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.

The Ghostly Glow of Streaking Orionids’

Watch after each streaking meteorite for a ghostly glow rising from its path
Watch after each streaking meteorite for a ghostly glow rising from its path

Watch for a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of streaking meteorites once they pass

October, 2014 should be a great month for viewing this phenomenon
October 2014 should be a great month for viewing this phenomenon

Space news – October (2014) –

This Halloween modern sky watchers in both hemispheres have the opportunity to witness a ghostly celestial phenomenon viewed by ancient astronomers for generations, the ghostly afterglow of streaking meteorites of the Orionid meteorite shower. For a few nights centered on October 21, 2014, you can watch for a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of each streaking meteorite, which is pieces of Halley’s Comet burning up as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere.

E.C. Herrick is thought to have made the first modern sighting of the Orionid meteorite shower between 1839-40, but his measurements and data were imprecise. The first pinpoint study of this meteorite shower is credited to noted astronomer A.S. Herschel on October 18, 1864, when he recorded 14 meteorites appearing to originate from the constellation of Orion, but it would take a further year of study to confirm his findings.

During the 19th century, British astronomer W.F. Denning and American astronomer C.P. Olivier had a documented debate about whether the point from where the meteorites appear to originate moved from night to night. It would take until the 20th century for modern space scientists to determine using state-of-the-art photography and precise plotting of Orionids that this is in fact not true.

W.F. Denning published a report in one 1887 issue of The Observatory, in which he stated he saw 47 of 57 streaking Orionids leave a ghostly glow in their path after passing, during a viewing session lasting five nights. Denning estimated the magnitudes of streaking Orionids’ between 2nd and 4th magnitude, due to several that brightened considerably after burning up. Watch carefully on the nights centered around October 21, 2014, and you could witness this ghostly celestial phenomenon for yourself.

The best part of viewing Orionids is you don’t need technology because human eyes are perfect for the job. The Moon will be almost new this October, so just find the best spot to view the night sky you know, and lie down on a soft spot on the ground. The best time to arrive for the show is just before midnight or just prior to dusk, but any time between 12 and dawn should be fine. Viewers in the Southern Hemisphere should look towards the northeastern sky, while people in the Northern Hemisphere should look towards the southeast.

Get out there and view the cosmos

Serious sky watchers desiring to get a better idea of the exact times and dates during October 2014 to view Orionids where they live, can get a better estimate here. Just remember to check weather forecasts for the October nights you plan on viewing the night sky for Orionids and dress accordingly. If everything goes as predicted this Orionid meteorite shower could provide as many as 20 opportunities an hour to view a ghostly glow rising from the corpse of a streaking meteorite.

Read about something unusual discovered by a mission to Earth

Read about the possibility of intelligent lifeforms existing in the universe

Learn more about the planet Mercury

Deep Impact Shows Comet Scientists Something New

NASA's spacecraft Deep Impact journeys to comet Hartley

Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2 and will arrive at its nearest location on November 4

Astronomy News – NASA’s EPOXI mission is currently on a journey to comet Hartley 2 and Deep Impact as this mission is more commonly referred too will arrive at its nearest spot to this icy world on November 4. NASA was using imagers on Deep Impact during the days between September 9-17 to get a view of comet Hartley 2 before the spacecraft arrives on location and the things they saw has NASA’s comet scientists shaking their heads. Apparently, comet scientists observed the characteristic increase in the release of cyanide associated with comets as they travel through the inner solar system, by a factor of five or six times during this observation period in September. What they didn’t see was the expected increase in dust emissions due to this fivefold increase in the release of cyanide, which is something new according to comet scientists, who are now busy trying to figure out what they actually saw.

Comets could hold the keys to understanding the beginnings of life on Earth

Why would the difference be so important to comet scientists as Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2? Scientists hate unknown parameters being suddenly thrown into their well-calculated plans and this discovery certainly could affect the mission in ways we’ll possibly never hear about. Where did the dust go? The dust obviously didn’t go anywhere and is still close to comet Hartley 2, which could affect the quality of the view observers will get of Hartley 2. This will especially be true for observers on Earth, who now that they know about this fact can certainly take this fact into consideration. Otherwise, this fact is going to skew your observations and your interpretation of what you’re actually seeing when trying to view comet Hartley 2 from Earth. Certainly, this isn’t likely to seriously affect the mission as a whole, and Deep Impact will surely get some spectacular pictures of comet Hartley 2 as it approaches and recedes from the sun.

We’ll never know if we don’t go out there and study them

The interesting thing about comets releasing significant amounts of cyanide is that cyanide is a carbon-based molecule that certainly could have been brought to Earth on comets like Hartley 2 billions of years in the past. Comets haven’t changed since this time and have been hitting the Earth and releasing cyanide since this time, which brings up interesting questions that NASA is hoping the EPOXI mission and follow up missions to other comets is going to answer in the years ahead.

If you love astronomy, check out my latest astronomy site at http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/, and then drop me a line or two.

Learn how NASA astronomers are planning on detecting extraterrestrial moons orbiting distant suns https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/searching-for-extraterrestrial-moons/.

Read about the latest news on life beyond Earth https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/the-search-for-life-beyond-earth-takes-a-turn-at-jupiter/.

Take a look at the latest natural color images taken by the Cassini spacecraft https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cassini-spacecraft-show-views-of-the-solar-system-in-natural-color/.

October’s Early Morning Sky Puts on a Show

Comet Halley dust rains down upon Earth in the early mornings of October

Astronomy takes you on a journey to the beginning of the universe
Periodic trips through the inner solar system have left a little dust behind

Astronomy allows you to view comets, asteroids, planets and a host of amazing things

Astronomy News – Modern stargazers can take in a show that has been entertaining stargazers for thousands of years. The Orionid meteor shower peaks on the night of October 21, the Moon will also be in full phase on this night, and this light will drown out the light of all but the most energetic of meteorites. The Orionid meteor shower still occurs between October 2 to November 7, so patient stargazers will stay up until the early morning hours in the middle of October, will still have a good chance of seeing a few meteorites.
 

Astronomers study comets to discover things about the early solar system

Orionid meteorites are small dust grains thrown off by Comet 1P/Halley, during its many trips through the inner solar system. These dust grains are traveling at a speed generally in the area of 70 km/second, at this speed the surrounding air will glow with heat as a dust grain travels through Earth’s atmosphere, and viewers will a brief flash as the meteorite vaporizes in the atmosphere. Astronomers estimate that about 25 million particles of comet dust enter the Earth’s atmosphere worldwide on a daily basis, burning up as meteorites and adding hundreds of tons of comet dust. During a meteorite shower, Earth is being bombarded by numerous grains of comet dust as the Earth travels through the orbit of a comet. Meteorite showers occur annually due to the fact that the Earth travels through the orbit of a comet at the same time each year. Typically viewers can see a few meteorites each hour on a clear night, but viewers can always be treated to an extra special show.

Comets can put on quite a show

 

During a good performance, viewers could see upwards of twenty meteorites per hour radiating from one direction in the sky generally, just as heavy rain or snow appears to radiate from one direction in front of a moving vehicle. The Earth is moving relative to the comet dust, as a result, more comet dust will hit the Earth’s atmosphere in the part facing in the direction of the Earth’s movement, and viewers will get a better show in the pre-dawn sky, when part of their sky is facing in the direction of Earth’s rotation.

The Orionids are comet dust left behind by Comet 1P/Halley
Stargazers can also view minor meteorite showers during October, the Draconid meteorite shower peaks October 8, just one day after a New Moon. Viewers may have a better chance of viewing a meteorite on this night, due to the New Moon. Draconid meteorites only travel at 12 miles per second, rather slow for meteorites in fact, so you should be able to tell Draconid meteorites from typical sporadic meteorites. The Draconid meteorite shower is a relatively dull show, normally, but occasionally stargazers can get lucky and see a show reaching 10 to 30 meteorites per hour. Astronomers aren’t predicting the Draconid meteorites will be putting on a show this year, but they’ve been wrong before.
 

Begin Planning Your Journey to Comet 103P/Hartley

Board your time machine to the stars near the end of October

Astronomy is a passion, a desire to find the truth
Comet 103P/Hartley leaves a trail as it travels through the inner solar system

Comet 103P/Hartley is an astronomy treat during September

Astronomy News – September is the time for you and the kids to begin planning a journey to a celestial body that will be at its closest point to Earth and Sol, sometime near the end of October. Comet 103P/Hartley has been in the news, of late, as NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft will fly by Comet 103P/Hartley, in the first part of November. Observers boarding their time-machine-to-the-stars at this time should get a nice view of Comet 103P/Hartley and it might even be possible to view this celestial object with the naked eye, depending on the environmental conditions at the time of viewing. A good pair of viewing binoculars should give viewers a great view of Comet 103P/Hartley, but your time machine to the stars is the best way to journey to Comet 103P/Hartley, to have a look at a celestial object that only becomes viewable during specific periods of time. Comet 103P/Hartley is returning to Earth for the fourth time since Australian astronomer Malcolm Hartley discovered her in 1986. A short-period comet that loops through the inner solar system, Comet 103P/Hartley’s space journey takes about 6.5 years to complete one orbit. You should arrive at Comet 103P/Hartley just before the arrival of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft.

Deep Impact Spacecraft making astronomy history

During the visit by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, space scientists will use the information and data provided by onboard cameras and instruments to help them pierce the shroud surrounding the comet and hopefully determine the source of dusty jets viewed on Comet 103P/Hartley. Dusty jets that have been dancing in the dreams of space scientists, since they first viewed them through Earth-bound telescopes, which show the effect as a pinprick of light at the center of the comet’s glow. Astronomers and space scientists refer to this effect as a comet’s “false nucleus”, which hides the comets real surface from view.

Comet 103P/Hartley is becoming more visible to stargazers as it approaches the Earth and Sun. This celestial object could reach magnitude 10 near the end of September, which will make viewing easier for star gazers, and allow space scientists to study this comet closer. The best time for stargazers to view Comet 103P/Hartley will be under a dark sky starting around September 24. Comet 103P/Hartley will be in the arms of Cassiopeia at this time, south of Cassiopeia’s w-shaped asterism, and will be viewable throughout the night.

Take a journey to Cassiopeia tonight

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

Blaze Your Name in the Night Sky

Celestial bodies in the night sky are often named after their discoverers

Astronomy News – Write your name in the annals of the human journey to the beginning of space and time –

Take a look at the night sky above you and name a few of the celestial objects you know in your head. Would you like to leave your name written in the annals of astronomy and human history? One of the greatest honors for an astronomer is to have their name adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Look up into the night sky and many of the stellar bodies you see will have been named in honor of their discoverer, a famous figure in history or science, or will have been given a designation of some type to distinguish them from other stellar bodies. Humans will forever speak of the distant ice balls at the fringe of the solar system we refer to as the Kuiper Belt and Haley’s Comet.

Halley's Comet will be back one day
Halley’s Comet will be seen again in a few years

Astronomy lovers can write their name in the history books

True, the chances of a celestial body in the night sky being named for a particular amateur astronomer is remote, at best, considering the competition and the fact that the decision is made by other powers in the universe. The possibility of this certainly increases for a professional astronomer making a significant discovery, but the final decision is still in the hands of other powers. There are a lot more amateur astronomers looking at the night sky on a nightly basis than professional astronomers, and this fact alone is going to make it likely that amateur astronomers will make significant contributions to the history of astronomy.

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if a professional astronomer or two have spent a few moments in contemplation of a celestial body being named in their honour or moment in time when they could be making astronomy history. Speculating astronomers might have even gone to the trouble of choosing a name for their discovery. The actual naming of newly discovered celestial bodies is actually conducted by other powers in the world of astronomy.

This doesn’t mean that amateur astronomers aren’t honoured by having their names adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Tom Bopp, an amateur stargazer will forever live on in the minds of humans as the discoverer of the biggest comet of the twentieth century, Hale-Bopp, which was also independently discovered by astronomer Alan Hale.

Hale-Bopp is often very bright in the night sky when it appears
Hale-Bopp’s two tails are in view here

Astronomy is a journey all human beings can take part in

The only way you can hope to leave your name written in the history of astronomy is to spend time watching the night sky above you. Every time you board your time machine to the stars and soar upward and out into the cosmos, you could find something that no human has seen before.

Join me every night as we’ll “Journey to the Beginning of Time and Space” and go on a voyage of discovery that will take us to unknown parts of the universe.

We board our astronomy telescope nightly

Read about the present news on the search for life beyond Earth https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/the-search-for-life-beyond-earth-takes-a-turn-at-jupiter/.

View the latest in high definition images of the solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cassini-spacecraft-show-views-of-the-solar-system-in-natural-color/.

We tell you about the astronomy highlights upcoming for 2014 https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/2014-the-journey-ahead/.