The Search for Life Beyond Earth Takes a Turn at Jupiter

Astronomers view water geysers on Europa

This artists conception of vapour plumes possibly containing water and organic material
This artist’s conception of vapour plumes possibly containing water and organic material

Astronomy news (2013-12-22) – Galileo might have dreamed of unseen life forms existing in a watery soup under the icy surface of Europa when he first discovered Jupiter had moons on January 07, 1610. NASA astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope probably had similar thoughts when they recently saw images of what appears to be water geysers erupting from the south pole of Europa. The image above shows an artist’s conception of what astronomers and scientists believe is plumes of water vapour reaching over 100 miles into space from the south pole of Europa.

Are there life forms or maybe just organic material of some type existing on this watery moon? NASA astronomers, space scientists and interested people around the world are hoping this news will spur NASA officials and congress to provide them with the resources they need to fund the Europa Clipper (a NASA mission designed to travel to Europa to see if the conditions required for life exist).

“If there’s a geyser 200 kilometers tall, and you could fly a spacecraft through it and sample the water coming out from Europa, that would be phenomenal. What if there are organics in it? That’s getting to the question of ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ ” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s top official for space science. “A subsurface ocean at Europa potentially provides all conditions for microbial life — at least life we know,” says study lead author Lorenz Roth, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Astronomers believe Europa's "Great Lake" is thought to be one of many in the shallow regions of the moon's icy exterior
Astronomers believe Europa’s “Great Lake” is just one of many in the shallow regions of the moon’s icy exterior

Astronomers are currently taking a look at earlier data concerning Europa provided by the Voyager probes during the 1980s and Galileo spacecraft during the 1990s to see if they missed something. Astronomers and planetary scientists suspected back in the 1980s, when they first obtained the data from the Voyager probes, that Europa could have an ocean of water beneath its icy crust deeper and more massive than all of the oceans of Earth. The Galileo spacecraft also detected the magnetic signature of a subsurface ocean beneath the surface ice of Europa and brown regions on the ice planetary scientists think could be due to ice crystals containing possible organic material, formed from water vapor plumes like the ones recently viewed, being deposited on the surface of the moon.

Astronomers search for water near the south pole of Europa by looking for the presence of both hydrogen and oxygen
Astronomers search for water near the south pole of Europa by looking for the presence of both hydrogen and oxygen

Astronomers are also comparing this data to more recent information concerning Europa, they obtained last year through the repaired Hubble Space Telescope, to see if they can find the telltale signature of hydrogen and oxygen they’re looking for in the data. Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen and this signature will help astronomers and planetary scientists determine if plumes of water vapour are in fact coming from Europa’s southern hemisphere.

“As it hit the vacuum of space, the water would flash freeze and some of it would turn into water vapour. Those water molecules would be split into atomic hydrogen and oxygen in the harsh radiation environment of the Jupiter system. But it wouldn’t just be water in the plume: Whatever else was in that ocean would be squirted into space, too, said James Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division. For a planetary scientist, it’s huge,” Green said of the news.

The image above shows spikes in hydrogen and oxygen levels in two southern hemisphere regions on Europa’s surface that last for brief periods of about seven hours and coincide with the moon reaching its farthest point from Jupiter in its orbit. Astronomers and planetary scientists think current computer models suggest the images obtained through the Hubble Space Telescope could show plumes of water vapour over a hundred miles high streaming into space from the surface of Europa. It remains puzzling to astronomers and scientists why the water vapour plumes seem to coincide with Europa reaching its apocenter, since this is the moment when tidal forces on the moon are at a low point (Astronomers estimate these tidal forces can be over 1,000 times stronger than the tidal forces our own moon experiences due to Earth). Current ideas include the thought that maybe the surface cracks on Europa’s southern pole open once Jupiter’s gravity starts to lessen, allowing water vapour to squeeze out in jets reaching over a hundred miles into space.

The colored area here is called Thera Macula, a region below the icy exterior of Europa that appears to be in chaos
The coloured area here is called Thera Macula, a region below the icy exterior of Europa that appears to be in chaos

Astronomers and planetary scientists at NASA suggest Europa’s plumes are probably like geysers they found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which also seem to appear when the moon reaches its apocenter. They’re excited about this discovery because Europa is only about half as far from Earth than Enceladus, which will allow the Hubble Space Telescope to have a closer look, this time. They hope to be able to use this fact to confirm the discovery of water on Europa and Enceladus and possibly get some quantitative data on the size, density, composition and timing of the plumes. Analysis of the composition of the plumes should also give them the data they need to model the interior of the moon, without having to land on the surface and drill holes.

Visible are plains of bright ice, cracks that run to the horizon, and dark patches that likely contain both ice and dirt
Visible on the surface of Europa are plains of bright ice, cracks that run to the horizon, and dark patches that likely contain both ice and dirt

The implications of the discovery of water on both Enceladus and Europa is stunning to contemplate for human beings, astronomers, and planetary scientists. We believe the human journey to the beginning of space and time should voyage to both of these moons in the future to determine if the ingredients for life exist on these distant bodies. We need to do this for science, mankind and future generations of humanity.

This image shows a crack in the icy exterior of Europa, through which vapour could escape into space
This image shows a crack in the icy exterior of Europa, through which vapour could escape into space

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington operates STScI for NASA.

To view the images of the evidence for plumes visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-europa-water-vapor

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

Watch this YouTube video on astronomers thoughts on the possibility of an ocean beneath the crust of Europa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrjY2BKm-TA.

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

NASA astronomers believe a young black hole was created somewhere within W49B

The Birth of a Blackhole

NASA astronomers believe a young black hole was created somewhere within W49B
NASA astronomers believe a young black hole was created somewhere within W49B

Astronomers find unusual supernova

Astronomy News – Black holes are stellar objects of the most unusual nature and temperament. They’re also something we haven’t witnessed being born during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, until now. NASA astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory to take a look at W49B, a 1,000-year-old supernova remnant, found it to be unlike any they have observed before. In fact, this supernova remnant could have left behind a black hole.

NASA astronomers use the Chandra X-ray Observatory to look at W49B
NASA astronomers use the Chandra X-ray Observatory to look at W49B

There should be some mass left over in the form of a neutron star

When the most massive suns reach the end of their lives, their central regions collapse and trigger a chain of events that ends in a supernova explosion. Astronomers studying W49B found this supernova remnant was formed when mass from the poles of a 25-solar mass star shot out at a much higher speed than mass shooting from the equator. This is the first supernova remnant with this characteristic they have found in the Milky Way.

Looking for the rabbit hole

Astronomers also couldn’t find the characteristic neutron star they expected to detect within the remnant, which leaves scientists wondering if there’s a black hole lurking somewhere within the cloud. Star scientists are currently studying data concerning W49B, trying to find the telltale evidence they need to indicate the presence of a black hole. Should they find the evidence they’re looking for this will be the first opportunity to study a supernova responsible for creating a young black hole.

Watch this YouTube video on W49B https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ssE7egUf8E.

Watch this YouTube video of the Birth of a Black Hole https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kgS0PeQN1M.

Read about the biggest black hole found so far by the Hubble Space Telescope

Are you looking for a moderately priced telescope?

Read about NASA’s mission to Mars

Hubble Finds the The Biggest Black Hole

This conceptualized drawing of black hole Cygnus x-1 shows the black hole drawing matter from a nearby blue star
This conceptualized drawing of black hole Cygnus x-1 shows the black hole drawing matter from a nearby blue star

The nature of the beast

Astronomy news (November 26, 2013) – Astronomers believe the size of a black hole should be related to the size of the galaxy in which it resides, so the smaller a galaxy, the less massive its black hole should be. The lenticular galaxy NGC 1277 appears to have a black hole near its center with a mass out of proportion to its size, which indicates this theory will have to be looked at again.

Astronomers measured the velocities of stars in orbit around NGC 1277
Astronomers measured the velocities of stars in orbit around NGC 1277

Watch this animation on the possible orbit of the massive black hole in NGC 1277, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFkBKmAj0G4.

NASA astronomers conducting a study of black holes at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy recently used the Hubble Space Telescope and Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Fort Davis, Texas to measure the velocities of stars in orbit around NGC 1277. The higher the velocity of these stars, the greater the mass of the central object. NGC 1277 is located at a distance of around 250 million light-years, toward the constellation Perseus.

This Hubble image shows lenticular galaxy NGC1277
This Hubble image shows lenticular galaxy NGC1277

Astronomers measured the mass of the object at the center of NGC 1277 to be around 17 billion times the mass of the Sun, which is over four thousand times more massive than the 4 million solar mass black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Until recently, the two most massive central bodies found in any galaxy measured by astronomers reside in galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889. This would make the central object in NGC 1277 the most massive found to date during the current study of black holes by NASA astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

Astronomers measured the central mass in NGC 1277 to be over 4 times as massive as the one in our own Milky Way
Astronomers measured the central mass in NGC 1277 to be over 4 times as massive as the one in our own Milky Way

NASA astronomers estimate the central mass in NGC 1277 has about 14 percent of the total mass of this smaller galaxy, which when compared to the expected 0.1 percent of the mass of the stellar bulge of the galaxy, could mean astronomers will have to rethink current astrophysical theories on galaxy-black hole systems.

What now?

NASA astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy are currently going over the data obtained during their study of NGC 1277, to see if they can come up with a new theory on how the central mass could be so massive as compared to other galaxy-black hole systems studied.

Current ideas include the possibility the black hole at the center of NGC 1277 could have been ejected from nearby galaxy NGC 1275 and then subsequently captured. We’ll keep you updated as more information and data comes in on theories concerning galaxy-black hole systems during the continuing human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The leader of the team surveying black holes at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy talks about the black hole in NGC 1277, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12FJVvqn1YE.

Can NASA astronomers detect extraterrestrial moons orbiting distant suns? Read this article to find out https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/searching-for-extraterrestrial-moons/.

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

Read about the latest images of the solar system sent back by the Cassini spacecraft https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cassini-spacecraft-show-views-of-the-solar-system-in-natural-color/.

How Stars are Born

Stars begin life as clouds of cold gas and dust that transform into blazing hot fireballs

Deep within star birst galaxy Messier 82 NASA astronomers believe young stars are being formed at a rate ten times beyond anything they have seen in our own Milky Way Galaxy
Deep within star burst galaxy Messier 82 NASA astronomers believe young stars are being formed at a rate ten times beyond anything they have seen in our own Milky Way Galaxy

Star dust, star dust, burning bright

Amid the glare of ancient light

Eternity stares back from the past

Reborn we’ll be one day at last

NASA astronomy: stellar astrophysics

Astronomy questions and answers – September 19, 2013 – Walk out to a dark viewing spot anywhere on the Earth on a clear night and look up at the night sky. Your eyes will take in ancient light from stars in the Milky Way that covers the whole sky above you. Deep within the stellar nurseries of the Milky Way new stars are being formed using processes NASA astronomers are currently studying in an attempt to understand how stars are born. Star forming processes responsible for the formation of the stars you see in the night sky. Processes they can see at work in the stellar nurseries of the Milky Way, like the Orion Nebula (M42) and Cygnus X.

NASA astronomers used both the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope to create this image of the chaos of star birth at the center of this nebula
NASA astronomers used both the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope to create this image of the chaos of star birth at the center of this nebula

Journey with me to stellar nurseries deep within the dark regions of the Milky Way, the dark patches you can see in the night sky above. The birthing grounds of young stars in the Milky Way, these dark patches in the night sky are in fact clouds of interstellar gas that appear dark because they block the starlight from distant stars. Astronomers believe deep within the birthing grounds of the Milky Way, new stars are being formed at the rate of about 2 or 3 new stars each year.

This image taken by the Herschel Telescope of a massive star forming region within this constellation
This image taken by the Herschel Telescope of a massive star forming region within this constellation

Star formation theories

Present theories on star formation put forth by NASA astronomers show star formation is a complicated process affected by nearby massive stars, other star forming regions, and even the spiral structure of the Milky Way. These theories only become more complicated when astronomers look at the formation of groups of stars.

In order to try to simulate star formation, some astronomers use sophisticated computer models, while others incorporate observations in different wavelengths and use them to create three-dimensional images of the sky. Working together these two different groups of astronomers are trying to determine exactly how stars are born.

NASA astronomers working on present theories of star formation think the Milky Way is filled with clouds of gas and dust they call the interstellar medium. They also think slight over densities within these clouds of gas and dust could trigger star formation, over densities that could be produced by the turbulent forces present in these clouds of gas and dust. Astronomers studying slight over densities within star forming clouds of gas and dust believe these slightly denser regions could eventually become main sequence stars within a few million years.

Some NASA astronomers believe the intense radiation from groups of hot, bright stars located close to one another could create the necessary turbulence in the interstellar medium to trigger star formation. Other astronomers believe nearby galaxies and even large clouds of gas and dust could cause turbulence in the interstellar medium which could also be part of the star forming process. Many astronomers also believe the resulting shock wave after a supernova could create spiral density waves capable of compressing material and initiating star formation.

Gravity at Work

Present theories on the formation of main sequence stars being proposed by NASA astronomers involves the force of gravity. Gravity pulls the gas and dust within the interstellar medium into denser regions, which results in a cloud increasing in size and contracting. The rotation velocity of the cloud increases as it contracts due to conservation of angular momentum, in the same way a figure skater’s spin speed increases as they bring their arms closer to their body.

At the same time the temperature in the core of the cloud increases as it shrinks due to the force of gravity. The charged particles within the cloud at this time can only move in specific directions in the magnetic field in the region. This results in the rotational velocity of the cloud slowing, but not stopping, otherwise astronomers think stars would never form in these dense clouds of gas and dust.

In the case of main sequence stars astronomers think regions of dense clouds of gas and dust would begin to contract to an area the size of our solar system tens of thousands of years after beginning to slow. At this time astronomers think the temperature at the centre of dense clouds of dust and gas would be in the region of 10,000 kelvins. They call the central region of such a cloud at this time a protostar.

Protostars

NASA astronomers think there could be a weird protostar lurking within the R Corona Australis star-forming region, about 500 light years from Earth
NASA astronomers think there could be a weird protostar lurking within the R Corona Australis star-forming region, about 500 light years from Earth

Protostars at this time in their life cycle are often more luminous than the main sequence star they eventually become, because they have a greater surface from which to radiate energy. This brightness allows NASA astronomers to view protostars as they continue to gravitationally attract more gas and dust, shrink and heat up internally. The luminosity of a protostar begins to decrease as it’s outer surface shrinks under the force of gravity. Astronomers believe the cloud and protostar eventually spin faster and flatten out into a disk.

Astronomers using data collected by several different astronomical instruments recently presented far-infrared images of three Class 0 protostar systems in Perseus: L1448C, the triple system L1448N, and IRAS 03282+3035. Seven hundred and fifty light-years from Earth, all three of these protostars were seen powering bipolar molecular outflows, which astronomers think are in fact epic jets of water being thrust into interstellar space. Calculations by NASA astronomers indicates these jets of water are shooting out into interstellar space at speeds of around 120,000 miles per hour and at a rate equal to about 100 million times the volume of water flowing in the Amazon every second of the day.

Astronomers think these jets of water and material help to channel radiation and mass away from the protostar, which helps to clear the central region of debris and reveal the protostar. They also think it could be possible the galaxy was seeded with water through this process, which might change thoughts on the possibility of life in the galaxy. The remaining material is then accreted by the protostar, or forms part of a residual disk, which NASA astronomers think could form planets.

The core of a protostar will reach 1 million kelvin at sometime during the contraction and heating up of the cloud, at which time it will begin fusing deuterium to helium. Deuterium is the easiest nucleus to fuse, so it makes sense this would be the starting point. Once the core has contracted enough to reach a density where the core reaches 10 million degrees kelvins, hydrogen nuclei will begin fusing into helium. At this point star astronomers also think a protostar will reach an equilibrium point where the radiative energy from fusion balances gravitational pull of its mass. This new star is now a main sequence star, which has formed over millions of years.

Simulating the Birth of a Star

The process of star birth takes millions of years to complete, so how do astronomers determine the way outside factors affect the process by which new stars are born? Modern astronomers are presently using supercomputers to help simulate star formation models in the hope they can determine why the mass distribution of newly formed stars appears to be universal. They want to understand why this average mass of newly formed stars exists. They also want to know the process by which it occurs.

Present star formation models take into account the effects of thermodynamics, magnetic fields, radiative processes, and of course gravity. Star astronomers are also trying to determine other factors they need to include in models, like the way new stars affect their own star forming environments. This includes factors like young stars heating up the gas and dust surrounding them and moving gas and dust around through bipolar molecular flows.

The key question NASA astronomers want to answer at this point is whether or not present star formation models can reproduce the properties of exact parts of the star forming process. Astronomers will also want to determine the most massive star that can be formed depending on the size of a cloud of dust and gas. They’ll try to find answers by looking at the chemical composition, magnetic fields, ionization, age and other factors of large clouds of star forming dust and gas in the night sky.

Peering into Stellar Nurseries

How do NASA astronomers look into the heart of stellar nurseries in the Milky Way? Astronomers use instruments designed to detect specific wavelengths of light radiation emitted during the formation of new stars. During the beginning stages of star birth a new star emits radio waves as it contracts astronomers look for as an indicator of new star formation. At this time the core of a contracting cloud of gas and dust is too cold to emit visible and infrared radiation.

Once the cloud forms a protostar it will begin to emit light radiation, which will be blocked by the material surrounding the new star. The light radiation emitted by a protostar is absorbed by the surrounding material, which radiates infrared radiation toward Earth NASA astronomers detect using space and ground-based telescopes specifically designed for the job.

Astronomers have used the Spitzer Space Telescope to view hundreds of protostars forming in large clouds of gas and dust in the stellar nurseries of the Milky Way. In the future they’ll use instruments and telescopes designed to detect millimetre waves in the microwave range in order to get a better view of the beginning stages of star birth. To date astronomers report detecting a compact source embedded in cold gas within stellar nurseries only detectable at these wavelengths.

NASA astronomers trying to piece together the puzzle of star formation in the Milky Way are also using reconstructed images of star-forming regions from past observations. Using 2-D images, positional data, and velocities for an entire cloud, they have been able to create 3-D models researchers can then analyze. 3-D models that show unforeseen structures hidden within stellar nurseries and even regions of star formation they weren’t expecting to see.

Click this link to watch a You Tube videos on how a star is born

A Star is Born

The Birth of Stars

How massive stars are born

Does the cosmos inspire your imagination. Check out this astronomy blog I have created and let me know what you think? http://astronomytonight.yolasite.com/.

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