Mapping tiny worlds at the Solar System's edge could one day show scientists how life arose on Earth. That's because many of these objects could contain organics, carbon-based material that are ingredients for life. On March 26, researchers announced the discovery of 2012 VP133, an estimated 280-mile wide (450-kilometer) object that lies just beyond the Kuiper Belt of icy objects that swarm outside of Neptune's orbit.
Continue reading "Tiny Worlds at Edge of Our Solar System May Hold Clues to Origins of Life" »
Hadean Eon (4.6 to 4 billion years ago) is not a geological period as such. No rocks on the Earth are this old, except for meteorites. During Hadean time, the Solar System was forming, probably within a large cloud of gas and dust around the sun, called an accretion disc. The relative abundance of heavier elements in the Solar System suggests that this gas and dust was derived from a supernova, or supernovas. Heavier elements are generated within stars by nuclear fusion of hydrogen, and are otherwise uncommon. We can see similar processes taking place today in so-called diffuse nebulae in this and other galaxies, such as the Nebula M16, shown above.
Continue reading "Mineral Species During Early Earth's Hadean Eon Different than Now (Today's Most Popular)" »
NASA's Michael Russell, a group supervisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech, specializes in the emergence of life and oxygenic photosynthesis in the context of hydrothermal systems on wet, rocky, sunlit planets. Specifically he has suggested that a major geological process, the cooling by seawater of rocks under the floor of the ocean, played an important role in the origin of life. A process that might seem remote from our everyday knowledge of life but it has now been known for more than twenty years that genetically primitive micro-organisms are to be found living at warm springs on the ocean floor.
Continue reading "The Emergence of Life on Wet, Rocky Sunlit Planets --NASA JPL Science" »
The Whirlpool Galaxy was "immortalized" as the first galaxy ever drawn in Van Gough's iconic painting, Starry Night. This image of the core of M51, taken with the Wide Field Planetary camera on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows a striking , dark "X" silhouetted across the galaxy's nucleus. The "X" is due to absorption by dust and marks the exact position of a black hole which may have a mass equivalent to one-million stars like the sun.
Continue reading "Image of the Day: The Dark "X" Structure at the Core of the Whirlpool Galaxy" »
Exploding stars, random impacts involving comets and meteorites, and even near misses between two bodies can create regions of great heat and high pressure. Researchers from Imperial College London have now developed a method for analysing the pressure experienced by tiny samples of organic material that may have been ejected from dying stars before making a long journey through the cosmos. The researchers have investigated a type of aromatic hydrocarbon called dimethylnaphthalene, which should enable them to identify violent events in the history of the universe.
Continue reading "Organic Ejecta --Clues to Violent Events in the History of the Universe" »
The very first prediction of the existence of a black hole occured in the late 1790's, when John Michell of England and Pierre-Simon Laplace of France, using Newton's Laws, independently suggested the existence of an "invisible star." Michell and Laplace calculated the mass and size – which is now called the "event horizon" – that an object needs in order to have an escape velocity greater than the speed of light. In 1915, Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted the existence of black holes. In 1967 John Wheeler, an American theoretical physicist, applied the term "black hole" to these collapsed objects.
Continue reading ""Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" (Episode 4) --"Could Our Universe Exist Within a Supermassive Black Hole?"" »
Astronomers are eager to use the newly completed Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), an array of radio telescopes in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, and similar facilities to follow the story of water when planetary systems form. This is important because ALMA can watch solar systems being born, and help trace the evolution of water in young solar systems.
Continue reading "Searching for the Origins of Water in Planetary Systems" »
Researchers have concluded superhabitable worlds will tend to orbit orange dwarfs and be slightly older and two to three times more massive than Earth. This could make orange dwarf Alpha Centauri B, the member of the closest stellar system to the sun, an ideal target for searches of a superhabitable world, especially since it may host an Earth-mass planet.
Continue reading ""Our Closest Star System Alpha Centauri B Could Harbor 'Superhabitable' Worlds"" »
Cosmologists believe that some three quarters of the universe are made up of a mysterious dark energy which would explain its accelerated expansion. The truth is that they do not know what it could be, therefore they put forward possible solutions. One is the existence of quintessence, an invisible gravitating agent that instead of attracting, repels and accelerates the expansion of the cosmos. From the Classical World until the Middle Ages, this term has referred to the ether or fifth element of nature, together with earth, fire, water and air. Another possibility is the presence of an energy or phantom field whose density increases with time, causing an exponential cosmic acceleration. This would reach such speed that it could break the nuclear forces in the atoms and end the universe in some 20,000 million years, in what is called the Big Rip.
Continue reading " "Quantum Vacuum 'Powers' the Dark Energy Driving Our Universe"" »
Our Solar System has a new most-distant member, bringing its outer frontier into focus. A distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, was found beyond the known edge of the Solar System. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What's more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.
Continue reading ""The Pale Red Dot" --Distant Oort Cloud Planet Discovered Beyond Known Edge of Our Solar System" »