Microorganisms that crashed to Earth embedded in the fragments of distant planets might have been the sprouts of life on this one, according to new research presented at the European Planetary Sciences Congress (EPSC) on 25 September.
The researchers report that under certain conditions there is a high probability that life came to Earth — or spread from Earth to other planets — during the Solar System’s infancy when Earth and its planetary neighbours orbiting other stars would have been close enough to each other to exchange lots of solid material.
The findings provide the strongest support yet for lithopanspermia, the hypothesis that basic life forms are distributed throughout the Universe via meteorite-like planetary fragments cast forth by disruptions such as volcanic eruptions and collisions with objects such as asteroids.
Microorganisms that crashed to Earth embedded in the fragments of distant planets might have been the sprouts of life on this one, according to new research from Princeton University, the University of Arizona and the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Spain.
The researchers report in the journal Astrobiology that under certain conditions there is a high probability that life came to Earth — or spread from Earth to other planets — during the solar system’s infancy when Earth and its planetary neighbors orbiting other stars would have been close enough to each other to exchange lots of solid material.
The findings provide the strongest support yet for “lithopanspermia,” the idea that basic life forms are distributed throughout the universe via meteorite-like planetary fragments cast forth by disruptions such as volcanic eruptions and collisions with other matter. Eventually, another planetary system’s gravity traps these roaming rocks, which can result in a mingling that transfers any living cargo.
Los Alamos National Laboratory expertise in radiation detection and shielding is poised to help a national team of scientists better understand a mysterious region that can create hazardous space weather near our home planet.
The Helium Oxygen Proton Electron (HOPE) analyzer is one of a suite of instruments that was successfully launched today as part of the Radiation Belt Storm Probe mission—an effort by NASA and the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory to gain insight into the Sun’s influence on Earth and near-Earth space by studying our planet’s radiation belt.
“Today we are boldly going where no spacecraft ever wants to go,” said plasma physicist Geoffrey Reeves of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Intelligence and Space Research Division. “We know we’re going into the riskiest of environments, so we’ve taken the greatest steps ensure the satellites can complete their mission.”
NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), the first twin-spacecraft mission designed to explore our planet’s radiation belts, launched into the predawn skies at 4:05a.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
“Scientists will learn in unprecedented detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles, what causes them to change and how these processes affect the upper reaches of the atmosphere around Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “The information collected from these probes will benefit the public by allowing us to better protect our satellites and understand how space weather affects communications and technology on Earth.”
The hardy RBSP satellites will spend the next 2 years looping through every part of both Van Allen belts. By having two spacecraft in different regions of the belts at the same time, scientists finally will be able to gather data from within the belts themselves, learning how they change over space and time.
Scientists have long suspected that the Sun’s 11-year cycle influences climate of certain regions on Earth. Yet records of average, seasonal temperatures do not date back far enough to confirm any patterns. Now, armed with a unique proxy, an international team of researchers show that unusually cold winters in Central Europe are related to low solar activity — when sunspot numbers are minimal. The freezing of Germany’s largest river, the Rhine, is the key.
From the early 19th through mid-20th centuries, riverboat men used the Rhine for cargo transport. And so docks along the river have annual records of when ice clogged the waterway and stymied shipping. The scientists used these easily-accessible documents, as well as other additional historical accounts, to determine the number of freezing episodes since 1780.
Mapping the freezing episodes against the solar activity’s 11-year cycle — a cycle of the Sun’s varying magnetic strength and thus total radiation output — Sirocko and his colleagues determined that ten of the fourteen freezes occurred during years when the Sun had minimal sunspots. Using statistical methods, the scientists calculated that there is a 99 percent chance that extremely cold Central European winters and low solar activity are inherently linked.
On Aug. 24, NASA will launch two identical satellites from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin its Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission to study the extremes of space weather and help scientists improve space weather forecasts.
Why should you care?
Because, says a University of Iowa space physics researcher, if you’ve ever used a cell phone, traveled by plane, or stayed up late to catch a glimpse of the northern lights, then you have been affected by space weather without even knowing about it.
At 4:07 a.m. Friday, August 24, NASA’s twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes are scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a two-year mission to investigate Earth’s hazardous radiation belt environment as never before. On board both spacecraft will be a host of scientific hardware and software from teams at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center (SSC).
Harlan Spence, director of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, is lead scientist or “principal investigator” of the Energetic Particle, Composition, and Thermal Plasma (ECT) instrument suite on the twin spacecraft, and Roy Torbert, director of the SSC, is a co-investigator on the Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science (EMFISIS) experiment.
Collectively, the mission’s five instrument suites will make the most precise measurements to date of the high-energy particles and magnetic and electric fields and waves in this near-Earth region of space where “space weather” occurs and hundreds of spacecraft operate.
Results from an expedition to far eastern Russia that set out to find the origin of naturally occurring quasicrystals have provided convincing evidence that they arrived on Earth from outer space.
Writing in IOP Publishing’s journal Reports on Progress in Physics, Paul J Steinhardt and Luca Bindi reveal that new, naturally occurring quasicrystal samples have been found in an environment that does not have the extreme terrestrial conditions needed to produce them, therefore strengthening the case that they were brought to Earth by a meteorite.
Furthermore, their findings reveal that the samples of quasicrystals were brought to the area during the last glacial period, suggesting the meteorite was most likely to have hit Earth around 15 000 years ago.
Full Story: http://www.iop.org/news/12/aug/page_56710.html
NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) are set to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket Aug. 23. The 20-minute launch window for the twin probes at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 begins at 4:08 a.m. EDT.
Launch commentary coverage, as well as prelaunch media briefings, will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
RBSP will explore space weather — changes in Earth’s space environment caused by the sun — that can disable satellites, create power grid failures and disrupt GPS service. The mission also will allow researchers to understand fundamental radiation and particle acceleration processes throughout the universe.
NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) mission will send two spacecraft into the harsh environment of our planet’s radiation belts. Final preparations have begun for launch on Thursday, Aug. 23, from Florida’s Space Coast.
The RBSP spacecraft are designed to fly and operate in the heart of the most hazardous regions of near-Earth space to collect crucial data. The data will help researchers develop an understanding of the Van Allen radiation belts, two rings of very high energy electrons and protons that can pose hazards to human and robotic explorers.
RBSP will help scientists understand how the invisible radiation belts — named for James Van Allen, who discovered them — behave and react to changes in the sun, thereby contributing to Earth’s space weather. Space weather is caused in great part by the sun’s influence on Earth and near-Earth space, including solar events such as giant eruptions of solar material called coronal mass ejections.