Europa Shows Signs of Plate Tectonics

12,000 square miles of thick icy material forced under another ice shell

Space news – (Europa) – Planetary space geologists have looked for years for telltale signs of plate tectonics occurring elsewhere in the solar system, other than Earth. Indications of this geological process taking place on other planetary bodies could mean the processes geologists observe here are possibly common in the solar system.

Recently, space scientists looking at images taken of Europa by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during a flyby in the early 2000s, discovered unusual geological features they believe indicates the process of plate tectonics is taking place on the surface. You can learn more about Europa and view the images here

This conceptual illustration of the subduction process on Europa show how cold, brittle surface material roughly 10-12 miles thick moved into the moved into the warmer interior
This conceptual illustration of the subduction process on Europa shows how cold, brittle surface material roughly 10-12 miles thick moved into the moved into the warmer interior.

Image Credit: Noah Kroese, I.NK

Planetary space geologist Simon Kattenhorn, working at the University of Idaho, and Louise Prockter, of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, discovered geological boundaries indicating the surface of Europa had recently shifted significantly in the northern latitudes.

Planetary space geologists see areas in the northern latitudes of Europa where the new ice crust has thrust up from below and then spread into bands miles wide. This planetary space geologists believe occurs in a process possibly similar to seafloor spreading on Earth, which is part of the theory of plate tectonics. Plate tectonics, or continental drift, is the theory the Earth’s crust and upper mantle, or lithosphere, is composed of slowly drifting tectonic plates of various sizes.

On our home planet, while new sea floor is forming at mid-ocean ridges, old surface is annihilated at subduction zones. Subduction zones are surface areas where two tectonic plates meet and then overlap as one is pushed beneath the other. Despite the mile wide bands of the new surface on Europa, however, planetary space geologists couldn’t understand how the top layer was able to accommodate the volume of new crust being formed.

“We have been puzzled for years as to how all this new terrain could be formed, but we couldn’t figure out how it was accommodated,” said Prockter. “We finally think we’ve found the answer.”

Planetary space geologists rearranged the Galileo images they were looking at into their original positions to get a view of these new surface regions before they moved. They found 12,000 square miles (almost 20,000 square kilometers) of the old surface area in the northern latitudes was gone.

Planetary geologists also saw ice volcanoes erupting on the surface in the regions in question in the images, which they think could be formed due to the melting and absorption of one icy plate as it’s pushed beneath another at a subduction zone.

“Europa may be more Earth-like than we imagined if it has a global plate tectonic system,” Kattenhorn says. “Not only does this discovery make it one of the most geologically interesting bodies in the solar system, it also implies two-way communication between the exterior and interior — a way to move material from the surface into the ocean — a process which has significant implications for Europa’s potential as a habitable world.”

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Viewing the Moon Through Binoculars

The complete astronomer’s guide to viewing the Moon using binoculars

Compare sizes to prices and you'll see bigger is better and more expensive
Compare sizes to prices and you’ll see bigger is better and more expensive

People often ask me whether they can get great views of the solar system using even simple 7 x 35 binoculars and the answer is yes. It doesn’t matter if you’re using relatively expensive 7 x 35 Leitz Leica BA Trinovid binoculars or the less expensive Celestron 71300. The night sky will explode with visual gems invisible to the naked eye and the Moon will come alive with color when viewed through binoculars.

The view becomes even better when seen through binoculars like the Oberwerk 100mm giant binocular telescope. Numerous double stars can be seen using state-of-the-art astronomy binoculars, variable stars will noticeably fluctuate at times, and you’ll see stars the naked eye isn’t able to discern. The list of objects to view using binoculars is virtually endless, but let’s start with the Moon.

The Moon

A mere 238,000 miles distant, the Moon offers viewers on Earth more visual gems than any other object in the solar system. Soaring mountains, immense plains, insanely deep and wide valleys, and hundreds of craters are easily visible on the Moon using astronomy binoculars.

Selecting the best lunar phase for viewing the Moon is critical for people deciding to tour our closest neighbor using binoculars. Very little detail is often visible on the surface after a New Moon, but as the Moon rises further east night after night, more features of the surface come into view. During the First-Quarter phases of the Moon, an amazing variety of lunar surface terrain can be viewed through binoculars.

The huge plains of the lunar seas Serenitatis, Mare Crisium, Tranquillitatis, and Fecunditatis cover the equatorial regions of the Moon. Travel northward to view several large craters scattered across the landscape or south to view an area often called the “no man’s land” of the Moon. Experience the south polar region to be inspired by the rough beauty of a region with so many craters it’s often hard to tell them apart.

It’s always fascinating to view the line dividing the night and day on the Moon, which astronomers refer to as the Moon’s terminator (lunar terminator). Viewers can often see unusual lighting effects on the surface as the Sun rises and sets. If you view from the right angle, a crater can look like a bright, bottomless pit. Sunlight can often be seen traveling down the wall until it floods the bottom of the crater.

The best time to view a New Moon is normally April and May for viewers in the northern hemisphere, and October and November in the southern regions of the planet. Viewers north of the equator desiring to experience the Moon less than a day before New Moon should view during July and August, while those south of the equator will have better luck during January and February. During these times the Moon is higher in the sky, so if you slowly scan a point below the horizon directly under the Sun and the view is free of obstacles, you might experience an extremely thin crescent.

Modern astronomy binoculars offer grand and inspiring views of the Moon and solar system sure to open the mind to the usefulness of binoculars when viewing the universe. Make plans to check out the view they offer and we’re sure you’ll discover just how useful they’re.

Read about Albert Einstein and his space-time in “Space and Time, or Space-Time

Ever wonder what space archaeologists in the future if our civilization crumbles? Read “Earth Mission Discovers Something Unusual“.

Does life exist beyond the dusty ball of dirty water we call Earth? Read “The Possibility of Intelligent Lifeforms Existing in the Universe“.

 

Star Dust to Star Dust

European Space Agency’s GAIA spacecraft
Stardust to star dust

Are we made of star dust?

Astronomy questions and answers – You have probably heard the expression, “We’re all just star dust” The truth is, depending on the age of the atoms in your body, you could have been stardust several times, by now. The average length of time astronomers estimate it takes atoms discharged during a supernova in the Milky Way to be recycled into a new star or solar system is several billion years.

Supernovae occur very infrequently
Supernovae occur very infrequently about once every century in our Milky Way

How old is the stardust in you?

Figuring out the true age of the atoms in your body is going to be the hard part. Astronomers can give you an estimate for the age of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the universe. The numbers are insignificant to the question since we have no way of knowing where your atoms have been during the estimated 13.798 + or – 0.037 billion years the universe has been in existence. Your atoms could have been part of any number of solar systems and stars, by now.

Star dust is old
Stardust is old

We could narrow the estimate a bit, for you, but we would need to make two assumptions. Firstly, that the Milky Way is the only galaxy your atoms have been a part of during the past. This is most likely the case since astronomers believe galaxies formed relatively soon after the Big Bang. Secondly, that the heavy atoms in your body have only been part of one supernova during their existence. This assumption could possibly be a bit of a stretch, but even being part of one supernova, and returning to be reconsolidated would take several billion years. Once we do this, it becomes easier to narrow the estimate a bit.

A grain of stardust ejected during a supernova can follow a few different roads. It could be flung right out of its host galaxy as part of the galactic wind. Astronomers estimate maybe half of the star dust in the Milky Way presently will eventually follow this road. A percentage of this star dust will certainly be destroyed by the Milky Way’s hot halo, while the remainder will fall back into the galaxy. All most all of the stardust ejected from the galaxy in this way will never become part of a new star or solar system. The whole process is estimated by astronomers to take at least 10 billion years. Since we assume the heavy atoms of your body have only been part of the Milky Way and a single supernova, 10 billion years is an upper limit of the age of the atoms in your body.

The star dust ejected during this supernovae event will probably never become part of a new star
The stardust ejected during this supernovae event will probably never become part of a new star

Dust grains that aren’t ejected from the galaxy during a supernova event will become part of the interstellar medium (ISM). This is the low-density stardust that makes up the space between the stars. The majority of this stardust will also never make it into a new star or solar system. The star dust that does make it back into a new star or solar system will take several billion years to complete the process, as we mentioned above. Several means more than one or two, but not much more, so we’ll say around five billion years it has taken the atoms in your body to become part of the solar system. Astronomers studying the solar system also believe the solar system is around 4.6 billion years old, give or take a few million, and this is close to our estimate of 5 billion years old.

A rough estimate of the age of the stardust in you

There you have a rough estimate of the age of the atoms in your body. From 5 to 10 billion years, given the two assumptions we made. The real point is we are all made of stardust, no matter the age of the atoms in our body.

Click this link to watch a documentary with Neal DeGrasse Tyson on whether we are made of stardust.

Neal DeGrasse Tyson on whether we are star dust

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Planets! Planets! It’s Full of Planets!

Planets! Planets! It's full of planets!
Planets! Planets! It’s full of planets!

The portion of the sky the Hubble Space Telescope is currently looking at is full of planets both big and small

Astronomy News – One of the greatest things about being an astronomer is the excitement of mystery and wonder you feel every time you discover something you never even suspected. This must have been the feeling running through the minds of astronomers looking at the data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope indicating the presence of planets around distant stars. The rush of adrenalin as they went over the data they had worked and waited for must have been truly euphoric.

The Hubble Space Telescope helped us discover the cosmos is full of planets
The Hubble Space Telescope helped us discover the cosmos is full of planets

What kind of planets would they find? Smaller rocky worlds like Earth, larger gas planets like Jupiter, or some unusual planet never before dreamed of. All of their hard work and dedication to the task-at-hand is about to open a door of discovery to worlds of wonder. Worlds with environments unlike anything we have experienced on Earth, where life we could never envision might have evolved. This is why astronomers spend countless days, weeks, months and ultimately lives studying the sky above our heads.

Rocky planets like Earth are starting to be found also
Rocky planets like Earth are starting to be found also

Astronomers see a sky full of planets

The small portion of the sky being studied by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope is full of planets. Some appear to be of a similar rocky composition to our home planet while others appear to be totally inhospitable to Earth-type life. Planets like Earth are thought to be mainly composed of rocky material, which is denser and thus heavier than the materials making up gas planets. The planets being found orbiting stars in the portion of the sky being surveyed by Hubble are helping to rewrite planet formation theory and other areas of astronomical study. Astronomers are finding planets of types they were expecting to find, and a few they weren’t expecting to see.

Gas planets composed mainly of carbon dioxide!
Gas planets composed mainly of carbon dioxide!

The first planets found by the Hubble Space Telescope were large gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, but more recent finds have included planets similar in size and possible composition to Earth. Astronomers want to study Earth-like planets in an effort to uncover more secrets concerning the birth of our own solar system and the planet, which could give us clues to the development and evolution of Earth-like life in our universe. More recent developments even include the first direct imaging of a planet orbiting a distant star.

A planet has now been seen orbiting a distant star
A planet has now been seen orbiting a distant star

The truly amazing part is Hubble is only surveying a portion of the sky with around 100,000 suns and we’re finding more and more planets as astronomers continue to refine their planet finding techniques and instruments. Once we extrapolate and calculate the number of possible planets, using the available data so far gathered, we find the number of possible planets to be beyond count.

Most of the planets found have been within 300 light years of Sol
Most of the planets found have been within 300 light years of Sol

Astronomers will use the James Webb Space Telescope to journey to the beginning of space and time

During the 2013 human space odyssey, astronomers explored a portion of the night sky with the Hubble Space Telescope and exclaimed. It’s full of planets! In the years ahead during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, we expect astronomers to discover undreamed-of worlds, revolving around suns we humans can’t even conceive of. Especially once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online we should expect to visit undreamed of planets.

This is the Near Infrared Spectrograph for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be used to try to find more planets
This is the Near Infrared Spectrograph for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be used to try to find more planets

Best to buckle your seatbelt and prepare for the ride of your life! The human journey to the beginning of space and time is about to take off to planets beyond imagination. In the months and years ahead we expect to visit worlds with environments we would find inhospitable at best. Worlds where human survival would be doubtful and any life we found would be unusual beyond imagination.

Click this link to watch a YouTube video on weird planets in the universe.

Weirdest Planets

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

Collisions Between Objects in the Solar Sytem is Absolute

Locating asteroids traveling through the solar system

Hebe 6 should be viewable in for the patient star-gazer

Collisions in space are actually rare events

Astronomy News – Locating smaller celestial objects in the night sky is harder and time-consuming, but with a little patience and perception all star-gazers, both amateur and professional, can journey to a nearby asteroid traveling through the solar system to view these smaller travelers through time and space.

How do astronomers locate small and distant celestial bodies traveling through the darkness of the solar system at speeds beyond human experience? We’ll use the story of asteroid Hebe 6 to illustrate the methods and techniques professional astronomers and even amateur astronomers can use to find asteroids in the darkness of space and time.

Astronomy requires patience and time spent
You’ll need patience and time to locate Hebe 6 in the night sky

Astronomers are always looking for collisions

In the solar system’s distant past, two asteroids traveling through the inner solar system collided in an explosion resulting in the formation of a huge cloud of floating debris. Fast forward to present time, these same pieces of space debris came falling to Earth one by one as meteorites. Scientists collecting the remains of these meteorites were able to follow the facts collected from their studies of these meteorites back to the source of the debris, Hebe 6.

Surprisingly, astronomers believe about 40 percent of the meteorites falling to Earth, share this same story of genesis from Hebe 6, during a collision with another unknown object in the darkness of the solar system in the distant past.

Hebe 6 appears to have survived the collision, and there haven’t been any estimates of the volume of debris comprising the dust cloud resulting from this distant collision in space and time, so scientists have no real way of determining the original size of Hebe 6, so far. Hebe 6 still spans at least 120 miles and shines at 8th magnitude, so using your time-machine-to-the-stars you should be able to view Hebe 6. Travel to your favorite dark sky spot for this adventure, you’ll need to point your viewer at 2nd magnitude star Beta Ceti. You’ll find Beta Ceti southeast of Jupiter in October’s southern night sky, just star-hop westward to 7 Ceti and then jump 2 degrees south to find Hebe 6. How will you know you have located Hebe 6 and not a background star? To make sure of the identity of Hebe 6, note the positions of the objects closest to your target, and then return in a couple of hours. Recheck the positions of the objects you recorded, if you’re found Hebe 6, your target will have moved relative to the objects you have noted close by in the night sky.

Learn why astronomy binoculars are a popular choice with amateur astronomers

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The Search for a Cradle for a New Human Genesis Begins

Could a Cradle For a New Human Genesis be found in Our Solar System?

The human journey to the beginning of space and time is looking for a new home for mankind
Could Titan act as a cradle for a new human genesis?

Earth is quickly becoming a less hospitable place for human life

Astronomy News – The search for another home to act as a cradle for a new human genesis has turned another page today. Two papers analyzing the chemical activity reported by observations made by NASA’s Cassini Orbiter of Saturn’s moon Titan report the data is consistent with the possible presence of theoretical methane-based life and how such life forms existing in an exotic and dynamic environment could affect their surroundings.

The first paper is available online and in the August edition of Icarus and was authored by Darrell Strobel of Johns Hopkins University. This paper describes a flow of hydrogen molecules through the atmosphere of Titan that disappear at the surface. “It’s as if you have a hose and you’re squirting hydrogen onto the ground, but it’s disappearing.”

The second paper is also available online and will appear in a future issue of The Journal of Geophysical Research. This paper reports a lack of acetylene and an abundance of organic compounds on the surface of Titan. This implies that Titan could be a place in the solar system where dynamic organic chemistry is currently taking place, and Titan could be a possible place in our solar system where the elements could exist for a home to act as a cradle for a new human genesis.

This news in no way means they have found life on Titan, but it does strengthen the case for the possibility of life taking more forms and existing in environments beyond those envisioned by humans. The scientists releasing these studies can certainly be applauded for keeping an open mind to the possibility that life exists beyond the bounds set by human imagination. We should keep in mind that chemical processes can also explain the data collected by the Cassini Orbiter and this is certainly a much simpler explanation for a flow of hydrogen molecules through the atmosphere of Titan that disappears at the surface. Indeed, hydrogen would seem to be the element of choice to consume in life processes on Titan. We should probably exhaust all other possibilities, before suggesting there the result of life processes, though, and save the existence of life for the last conclusion.

Astronomers are currently busy looking for a cradle for a new human genesis

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

Take a Young Mind on Your Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time

Secure the Future of Astronomy by Opening Young Minds to the Possibilities in the Night Sky

Astronomy News – Show your children the possibilities of the cosmos before them –

Take a young mind on your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”, and you’ll be helping to secure the future of astronomy and possibly humankind. The young minds of the world are the future and will be making the important choices in the century of the environment. The experiences they undertake at this critical age will lay the foundation for everything they believe throughout their lives. Once they lay their head upon the cold earth and their mind embraces the immensity of the night sky above them. They’ll realize just how small and diminutive the Earth and life-on-earth really is, and the importance of protecting the planet, for all life.

Make it a family affair and take the wife and kids out into the wilderness. Set up your time machine to the stars and take the family on a “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time”. On a clear night, the night sky will open the young mind to the universe and the immensity of space and time. Point out larger, more visible celestial objects first, and then you can slowly introduce the harder to view celestial bodies as their mind begins to digest the information and grasp the concepts involved and their consciousness expands in response to the possibilities before their eyes.

Young astronomers are best suited for the journey

By opening a young mind to the universe in the night sky, you’re opening their consciousness to the possibilities before their eyes and helping them put everything in the universe in realistic proportion in their young minds, and you could be giving them a useful tool for survival in the battle for survival on planet Earth. At the same time, you’re helping to breathe life into astronomy, and contributing to the general understanding of the true role humans play and could play incoming cosmic events in the century of the environment.

Start with the basic celestial objects in the solar system, and save the longer space trips and abstract objects and concepts until a later time in your “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time“. Before you know it your young ones will be asking to journey to some far off part of the universe they have only heard mentioned in whispers, and their journey will really begin.

By taking a “Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time” you could inadvertently be creating the desire to venture out into the universe to witness the awesomeness of the night sky in person and the birth of a space explorer that will alter the course of human history. Helping to protect the Earth, all living things, and shape the future of humankind, in your own little way.

Astronomy is still young and we need young minds for the next leg of the human journey to the beginning of space and time

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