From ice to fire: Study dismantles theory that other planets have ingredients for life


From ice to fire: Study dismantles theory that other planets have ingredients for life
Hopes that other planets could harbor life were dealt a blow Monday when new research punched holes in a theory of how other worlds could hold water.

The theory held that planets, or moons, go through phases where the conditions are right to hold liquid water when they are in the so-called “goldilocks zone,” where they are warm enough so that the water isn’t trapped in ice and also not so hot that the water vaporizes.

This phase would happen when a young, dim star starts warming and melts the ice on planets orbiting it at just the right distance.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa were touted as potential candidates for such celestial bodies in our solar system. However, a new study published in Nature Geoscience suggests that these worlds would likely not be habitable, even after their icy surfaces melt.

The researchers, from Peking University in China, used 3D climate models to simulate the evolution of icy planets and found that the simulated worlds would likely have skipped the habitable phase because of the incredibly high amount of energy required to melt their surface.

The team found that when the star becomes hot enough to melt the ice, the models quickly transitioned to a “greenhouse state.” The oceans evaporated and the planets skipped over the habitable phase.

“We find that the stellar fluxes that are required to overcome a planet’s initial snowball state are so large that they lead to significant water loss and preclude a habitable planet,” the team wrote, according to Phys.org.

Earth was different, because when it thawed, approximately 600 to 800 million years ago, it required less solar heat to melt the ice due to planet-warming atmospheric greenhouse gases emitted by volcanic eruptions.

Sun’s core rotating 4 times faster than surface


Sun’s core rotating 4 times faster than surface
The sun’s core is rotating four times faster than its surface, according to new solar observations based on gravity waves inside our star.

Scientists using the ESA/NASA solar observatory, SOHO, detected gravity waves in the sun’s interior which revealed a rapidly rotating core.

The discovery took the team of international researchers by surprise as they had assumed the core was “rotating like a merry-go-round at about the same speed as the surface,” according to a statement from research partner UCLA.

The source of the unexpected internal spin could date back billions of years, according to the researchers.

“The most likely explanation is that this core rotation is left over from the period when the sun formed, some 4.6 billion years ago,” said Roger Ulrich, a UCLA professor emeritus of astronomy and co-author of the study, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“It’s a surprise, and exciting to think we might have uncovered a relic of what the sun was like when it first formed.”

The team used over 16 years of data collected by SOHO’s dedicated ‘Global Oscillations at Low Frequencies’ (GOLF) instrument to obtain a signature of imprinted ‘g-waves’ –  lower frequency gravity waves which are especially difficult to detect.

The SOHO spacecraft was launched in 1995 to study the sun from its core to the outer corona and the solar wind.

“We’ve been searching for these elusive g-waves in our Sun for over 40 years, and although earlier attempts have hinted at detections, none were definitive,” said Eric Fossat astronomer at Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice and lead author of the paper.

By measuring the acoustic waves, the researchers were able to determine the time it takes for the waves to travel from the sun’s surface to its center and back again.

They also noted that the sloshing motion of the gravity waves influenced the travel time.

The results suggest the core is rotating once every week, nearly four times faster than the surface and intermediate layers, whose rotation varies from 25 days at the equator to 35 days at the poles.

The sun’s core and its surface also vary widely in terms of temperature. The former has a temperature of approximately 29 million degrees Fahrenheit or 15.7 million Kelvin while the surface is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5,800 Kelvin.

ISS astronauts snap spellbinding super Typhoon Noru from space


ISS astronauts snap spellbinding super Typhoon Noru from space (PHOTOS)
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been sharing some awe-inspiring images of one of the strongest storms of the year so far – super Typhoon Noru.

Typhoon Noru is expected to make landfall around southern Japan this weekend, bringing an end to “a long and strange journey the tropical cyclone has already made through the western Pacific Ocean,” the Weather Channel reports.

Astronaut Jack Fischer and Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky posted eerie images of Noru from their vantage aboard the ISS as the typhoon gained momentum over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA’s Terra satellite captured a close look at the eye of the storm while passing over Noru in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, NASA measured Noru’s maximum sustained winds at 165kmph (103 miles).

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Noru grew from an ordinary tropical storm Saturday to a super typhoon, becoming Earth’s most intense storm of the year so far by Sunday.

On Tuesday, Noru’s strength was the equivalent to that of a category 2 hurricane. Japanese authorities are monitoring Noru’s progress closely and will prepare to dispatch emergency services as it ventures closer to the country’s coast.

Let there be light! Astronomers move closer to first glimpse at universe’s ‘cosmic dawn’


Let there be light! Astronomers move closer to first glimpse at universe’s ‘cosmic dawn’
A powerful Dark Energy Camera has allowed scientists to peer billions of years into the past to examine the first signs of light in the universe.

The DECam, as it is known, has contributed to the discovery of 23 young galaxies and even allows astronomers to see them as they were 800 million years after the Big Bang.

The discoveries have been a major boost for researchers from the US, Chile and China as they bid to picture the ‘cosmic dawn’, the time at which the appearance of galaxies and stars marked a dramatic lighting up of the universe after its dark early years – a process known, scientifically, as ‘re-ionization.

“Before re-ionization, these galaxies were very hard to see, because their light is scattered by gas between galaxies, like a car’s headlights in fog,” said Sangeeta Malhotra, an astronomer at Arizona State University and one of the lead researchers.

“As enough galaxies turn on and ‘burn off the fog’, they become easier to see. By doing so, they help provide a diagnostic to see how much of the ‘fog’ remains at any time in the early universe.”

The instrument, which is one of the most powerful in the field of astronomy, is installed at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in northern Chile, at an altitude of 7,200ft (2,200 meters).

“Our findings in this survey imply that a large fraction of the first galaxies that ionized and illuminated the universe formed early, less than 800 million years after the Big Bang,” said Junxian Wang, a co-author on the study.

The galaxy search is part of the Lyman Alpha Galaxies in the Epoch of Reionization project (LAGER). “[The project] is the largest uniformly selected sample that goes far enough back in the history of the universe to reach cosmic dawn,” the researchers said in a press release.

“The combination of large survey size and sensitivity of this survey enables us to study galaxies that are common but faint, as well as those that are bright but rare, at this early stage in the universe,” Malhotra said.

The astronomers say they plan continue to their work by expanding the search to a wider swathe of the universe.

Source: Astrophysical Journal.