This image shows an irregular galaxy named IC 10, a member of the Local Group—a collection of over 50 galaxies in our cosmic neighborhood that includes the Milky Way.
IC 10 is a remarkable object. It is the closest-known starburst galaxy, meaning that it is undergoing a furious bout of star formation fueled by ample supplies of cool hydrogen gas. This gas condenses into vast molecular clouds, which then form into dense knots where pressures and temperatures reach a point sufficient to ignite nuclear fusion, thus giving rise to new generations of stars.
As an irregular galaxy, IC 10 lacks the majestic shape of spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way, or the rounded, ethereal appearance of elliptical galaxies. It is a faint object, despite its relative proximity to us of 2.2 million light-years. In fact, IC 10 only became known to humankind in 1887, when American astronomer Lewis Swift spotted it during an observing campaign. The small galaxy remains difficult to study even today, because it is located along a line-of-sight which is chock-full of cosmic dust and stars.
A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Nikolaus Sulzenauer, and went on to win 10th prize.
Earth is a cornucopia of extremes—extreme temperatures, extreme habitats, and extreme beauty and wonder. One of the most intriguing extremes on Earth is the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point on the planet.
The Mariana Trench is full of secrets. What humans do know about its depths continues to puzzle and amaze, from the creatures that live there to the natural phenomena that occur on the sea floor.
Travel to the deepest point on Earth, and do it from the comfort of your home. Here’s a quick dive into the Mariana Trench.
What is the Mariana Trench?
The Mariana Trench (also called the Marianas Trench) is a deep, crescent-shaped cleft in the floor of the western Pacific Ocean. The trench is located approximately 124 miles east of the Mariana Islands, a string of islands south of Japan and east of the Philippines.
The Mariana Trench is one of many subduction zones—areas where two tectonic plates collide and one sinks below the other—on the ocean floor. It is wider than 50 kilometers (31 miles) at its widest point, stretches nearly 1,585 miles from end to end, and the deepest point in the trench (the Challenger Deep) is estimated to be almost seven miles. To put that in perspective, if Mount Everest were dropped into the ocean at the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, it would still sit under more than a mile of water. Water above the Mariana Trench exerts a pressure of 15,750 psi, more than 1,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.
We still know very little about the Mariana Trench. That’s most likely due to the trench only being accurately measured in 1951 and the inhospitable nature of the ocean at that depth.
In 1951, the HMS Challenger II used echo sounding to find an even deeper point in the Mariana Trench, and the Challenger Deep was named after the ship that discovered it.
Man’s curiosity tends to lead him to strange places, and it was this curiosity that led Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh to the ocean floor (10,916 meters) of the Challenger Deep in their submersible the Trieste in 1960.
There have been only three other missions to the depths of the Challenger Deep since the initial trip taken by the Trieste. The next two were unmanned (in 1996 and 2009), and the last was taken by film director James Cameron in 2012 aboard the Deepsea Challenger.
It’s no wonder that man hasn’t ventured to the sea floor of the Mariana Trench. Immense pressures and cold temperatures make it an inhospitable place for creatures as soft and warm as humans. That said, those who have been to the bottom of the trench were surprised to find some forms of life living at such depths.
Piccard and Walsh reported seeing large creatures—flatfish and shrimp—living at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but those reports were never confirmed and were later questioned.
Cameron’s solo trip to the Challenger Deep was more revealing, and video evidence confirmed that there were a few strange-but-recognizable creatures living in the high-pressure environment. No sea monsters or giant squid were spotted, but the following creatures were confirmed:
Amphipods – Shrimp-like crustaceans were found in abundance swimming around the waters of the Challenger Deep, some more than a foot long.
Echinoderms – Small, stick-like sea cucumbers were spotted on the sea floor.
Foraminifera – Amoeboid protists that live under calcium carbonate shell layers on the ocean floor.
Xenophyophores – Massive single-celled organisms living on the floor of the Mariana Trench.
Jellyfish – Surprisingly, a jellyfish was spotted floating by in the captured footage.
Continued exploration of the Mariana Trench
Again, it’s not easy to rove and explore the sea floor of the trench or the Challenger Deep. But scientists are certain there are still a number of undiscovered creatures waiting to be found.
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Current modeling of the asteroid’s orbit shows it more likely passing by Earth at a distance of over 4.2 million miles this September, but ESA says there’s roughly a one hundredth of a 1 percent chance the model is wrong and it hits our planet instead.
Only last month, US scientists took part in an exercise simulating an imminent asteroid impact with the Earth, and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that we need to take the real-world threat seriously during his keynote speech at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland.
But it most likely won’t hit us.
Bridenstine also said that detecting, tracking, and studying asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs) should be taken more seriously following the Chelyabinsk event. The resulting shock wave from that 65-foot-wide asteroid damaged thousands of buildings, and debris and flying glass injured over 1,500 people.
Last June, NASA produced a 20-page plan that details the steps the US should take to be better prepared for NEOs that come within 30 million miles of Earth.
Lindley Johnson, the space agency’s planetary defense officer, said that the country “already has significant scientific, technical, and operational capabilities” to help with NEOs, but implementing the new plan would “greatly increase our nation’s readiness and work with international partners to effectively respond should a new potential asteroid impact be detected.”
According to a 2018 report put together by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.
Hollywood enjoyed a brief spell of asteroid impact-themed disaster movies during the summer of 1998. In the movie Deep Impact, a comet 1½ miles long slammed into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Cape Hatteras, creating, at first, a tsunami 100 feet high traveling at 1,100 mph (that’s faster than the speed of sound). Then, when it reached shallow water, it slowed but increased in height to 3,500 feet. The wave washed away farmland and cities and eventually reached as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee valleys (over 600 miles).
But it most likely won’t hit us.
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Launched in November 2011, the Curiosity Rover was sent to Mars to collect data and, hopefully, answer the question “Did Mars ever have the right conditions to support life?” Curiosity answered this question early on, when it discovered chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on the Red Planet. Though other missions have been sent to Mars, Curiosity carries the most advanced scientific instruments of any of them and can travel farther on Mars’ surface due to increased power capacity.
Right now, somewhere in the world, children stand at the edge of a lake counting the hops of stones skidding across the surface of the water. It’s hard to explain the tranquil pleasure of watching the ripples emanate farther and farther till nearly out of sight, but it’s even more of a challenge to fathom the distances to which we’ve launched objects into the dark ocean of space. As of February 2018, the Voyager 1 drifts 13 billion miles away from the surface of the earth, 42 years since its launch. It is one of five man made objects that has ever left our solar system.
Five years before the launch of the Voyager probes, on March 2, 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 to investigate the surface of Jupiter. Weighing 569 pounds, the Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to cross the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and, eventually, escape our solar system by nature of its velocity. It was also the first spacecraft to launch from the three-stage Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle to achieve its launch speed of 32,400 mph. It took the Pioneer 10 twelve weeks to cross the orbit of Mars. On December 3, 1973, the Pioneer 10 passed by the cloud tops of Jupiter to obtain the first close-up images of the planet.
Following its flyby of Jupiter, Pioneer 10 continued to gather data for NASA of the outer solar system until the end of its mission in March 31, 1977. The last faint signal from Pioneer 10 was received on January 23, 2003, as its radioisotope power source had decayed to the point of being unable to send further signals.
The launch of Pioneer 10 was succeeded just a year later on April 5, 1973. The launch this time was accelerated by an additional 210 ft/sec and aimed to pass Jupiter at a point closer to its surface. The closer proximity to Jupiter caused the spacecraft to accelerate by gravitational pull to the muzzle velocity of a rifle (110,000 mph), allowing it to obtain the velocity and direction necessary to approach Saturn.
On September 1, 1979, Pioneer 11 flew to within 13,000 miles of Saturn to obtain the first close-up images of the planet and discover two previously-unobserved moons. By September of 1995, the spacecraft could no longer make observations and by November, the last communication with the spacecraft was made.
Voyager 1 & 2
The Voyager spacecrafts were initially tasked with observing the properties and magnetospheres of our neighboring planets using their onboard instrumentation. Target planets included Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s moon Titan. Data from the Pioneer 10 mission was used to create more robust spacecraft to tolerate the intense radiation around Jupiter. Voyager 1 started its observation of Saturn, the final phase of its initial mission, on August 22, 1980, whereas the Voyager 2 was sent on a longer trajectory to observe Uranus and Neptune, reaching Neptune on August 25, 1989.
In addition to their planetary observations, both Voyager spacecrafts were also tasked with interstellar missions. They were designed to continue scientific observations and signal transmission after escaping the heliosphere and exiting our solar system. They are both still active, with a projected lifetime of about five more years.
In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft with a primary mission of observing the dwarf planet Pluto. New Horizons was launched as the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth with a speed of 36,400 mph. New Horizons started its flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015. Three years later, in August of 2018, it confirmed the existence of a hydrogen wall previously observed by the Voyager launch.
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NASA claim that WATER is present on the moon’s surface
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Black holes are incredible wells of gravity, where the force of attraction traps everything including light. Black holes are often found at the hearts of galaxies and up until April this year have been purely theoretical. In April, astronomers behind the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration photographed the first ever shadow of a black hole millions of light-years from Earth. But little is still known about the exact nature of these terrifying objects and speculation is rampant.
This is why astronomer Michelle Thaller, who is the assistant director of Science Communications at NASA, said dark holes challenge our understanding of physics.
The space experts appeared in a science video for Big Think, where she discussed the idea black holes are key to cracking the secrets of the universe.
And perhaps most shockingly, the astronomer suggested the universe in which we live is nothing more than a two-dimensional hologram.
Dr Thaller said: “Things are stopped in time as they fell into the black hole. And right at the boundary, there is almost kind of a sphere, a two-dimensional surface that somehow contains all the information about what’s inside the black hole.
Black hole SHOCK: Black holes and the universe could be a hologram in a shock twist (Image: GETTY)
“And this reminds people of something that humans invented, called a hologram.
“Now, a hologram is a two-dimensional object. You can make it out of glass or a piece of film. And you shine a light through it and all of a sudden, there seems to be three-dimensional projections.
“And the idea is that we are looking at some fundamental way the universe stores information. Around a black hole, where space and time have been crushed out of existence, could there be a shell of information, something like a hologram?”
But how does this cosmic revelation suggest the universe at large is a form of a hologram?
According to Dr Thaller, black holes could be a miniaturised representation of how the universe works on a big scale.
This all sounds incredibly strange
Dr Michelle Thaller, NASA
In this scenario, all of the information in the universe is spread out across a 2D surface and we could be part of it.
But the astronomer said this does not in any way imply intent or creative design behind the hologram.
She said: “We’re just talking about the universe may really be information contained in a two-dimensional structure, not the three dimensions that we’re aware of now. This all sounds incredibly strange.
Did ancient supernovae induce proto-humans to walk on two legs, eventually resulting in homo sapiens with hands free to build cathedrals, design rockets and snap iPhone selfies?
A paper published today in the Journal of Geology makes the case: Supernovae bombarded Earth with cosmic energy starting as many as 8 million years ago, with a peak some 2.6 million years ago, initiating an avalanche of electrons in the lower atmosphere and setting off a chain of events that feasibly ended with bipedal hominins such as homo habilis, dubbed “handy man.”
The authors believe atmospheric ionization probably triggered an enormous upsurge in cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that ignited forest fires around the globe. These infernos could be one reason ancestors of homo sapiens developed bipedalism—to adapt in savannas that replaced torched forests in northeast Africa.
“It is thought there was already some tendency for hominids to walk on two legs, even before this event,” said lead author Adrian Melott, professor emeritus of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas. “But they were mainly adapted for climbing around in trees. After this conversion to savanna, they would much more often have to walk from one tree to another across the grassland, and so they become better at walking upright. They could see over the tops of grass and watch for predators. It’s thought this conversion to savanna contributed to bipedalism as it became more and more dominant in human ancestors.”
Based on a “telltale” layer of iron-60 deposits lining the world’s sea beds, astronomers have high confidence supernovae exploded in Earth’s immediate cosmic neighborhood—between 100 and only 50 parsecs (163 light years) away—during the transition from the Pliocene Epoch to the Ice Age.
“We calculated the ionization of the atmosphere from cosmic rays which would come from a supernova about as far away as the iron-60 deposits indicate,” Melott said. “It appears that this was the closest one in a much longer series. We contend it would increase the ionization of the lower atmosphere by 50-fold. Usually, you don’t get lower-atmosphere ionization because cosmic rays don’t penetrate that far, but the more energetic ones from supernovae come right down to the surface—so there would be a lot of electrons being knocked out of the atmosphere.”
According to Melott and co-author Brian Thomas of Washburn University, ionization in the lower atmosphere meant an abundance of electrons would form more pathways for lightning strikes.
“The bottom mile or so of atmosphere gets affected in ways it normally never does,” Melott said. “When high-energy cosmic rays hit atoms and molecules in the atmosphere, they knock electrons out of them—so these electrons are running around loose instead of bound to atoms. Ordinarily, in the lightning process, there’s a buildup of voltage between clouds or the clouds and the ground—but current can’t flow because not enough electrons are around to carry it. So, it has to build up high voltage before electrons start moving. Once they’re moving, electrons knock more electrons out of more atoms, and it builds to a lightning bolt. But with this ionization, that process can get started a lot more easily, so there would be a lot more lightning bolts.”
The KU researcher said the probability that this lightning spike touched off a worldwide upsurge in wildfires is supported by the discovery of carbon deposits found in soils that correspond with the timing of the cosmic-ray bombardment.
“The observation is that there’s a lot more charcoal and soot in the world starting a few million years ago,” Melott said. “It’s all over the place, and nobody has any explanation for why it would have happened all over the world in different climate zones. This could be an explanation. That increase in fires is thought to have stimulated the transition from woodland to savanna in a lot of places—where you had forests, now you had mostly open grassland with shrubby things here and there. That’s thought to be related to human evolution in northeast Africa. Specifically, in the Great Rift Valley where you get all these hominin fossils.”
Melott said no such event is likely to occur again anytime soon. The nearest star capable of exploding into a supernova in the next million years is Betelgeuse, some 200 parsecs (652 light years) from Earth.
“Betelgeuse is too far away to have effects anywhere near this strong,” Melott said. “So, don’t worry about this. Worry about solar proton events. That’s the danger for us with our technology—a solar flare that knocks out electrical power. Just imagine months without electricity.”
The NASA-tracked asteroid, dubbed Asteroid 2011 HP, is flying towards our planet on a so-called Earth Close Approach trajectory. NASA predicts the imposing space rock will shoot past Earth on the morning of Thursday, May 30. According to NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid will approach the planet around 11.48am BST or 6.48am Eastern Time. When this happens, NASA said the asteroid will break speeds of around 8.43km per second or 18,857.4mph (30,348kmh).
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The imposing asteroid, dubbed by NASA Asteroid 2019 JB1, is headed towards the Earth on a “Close Approach” trajectory. NASA’s asteroid trackers have calculated a close flyby in the early morning hours of Monday, May 20. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, Asteroid JB1 will shoot past our planet around 4.23am BST (3.23am UTC). And when the asteroid nears the Earth, it will reach breakneck speeds of around 26.04km per second or 58,349.8mph.
Astronomers have discovered a third planet in the Kepler-47 system, securing the system’s title as the most interesting of the binary-star worlds. Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, a team of researchers, led by astronomers at San Diego State University, detected the new Neptune-to-Saturn-size planet orbiting between two previously known planets.
With its three planets orbiting two suns, Kepler-47 is the only known multi-planet circumbinary system. Circumbinary planets are those that orbit two stars.
The planets in the Kepler-47 system were detected via the “transit method.” If the orbital plane of the planet is aligned edge-on as seen from Earth, the planet can pass in front of the host stars, leading to a measurable decrease in the observed brightness. The new planet, dubbed Kepler-47d, was not detected earlier due to weak transit signals.
As is common with circumbinary planets, the alignment of the orbital planes of the planets change with time. In this case, the middle planet’s orbit has become more aligned, leading to a stronger transit signal. The transit depth went from undetectable at the beginning of the Kepler Mission to the deepest of the three planets over the span of just four years.
The SDSU researchers were surprised by both the size and location of the new planet. Kepler-47d is the largest of the three planets in the Kepler-47 system.
“We saw a hint of a third planet back in 2012, but with only one transit we needed more data to be sure,” said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, the paper’s lead author. “With an additional transit, the planet’s orbital period could be determined, and we were then able to uncover more transits that were hidden in the noise in the earlier data.”
William Welsh, SDSU astronomer and the study’s co-author, said he and Orosz expected any additional planets in the Kepler-47 system to be orbiting exterior to the previously known planets. “We certainly didn’t expect it to be the largest planet in the system. This was almost shocking,” said Welsh. Their research was recently published in the Astronomical Journal.
With the discovery of the new planet, a much better understanding of the system is possible. For example, researchers now know the planets in in this circumbinary system are very low density – less than that of Saturn, the Solar System planet with the lowest density.
While a low density is not that unusual for the sizzling hot-Jupiter type exoplanets, it is rare for mild-temperature planets. Kepler-47d’s equilibrium temperature is roughly 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), while Kepler-47c is 26 degrees F ( 32 degrees C). The innermost planet, which is the smallest circumbinary planet known, is a much hotter 336 degrees F (169 degrees C).
The inner, middle, and outer planets are 3.1, 7.0, and 4.7 times the size of the Earth, and take 49, 187, and 303 days, respectively, to orbit around their suns. The stars themselves orbit each other in only 7.45 days; one star is similar to the Sun, while the other has a third of the mass of the Sun. The entire system is compact and would fit inside the orbit of the Earth. It is approximately 3340 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cygnus.
“This work builds on one of the Kepler’s most interesting discoveries: that systems of closely-packed, low-density planets are extremely common in our galaxy,” said University of California, Santa Cruz astronomer Jonathan Fortney, who was not part of the study. “Kepler 47 shows that whatever process forms these planets – an outcome that did not happen in our solar system – is common to single-star and circumbinary planetary systems.”
Correction: A prior version of this article contained inaccuracies regarding the orbits of the Kepler-47 planets. This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of days it takes the inner, middle, and outer planets to orbit their suns: 49, 187 and 303 days respectively.
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NASA’s lonely Mars rover has successfully retrieved its first batch of soil from a “clay-bearing unit” near Mars’ Mount Sharp region. The US space agency has targeted this part of Mars for a drilling mission even before Curiosity blasted off towards the planet in November 2011. NASA has now confirmed Curiosity retrieved samples of bedrock material from a rock dubbed Aberlady on Sunday, April 6. The rover then delivered the soil samples to its onboard laboratory equipment on April 10 and scientists are waiting for the analysis results with bated breath.