Posts Tagged ‘space’


Ann Hodges (center) poses with her meteorite, underneath the point where it crashed through her house, with Sylacauga, Alabama mayor Ed Howard (left) and the town’s police chief W.D. Ashcraft. Hodges was struck by the meteorite while on her couch on Nov. 30, 1954. She donated it to the University of Alabama’s Museum of Natural History in 1956.

By Chelsea Gohd

Sixty-five years ago, a few days after Thanksgiving, Ann Hodges was snuggled up on the sofa in her Alabama home when a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite crashed through the ceiling and struck the left side of her body. Not the best interruption to the holiday season.

The cosmic event, which took place on Nov. 30, 1954, was the first known reported instance of a human being struck by a meteorite and suffering an injury. The softball-size space rock, weighing about 8.5 lbs. (3.8 kilograms), burst through the roof of Hodges’ house in Sylacauga at 2:46 p.m. local time, bouncing off a large radio console before striking her and leaving a large, dark bruise.

The meteorite that struck Hodges, who was 31 at the time, turned out to be one-half of a larger rock that split in two as it fell toward Earth. The piece that didn’t hit Hodges landed a few miles away and is now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. In 2017, a 10.3-gram piece of the space rock that hit Hodges sold at auction for $7,500.

Before it ended up leaving a serious welt on Hodges’ side, people across eastern Alabama say they saw a bright light in the sky. Reports poured in of a reddish light, and some observers even described a fireball that trailed smoke and left an arc of light in the afternoon sky. After Hodges was struck and the meteorite landed, she and her mother, who was home at the time, tried to figure out what had happened.

Dust filled the house after the crash, but as it settled and they spotted the rock and the enormous bruise on Hodges, the two women called the police and fire department.

Now, as a local geologist was called to the scene to verify what the object was, word quickly spread about what happened. However, the event occurred in 1954, and not everyone was convinced that this strange rock was a meteorite. Some thought it could’ve been debris from a plane crash, and some thought it could have even come from what was then the Soviet Union.

Still, despite a few skeptics, people from all over flocked to Hodges’ home to see the woman hit by a space rock, a crowd that Hodges’ husband found as he returned from work that night. “We had a little excitement around here today,” Ann Hodges told the Associated Press. “I haven’t been able to sleep since I was hit,” she said. With all of this commotion around her, Hodges was soon hospitalized, though, despite the massive mark on her side, was not too seriously injured.

“Think of how many people have lived throughout human history,” Michael Reynolds, who wrote the book “Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites,” said to National Geographic. “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”

Shockingly, Hodges is not the only person to have been hit by a meteorite, but it is still exceptionally rare.

In 2009, a 14-year-old German boy, Gerrit Blank, was hit in the hand by a pea-size meteorite. While he wasn’t seriously injured, the rock did leave a scar and gave the boy quite a fright. “When it hit me it knocked me flying and then was still going fast enough to bury itself into the road,” said Blank.

https://www.space.com/meteorite-hit-alabama-woman-65-years-ago.html?utm_source=notification


Scientists found three bio-essential sugars, including ribosome, in samples from a pair of meteorites. Photo by Yoshihiro Furukawa

By Brooks Hays

For the first time, scientists have identified sugars essential to life inside meteorites.

The discovery, described this week in the journal PNAS, supports the theory that a bombardment of meteorites provided ancient Earth with the building blocks required for the origin of life.

An international team of scientists identified a trio of bio-essential sugars, including ribose, arabinose and xylose, inside two carbon-rich meteorites.

“Ribose is an essential sugar for present life as a building block of RNA, which could have both stored information and catalyzed reactions in primitive life on Earth,” researchers wrote in their new paper.

Scientists have previously found other biomolecules in meteorites, including amino acids, which form proteins, and nucleobases, the building blocks of DNA and RNA. But until now, scientists hadn’t been able to find sugars.

“The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth,” Yoshihiro Furukawa, researcher at Tohoku University in Japan, said in news release. “The extraterrestrial sugar might have contributed to the formation of RNA on the prebiotic Earth which possibly led to the origin of life.”

To find the sugars, scientists used gas chromatography mass spectrometry to analyze the chemical components of powdered meteorite samples. The method identifies molecules by measuring their mass and electric charge.

The research team used isotopic analysis to confirm the sugar’s interplanetary origins. Their tests showed a higher concentration of carbon 13 in the sugars. Carbon 13 is a heavier carbon isotope that is less abundant in terrestrial samples.

While planetary scientists continue to search for signs of life on other planets, researchers are still trying to figure out how biology — or the first living organisms — emerged from non-biological chemical processes here on Earth.

While some scientists theorize that RNA and DNA evolved together, or emerged simultaneously, others estimate that RNA came first and evolved DNA. RNA can catalyze chemical reactions, as well as make copies of itself, something DNA can’t do. Some research suggests metabolism preceded both RNA and DNA.

The latest discovery supports the theory that RNA was the initial conductor of life’s assembly.

“The sugar in DNA, 2-deoxyribose, was not detected in any of the meteorites analyzed in this study,” said study co-author Danny Glavin, researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This is important since there could have been a delivery bias of extraterrestrial ribose to the early Earth which is consistent with the hypothesis that RNA evolved first.”

Scientists hope to gain additional insights into life’s origins as they probe other meteorite samples for evidence of sugar’s abundance.

https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2019/11/19/Sugars-essential-to-life-detected-in-meteorites-a-first/4421574186445/?sl=1

by Morgan McFall-Johnsen

The NASA scientist Jessie Christiansen made a video that traces our solar system’s movement through the Milky Way as dinosaurs emerged, went extinct, and were replaced by mammals on Earth.

Our sun orbits the galaxy’s center, so many dinosaurs roamed the Earth while the planet was on the other side of the Milky Way.

Our solar system’s orbit keeps us just the right distance from the galaxy’s chaotic center for life to exist.

When dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the planet was on a completely different side of the galaxy.

A new animation by the NASA scientist Jessie Christiansen shows just how long the dinosaurs’ reign lasted — and how short the era of humans has been in comparison — by tracing our solar system’s movement through the Milky Way.

Our sun orbits the galaxy’s center, completing its rotation every 250 million years or so. So Christiansen’s animation shows that the last time our solar system was at its current point in the galaxy, the Triassic period was in full swing and dinosaurs were just emerging. Many of the most iconic dinosaurs roamed the Earth when the planet was in a very different part of the Milky Way.

Christiansen got the idea to illustrate this history when she was leading a stargazing party at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Attendees were astonished when she mentioned that our solar system was across the galaxy when dinosaurs roamed.

“That was the first time I realized that those time scales — archaeological, fossil-record time scales and astronomical time scales — actually kind of match along together,” Christiansen told Business Insider. “Then I had this idea that I could map out dinosaur evolution through the galaxy’s rotation.”

Christiansen said it took her about four hours to make the film using timed animations in PowerPoint. She also noted a couple of minor corrections to the text in her video: Plesiosaurs are not dinosaurs, and we complete a galactic orbit every 250 million years, not 200 million years.

‘A spiral through space’

But galactic movement is more complicated than the video shows. The other stars and planetary systems in the galaxy are also moving, at different speeds and in different orbits. The inner portions spin faster than the outer regions.

What’s more, the galaxy itself is moving through space, slowly approaching the nearby Andromeda galaxy.

“The animation kind of makes it seem like we’ve come back to the same spot, but in reality the whole galaxy has moved a very long way,” Christiansen said. “It’s more like we’re doing a spiral through space. As the whole galaxy’s moving and we’re rotating around the center, it kind of creates this spiral.”

So in the solar system’s rotation around the galactic center, we’re not returning to a fixed point. The neighborhood is different from the last time we were here.

Earth, however, is not drastically different; it still supports complex life. That’s partially thanks to the path of our sun’s galactic orbit.

“Our solar system doesn’t travel to the center of the galaxy and then back again,” Christiansen said. “We always stay about this distance away.”

In other words, even as our solar system travels through the Milky Way, it doesn’t approach the inhospitable center, where life probably wouldn’t survive.

“There’s a lot of stars, it’s dynamically unstable, there’s a lot of radiation,” Christiansen said. “Our solar system certainly doesn’t pass through that.”

That’s a huge part of why dinosaurs, mammals, or any other form of life can exist on Earth.

https://www.businessinsider.com/video-nasa-scientist-dinosaurs-milky-way-2019-10


Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo in 2013.

By Scottie Andrew

Alexei Leonov, the first person to perform a spacewalk, died this week. He was 85.

Russian space agency Roscosmos Space Corporation announced his passing Friday. State news agency RIA-Novosti reported he’d been chronically ill before his death.

Though Leonov wasn’t the first man on the moon (a goal he wasn’t shy about), he earned his own “first” in the space race between the US and Soviet Union. On March 18, 1965, he embarked on the first spacewalk, spending 12 minutes outside the Voskhod 2 capsule.

The first American to walk in space, Ed White, wouldn’t do so until June that same year.

On the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, Leonov met with US astronauts in space and gave TV viewers tours of their respective crafts, the first time Soviet and US cosmonauts collaborated in space. The mission is credited with kick-starting eventual international cooperation aboard the International Space Station.

Leonov was also a celebrated artist who brought colored pencils to space to sketch the view of Earth. His drawing of the sunrise is considered the first piece of art created in space.

His funeral will be held October 15 at Mytishchi Military Memorial cemetery outside Moscow.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/11/world/alexei-leonov-first-spacewalk-death-scn-trnd/index.html


Tracks made by Yutu-2 while navigating hazards during lunar day 8, which occurred during late July and early August 2019.

By Andrew Jones

China’s Chang’e-4 lunar rover has discovered an unusually colored, ‘gel-like’ substance during its exploration activities on the far side of the moon.

The mission’s rover, Yutu-2, stumbled on that surprise during lunar day 8. The discovery prompted scientists on the mission to postpone other driving plans for the rover, and instead focus its instruments on trying to figure out what the strange material is.

Day 8 started on July 25; Yutu-2 began navigating a path through an area littered with various small impact craters, with the help and planning of drivers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, according to a Yutu-2 ‘drive diary’ published on Aug. 17 by the government-sanctioned Chinese-language publication Our Space, which focuses on space and science communication.

On July 28, the Chang’e-4 team was preparing to power Yutu-2 down for its usual midday ‘nap’ to protect the rover from high temperatures and radiation from the sun high in the sky. A team member checking images from the rover’s main camera spotted a small crater that seemed to contain material with a color and luster unlike that of the surrounding lunar surface.

The drive team, excited by the discovery, called in their lunar scientists. Together, the teams decided to postpone Yutu-2’s plans to continue west and instead ordered the rover to check out the strange material.


Yutu-2 found a strangely-colored substance in a crater on the far side of the moon.

With the help of obstacle-avoidance cameras, Yutu-2 carefully approached the crater and then targeted the unusually colored material and its surroundings. The rover examined both areas with its Visible and Near-Infrared Spectrometer (VNIS), which detects light that is scattered or reflected off materials to reveal their makeup.

VNIS is the same instrument that detected tantalizing evidence of material originating from the lunar mantle in the regolith of Von Kármán crater, a discovery Chinese scientists announced in May.

So far, mission scientists haven’t offered any indication as to the nature of the colored substance and have said only that it is “gel-like” and has an “unusual color.” One possible explanation, outside researchers suggested, is that the substance is melt glass created from meteorites striking the surface of the moon.

Yutu-2’s discovery isn’t scientists’ first lunar surprise, however. Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt discovered orange-colored soil near the mission’s Taurus-Littrow landing site in 1972, prompting excitement from both Schmitt and his moonwalk colleague, Gene Cernan. Lunar geologists eventually concluded that the orange soil was created during an explosive volcanic eruption 3.64 billion years ago.


Strange orange soil was discovered on the moon by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Chang’e-4 launched in early December 2018, and made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3. The Yutu-2 rover had covered a total of 890 feet (271 meters) by the end of lunar day 8.

The Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover powered down for the end of lunar day 8 on Aug. 7, and began their ninth lunar day over the weekend. The Yutu-2 rover woke up at 8:42 p.m. EDT on Aug. 23 (00:42 GMT Aug. 24), and the lander followed the next day, at 8:10 p.m. (00:10 GMT).

https://www.space.com/china-far-side-moon-rover-strange-substance.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

During lunar day 9, Yutu-2 will continue its journey west, take a precautionary six-day nap around local noontime, and power down for a ninth lunar night around Sept. 5, about 24 hours hours ahead of local sunset.

If the 50th anniversary coverage of the first Moon landing is getting you inspired, step back in time to the real thing. Apollo 11 in Real Time is a website that will drop you into the mission in progress at that very second, exactly 50 years ago.

The website streams photos, television broadcasts, film shot by the astronauts and transcripts of the mission in real time — including, for the first time, 50 channels of mission-control audio.

https://apolloinrealtime.org/11/?utm_source=Nature+Briefing&utm_campaign=c2e1c3b228-briefing-dy-20190716&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c9dfd39373-c2e1c3b228-44039353

For about a century now, scientists have theorized that the metals in our Universe are the result of stellar nucleosynthesis. This theory states that after the first stars formed, heat and pressure in their interiors led to the creation of heavier elements like silicon and iron. These elements not only enriched future generations of stars (“metallicity”), but also provided the material from which the planets formed.

More recent work has suggested that some of the heaviest elements could actually be the result of binary stars merging. In fact, a recent study by two astrophysicists found that a collision which took place between two neutron stars billions of years ago produced a considerable amount of some of Earth’s heaviest elements. These include gold, platinum and uranium, which then became part of the material from which Earth formed.

The research was conducted by Prof. Szabolcs Márka from Columbia University and Prof. Imre Bartos of the University of Florida. Their findings were published in a study titled “Nearby Neutron-Star Mergers Explain Actinide Abundance in the Early Solar System”, which recently appeared in the May issue of the scientific journal Nature.


An artist’s conception of two neutron stars, moments before they collide. Credit: NASA

According to the scientific consensus, asteroids and comets are composed of material left over from the formation of the Solar System. When bits of these come to Earth in the form of meteorites, they carry traces of radioactive isotopes whose decay is used to determine when the asteroids were created. The study of these space rocks can also shed light on what materials existed in our Solar System billions of years ago.

For the sake of their study, Bartos and Márka ran numerical simulations of the Milky Way and compared the results to the composition of meteorites that were retrieved on Earth. What they found was that a single neutron-star collision could have occurred within our cosmic neighborhood – ~1,000 light years from our Solar System – roughly 4.65 billion years ago.

At the time, our Solar System was still a massive cloud of dust and gas that would soon undergo gravitational collapse at its center, thus giving birth to our Sun. Roughly 100 million years later, the Earth and other Solar Planets would form from the proto-planetary debris disk that fell into orbit around our young Sun.

This single cosmic event, they estimate, gave birth to elements that would become part of this disk – and which now make up roughly 0.3% of the Earth’s heaviest elements. Most of these are in the form on iodine, an element which is essential to biological processes. In this respect, this event may have played a role in the emergence of life here in the Solar System as well.

To put this event in perspective, consider that the Milky Way galaxy is an estimated 100,000 light years in diameter. This collision and the resulting explosion, therefore, took place roughly 1/100th the distance away. In fact, the research team indicated that if a similar event happened at the same distance today, the resulting radiation would outshine every star in the sky.

What is especially interesting about this study is the way it provides insight into an event that was both unique and highly consequential in the history and formation of Earth and our Solar System. “It sheds bright light on the processes involved in the origin and composition of our Solar System, and will initiate a new type of quest within disciplines, such as chemistry, biology and geology, to solve the cosmic puzzle,” Bartos summarized.

And as Márka indicated, it also addresses some of the deeper questions scientists have about the origins of life as we know it:

“Our results address a fundamental quest of humanity: Where did we come from and where are we going? It is very difficult to describe the tremendous emotions we felt when we realized what we had found and what it means for the future as we search for an explanation of our place in the universe.”

It also reaffirms what Carl Sagan famously said: “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us… The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

https://www.universetoday.com/142157/the-earths-gold-came-from-two-neutron-stars-that-collided-billions-of-years-ago-1/