Jessica Orwig,Business Insider
Chris Smith,BGR News
A new theory says Earth is made of two planets, rather than just one. Apparently, our planet is the result of a collision that helped map the course of both Earth as we know it and the moon.
According to new research from the University of California, Earth and a hypothesized early planet called Theia collided, and the two planets fused together 4.5 billion years ago. That impact also formed our moon, Science Alert explains.
The initial working theory was that the Earth and Theia only side-swiped each other, sending the moon into orbit and then flying away into space. But this new research says that Theia never left Earth and instead, it helped shape up our planet.
Scientists studied oxygen isotopes from moon rocks from the Apollo missions and volcanic rocks from Earth’s mantle. Since each planet has a particular oxygen signature when it comes to oxygen contents, they would be able to see differences between lunar soil and Earth rocks.
If Theia simply swiped Earth, then the moon would be made mostly of Theia, and the Earth and moon rocks would have different oxygen isotopes. However, the researchers found they have the same isotopes.
“We don’t see any difference between Earth’s and the Moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” researcher Edward Young said.
“Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them. This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the Moon versus Earth.”
The researcher also explained there’s evidence that Theia was a growing planet, still evolving at the time of the impact. The planet was similar in size to either Earth or Mars.
If confirmed, the research will help us better understand the origins and history of our planet. You know, as long as you believe Earth is a spheroid planet, and not a flat surface floating in space.
ROBO SPACE MINERS, DEPLOY!
Arkyd 3 Reflight Deploys From The ISS
NASA via Planetary Resources
Planetary Resources, a company that wants to mine asteroids for precious materials, has just launched a demonstration vehicle to test out its asteroid mining technologies. The breadbox-sized Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) is so-named because the original Arkyd 3 died a fiery death in the Orbital Sciences explosion in October. This one survived its launch to the International Space Station in April, and today, astronauts booted it out of an airlock to see how it fares in low Earth orbit.
The vehicle’s mission is to test out components that the company later plans to send into deep space to visit resource-rich asteroids, with the goal of extracting water, which can be broken down in to hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel, and valuable metals, including platinum.
Over the next 90 days or so, the little spacecraft will test out its avionics and control systems–it won’t actually be doing any drilling anytime soon. While low Earth orbit isn’t a perfect facsimile to deep space, it will give the components a taste of the harsh environments they would face on the job—including extremely cold temperatures, radiation, and the vacuum of space. By pinpointing the components’ weaknesses in low Earth orbit, the company can hopefully fix any problems before sending spacecraft further beyond Earth.
The test is going according to plan so far, a Planetary Resources spokesperson told Popular Science.
About the size of a loaf of bread, the Arkyd 3 Reflight launched today from the International Space Station.
Later this year, Planetary Resources plans to launch another demonstration vehicle, the Arkyd-6. Twice the size of the A3R, the A6 will test out avionics, attitude control, power, and communications systems. (Notably, the robo-prospectors will eventually use LASERS to communicate with Earth.)
Onboard the A6 will also be an infrared imaging system, which will eventually scan asteroids for water and minerals. A Planetary Resources press release says “the system will first test targeted areas of our own planet before being deployed to near-Earth asteroids on future missions.”
The Arkyd-6 Test Vehicle Will Launch Later This Year
Later on, the company will figure out the best way to extract the resources from asteroids. But here’s one way it could be done, from a Planetary Resources video:
China has had a telescope on the moon for the past two years
Point a telescope at the moon, and you might just see one looking back. Chinese researchers have reported that their robotic telescope, the first of its kind, has been operating flawlessly ever since it landed on the moon in 2013.
The 15-centimetre telescope is mounted on the Chang’e 3 lander, which touched down on the lunar surface in December 2013. Chang’e 3 (pictured above) carried the Yutu rover, which repeatedly struggled to survive the lunar night and ceased working in March this year – but the lander is still going strong.
The telescope sees in ultraviolet light, making it particularly suited for observations that aren’t possible here on Earth. “There is no atmosphere on the moon, so unlike Earth, the ultraviolet light from celestial objects can be detected on the moon,” says Jing Wang of the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing, China, who is in charge of the telescope. And since the moon rotates 27 times more slowly than the Earth, the scope can stay fixed on the same star for a dozen days without interruption, he says.
In a paper published this week, Wang and his colleagues detail the first 18 months of the telescope’s operation, during which it has observed for 2000 hours and monitored 40 stars. The team also captured a picture of the Pinwheel galaxy, shown below.
Astronauts on the Apollo 16 mission had a manually operated UV telescope, which they used to take pictures of Earth, stars and the Large Magellanic Cloud. But the Chinese telescope is the first to be operated remotely from Earth.
That’s a challenge, because the moon is a hostile environment, full of charged and abrasive lunar dust that can get into equipment and destroy electronics, as Yutu’s troubles demonstrate. To counter this, the telescope is stowed within Chang’e 3 during sunrise and sunset on the moon, when dust is thought to be at its worst, and has survived much longer than its expected one year life. Wang says the scope is still working today, and the team are awaiting a decision to continue its mission past the end of this year.
Journal reference: arxiv.org/abs/1510.01435
Image information (from top): The Chang’e 3 lander (credit: Xinhua/Corbis); Picture of the Pinwheel galaxy captured by the telescope on the moon lander (credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences/The Bruce Murray Space Image Library/The Planetary Society)
By Jacob Aron
Lunar Transformer Concept
Announced yesterday, NASA is moving ahead with funding to study several ambitious space research projects, including one that would transform an inhospitable lunar crater into a habitat for robots — and eventually, human explorers. Located on the moon’s South Pole, Shackleton Crater isn’t just prime real estate for terraforming experiments, it’s Optimus Prime real estate. NASA wants to fill the crater with solar-powered transformers, and then use the fleet of robots to turn the crater into a miniature hospitable environment.
Shackleton Crater is uniquely qualified as a location for terraforming in the small scale. Named after the famous explorer of Earth’s own south pole, the crater covers about 130 square miles, or roughly twice the size of Washington, DC. It is surrounded on all sides by peaks that rise over 14,000 feet above the surface of the crater. Inside this moon-bowl, scientists have already found water, which is essential for any future human habitation.
Before the humans come the robots. To function, robots need electrical power and warmth, and with the right equipment, the sun can provide both, with a little help. In darkness, the crater is about 100 degrees Kelvin, or -280 fahrenheit, but a series of solar reflectors could capture light from the peaks on the crater rim and then reflect it down into the crater, warming and fueling solar-powered rovers at the same time.
These reflectors would be carried around the crater rim by other rovers, unfolding and transforming into useful shapes when needed. A single reflector 130 feet in diameter could send light over six miles into the crater, powering a rover (or a fleet of several Curiousity-sized rovers) with up to one megawatt of energy and preventing them from freezing. Thanks to their height, there is always at least one point on the peaks on the crater rim that receives sunlight, so work could be done continuously in the crater.
Should this plan all work out, several transforming robots with reflectors would work on the edge of the crater, beaming sun in, while robots inside the crater built something close to an “oasis” on the moon. Or at least, an oasis for lunar robots.
The project was awarded in NASA’s Phase II funding, which provides up to $500,000 for two-year-long studies, so the next task is designing a workable reflector that fits into a cube slightly larger than three feet each side, weighing less than 220 pounds, and that unfolds to cover 10,700 square feet. If it all works out, the robots shall inherit the moon.
The search for life in the Solar System is about the hunt for water. Wherever we find liquid water on Earth, we find life. I’m talking everywhere. In the most briny, salty pools in Antarctica, in the hottest hot springs in Yellowstone, under glaciers, and kilometers deep underground.
So we go searching for liquid water in the Solar System.
You might be surprised to learn that Jupiter’s moon Europa has the most water in the entire Solar System. If you took all the water on Earth, collected it into a big sphere, it would measure almost 1,400 kilometers across.
Europa’s water would measure nearly 1,800 kilometers.All that water exists in a layer around Europa, encased in a layer of ice. How thick? We don’t know.
Is there life down there? We don’t know. You can say there might be, and it wouldn’t be untrue. However, if you say there isn’t, that’s way less interesting for clickbait purposes. Whenever we don’t know the answers to fundamental and intriguing questions like that, it’s time to send a mission.
Good news! An actual mission to Europa is in the works right now. In 2015, NASA approved the development of an orbiter mission to Europa. If all goes well, and nothing gets cancelled, a spacecraft will launch in the 2020s, carrying 9 instruments to Europa. Most will be familiar cameras, mass spectrometers, and the like, to study the surface of Europa to a high level of resolution. Over the course of 45 flybys, the spacecraft will get down as close as 25 kilometers and capture it with incredible resolution.
Perhaps the most exciting, and controversial instrument on board the new Europa Orbiter mission will be its ice-penetrating radar. Mission planners battled over installing a radar this sophisticated, as it will be an enormous drain on the orbiter’s power.
This for us is incredibly exciting. It will allow the spacecraft to map out the depth and thickness of Europa’s icy exterior. Is it thick or thin? Are there pockets of water trapped just below the surface, or is it tough shell that goes on for dozens of kilometers?
The worst case scenario is that the shell goes thicker than the radar can reach, and we won’t even know how far it goes.
Whatever happens, the Europa orbiter will be a boon to science, answer outstanding questions about the moon and the chances of finding life there.
We’re just getting started. What we really want to send is a lander. Because of the intense radiation from Jupiter, the Sun, and space itself, the surface of the ice on Europa would be sterilized. But dig down a few centimeters and you might find life that’s protected from the radiation.
A future Europa lander might be equipped with a heated drill attached to a tether. The lander would be have with a heat-generated radioisotope thermoelectric generator, like most of NASA’s big, outer Solar System spacecraft.
But in addition to using it for electricity, it’ll use the raw heat to help a tethered drill to grind through the ice a few meters and sample what’s down there.
Drilling more than a few meters is probably the stuff of science fiction. Russian scientists in Antarctica drilled for almost two decades to get through 4,000 meters of ice above Lake Vostok. Imagine trying to get through 100 kilometers of the stuff, on a distant world, with a robot.
But, since I’ve talked about moving the Sun, and terraforming the Moon, maybe I shouldn’t put any bounds on my imagination. Nuclear-powered Europa submarines will get us swimming with the singing Europan space whales in no time.
Europa is the best place to search the Solar System for life, and I’m excited to see what the upcoming Europa Orbiter mission turns up. And I’m even more excited about the possibility of any future lander missions.
Fraser Cain – Universe Today
Data has been flooding in from the nation’s latest space telescope, one with a 30-meter-diameter mirror (the Hubble’s, for comparison, was 2.4 meters). The initial searches for signs of life on exoplanets by 2020s telescopes found so many tantalizing hints. The new telescope, with thousands of times the capability, has searched hundreds of the nearest Earth-size exoplanets and found something astonishing: A large fraction show unusual chemistry in their atmospheres.
We are working hard to understand if any of the unusual chemistry can be attributed to gases produced by life. If geophysical or other contributions can be ruled out, we might establish that our galaxy is teeming with life, or at least microbial life.
If we instead hit a dead end with ambiguous chemical signals, we’ll need to go to the next step. Thanks to telomere gene therapy that has extended my life, I am willing and able to direct an even more capable space telescope, but that isn’t good enough. We will have to leave it to the next generations to figure out how to send the first interstellar space probes to actually travel up to tens of light years away to visit the other Earths.
A few weeks ago, NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan made news by saying, “I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.” It was a bold statement, but NASA is now backing those words with action.
The field of astrobiology just got a significant boost thanks an ambitious new alien-hunting initiative launched by NASA. Called NExSS, the initiative will bring together an impressive array of experts and teams across a variety of scientific fields.
The goal of NExSS — short for Nexus for Exoplanet System Science — is to improve our understanding of extrasolar planets, and how their stars and neighboring planets interact to support life. To achieve this, NASA has put together a multidisciplinary team consisting of earth scientists, planetary scientists, heliophysicists, and astrophysicists.
“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” noted Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary science, in a statement. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”
Since 1995, over 1,000 exoplanets have been discovered. Thousands of additional candidates are still waiting to be confirmed. The time has come, says NASA, for scientists to acquire a better understanding of these distant objects to learn how they might be capable of giving rise to life and how we might be able to detect their bio signatures from Earth using current and next-gen telescopic technologies.
By applying a “system science” approach, the teams will work to understand how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans, and interior of a planet, and how host stars contribute to habitability. At the same time, the scientists will classify the diversity of worlds (including a “periodic table of planets”), assess potential habitability of exoplanets, and develop new alien-hunting tools and technologies.
Among the teams assembled, some notable contributions will come from: the University of Arizona, Tucson’s “Earth in Other Solar Systems” team; Hampton University, Virginia’s “Living, Breathing Planet” team; NASA’s own Solar System astrobiological initiative; and the Pennsylvania State University project studying the atmospheres of giant planets orbiting hot Jupiters.
This is very exciting stuff, especially in consideration of future projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). Over the course of the next 10-to-20 years, astrobiologists may very well detect signs of alien life. But that alien life is bound to be microbial in nature. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is another challenge altogether.