Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Just add water, gasses, and simple organic molecules 

Space news (July 27, 2015) – the search for life beyond Earth – a simple recipe for extraterrestrial life –

The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.
The simple building blocks of life could have traveled to Earth on icy grains of dust carried on asteroids and meteorites during the early moments of the Solar System.

NASA scientists studying the origins of organic compounds important to the development of life on Earth think they’re on the trail of a cosmic “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life”. Recent experiments conducted by astrobiologists working at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland indicate asteroids and meteorites could have been the source of complex organic compounds essential to the evolution of life on Earth. Essential organic compounds they have been able to reproduce in laboratory experiments from simpler organic compounds, water, and gasses in simulations of the space environments of meteorites and asteroids. 

“We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”

“This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard. We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites.”

The Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life

Deep within immense clouds of gas and dust created by exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds of red giant stars coming to the end of their days are countless dust grains. Many of these dust grains will end up part of asteroids and meteorites like the millions of bodies in the Main Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt, and Oort Cloud. Asteroids and meteorites that bombarded the Earth from space during the formation of the planets and Solar System.

Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.
Cosmic dust grains carried on asteroids and meteorites that struck the Earth during the first moments of the birth of the Solar System could have carried complex organic compounds that contributed to the birth and evolution of life on Earth.

NASA space scientists were able to reproduce a “Crucible of the Building Blocks of Life” using an aluminum plate cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) as the cold surface of an interstellar dust grain carried by an asteroid or meteorite heading to Earth 4.5 billion years ago. The experiments were conducted in a vacuum chamber used to replicate conditions in space to which they added gasses containing water, carbon dioxide, and the simple organic compound pyridine. Bombarding the cold surface with high energy protons from a particle accelerator to simulate cosmic radiation and other radiation found in space produced more complex organic compounds like vitamin B3.  

Data collected by the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta's lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gases we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol. 
Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission during the months and years ahead could shine more light on this subject. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is currently sitting on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko awaiting its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. Presently, the surface of the comet is warming and gasses we can test to validate the results of these experiments are expected to be released as it nears Sol.

To learn more about the European Space Agency and its work with the Rosetta mission go here.

To learn more about NASA’s space mission and the search for life beyond Earth visit here.

Learn more about the Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Learn more about plans to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa to have a look for the ingredients that make life possible.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn about the planets space scientists are finding orbiting four star systems.

NEOWISE’s One Year Space Mission Discovers 40 Near-earth Objects

NEOWISE discovered 40 potentially dangerous asteroids orbiting near earth
NEOWISE discovered 40 potentially dangerous asteroids orbiting near earth

Making life on Earth safer for all 

Space news (January 21, 2015) near Earth –

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) discovered eight potentially dangerous asteroids during a recent one-year mission. Dangerous asteroids, in this case, are classified as objects that due to their volume and near-Earth orbit could pose a future collision threat. This was out of a total of 40 new objects NASA discovered orbiting close to the planet during its year-long mission. You can view a movie of the spacecraft’s progress during the past year using the link at the end of the article.

NEOWISE looked at a total of 245 known near-Earth objects from December 2013 to December 2014. This spacecraft views the sky during the dawn and dust perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This allows it to spot near-Earth objects that come close to the planet. In this case discovering eight potentially dangerous asteroids, we can make plans to deal with, if needed, in the future. They also got a better look at the size and orbit of over 200 near-Earth objects they knew about.

NEOWISE found a total of 35 comets during its year-long mission, including three space scientists knew nothing about. This includes the brightest comet in Earth’s sky, comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), which arrived early in 2015.

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA's NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013, when comet Lovejoy was 1.7 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun.)  The image spans half of one degree. It shows the comet moving in a mostly west and slightly south direction. (North is 26 degrees to the right of up in the image, and west is 26 degrees downward from directly right.) The red color is caused by the strong signal in the NEOWISE 4.6-micron wavelength detector, owing to a combination of gas and dust in the comet's coma.
Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA’s NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013 when comet Lovejoy was 1.7 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is a distance between Earth and the sun.)
The image spans half of one degree. It shows the comet moving in a mostly west and slightly south direction. (North is 26 degrees to the right of up in the image, and west is 26 degrees downward from directly right.) The red color is caused by the strong signal in the NEOWISE 4.6-micron wavelength detector, owing to a combination of gas and dust in the comet’s coma.

No word from NASA on the future of NEOWISE, but we do need a spacecraft monitoring the skies near Earth for potentially hazardous objects on a full-time basis. Hopefully, they can rework this spacecraft’s mission, once again, and put NEOWISE on guard protecting the planet for decades to come.

You can find more information on NASA’s NEOWISE here.

You can find a chart of comet Lovejoy’s progress during the month here.

You can find more information on NASA’s mission to catalog all near-Earth objects here.

Read about calculating orbits of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt

Read about Celestron’s Ultima Duo Eyepieces

Read about an earth-sized exoplanet discovered orbiting within the habitable zone of its home sun

Rosetta Spacecraft Set to Deploy Lander to Surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
The Rosetta spacecraft uses its 11 scientific instruments to study the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Credits: NASA

After a decade traveling through the solar system, Rosetta is preparing to write history 

This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae
This image taken by Rosetta shows the primary landing site of Philae. Credits: ESA/Rosetta

The image above shows the primary landing site of Philae, Rosetta’s lander, which is expected to make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at Site J, or backup Site C, on Nov. 12, 2014. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta

Between Mars and Jupiter (Oct. 11, 2014) –

After two weeks of analysis of possible trajectories the flight dynamics and operations teams of the European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to make the first soft landing of a robot on a comet on Nov. 12, 2014. Expectations are for Rosetta to release Philae at around 08:35 UTC (12:35 a.m PST; 9:35 a.m. Central European Time), if Site J is the target, at a height of 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) above the center of the comet.

Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully make a soft landing on comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Philae will release from Rosetta on Nov. 12 and hopefully, make a soft landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image credit: ESA

If all goes as expected, Philae should make a soft landing about seven hours later, around 7:35 a.m. PST. Here on Earth, mission specialists will get the confirmation of a successful landing 28 minutes and 20 seconds later, due to the time it takes the signal to travel between Rosetta and the Earth. This means we should get word on whether Philae made a successful landing around 16:00 UTC (8 a.m PST; 5 p.m CET).

Should the decision be made to try for backup Site C, instead of Site J, the lander will be released at 13:04 UTC (5:04 a.m. PST; 2:04 p.m. CET) at a distance of about 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) from the center of the comet?

In the backup scenario, Philae should land about four hours after release, which means the confirmation signal should arrive at Earth somewhere around 17:30 UTC (9:30 a.m. PST; 6:30 p.m CET). All times are estimates subject to uncertainties of minutes.

The Rosetta team will make a final decision on the landing site on October 14, 2014, after they review the lander to see if it’s ready for launch, and take a look at the high-resolution images of the landing sites they’ll take between now and Nov. 12.

During the week including Oct. 14, the ESA is planning on having a contest to determine the best name for the landing site selected. This is your chance to stamp your name on Rosetta and its mission. Check the Rosetta mission website to sign up for the competition and check out the rules.

A joint space mission spearheaded by the European Space Agency, but with help from NASA and friends, the Rosetta Space Mission is expected to enlighten us about the origins of comets and possibly life on Earth. Comets are time capsules containing material left over from the time when the solar system and Earth were being formed. Scientists will study the gas, dust, and structure of the interior of the comet to unlock secrets about the past, evolution and possible future of Earth and the solar system. They also hope to shine a light on the origins of Earth’s water and how life came to exist on one out of the way little planet in the middle of nowhere.

After Philae has landed, it will begin to study the comet up close using 10 scientific instruments. Rosetta will continue to study the comet and its composition and structure over the next year and a bit as they travel together around the sun and then back to the outer solar system.

Hundreds of year from now, when future archaeoastronomers discover Philae sitting on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, will it create the energy and wonder created by its namesake – the Rosetta Stone – discovered in 1799 by French soldier Pierre-Francois Bouchard near the town of Rosetta in Egypt.

Philae will be sitting

Will scientists hundreds of years in the future argue over the true origin and meaning of the device they discover on a lonely comet circling the sun? Will it create widespread public interest in determining how, why and when it came to rest on a piece of the original building blocks of the solar system? Time will tell the story sometime in the future. A story that could inspire others to delve deeper into the mystery of the solar system and life on Earth.

You can find additional information on the current status of the Rosetta mission here.

Read about the ghostly glow of streaking Orionids

Read about the weather systems astronomers believe exist on Saturn’s moon Titan

Read about something unusual discovered during a future mission to Earth

Earth Mission Discovers Something Unusual

Space news (August 05, 3897)

Archaeoastronomers of the Earth Mission today discovered something unusual under the dry sand of Chile’s Atacama desert. Buried ten to fifteen feet under the hot, dry sand of the Chajnantor plateau of the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5,000 meters they discovered a human relic from an early age. What appears to be a human made instrument scientists date to about 2014 AD.

Space scientists unearthed a 12-meter concave metal dish, broken off at the base. The origins and design of the artifact are a mystery to space scientists and historians at this point. Records from this period of human history are sketchy at best, so historians are at odds as to the original use of such a weird looking artifact.

Chile’s Atacama desert is a very isolated and unforgiving environment today and we expect it wasn’t much more inviting in the twenty-first century AD. Documents from the time indicate this region was home to a large facility of some type, possible scientific in nature, but it isn’t clear just what they were studying.

Archaeoastronomers indicate ancient records point to humans of this period being intensely interested in the solar system and the study of the stars in the night sky. Even today space scientists indicate the high plateaus of Chile’s Atacama desert are the perfect spot to observe the sky. This leads archaeoastronomers to believe the site was possible the home of an ancient observatory of some kind.

“The true origins, design, and uses of this artifact are at this point a puzzle, but we believe the 12-meter dish was part of a scientific instrument of some type. Humans of the 21st century spent a lot of time and resources studying the solar system and stars. We think this artifact was part of a much larger instrument and facility,” said lead archaeoastronomer of the Earth Mission, William Hurte.

Archaeoastronomers will now try to piece together the puzzle of this strange looking artifact, using the facts they have to go on, and continued the study of the site and surrounding region. The site is difficult to reach and the environment unforgiving and harsher than any we face here on Sintera. Space scientists face dangers from both the natural environment and strange lifeforms the Institute for Scientific Study is planning on sending a team to study at some point.

The questions at this point keep piling up for archaeoastronomers of the Earth Mission, but they have decades to piece together the puzzle.

What do you think?

Tell us what you think? Is this artifact an ancient weapon of some kind? A scientific instrument? Maybe an astronomical device?

Drop us a line here and we’ll post your comments.

Read about the first “Earth-sized Planet Discovered Orbiting Within Habitable Zone of Star”

Read about “715 New Planets Found by the Kepler Mission

Read about “The Search for Extraterrestrial Moons

 

Astronomers can provide a rough estimate of the number of stars in a galaxy

The Possibility of Intelligent Lifeforms Existing in the Universe

Crunching the numbers leaves little doubt in the minds of many scientists and broad thinkers

Astronomers can provide a rough estimate of the number of stars in a galaxy
Astronomers can provide a rough estimate of the number of stars in a galaxy

Space news – We can estimate the number of galaxies and thus approximately how many stars there are in the universe. Can we extrapolate the number of possible intelligent lifeforms in the universe? Lifeforms with an advanced civilization and technology?

Astronomers also have a very rough estimate for the number of galaxies they see
Astronomers also have a very rough estimate for the number of galaxies they see

NASA astronomers are finding more and more planets orbiting distant stars using the Hubble Space Telescope. Space scientists on Earth find microbes still surviving after thousands of years frozen in ice and thriving in environments we once thought hostile to life.

NASA astronomers have confirmed the existence of exo-planets orbiting distant stars
NASA astronomers have confirmed the existence of exoplanets orbiting distant stars

Astronomers estimate the Milky Way contains around 400 billion suns, give or take a few. Sol is only one of these stars. They also estimate the universe holds a minimum of 125 billion galaxies.

If we crunch the numbers a bit, we find the universe contains roughly 400 X 125 billion billion, or 50,000 billion billion stars. We won’t at this time include the number of planets per sun in the universe, which would make our estimate even less precise. NASA space scientists and astronomers haven’t determined this number and the knowledge we have now isn’t sufficient enough to come to even a rough estimate.

How many of these suns have intelligent life living on a planet in orbit with a highly advanced civilization and technology? In future articles, we’ll try to narrow this number down a bit, by estimating the number of intelligent life forms in the Milky Way.

Let me know what you think? Take part in our poll below.

Warren Wong, 

Managing Editor

Learn how orbits of asteroids within the Main Asteroid belt are calculated.

Learn more about the search for life on Europa.

Read about the African Dogon tribe and their cosmology.

Searching for Extraterrestrial Moons

NASA astronomers are optimistic that they'll eventually be able to detect transiting exomoons
NASA astronomers are optimistic that they’ll eventually be able to detect transiting exomoons

Question: Is it possible to detect moons orbiting distant exoplanets? How would this be accomplished?

Questions from the kids (2013-12-30) – If we use our own solar system as an example, we would expect exoplanets to have bodies similar to our own Moon orbiting them. Exomoons, as we’ll refer to them, would be small in comparison to their host planets, and this fact is going to make it more difficult to detect them at the extreme distances involved.

NASA scientists believe exomoons could be a good place for life to start and thrive in many solar systems
NASA scientists believe exomoons could be a good place for life to start and thrive in many solar systems

Despite this fact, astronomers believe exomoons should be detectable, using the same techniques and for the same reasons exoplanets are detected. Exomoons have mass, which means they’ll interact gravitationally with their host planet and sun, causing the exoplanet to move in a mathematically predictable manner in response to the force of gravity. The exomoon will constantly pull on the planet gravitationally, which changes the amount of time it takes the planet to pass in front of its host sun. If an exomoon lines up with its home sun from our point of view here on Earth, this would cause a resulting collection of dips in measured sunlight, just before or after the much more significant transits of the host planet in front of its star. Astronomers believe they can use this fact in the future, along with any new techniques they develop, to search for and find distant exomoons orbiting their home planets.

This detection technique is the most practical way astronomers have developed in order to search for and find distant exomoons. This method provides astronomers with a more direct technique to use in the search for exomoons and at present is the best way to do the job. Currently, NASA’s Kepler telescope, which is looking for smaller transiting exoplanets, is probably our best chance of finding a distant exomoon orbiting its home planet. The Kepler telescope really isn’t designed to search for and find distant exomoons, which makes the job a truly daunting task using this telescope. If we use the largest moon in our solar system, Jupiter’s Ganymede, as an example, we would find Ganymede’s diameter is only about 40 percent of Earth’s. This means Ganymede would only block about 0.0014 percent of the Sun’s light during any transit, which is around six times less than the amount blocked by an Earth transit.

The human journey to the beginning of space and time could one day discover an exomoon looking like this
The human journey to the beginning of space and time could one day discover an exomoon looking like this

All of this is based upon the data and information astronomers have concerning our own solar system, which could be too general, or just wrong. It could be Earth-sized moons orbit transiting planets as large as Jupiter or Saturn, which would mean Kepler would just be able to detect them, and make it possible to search for and find distant exomoons orbiting their home planets.

The best bet astronomers have of finding exomoons orbiting their home planets light-years away will probably be the James Webb Space Telescope once it comes online. This will be when the human journey to the beginning of space and time has the best chance of searching for and finding exomoons orbiting their home planets.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

2014: The Journey Ahead

Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow
Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow

 

Looking ahead to next year

Astronomy questions and answers – 2014 is expected to be a banner year for the human journey to the beginning of space and time. This year we are treated to a total eclipse of the Moon for the first time since December 2011. Find a good viewing spot on the night of April 14/15 and watch as the Full Moon falls far into the Earth’s shadow. Skywatchers and astronomers across North America can watch the entire show from the comfort of their favorite dark sky viewing spot. The partial phases of the eclipse will get started around 1:58 a.m. eastern standard time. Watch during the next hour, or so, as the Moon darkens as totality nears. Totality lasts from about 3:06 to 4:25 and the Moon should look orange-red during this period as sunlight filters through the Earth’s atmosphere. The show should finish around 5:33 a.m, with a wrap up of the partial phases.

The Moon once again falls into the Earth’s shadow on the morning of October 8, 2014. The partial phases of this celestial event get started around 5:14 a.m. eastern standard time, with totality occurring at 6:24 a.m. The Moon will spend about an hour immersed in the shadow of Earth, before reappearing like a phantom at 7:24 a.m. Skywatchers and astronomers located in western North America will have the best seat for the show while people on the East Coast will get a partial show.

No total eclipse of the sun in 2014

October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth
October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth

There will be no total eclipse of the sun during 2014, but on the afternoon of October 23 skywatchers and astronomers across North America will be treated to a partial eclipse of the closest star to Earth. Viewers in the majority of the United States of America should see the Moon block over 40 percent of the Sun’s disk from view while people in the northern states and lower Canada should see the Moon cover over 60 percent. The best view of this partial solar eclipse will be in the far northern regions of Canada, with about 81 percent coverage of the Sun’s disk.

Planet hunters should enjoy the show during 2014

Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014
Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014

Planet hunters can book a seat for the dramatic appearance of Mars in the sky during spring of 2014. The Red Planet reaches opposition April 8, and will shine at magnitude -1.3 and appear big (15”) and bright when viewed through a telescope. Mighty Jupiter reigns supreme in the sky during the month of January 2014 and will peak early during this month. Saturn will also be spectacular to view both a few months before and after opposition on May 10, 2014, while beautiful and serene Venus will dazzle skywatchers before dawn during late winter and spring.

Meteorite hunters look forward to potentially great 2014

People watching the Quadrantids during January won’t have to deal with much light from the Moon
Viewers planning to look at the Perseids during August will have to deal with the light from the Moon

Meteorite hunters can also look forward to a potentially great year of viewing one their favorite celestial bodies. Viewers planning to look at the Perseids during August will have to deal with the light from a Moon which will be almost full, but people watching the Quadrantids during January won’t have to deal with much light from this source. The other expected meteorite showers during 2014 should all be free from interfering light from the moon. All-in-all 2014 should be a memorable year for astronomers and backyard skywatchers taking part in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Watch this YouTube video on the expected lunar eclipse in 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P5sQ0iSc0w.

Watch this YouTube video on the expected partial solar eclipse on October 23 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnolE2bcGUg.

Watch this YouTube video on the 2014 Quadrantids meteorite shower https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wViXDdbRC7Y.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion