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

Meteorite Shower Could Lighten Southern Canadian Skies

Space news (the solar system: comets and asteroids; Comet 209P/LINEAR)

Debris ejected from Comet 209P/LINEAR during the 18th – 20th centuries could lighten the skies in southern Canada tonight. Expectations are for a possible Camelopardalis meteorite shower between 2 – 4 a.m EST tonight. Astronomers aren’t really sure if the show will be spectacular or a small production. In fact, they don’t have any data indicating how active the comet was during the past two centuries when the comet’s debris tails are believed to have been created.

Comet 209P/LINEAR orbits the Sun roughly every five years
Comet 209P/LINEAR orbits the Sun roughly every five years

 

The show could be one to forget or unforgettable, it all depends on a lot of factors. As the Earth passes through the debris field of Comet 209/P LINEAR tonight, small pieces of dust and particles could be released into the atmosphere that will create bright streaks of light we call meteorites. Estimates run as high as 200 meteorites per hour are being thrown around, which is 100 meteorites higher than the Perseids and Leonids in November. This could probably best be termed a meteorite storm, rather than a shower, and the true number could be even higher.

The Camelopardalis meteorite shower could prove to be the show of the century
The Camelopardalis meteorite shower could prove to be the show of the century

 

The best time to view the Camelopardalis meteorite shower is 12 midnight May 24, 2014, but I suggest you get there early. The shower will occur through a very narrow window of opportunity for viewers in southern Canada if we get a show to see. You won’t need to use binoculars or a telescope, just bring a blanket to lay on or chair to sit in, and something to warm the stomach.

 

Pick the darkest spot you can conveniently reach and you should be able to see even faint meteorites, which are probably unassociated with the Camelopardalis meteorite shower. White light will destroy your natural night vision, which will take 15 to 30 minutes to return. This includes light sources like cell phones and flashlights unless the light is red, so keep this in mind.

 

Look toward the Big Dipper and find the last star from the spoon. Just follow this star toward the first bright star you see. This star is Polaris and the constellation Camelopardalis, the area of the sky where the Camelopardalis meteorite shower originates, is near this star.

 

The most important thing to remember is to look upward during the window of opportunity. Many viewers forget to follow this simple tip and miss part, or all, of the meteorite show.

Read about the first earth-sized planet found orbiting within the habitable zone of its host star.

Sign up for the first manned mission to Mars.

Read about the possibility of intelligent lifeforms in the galaxy.

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

Chelyabinsk Meteorite Lightens Sky

Chelyabinsk Meteorite lightens early mornings sky
Chelyabinsk Meteorite lightens early mornings sky

Meteorite explodes above Ural Mountains

Astronomy News – It was a typically slow Friday morning for workers in the Russian industrial city of Chelyabinsk just east of the Ural Mountains. Just after 9 a.m. Russian time, the Sun was hanging just above the horizon to the southeast. The air was cold and still and the sky clear; accept for a few high clouds, and contrails from passing jets.

The quiet morning would explode with the arrival of an unexpected guest. A significant lightening of the sky toward the rising sun was the first hint something was different. Seconds later light exploded in a blinding flash that moved across the sky from right to left. The ground seemed to rumble and rotate in time with naked shadows of buildings, cars, and lampposts.

The blinding glare subsided as the smoke trail broke into two
The blinding glare subsided as the smoke trail broke into two

The blinding glare from the smoking object started to subside as its smoke trail broke into two parallel smokers moving across the southern sky. The sky flared twice more in blinding flashes of intense light, before the objects disappeared over the southwestern horizon.

Shockwave impacts the ground

The Chelyabinsk meteorite didn't result in any loss of life, but hundreds of people were injured due to glass and other debris
The Chelyabinsk meteorite didn’t result in any loss of life, but hundreds of people were injured due to glass and other debris

Three to four minutes after the blinding flash came streaking across the sky, a colossal tremor hit the region shattering windows and causing car alarms to blare and humans to cry and exclaim. Incredibly, no loss of human life would result from the event, although over 1,000 people were treated for related injuries.

Watch this YouTube video on the resultant shockwave after the passage of the Chelyabinsk meteorite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq02C_3FvFo.

Superbolide by the numbers

NASA astronomers have coined the term superbolide for the brilliant fireball that resulted from the meteorite through the atmosphere
NASA astronomers have coined the term superbolide for the brilliant fireball that resulted from the meteorite through the atmosphere

NASA has coined the term “superbolide”, for the dazzling bolide that resulted from the passage of a meteorite through the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013. The meteorite travelled through the atmosphere at a shallow 7 degree descending angle from east to west that passed about 12 miles (20 km) south of Chelyabinsk, Russia. The superbolide occurred when the meteorite was at an altitude of around 76,400 feet (23,300 meters) and moving at a speed of 11.6 miles per second (18.6 km/s).

Force of friction between the atmosphere and meteorite slowed and heated it. The fast movement of the meteorite through the atmosphere also compressed the air in front of it, creating the colossal tremor that shattered windows on the ground. The compression also ionized atoms and molecules, which emitted the blinding flash seen in the Russian sky, when they recombined with the electrons that were stripped from them. This energy also broke up the meteorite and ultimately caused it to explode when the increasing internal pressure exceeded the object’s internal strength.

Watch this YouTube video of the passage of the Chelyabinsk meteorite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMnZr5DDRlA.

Watch this NASA video on the aftermath of the Chelyabinsk meteorite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9KwK0izt5c.

The Earth being round was old news to ancient astronomers

Read about China rejoining the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Are you looking for a great apochromatic refractor to keep you company on long nights during the winter?

Collisions in Space

Space is a dangerous place
Something might have hit THEMIS-B

You could fly around forever and never hit a thing

Astronomy News – Considering the volume of bodies circling in the solar system one might think that collisions between bodies in the solar system is commonplace, but in fact collisions between bodies circling in the solar system are relatively uncommon. This is what makes a recent report by NASA of a possible collision of one of their spacecraft with a meteorite a highlight of sorts, or at least something relatively unusual. NASA reported a possible collision between a meteorite and part of the sensitive instrumentation on board their THEMIS-B spacecraft, which is one of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft, at 0605 UT on October 14. Apparently, the flight dynamics data collected on THEMIS-B indicated that it might have been struck by a meteorite, which likely means the meteorite made a slight change in the flight path of the spacecraft. According to NASA, everything is still a go with THEMIS-B’s insertion into Lissajous orbit, and up coming simultaneous measurements of particles and the electric and magnetic fields in two different locations, using both ARTEMIS spacecraft. This will provide astronomers with the first three-dimensional look at how energetic particle acceleration happens near the Moon’s orbit, in the solar wind, and in the distant magnetosphere.

Check out my latest astronomy site at http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/.

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.