of life can survive conditions akin to an interplanetary journey. Some scientists even argue that the seeds of life on Earth could have come from Mars.
In the TRAPPIST-1 system, all seven planets are nestled within a region that’s more than 20 times smaller than the distance between Mars and Earth. Such close proximity raises the tantalizing possibility that panspermia could take place in this system with ease.
Now, Lingam and Loeb have calculated that exact probability. Comparing the TRAPPIST-1 planets to Earth and Mars, they found that the travel time between one planet and the next is shorter by a factor of a hundred. This boosts the chance that life can survive such a harrowing journey. They also found that the likelihood of one planet’s debris landing on another is larger by a factor of 20 or so.
Altogether, the possibility that life can play hopscotch from one planet to the next is a few thousand times higher among the TRAPPIST-1 worlds than the possibility that it did the same from Mars to Earth.
“In a single planetary system, like TRAPPIST-1, the interchange of bacterial life is almost inevitable,” says the University of Buckingham’s Chandra Wickramasinghe.
Even better for the imagined aliens, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets can potentially host life, given the right conditions.
Three of the worlds orbit in the star’s habitable zone, the region where they receive the perfect amount of heat for liquid water to flow on their surfaces. The rest of the worlds are temperate, meaning they might be equally warm if they have the right internal temperatures and atmospheric blankets.
“We might find forms of life that survive under conditions that we haven't anticipated,” says Loeb. “That's why it's exciting. We shouldn't have any prejudice, but should look at all seven planets in TRAPPIST-1.”
BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND
Of course, right now there’s no direct evidence that panspermia happens in our solar system or beyond. And some astronomers are doubtful that hitchhikers could survive such a traumatic journey.
First, the building blocks of life would have to endure extreme heat and pressure from the impact that spewed them into space. Out in the open void, they would be subjected to harsh ultraviolet radiation from their host star for potentially millions of years. Finally, they would once again face blazing temperatures as they fell from the sky and crash-landed in yet another violent impact.
“The poor organism would be fried twice and would be radiated by ultraviolet photons,” says Brice-Olivier Demory of the University of Bern, a co-author on the study that announced the TRAPPIST-1 discovery last month.
Amaury Triaud, a University of Cambridge astronomer who also co-discovered the TRAPPIST-1 planets, is on the fence: “I'm a skeptic about this,” he says. “But I also have to remind myself that life has managed to survive in extreme conditions.”
Bacteria have persevered inside nuclear reactors and on the outer rim of the International Space Station. Tardigrades—tiny water-dwelling invertebrates that look like chubby bears—have endured the vacuum of space for up to 10 days. And organisms frozen in Antarctic ice for centuries have been revived in labs. (Also see “Weird Life Found Trapped in Giant Underground Crystals.”)
Wickramasinghe also points out that not every cell flung between worlds needs to survive: “It's like throwing seeds in the wind,” he says. “Most are destined to be destroyed. But a very few could take fruit—and that's all that's needed.”
Already, the discovery team is planning to turn the Hubble Space Telescope toward the seven siblings, along with the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2018. If the TRAPPIST-1 planets have atmospheres, these powerful instruments will be able to discern some of the molecules in the air and potentially find the fingerprints of life.
Should astronomers find signs of life on one planet, that will motivate them to scour its neighbors for similar signatures—even if the search comes up empty-handed at first. And if they find a match, it will suggest that the planets are indeed swapping life.
“That’s a golden opportunity to study panspermia,” Loeb says.
And if they find the right evidence, that would imply life doesn’t necessarily have to start over again on each new planet. Instead, it might spread like wildfire throughout a planetary system—and maybe even the cosmos.
Around the same time that the dinosaurs became extinct on Earth, a volcano on Mars went dormant, NASA researchers have learned.
Arsia Mons is the southernmost volcano in a group of three massive Martian volcanoes known collectively as Tharsis Montes. Until now, the volcano's history has remained a mystery. But thanks to a new computer model, scientists were finally able to figure out when Arsia Mons stopped spewing out lava.
According to the model, volcanic activity at Arsia Mons came to a halt about 50 million years ago. Around that same time, Earth experienced the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which wiped out three-quarters of its animal and plant species, including the dinosaurs. [Photos: Mars Volcano Views Revealed by Spacecraft]
Jacob Richardson, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and co-author of the new study, presented the findings today (March 20) at the 48th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas.
"We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago — the late Jurassic period on Earth — and then died out around the same time as Earth’s dinosaurs," Richardson said in a statement. "It’s possible, though, that the last volcanic vent or two might have been active in the past 50 million years, which is very recent in geological terms."
Richardson and his team identified 29 volcanic vents on Arsia Mons. These vents are located inside the caldera — the crater-shaped depression on top of the volcano. Calderas form when volcanoes collapse under their own weight as lava accumulates on top. The caldera on Arsia Mons, which is big enough to hold at least all the water in Lake Huron, measures 69 miles (110 kilometers) across.
To figure out when the volcano was last active, Richardson and his team used high-resolution images from Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to map lava flows around the 29 vents. Tallying craters around the volcano helped them to determine how long the lava flows had been there. Combining this data, the researchers determined that the most recent volcanic activity occurred 10 to 90 million years ago. The oldest lava flows are about 200 million years old.
"Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma," Richardson said. "Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth."
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