Posts Tagged ‘formation of the solar system’

Titan’s Building Blocks Might Pre-Date Saturn

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A combined NASA and European Space Agency (ESA)-funded study has found firm evidence that nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan originated in conditions similar to the cold birthplace of the most ancient comets from the Oort cloud. The finding rules out the possibility that Titan’s building blocks formed within the warm disk of material thought to have surrounded the infant planet Saturn during its formation.

The main implication of this new research is that Titan’s building blocks formed early in the solar system’s history, in the cold disk of gas and dust that formed the sun. This was also the birthplace of many comets, which retain a primitive, or largely unchanged, composition today.

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55-Year-Old Dark Side Of The Moon Mystery Solved

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The “man in the moon” appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no “face” exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State astrophysicists think they know why.

This mystery is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem and dates back to 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the dark side of the moon back to Earth. It was called the dark side because it was unknown, not because sunlight does not reach it. Researchers immediately noticed that fewer “seas” or maria existed on this portion of the moon that always faces away from Earth.

Wright, Steinn Sigurdsson, professor of astrophysics and Arpita Roy, graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics, and lead author of the study, realized that the absence of maria, which is due to a difference in crustal thickness between the side of the moon we see and the hidden side, is a consequence of how the moon originally formed. The researchers report their results in today’s (June 9) Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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Snow Falling around Infant Solar System: Icy Region Gives Planet And Comet Formation A Boost

ALMA image of CO snow line. Credit: Karin Oberg, Harvard/University of Virginia

ALMA image of CO snow line. Credit: Karin Oberg, Harvard/University of Virginia

The sight of a snowfall can thrill children, but the first-ever snow line seen around a distant star gives astronomers an even greater thrill because of what it reveals about the formation of planets and our Solar System’s history.

Astronomers using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have taken the first-ever image of a snow line in an infant solar system. This frosty landmark is thought to play an essential role in the formation and chemical make-up of planets around a young star.

On Earth, snow lines typically form at high elevations where falling temperatures turn atmospheric moisture to snow. In much the same way, snow lines are thought to form around young stars in the distant, colder reaches of the disks from which solar systems form. Depending on the distance from the star, however, other more exotic molecules can freeze and turn to snow.

“ALMA has given us the first real picture of a snow line around a young star, which is extremely exciting because of what it tells us about the very early period in the history of our own Solar System,” said Chunhua “Charlie” Qi, a researcher with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who led the international research team with Karin Oberg, a researcher with Harvard University and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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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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Exploding Star Missing From Formation Of Solar System

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

A new study published by University of Chicago researchers challenges the notion that the force of an exploding star prompted the formation of the solar system.

In this study, published online last month in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, authors Haolan Tang and Nicolas Dauphas found the radioactive isotope iron 60 — the telltale sign of an exploding star—low in abundance and well mixed in solar system material. As cosmochemists, they look for remnants of stellar explosions in meteorites to help determine the conditions under which the solar system formed.

They discovered that levels of iron 60 were uniform and low in early solar system material. They arrived at these conclusions by testing meteorite samples.

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MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals New Insights on Planet Mercury

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Thanks to the MESSENGER spacecraft, and a mission that took more than 10 years to complete, scientists now have a good picture of the solar system’s innermost planet.

On March 17, MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) completed its one-year primary mission, orbiting Mercury, capturing nearly 100,000 images, and recording data that reveals new information about the planet’s core, topography, and the mysterious radar bright material in the permanently shadowed areas near the poles. The findings are presented in two papers published online in Science Express.

“Mercury is the last unexplored planet,” said UC Santa Barbara physics professor emeritus Stanton Peale, who devised the procedure used for detecting whether or not Mercury had a liquid core. The way Mercury was formed, he said, may show some constraints on the formation of the solar system.

For one thing, Mercury’s core is larger than expected –– almost 85 percent of the planetary radius. The Earth’s core, in contrast, is just over half of the planet’s radius. Additionally, Mercury appears to have a more complex core than Earth’s –– a solid iron sulfide layer that is now part of the mantle, which encases a liquid core, which may float on a solid inner core.

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