Tag: space

The Oort Cloud: The Solar System’s Disaster Factory

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Apollo 14 Astronauts May Have Found the Oldest Earth Rock Lying On the Moon

A moon rock brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971 may contain a tiny piece of the ancient Earth (the “felsite clast” identified by the arrow).

One of Earth’s oldest rocks may have been dug up on the moon.

A chunk of material brought back from the lunar surface by Apollo astronauts in 1971 harbors a tiny piece of Earth, a new study suggests.

The Earth fragment was likely blasted off our planet by a powerful impact about 4 billion years ago, according to the new research.

It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life,” study co-author David Kring, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said in a statement.

The research team — led by Jeremy Bellucci, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Alexander Nemchin, of the Swedish Museum and Curtin University in Australia analyzed lunar samples collected by members of the Apollo 14 mission, which explored the lunar surface for a few days in early February 1971.




The scientists found that one rock contained a 0.08-ounce (2 grams) fragment composed of quartz, feldspar and zircon, all of which are rare on the moon but common here on Earth.

Chemical analyses indicated that the fragment crystallized in an oxidized environment, at temperatures consistent with those found in the near subsurface of the early Earth, study team members said.

An artist’s illustration of the Hadean Earth, when the rock fragment was formed. Impact craters, some flooded by shallow seas, cover large swaths of the Earth’s surface. The excavation of those craters ejected rocky debris, some of which hit the moon.

The available evidence suggests that the fragment crystallized 4.1 billion to 4 billion years ago about 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath Earth’s surface, then was launched into space by a powerful impact shortly thereafter.

The voyaging Earth rock soon made its way to the moon, which was then about three times closer to our planet than it is today.

The fragment endured further trauma on the lunar surface. It was partially melted, and probably buried, by an impact about 3.9 billion years ago, then excavated by yet another impact 26 million years ago, the researchers said.

This photo by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Apollo 14 landing site and nearby Cone Crater. The trail followed by the Apollo 14 astronauts can be seen. Image width is 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).

This latest collision created the 1,115-foot-wide (340 meters) Cone Crater, whose environs Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored and sampled 47 years ago.

An Earth origin for the ancient fragment isn’t a slam dunk, study team members stressed.

However, it is the simplest explanation; a lunar birth would require a rethink of the conditions present in the moon’s interior long ago, the researchers said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Truth About Empty Space

We often think of outer space as a never-ending vacuum filled with the occasional galaxy. What we don’t realize is that away from our eyes, this vacuum comes alive.

In order to understand what truly happens behind our backs in the vacuum, we must start by examining space itself.

So what is space? Quantum Field Theory tells us that space is composed of fundamental quantum fields, with a separate field for every particle that makes up our universe.

Electrons, quarks, neutrinos, and other fundamental particles are just the oscillations of the field with different energies. In specific, they have quantum energy, which exists as multiples of a baseline energy.

You can think of this as a ladder with energy levels. Each rung of the ladder represents the existence of one additional particle in that quantum state.

So the bottom of the ladder would be where there is no energy, meaning there are no particles. This is known as the vacuum state.




But as we will see, we cannot actually have zero-energy. Instead, the quantum field gently vibrates randomly. Sometimes this produces enough energy to form particles out of seemingly nothing!

The particles arising out of the fluctuation of quantum fields are called virtual particles.

Empty space is teeming with these virtual particles or “wiggles in the field”.

But there is a catch; these particles are created in particle and anti-particle pairs. They live only for a short instance of time until they destroy each other, popping in and out of existence.

The higher the energy of the particle, the lesser time it can exist. Wait a minute. Virtual Particles? That sounds sketchy. Let me show you the proof.

By definition, these elusive particles only exist when we aren’t watching, but their presence can be felt throughout the universe. In 1948, Hendrick Casimir came up with an ingenious idea to observe these virtual particles.

The Implications of Virtual Particles

Well, these seemingly insignificant particles have made quite an impact on the universe we know today. Not only do they explain “particle-particle interaction“, but they can be traced back to the origin of the universe itself!

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Here’s the Best-Ever Image of the Black Hole Devouring Our Galaxy

Researchers have captured the best-ever image of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, by using a new computer model to see through the haze of plasma surrounding the cosmic monster.

The galactic centre is full of matter around the black hole, which acts like frosted glass that we have to look through to see the black hole,” Max Planck Institute researcher Eduardo Ros said of the discovery.

Powerful Jet

Credit: The Astrophysical Journal

The fresh image of the black hole, which is twice the resolution of the previous best one, is described in a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal. 

Researchers used 13 powerful telescopes around the world to capture the image and have been teasing its release since earlier in January.

According to reports, strophysicists had assumed that such a black hole would show a gigantic jet of matter and radiation.

Surprisingly, they didn’t find such a jet coming out of the Milky Way’s monstrous black hole. Either it doesn’t have one — or they can’t see it because it’s pointed directly at us.

No Danger




Even if that were the case, Ros cautioned, it’s not cause for alarm.

If anything is there, it will be a length that is 1,000 times less than the distance to us,” Ros said. “There is no danger at all – we should not fear the supermassive black hole.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

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According Scientists, Earth Have Experienced A Massive Asteroid Strikes 290 Million Years Ago

Experts say the mysterious rise in strikes may have spelled doom for the dinosaurs, who were wiped out by an asteroid around 60million years ago.

It’s perhaps fair to say it was a date with destiny for the dinosaurs,” said study author Dr Thomas Gernon, from the University of Southampton.

Their downfall was somewhat inevitable given the surge of large space rocks colliding with Earth.” Space boffins at the University of Southampton examined asteroid craters on the moon to come to their finding.

Many of Earth’s ancient craters have worn away after millennia of eroding weather and tectonic plate shifts. The moon doesn’t have this problem, meaning its oldest impact holes are still in tact.

Because Earth and its neighbour have been hit by the same proportion of asteroids over time, scientists can date the moon’s craters to understand more about our own.




For the new study, experts tracked the age of the moon’s craters using images and thermal data from Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) space probe.

If a crater gives off more heat, it means it is younger because it is surrounded by larger boulders.

Over millions of years, these boulders break down into fine moon dust that comes up cold on the LRO’s heat cameras.

Scientists studied craters formed in the past billion years, and found there were fewer before 290 million years ago.

In fact, the rate of crater formation since then has been two to three times higher than in the previous 700 million years.

It’s unclear what caused the jump, but scientists think it may be linked to massive collisions taking place in the asteroid belt before 290 million years ago.

This could have created a mass of debris that has since rained down on other parts of the solar system.

The team say asteroid strikes probably played a massive role in Earth’s big extinction events, including the destruction of the dinosaurs.

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Saturn Hasn’t Always Had Rings

Precise measurements of Cassini’s final trajectory have now allowed scientists to make the first accurate estimate of the amount of material in the planet’s rings, weighing them based on the strength of their gravitational pull.

That estimate about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn’s moon Mimas, which itself is 2,000 times smaller than Earth’s moon tells them that the rings are relatively recent, having originated less than 100 million years ago and perhaps as recently as 10 million years ago.

Their young age puts to rest a long-running argument among planetary scientists.

Some thought that the rings formed along with the planet 4.5 billion years ago from icy debris remaining in orbit after the formation of the solar system.

Others thought the rings were very young and that Saturn had, at some point, captured an object from the Kuiper belt or a comet and gradually reduced it to orbiting rubble.

The new mass estimate is based on a measurement of how much the flight path of Cassini was deflected by the gravity of the rings when the spacecraft flew between the planet and the rings on its final set of orbits in September 2017.




Initially, however, the deflection did not match predictions based on models of the planet and rings.

Only when the team accounted for very deep flowing winds in atmosphere on Saturn, something impossible to observe from space, did the measurements make sense, allowing them to calculate the mass of the rings.

They also calculated that the surface clouds at Saturn’s equator rotate 4 percent faster than the layer 9,000 kilometers (about 6,000 miles) deep.

That deeper layer takes 9 minutes longer to rotate than do the cloud tops at the equator, which go around the planet once every 10 hours, 33 minutes.

Militzer also was able to calculate that the rocky core of the planet must be between 15 and 18 times the mass of Earth, which is similar to earlier estimates.

The team, led by Luciano Iess at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, reported their results today in the journal Science.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

China’s First Plants to Grow on the Moon Are Already Dead

One day after China announced it grew the first plants on the Moon, the fledgling plants have been pronounced dead. Rest in peace, lunar sprouts.

On Tuesday, China’s space program said that cotton seeds had germinated in a biosphere carried to the Moon by the nation’s Chang’e-4 lunar lander.

By Wednesday, mission leads had broken the news that the plants perished as the lunar night fell over the probe’s landing site.

The Sunday arrival of the lunar night, which lasts 14 days, deprived the plants of sunlight. During a lunar night, temperatures can plummet as low as −170°C (−274°F).

Meanwhile, daytime temperatures on the Moon can reach a sweltering 127°C (260°F). These massive fluctuations are one of the main obstacles encountered by lunar explorers.

The remaining seeds and fruit fly eggs contained in the mission’s biosphere are not likely to be viable after two weeks of light deprivation and freezing temperatures.




According to China’s National Space Administration, they will decompose and remain sealed to avoid contaminating the lunar surface.

Chang’e-4 went into sleep mode on Sunday to prepare for the harsh night. The lander will rely on a radioisotope heat unit (RHU) to stay warm until sunlight returns in late January.

The mission’s rover Yutu 2, which rolled off a ramp to the lunar surface on January 3, is also dependent on an RHU during the cold spell.

Chang’e-4 is the first spacecraft ever to land on the far side of the Moon, which is commonly mistaken for the “dark” side of the Moon.

Though the far side is always angled away from Earth, it is not always angled away from the Sun. Both lunar faces experience roughly 14 days of daylight and 14 days of darkness in a regular lunar cycle.

Chang-e-4’s biosphere may have only survived for a brief week, but it still made history as the first garden planted at the surface of an alien world.

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Going up? Space Elevator Could Possibly Take Astronauts Into Space

A Canadian space firm is one step closer to revolutionizing space travel with a simple idea – instead of taking a rocket ship, why not take a giant elevator into space?

Thoth Technology Inc has been granted both US and UK patents for a space elevator designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, so they can then be propelled into space.

The company said the tower, named the ThothX Tower, will be an inflatable, freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator and will reach 20km (12.5 miles) above the Earth.

Astronauts would ascend to 20km by electrical elevator. From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refueling and reflight,” Brendan Quine, the tower’s inventor, said in a statement.

Traditionally, regions above 50km (31 miles) in altitude can only be reached by rocket ships, where mass is expelled at a high velocity to achieve thrust in the opposite direction.

Quine said in the patent that rocketry is “extremely inefficient” and that a space elevator would take less energy.




In the patent, Quine explained that rocket ships expend more energy because they “must counter the gravitational force during the flight by carrying mass in the form of propellant and must overcome atmospheric drag”.

In contrast, by using an elevator system, “the work done is significantly less as no expulsion mass must be carried to do work against gravity, and lower ascent speeds in the lower atmosphere can virtually eliminate atmospheric drag”.

The elevator cars can also be powered electrically or inductively, eliminating the need to carry fuel, Quine wrote.

The technology offers a way to access space through reusable hardware, and will save more than 30% of the fuel of a conventional rocket, Thoth Technology said in a July statement.

Quine said when a traditional rocket ship launches from Earth, it flies vertically about 15-25km (9-15 miles) before hitting drop-off stages, when sections of the rocket drop back to Earth, usually falling into the ocean.

During the final stage when it enters space it is flying horizontally.

An elevator to space has been a longstanding idea as an alternative to rocket ships, but has always been believed as unfeasible because no known material can support itself at such a height.

Thoth’s design sidesteps this problem by building the elevator to 20km so it sits within the stratosphere rather than all the way in the geostationary orbit, where satellites fly.

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A Star System 146 Light years From Earth Is Quite Strange

A planet embedded in the protoplanetary disk of the star system HD 98800 would get this striking view of the disk and pair of stars

Planet-forming disks of material typically orbit around the equators of stars, but now scientists have discovered such rings can go dramatically awry and encircle the poles of stars instead.

The new study suggests that worlds could exist with polar orbits around pairs of stars, potentially leading to seasons extraordinarily different than Earth’s.

Stars are born within clouds of gas and dust. The gravitational pull of each star draws such material into spiraling orbits around it.

Although clumps of this cloud start off moving in random directions at random speeds, as the cloud collapses, the clumps collide and merge.

The result over time is a flattened disk called a protoplanetary disk that usually spins in the same direction as its star and surrounds the star’s equator.

The planets that emerge from such a disk also typically orbit around the star’s equator, as is the case with the worlds of our solar system.




Prior work found that nearly all young stars are initially surrounded by protoplanetary disks.

In the case of protoplanetary disks around single stars, at least a third go on to form planets, said lead study author Grant Kennedy, an astronomer at the University of Warwick in England.

However, computer simulations have previously suggested that after protoplanetary disks have formed, any extra material they collect can knock them off-kilter.

This could explain why astronomers have detected exoplanets with relatively crooked orbits around stars.

Kennedy and his colleagues focused on so-called circumbinary planets, which orbit around binary stars.

Scientists had suspected that planets around binary stars could become misaligned — instead of orbiting the stars in the same plane in which the stars orbit one another, these worlds could orbit around their poles instead.

Now, Kennedy and his colleagues have detected the first example of a misaligned circumbinary protoplanetary disk. “It’s one of those examples that nature manages to be more creative than we expect,” Kennedy said.

The scientists focused on the quadruple-star system HD 98800, located about 146 light-years from Earth. “If planets were born here, there would be four suns in the sky,” study co-author Daniel Price of Monash University in Australia said in a statement.

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Pass it on: New Scientist