Hubble telescope spies water raining on distant world

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SCIENCE)

 

Hubble telescope spies water raining on distant world

The exoplanet is just twice the diameter of Earth, and could potentially host life.
The Hubble Space Telescope following grapple of the giant observatory by the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The Hubble Space Telescope can see exoplanets when they pass in front of their stars. Credit: NASA

Astronomers have spotted hints of water raining in the atmosphere of a planet beyond the Solar System.

The discovery is a rare glimpse of water molecules around a distant world that is not much bigger than Earth. Named K2-18 b, the planet is 34 parsecs (110 light-years) from Earth in the constellation Leo. Notably, it lies in the ‘habitable zone’ around its star — the distance at which liquid water could exist, making extraterrestrial life possible in its hydrogen-rich atmosphere.

“That’s the exciting thing about this planet,” says Björn Benneke, a planetary astronomer at the University of Montreal in Canada. He is the lead author of a paper describing the discovery that was posted on the arXiv preprint server on 10 September1.

A competing team of scientists reports their own analysis of the same planet on 11 September in Nature Astronomy2. That paper′s lead author, planetary astronomer Angelos Tsairas of the University College London (UCL), says that the finding is exciting because the planet is just twice the diameter of Earth, and because little is known about the atmospheres of such small worlds.

Astronomers have previously found water in the atmospheres of gas-giant exoplanets, but studying a distant planet’s atmosphere gets harder as the planet gets smaller. Scientists have been pushing the limits to try to scrutinize planets that are smaller than Neptune but larger than Earth — a category that turns out to be surprisingly common among the thousands of exoplanets found so far.

Flickering light

Benneke and his colleagues decided to look at K2-18 b because it falls in that range. They used the Hubble Space Telescope to watch as the planet passed in front of its star, temporarily dimming its light, on eight different occasions.

The scientists analysed how the color of the star’s light changed as it filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. They combined this with data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which examines more wavelengths of light. The researchers concluded that they were seeing water vapor in the planet′s atmosphere as well as signs that that vapor was condensing into liquid water.

It is the first time astronomers have seen such a water cycle — changing from gas to liquid and back again — on a small, distant world.

The UCL team that authored the second paper analysed the Hubble data from Benneke’s group. The observations had been uploaded to a publicly accessible archive immediately after being collected.

The UCL researchers came up with three possible explanations for what they were seeing, any one of which is equally likely. In the first scenario, the planet has no clouds and 20–50% of its atmosphere is water. In the second and third scenarios, which involve different amounts of clouds and other molecules in the atmosphere, the planet’s atmosphere contains between 0.01% and 12.5% water.

Further questions

But the presence of water alone doesn’t mean that a planet is a good place to look for life, a point illustrated by one of Earth’s closest neighbors, Venus. It’s an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star that once had water vapor in its atmosphere — but the Sun’s rays have stripped away much of that water, leaving its surface barren.

K2-18 b might be equally unpromising. “It is highly unlikely that this world is habitable in any way that we understand based on life as we know it,” says Hannah Wakeford, a planetary astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Still, finding water in the planet’s atmosphere is “extremely exciting”, says Neale Gibson, an astrophysicist at Trinity College Dublin, “and the fact that two teams find the same result is very encouraging”. Future observations, such as those that the James Webb Space Telescope will collect after its planned 2021 launch, should help pin down exactly what this distant world is like.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02721-2

References

  1. 1.

    Benneke, B. et al. Preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1909.04642(2019).

Something Strange Is Happening in the Fermi Bubbles

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

 

Something Strange Is Happening in the Fermi Bubbles

The Fermi Bubbles are two enormous orbs of gas and cosmic rays that tower over the Milky Way, covering a region roughly as large as the galaxy itself. These giant space bubbles may be fueled by a strong outflow of matter from the center of the Milky Way.

The Fermi Bubbles are two enormous orbs of gas and cosmic rays that tower over the Milky Way, covering a region roughly as large as the galaxy itself. These giant space bubbles may be fueled by a strong outflow of matter from the center of the Milky Way.
(Image: © NASA Goddard)

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of “Your Place in the Universe.” Sutter contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

In 2010, astronomers working with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope announced the discovery of two giant blobs. These blobs were centered on the core of the Milky Way galaxy, but they extended above and below the plane of our galactic home for over 25,000 light-years. Their origins are still a mystery, but however they got there, they are emitting copious amounts of high-energy radiation.

More recently, the Ice Cube array in Antarctica has reported 10 super-duper-high-energy neutrinos sourced from the bubbles, leading some astrophysicists to speculate that some crazy subatomic interactions are afoot. The end result: the Fermi Bubbles are even more mysterious than we thought.

Related: Huge Milky Way Gas Bubbles Clocked at 2 Million Mph

Two giant blobs of hot gas

It’s not easy to make big balls of hot gas. For starters, you need energy, and a lot of it. The kind of energy that can spread hot gas to a distance of over 25,000 light-years doesn’t come easily to a typical galaxy. However, the peculiar orientation of the Fermi Bubbles — extending evenly above and below our galactic center — is a strong clue that they might be tied our central super massive black hole, known as Sagittarius A*.

Perhaps millions of years ago, Sag A* (the more common name for our giant black hole, because who wants to keep typing or saying “Sagittarius” all the time?) ate a giant meal and got a bad case of indigestion, with the in-falling material heating up, twisting around in a complicated dance of electric and magnetic forces, and managing to escape the clutches of the event horizon before falling in. That material, energized beyond belief, raced away from the center of the galaxy, riding on jets of particles accelerated to nearly the speed of light. As they fled to safety, these particles spread and thinned out, but maintained their energetic state to the present day.

Or perhaps a star wandered too close to Sag A* and was ripped to shreds, releasing all that potent gravitational energy in a single violent episode, leading to the formation of the bubbles. Or maybe it had nothing to do with Sag A* itself, but the multitude of stars in the core — perhaps dozens or hundreds of those densely packed stars went supernova at around the same time, ejecting these plumes of gas beyond the confines of the galactic more.

Or maybe none of the above.

No matter what, the bubbles are here, they’re big, and we don’t understand them.

Related: 8 Baffling Astronomy Mysteries

CLOSE
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope – 10 Years of Discoveries
Volume 0%

Gamma and the neutrino

You can’t see the Fermi Bubbles with your naked eye. Despite their high temperatures, the gas inside them is incredibly thin, rendering them all but invisible. But something within them is capable of making the highest-energy kind of light there is: gamma rays, which is how the Fermi team spotted them.

We think that the gamma rays are produced within the bubbles by cosmic rays, which themselves are high-energy particles (do you get the overall “high energy” theme here?). Those particles, mostly electrons but probably some heavier fellas too, knock about, emitting the distinctive gamma rays.

But gamma rays aren’t the only things that high-energy particles can produce. Sometimes the cosmic rays interact with each other, perform some complicated subatomic dance of matter and energy, and release a neutrino, an almost-mass-less particle that only interacts with other particles via the weak nuclear force (which means it hardly ever interacts with normal matter at all).

The Ice Cube Observatory, situated at the geographic south pole, uses a cubic kilometer of pure Antarctic water ice as a neutrino detector: every once in a rare while, a high-energy neutrino passing through the ice interacts with a water molecule, setting up a domino-like chain reaction that leads to a shower of more familiar particles and a telltale flash of light.

Due to the nature of its detectors, Ice Cube isn’t the greatest when it comes to pinpointing the exact origin location for a neutrino. But to date, it has found 10 of these little ghosts coming from roughly the direction of the two Fermi Bubbles.

Is this coincidence, or conspiracy?

When Galaxies Blow Space Bubbles
Volume 0%

A subatomic puzzle

So something could be producing these extremely exotic neutrinos inside the Fermi Bubbles. Or not — it could just be a coincidence, and the neutrinos are really coming from some distant part of the universe behind the Bubbles.

What’s more, somehow the cosmic rays are producing all the gamma rays, though we’re not exactly sure how. Perhaps we might get lucky: maybe there’s a single set of interactions inside the Bubbles that produces both gamma rays and the right kind of neutrinos that can be detected by IceCube. That would be a big step up in explaining the physics of the Bubbles themselves, and give us a huge clue as to their origins.

Recently, a team of researchers pored through the available data, even adding results from the newly operational High Altitude Water Cherenkov detector (a super-awesome ground-based gamma ray telescope), and combined that information with various theoretical models for the Bubbles, searching for just the right combo.

In one possible scenario, protons inside the Bubbles occasionally slam into each other and produce pions, which are exotic particles that quickly decay into gamma rays. In another one, the flood of high-energy electrons in the Bubbles interacts with the ever-present radiation of the cosmic microwave background, boosting some lucky photons into the gamma regime. In a third, shock waves at the outer edges of the Bubbles use magnetic fields to drive local but lethargic particles to high velocities, which then begin emitting cosmic rays.

But try as they might, the authors of this study couldn’t find any of the scenarios (or any combination of these scenarios) to fit all the data. In short, we still don’t know what drives the gamma ray emission from the Bubbles, whether the Bubbles also produce neutrinos, or what made the Bubbles in the first place. But this is exactly how science is done: collecting data, ruling out hypotheses, and forging onward.

Read more: “Correlation of high energy neutrinos and gamma rays on the direction of Fermi Bubbles

You can listen to the Ask A Spaceman podcast on iTunes, and on the Web athttp://www.askaspaceman.com. Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman, or by following Paul @PaulMattSutter and facebook.com/PaulMattSutter. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]

Alien Oceans Could Hold Way More Life Than Earth’s Waters Ever Did

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF LIVE SCIENCE)

 

Alien Oceans Could Hold Way More Life Than Earth’s Waters Ever Did, New Research Suggests

Alien worlds could put the Blue Marble's biodiversity to shame.

(Image: © Shutterstock)

Earth is the only planet in the universe known to harbor life, but new research suggests that some distant worlds could put the Blue Marble’s biodiversity to shame.

It’s not because these other, hypothetically habitable exoplanets are devoid of humans (though Earth’s biodiversity would definitely be looking better without us). Rather, a planet’s potential to harbor life could hinge on how well its oceans move nutrients around the world, University of Chicago geoscientist Stephanie Olson said today (Aug. 23) in a presentation at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress in Barcelona.

“NASA’s search for life in the universe is focused on so-called Habitable Zoneplanets, which are worlds that have the potential for liquid water oceans,” Olson said in a statement about her research. “But not all oceans are equally hospitable — and some oceans will be better places to live than others due to their global circulation patterns.”

CLOSE
Volume 0%

One circulation pattern in particular — known as “upwelling” — may be key to fostering life in the seas, Olson said. Upwelling occurs when wind rushes along the ocean’s surface, creating currents that push deep, nutrient-rich water up toward the top of the sea, where photosynthetic plankton live. The plankton feed on these nutrients, allowing them to produce organic compounds that feed larger organisms, which in turn become meals for still-larger organisms, and so on up the food chain.

As members of the food chain die and decompose, their organic remains sink to the bottom of the sea, where they may get caught in another upwelling and feed the surface life again. Thanks to this efficient, underwater recycling system, biodiversity tends to thrive in upwelling areas on Earth (mainly near the coasts). The same is likely true on habitable exoplanets, Olson said, which means that planets with conditions that favor more ocean upwelling may also favor strong biodiversity.

To find out what sorts of conditions lead to productive upwelling, Olson and her colleagues used a NASA simulator called ROCKE-3D to test how atmospheric and geophysical factors contribute to ocean currents.

“We found that higher atmospheric density, slower rotation rates and the presence of continents all yield higher upwelling rates,” Olson said. “A further implication is that Earth might not be optimally habitable — and life elsewhere may enjoy a planet that is even more hospitable than our own.”

While these findings don’t have any direct applications to the 4,000 or so exoplanets that have been discovered so far, they could inform the way scientists look for habitable worlds in the future. Ideally, Olson said, future generations of telescopes will be built that better analyze features like atmospheric density and rotation rate, which could offer a quick glimpse into a world’s habitability. With tech like that, we should be able to find the space-octopus homeworld in no time.

Olson’s new study has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal.

Originally published on Live Science.

Asteroid Ryugu May Be Rubble of Two Space Rocks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

 

Asteroid Ryugu May Be Rubble of Two Space Rocks Smashed Together

A photograph of Ryugu's surface captured by the MASCOT lander.

A photograph of Ryugu’s surface captured by the MASCOT lander.
(Image: © Jaumann et al., Science (2019))

A robot deployed on one of the darkest asteroids in the solar system may now shed light on the origins of some of the oldest, rarest meteorites, a new study finds.

These findings suggest that this asteroid formed during a collision of two very different space rocks, the scientists said. The research also suggests that dust may float off this asteroid, possibly driven by electric fields.

In 2018, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu, a 2,950-foot-wide (900 meters) near-Earth asteroid that is one of the darkest celestial bodies in the solar system. Its name, which means “dragon palace,” refers to a magical underwater castle in a Japanese folktale.

One reason scientists may want to learn more about Ryugu is because its orbit brings it close — potentially dangerously close — to Earth.

“Knowing the composition and geological structure of asteroids and comets is essential to [developing] mitigation strategies in the case of potential collision scenarios,” study lead author Ralf Jaumann, a planetary scientist at the Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, told Space.com.

In addition, previous research suggested Ryugu may contain primordial material from the nebula that gave birth to the sun and its planets. Hayabusa2 is designed to return samples from the asteroid to shed light on the formation of the solar system.

The first image captured by the MASCOT rover during its descent to Ryugu’s surface.

(Image credit: Jaumann et al., Science (2019))

To investigate Ryugu’s surface, Hayabusa2 deployed the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander. This shoebox-size robot took photos both as it dropped from the main Hayabusa2 spacecraft onto Ryugu and after it landed on the asteroid’s surface, where it operated for a little more than 17 hours before its batteries ran out.

“To have this small lander reaching the surface and providing detailed images of the surface was very exciting,” Jaumann said.

MASCOT found Ryugu was covered with two kinds of rocks and boulders — one dark with a cauliflower-like, crumbly surface and the other bright with smooth faces and sharp edges. Both types are nearly evenly distributed on the surface of the asteroid, suggesting Ryugu was a pile of rubble that coalesced after two parent bodies crashed into one another, “indicating a violent history of asteroid collision,” Jaumann said.

Close-up images of Ryugu’s dark, rough stones revealed they often seem to possess small, colored inclusions similar to those found in one of the most primitive and rare types of meteorites, known as carbonaceous chondrites.

“Carbonaceous material is the primordial material of the solar system, from which all planets and moons originate,” Jaumann said. “Thus, if we want to understand planetary formation, including the formation of Earth, we need to understand its building parts.” He said the new findings support long-standing speculation that carbonaceous chondrites come from C-type asteroids — dark-gray, carbon-rich space rocks such as Ryugu.

Unexpectedly, the MASCOT images of Ryugu showed no fine dust, which scientists had expected would accumulate on the asteroid’s surface due to micrometeoroid impacts and other forms of weathering. The mission’s predecessor, Hayabusa, found that another rubble-pile asteroid, Itokawa, also seemed dust-free.

The researchers suggested that some as-yet-unknown force removes dust from Ryugu’s surface. Electric fields on the asteroid might cause dust to float away, Jaumann said, or micrometeoroid impacts and seismic vibrations could be responsible.

The scientists detailed their findings online on Aug. 22 in the journal Science.

Follow Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]

Astronomers Create 8 Million Baby Universes Inside A Computer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF LIVE SCIENCE)

 

Astronomers Create 8 Million Baby Universes Inside a Computer and Watch Them Grow. Here’s What They Learned.

helix nebula

(Image: © Shutterstock)

A team of astrophysicists has just spawned 8 million unique universes inside a supercomputer and let them evolve from just tots to old geezers. Their goal? To nail down the role that an invisible substance called dark matter played in our universe’s life since the Big Bang and what it means for our fate.

After discovering that our universe is mostly composed of dark matter in the late 1960s, scientists have speculated on its role in the formation of galaxies and their ability to give birth to new stars over time.

According to the Big Bang theory, not long after the universe was born, an invisible and elusive substance physicists have dubbed dark matter began to clump together by the force of gravity into massive clouds called dark matter haloes. As the haloes grew in size, they attracted the sparse hydrogen gas permeating the universe to come together and form the stars and galaxies we see today. In this theory, dark matter acts as the backbone of galaxies, dictating how they form, merge and evolve over time.

Related: The 11 Biggest Unanswered Questions About Dark Matter

To better understand how dark matter shaped this history of the universe, Peter Behroozi, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, and his team created his own universes using the school’s supercomputer. The computer’s 2,000 processors worked without pause over a span of three weeks to simulate more than 8 million unique universes. Each universe individually obeyed a unique set of rules to help researchers understand the relationship between dark matter and the evolution of galaxies.

“On the computer, we can create many different universes and compare them to the actual one, and that lets us infer which rules lead to the one we see,” Behroozi said in a statement.

While previous simulations have focused on modeling single galaxies or generating mock universes with limited parameters, the UniverseMachine is the first of its scope. The program continuously created millions of universes, each containing 12 million galaxies, and each allowed to evolve over nearly the entire history of the real universe from 400 million years after the Big Bang to the present day.

“The big question is, ‘How do galaxies form?’” said study researcher Risa Wechsler, a professor of physics and astrophysics at Stanford University. “The really cool thing about this study is that we can use all the data we have about galaxy evolution —  the numbers of galaxies, how many stars they have and how they form those stars — and put that together into a comprehensive picture of the last 13 billion years of the universe.”

Related: From the Big Bang to Present: Snapshots of Our Universe Through Time

Creating a replica of our universe, or even of a galaxy, would require an inexplicable amount of computing power. So Behroozi and his colleagues narrowed their focus to two key properties of galaxies: their combined mass of stars and the rate at which they give birth to new ones.

“Simulating a single galaxy requires 10 to the 48th computing operations,” Behroozi explained, referring to an octillion operation, or a 1 followed by 48 zeros. “All computers on Earth combined could not do this in a hundred years. So to just simulate a single galaxy, let alone 12 million, we had to do this differently.”

As the computer program spawns new universes, it makes a guess on how a galaxy’s rate of star formation is related to its age, its past interactions with other galaxies and the amount of dark matter in its halo. It then compares each universe with real observations, fine-tuning the physical parameters with every iteration to better match reality. The end result is a universe nearly identical to our own.

According to Wechsler, their results showed that the rate at which galaxies give birth to stars is tightly connected to the mass of their dark matter haloes. Galaxies with dark matter halo masses most similar to our own Milky Way had the highest star-formation rates. She explained that star formation is stifled in more massive galaxies by an abundance of blackholes

Their observations also challenged long-held beliefs that dark matter stifled star formation in the early universe.

“As we go back earlier and earlier in the universe, we would expect the dark matter to be denser, and therefore the gas to be getting hotter and hotter. This is bad for star formation, so we had thought that many galaxies in the early universe should have stopped forming stars a long time ago,” Behroozi said. “But we found the opposite: Galaxies of a given size were more likely to form stars at a higher rate, contrary to the expectation.”

Now, the team plans to expand the Universe Machine to test more ways dark matter might affect the properties of galaxies, including how their shapes evolve, the mass of their black holes and how often their stars go supernova.

“For me, the most exciting thing is that we now have a model where we can start to ask all of these questions in a framework that works,” Wechsler said. “We have a model that is inexpensive enough computationally, that we can essentially calculate an entire universe in about a second. Then we can afford to do that millions of times and explore all of the parameter space.”

The research group published their results in the September issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Originally published on Live Science.

Astronomers Uncover Dozens of Previously Unknown Ancient and Massive Galaxies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ASTRONOMY TODAY)

 

Astronomers Uncover Dozens of Previously Unknown Ancient and Massive Galaxies

For decades, astronomers have been trying to see as far as they can into the deep Universe. By observing the cosmos as it was shortly after the Big Bang, astrophysicists and cosmologists hope to learn all they can about the early formation of the Universe and its subsequent evolution. Thanks to instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have been able to see parts of the Universe that were previously inaccessible.

But even the venerable Hubble is incapable of seeing all that was taking place during the early Universe. However, using the combined power of some of the newest astronomical observatories from around the world, a team of international astronomers led by Tokyo University’s Institute of Astronomy observed 39 previously-undiscovered ancient galaxies, a find that could have major implications for astronomy and cosmology.

The team behind the discovery included members from Tokyo University’s Institute of Astronomy, the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Anhui Normal University in China, the University of Ludwig-Maximilians in Munich, the National Astronomical Observatories of China, and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan. Their research appeared in the Aug. 7th issue of Nature.

Artist impression of galaxies detected by ALMA as they appear in the very early, very distant universe. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. Dagnello

Spotting the “Invisible”

To put it simply, the earliest possible galaxies in the Universe have remained invisible until now because their light is very faint and occurs at long wavelengths that are undetectable by Hubble. The team therefore turned to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array(ALMA), whose telescopes are optimized for viewing this kind of light.

The discovery that resulted was not only unprecedented, but the discovery of this many galaxies of this type defies current cosmological models. As Tao Wang, a researcher from the AISAA and a co-author on the study, explained:

“This is the first time that such a large population of massive galaxies was confirmed during the first 2 billion years of the 13.7-billion-year life of the universe. These were previously invisible to us. This finding contravenes current models for that period of cosmic evolution and will help to add some details, which have been missing until now.”

These galaxies, though they were the largest in existence at the time, were still very difficult to spot. Much of the reason has to do with the extent to which their light has been stretched by the expansion of the Universe. In everyday astronomy, this phenomena is known as redshift, where the expansion of space (the Hubble Constant) causes the wavelength of light to become elongated, shifting it towards the red end of the spectrum.

This allows astronomers to not only tell how distant an object is, but what that object looked like in the past. But when looking to the very earliest epoch of the Universe (over 13 billion years ago) the immense distance stretches the wavelength of visible light to the point where it is no longer in the domain of visible light and becomes infrared.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured this stunning infrared image of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, where the black hole Sagitarrius A resides. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Another reason these galaxies are difficult to spot is that larger galaxies tend to be shrouded in dust, especially when they are still in the early parts of their formation. This tends to obscure them more than their smaller galactic counterparts. For these reasons, there was some suspicion that these galaxies were not as old as the team suggested. As Wang indicated:

“It was tough to convince our peers these galaxies were as old as we suspected them to be. Our initial suspicions about their existence came from the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared data. But ALMA has sharp eyes and revealed details at submillimeter wavelengths, the best wavelength to peer through dust present in the early universe. Even so, it took further data from the imaginatively named Very Large Telescope in Chile to really prove we were seeing ancient massive galaxies where none had been seen before.”

What Does This Mean for Astronomy?

Since the discovery of these galaxies defies our current cosmological models, the team’s findings naturally have some significant implications for astronomers. As Kotaro Kohno, a professor with the Institute of Astronomy and a co-author on the study, explained:

“The more massive a galaxy, the more massive the supermassive black hole at its heart. So the study of these galaxies and their evolution will tell us more about the evolution of supermassive black holes, too,” added Kohno. “Massive galaxies are also intimately connected with the distribution of invisible dark matter. This plays a role in shaping the structure and distribution of galaxies. Theoretical researchers will need to update their theories now.”

Ancient galaxies from the study are visible to ALMA (right) but not to Hubble (left). Credit: Wang (et al.) 2019

Another interesting find was the ways in which these 39 ancient galaxies differ from our own. For starters, these galaxies had a higher density of stars than the Milky Way does today; which means that if our galaxy were similar, stargazers would be seeing something very different when they looked up at the night sky.

“For one thing, the night sky would appear far more majestic. The greater density of stars means there would be many more stars close by appearing larger and brighter,” said Wang. “But conversely, the large amount of dust means farther-away stars would be far less visible, so the background to these bright close stars might be a vast dark void.”

Since this is the first time that a galactic population of this kind has been discovered, astronomers are looking forward to what else they might find. As it stands, even ALMA is not sophisticated enough to investigate the chemical compositions and stellar populations of these galaxies. However, next-generation observatories will have the resolution for astrnomers to conduct these studies.

These include the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently slated for launch in 2021. Ground-based observatories like the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) are also likely to play a vital role.

It’s an exciting time for astronomers and cosmologists. Ever so slowly, they are peeling back another layer of the Universe to see what secrets lurk beneath!

Further Reading: University of Tokyo

Space travel breakthrough: could cover 3.6 Million miles per day passes test

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS)

Space travel breakthrough: Spacecraft which cover 3.6 Million miles per day passes test

A SPACESHIP which is so fast it could travel 3.6 million miles per day has been successfully tested in Earth’s orbit.

LightSail 2: Planetary Society demonstrates solar sail spacecraft

FacebookTwitterShareFullscreen

The Lightsail 2 craft is an experiment to prove the practical application of a controlled ‘solar sail’, which has the ability to far outstrip traditional rocket engines. The revolutionary mission was launched on June 25 and developed by ‘The Planetary Society’, based in the US. The voyage became the first ever to demonstrate solar sailing and used energy from the Sun to orbit Earth.

The tiny 10x10x30cm spacecraft was powered with propelled sunlight bouncing off its mirrored sails.

The exploration used thin plastic sheets to gather the momentum from the Sun.

Most notably the spacecraft was able to manoeuvre without the need for fuel or engines.

science

The Lightsail 2 was successful in its orbit around Earth (Image: AP)

science

The voyage became the first ever to demonstrate solar sailing (Image: The Planetary Society)

Bruce Betts LightSail program manager and Planetary Society chief scientist hailed the groundbreaking mission.

Mr Betts said: “We’re thrilled to announce mission success for LightSail 2.

“Our criteria was to demonstrate controlled solar sailing in a CubeSat by changing the spacecraft’s orbit using only the light pressure of the Sun, something that’s never been done before.

READ MORE: Sun explosion: Terrifying moment Sun shockwave sends particles flying

Science

The exploitation used thin plastic sheets to gather the momentum from the Sun (Image: GETTY)

“I’m enormously proud of this team. It’s been a long road and we did it.”

Leading scientist and Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said the mission was a “game-changer” for further space exploration.

He said: ”For The Planetary Society, this moment has been decades in the making.

“Carl Sagan talked about solar sailing when I was in his class in 1977. But the idea goes back at least to 1607, when Johannes Kepler noticed that comet tails must be created by energy from the Sun.

DON’T MISS
Earth’s magnetic field reversal is co ming [ANALYSIS]
Mystery fireballs captured falling from sky may be part of asteroid [VIDEO]
The Big Bang Theory science: Was the science really accurate? [ANALYSIS]

Lightsail: An artist impression of the space craft in orbit

Lightsail: An artist impression of the space craft in orbit (Image: PA)

Lightsail: The designs were released on the launch of the spacecraft

Lightsail: The designs were released on the launch of the spacecraft (Image: PA)

“The LightSail 2 mission is a game-changer for spaceflight and advancing space exploration.”

The LightSail 2 is a crowdfunded mission and involved donations from 50,000 people from across the world.

Jennifer Vaughn Planetary Society CEO said the mission can be a “paradigm shift” to get more people involved in space missions.

Ms Vaughn said: “LightSail 2 proves the power of public support.

Lightsail: The Planetary Society tweeted out the last information emitted from the spacecraft

Lightsail: The Planetary Society tweeted out the last information emitted from the spacecraft (Image: TWITTER•@exploreplanets)

“This moment could mark a paradigm shift that opens up space exploration to more players.

“It amazes me that 50,000 people came together to fly a solar sail.

“Imagine if that number became 500,000 or 5 million. It’s a thrilling concept.”

In a statement on the Planetary Society Twitter account, the team wrote: “LightSail2 is now the highest performing solar sail to date and it’s 100% crowdfunded by our members and backers!”

History of solar sailing

• The idea for solar sailing dates back to the 17th century
• NASA came up with the plan for a solar sail to Halley’s comet in the 1970s
• Russia teamed up with the Planetary Society for a doomed solar test for Cosmos 1 in 2001 and 2005
• Japan launched Ikaros – the first solar sail flight in 2010
• LightSail2 was launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in 2019
• LightSail2’s mission is to be the second-ever controlled solar sail flight and the first in Earth orbit

LightSail 2 has a limited lifespan and is doomed to be destroyed.

The spacecraft will eventually crash into the sun and burn as it continues its orbit.

The technology follows LightSail 1 which managed a much lower orbit on the same approach.

Ikaros: Japan's space craft was the first of its kind to carry out the journey

Ikaros: Japan’s space craft was the first of its kind to carry out the journey (Image: GETTY)

How Venus Turned Into Hell, and How the Earth Is Next

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

 

How Venus Turned Into Hell, and How the Earth Is Next

The bizarre and hellish atmosphere of Venus wafts around the planet's surface in this false-color image from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Akatsuki spacecraft. Citizen scientist Kevin Gill processed the image using infrared and ultraviolet views captured by Akatsuki on Nov. 20, 2016.

The bizarre and hellish atmosphere of Venus wafts around the planet’s surface in this false-color image from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akatsuki spacecraft. Citizen scientist Kevin Gill processed the image using infrared and ultraviolet views captured by Akatsuki on Nov. 20, 2016.
(Image: © Kevil Gill/JAXA/ISAS/DARTS/Flickr)

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of “Your Place in the Universe.” Sutter contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights

Everyone wants to get off the planet Earth and go explore the solar system, without realizing just how good we’ve got it down here. We’ve got a lot of air, more liquid water than we know what to do with, a nice strong planetary magnetic field that protects us cosmic radiation, and nice strong gravity that keeps our muscles strong and our bones thick.

All things considered, Earth is pretty nice.

Related: What Would It Be Like to Live on Venus?

But still, we look to our planetary neighbors for places to visit and maybe even live. And Mars has all the attention nowadays: it’s so hot right now, with everyone practically climbing over each other’s rockets to get there in to build a nice little red home.

But what about Venus? It’s about the same size as the Earth and the same mass. It’s actually a little bit closer than Mars. It’s definitely warmer than Mars. So don’t why don’t we try going for our sister planet instead of the red one?

Oh, that’s right: Venus is basically hell.

Dante’s journey

It’s hard to not exaggerate just how bad Venus is. Seriously, imagine in your head what the worst possible planet might be, and Venus is worse than that.

Let’s start with the atmosphere. If you think that the smog in LA is bad, you should take a whiff of Venus. It’s almost entirely carbon dioxide and chokingly thick with an atmospheric pressure at the surface 90 times that of Earth. That’s the equivalent pressure of a mile beneath our ocean waves. It’s so thick that you almost have to swim through it just to move around. Only 4% of that atmosphere is nitrogen, but that’s more nitrogen total than there is in the Earth’s atmosphere.

And sitting on top of this are clouds made of sulfuric acid. Yikes.

Sulfuric acid clouds are highly reflective, giving Venus its characteristic brilliant shine. The clouds are so reflective, and the rest of the atmosphere so thick, that less than 3% of the sun’s light that reaches Venus actually makes it down to the surface. That means that you will only vaguely be aware of the difference between day and night.

But despite that lack of sunlight, the temperature on Venus is literally hot enough to melt lead, at over 700 degrees Fahrenheit (370 degrees Celsius) on average. In some places, in the deepest valleys, the temperature reaches over 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius), which is enough for the ground itself to glow a dull red.

And speaking of day and night — Venus has one of the most peculiar rotations in the solar system. For one, it rotates backward, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. Second, it’s incredibly slow, with one year lasting only two days.

Additionally, Venus once had plate tectonics that shut off long ago, and its crust is locked.

Yeah, Venus is hell.

Related: Photos of Venus, the Mysterious Planet Next Door

Straight to the inferno

So how did Earth’s sister end up so twisted?

Because Venus is made of pretty much the same stuff as our Earth, and has roughly the same size and mass, scientists are pretty sure that, back in the early days of the solar system, Venus was kind of nice. It probably supported liquid water oceans on the surface and white fluffy clouds dotting a blue sky. Actually, quite lovely.

But four and a half billion years ago, our sun was different. It was smaller and dimmer. As stars like our sun age, they steadily grow brighter. So back then Venus was firmly planted in the habitable zone, the region of the solar system that can support liquid water on the surface of a planet without it being too hot or too cold.

But as the sun aged, that habitable zone steadily moved outward. And as Venus approached the inner edge of that zone, things started to go haywire.

As the temperatures rose on Venus, the oceans began to evaporate, dumping a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere. This water vapor was very good at trapping heat, which further increased the surface temperatures, which caused the oceans to evaporate even more, which caused even more water vapor to get in the atmosphere, which trapped even more heat, and so on and so on as things spiraled out of control.

Eventually, Venus became a runaway greenhouse with all the water dumped into the atmosphere trapping as much heat as possible, with the surface temperatures continuing to skyrocket.

The liquid water that had been on the surface helped keep the tectonic plates nice and flexible, in a sense adding lubrication to the process of plate tectonics. But without the oceans, plate activity ground to a halt, locking the surface of Venus in place. Plate tectonics play a crucial role in regulating the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Essentially, carbon binds to elements in dirt and rocks, and those dirt and rocks eventually get buried far beneath the surface over the course of millions of years as the plates rub up against each other and sink below each other.

But without this process, carbon that was locked in the dirt just slowly outgassed or dumped out in massive volcanic events. So, once the oceans evaporated, the carbon problem on Venus became even worse with nothing to sequester it. Over time, the water vapor in the atmosphere got hit by enough sunlight to break it apart, sending the hydrogen into space, with all that mass being replaced by carbon dioxide rising up out of the surface.

The once and future Earth

And as that atmosphere grew thicker, the conditions on the surface grew even more hellish.

The atmosphere might even have had enough drag to literally slow down the rotation of Venus itself, giving it its present-day sluggish rates.

Once this process was complete, which probably took 100 million years or so, the potential for any life on Venus was snuffed out.

And here’s the worst part about the story of Earth’s twisted sister. This is our fate, too. Our sun isn’t done aging, and as it grows older, it grows brighter, with the habitable zone steadily and inexorably moving outward. At some point within the next few hundred million years, the Earth itself will approach the inner edge of the habitable zone. Our oceans will evaporate. Temperatures will spiral upward. Plate tectonics will shut off. Carbon dioxide will dump into the atmosphere.

And by that time, our solar system will be home to not just one hell but two.

Learn more by listening to the episode “What Turned Venus Into Hell?” on the Ask A Spaceman podcast, available on iTunes and on the Web at http://www.askaspaceman.com. Thanks to @ross_trower, Russel S., and @papermonster12 for the questions that led to this piece! Ask your own question on Twitter using #AskASpaceman or by following Paul @PaulMattSutterand facebook.com/PaulMattSutter

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at [email protected]

Potentially habitable Earth-like planet discovered 31 light years away

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS NEWS)

 

Potentially habitable Earth-like planet discovered 31 light years away

What was once considered pure fantasy in movies like “Avatar,” is now looking a little more plausible. Earlier this week, NASA announced the discovery of a possible Earth-like planet, located just 31 light years away – a hop, skip and a jump in cosmic terms  – that may be able to support life.

“I think it’s an amazing discovery,” Lisa Kaltenegger, from the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell, said. “We have a small mission called ‘Tess’ that’s scanning the whole sky, where the brightest and closest objects are, to find planets like ours and this is the first one.”

The planet named GJ 357 d, is six times larger than Earth. It orbits a dwarf star with two other previously unknown planets.

This potential “super Earth” is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy as Mars does from the sun. If this planet has a dense atmosphere, it could trap enough heat to allow for liquid water on its surface.

“You have a huge planet, so basically a chubby cousin, if you will,” Kaltenegger said. “Then you’d expect there to be a lot of atmosphere and that atmosphere again could capture that heat and make it warm enough for there to be liquid water.”

This amazing discovery was made possible by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS for short, but that spacecraft just pointed the way.

Two next-generation telescopes, coming online in the next six years, promise a much more detailed view, including whether the planet has mountains or oceans just like here on Earth.

Israel: NASA discovers possibly habitable super-Earth 31 light-years away

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

NASA discovers possibly habitable super-Earth 31 light-years away

US space administration’s exoplanet-hunting telescope finds new solar system, including 3 planets orbiting a star about a third of sun’s mass and 40% cooler

This illustration shows one interpretation of what new planet GJ 357 d may be like. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith)

This illustration shows one interpretation of what new planet GJ 357 d may be like. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith)

NASA’s exoplanet-hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), has discovered a new solar system with at least three new planets including one that has shown potential for being habitable, the American space administration announced.

The three planets were discovered orbiting GJ 357, a red dwarf — a small and cooling star — 31 light-years away, relatively close in space terms, said Rafael Luque of Spain’s Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands, the lead researcher in the discovery team.

The star is “about one-third the sun’s mass and size and about 40 percent cooler than our star,” NASA said.

The TESS cameras “caught the star dimming slightly every 3.9 days, revealing the presence of a transiting exoplanet — a world beyond our solar system — that passes across the face of its star during every orbit and briefly dims the star’s light,” NASA added.

The planet known as GJ 357d — the furthest away from the star — was particularly intriguing as researchers estimate it could be habitable. The other two, GJ 357b and GJ 357c are deemed too hot.

Signs of habitability in any planet include a rocky terrain, a size similar to Earth and a distance from their sun — the temperate “Goldilocks” zone neither too close nor too far — that allows the right temperature for liquid water, a key requirement for life.

Given its distance from its star, similar to that of Mars to our sun, researchers estimate the planet has temperatures of -53 degrees Celsius (-63.4 Fahrenheit), Luque told AFP.

“That seems a little cold at first,” he said.

But “if this planet had an atmosphere (unlike Mars), it could retain the heat it receives from its star, and water could be liquid.”

This diagram shows the layout of the GJ 357 system. Planet d orbits within the star’s so-called habitable zone, the orbital region where liquid water can exist on a rocky planet’s surface. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith)

Researchers also estimate GJ 357d could be roughly the same size as Earth or up to twice the size.

“The planet weighs at least 6.1 times Earth’s mass, and orbits the star every 55.7 days at a range about 20% of Earth’s distance from the sun. The planet’s size and composition are unknown, but a rocky world with this mass would range from about one to two times Earth’s size,” wrote Francis Reddy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which oversees TESS as a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission.

The findings were published on Wednesday, July 31, in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the sun,” said co-author Diana Kossakowski at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. “If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface.”

It is not the first potentially habitable planet to have been discovered close to us.

In 2016, the discovery of Proxima b at a mere four light-years from the solar system made waves.

But there is a hitch.

Proxima b and GJ 357d were discovered via so-called radial velocity, which involves looking for signs of a wobble in a star from the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet.

But Luque says the method is not precise enough to ascertain whether it actually is habitable.

As things stand, in order to measure its size, density and composition, the planet has to pass directly between its star and an observer, the so-called “transit” method, he says.

That has not been possible for Proxima b and other nearer potentially habitable planets, Luque says.

In the coming months, Luque and his team will be working to try and catch GJ 357d in “transit” to try and confirm it as a habitable planet.

“The probability that a planet passes in front of a star from our line of vision on Earth is pretty small,” he adds.

READ MORE: