Tag: saturn (page 1 of 4)

Free the Colonies! Report and Short Planetary Situation Update

  Free the Colonies activation was a big success. The critical mass of the surface population required for this activation was lower because we were dealing with an off-planet situation and it was reached easily. The most critical part of the Brea...

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See Saturn moon’s ‘soda ocean’ shooting to surface in sheets

 Excerpt from  cnet.comEnceladus may have a warm ocean beneath its icy surface, but it may also be shooting through that crust in big sheets, perhaps filled with sea monkeys.       We already know that Saturn's ...

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‘Hats Off’ To HATS-6b: Discovery of ‘puffy’ new planet brings scientists closer to finding new life in outer space

An artist's impression of the planet HATS-6b, orbiting the star, HATS-6. (Supplied: ANU) Excerpt from abc.net.au A "puffy" new planet orbiting a small, cool star has been discovered 500 light years away from Earth, by a team of scientists c...

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Our sun is five billion years younger than most other stars in our galaxy

Excerpt from stgist.com

The sun, or the nearest star from Earth, was formed around 5 billion years after the Milky Way galaxy’s peak production of stars, a new research published in the Astrophysical Journal. 

Using multiple ground based, and space telescopes, including the Magellan Telescopes located at Las Campanas Observatory in South America, a new study was able to confirm that the closest star from us, the Sun, was formed after the so-called stellar “baby boom” of the Milky Way galaxy.

It’s like traveling back in time. Researchers from Texas A&M University in College Station, headed by astronomer Casey Papovich, were able to see the undepicted past of our own galaxy by observing similar regions located billions of light years away from us.

The “baby boom” happened around 10 billion years ago, the new study published in Astrophysical Journal revealed. At that time, the Milky Way galaxy was producing 30 times more stars than today. If so, then our solar system’s 4.6 billion years old Sun was formed more than 5 billion years after the production peak.

Sun’s late formation allowed the solar system we know today to produce planets with heavier elements. Scientists say elements heavier than hydrogen and helium became more abundant in “late to the game systems”, and the death of massive stars that were formed before the Sun had provided materials needed to form planets, including Earth and its complex life forms.

Scientists scanned through a collection of more than 24,000 galaxies, and took at least 2,000 snapshots of galaxies that closely resemble our own. The census has provided the most complete picture yet of how spiral galaxies similar to Milky Way form in the universe.

According to Mr. Papovich, the lead author of the study who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M University in Texas, they know where to find traces by analyzing how galaxies like our own were formed.

Papovich said his team has provided a data that clearly show the rapid phase of growth around 9 to 10 billion years ago, or at least more than 5 billion years after our Sun formed. They also found the connection between the size of the galaxy, and the formation of stars.

Surprisingly, the robust collection of distant galaxies confirmed that stars formed inside the Milky Way, instead of forming in other smaller baby galaxies that later merged to join the system.

In separate studies, scientists were able to confirm that our own solar system is wetter than thought. Beyond Earth, celestial objects like Jupiter’s Galilean moons Europa and Ganymede, Saturn’s Enceladus, and even the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, are hosting fluid slightly similar to Earth’s — and it is highly possible that the Sun’s late formation allowed this setup to exist.

Papovich who worked alongside Texas A&M postdoctoral researchers Vithal Tilvi and Ryan Quadri, were joined by at least two dozen astronomers from other countries. The research is published April 9th entitled “ZFOURGE/CANDELS: ON THE EVOLUTION OF M* GALAXY PROGENITORS FROM z = 3 TO 0.5*.” The research was funded by NASA

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NASA submarine to Study Planet Saturn Moon Titan’s Sea


An animated and dramatic 3D video released by NASA has revealed the international space agency plans of exploring the depths of largest sea on the Titan, Kraken Mare.

NASA is planning to launch a submarine in the Kraken Mare Sea with an aim of studying the depth.

Titan is one of the 62 moons of the planet Saturn. Titan has its own and interesting atmosphere compared to other 61. 

Click to zoom

A spacecraft named Cassini has been trying to study the Titan’s atmosphere since 2004. Most of the area of the moon Titan is covered by large bodies of methane and ethane in liquid form.

The submarine will definitely help more compared to Cassini spacecraft to measure and map the shorelines or sea.

While releasing the video the scientists from NASA has stated that the submarine will definitely help in exploring the history of the moon’s climatic conditions and could provide major breakthroughs among the discoveries made till date.

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Jupiter May Be Behind The Mysterious ‘Gaping Hole’ In Our Solar System

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comWhen astronomers began studying other solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy back in the 1990s, they noticed something peculiar: most of these systems have big planets that circle their host stars in tight orbits, a fin...

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New spin on Saturn’s peculiar, err, spin

 Excerpt from spacedaily.comAccording to the new method, Saturn's day is 10 hours, 32 minutes and 44 seconds long. Tracking the rotation speed of solid planets, like the Earth and Mars, is a relatively simple task: Just measure the time it tak...

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Young Jupiter wiped out solar system’s early inner planets, study says

(Photo : NASA/ESA) In early days of solar system, Jupiter destroyed everything that came in its way, researchers have found.

Excerpt from latimes.com

Before Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars occupied the inner solar system, there may have been a previous generation of planets that were bigger and more numerous – but were ultimately doomed by Jupiter, according to a new study.

If indeed the early solar system was crowded with so-called super-Earths, it would have looked a lot more like the planetary systems found elsewhere in the galaxy, scientists wrote Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Inner planets
As NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found more than 1,000 planets in orbit around other stars, along with more than 4,000 other objects that are believed to be planets but haven’t yet been confirmed. Kepler finds these planets by watching their host stars and registering tiny drops in their brightness – a sign that they are being ever-so-slightly darkened by a planet crossing in front of them.

In addition, ground-based telescopes have detected hundreds of exoplanets by measuring the wiggles of distant stars. Those stars wiggle thanks to the gravitational pull of orbiting planets, and the Doppler effect makes it possible to estimate the size of these planets.

The more planetary systems astronomers discovered, the more our own solar system looked like an oddball. Exoplanets – at least the ones big enough for us to see – tended to be bigger than Earth, with tight orbits that took them much closer to their host stars. In multi-planet systems, these orbits tended to be much closer together than they are in our solar system. For instance, the star known as Kepler-11 has six planets closer to it than Venus is to the sun.

Why does our solar system look so different? Astrophysicists Konstantin Batygin of Caltech and Greg Laughlin of UC Santa Cruz summed it up in one word: Jupiter.

Here’s what could have happened, according to their models:

In Solar System 1.0, the region closest to the sun was occupied by numerous planets with masses several times bigger than that of Earth. There were also planetesimals, “planetary building blocks” that formed within the first million years after the birth of the sun, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

This is how things might have stayed if the young Jupiter had stayed put at its initial orbit, between 3 and 10 astronomical units away from the sun. (An astronomical unit, or AU, is the distance between the Earth and the sun. Today, Jupiter’s orbit ranges between 5 and 5.5 AUs from the sun.)

But Jupiter was restless, according to a scenario known as the “Grand Tack.” In this version of events, Jupiter was swept up by the currents of gas that surrounded the young sun and drifted toward the center of the solar system.

Jupiter, however, was too big to travel solo. All manner of smaller objects would have been dragged along too. With so many bodies in motion, there would have been a lot of crashes.

The result was “a collisional cascade that grinds down the planetesimal population to smaller sizes,” the astrophysicists wrote. For the most part, these planetary crumbs were swept toward the sun and ultimately destroyed, like disintegrating satellites falling back to Earth.

The planetesimals wouldn’t have been Jupiter’s only victims. Assuming the early solar system resembled the planetary systems spied by Kepler and other telescopes, there would have been “a similar population of first-generation planets,” the pair wrote. “If such planets formed, however, they were destroyed.”

Jupiter probably got about as close to the sun as Mars is today before reversing course, pulled away by the gravity of the newly formed Saturn. That would have ended the chaos in the inner solar system, allowing Earth and the other rocky planets to form from the debris that remained.

“This scenario provides a natural explanation for why the inner Solar System bears scant resemblance to the ubiquitous multi-planet systems” discovered by Kepler and other survey efforts, Batygin and Laughlin wrote.

Although their models show that this is what might have happened, they don’t prove that it actually did. But there may be a way to get closer to the truth.

The scientists’ equations suggest that if a star is orbited by a cluster of close-in planets, there won’t be a larger, farther-out planet in the same system. As astronomers find more exoplanetary systems, they can see whether this prediction holds up.

Also, if far-away solar systems are experiencing a similar series of events, telescopes ought to be able to detect the extra heat thrown off by all of the planetesimal collisions, they added.

Sadly for those hoping to find life on other planets, the pair’s calculations also imply that most Earth-sized planets are lacking in water and other essential compounds that can exist in liquid or solid form. As a result, they would be “uninhabitable,” they wrote.

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Is Titan submarine the most daring space mission yet?

The submersible could extract cores from the seabed to unlock a rich climatic historyExcerpt from bbc.comDropping a robotic lander on to the surface of a comet was arguably one of the most audacious space achievements of recent times. But one...

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Scientists: Enceladus may have warm water ocean with ingredients for life

Enceladus ocean
This artist's impression of the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus shows that interactions between hot water and rock occur at the floor of the subsurface ocean -- the type of environment that might be friendly to life, scientists say. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Excerpt from latimes.com

Scientists say they’ve discovered evidence of a watery ocean with warm spots hiding beneath the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. The findings, described in the journal Nature, are the first signs of hydrothermal activity on another world outside of Earth – and raise the chances that Enceladus has the potential to host microbial life.

Scientists have wondered about what lies within Enceladus at least since NASA’s Cassini spacecraft caught the moon spewing salty water vapor out from cracks in its frozen surface. Last year, a study of its gravitational field hinted at a 10-kilometer-thick regional ocean around the south pole lying under an ice crust some 30 to 40 kilometers deep.

Another hint also emerged about a decade ago, when Cassini discovered tiny dust particles escaping Saturn’s system that were nanometer-sized and rich in silicon.

“It’s a peculiar thing to find particles enriched with silicon,” said lead author Hsiang-Wen Hsu, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In Saturn’s moons and among its rings, water ice dominates, so these odd particles clearly stood out.

The scientists traced these particles’ origin to Saturn’s E-ring, which lies between the orbits of the moons Mimas and Titan and whose icy particles are known to come from Enceladus. So Hsu and colleagues studied the grains to understand what was going on inside the gas giant’s frigid satellite.   
Rather than coming in a range of sizes, these particles were all uniformly tiny – just a few nanometers across. Studying the spectra of these grains, the scientists found that they were made of silicon dioxide, or silica. That’s not common in space, but it’s easily found on Earth because it’s a product of water interacting with rock. 

Knowing how silica interacts in given conditions such as temperature, salinity and alkalinity, the scientists could work backward to determine what kind of environment creates these unusual particles.

A scientist could do the same thing with a cup of warm coffee, Hsu said.

“You put in the sugar and as the coffee gets cold, if you know the relation of the solubility of sugar as a function of temperature, you will know how hot your coffee was,” Hsu said. “And applying this to Enceladus’s ocean, we can derive a minimum [temperature] required to form these particles.”

The scientists then ran experiments in the lab to determine how such silica particles came to be. With the particles’ particular makeup and size distribution, they could only have formed under very specific circumstances, the study authors found, determining that the silica particles must have formed in water that had less than 4% salinity and that was slightly alkaline (with a pH of about 8.5 to 10.5) and at temperatures of at least 90 degrees Celsius (roughly 190 degrees Fahrenheit).

The heat was likely being generated in part by tidal forces as Saturn’s gravity kneads its icy moon. (The tidal forces are also probably what open the cracks in its surface that vent the water vapor into space.)
Somewhere inside the icy body, there was hydrothermal activity – salty warm water interacting with rocks. It’s the kind of environment that, on Earth, is very friendly to life.  

“It’s kind of obvious, the connection between hydrothermal interactions and finding life,” Hsu said. “These hydrothermal activities will provide the basic activities to sustain life: the water, the energy source and of course the nutrients that water can leach from the rocks.”

Enceladus, Hsu said, is now likely the “second-top object for astrobiology interest” – the first being Jupiter’s icy moon and fellow water-world, Europa.
This activity is in all likelihood going on right now, Hsu said – over time, these tiny grains should glom together into larger and larger particles, and because they haven’t yet, they must have been recently expelled from Enceladus, within the last few months or few years at most.

Gabriel Tobie of the University of Nantes in France, who was not involved in the research, compared the conditions that created these silica particles to a hydrothermal field in the Atlantic Ocean known as Lost City.

“Because it is relatively cold, Lost City has been posited as a potential analogue of hydrothermal systems in active icy moons. The current findings confirm this,” Tobie wrote in a commentary on the paper. “What is more, alkaline hydrothermal vents might have been the birthplace of the first living organisms on the early Earth, and so the discovery of similar environments on Enceladus opens fresh perspectives on the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System.”

However, Hsu pointed out, it’s not enough to have the right conditions for life – they have to have been around for long enough that life would have a fighting chance to emerge.

“The other factor that is also very important is the time.… For Enceladus, we don’t know how long this activity has been or how stable it is,” Hsu said. “And so that’s a big uncertainty here.”

One way to get at this question? Send another mission to Enceladus, Tobie said.

“Cassini will fly through the moon’s plume again later this year,” he wrote, “but only future missions that can undertake improved in situ investigations, and possibly even return samples to Earth, will be able to confirm Enceladus’ astrobiological potential and fully reveal the secrets of its hot springs. ”

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Exoplanet Imager Begins Hunt for Alien Worlds

This infrared image shows the dust ring around the nearby star HR 4796A in the southern constellation of Centaurus.

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

By Ian O'Neill

A new instrument attached to one of the most powerful telescopes in the world has been switched on and acquired its ‘first light’ images of alien star systems and Saturn’s moon Titan.
The Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (or SPHIRES) instrument has been recently installed at the ESO’s Very Large Telescope’s already impressive suite of sophisticated instrumentation. The VLT is located in the ultra-dry high-altitude climes of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

In the observation above, an ‘Eye of Sauron‘-like dust ring surrounding the star HR 4796A in the southern constellation of Centaurus, a testament to the sheer power of the multiple technique SPHIRES will use to acquire precision views of directly-imaged exoplanets.

The biggest problem with trying to directly image a world orbiting close to its parent star is that of glare; stars are many magnitudes brighter that the reflected light from its orbiting exoplanet, so how the heck are you supposed to gain enough contrast between the bright star and exoplanet to resolve the two? The SPHIRES instrument is using a combination of three sophisticated techniques to remove a star’s glare and zero-in on its exoplanetary targets.

This infrared image of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, was one of the first produced by the SPHERE instrument soon after it was installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in May 2014.
The first technique, known as adaptive optics, is employed by the VLT itself. By firing a laser into the Earth’s atmosphere during the observation, a gauge on the turbulence in the upper atmospheric gases can be measured and the effects of which can be removed from the imagery. Any blurriness caused by our thick atmosphere can be adjusted for.

Next up is a precision coronograph inside the instrument that blocks the light from the target star. By doing this, any glare can be removed and any exoplanet in orbit may be bright enough to spot.

But the third technique, which really teases out any exoplanet signal, is the detection of different polarizations of light from the star system. The polarization of infrared light being generated by the star and the infrared glow from the exoplanet are very subtle. SPHIRES can differentiate between the two, thereby further boosting the observation’s contrast.

“SPHERE is a very complex instrument. Thanks to the hard work of the many people who were involved in its design, construction and installation it has already exceeded our expectations. Wonderful!” said Jean-Luc Beuzit, of the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble, France and Principal Investigator of SPHERE, in an ESO press release.

The speed and sheer power of SPHIRES will be an obvious boon to astronomers zooming in on distant exoplanets, aiding our understanding of these strange new worlds.

The star HR 7581 (Iota Sgr) was observed in SPHERE survey mode (parallel observation in the near infrared with the dual imaging camera and the integral field spectrograph ). A very low mass star, more than 4000 times fainter that its parent star, was discovered orbiting Iota Sgr at a tiny separation of 0.24". This is a vital demonstration of the power of SPHERE to image faint objects very close to bright ones.

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Could Saturn’s moon Titan host an alternate type of life?


Excerpt from mashable.com

In a world first, chemical engineers have taken a different look at a question astronomers and biologists have been pondering for decades: Does Saturn moon Titan host life?

Of course, Titan is way too hostile for life as we know it to eke out an existence — it is a frigid world awash with liquid methane and ethane and a noxious atmosphere devoid of any liquid water. But say if there is a different kind of biology, a life as we don't know it, thriving on the organic chemistry that is abundant on Titan's surface?

Normally, astrobiologists combine what we know about Earth's biosphere and astronomers zoom in on other stars containing exoplanets in the hope that some of those alien world have some similarities to Earth. By looking for small rocky exoplanets orbiting inside their star's habitable zones, we are basically looking for a "second Earth" where liquid water is at least possible. Where there's liquid water on Earth, there's inevitably life, so scientists seeking out alien life 'follow the water' in the hope of finding life with a similar terrestrial template on other planets.

Titan, however, does not fall into this category, it is about as un-Earth-like as you can get. So, chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy and James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering, from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, have looked at Titan in a different light and created a theoretical model of a methane-based, oxygen-free life form that could thrive in that environment.

There is no known template for this kind of life on Earth, but the researchers have studied what chemicals are in abundance on Titan and worked out how a very different kind of life could be sparked.

As a collaborator on the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission, Lunine, professor in the Physical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Astronomy, has been fascinated with the possibility of methane-based life existing on Titan for some time, so he joined forces with Clancy and Stevenson to see what this hypothetical life form might look like.

In their research published in the journal Science Advances on Feb. 27, Clancy and Stevenson focused on building a cell membrane "composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit; or 94 Kelvin)," writes a Cornell press release. On Earth, water-based molecules form phospholipid bilayer membranes that give cells structure, housing organic materials inside while remaining permeable. On Titan, liquid water isn't available to build these cell membranes.

"We're not biologists, and we're not astronomers, but we had the right tools," said Clancy, lead researcher of the study. "Perhaps it helped, because we didn't come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn't. We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, 'If this was your palette, what can you make out of that?'"

The researchers were able to model the ideal cell that can do all the things that life can do (i.e. support metabolism and reproduction), but constructed it from nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen-based molecules that are known to exist in Titan's liquid methane seas. This chemical configuration gives this theoretical alien cell stability and flexibility in a similar manner to Earth life cells.
"The engineers named their theorized cell membrane an 'azotosome,' 'azote' being the French word for nitrogen. 'Liposome' comes from the Greek 'lipos' and 'soma' to mean 'lipid body;' by analogy, 'azotosome' means 'nitrogen body.'" — Cornell
"Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it," said lead author Stevenson, who also said that he was inspired, in part, by Isaac Asimov, who wrote the 1962 essay "Not as We Know It" about non-water-based life.

Having identified a possible type of cell membrane chemistry that functions in the Titan environment as a cell on Earth might, the next step is to model how such a hypothetical type of biology would function on Titan. In the long run, we might also be able to model what kinds of observable indicators we should look for that might reveal that alien biology's presence.

That way, should a mission be eventually sent to Titan's seas, sampling the chemical compounds in the soup of organics may reveal a biology of a very alien nature.
Scientists have been trying to know if life could exist on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. According to scientists, there are possibilities that life could survive amidst methane-based lakes of Titan. After conducting many studies, they have found signs of life on Titan, but the scientists also said that life will not be like life on earth.
As per some scientific reports, Titan is the only object other than earth which has clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid. Like earth, the moon has mountains, islands, lakes and storms, but it doesn’t have oxygen, which is a major element to support life. It means that only oxygen-free and methane-based can exist on Titan.
According to lead researcher Paulette Clancy, “We didn’t come in with any preconceptions about what should be in a membrane and what shouldn’t. We just worked with the compounds that, we knew were there and asked, ‘If this was your palette, what can you make out of that”.
Clancy said although they are not biologists or astronomers, they had the right tools to find life on Saturn’s largest moon. Adding to that, the researchers didn’t know what should be in a membrane and what should be not. They worked with compounds and found that life can exist on Titan, but would be very different from earth’s life, Clancy added.
According to reports, the researchers had used a molecular dynamics method to know about Titan. They screened for suitable candidate compounds from methane for self-assembly into membrane-like structures. As per the researchers, the most promising compound they discovered was an acrylonitrile azotosome, which is present in the atmosphere of Titan.
As per the researchers, acrylonitrile has shown good stability and flexibility similar to that of phospholipid membranes on Earth. It means that the Saturn largest has atmosphere and conditions to support life in a different way than earth.
- See more at: http://perfscience.com/content/2141391-life-titan-would-be-different-earth#sthash.2Kqc3Ewf.dpuf

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