A newly published study has put the kibosh on the idea that 'Oumuamua is made of molecular hydrogen ice.
NASA last week launched its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover to hunt for signs of ancient alien life. Once on Mars, Perseverance will be powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. The nuclear "battery" is fueled by a rare human-made material called plutonium-238. Perseverance is just the latest in a long line of groundbreaking, plutonium-powered spacecraft that have changed our understanding of the solar system. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. NASA's latest car-size Mars rover, Perseverance, rocketed off Earth last week, kicking off a seven-month voyage through deep space to Mars. The robot is designed to spend three years exploring the red planet's surface, hunting for signatures of ancient alien microbes, stashing Martian soil samples for future return to Earth, deploying the first-ever interplanetary helicopter, and paving the way for human explorers with a variety of experiments. However, a device called a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or MMRTG, could power Perseverance for more than 14 years thanks to a unique nuclear material called plutonium-238, or Pu-238. The material has powered NASA spacecraft for decades, including some for close to half a century. Pu-238 is a byproduct of nuclear weapons production. Unlike its sister chemical, plutonium-239 (which makes up the fissile cores of bombs), half of any amount decays within about 87 years. On a spacecraft, Pu-238's decay gives off lasting warmth that helps safeguard fragile electronics. Most importantly, wrapping Pu-238 with thermoelectric materials that convert heat to electricity, forms a bewilderingly long-lasting power source. The space agency used to have just only 37 lbs of Pu-238 left to put inside a spacecraft — enough for another two or three spacecraft. But NASA and the US Energy Department have resurrected Pu-238 production capabilities, helping provide enough material for Perseverance and future missions. To tide you over until the Perseverance reaches Mars and begins its alien hunt, here are the 16 greatest Pu-238-powered US space programs of the past and present — plus more that have yet to launch.SEE ALSO: NASA added 6 HD video cameras to its next Mars rover so we can all watch the first footage of a spacecraft landing on another planet DON'T MISS: A forgotten war technology could safely power Earth for millions of years. Here's why we aren't using it Transit satellite network Physicist Glenn Seaborg discovered plutonium in 1940. Just 20 years later, engineers used it to build nuclear batteries for spacecraft. In 1960 the US Navy took over an experimental plutonium-powered satellite program called TRANSIT to guide their submarines and missiles from space. The first satellite powered by plutonium, called Transit 4A (above), reached orbit on June 29, 1961.   Youtube Embed:http://www.youtube.com/embed/o9h2-TfaITo?rel=0Width: 800pxHeight: 450px By 1988, dozens of similar spacecraft — four of them using nuclear power sources — made up a rudimentary satellite navigation network. Each satellite beamed a unique radio signal. With multiple signals coming from different orbits, the Navy could easily track its submarines and other wartime hardware. But space scientists hit a snag early on: Their data suggested that spacecraft slowed down or sped up over certain parts of Earth. When researchers mapped the anomalies, they realized that some regions of the planet were far denser than they thought, and that the extra mass — and gravity — subtly affected spacecraft speed. The map of the anomalies (above) became the first of Earth's geoid, a representation of the planet's true gravitational shape. It's now essential to correcting the orbits of satellites. Apollo surface experiments Apollo 11 astronauts in July 1969 dropped off about 1.2 ounces of Pu-238 on the moon. The material sat inside a device called the Apollo Lunar Radioisotopic Heater. The device kept a seismic monitoring station warm during half-month-long lunar nights, when surface temperatures can dip to to -243 degrees Fahrenheit (-153 degrees Celsius). All subsequent Apollo missions used plutonium, but kept theirs inside of nuclear batteries to provide 70 watts of power. That's on par with an incandescent light bulb's energy use — and just enough to charge the electronics of surface experiments. Above, astronaut Alan Bean pulls a plutonium fuel cask from the lunar lander during Apollo 12's first extravehicular excursion. A similar nuclear battery from NASA's flubbed Apollo 13 mission survived reentry to Earth orbit. NASA suspects it landed somewhere in the bottom of the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean. To this day, no one has found it, or detected any release of the material. Nimbus B-1 satellite One of the most important space missions powered by Pu-238 began with a disaster. The Nimbus-B-1 satellite was supposed to use its nuclear battery to measure Earth's surface temperatures from space, through both day and night. But when it launched on May 18, 1968, a booster failed and mission control blew up the rocket and spread chunks of spacecraft all over the Pacific Ocean. All was not lost, though. A crew recovered the battery's fully intact fuel casks (above) between California's Jalama Beach and San Miguel Island, demonstrating their robust safety design. Nuclear engineers recycled the plutonium fuel into a new battery, which was used in the follow-up Nimbus III mission (one of the very first navigation satellites to aid search-and-rescue operations). The Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 probes NASA intended its Pioneer program of more than a dozen spacecraft to explore the moon, visit Venus, and monitor space weather. But most people remember Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 for their daring flybys of never-before-visited outer planets.  Pioneer 10 launched on March 2, 1972. NASA maintained contact with it until 2003, when, at a distance of 7.5 billion miles (12 billion kilometers), its radio signal became too weak to detect. Using a 155-watt nuclear battery, it became the first spacecraft to cross the Asteroid Belt, visit Jupiter, and beam back images of the gas giant. Pioneer 11, which launched on April 6, 1973, became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn. NASA lost contact with that probe more than 22 years after its launch, when it was billions of miles from Earth. Pioneer 10 lasted significantly longer, launching on March 2, 1972, and sending its last, feebly detectable signal on April 27, 2002 — more than three decades of continuous operation. Just in case the probes bump into intelligent aliens, each one carries a plaque to communicate basic information about the spacecraft's origin and creators. The Viking landers By the time sunlight reaches Mars, it's about 50% less intense than on Earth. Combined with a dusty and windblown environment, solar panels become a liability for surface spacecraft. To touch down on the Martian surface for the first time in 1976, NASA built two Viking orbiters and a Pu-238-powered lander for each one. Both landers carried stereoscopic cameras, a weather station, a shovel, and a soil-sampling chamber to sniff out signs of life 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth. Neither lander dug deep enough to find water ice, and the soil experiment failed to detect organic molecules, though they did sniff out carbon dioxide — a gas emitted by most active lifeforms — when it introduced a nutrient-rich liquid to the soil. Although non-biological soil chemistry likely caused the anomalous result, the Viking landers didn't labor in vain. In addition to returning stunning views of the red planet (above), the landers made the case for NASA to send a flotilla of spacecraft to visit Mars, including the Phoenix lander, which found both water ice and the chemicals that may have tricked Viking's life-detecting experiments. The Voyager probes The Voyager probes, launched in 1977, capitalized on years of improvements in electronics over their predecessors, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, to return stunning views of the solar system — including a view of the Earth from 4 billion miles away that Carl Sagan championed. At 13.9 billion miles (22.4 billion kilometers) and counting, Voyager 1 is the farthest human-made object from Earth. It left the planetary solar system and reached the interstellar medium, or space between star systems, in August 2012. Despite the vast distances and more than 40 years of operation, each of the Voyagers' three Pu-238-filled nuclear batteries allow the spacecraft to continue communicating with ground stations on Earth. NASA expects each spacecraft to go fully offline by 2025. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 also launched with a more advanced message for any intelligent life they encountered: a golden record full of images, audio and other information about Earth and its lifeforms. This time capsule of humanity is expected to last about 1 billion years. Ulysses solar orbiter To get into a peculiar orbit above and below the sun to study its poles, designers of the Ulysses spacecraft ran into a paradox: a sun-probing machine that couldn't rely on solar power. Achieving Ulysses' orbit required flying to Jupiter, then using the gas giant's gravity to slingshot the spacecraft into a proper trajectory. Sunlight is 25 times dimmer at Jupiter than at Earth, and solar panels would have doubled the spacecraft's weight — 2,500 lbs (1,130 kg) of arrays versus a 124-lb (56-kg) nuclear battery. Ulysses launched in 1990, pulled off the Jupiter gravity assist two years later, and began its mission in 1994. It lasted until 2009, when the decaying Pu-238's warmth faded enough that it couldn't keep Ulysses' hydrazine propellant from freezing. Before it perished after nearly 19 years of service, however, Ulysses flew through the tails of several comets, explored the sun's north and south poles, and probed the solar wind. Galileo Jupiter probe Launched from the payload bay of space shuttle Atlantis in 1995, the Galileo probe used two nuclear batteries to give it 570 watts of power. About enough to run a dorm room microwave, that initial output allowed Galileo to study Jupiter and its four large moons Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. Space scientists operated Galileo for 14 years, eight of them spent around Jupiter. To safeguard potentially life-supporting Jovian moons from any stray Earthly bacteria stuck to the spacecraft, NASA plunged it into Jupiter's thick atmosphere at about 100,000 mph (161,ooo kph) in 2003. Cassini Saturn probe Carrying a whopping 72 lbs (33 kg) of nuclear material — the most Pu-238 of any spacecraft ever launched — Cassini faced heated public opposition before its 1997 launch toward Saturn. Some people were worried the material might spread during an accident in Earth's atmosphere during launch. They were also worried it might happen about two years after launch, when Cassini would make a speed-boosting gravity assist past Earth. However, an information campaign — which included details about the many safeguards built into nuclear batteries — plus additional safety tests eventually quelled most of the public's fears. Cassini's three nuclear batteries allowed it to beam back more data than any deep-space probe in history. Vimeo Embed:http://www.vimeo.com/video/24410924Width: 800pxHeight: 450px Cassini arrived at Saturn on Christmas Day in 2004, dropped a lander named Huygens on the moon Titan, discovered moonlets in the planet's rings, recorded Saturn's polar auroras, zoomed through and "sniffed" the icy jets of the moon Enceladus, found evidence of a global subsurface ocean, and more.   But like Galileo at Jupiter, Cassini was to meet its doom on Saturn. On September 15, 2017, NASA plunged the robot into the gas giant to prevent it contaminating any nearby moons that might harbor life. The above "yarn ball" animation depicts all of Cassini's orbits from 2004 through 2017, including its final one. New Horizons Pluto probe New Horizons became the first-ever Earth visitor to the dwarf planet Pluto and its ensemble of moons. It took nine years of travel — a journey it could not have survived without Pu-238. The spacecraft launched in 2006 toward Pluto at roughly 36,000 mph (58,000 kph). That was far too fast to dip into orbit around Pluto, but the spacecraft squeezed in a solid 6 months of observations around its flyby date of July 14, 2015. New Horizons' single nuclear battery enabled observations of the dwarf planet and its five known moons — Charon, Nix, Hydra, P1 and P2. From revealing the oceanic origins of Pluto's newly discovered heart to its giant tail in space, the spacecraft's photos and discoveries have proven remarkable at every turn. Since departing the Pluto system, New Horizons has carried on in the Kuiper Belt to visit other trans-Neptunian objects. On New Year's Day in 2019, the spacecraft flew by an object called 486958 Arrokoth — also known as 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule. The two-lobed, red-hued, and seemingly pancake-like space rock is one of the most pristine and ancient in the solar system, a sort of "planetary embryo" that shows what rocky worlds were built by. NASA is still determining which strange new planetary objects in deep-freeze that New Horizons will fly by in the 2020s and 2030s — follow-on missions that would be impossible without Pu-238. Curiosity Mars rover (Mars Science Laboratory) NASA's car-sized Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars on August 5, 2012 after surviving a harrowing descent known to engineers as the "7 minutes of terror." The robot is equipped with everything from a stereoscopic camera and a powerful microscope to a rock-zapping infrared laser and an X-ray spectrometer to perform advanced science on the red planet. Unlike previous wheeled rovers on Mars, which only used bits of Pu-238 to warm their circuit boards (and relied entirely on solar power), one 125-watt nuclear powers source feeds Curiosity. The power source should be strong enough to keep the rover rolling around Mars' mountainous Gale Crater for about 14 years. Curiosity harbors some of the last Pu-238 in NASA's old reserves. The spacecraft uses about 10.6 lbs (4.8 kg), leaving the space agency with roughly 37 lbs of usable plutonium. The DOE and NASA have worked to make new Pu-238 and refresh about 35 lbs (16 kg) of material that has decayed over the years. Mission managers say a new robot-automated process can help them make nearly one pound (400 grams) of new material a year, working toward 3.3 lbs (1.5 kilograms) per year starting in the mid-2020s. Though the price of Pu-238 is difficult to estimate due to shared infrastructure costs and varying output of the material, it likely costs thousands of dollars per gram, making it among the most expensive substances known by weight. Perseverance rover (Mars 2020) NASA used about one-third of what usable Pu-238 it had left to power the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission. The rover is almost identical to Curiosity, but it harbors a unique new tool set to explore Mars — and comes with the first interplanetary helicopter.   NASA will attempt to land the nuclear-powered rover on February 18, 2021, at this location in Jezero Crater, where the space agency will collect its first Martian soil samples for a future rocket launch to Earth. Dragonfly NASA's next Pu-238-powered mission will be the Dragonfly helicopter, which aims to explore the skies and surface of Saturn's moon Titan. Dragonfly is supposed to launch in 2026 and land in 2034. Once it lands, the drone will fly about five miles per excursion, racking up perhaps 100 miles total, to visually document the icy moon's features, sample its strange soils, and seek out possible signs of life on Titan's surface. Pu-238 will be essential not only to powering the vehicle, but also keeping its components functioning in the minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius) cold.   Space scientists have dreamed up many more plutonium-powered missions, including a nuclear-powered boat for Saturn's moon Titan (which may have the ingredients for life) and a long-lived orbiter of Jupiter's moon Europa (which is thought to harbor an ocean bigger than all of Earth's watery territory). Though many have fallen by the wayside with technical, budgetary, and Pu-238 supply constraints, some may see resurrection as NASA and the DOE work together to reestablish American supplies of the unique nuclear material. This is an updated an expanded version of a story first published at Wired by Dave Mosher, the author and copyright holder.
The Voyager 2 mission has released its first scientific measurements of interstellar space, according to newly published research.Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause last November, joining Voyager 1 as the only human-made objects to have left the heliosphere, the area around the Sun that is influenced by solar wind.Thankfully, Voyager 2's instruments worked well enough to measure the particles and magnetic fields present in this distant region.The Voyager probes launched in 1977, each equipped with an identical suite of instruments for exploring the outer solar system.After over 40 years, both are functioning well enough to measure cosmic rays from the Sun as well as from interstellar space; the properties of nearby charged particles; the local magnetic field; and, in the case of Voyager 2, the energy of the local plasma.All this data can offer scientists insight into the nature of the interstellar medium.
NASA scientists have published papers that use data that Voyager 2 gathered a year ago when it made the crossing into interstellar space.On November 5, 2018, Voyager 2 became the second spacecraft in history to leave the heliosphere, which is the protective bubble produced by the sun.As Voyager 2 made that historic crossing scientific data was being gathered about the conditions the spacecraft was in.Scientists published five new papers that focus on observations during that transition.Each of the papers details findings that were gathered from one of the five operating science instruments aboard the spacecraft.The operating instruments include a magnetic field sensor, two instruments to detect energetic particles in different energy ranges, and two instruments for studying plasma.
Probe predicted to outlive Earth on five-billion-year galactic tripNASA's Voyager 2, launched to study the Solar System's outer planets, has had its first readings from interstellar space, collected after travelling more than 11 billion miles over forty years, analyzed by scientists.It is only the second probe to have sailed beyond the heliosphere – the expansive region made of plasma and magnetic fields generated by the Sun.A lot of the findings confirmed what was discovered when Voyager 1 left our tiny back yard in the universe, which is useful in itself."The Voyager probes are showing us how our Sun interacts with the stuff that fills most of the space between stars in the Milky Way galaxy," said Ed Stone, lead author on one of the papers and a project scientist for the Voyager mission.The heliosphere is a giant protective bubble that shields the Solar System from galactic cosmic rays.
A shocking new study suggests that the second interstellar object ever discovered, Comet 2I/Borisov, could be carrying water on it from beyond the Solar System.The study suggests that 2I/Borisov, discovered on Aug. 30 by astronomer Gennady Borisov, is releasing water vapor on its journey.It is common for asteroids in the Solar System to carry water.The study was submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters and can be read on the arXiv repository,SECOND INTERSTELLAR VISITOR HAS A FAMILIAR LOOK AS OUMUAMUA BECOMES MORE MYSTERIOUS"The discovery of interstellar comet 2I/Borisov provides an opportunity to sample the volatile composition of a comet that is unambiguously from outside our own Solar System, providing constraints on the physics and chemistry of other protostellar discs," the researchers wrote in the paper.
Your body, the Earth, and all the material world around you is made of a class of particle called “baryons.” Baryonic matter is “normal” everyday matter, such as carbon.Now pick one of those particles at random.When the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old, baryonic matter and dark matter, an invisible and unknown substance making up the majority of matter in the universe, were intermingled in a nearly uniform fog.This was rippled with small density fluctuations, and over time these were amplified by gravity which teased them into a network of filaments lacing through the universe.In those galaxies, about a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, hydrogen started to burn in stars and nuclear fusion forged heavy elements including carbon and oxygen.We’ve known for a long time that this “feedback” is essential for regulating the growth of galaxies and for mixing the different chemical elements in regions between stars.
Interstellar space exploration has long been the stuff of science fiction, a technological challenge that many engineers believe humans just aren’t up to yet.The researchers have a vision for a mission that could be built with existing technology.Indeed, the group says that if their mission is selected by NASA it could fly as soon as 2030.“This is humanity’s first explicit step into interstellar space,” says Pontus Brandt, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory who is working on the interstellar probe study.The lab kicked off its Interstellar Probe study last summer at the behest of NASA’s Heliophysics division.The basic idea for the interstellar mission is to launch a spacecraft weighing less than 1,700 pounds on NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket, which is expected to be ready by 2021.
A ghostly countenance is glaring back at us through 704 million light-years of interstellar space, in what’s actually a galactic collision of epic proportions.With galaxies for eyes and rings of gas and dust for its face, the Arp-Madore system presents a truly haunting visage.The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured this striking image back in June, but the fine folks at Hubble released it this week in honour of Halloween and all things scary.This system is scientifically interesting, aside from its ability to induce pareidolia – when we see faces in inanimate objects.These two galaxies are heading straight towards each other in a slow-motion intergalactic head-on collision, rather than a glancing blow.The Arp-Madore system is also cool because the two galaxies are of roughly equal size.
Hubble has been gazing at the stars for decades and has provided some of the best images we have of the cosmos.Recently Hubble was able to observe its very first confirmed interstellar comet in its service life.The comet is called 2I/Borisov.The speed and trajectory of the comet indicate that it originated from beyond our solar system.The image seen above was snapped on October 12th, 2019, and is the sharpest view of the comet so far.The image shows a central concentration of dust around the nucleus, but the nucleus of the comet is too small to be seen by Hubble.
The second known interstellar visitor to our solar system is coming into focus.NASA and ESA's Hubble Space Telescope captured the sharpest image yet of comet 2I/Borisov, a mysterious stranger that has wandered our way from the great beyond.The view shows fluffy-looking dust surrounding the comet's icy core."No one knows where it came from.No one knows how long it has been drifting through the empty, cold abyss of interstellar space," NASA said in a Hubble release on Wednesday.Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the comet on Aug. 30 and it was later named in his honor.
The solar system has another interstellar visitor, but there’s no question of this one being an alien spacecraft.It’s a true comet and the first we’ve ever confirmed comes from interstellar space, and the Hubble Space Telescope captured some amazing imagery of it.Good thing, too — because it’s never coming back.You probably remember ‘Oumuamua as the interstellar object that launched a thousand headlines — mostly around the idea that it could be an alien ship of some kind.Needless to say that hypothesis didn’t really pan out, but honestly the object was interesting enough without being an emissary from another world.Studies by other near-Earth object authorities observed its trajectory and concluded that it did indeed come from interstellar space?
The Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecraft measured the Sun sending a pulse like a “tsunami” into the interstellar medium, according to a new paper.The pulse, called a global merged interaction region, comprised solar emissions that combined and then crashed into the boundary between the region of the Sun’s influence and interstellar space.Since the Voyager missions were on either side of the boundary during this time, scientists were able to calculate properties of the disturbance, as well as previously unmeasured properties of the region of space called the heliosheath.“I’m so thankful about the timing,” Jamie Rankin, the study’s first author and a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, told Gizmodo.“If we didn’t have [the Voyager missions] in these different environments, then we wouldn’t have been able to do this, and if the Sun hadn’t put out this huge event at the that time, then we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”Particles from the Sun influence a region called the heliosphere, which encompasses the solar system and space stretching far past Neptune.
Comet 2I/Borisov, the second-ever discovered interstellar object, has a familiar look to it, similar to the other comets that are common throughout our solar system, according to a new study."Images taken on 10 and 13 September 2019 UT with the William Herschel Telescope and Gemini North Telescope show an extended coma and a faint, broad tail," the study's authors wrote in the abstract, adding that 2I/Borisov has a "slightly reddish color," which they describe as "compatible with Solar System comets."The interstellar object is comprised of dust, its morphology described as "unremarkable" and it likely has a diameter of about 2.4 miles (2 kilometers), similar to other comets in our solar system."Based on these early characteristics, and putting its hyperbolic orbit aside, 2I/Borisov appears indistinguishable from the native Solar System comets," the abstract adds."We immediately noticed the familiar coma and tail that were not seen around 'Oumuamua," said the study's co-author, Michal Drahus, in a statement."This is really cool because it means that our new visitor is one of these mythical and never-before-seen 'real' interstellar comets."
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One of the first profiles of interstellar comet Borisov has been published, and it looks about the same as most other comets.What it doesn't look like is the first interstellar object, Oumuamua, which made its closest pass by Earth exactly two years ago today.A paper published Monday in Nature Astronomy lays out the early data on Borisov, which is just the second-ever object seen visiting our solar system from beyond.While scientists will get a better look as the comet comes closer to Earth over the next several weeks, so far it looks to be the same color and size as most ordinary comets."This is really cool because it means that our new visitor is one of these mythical and never-before-seen 'real' interstellar comets."The implication here is that Oumuamua was not a "real" interstellar comet, which then leads to the obvious question: So what the heck was it?
Given that the same thing almost certainly happens at exosolar systems—and we now know there are a lot of those—it's likely that the vast volume of interstellar space is lightly sprinkled with small objects, some of which may sporadically pass through our own Solar System.But up until very recently, we'd had no evidence of their existence.New comet is our second interstellar visitorThat situation changed with the discovery of 'Oumuamua, a strange, cigar-shaped body that was the first confirmed exosolar visitor.But 'Oumuamua was so strange that it set some astronomers speculating that it could be an alien craft.Now, the first data on the object, 2I/Borisov, is in, and it's clearly exosolar in origin but looks so much like our existing comets that we might not have realized where it was from if we didn't have a good grip on its orbit.
New results paint the second recorded interstellar visitor as a surprisingly familiar object, according to new research.Scientists have anticipated the arrival of an object from outside our solar system for decades, but the first documented one, 1I/‘Oumuamua, went against all expectations: It was an asteroid rather than a comet.The second, named 2I/Borisov and spotted this August, seems much more in line with our expectations.“This is important, because many have speculated that interstellar space should be occupied mostly by comets.”Generally, asteroids are rocky objects that form closer to their parent star.Comets, instead, are icy objects that form farther from their star.
Related: Interstellar Comet: Here's Why It's Got Scientists So Pumped UpObviously, some chain of unfortunate events led to the ejection of 'Oumuamua from its home system.But what could possibly cause such a catastrophe?Now, astronomers have hypothesized that something like 'Oumuamua can come from a still-forming system, and a population of giant planets can have just the right gravitational effects to spread pieces of debris across the galaxy.After all, distant comets are only loosely attached to their own stars and are the best candidates for being ejected, scattering to the four corners of the galaxy.Consider the scale of time and space at work in a galaxy.
A new study suggests that the building blocks of life may not have originated on Earth, but rather giant gas clouds in deep space.The research theorizes that the building blocks of DNA, known as nucleobases, have been spotted in a simulated environment that echoes "interstellar molecular clouds," which may aid researchers in understanding how life started on our planet."This result could be key to unraveling fundamental questions for humankind, such as what organic compounds existed during the formation of the solar system and how they contributed to the birth of life on Earth" the study's lead author, Yasuhiro Oba, said in a statement.MYSTERIOUS, SECOND INTERSTELLAR OBJECT EVER SPOTTED IS CONFIRMEDResearchers believe that these organic materials may have come through asteroid collisions and comets traveling through the galaxy as many as 4 billion years ago.A study published in 2018 suggested that cometlike objects could be "ferrying" microbial life across thousands of light-years.
We have our second confirmed – and named – interstellar visitor.The International Astronomical Union confirmed that the object formally known as C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) is indeed from another solar system, giving it the proper name of 21/Borisov on Tuesday.It is the second-ever object from beyond our solar system, following Ouamuamua’s discovery in October 2017."The orbit is now sufficiently well known, and the object is unambiguously interstellar in origin; it has received its final designation as the second interstellar object, 2I," the IAU wrote in a statement."In this case, the IAU has decided to follow the tradition of naming cometary objects after their discoverers, so the object has been named 2I/Borisov."NEWLY DISCOVERED INTERSTELLAR VISITOR COULD BE INTERCEPTED, STUDY SAYS
It's been nearly a month since the second interstellar object, C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was detected.The research, which can be found here, notes that C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), could be intercepted using existing technology and studied to determine a number of aspects about it, such as whether it's a comet or an asteroid."Investigating interstellar objects from a close distance would provide us with unique data about other star systems without actually flying to them," Andreas M. Hein, the executive director of Initiative for Interstellar Studies ' board of directors and one of the co-authors of the study told Universe Today via email.MYSTERIOUS, NEWLY DISCOVERED COMET IS PROBABLY AN INTERSTELLAR VISITOR, SCIENTISTS BELIEVE"They might provide unique insights into the evolution and composition of other star systems and exoplanets in them.Interstellar objects are cool, as it's a bit like: If you can't go to the mountain, let the mountain come to you," Hein added in the email.
Last week, the Minor Planet Centre announced that astronomers had tentatively discovered the second interstellar object on record – and now we have a picture of it.Amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov discovered the object, provisionally named Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), on August 30.Follow-up observations have revealed that the object has a hyperbolic orbit, meaning that it was travelling with enough velocity to escape the solar system’s gravity – and implying that it did not originate in this solar system.“What’s exciting scientifically is we can make a comparison, how is this one different from ‘Oumuamua,” the first interstellar object, MPC director Matthew Holman told Gizmodo last week.Astronomers operating the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph instrument at the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii captured the image on the night of September 10.Astronomers scrambled to take the image, and after hearing the final details at 3:00 a.m. local time, observed the object less than two hours later, according to a press release.
Ursa Major, the Tadpole Galaxy, the Crab Nebula — when it comes to naming objects in space, it sometimes seems like astronomers wish they'd gone into zoology.Continuing in this long tradition, a researcher has recently identified mammoth column-shaped structures carved from gas and dust that he has called Giant Elephant's Trunks.Regular-size astronomical Elephant's Trunks are well-studied entities.When newborn stars are young, they emit colossal amounts of radiation, which can erode nearby interstellar gas and dust.Dense pockets of material are more resistant to this erosion, protecting downstream gas and dust from the radiation pressure and creating long filaments that resemble pachyderm proboscises, according to NASA.Related: 10 Interesting Places in the Solar System We’d Like to Visit
An astrophotographer has spotted what looks to be a moon orbiting the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the target of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission.The Rosetta mission launched in 2004, and arrived at 67P in 2014.Aside from producing lots of interesting data as well as thrills, it also sent many images of the comet back to Earth.These photographs continue to yield interesting findings.Comets are icy solar system rocks that typically have oblong orbits and, when they get close to the Sun, heat up and emit gas and dust to create an atmosphere-like “coma” and sometimes a tail.The Rosetta mission was the first to land a human-made object on a comet (though the landing was rocky).
This week’s Hubble image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 2985, located over 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear).It is an archetypal spiral galaxy, like our Milky Way, meaning it has arms of stars reaching out from is center.The galaxy is about 95,000 light-years across with a supermassive black hole at its center that is 160 million times the mass of our Sun.Hubble scientists describe NGC 2985 as having “near-perfect symmetry,” showing tightly wound spiral arms which converge in the center of the galaxy as its brightest point.As the spiral arms reach out into space, they gradually fade and dissipate.The outer spiral arm is so large that it encircles the galaxy, forming a “pseudo ring” around it.
Astronomers have spotted a young planet with a disk of gas and dust around it similar to the one from which the moons of Jupiter were born.The planet PDS 70 b is a gas giant several times the size of Jupiter which is in the process of forming and is located about 370 light-years away in orbit around the dwarf star PDS 70.“Planets form from disks of gas and dust around newly forming stars, and if a planet is large enough, it can form its own disk as it gathers material in its orbit around the star,” astronomer Andrea Isella, lead author of the paper, said in a statement.“Jupiter and its moons are a little planetary system within our solar system, for example, and it’s believed Jupiter’s moons formed from a circumplanetary disk when Jupiter was very young.”But these circumplanetary disks don’t last for long.They are believed to disappear within 10 million years, and that means there hasn’t been such a disk within our Solar System for 4 billion years.
Tally ho, you can call me Buckyballs, what whatAstrophysicists have found the single largest molecule yet floating in the interstellar medium, the soup of matter and radiation that floods space in between all of the universe’s objects.In the interstellar medium (ISM), the Buckminsterfullerene molecules – or Buckyballs – have been ionized by ultraviolet radiation released by stars.This energy frees an electron so that the molecule has a slight positive charge (C60+).These electrically charged balls are the heaviest molecule to be discovered in the interstellar medium so far, according to Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist from the Catholic University of America in Washington, who led the study.Our confirmation of C60+ shows just how complex astrochemistry can get, even in the lowest density, most strongly ultraviolet-irradiated environments in the galaxy,” he said on Tuesday.
Scientists have confirmed that molecules resembling soccer balls are found in space, NASA has announced, something made possible using the Hubble Space Telescope.These molecules are electrically-charged and comprised of 60 carbon atoms (C60) arranged in a hollow sphere, this resulting in the characteristic ‘soccer ball’ appearance.The same molecules have rarely been found on Earth.The confirmation was detailed in a study recently published in Astrophysical Journal Letters with NASA’s Martin Cordiner as lead author.This isn’t the first time these molecules, which are officially known as ‘Buckminsterfullerene’ and more commonly called ‘Buckyballs,’ have been found in space.However, this is the first time scientists have confirmed the electrically-charged version’s presence in the interstellar medium (ISM).
An upcoming space mission aims to land on a yet-to-be-discovered comet or perhaps an even more far-out object similar to the mysterious interstellar visitor Oumuamua.The European Space Agency said Wednesday that it's selected "Comet Interceptor" as a new fast-class mission that could launch in 2028.The mission includes three spacecraft that could visit a so-called "pristine" or "dynamically new" comet carrying material that dates back to the birth of our solar system."Pristine or dynamically new comets are entirely uncharted and make compelling targets for close-range spacecraft exploration to better understand the diversity and evolution of comets," says Günther Hasinger, ESA's director of science, in a news release.The mission could also take advantage of a potential future discovery of an even more interesting object, perhaps originating from beyond our solar system."The huge scientific achievements of Giotto and Rosetta -- our legacy missions to comets -- are unrivaled, but now it is time to build upon their successes and visit a pristine comet, or be ready for the next 'Oumuamua-like interstellar object."
Scientists have discovered a new population of stardust that originated from supernovas.The finding suggests that more interstellar dust formed from these massive star explosions than scientists previously thought.The quest to study cosmic dust samples brought to Earth by meteorites has been ongoing for the past 30 years.Using a nanoscale imaging spectrometer called Cameca NanoSIMS 50L, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany were able to measure the chemical composition of tiny grains of stardust by observing them with unprecedented resolution.The researchers analyzed the chemical makeup of several grains of stardust, drawing conclusions about the cosmic origins of those grains.Related: Supernova Photos: Great Images of Star Explosions
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