Astronomy

Ocean on Jupiter’s moon ‘could be habitable,’ researchers say

With NASA slated to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa sometime in the next decade, researchers are increasingly confident that the ocean on the celestial satellite “could be habitable.” Speaking at the 2020 Goldschmidt Conference earlier this month, NASA researchers said they have developed a model that shows Europa, the sixth largest moon in the Solar System, could support life. “We were able to model the composition and physical properties of the core, silicate layer, and ocean,” NASA JPL researcher and the study’s lead author, Mohit Melwani Daswani, said in a statement. “We find that different minerals lose water and volatiles at different depths and temperatures. We added up these volatiles that are estimated to have been lost from the interior, and found that they are consistent with the current ocean’s predicted mass, meaning that they are probably present in the ocean.” The ocean is under a dense layer of frozen crust that is largely believed to be at least six and as many as 19 miles thick. The surface temperature on Europa is exceptionally cold as well, approximately -260 degrees Fahrenheit at the equator and -370 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles, according to Space.com. While the ocean is widely believed to be warm, researchers are only just learning that it likely formed due to the minerals being broken down by either tidal forces or radioactive decay, according to Universe Today. “Indeed it was thought that this ocean could still be rather sulfuric,” Daswani explained, “but our simulations, coupled with data from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing chloride on Europa’s surface, suggests that the water most likely became chloride rich. In other words, its composition became more like oceans on Earth. We believe that this ocean could be quite habitable for life.” In August 2019, NASA confirmed it would launch a mission to Europa, a trek that could answer whether the icy celestial body could be habitable for humans and support life. The Europa Clipper, which could launch as soon as 2023 but has a baseline commitment of a “launch readiness date by 2025,” will have a mass spectrometer on the craft, used to determine the mass of ions in an atom. The mission for the solar-powered Clipper is expected to cost around $4 billion, according to NASA. The space agency has previously said the purpose of the mission will be to investigate whether Europa, the sixth-largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, “could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology.” A 2018 study expressed concerns that Europa’s surface may be extremely porous, which could harm any probe that touches down on its surface. In December 2019, a study suggested that if there is life on Europa, it would be indigenous to the moon and not related to humans.

Fascinating!!  For more on Europa, click on the text above.     🙂

Mysterious repeating radio signals from outside our galaxy discovered

Astronomers recently discovered a strange repeating rhythm of fast radio bursts coming from outside our galaxy. The radio bursts come from 500 million light-years away, according to a statement released by MIT, which participated in the research. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals about 6 trillion miles. Details of the radio bursts emerged earlier this year. The research has now been published in the journal Nature. “Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are short, intense flashes of radio waves that are thought to be the product of small, distant, extremely dense objects, though exactly what those objects might be is a longstanding mystery in astrophysics,” the researchers explained in the statement. “FRBs typically last a few milliseconds, during which time they can outshine entire galaxies.” The fast radio burst source has been cataloged as FRB 180916.J0158+65. Experts say that it is the first to produce a periodic, or cyclical, pattern of bursts. “The pattern begins with a noisy, four-day window, during which the source emits random bursts of radio waves, followed by a 12-day period of radio silence,” the researchers said. The 16-day pattern appeared consistently over a 500-day period. “This FRB we’re reporting now is like clockwork,” said Kiyoshi Masui, assistant professor of physics in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, in the statement. “It’s the most definitive pattern we’ve seen from one of these sources. And it’s a big clue that we can use to start hunting down the physics of what’s causing these bright flashes, which nobody really understands.” Usually, fast radio bursts are “one-offs,” according to experts, although in some cases they have come from the same source. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) radio telescope in British Columbia was the first to pick up the signals from FRB 180916.J0158+65. The telescope picked up 38 signals from the source between September 2018 and February 2020. Astronomers say that they traced the signal to a star-churning region on the outskirts of a massive spiral galaxy. Spiral galaxies, like our Milky Way, have a central nucleus and “spiral arms” containing stars, gas and cosmic dust. “These periodic bursts are something that we’ve never seen before, and it’s a new phenomenon in astrophysics,” said Masui in the statement. In a paper published in the journal Nature, the scientists discuss the possible scenarios that created the radio bursts. “One possibility is that the periodic bursts may be coming from a single compact object, such as a neutron star, that is both spinning and wobbling — an astrophysical phenomenon known as precession,” they explained in the statement. “Another possibility involves a binary system, such as a neutron star orbiting another neutron star or black hole.” A third scenario involves a radio-emitting star orbiting a central source. “If the star emits a wind or cloud of gas, then every time the source passes through the cloud, the gas from the cloud could periodically magnify the source’s radio emissions,” the scientists explain. One possibility is that the fast radio bursts come from magnetars — neutron stars that are thought to possess a powerful magnetic field. Masui is part of the CHIME/FRB Collaboration, which also includes experts from the University of British Columbia, McGill University, the University of Toronto and the National Research Council of Canada. In a separate project, scientists used the Lovell telescope in the U.K. to discover a fast radio burst from deep space that has a 157-day repeating pattern. FRB 121102 shows activity for 90 days and then goes silent for 67 days, according to a study that was recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Things that make ya’ go, “hmm.”  For more, click on the text above.       🙂

Get set for strawberry moon: NASA’s top tips for June skywatchers

The next full moon, known as the strawberry moon, will light up the sky this week. Here are NASA’s top tips for June skywatchers. The moon will be full on Friday, June 5, at 3:12 p.m. EDT. “The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from early Thursday morning into early Sunday morning,” NASA explains on its website. Citing the Maine Farmer’s Almanac, NASA notes that the June full moon was dubbed the strawberry moon by Algonquin tribes. “The name comes from the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries in the north-eastern United States,” the space agency explains. “An old European name for this full Moon is the Mead Moon or the Honey Moon.” Mead is an alcoholic drink made from a fermented mixture of honey and water. “Some writings suggest that the time around the end of June was when honey was ripe and ready to be harvested from hives or from the wild, which made this the ‘sweetest’ Moon,” explains NASA. The Old Farmer’s Almanac notes that the name strawberry moon was used by every Algonquin tribe. The celestial event was also known as the rose moon in Europe, it adds. The June full moon may also be linked to the phrase “honeymoon,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “In the past, June has been the most popular month for weddings, leading some to suggest that the Moon’s honey-colored appearance in June was the origin of the ‘honeymoon’ phrase,” it explains on its website. “Nowadays, however, the most popular wedding months are August, September, and October, plus a little research shows that the Moon’s color never did have anything to do with that expression.” The strawberry moon, however, will not be a supermoon. The May full moon, known as the flower moon, was the last supermoon of 2020. In April, skywatchers enjoyed the super pink moon, which was the largest supermoon of the year. NASA notes that a partial eclipse is also on deck for June 5, although this will not be visible for most people in the Americas. “The Moon will be close enough to opposite the Sun that it will pass through part of the partial shadow of the Earth, called a partial penumbral eclipse of the Moon,” it explains on its website. “During this eclipse the Moon will not be in the sky for most of the Americas. If we could see the Moon, the slight dimming during this eclipse will not be noticeable without instrumentation.” “It’s the most subtle kind of lunar eclipse, one that most people won’t even notice,” adds the EarthSky website. The summer solstice will occur later this month, on June 20. “As spring ends and summer begins, the daily periods of sunlight reach their longest on the solstice, then begin to shorten again,” explains NASA on its website. “Summer Solstice will be on Saturday, June 20, at 5:43 PM. This will be the day with the longest period of sunlight, 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 41.5 seconds,” it adds. The ancient site of Stonehenge in Southern England has become synonymous with solstices. Some scientists believe that Stonehenge was built to mark the summer and winter solstices. NASA also offers other skywatching tips for this month. “As twilight ends on the evening of the full Moon on Friday, June 5, (at 9:42 PM EDT for the Washington, DC area), the planet Mercury will appear about 6 degrees above the horizon in the west-northwest,” it explains, on its website. “The bright star appearing nearest to directly overhead will be Arcturus, appearing (for Washington, DC and similar latitudes) 68 degrees above the horizon in the south-southeast. Also near to directly overhead will be the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear or the Big Dipper.”

For more info, click on the text above.  And, remember to check for that Strawberry Moon this Friday afternoon at 1:12p MDT, for those of us here in sunny Colorado.     🙂

 

Astronomer puts odds on extraterrestrial life existing: ‘Universe teeming with life … the favored bet’

Despite no clear-cut evidence, mankind has wondered for eons whether we’re alone in the universe. One astronomer, however, is almost sure that extraterrestrial life exists. In a new study, Columbia University astronomer David Kipping used the Bayesian model to determine the odds that life should exist on Earth. He found the odds are 9:1 or higher, despite scientists still not clearly understanding “how life occurred” on the planet, even if it’s widely accepted life started billions of years ago. “The rapid emergence of life and the late evolution of humanity, in the context of the timeline of evolution, are certainly suggestive,” Kipping said in a statement. “But in this study it’s possible to actually quantify what the facts tell us.” The Earth itself is widely believed to be approximately 4.5 billion years old. The Bayesian statistical inference, which is used to “update the probability for a hypothesis as evidence or new information becomes available,” found that intelligent life on Earth likely formed against the odds. The model looked at four possible answers: life is common and often develops intelligence; life is rare but often develops intelligence; life is common and rarely develops intelligence; lastly, life is rare and rarely develops intelligence. Kipping noted the “common-life scenario is always at least nine times more likely than the rare one,” but the odds of life being intelligent are weak. “[T]he possibility that intelligence is extremely rare and Earth ‘lucked out’ remains quite viable,” Kipping wrote in the study. “Overall, we find a weak preference, 3:2 betting odds, that intelligence rarely emerges given our late arrival.” “If we played Earth’s history again, the emergence of intelligence is actually somewhat unlikely,” he added in the statement. However, Kipling pointed out that the analysis “purely concerns the Earth,” and should not be applied to “potentially exoplanets being discovered.” “The analysis can only provide statistical probabilities, but the case for a universe teeming with life emerges as the favored bet,” Kipping explained in the statement. “The search for intelligent life in worlds beyond Earth should be by no means discouraged.” The research has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As of April 2020, more than 4,000 exoplanets have been identified, including a “one in a million” super-Earth that was recently discovered. In early March, an astronomy student from the University of British Columbia discovered 17 new exoplanets, including one that is roughly the same size as Earth. Known as KIC-7340288 b, the exoplanet is “small enough to be considered rocky,” at just 1.5 times the size of Earth, and is in the habitable zone of the star it orbits. Another recently discovered exoplanet, K2-18b, is also “potentially habitable” and is just 124 light-years from Earth.

Mr. Kipping is saying what we’ve been saying here for many years; that the likelihood of life out there, on another planet, is FAR greater than not…given just how vast space is.     🙂

Super pink moon: NASA’s top tips for April skywatchers

Skywatchers are in for a treat in April when the super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020, lights up the night sky. The April full moon is the closest supermoon of the year, which means that it is the largest, according to EarthSky. “That’s because this full moon more closely coincides with lunar perigee – the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly obit – than any other full moon in the year 2020,” the website explains. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to the Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, according to NASA. The space agency explains that the moon will be at perigee, at 2:08 pm EDT on April 7. The moon will be full at 10:35 pm EDT that day. “For the best view of this lovely spring Moon, find an open area and watch as the Moon rises just above the horizon, at which point it will appear its biggest and take on a golden hue!,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac, on its website. The April full moon is known as the pink moon, on account of the herb moss pink, also known as wild ground phlox, according to NASA. In the eastern U.S., the herb moss pink is one of the earliest widespread flowers of Spring, the space agency explains, on its website. “Other names for this Moon include the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Fish Moon, as this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn,” it says. Skygazers recently enjoyed the stunning March full moon, or worm moon, which was also a supermoon. Some experts described the spectacular February full moon, or snow moon, as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. The snow moon was one of the largest full moons of 2020.

🙂

Full worm supermoon on deck: What you need to know

Skywatchers are in for a treat next week when the full worm supermoon rises in the sky. “March’s full Moon, called the full Worm Moon, reaches peak fullness at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Monday, March 9,” explains the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “Look for the spectacularly bright Moon as it rises above the horizon that evening!” The celestial event will be the first of three supermoons in 2020, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. EarthSky notes that the full worm moon will be the second-closest of the year’s supermoons. Supermoons happen when the moon’s elliptical orbit brings it to the closest point to Earth while the moon is full. The phrase was coined in 1979, according to NASA. “The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on this time, from early Sunday morning into early Wednesday morning,” adds NASA, on its website. The March full moon, which is also known as the crow moon, crust moon, sap moon and sugar moon, played an important role in Native American culture. “The more northern tribes of the northeastern United States knew this as the Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter,” explains NASA, on its website. “Other northern names were the Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing by night, or the Sap (or Sugar) Moon as this is the time for tapping maple trees.” Southern tribes, however, dubbed the celestial event the “worm moon,” as a result of the casts left by earthworms on the thawing ground. Some experts described the spectacular February full moon, or snow moon, as a supermoon, although others feel that it does not qualify as that category of celestial event. The snow moon was one of the largest full moons of 2020.

Very cool!!  Catch it Monday, if ya can!     🙂

Molecular oxygen discovered in another galaxy for first time ever

Astronomers have announced a significant discovery: they have found molecular oxygen for the first time ever outside the Solar System. In a research published in The Astrophysical Journal, they noted that it was discovered in the Markarian 231 galaxy, 561 million light-years from Earth. A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals about 6 trillion miles. “This first detection of extragalactic molecular oxygen provides an ideal tool to study AGN-driven molecular outflows on dynamic timescales of tens of megayears,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract. The find is significant since the galaxy is powered by a quasar, a highly active supermassive black hole. Some astronomers believe there are two quasars at the center of the galaxy. though that has yet to be proven. Quasars are considered the brightest objects in the universe and the quasar at the center of Markarian 231 is the closest one to Earth. The researchers used the IRAM 30-meter radio telescope in Spain to make their observations after looking at it for four days. It’s unclear what is causing the oxygen to appear, but it may be due to “the interaction between the active galactic nucleus-driven molecular outflow and the outer disc molecular clouds,” the researchers wrote in the study. Oxygen is necessary for life as we know it, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, but so far, molecular oxygen has been difficult to find. It has been detected in the Orion nebula, but since it experiences intense radiation from the young stars being formed, it’s possible the water ice is split into a molecular level, allowing for the discovery of oxygen. Oxigen is the third most abundant element in the universe, trailing hydrogen and helium. Some scientists believe oxygen in space is stuck with hydrogen in the form of water ice, which could be why it is hard to detect. In November, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered that oxygen “behaves in a way that so far scientists cannot explain” on Mars. The Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the Gale Crater since it landed on Mars in August 2012, found that the oxygen in the atmosphere did not behave in the same way that nitrogen and argon did, following “a predictable season pattern, waxing and waning in concentration in Gale Crater throughout the year relative to how much CO2 is in the air.” Instead, the amount of oxygen in the air throughout the spring and summer rose by as much as 30 percent, then dropped to levels that were predicted by known chemistry in the fall.

Fascinating!!   🙂

Black Moon is coming tonight: What that means

We’ve seen all kinds of interesting phases of the Moon, from “Super blood Moons” to “full worm supermoons” to even the stunning Strawberry Moon. But July 31 will mark a rare occurrence for Earth’s natural satellite — a phenomenon known as a black Moon. The sparse celestial event will be seen in North America, marking the first occurrence since 2016. The rest of the planet will see the black Moon on Aug. 30. Although there is no one single definition of a black Moon, according to Time and Date, it is most commonly used to represent the second new Moon of a month. This rarely happens outside of leap years, as lunar cycles largely take 29 days to complete. But every 32 months or so, there are two full Moons in a month, with the first being known as a blue Moon. Officially, the black Moon will occur at 11:13 p.m. EDT, for the Western Hemisphere according to Space.com. For the Eastern Hemisphere, it will occur after midnight on Aug. 1, but it is not the second new Moon, so it does not count as a black Moon. New Moons are not able to be seen, as they travel “across the sky with the Sun during the day,” according to EarthSky.org. “But the gravitational influence of the new moon and sun combine to physically affect our water planet, which people along the ocean coastlines may notice in the coming days.” Other meanings of a black Moon include a third new Moon in a season of four new Moons; no new Moon in February; and no full Moon in February. Tomorrow’s black Moon will also be a supermoon, which means the new Moon happens at the closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit.

Very cool!  So, again, it’ll be at 11:13pm EDT, or 9:13pm for those of us here in sunny Colorado.    🙂

Astronomers discover radio signal from galaxy billions of light-years away, report says

Canadian astronomers have reportedly discovered a repetitive radio signal some 2.5 billion light-years away from Earth — only the second example known to mankind. A telescope in British Columbia, otherwise known as Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), detected 13 pulses — or fast radio bursts (FRBs) — in July and August, according to a Monday report from Nature, a British scientific journal. The findings were announced by Deborah Good, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington on Wednesday. “Look! We see FRBs,” she said of the cosmic flashes, which remain a mystery to astronomers. Before they were spotted over the summer, astronomers reportedly found between 50 and 60 examples of the radio bursts. Good said that “if we had 1,000 examples, we would be able to say many more things about what FRBs are like.” The CHIME telescope found, as phrased by Nature.com, “the second known FRB that repeats, meaning that the radio flashes re-appear at the same point in the sky.” The first FRB that repeats was detected in 2012. The majority of the FRBs discovered by the telescope showed signs of “scattering,” Phys.org reported — which led the CHIME team to believe the radio bursts are “powerful astrophysical objects.” “That could mean in some sort of dense clump like a supernova remnant,” Cherry Ng, an astronomer at the University of Toronto, told the news outlet. “Or near the central black hole in a galaxy. But it has to be in some special place to give us all the scattering that we see.” Astronomers’ studying of FRBs can teach those who study more about where the bursts come from, and whether that region in its galaxy is home to turbulent gas. “Until now, there was only one known repeating FRB.,” astronomer Ingrid Stairs, also a member of the CHIME team, said. “Knowing that there is another suggests that there could be more out there. And with more repeaters and more sources available for study, we may be able to understand these cosmic puzzles — where they’re from and what causes them.”

Fascinating!!   🙂

How to Watch the Longest ‘Blood Moon’ Eclipse of the Century

Get ready for a celestial double feature unlike anything seen in decades: Mars is about to make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years—just as the full moon blushes red in the longest “blood moon” eclipse of the century. Both the moon and Mars will dominate the overnight hours on July 27 and into the morning of July 28, traveling across the sky beside each other while appearing to be separated by only five degrees, equal to the width of three middle fingers held at arm’s length. On the 27th, the red planet will swing the closest it has come to Earth since August 2003, allowing sky-watchers around the world to see our neighboring world about as big and bright it can ever get in our skies. And while you shouldn’t expect Mars to look as big as the full moon, as many online hoaxes in past years have suggested, you will also get to see the actual moon painted red as it undergoes a total lunar eclipse. During a total eclipse, sunlight shining through Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum as it is cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, expect to see the lunar disk go from a dark gray color when the eclipse starts to a reddish-orange color during totality. At 1 a.m. ET (5:00 UT) on July 27, Mars will reach what astronomers call opposition. This is when the sun, Earth, and Mars are aligned in a straight path, so that Mars appears to rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west, making the sunlit side of the planet visible all night long. Mars reaches opposition only once every 26 months, when Earth manages to overtake the planet in its tighter track around the sun. But unlike Earth’s more circular orbit, Mars’s path around the sun is fairly elliptical. That means the distance between the two worlds varies, making some oppositions better than others. Mars will make its closest approach to Earth for this year on July 31, coming just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers) away. Such a close approach just a few days after opposition means the July 27 alignment will be your best bet to see the red planet shine its biggest and brightest until 2035. The previous best encounter occurred 15 years ago, when Mars was a record-breaking 35 million miles (56 million kilometers) distant. Such an epic encounter won’t happen again until 2287. In addition to offering beautiful views, opposition has traditionally set the stage for robotic invasions of Mars. Because of Mars’s proximity and alignment with our planet, the time around opposition is the best for sending spacecraft, saving travel time and fuel costs. For instance, NASA’s Insight lander launched on May 5 and is headed for a Mars landing this November. Many keen-eyed onlookers may have already noticed the fiery planet growing brighter in our night skies the past few months, making it easy to spot with nothing more than the naked eye. To track down the warrior planet for yourself, go outside after dusk on any clear night and look for the bright beacon rising above the eastern horizon. Mars will glide high over the southern sky throughout the night, setting in the west by dawn. Most of the time, Mars is not much to look at through a telescope, but that changes during opposition, when the planet becomes a disk filled with tantalizing features. Even a small telescope with about a six-inch mirror will be able to tease out surface details like the southern ice cap (where astronomers may have just found an underground lake) and distinct, dark regions that are windswept, rocky fields. However, a colossal dust storm has been raging for the past two months on Mars and has enveloped most of the planet, which means telescope views have been a bit hindered. But you can plainly see the effect of all this dust with the naked eye: Mars currently appears to shine with a more yellowish tinge rather than its usual rusty orange hue. Also on July 27, fortunate sky-watchers in South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia will get to see at least part of the longest-lasting total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The entire event will last nearly four hours, with the maximum eclipse lasting for one hour, 42 minutes, and 57 seconds from 19:30 to 21:13 UTC. North Americans will mostly miss out on this lunar eclipse, as the moon will not have risen yet. But the lunar display can be observed in its partial phases rising over South America, western Africa, and Europe and setting over Eastern Asia and Australia. The entire eclipse will be visible from eastern Africa and central Asia.

Bummer we probably won’t be able to see it.  But, it’ll be streamed live online.  For more, click on the text above.