Space

Astronomers have produced new maps of the material located between the stars in the Milky Way, which could move science closer to cracking a stardust puzzle nearly a century old.

 The researchers say their work demonstrates a new way of uncovering the location and eventually the composition of the interstellar medium—the material found in the vast expanse between star systems within a galaxy. 

This material includes dust and gas composed of atoms and molecules that are left behind when a star dies. The material also supplies the building blocks for new stars and planets.


The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks, which likely originated from beyond our solar system, are more complex in composition and structure than previously imagined.

The analysis, completed at a number of facilities including the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) opens a door to studying the origins of the solar system and possibly the origin of life itself.


This idea goes back in 1967. James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, found a way to use a planetary atmosphere to detect life. He suggested that we look for simultaneous presence of pairs of gases like oxygen and methane that react together. We can also search for gases such as oxygen above  levels expected from abiotic processes.

As  far as we can see, Mars atmosphere seems to be close to equilibrium in this way. So when Viking I and II landed there in 1976, and found a barren desert-like surface, it seemed natural to conclude that there is no life on Mars.

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has captured an extreme and rare event in the regions immediately surrounding the supermassive black hole Markarian 335: a compact source of X-rays that sits near the black hole - the corona - has moved closer to the black hole over a period of just days. 

Researchers have reported registering three possible occasions of the total destruction of stars by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. 

They astrophysicists used data obtained by X-ray orbiting observatories ROSAT and XMM-Newton. The former was put into orbit in 1990 and served until 1999, XMM-Newton since, and combined they gathered enough information to detect very rare events, such as the destruction of stars by supermassive black holes.


At the ends of the Universe there are black holes billions of times the mass of our sun. These giant quasars feed on interstellar gas, swallowing large quantities of it non-stop - and that is how they can be detected: The light that is emitted by the gas as it is sucked in and crushed by the black hole's gravity travels for eons across the Universe until it reaches our telescopes.

Looking at the edges of the Universe is looking into the past. These far-off, ancient quasars appear to us in their "baby photos" taken less than a billion years after the Big Bang: monstrous infants in a young Universe.


Researchers have come step closer to understanding the birth of the sun.

A team led by Dr Maria Lugaro and Professor Alexander Heger, from Monash University, have investigated the solar system's prehistoric phase and the events that led to the birth of the sun. They used radioactivity to date the last time that heavy elements such as gold, silver, platinum, lead and rare-earth elements were added to the solar system matter by the stars that produced them.


I thought I'd post this because there are many who haven't followed the latest findings, who still think that present day life on the surface of Mars is absolutely impossible because of UV light, ionizing radiation, and perchlorates, and because the atmosphere is in almost perfect chemical equilibrium. 

That is indeed what most scientists believed, prior to about 2008. But it is now generally agreed in the field that if there do turn out to be nutritious warm and wet habitats on the surface of Mars, they will be habitable. 

The UAE plans its first Arab spaceship to Mars in 7 years. What's more, they plan to land it on Mars. With this, they are aiming high indeed, as Mars is probably the most difficult place to land a spacecraft in the inner solar system.

I have no idea what their plans are, but it could be a wonderful opportunity to do something truly astonishing - and fly some of the innovative light weight Mars craft that have been developed over the years.

Io, the innermost of Jupiter's four large "Galilean" moons, is about the same size as Earth's moon, some 2,300 miles across, but it is very different than our moon. So different it is the only other place in the solar system that shares one trait that Earth has - volcanoes erupting extremely hot lava.

Because of Io's low gravity, large volcanic eruptions produce an umbrella of debris that rises high into space and that can be seen from Earth. Last August, astronomers did just that, capturing three massive volcanic eruptions within a two-week period.

It may be that these rare "outbursts", sending material hundreds of miles above the surface, might be much more common than astronomers thought.