Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion

  
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October 20, 2019

In this first-ever Cosmic Companion podcast, we look at yhe first all-female spacewalk, a new look at the search for life on Mars by the Viking landers, growing crops in space, and searching for rocky planets in alien solar systems by looking at the corpses of dead stars!

Keep checking back at: thecosmiccompanion.com for more space and astronomy news, including my new weekly podcast!

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The Cosmic Companion October 19, 2019

Did NASA find life on Mars in the 1970's? Farming in space takes another step forward, and rocky planets around other stars may be more plentiful than we thought, a new study reveals.

Hello everyone!

This was quite an interesting week in space and astronomy news, and not just because of the first-ever all-female spacewalk from Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. In 1976, the Viking landers from NASA had inconclusive results from their life detection experiment. Now, two of the primary investigators on that instrument are calling for a follow-up experiment to be sent to the Red Planet. Speaking of Mars, a new study shows several types of crops can grow in Martian soil, making growing food in space a real possibility. Lastly, a study looking at a type of dead star known as white dwarfs shows rocky planets with atmospheres around other stars may be plentiful, increasing the chances of finding life around other stars.

The Cosmic Companion is now offering a premium newsletter, offering weekly exclusive videos, a weekly comic, and more. Just $5 a month, or $50 a year! Sign up at: https://thecosmiccompanion.substack.com. Or, you can buy me a cup of coffee for my work!

Let’s take off!


The Week in Space

Did NASA Find Life on Mars in the 1970's?

When the Viking landers touched down on Mars in 1976, the search for life on the Red Planet was said to be inconclusive. Before human beings head to Mars, we should make sure we know if life is already there.

Famed science author Carl Sagan was a driving force behind the Viking missions to Mars, where a curious result from an experiment in 1976 could suggest that primitive life may still be eking out an existence on, or just underneath, the surface of Mars. Image credit: NASA

The idea of life on Mars has fascinated people since Percival Lowell first recorded features that he believed to be channels of water on the Red Planet. He named his perceived features canali, the Italian word for channel. These reports were badly translated by the media of the time as canals, suggesting that the astronomer had discovered an artificial system of manufactured waterways on the Red Planet.

In 1975, NASA sent the Viking mission, a pair of twin rovers, to Mars to examine the geology and environment of Mars, as well as to look for signs of microbial life. The Labeled Release (LR) experiment on the Viking mission, designed to look for signs of respiration, returned positive results, exciting researchers hoping to find the first-ever signs of extraterrestrial life.

Read more: http://bit.ly/NASA-Mars-Life-1970s


Planting the Seeds of Farming in Space

As humans colonize the Solar System, we will need to grow food in order to sustain a growing population in space. Now, a team of researchers have successfully grown crops in simulated lunar and Martian soil, potentially bringing the day we become an interplanetary species a little closer.

Mizuna lettuce growing aboard the International Space Station in 2010. The spinach was harvested and frozen before being returned to Earth. Crops produced for interplanetary colonies will, ideally, grow in micro-gravity, as well as in growing mediums created from local material. Image credit: NASA

If the future of the human race includes living on the Moon and Mars, then we will soon need to learn how to grow food in space. One option would be to produce crops in artificial hydroponic systems, but such a plan would involve transporting large quantities of equipment to the Moon and Mars, at significant expense. Growing food on Earth and transporting it to colonies in space provides another set of problems — the weight and expenses of launch — as well as the possibility of critical food shipments being lost during the journey. The easiest way to feed hungry interplanetary inhabitants would be to grow food using material which can easily be collected from the surfaces of the worlds we will inhabit.

A new experiment carried out in the Netherlands has successfully grown crops in simulated lunar and Martian soil (simulant) in their third attempt to simulate raising crops in space. During this latest experiment, researchers planted 10 different edible plants, including garden cress, rocket, tomato, radish, rye, quinoa, leek, chives, peas and spinach. Nine of these crops grew successfully in both types of alien soil, with spinach being the lone exception.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Planting-Seeds-Farming-Space


Earth-like Planets may be Common, Study Reveals

By looking at rocky debris near small, cooled corpses of stars called white dwarfs, researchers have concluded that planets like ours may be common around other stars. The Cosmic Companion talks to lead researcher Alexandra Doyle.

Alexandra Doyle at UCLA, Image credit: Christelle Snow/UCLA

Earth-like planets may be common around alien stars, a new study from UCLA reports. This new finding answers one of the greatest questions in exoplanet research, and could help us better understand the future of our own solar system.

Alexandra Doyle, a graduate student of geochemistry and astrochemistry at UCLA, led a team which developed a new method to study the chemical makeup of planetary systems orbiting alien stars.

By examining fragments of rocky planets and asteroids orbiting white dwarf stars, her team was able to identify the composition of planets which were found (or still exist) within those systems. They found rocks and asteroids impacting these stellar corpses were affected by oxygen in a similar way to the manner many bodies in our own inner solar system react.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Earth-like-Planets-Common


Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard


Thanks for reading! If you want to keep up with the latest updates and news about astronomy and space exploration, visit www.thecosmiccompanion.com, join our Facebook page, and follow @TheCosmicCompanion on Instagram and @CompanionCosmic on Twitter.

Do you know someone else who would love this newsletter? Please share! Invest in knowledge with a premium subscription for yourself or a loved one today! Or, I’d love it if you could buy me a cup of coffee - I LOVE coffee!

Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

The Cosmic Companion October 12, 2019

Astronomers find 20 new moons around Saturn, a plan to "hear" dark matter, and a new study of lunar ice reveals a big surprise.

Hello everyone!

Saturn is now king of the solar system when it comes to moons, as astronomers find 20 previously-unknown moons around the Ringed Planet. If we can’t see dark matter, researchers have a new plan to hear the elusive “something” that permeates space, and some deposits of ice on the lunar surface are too young to be the result of comet impacts - so how did it get there?

I’m also excited to report that The Cosmic Companion was just named one of the top three newsletters to read this week by Substack!

Let’s take off!


The Week in Space

20 More Moons Found Around Saturn

With the discovery of 20 more moons, Saturn now holds the record for the greatest number of moons anywhere in the Solar System, and you can help name them!

The orbits of the 20 newly-discovered moons of Saturn are shown here. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Starry background courtesy of Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock

The discovery of 20 previously-unknown moons around Saturn brings the number of known moons orbiting that planet up to 82. This surpasses Jupiter, with 79 moons currently known to orbit that world. In an effort to name these worlds, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which assigns official names to bodies in space, is asking the public to help them choose names for these newly-discovered worlds.

The newly-discovered moons each have diameters around five kilometers (three miles). Seventeen of the 20 newly-discovered Saturnian satellites orbit in a retrograde orbit (in the same direction that Saturn rotates). Three of the worlds revolve around Saturn in the more-common prograde direction. Two of those three moons take less than two years to complete one orbit of the ringed planet, while the third prograde body, as well as the retrograde moons (which orbit further from Saturn), take more than three years to complete one orbit. One of these retrograde moons is the most distant known satellite in Saturn’s system.

Read more: http://bit.ly/20-Moons-Saturn


Listening for the Sounds of Dark Matter

Dark matter makes up 85 percent of all the matter in the Universe, yet we cannot see it. But, could it be possible to hear this elusive “something?”

The presence of dark matter can be seen in this Hubble image of Abell 520, where a collision of two massive galaxy clusters left behind a well of dark matter. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CFHT, CXO, M.J. Jee (University of California, Davis), and A. Mahdavi (San Francisco State University).

The first clues to the existence of dark matter floating between galaxies came in the 1930’s, from observations of clusters of galaxies by astronomer Fritz Zwicky. These findings were followed up four decades later by groundbreaking astronomer Vera Rubin, when she, along with fellow astronomer Kent Ford, detected the effects of dark matter on the rotational rates of galaxies. Observations conducted at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona provided this first evidence of dark matter within galaxies.

Without the presence of dark matter, galaxies would break apart, and would not form into long-lived clusters. Although we cannot see dark matter (it does not radiate light, heat, or any other form of electromagnetic waves), we can see the effects its mass has on the objects we see in space. Dark matter is now believed to make up 85 percent of all matter in the Universe, nearly seven times as much as every star, planet, and all the gas and dust we see around us.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Listening-Sounds-Dark-Matter


Lunar Ice: The Origin Story

Water ice near the south pole of the Moon is making that region of the lunar surface hot property. But how did the ice get there? The story is not as simple as you may think.

On India’s first-ever mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument, recorded the first definite signs of water ice on the surface of the Moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL

The Moon was once thought to be a dry, barren place, cold, airless, and devoid of water. However, several discoveries in the last decade have found evidence of water ice, sitting in eternal shadows within craters near the poles of the Moon.

The most popular view of the origin of this ice is that comets striking the Moon deposited the ice, which never melted in the eternal darkness deep within some polar craters. A new study from Brown University suggests that some of the ice found in these craters may be relatively new, potentially suggesting a fraction of the ice may have found its way into the craters by other means.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Lunar-Ice-Origin-Story


Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard


Thanks for reading! If you want to keep up with the latest updates and news about astronomy and space exploration, visit www.thecosmiccompanion.com, join our Facebook page, and follow @TheCosmicCompanion on Instagram and @CompanionCosmic on Twitter.

Do you know someone else who would love this newsletter? Please share!

Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

The Cosmic Companion October 5, 2019

A cluster of galaxies seen from the early Universe, organic material rising from the geysers of Enceladus, and fuzzy dark matter

Hello everyone!

What an interesting week it was in astronomy news! Astronomers discovered previously-unknown galaxies in a cluster from the early Universe, organic material was detected erupting from the geysers of Enceladus around Saturn, and a new idea suggests dark matter could be fuzzy.

Let’s take off!


The Week in Space

Galaxies from the Early Universe Found in Galactic Cluster

New members of a protocluster of galaxies, 13 billion years old, have been seen for the first time. What do we know about this family of galaxies from the ancient Universe?

The 12 galaxies now know to exist in the z660D cluster of galaxies. Image credit: NAOJ/Harikane et al.

New galaxies in an ancient cluster have been detected by astronomers using an array of instruments, including the Subaru, Keck, and Gemini Telescopes. This protocluster of galaxies, 13 billion years old, is the oldest such grouping ever found. At the time this protocluster formed, the Universe was the 800 million years old, just six percent of its current age.

In the modern Universe, galaxies clusters can contain hundreds or thousands of members, but how these structures form remains a mystery. In order to better understand contemporary clusters, astronomers carefully study protoclusters, dense systems of dozens of galaxies in the ancient Universe.

Read more: http://bit.ly/z66OD


Organic Materials Erupt from Geysers on Enceladus

Building blocks of amino acids were seen erupting from geysers on Enceladus, orbiting Saturn. What could this finding mean in the search for life in the Solar System?

A artist’s concept of an image of geysers erupting from the south pole of Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Orbiting Saturn, the icy moon Enceladus is home to numerous active geysers, which regularly erupt with plumes of water and rocky material. While some of the water released from these vents falls across the surface of that world as snow and ice, a portion soars into space. A new study shows organic compounds, essential to the formation of amino acids, are mixed in with the material erupting from these vents.

Given energy and a favorable climate, these organic compounds could form amino acids. The energy required to form these molecules on Earth is supplied by hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. Researchers speculate the geysers that feed the vents on Enceladus might provide the energy needed to drive the formation of amino acids on Enceladus.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Organic-Geysers-Enceladus


Is Dark Matter Fuzzy?

Dark matter is believed to be an underlying reason for the formation and development of galaxies in the early Universe. But was this dark matter cold, hot, or fuzzy?

Simulations of how galaxies would form in the early Universe if dark matter were (left to right) cold, hot, or fuzzy. Image credit: Universities of Princeton, Sussex, Cambridge

Dark matter is makes up nearly 85 percent of the “matter” in the Universe, but it cannot be seen. Also, it does not give off heat, nor does it emit radio waves. The only way it can be detected is by the substantial effect gravity from dark matter has on normal matter — stars, galaxies, and everything else normally associated with the Universe around us. Astronomers can see the effects of this strange effect within galaxies, as well as between families of stars.

If dark matter did not exist, stars would fly away from galaxies, and galaxies themselves would not hold together in clusters. Dark matter also played a significant role in forming galaxies as these structures first formed in the early Universe.

Read more: http://bit.ly/Is-Dark-Matter-Fuzzy


Coming soon: The First Woman on the Moon: The Past and Future History of Women in Space by James Maynard


Thanks for reading! If you want to keep up with the latest updates and news about astronomy and space exploration, visit www.thecosmiccompanion.com, join our Facebook page, and follow @TheCosmicCompanion on Instagram and @CompanionCosmic on Twitter.

Do you know someone else who would love this newsletter? Please share!

Astronomy - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

- James

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