TED Fellow Carrie Nugent is an asteroid hunter — part of a group of scientists working to discover and catalog our oldest and most numerous cosmic neighbors. Why keep an eye out for asteroids? In this short, fact-filled talk, Nugent explains how their awesome impacts have shaped our planet, and how finding them at the right time could mean nothing less than saving life on Earth.
Exciting new research suggests that a crater on Ceres may be a cradle of life.
Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University
Feb 16, 2017
Sometimes, I think scientists are just that little bit too modest. A new paper in Science has a humdinger of a title: “Localized aliphatic organic material on the surface of Ceres”. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue and may not even seem that important. But what the researchers have discovered is a huge deal. They’ve found organic compounds – the kind of molecules from which life on Earth originated – on the surface of Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid.
For people like me who study asteroids, finding organic molecules is not necessarily surprising. It has been known for over 200 years that meteorites (which are fragments from asteroids) contain a wide range of organic compounds. And Ceres was selected as a target for the Dawn mission precisely because it was hoped that organic material would be found. So why am I so excited over the discovery? The significance is in the first two words of the title: “Localised aliphatic”.
Let’s start with “localised”. The molecules were found in a specific place on the surface – around the crater Ernutet (at a latitude of 50°N and a longitude of 45.5°E). There are two possible origins for the organic compounds on Ceres. Either they have always been there, native to the asteroid, and part of the primitive material from which Ceres (and the rest of the solar system) formed. Or the organics were added later, through impact from comets, other asteroids or interplanetary dust. In either case, organic material should be distributed more or less uniformly over the surface, not be clustered in a specific place. The significance of the observation is not so much the finding of organic compounds at Ernutet, but not finding them everywhere.
Let’s move on to the second term: aliphatic. Organic molecules are broadly divided into two major types: aromatic and aliphatic. In the former, carbon atoms are arranged in rings that can build up into vast networks of molecules. In contrast, aliphatic compounds are chains of carbon atoms. And we know that aromatic compounds are generally sturdier and more resistant to radiation and heat than aliphatic molecules with the same number of carbon atoms.
On an active asteroid surface, like Ceres, it would be more likely that aromatic compounds survived than aliphatic. This is also reflected in the most carbon-rich of meteorites, where aromatic compounds are by far the more abundant component in the intimate mixture of aromatic and aliphatic organics that they contain. However, the organic molecules that have been detected on Ceres are complex aliphatic compounds that seem to be almost tar-like in nature.
Cradle of life?
So what do we make of these confusing observations, which come from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer on the Dawn spacecraft?
The authors argue that the organics are unlikely to come from the impact of another body with Ceres, because the specific nature of the organic compounds that have been detected implies they would have been degraded or destroyed by the high temperatures of the collision. It is also likely that collision with another body would have mixed any organics with the surface material, not leaving them concentrated in the way that they are.
So instead the authors infer that the compounds are probably indigenous to Ceres. This is strengthened by the fact that the molecules are found together with carbonates and clays containing ammonia. These have been observed in many regions of Ceres, and are believed to be produced by hydrothermal processes (reactions involving heated water) on the dwarf planet – something we know can also produce organic material on Earth.
Indeed, the data show that carbonates and clays are higher in abundance around Ernutet than the surrounding landscape. Hydrothermal processes, such as those that occur at hot springs on Earth, might have been active in Ceres’ past, when the asteroid was warmer at depth than it is now, leading to the formation of the organics. But this also means that the mechanism that brought the minerals to the surface at Ernutet – and nowhere else – is unknown.
The combination of hot water and organic material is extremely exciting. Once you have an environment conducive to the production of organic materials – especially one that also contains the nitrogen-bearing clay minerals which are known to catalyse other reactions – it may not be a step too far to posit that Ceres had (and maybe still has) all the ingredients essential for formation of the chemicals that, on Earth, eventually led to the origin of life.
Ernutet is the Egyptian goddess of fertility or nourishment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if finding organic molecules in a crater named after her was the first indication of a non-terrestrial cradle of life?
Jan 24, 2017
An asteroid just under 11 yards in diameter will give the earth a very close fly-by tomorrow.
Listed as a PHA – Potentially Hazardous Asteroid by NASA, the space rock 2017BX was discovered earlier this month and will pass at .7 of the distance between the earth and the moon. That’s a mere whisker in astronomical terms. (One lunar distance is 238855.708 miles.)
There is no indication that it will collide with the earth but we know from the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded above the earth over Russia in 2013, that even smaller objects that don’t impact can cause major problems.
New PHA’s are being discovered all the time. The list on spaceweather.com of those so far discovered covers up to March 2, 2017.
A recent article from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) points out that the asteroid impact that is attributed to killing off the dinosaurs wasn’t such a straightforward issue as first thought.
“The big chill following the impact of the asteroid that formed the Chicxulub crater in Mexico is a turning point in Earth history,” says Julia Brugger from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead author of the study to be published in the Geophysical Research Letters. “We can now contribute new insights for understanding the much debated ultimate cause for the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous era.” To investigate the phenomenon, the scientists for the first time used a specific kind of computer simulation normally applied in different contexts, a climate model coupling atmosphere, ocean and sea ice. They build on research showing that sulfur- bearing gases that evaporated from the violent asteroid impact on our planet’s surface were the main factor for blocking the sunlight and cooling down Earth.
In the tropics, annual mean temperature fell from 27 to 5 degrees Celsius
“It became cold, I mean, really cold,” says Brugger. Global annual mean surface air temperature dropped by at least 26 degrees Celsius. The dinosaurs were used to living in a lush climate. After the asteroid’s impact, the annual average temperature was below freezing point for about 3 years. Evidently, the ice caps expanded. Even in the tropics, annual mean temperatures went from 27 degrees to mere 5 degrees. “The long-term cooling caused by the sulfate aerosols was much more important for the mass extinction than the dust that stays in the atmosphere for only a relatively short time. It was also more important than local events like the extreme heat close to the impact, wildfires or tsunamis,” says co-author Georg Feulner who leads the research team at PIK. It took the climate about 30 years to recover, the scientists found. (source)
There is, somewhere in the vastness of space, a very large rock that is on a collision course with earth. Impacts have happened numerous times in the past and they will happen again unless the best minds on the planet find a way to divert or destroy the threat. Unlike the folks in the movie Armageddon, we haven’t reached that point in our technology yet.
A strike from a major asteroid is something that at this point in time simply cannot be avoided. If such a rock was discovered to be on a collision course today the best that we could hope for is that it landed in the ocean as the Chicxulub asteroid did.
Then “all” we would have to contend with is 30 years of cold and famine.
Delivered by The Daily Sheeple
I disagree with Hawking: Humanity WILL destroy itself with nuclear weapons within the next 500 years. Give a boy a hammer…
Sounding like he just read the Book of Revelation for the first time, Professor Stephen Hawking issued dire warnings and predictions this week about the lifespan of the earth. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Hawking remains optimistic on the future of humanity.
In a prepared speech to the Oxford Union Debate Society Monday, Hawking reportedly stated humans have less than 1,000 years on earth and must find a suitable planet on which to relocate.
The Free Thought Project was able to confirm Hawking did indeed appear at Oxford, however, since the event was private, and no transcripts have yet been made available, we cannot confirm the statements Hawking made. But according to the U.K.’s Independent, the theoretical physicist stated it’s, “a glorious time to be alive and doing research in to theoretical physics.”
He stated, “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution.
”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.”
Due to advancements in universal mapping, Hawking apparently feels confident, “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”
“Perhaps one day we will be able to use gravitational waves to look right back into the heart of the Big Bang,” Hawking said in reference to his suspicion those waves will allow humans to look back in time.
He encouraged listeners, and those following the story, to “continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” adding, “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
He advised listeners to look beyond their earthly cares by saying, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Hawking’s comments have often been highly controversial. He once theorized that if humans ever met aliens, “I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” he stated implying humans would be destroyed.
Hawking’s most controversial statements, however, may be his recent comments on the existence of God. “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said. In his work, A Brief History of Time, the physicist made the statement mankind could eventually “know the mind of God.”
When pressed to explain, Hawking stated, “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God. Which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.” Atheist or not, Hawking ironically shares something in common with believers of the Bible, they both believe the world will come to an end within at least a thousand years. The difference being Hawking believes it’s possible for mankind to shed its earthly dwelling, travel light years away from earth, and colonize an inhabitable world.
It seems the moon is not Earth’s only cosmic companion.
June 16, 2016
The newly discovered asteroid 2016 HO3 orbits the sun in such a way that the space rock never strays too far from Earth, making it a “quasi-satellite” of our planet, scientists say.
“One other asteroid — 2003 YN107 — followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Wednesday (June 15).
“This new asteroid is much more locked onto us,” Chodas added. “Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come.”
Indeed, 2016 HO3 is the best example of an Earth quasi-satellite ever found, scientists said.
The asteroid was discovered on April 27 by scientists using the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope in Hawaii. 2016 HO3’s exact size is unknown, but researchers think it’s between 130 feet and 330 feet wide (40 to 100 meters).
Continue with article:
A spooky asteroid will invade the Halloween sky as it passes close by Earth, just a little over 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles) from the orbit of the moon, making it possible for amateur astronomers to get a glimpse of the celestial body.
Asteroid 2015 TB145, nicknamed “Spooky,” was spotted on October 10, 2015 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), located on Hawaii’s Mount Haleakala. On October 31, a 400 meter-wide (1,300 ft) asteroid will pass near our moon and then the Earth, traveling at about 126,000 kilometers per hour (78,000 miles per hour).
At the time of its closest proximity to Earth, “Spooky” will fly within about 486,800 kilometers (300,000 miles) of our planet – some 1.27 Lunar Distances (LD) away. A few hours before that it will approach the moon, at a distance of about 286,000 km (178,000 miles)
“The trajectory of 2015 TB145 is well understood,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “At the point of closest approach, it will be no closer than about 300,000 miles – 480,000 kilometers or 1.3 lunar distances.”
Because of the asteroid’s trajectory, close to our planet, ESA and NASA have classified “Spooky” as a Near-Earth Object and have included it in the list of potentially hazardous asteroids, or those that come within 7.5 million km (4.7 million miles) of Earth.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program had listed a total of 1,605 discovered potentially hazardous asteroids, as of 1 August 2015. But the TB145 path remains harmless as it will miss both Earth and the Moon.
However the closely asteroid encounter will be quite a treat for a Halloween night, as “Spooky” is the closest known flyby by a large asteroid until 2027. In 12 years from now an 8,000-meter asteroid, 1999 AN10, will come within 383,000 km (237,000 miles) of Earth.
“Even though that is relatively close by celestial standards, it is expected to be fairly faint, so night-sky Earth observers would need at least a small telescope to view it,” Chodas said.
Astronomers however see it as a rare opportunity to better acquaint themselves with the celestial guest and examine its physical attributes, such as surface features, shape, and dimensions.
“The close approach of 2015 TB145 at about 1.3 times the distance of the moon’s orbit, coupled with its size, suggests it will be one of the best asteroids for radar imaging we’ll see for several years,” said Lance Benner, of JPL, who leads NASA’s asteroid radar research program. “We plan to test a new capability to obtain radar images with two-meter resolution for the first time and hope to see unprecedented levels of detail.”
The research community watching the asteroid are curious about its unusual orbit, as it looks more like the orbit of a comet rather than an asteroid.
“The asteroid’s orbit is very oblong with a high inclination to below the plane of the solar system,” said Lance Benner, who leads NASA’s asteroid radar research program. “Such a unique orbit, along with its high encounter velocity – about 35 kilometers or 22 miles per second – raises the question of whether it may be some type of comet.”