The first ever evidence of a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere and exploding, raining down a shock wave of fire which obliterated every life form in its path, has been discovered by a team of South African scientists and international collaborators, and will be presented at a public lecture on Thursday.
The discovery has not only provided the first definitive proof of a comet striking Earth, millions of years ago, but it could also help us to unlock, in the future, the secrets of the formation of our solar system.
“Comets always visit our skies – they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust – but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” says Professor David Block of Wits University.
The comet entered Earth’s atmosphere above Egypt about 28 million years ago. As it entered the atmosphere, it exploded, heating up the sand beneath it to a temperature of about 2 000 degrees Celsius, and resulting in the formation of a huge amount of yellow silica glass which lies scattered over a 6 000 square kilometer area in the Sahara. A magnificent specimen of the glass, polished by ancient jewellers, is found in Tutankhamun’s brooch with its striking yellow-brown scarab.
In 2012, Astronomy & Astrophysics published a statistical study of the isotopic records of solar activity, in which Abreu et al. claimed that there is evidence of planetary influence on solar activity. A&A is publishing a new analysis of these isotopic data by Cameron and Schüssler. It corrects technical errors in the statistical tests performed by Abreu et al. They find no evidence of any planetary effect on solar activity.
The Sun is a magnetically active star. Its activity manifests itself as dark sunspots and bright faculae on its visible surface, as well as violent mass ejections and the acceleration of high-energy particles resulting from the release of magnetic energy in its outer atmosphere. The frequency with which these phenomena occur varies in a somewhat irregular activity cycle of about 11 years, during which the global magnetic field of the Sun reverses. The solar magnetic field and the activity cycle originate in a self-excited dynamo mechanism based upon convective flows and rotation in the outer third of the solar radius.
Systematic observations of sunspots since the beginning of the 17th century indicate that solar activity also varies on longer timescales, including periods of very low activity, such as the so-called Maunder minimum between 1640 and 1700.
Full Story: http://www.aanda.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=966&Itemid=277
Using data from a NASA satellite, scientists have discovered a massive particle accelerator in the heart of one of the harshest regions of near-Earth space, a region of super-energetic, charged particles surrounding the globe and known as the Van Allen radiation belts.
New results from NASA’s Van Allen Probes show the acceleration energy is in the belts themselves. Local bumps of energy kick particles inside the belts to ever-faster speeds, much like a well-timed push on a moving swing. Knowing the location of the acceleration within the radiation belts will help scientists improve predictions of space weather, which can be hazardous to satellites near Earth. The results were published Thursday in the journal Science.
“Until the 1990s, we thought the Van Allen belts were pretty well-behaved and changed slowly,” says Geoff Reeves, lead author on the paper and a radiation belt scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. “With more and more measurements, however, we realized how quickly and unpredictably the radiation belts change. They are basically never in equilibrium, but in a constant state of change.”
Two NASA spacecraft, one studying the Saturn system, the other observing Mercury, are maneuvering into place to take pictures of Earth on July 19 and 20.
The image taken from the Saturn system by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will occur between 2:27 and 2:42 PDT (5:27 and 5:42 p.m. EDT, or 21:27 and 21:47 UTC) Friday, July 19. Cassini will be nearly 900 million miles (nearly 1.5 billion kilometers) away from Earth. NASA is encouraging the public to look and wave in the direction of Saturn at the time of the portrait and share their pictures via the Internet.
The Cassini Earth portrait is part of a more extensive mosaic — or multi-image picture — of the Saturn system as it is backlit by the sun. The viewing geometry highlights the tiniest of ring particles and will allow scientists to see patterns within Saturn’s dusty rings. Processing of the Earth images is expected to take a few days, and processing of the full Saturn system mosaic will likely take several weeks.
Full Story and Links: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-225
We value gold for many reasons: its beauty, its usefulness as jewelry, and its rarity. Gold is rare on Earth in part because it’s also rare in the universe. Unlike elements like carbon or iron, it cannot be created within a star. Instead, it must be born in a more cataclysmic event – like one that occurred last month known as a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Observations of this GRB provide evidence that it resulted from the collision of two neutron stars – the dead cores of stars that previously exploded as supernovae. Moreover, a unique glow that persisted for days at the GRB location potentially signifies the creation of substantial amounts of heavy elements – including gold.
“We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses – quite a lot of bling!” says lead author Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
NASA is inviting members of the media and public to participate in online and television events May 30-31 with NASA officials and experts discussing the agency’s asteroid initiative and the Earth flyby of the 1.7-mile-long asteroid 1998 QE2.
At 4:59 p.m. EDT, Friday, May 31, 1998 QE2 will pass by Earth at a safe distance of about 3.6 million miles — its closest approach for at least the next two centuries. The asteroid was discovered Aug. 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Program near Socorro, N.M.
Full Story, Times and Links: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2013/may/HQ_M13-086_QE2_Asteriod_Events.html
Water inside the Moon’s mantle came from primitive meteorites, new research finds, the same source thought to have supplied most of the water on Earth. The findings raise new questions about the process that formed the Moon.
The Moon is thought to have formed from a disc of debris left when a giant object hit the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, very early in Earth’s history. Scientists have long assumed that the heat from an impact of that size would cause hydrogen and other volatile elements to boil off into space, meaning the Moon must have started off completely dry. But recently, NASA spacecraft and new research on samples from the Apollo missions have shown that the Moon actually has water, both on its surface and beneath.
By showing that water on the Moon and on Earth came from the same source, this new study offers yet more evidence that the Moon’s water has been there all along.
“The simplest explanation for what we found is that there was water on the proto-Earth at the time of the giant impact,” said Alberto Saal, associate professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University and the study’s lead author. “Some of that water survived the impact, and that’s what we see in the Moon.”