Water was crucial to the rise of life on Earth and is also important to evaluating the possibility of life on other planets. Identifying the original source of Earth’s water is key to understanding how life-fostering environments come into being and how likely they are to be found elsewhere. New work from a team, including the Carnegie Institution’s Conel Alexander, has found that much of our Solar System’s water likely originated as ices that formed in interstellar space. Their work is published in Science.
Water is found throughout our Solar System. Not just on Earth, but on icy comets and moons, and in the shadowed basins of Mercury. Water has been found included in mineral samples from meteorites, the Moon and Mars.
India triumphed in its first interplanetary mission, placing a satellite into orbit around Mars today and catapulting the country into an elite club of deep-space explorers.
In scenes broadcast live on Indian TV, scientists broke into wild cheers as the orbiter’s engines completed 24 minutes of burn time to maneuver the spacecraft into its designated place around the red planet.
Researchers Look at the Origins of Plate Tectonics
The mystery of what kick-started the motion of our earth’s massive tectonic plates across its surface has been explained by researchers at the Univ. of Sydney.
"Earth is the only planet in our solar system where the process of plate tectonics occurs," said Prof. Patrice Rey, from the Univ. of Sydney’s School of Geosciences. "The geological record suggests that until three billion years ago the earth’s crust was immobile so what sparked this unique phenomenon has fascinated geoscientists for decades. We suggest it was triggered by the spreading of early continents then eventually became a self-sustaining process."
Mars Meteorite Yields Evidence of Possibility for Life
A tiny fragment of Martian meteorite 1.3 billion years old is helping to make the case for the possibility of life on Mars, say scientists. The finding of a cell-like structure — which investigators now know once held water — came about as a result of collaboration between scientists in the UK and Greece. Their findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology.
While investigating the Martian meteorite, known as Nakhla, Elias Chatzitheodoridis of the National Technical Univ. of Athens found an unusual feature embedded deep within the rock. In a bid to understand what it might be, he teamed up with long-time friend and collaborator Prof. Ian Lyon at the Univ. of Manchester.
A team of scientists led by the Carnegie Institution’s Jacqueline Faherty has discovered the first evidence of water ice clouds on an object outside of our own Solar System. Water ice clouds exist on our own gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — but have not been seen outside of the planets orbiting our Sun, until now. Their findings are published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
At the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, Faherty, along with a team including Carnegie’s Andrew Monson, used the FourStar near infrared camera to detect the coldest brown dwarf ever characterized. Their findings are the result of 151 images taken over three nights and combined. The object, named WISE J085510.83-071442.5, or W0855, was first seen by NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Explorer mission and published earlier this year. But it was not known if it could be detected by Earth-based facilities.
NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager’s historic footage of Triton has been “restored” and used to construct the best-ever global color map of that strange moon. The video may be watched here. The map, produced by Paul Schenk, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, has also been used to make a movie recreating that historic Voyager encounter, which took place 25 years ago, on August 25, 1989.
The new Triton map has a resolution of 1,970 feet (600 meters) per pixel. The colors have been enhanced to bring out contrast but are a close approximation to Triton’s natural colors. Voyager’s “eyes” saw in colors slightly different from human eyes, and this map was produced using orange, green and blue filter images.
Researchers from Northwestern Univ. and the Univ. of New Mexico have reported evidence for potentially oceans worth of water deep beneath the U.S. Though not in the familiar liquid form — the ingredients for water are bound up in rock deep in the Earth’s mantle — the discovery may represent the planet’s largest water reservoir.
The presence of liquid water on the surface is what makes our “blue planet” habitable, and scientists have long been trying to figure out just how much water may be cycling between Earth’s surface and interior reservoirs through plate tectonics.
Earth, Moon are Around 60 M Years Older than Thought
Work presented at the European Association of Geochemistry’s Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California shows that the timing of the giant impact between Earth’s ancestor and a planet-sized body occurred around 40 million years after the start of solar system formation. This means that the final stage of Earth’s formation is around 60 million years older than previously thought.
Climate Change May Explain Lack of Alien Encounters
Enrico Fermi, when asked about intelligent life on other planets, famously replied, “Where are they?” Any civilization advanced enough to undertake interstellar travel would, he argued, in a brief period of cosmic time, populate its entire galaxy. Yet, we haven’t made any contact with such life. This has become the famous “Fermi Paradox.”
So why don’t we see advanced civilizations swarming across the universe? One problem may be climate change. It is not that advanced civilizations always destroy themselves by over-heating their biospheres (although that is a possibility). Instead, because stars become brighter as they age, most planets with an initially life-friendly climate will become uninhabitably hot long before intelligent life emerges.
There are some 100 million other places in the Milky Way galaxy that could support complex life, report a group of university astronomers in the journal Challenges. They have developed a new computation method to examine data from planets orbiting other stars in the universe.
Their study provides the first quantitative estimate of the number of worlds in our galaxy that could harbor life above the microbial level.
Look for Mercury low in the west-northwest sky just after sunset at the beginning of the month. You’ll find it to the lower right of Jupiter. On June 29 and 30 try to spot Jupiter very low on the sunset horizon, below the crescent moon.
It’s easy to spot Saturn and Mars when they pair up with the moon. Mars appears to the left of the moon on June 6, directly above the moon on the 7 and to the right of the moon on the 8. And you’ll find Saturn above the moon on June 10 and 11. From a dark sky, you’ll see the constellation Scorpius rising below the moon and Saturn. At dawn, Venus is the bright object just to the left of the moon. The Pleiades star cluster should be visible just above it.
The slopes of a giant Martian volcano, once covered in glacial ice, may have been home to one of the most recent habitable environments found, so far, on the red planet, according to new research led by Brown Univ. geologists.
Nearly twice as tall as Mount Everest, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and one of the largest mountains in the solar system. This new analysis of the landforms surrounding Arsia Mons shows that eruptions along the volcano’s northwest flank happened at the same time that a glacier covered the region around 210 million years ago. The heat from those eruptions would have melted massive amounts of ice to form englacial lakes — bodies of water that form within glaciers like liquid bubbles in a half-frozen ice cube.
Some of the wind turbines generating electricity on Earth today grew out of technology developed in the 1990s for settlements on Mars.
Back then at NASA’s Ames Research Center, senior research scientist David Bubenheim and his colleagues worked on designing a complete ecological system to sustain astronauts on Mars. To generate electricity for the future Martians, they developed a hybrid concept combining two renewable sources: wind and sun.
Just like Earth, Saturn has a “tail” — a magnetic one to be precise, formed from a trail of electrified gas from the Sun that flows out in the planet’s wake.
What’s more, scientists have long suspected that this “magnetotail” is responsible for dramatic aurora activity on the ringed planet — in a very similar way to a process that happens here on Earth. Now, Leicester research has produced the strongest evidence to date that backs up this theory.