Researchers Discover Four New Galaxy Clusters

Caption: Perseus galaxy cluster. [D. W. Hogg/M. Blanton/SDSS Collaboration].

Caption: Perseus galaxy cluster. [D. W. Hogg/M. Blanton/SDSS Collaboration].

Four unknown galaxy clusters each potentially containing thousands of individual galaxies have been discovered some 10 billion light years from Earth.

An international team of astronomers, led by Imperial College London, used a new way of combining data from the two European Space Agency satellites, Planck and Herschel, to identify more distant galaxy clusters than has previously been possible. The researchers believe up to 2000 further clusters could be identified using this technique, helping to build a more detailed timeline of how clusters are formed. Read More →

Plasma Crystal Experiment Concludes Aboard ISS

The technology for producing cold plasma is now also used for medical purposes. In the world's first clinical trial, the participating scientists and doctors were able to demonstrate that the plasma not only kills germs, but shows wound-healing effects as well. © MPE

The technology for producing cold plasma is now also used for medical purposes. In the world’s first clinical trial, the participating scientists and doctors were able to demonstrate that the plasma not only kills germs, but shows wound-healing effects as well. © MPE

For seven years it delivered outstanding results for science and technology on the International Space Station, now the successful plasma crystal laboratory PK-3 Plus operated one last time. After undocking from the International Space Station the ESA Einstein transporter with the laboratory on board entered the Earth’s atmosphere beginning of November and burned up – and PK-3 Plus produced its last plasma, a hot one. In June the operational phase of PK-3 Plus ended with a last series of experiments and with a spectacular finish; the scientists will still need some time to analyse these data. Read More →

What Aliens From Another World Will Look Like

Silicon Alien

Invading aliens from outer space won’t look like a Lady Gaga zombie or creatures with serious nasal drip problems. Top planetary scientists have now come up with different sketches of how aliens might appear. Here, then, are what real aliens will most likely look like if they drop on your house. Read More →

Climate Puzzle Over Origins of Life on Earth

ArcheanLandscape

The mystery of why life on Earth evolved when it did has deepened with the publication of a new study in the latest edition of the journal Science (citation below).

Scientists at the CRPG-CNRS University of Lorraine, The University of Manchester and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris have ruled out a theory as to why the planet was warm enough to sustain the planet’s earliest life forms when the Sun’s energy was roughly three-quarters the strength it is today. Read More →

Fireballs in Jupiter’s Atmosphere

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The solar system is crowded with small objects like asteroids and comets. Most have stable orbits which keep them out of harm’s way, but a small proportion of them are in orbits that risk them colliding with planets. Read More →

Could Life Have Survived a Fall to Earth?

Asteroid impacting Earth's oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

Asteroid impacting Earth’s oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

It sounds like science fiction, but the theory of panspermia, in which life can naturally transfer between planets, is considered a serious hypothesis by planetary scientists. The suggestion that life did not originate on Earth but came from elsewhere in the universe (for instance, Mars), is one possible variant of panspermia. Planets and moons were heavily bombarded by meteorites when the Solar System was young, throwing lots of material back into space. Meteorites made of Mars rock are occasionally found on Earth to this day, so it is quite plausible that simple life forms like yeasts or bacteria could have been carried on them. Read More →

A Universe of New Worlds to Discover & Explore

Exoplanets

In 1992, scientists made one of the most significant discoveries in the history of astronomy; the first confirmed detection of an extrasolar planet. For many decades, it had been widely believed that planets existed around stars other than our own, but it was not until the discovery of two planets orbiting a distant star some 1000 light years away (1 light year = about 6 trillion miles) that their existence was proven beyond doubt. As detection methods advance, particularly thanks to the highly successful Kepler Space Telescope launched in 2009, new alien worlds are being discovered almost every week. Read More →

Meteorites May Reveal Mars’ Secrets of Life

Life

In an effort to determine if conditions were ever right on Mars to sustain life, a team of scientists, including a Michigan State University professor, has examined a meteorite that formed on the red planet more than a billion years ago.

And although this team’s work is not specifically solving the mystery, it is laying the groundwork for future researchers to answer this age-old question.

The problem, said MSU geological sciences professor Michael Velbel, is that most meteorites that originated on Mars arrived on Earth so long ago that now they have characteristics that tell of their life on Earth, obscuring any clues it might offer about their time on Mars.

“These meteorites contain water-related mineral and chemical signatures that can signify habitable conditions,” he said. “The trouble is by the time most of these meteorites have been lying around on Earth they pick up signatures that look just like habitable environments, because they are. Earth, obviously, is habitable.

“If we could somehow prove the signature on the meteorite was from before it came to Earth, that would be telling us about Mars.”

Specifically, the team found mineral and chemical signatures on the rocks that indicated terrestrial weathering – changes that took place on Earth. The identification of these types of changes will provide valuable clues as scientists continue to examine the meteorites.

“Our contribution is to provide additional depth and a little broader view than some work has done before in sorting out those two kinds of water-related alterations – the ones that happened on Earth and the ones that happened on Mars,” Velbel said.

Image Credit: Michigan State University

Image Credit: Michigan State University

The meteorite that Velbel and his colleagues examined – known as a nakhlite meteorite – was recovered in 2003 in the Miller Range of Antarctica. About the size of a tennis ball and weighing in at one-and-a-half pounds, the meteorite was one of hundreds recovered from that area.

Velbel said past examinations of meteorites that originated on Mars, as well as satellite and Rover data, prove water once existed on Mars, which is the fourth planet from the sun and Earth’s nearest Solar System neighbor.

“However,” he said, “until a Mars mission successfully returns samples from Mars, mineralogical studies of geochemical processes on Mars will continue to depend heavily on data from meteorites.”

Velbel is currently serving as a senior fellow at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

The research is published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (citation below), a bi-weekly journal co-sponsored by two professional societies, the Geochemical Society and the Meteoritical Society.

Source: Michigan State University

Reference:

Stopar, J., Taylor, G., Velbel, M., Norman, M., Vicenzi, E., & Hallis, L. (2013). Element abundances, patterns, and mobility in Nakhlite Miller Range 03346 and implications for aqueous alteration Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 112, 208-225 DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2013.02.024

The Benefits of Current Mars Research

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

Martian exploration is unquestionably a hot topic right now. Mainstream media outlets have largely focused on the most visible efforts of the Curiosity mission, and that’s a good thing. While people might be thrilled with the photographs that they have an opportunity to view on their screens however, they may be less familiar with the implications of this research for the future.

For instance, previously little was known about how the Martian permafrost segments melted, and some researchers weren’t even convinced that significant melting occurred. Mars has no visible oceans, and that means that there really isn’t anywhere for huge amounts of fluid to flow. Thanks to current research efforts, data collected thus far has put together a more complete image of the melt patterns of sedimentary rocks on the Red Planet.

This data is useful in helpful in determining whether life once existed on Mars. While permafrost melt patterns aren’t really able to confirm or deny astrobiology theories, they’re an awfully good start. Although it’s not possible to determine if there were ever organisms that evolved as a result of these flows simply by looking at them, some researchers may argue that further probes are necessary to delve into this area further.

Outside of the search for life (current or prior) on Mars, the seasonal melting model also suggests that oceans could eventually be constructed on the planet. This is particularly exciting where terraforming projects are concerned. With stores of carbon dioxide readily available in the Martian atmosphere, it may be possible to produce something similar to a greenhouse effect. Once this occurs, plant life would be able to produce readily available supplies of oxygen (that stuff we humans need to live) while cooling off the planet in the process.

The research efforts currently under way may help scientists to determine more efficient methods of accomplishing this Martian overhaul. For instance, scientists currently know that seasonal melts could provide the necessary ingredients for seasons that are somewhat similar to those on Earth. Winter phases might be useful for helping to reduce the planets’ cooling process as well.

Tracking weather patterns on the Red Planet might also help researchers who would prefer to manipulate the Martian climate with lenses or shields. Once enough is known about weather and geological patterns on Mars, large lenses could be built in geostationary orbit. These would increase the amount of sunlight directed towards the planet. While engineers would have to be extremely careful not to pump dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation towards colonists, these mirror systems might help to provide necessary light and heat for the planet once we’ve colonized the planet.

Detecting salt solutions have also helped researchers to better understand the chemical composition of the Martian surface. Industrial facilities may some day work mines on the planet to retrieve resources that are necessary to sustain human colonists. This could, in essence, create an economy on the planet. Additionally, as mineral resources continue to become increasingly rare on Earth, these materials could prove invaluable to future Earth-based citizens as well. Rovers actually prove that mining on Mars could probably be done with current technology – yet another benefit derived from current research efforts.

Few will deny that we are witnessing history almost daily as results from the Curiosity mission are released to the world. While this is without question an amazing time, I think it’s important that we recognize the amazing research being conducted in the process – research that could potentially impact the future of humanity in ways we are currently unable to understand.

Mars Earth comparison

Reference:

Peters, G., Smith, J., Mungas, G., Bearman, G., Shiraishi, L., & Beegle, L. (2008). RASP-based sample acquisition of analogue Martian permafrost samples: Implications for NASA’s Phoenix scout mission Planetary and Space Science, 56 (3-4), 303-309 DOI: 10.1016/j.pss.2007.10.001

Amato P, Doyle SM, Battista JR, & Christner BC (2010). Implications of subzero metabolic activity on long-term microbial survival in terrestrial and extraterrestrial permafrost. Astrobiology, 10 (8), 789-98 PMID: 21087159

Studying Ancient Earth’s Geochemistry

Image Credit: University of Washington

Image Credit: University of Washington

Researchers still have much to learn about the volcanism that shaped our planet’s early history. New evidence from a team led by Carnegie’s Frances Jenner demonstrates that some of the tectonic processes driving volcanic activity, such as those taking place today, were occurring as early as 3.8 billion years ago. Their work is published in Geology [citation below]. Read More →