Space

‘Super Earth’ is discovered and it has perfect conditions for aliens

Scientists have discovered a supersized version of Earth that could host life on a distant galaxy. The planet, named K2-18b, has been dubbed a rocky “super earth” that orbits a Sun-like star. And it is positioned in a solar sweetspot — making it possible to host life-giving liquid water. Researchers at the University of Texas and University of Montreal revealed the stunning findings, that could signal a perfect habitat for alien life. K2-18b even has a neighbouring sister planet, the cleverly named K2-18c, but is unlikely to host life because it is slightly closer to its Sun. Lead author Ryan Cloutier said: “Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting.” But while the planets may already be teeming with otherworldly creatures, we will probably never know for certain. They orbit a red dwarf star 111 lightyears away — or 625,000,000,000,000,000 miles away — in the Leo constellation. Boffins were able to get the measure of K2-18b using data from the European Southern Observatory gathered with a High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (Harps) instrument. Harps can help determine the mass and radius of a planet to work out its density. They found the planet is mostly rock with a gassy atmosphere, just like earth, but more research is needed to be sure. Mr Cloutier added: “If you can get the mass and radius, you can measure the bulk density of the planet and that can tell you what the bulk of the planet is made of”. “K2-18b is now one of the best targets for atmospheric study, it’s going to the near top of the list.” The research will be published in the journal Astronomy And Astrophysics.

Very cool!!    🙂

Stellar storms may light up signs of life on alien planets

Stellar storms, or eruptions of material that are regularly spewed into space by stars, could help scientists search for potentially habitable environments on alien planets, according to a new study. Most stars, including the sun, produce explosions on their surfaces that spit powerful particles out into space. These expulsions can rain down on nearby planets, and the new study shows that these interactions could create chemical “beacons” in the planetary atmospheres that reveal the presence of potentially life-friendly environments. “We’re in search of molecules formed from fundamental prerequisites of life — specifically molecular nitrogen, which is 78 percent of our atmosphere,” Vladimir Airapetian, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement from the agency. Airapetian is lead author on the new paper, which argues that modern instruments could detect these prerequisite chemicals faster than they could detect signs of existing life-forms. “These are the basic molecules that are biologically friendly and have a strong infrared emitting power, increasing our chance of detecting them,” Airapetian said. Because Earth is the only known habitable world so far, scientists use it as a guide for what to expect when hunting for life beyond the solar system. Water vapor, nitrogen and oxygen are all products of life as we know it. While the sun releases a relatively light stream of charged particles and occasional, energetic bursts, other stars can release far larger, more energetic and more frequent doses that bathe their nearby planets. If the charged particles interact with the atmosphere of a planet containing those products of life — water vapor and molecular nitrogen and oxygen — the interaction could trigger a cascade of chemical reactions that form what Airapetian and his colleagues call “atmospheric beacons” — molecular oxygen, nitric oxide and hydroxyl (one atom each of oxygen and hydrogen, bound together), according to the statement. Then, if the conditions are right, researchers could detect those beacons. As light from the star hits the planet’s atmosphere, it would cause the beacons to send energy into space as infrared radiation. Examining the radiation from the atmosphere of such a world would reveal the presence of these beacons. Since it takes a significant amount of molecular oxygen and nitrogen to create the beacons, their detection could indicate an atmosphere filled with biologically friendly chemistry, indicating a potentially habitable exoplanet. “Taking what we know about infrared radiation emitted by Earth’s atmosphere, the idea is to look at exoplanets and see what sort of signals we can detect,” said study co-author Martin Mlynczak. “If we find exoplanet signals in nearly the same proportion as Earth’s, we could say that a planet is a good candidate for hosting life.”

Fascinating!!    🙂

Stunning NASA image reveals ‘jack-o-lantern’ Sun

An incredible image released by NASA shows the Sun bearing a striking resemblance to a jack-o-lantern. The image was captured on Oct. 8, 2014 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which watches the Sun at all times. The orbiting space observatory was launched on Feb. 11, 2010. “Happy Halloween!” the space agency tweeted Tuesday with the stunning picture of the ‘jack-o-lantern’ sun. “Active regions on the sun combined to look something like a jack-o-lantern’s face,” explained NASA, in a statement on its website. “The active regions in this image appear brighter because those are areas that emit more light and energy. They are markers of an intense and complex set of magnetic fields hovering in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona,” it added. The image blends together two extreme sets of ultraviolet wavelengths, which are typically colorized in gold and yellow, to create an appearance resembling a jack-o-lantern, according to NASA.

Very cool!!  Click on the text above to see this awesome photo.    🙂

Mysterious object from deep space has entered the solar system

It was first seen just a month ago. A tiny blip of light was seen to be moving through the sky by the PanSTARRS1 telescope in Hawaii. The number-crunching which followed was automatic. The results were unusual. This object is in an odd position. It’s moving very fast. And it’s in what appears to be a somewhat extreme orbit. Extreme enough not to actually be an orbit, in fact. Observations published by the by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) suggest it could have come from deep space. Specifically, it could be a comet that has escaped another star. “If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet,” the MPC declares. The PanSTARRS telescope spotted the object only after it was flung back out towards the stars by our Sun. It’s not likely to ever return. It flashed past Earth at 24 million kilometres on October 14. Many eyes watched it closely, keen to determine exactly what it was. Their curiosity was piqued by where it had come from. Most objects orbiting our Sun do so along a common plane: the planets, dwarf planets and asteroids mostly swing around in roughly the same way. This one appears to have come down on the plane from 122 degrees, from the direction of the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra. And its path did not indicate the curved ellipse typical of clockwork-like returning comets. Best guesstimates make it a comet of about 160m diameter, with a surface reflectivity (albedo) of about 10 per cent. The object has just been through a close call (in Solar System terms): it came within 38 million km of our star before its momentum and the Sun’s gravity hurled it back outward. Normally such a close pass would be fatal. But C/2017U1 was travelling too fast for the Sun’s heat to consume it. It was moving at 26km per second when first observed. Astronomers are now attempting to refine their observations and data to pinpoint exactly where it came from. If it truly is of interstellar origin, the next task is to find which star it is likely to have come from. At the moment, it appears to have been somewhere in the direction of the star Vega. It’s also likely to have been wandering, alone, in deep space for a very, very long time. Vega is a relatively close neighbour of our Sun at 25 light years distance. At the speed it’s travelling, it would take about 1.7 million years to cross the interstellar divide.

Fascinating!!    🙂

Mars once had a lake 10 times larger than the Great Lakes

Scientists have known for some time that Mars once had lots and lots of water — in fact, some of it is still there — but exactly where it existed on the planet has been pretty difficult to figure out thanks to billions of years of surface erosion. Now, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered one place on the red planet that held a whole bunch of the life-giving liquid: an incredibly massive lake that, during its peak, held ten times the amount of water of all the Great Lakes, combined. It’s an incredible discovery, and one that could help inform future exploration of Mars in the hopes of finding evidence that life once existed there. The idea that Mars was one a life-giving planet much like our own is one that has tantalized scientists for a long, long time, and if they ever hope to prove it, they now have a promising lead on where to start looking. But even if Mars never hosted living organisms, its colossal lake could still help inform researchers painting the picture of life’s origins here on Earth. “Even if we never find evidence that there’s been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth,” Paul Niles of NASA’s Johnson Space Center explains. “Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time — when early life was evolving here.” The lake was discovered thanks to the detection of huge mineral deposits hiding underneath the surface. It is believed that those minerals were the byproduct of volcanic underwater vents, much like those that exist deep in Earth’s oceans. On our planet, those hydrothermal vents actually host life, but it’s unclear whether the same was true for ancient Mars. At the moment, the idea of a massive Martian lake with hydrothermal features is incredibly exciting, but we’re still a long way from actually finding anything suggesting the existence of life there. There are no current plans to actually investigate the site, dig, or study the area beyond what is already being done, but that could change.

Let’s hope so!

No life needed: Organic compound forms at comet and baby star system

Organic molecules once thought to be produced only by life-forms have been found in two separate regions of space: a nearby comet and the debris around a pair of forming stars. Previous studies on exoplanets have considered a substance, called chloromethane, to be a biomarker molecule, which means it indicates the potential existence of life. Before now, it was known to becreated by some tropical plants on Earth as well as industrial processes, where it is known as Freon-40. However, the new findings, detailed Oct. 2 in the journal Nature Astronomy, indicate that the chemical can also form without the help of life. Edith Fayolle, the study’s lead author, cautions against drawing too quick a conclusion, though. “It’s not a negative, ‘no it’s not a biomarker,'” Fayolle told Space.com, but “it’s not a direct biomarker, I would say.” It could still suggest the presence of life, but it is no longer considered a definitive sign. At the time, Fayolle was a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (she is now at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Fayolle’s team identified the chloromethane on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as well as around a pair of protostars in the early stages of forming a binary star system. The discovery was “a bit of an accident,” Fayolle said. “I wasn’t particularly looking for it.” Fayolle was curious about the origin of chloromethane on Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered the compound on the Red Planet, but there’s been debate over its origins. Some scientists suggested that the compound could have formed when chlorine compounds, called perchlorates, on the surface reacted with carbon carried by the rover itself as it was analyzing samples. Scientists later confirmed that the carbon and hydrogen in Mars’ chloromethane matches that found in meteorites. Therefore, impacts could be one source of the planet’s chloromethane, but it could also have formed from smaller molecules on the planet’s surface. Fayolle said the origin is far from settled. Fayolle’s group first found chloromethane around the binary star system using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in northern Chile. The telescope was surveying the binary stars to determine the system’s chemical complexity. The ALMA team was also collaborating with scientists on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which led Fayolle to examine that data, too. Rosetta orbited comet 67P/Churyumov-—Gerasimenko for two years until it was steered into the comet in September 2016 at the end of its mission. Measurements sent back by the spacecraft allowed the team to identify chloromethane in the comet as well. Combined, the two discoveries shed light on the progression of chemistry in solar system formation. The results from the protostar system suggest that compounds like chloromethane can form efficiently as stars coalesce, according to a statement by Nature Astronomy. Meanwhile, the data from the comet indicate that these compounds can survive the formation of planets. This supports a continuous model of solar system formation, Fayolle said, rather than one where the heat of star formation causes chemicals to recombine, leaving few compounds unchanged and resetting the system’s chemistry.”Based on our discovery, organohalogens are likely to be a constituent of the so-called ‘primordial soup,’ both on the young Earth and on nascent rocky exoplanets,” co-author Karin Öberg said in a statement. This suggests that, in addition to forming in the presence of life, compounds like chloromethane may have contributed to its development.

Fascinating!!

Water ice mystery found at Martian equator

A new examination of old data suggests that there might be ice hiding in the Martian equator, even though scientists previously thought that the substance couldn’t exist there. Scientists uncovered an unexpected amount of hydrogen when looking at older data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft dating back to between 2002 and 2009. At higher latitudes, hydrogen generally indicates buried water ice, but this was not believed possible at the equator, according to a statement from NASA. If there is indeed water there, this would help with a future human mission to Mars, because it could mean the astronauts wouldn’t need to bring the substance with them for drinking, cooling equipment or watering plants, researchers said in the statement. Instead, the astronauts could live off the land to an extent, reducing the number of resources that need to be trucked (at higher cost) from Earth. Mars Odyssey’s first major discovery, in 2002, was also linked to water; the spacecraft found buried hydrogen at high latitudes, and the 2008 landing of the Phoenix Mars lander confirmed that there was water ice. However, at lower latitudes, measurements of hydrogen were explained as hydrated minerals (which other spacecraft have also observed). Researchers didn’t think water ice was thermodynamically stable in those areas. For this new study, the researchers analyzed data collected using Mars Odyssey’s neutron spectrometer. The instrument is not designed to directly detect water, but by measuring neutrons, it can detect signatures of hydrogen, which can mark the presence of water or other hydrogen-bearing substances. The science team reduced the blurring or “noise” in Odyssey’s data using image-reconstruction techniques based on those used for other spacecraft and for medicine, according to the statement. This improved the spatial resolution of the data to 180 miles (290 kilometers), twice the previous resolution of 320 miles (520 km). “It was as if we’d cut the spacecraft’s orbital altitude in half, and it gave us a much better view of what’s happening on the surface,” Jack Wilson, the study’s principal investigator and a postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, said in the statement. Using those closer views, the researchers saw even higher levels of hydrogen, suggestive of water. Their work focused on equatorial areas, particularly in zones around the Medusae Fossae formation, an area that includes material that is easy to erode. Previous observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter suggested there might be volcanic deposits or water ice just below the surface. Scientists, however, were skeptical that it was water ice, because “if the detected hydrogen were buried ice within the top meter [3.3 feet] of the surface, there would be more than would fit into pore space in soil,” Wilson said. The study’s scientists emphasized that more evidence is needed to conclude that the signature indeed comes from water ice. They’re not too sure how the water was preserved, they said; perhaps ice and dust flowing from the poles moved through the atmosphere when Mars had a steeper axis tilt than today. However, it’s been at least hundreds of thousands of years since those conditions existed, and the water ice deposited back then shouldn’t be around anymore, the researchers said. (This would be true even if, somehow, dust or a crust at the surface trapped the humidity underground, the scientists added.) “Perhaps the signature could be explained in terms of extensive deposits of hydrated salts, but how these hydrated salts came to be in the formation is also difficult to explain,” Wilson said. “So, for now, the signature remains a mystery worthy of further study, and Mars continues to surprise us.” The new work was detailed Sept. 28 in the journal Icarus.

Very cool!!