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.

Ancient Dust Falling onto Mar’s Atmosphere from Oort Cloud Comet Contains Metal Ions

Artist’s concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA’s orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Artist’s concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA’s orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Comet Siding Spring sprinkles ancient metallic dust onto Mars atmosphere 

Space news (November 23, 2014) Comet Siding Spring seeds Mars with ancient metallic dust –

NASA and European space scientists recently observed a large comet flying past a planet for the first time. On October 19, 2014, three spacecraft, two American and one European, observed and gathered data as Comet Siding Spring flew past Mars. You can watch a YouTube video here of the artists rendering of the flyby.

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring arrived from a very distant region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud. At around 2:27 p.m. EDT, this traveler from the outer regions of the solar system was only about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) from the Red Planet. It was at this time the comet was observed by three spacecraft as it deposited ancient debris on its atmosphere. This is the first direct measurement of dust from an Oort Cloud comet and an opportunity scientists and astronomers have been waiting for.

Five images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring taken within a 35-minute period as it passed near Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, provide information about the size of the comet's nucleus. These observations by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that the nucleus is smaller than 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) across.
Five images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring taken within a 35-minute period as it passed near Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, provide information about the size of the comet’s nucleus. These observations by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggest that the nucleus is smaller than 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) across.

Oort Cloud comets are thought to be leftover material from the birth of the solar system. Space scientists have an opportunity to test the present theory on the evolution of the solar system and possibly life on Earth. Theories persist that the ingredients of life could have been deposited on Mars in the distant past and then this life traveled to Earth and took root. The data collected during this encounter between Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars could help determine if this is possible.

Space scientists gathered information on the comet’s nucleus and the effects of the comet’s passage on the Martian atmosphere. The data was collected using NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, in conjunction with radar instruments on the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express.

These three plots are spectrograms showing the intensity of radar echo in the Martian far-northern ionosphere at three different times on Oct. 19 and 20, 2014. The middle plot reveals effects attributed to dust from a comet that passed near Mars that day. The data are from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), an instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.
These three plots are spectrograms showing the intensity of radar echo in the Martian
far-northern ionosphere at three different times on Oct. 19 and 20, 2014. The middle plot reveals effects attributed to dust from a comet that passed near Mars that day. The data are from the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), an instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.

Data collected indicates comet debris containing sodium, iron and magnesium metal ions, along with at least five others, fell on the atmosphere of Mars as the comet flew past the planet. Readings indicate this added a temporary layer of strong metal ions to the ionosphere of Mars. Planetary and atmospheric space scientists are now studying whether this could have resulted in the development of a similar layer in the atmosphere of a primordial Earth. They also want to take a look at the possibility the sprinkling of comet dust in the atmosphere of Mars could have long-term consequences for the planet.

“This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Observing the effects on Mars of the comet’s dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm’s way.”

NASA and European space scientists will now continue to monitor Mar’s atmosphere after the passage of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring for continued and additional effects and developments. They also hope to get further opportunities in the future to observe Oort Cloud comets flying past planets within the solar system.

For more information on MAVEN, MRO or any of NASA’s missions to Mars go here.

You can learn more about the Mars Express spacecraft here.

Read about astronauts monitoring their body weight while in orbit

Read about icy geysers detected on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

Read about how you can take part in NASA’s asteroid-hunting contest

 

Space Exploration: To Boldly Go Where We Have Never Gone Before

The human journey to the beginning of space and time begins

A comparison of the sizes of the stars in the Alpha Centauri system and our own Sun
A comparison of the sizes of the stars in the Alpha Centauri system and our own Sun

Astronomers watch the greatest show on Earth every night

Astronomy News ( 2013-10-15) – Walk out to the darkest star viewing spot you can find at dusk and take a seat, “The greatest show on Earth is about to begin!” Lay back on your cold seat and you become lost-in-space as you stare upwards at one of the first sights to greet human consciousness onto the stage upon awakening during the distant past. Close your eyes and let your mind boldly fly off into the night sky in search of new lands of promise warmed by alien suns. Stand upon undreamed landscapes straight out of the Twilight Zone and record ideas and thoughts that could alter the course of human history and open up avenues to undreamed of events. Human beings have looked skyward in wonder and awe for thousands of years and dreamed of voyaging to the lights in the night sky. Today humans dream of traveling to the nearest star in our sky and standing on alien landscapes which will alter human beings as a race and create history unlike anything dreamed of by science fiction writers.

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For thousands of years, mankind has stood on the tip of the cosmic iceberg and dreamed of reaching for the stars. During the next century, mankind will venture out into the solar system and the unknown. The exoplanet in this Hubble image is Epsilon Eridani (HD 22049 one of the closest to Earth at 10.5 light-years. A voyage to this Jupiter-size planet’s going to take considerably longer than traveling to the Alpha Centauri system. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

 

Will human adventures travel across outer space to distant suns in search of answers to questions pondered throughout human history? Will human beings one day journey through the universe seeking the origins of human life or a suitable planet to call home? As Mr. Roddenberry points out, space will be one of the last frontiers of humankind. At the current rate of technological growth, it could be only a matter of time before human beings have the ability to travel across interstellar space looking for non-terrestrial life and the resources humans need to survive and prosper.

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A true visionary, Star Trek’s one of the most popular television shows in history. His dream for the future of mankind is truly inspiring. Credit: StarTreak.com

 

Space Exploration will be far more challenging than life on earth

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Frosty white water ice clouds and swirling orange dust clouds above a rusty landscape show Mars has a dynamic, often chaotic environment in this Hubble image. Even a 43 million miles, it can see details as small as ten miles across. A large amount of seasonal dust storm activity can be seen above the northern polar region (top), with smaller storms nearby, and a large one spilling out of the giant Hellas impact crater in the Southern Hemisphere (bottom right). Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

 

Traveling across the vast stretches of outer space between Earth and a nearby star system will be far more challenging and dangerous to undertake then climbing the tallest mountain or sailing an unexplored ocean. The distances in both space and time involved in such voyages will require human beings to surmount technological and social obstacles unlike any experienced during life on planet Earth. During the past century, humans have designed and engineered mechanized devices capable of launching into outer space and crossed the short stellar distance between Earth and its moon. We have started to become acquainted with life-in-space and the challenges involved in space travel. During the next fifty years, mankind will travel into the solar system and start to develop the technology required to successfully travel to nearby star systems to begin life again under an alien sun.

 

A Global Mars Map
The image seen here was made by combining four hemisphere views of the Hubble Space Telescope during the Red Planet’s closest approach to Earth into a full-color global map – called a Mollweide projection -. The resolution of Hubble is 12 miles per pixel near the equator. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

 

Does mankind presently have the technology, will power, and resources to journey to a nearby star system? The answer at this point in human history is a realistic and resounding, “No!” Using a reaction engine similar to the liquid oxygen/hydrogen main engine of the space shuttle to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, would require over 100 years and fuel tanks too big to carry. Nuclear powered propulsion using fusion or fission requires technology and radiation shielding presently unavailable in order for human beings to survive the journey. Doctors also have questions concerning the possible medical problems associated with long-term exposure to acceleration and deep space radiation, and the drag forces involved using this form of propulsion still have to be addressed. The often dreamed of, but at this point unrealized, warp drive will probably never make it off the pages of science fiction books and into the cold of deep space. Instead, it will be replaced by an undreamed of propulsion system allowing us to travel closer to the speed of light, or circumvent the universe’s speed limit using a new idea, yet to be conceived.

Fly over the craters and canyons of Mars watching this Hubble video.

The distances between the stars in the Centauri system are extreme, but it's possible for planets to exist
The distances between the stars in the Centauri system are extreme, but it’s possible for planets to exist

Proxima Centauri or bust

If mankind made traveling to the nearest star system the top priority during the years ahead what would be needed to make the journey a success? The answer to this question continues to change as scientists and engineers study the goal more. The closest alien sun to Earth is the Red Dwarf Proxima Centauri, which on average is the short stellar distance of just 4.22 light-years (24.7 trillion miles or 29.9 km) away. Traveling at the estimated speed of Voyager 1, around 37,000 mph, it would take a spaceship over 76,000 years to complete the journey. During this length of time, human beings would have long enough to evolve significantly in the new and alien environment of deep space. Would we recognize our human ancestors after 76,000 years evolving during a trip through outer space?

The red dwarf sun Proxima Centauri could have planets which could serve as a new cradle for human life to begin anew
The red dwarf sun Proxima Centauri could have planets which could serve as a new cradle for human life to begin anew

Proxima Centauri also has no known planets upon which humans could begin life again under an alien sun. This Red Dwarf star is also significantly cooler than our own sun, so the habitability of any existing alien worlds would be questionable at best. Optimistic humans point out that Proxima Centauri is part of a bigger star system, containing other possible candidates which could have habitable planets. This dim star is considered by many to be part of the bigger Alpha Centauri system, which includes the binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B, just 4.4 light-years from Earth. Astronomers and scientists have their doubts about the possibility of other habitable planets in this star system at this point. Instead, they point to star systems further out in deep space, which seem to offer a better possibility of habitable planets.

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At 4 light-years, Proxima Centauri isn’t visible in the night sky because of its low luminosity and small size at 1/8th the size of Sol. Even though it’s considered a close neighbor this sun is only a pin-like source even with the eagle eye of the Hubble Space Telescope. Considered a flare star, Proxima Centauri occasionally puts on a show. This stellar production of the Milky Way’s expected to have periodic shows throughout the life of the star, an estimated 4 trillion years or over 300 times the age estimate of the cosmos. Better get comfortable. The next show could be awhile! Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

 

The stars can’t wait

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The International Space Station will be the first stop for mankind on its way deeper into the solar system. From here we’ll make bigger better stations and travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Credit: NASA

If humans move to a new home circling an alien sun, we’ll do it in stages, beginning with the exploration of the solar system. The International Space Station will be the staging point for the next phase of the exploration of the solar system. From here we can reach outward into the solar system to see what mysteries and discoveries await us just beyond the visible horizon. We’ll need time to develop the technology required for interstellar space travel and the terraforming of alien worlds. In the meantime, we’ll continue to send out envoys and ambassadors in the form of unmanned spacecraft to nearby star systems within our reach. The first of these envoys of the human race, Voyager 1, has traveled a distance of around 11 billion miles during 35 years of continuous space travel. This puts Voyager 1 still firmly within the boundaries of the known solar system, which reaches some 4.6 trillion miles into cold space and the Oort Cloud on the fringes of our system of planets. Eventually, Voyager 1 will travel beyond the boundaries of the solar system and into interstellar space, and this is when the real human journey to the beginning of space and time begins.

Click this link to watch a YouTube video on the search for earth-like planets.

The search for earth-like planets

Click this link to watch a YouTube video on finding a new cradle for human civilization.
New Earth: A new cradle for human life

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