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.

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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.
 

To be a Planet, or Not to be a Planet?

Astronomers are constantly rethinking old theories and designing new ones to fit new ideas

Astronomy News – astrophysics: planets; the number and type of planets

Count the planets in the solar system and make an assessment of their various sizes and distances from Sol and the Earth as you leave on your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”. You’ll find that the line between planet and smaller planetoids, like asteroids and meteorites, has yet to be firmly set in place in the astronomy books, and in the universe.

We were all taught during our school indoctrination of nine planets circling Sol at varying distances. Mercury and Venus lie closest to Sol, with the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn residing at greater distances from Sol, while Uranus, Neptune, and disputed Pluto orbit at the greatest distance on average as compared to the other planets. Millions of school and reference books, thousands of articles, and countless periodicals also include references to Pluto being officially recognized as the ninth planet in the solar system. The publishers of these publications will be calling for a rewrite of all of this material and the history books will have to be changed if some astronomers and space scientists have their way.

Planet X came spinning into the view of Caltech astronomer Michael Brown on July 29, 2005 and changed the way astronomers and star gazers think about Pluto and the definition of a planet. An icy, Kuiper Belt resident Michael named after Xena the warrior goddess of the famed television series, at least until the International Astronomical Union speaks on this matter, Planet x orbits Sol at a distance nearly twice as great as Pluto’s. Planet X’s 560-year orbit is also inclined to the ecliptic by nearly twice as much as Pluto’s, which results in Planet X being closer to Sol than Pluto during its orbit, at times.

Planet X is still a bit of an enigma to astronomers

Astronomy takes you to the Kuiper Belt
The largest Kuiper Belt objects compared

How much bigger is Planet X than Pluto? Astronomers have measured the brightness and distance of Planet X from Sol, as compared to objects of known brightness in the solar system. Based on their data and calculations, astronomers believe Planet X to be bigger than Pluto, but just how much bigger has yet to be firmly etched in stone by the various astronomical societies and agencies tasked with determining if Planet X is indeed bigger than Pluto and by how much. This fuzzy-news has pushed Pluto into tenth place in the nine planet race in the solar system and into second place in the size ranking of the objects in the Kuiper Belt and astronomers, and star gazers have only searched a small percentage of the Kuiper Belt for objects bigger than Pluto.

Will bigger objects than Planet X be discovered in the Kuiper Belt or somewhere on the outer fringes of the solar system? The first Kuiper Belt objects were viewed by star gazers and astronomers in the early 1990s, but since this time, larger and larger objects have been located in the Kuiper Belt. In 2002, an object half the size of Pluto was discovered floating in the Kuiper Belt, which astronomers named Quaoar. Just two years later, 2004DW and Sedna were discovered, each respectively two-thirds and three-quarters the size of Pluto. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, if star gazers and astronomers were to find an even larger object floating in the Kuiper Belt than Planet X at some point in the human “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”.

The definition of a planet has changed over the years

Hubble has given us our best views of Pluto, so far. This photo shows Charon as well.
Compare the various sizes of the planets as you pass by
A distance object at best, Pluto looks quiet and serene here

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?