Archive for the ‘Solar System Formation’ Category

Subaru Telescope Detects Rare Form Of Nitrogen In Comet ISON

February 24, 2014 Leave a comment

A team of astronomers, led by Ph.D. candidate Yoshiharu Shinnaka and Professor Hideyo Kawakita, both from Kyoto Sangyo University, successfully observed the Comet ISON during its bright outburst in the middle of November 2013. Subaru Telescope’s High Dispersion Spectrograph (HDS) detected two forms of nitrogen–14NH2 and 15NH2–in the comet. This is the first time that astronomers have reported a clear detection of the relatively rare isotope 15NH2 in a single comet and also measured the relative abundance of two different forms of nitrogen (“nitrogen isotopic ratio”) of cometary ammonia (NH3). Their results support the hypothesis that there were two distinct reservoirs of nitrogen the massive, dense cloud (“solar nebula”) from which our Solar System may have formed and evolved.

Why did the team focus on studying these different forms of nitrogen in the comet? Comets are relatively small Solar System objects composed of ice and dust, which formed 4.6 billion years ago in the solar nebula when our Solar System was in its infancy. Because they usually reside in cold regions far from the Sun, e.g., the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, they probably preserve information about the physical and chemical conditions in the early Solar System. Different forms and abundances of the same molecule provide information about their source and evolution. Were they from a stellar nursery (a primordial interstellar cloud) or from a distinctive cloud (solar nebula) that may have formed our Solar System’s star, the Sun? Scientists do not yet understand very well how cometary molecules separate into isotopes with different abundances. Isotopes of nitrogen from ammonia (NH3) may hold the key.

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A Cometary Graveyard

A team of astronomers from the University of Anitoquia, Medellin, Colombia, have discovered a graveyard of comets. The researchers, led by Antioquia astronomer Prof. Ignacio Ferrin, describe how some of these objects, inactive for millions of years, have returned to life leading them to name the group the ‘Lazarus comets’. The team publish their results in the Oxford University Press journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The new work looked at a third and distinct region of the Solar System, the main belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This volume of space contains more than 1 million objects ranging in size from 1 m to 800 km. The traditional explanation for asteroids is that they are the building blocks of a planet that never formed, as the movement of the pieces was disrupted by the strong gravitational field of Jupiter.

In the last decade 12 active comets have been discovered in the asteroid main belt region. This was something of a surprise and the Medellin team set out to investigate their origin. The team, made up of Prof. Ferrin and his colleagues Profs. Jorge Zuluaga and Pablo Cuartas, now think they have an explanation.

“We found a graveyard of comets”, exclaims Professor Ferrín. He adds: “Imagine all these asteroids going around the Sun for aeons, with no hint of activity. We have found that some of these are not dead rocks after all, but are dormant comets that may yet come back to life if the energy that they receive from the Sun increases by a few per cent.”

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Moon And Earth Have Common Water Source

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.”

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The Mathematical Method For Simulating The Evolution Of The Solar System Has Been Improved By UPV/EHU Researchers

In order to improve a simulation designed to study the evolution of the solar system through time, numerical mathematical methods have been developed at the Computing Faculty of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). Specifically, the methods proposed enable the simulation calculations to be done faster and more accurately.

The methodology developed at the UPV/EHU’s Computing Faculty is a clear example of interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Indeed, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and astronomers have been working together on this task, and even though a large proportion of the work was done at the UPV/EHU, the Universities of Valencia and Castellon and the Paris Observatory were also involved.

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Organics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar System

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments.

Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed. Although every dust particle within the nebula behaved differently, they all experienced the conditions needed for organics to form over a simulated million-year period.

“Whenever you make a new planetary system, these kinds of things should go on,” said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames. “This potential to make organics and then dump them on the surfaces of any planet you make is probably a universal process.”

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Titanium Paternity Test Fingers Earth as Moon’s Sole Parent

A new chemical analysis of lunar material collected by Apollo astronauts in the 1970s conflicts with the widely held theory that a giant collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object gave birth to the moon 4.5 billion years ago.

In the giant-collision scenario, computer simulations suggest that the moon had two parents: Earth and a hypothetical planetary body that scientists call “Theia.” But a comparative analysis of titanium from the moon, Earth and meteorites, published by Junjun Zhang, graduate student in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, and four co-authors indicates the moon’s material came from Earth alone.

If two objects had given rise to the moon, “Just like in humans, the moon would have inherited some of the material from the Earth and some of the material from the impactor, approximately half and half,” said Nicolas Dauphas, associate professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, and co-author of the study, which appears in the March 25 edition of Nature Geoscience.

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NASA Lunar Scientists Shed Light on Moon’s Impact History

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

A team of researchers from the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have discovered that debris that caused a “lunar cataclysm” on the moon 4 billion years ago struck it at much higher speeds than those that made the most ancient craters. The scientists found evidence supporting this scenario by examining the history of crater formation on the moon.

During Earth’s earliest days, our planet and others in the inner solar system, including the moon, experienced repeated impacts from debris that formed the building blocks of the planets. Over time, as material was swept up and incorporated into the inner planets, the rate of impacts decreased. Then, roughly 4 billion years ago, a second wave of impacts appears to have taken place, with lunar projectiles hitting at much higher speeds. This increase could reflect the origin of the debris, where main belt asteroids were dislodged and sent into the inner solar system by shifts in the orbits of the giant planets.

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