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Scientists claim to have discovered something “earthshaking” on Mars

The Mars Science Laboratory team has hinted that they might have some big news to share soon. But like good scientists, they are waiting until they verify their results before saying anything definitive. In an interview on NPR today, MSL Principal Investigator John Grotzinger said a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) shows something “earthshaking.”

“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” he said. “It’s looking really good.” What could it be?

SAM is designed to investigate the chemical and isotopic composition of the Martian atmosphere and soil. In particular, SAM is looking for organic molecules, which is important in the search for life on Mars. Life as we know it cannot exist without organic molecules; however they can exist without life. SAM will be able to detect lower concentrations of a wider variety of organic molecules than any other instrument yet sent to Mars.

As many scientists have said, both the presence and the absence of organic molecules would be important science results, as both would provide important information about the environmental conditions of Gale Crater on Mars.

But something ‘Earthshaking’ or “really good” probably wouldn’t be a nil result.

Scientists claim to have discovered something "earthshaking" on Mars

Already, the team has found evidence for huge amounts of flowing water in Gale Crater.

If SAM does find organic material, the next step would be to determine the origin and the nature of preservation of the molecules. But the team is going to wait until they verify whatever it is they found.

As NPR’s Joe Palca says in his report, “They have some exciting new results from one of the rover’s instruments. On the one hand, they’d like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument.”

The team is being cautious because of their experience with looking for methane in the Martian air. When one of the SAM instruments analyzed an air sample, they got a reading of methane. But, it turned out, they were likely measuring some of the air that was brought along from Florida, as air leaked into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) while the spacecraft was awaiting launch. The initial readings from the TLS, full of methane, were very exciting to the Curiosity scientists until they realized it was from Earth.

But NPR reports that Grotzinger says it will take several weeks before he and his team are ready to talk about their latest finding.

In the meantime there will likely be much speculation as everyone is excited about the prospects of life – past or present – on Mars. Either would have astounding implications.

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Space

Massive sunspot facing Earth could be bad news as we enter a new 25 solar cycle

A massive sunspot has formed on the Sun, which will be turned towards our planet, which can lead to large and very strong flares aimed at the Earth

The sunspot AR2770, which was recorded earlier this week, will increase in size. This particular sunspot has already emitted several minor flares, which have caused nothing serious, except for “small waves of ionization running through the upper atmosphere of the Earth.”

However, this sunspot, which can be up to 50,000 kilometers in diameter, can release enormous amounts of energy, which in turn can lead to solar flares. 

This phenomenon is called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). These outbreaks can have a serious impact on radio communications, global positioning systems (GPS) communications, power grids and satellites.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), CMEs can “oscillate electrical currents in space and excite electrons and protons trapped in Earth’s changing magnetic field.” Solar flares caused by these CMEs can also cause intense light in the sky called auroras.

On the Sun, the active zone was transformed into an ideal number 2


What is a sunspot?

A spot is a dark area in the sun that appears dark on the surface and is relatively cooler than other parts. These sunspots contain electrically charged gases that create areas of powerful magnetic forces. Gases on our Sun are constantly moving, which causes irregularities in this “magnetic field”. This activity is also called “solar activity”. The levels of solar activity do not remain the same and differ from one solar cycle to the next.

What is a solar flare?

Solar flares are the result of changes in the magnetic fields at sunspots that cause a huge explosion. These solar flares are often thrown into space. The energy of the explosion of solar flares can be equivalent to a trillion atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Is a new 25 cycle starting?

At the moment, there is no complete confidence in the beginning of the 25th solar cycle, which will mark a gradual increase in solar activity. Only one thing is clear – the solar minimum, if suddenly it continues, nothing good for our planet and, accordingly, will not bring us all.

Due to the practically zero activity of the Sun on Earth, record levels of cosmic radiation are recorded. To put it simply, our entire planet is essentially turned into a huge microwave.

But the resumption of solar activity after a long period of calm is also not good, since no one can predict the levels of this activity, and if it is high, this could potentially lead to a powerful super-flash that will cover the Earth.

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What did Mars look like millions of years ago? New theory

At the moment, Mars is considered the most suitable planet for human life. It is in many ways similar to our native Earth: the surface is solid, the day lasts almost the same 24 hours and periodically there is a change of seasons. 

Scientists are sure that millions of years ago between our planet and Mars there were even more similarities, such as the presence of water and living organisms. He has one snag – in time immemorial the sun was much weaker than it is now, and Mars was quite far from it and was not going to approach. It turns out that the planet was cold and there could not be rivers and oceans on it. 

But how, then, can explain the presence of valleys and depressions on its surface, which were clearly formed as a result of the flow of water? Canadian scientists have started looking for an explanation for this mysterious phenomenon. 

In the course of scientific work, they managed to put forward a theory that greatly changes the idea of ​​scientists about the past of the Red Planet. Perhaps Mars looked like a giant snowball.

Millions of years ago, Mars was hardly a warm place

Water on Mars

The essence of the theory was published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience . According to one of the study’s authors, Anna Grau Galofre , over the past 40 years, the scientific community has believed that irregularities on the surface of Mars were formed by the movement of rivers. 

However, there are distinctive features between valleys and depressions in different regions of the planet. To find out what factors could affect the structure of the irregularities, scientists decided to find a place on Earth, the surface of which is as close as possible to the Martian landscape. However, researchers have long known about the existence of such a place.

Mars on Earth

One of the most Mars-like places on our planet is considered the uninhabited island of Devon, located in northern Canada. Almost all of its surface is a cold and dry desert. If you look at the island from a bird’s eye view or even from a satellite, you will notice that its surface is really very similar to the vastness of the Red Planet. 

It is also full of all kinds of irregularities and scientists are well aware of how they were formed. Since Devon Island is a rather cold place, most of the rivers there flow under a layer of ice. Part of the ice sheet melted over time and the valleys left by the rivers are now clearly visible to us. In their structure, they are very different from the valleys formed by rivers that flow in the open.

The surface of Devon Island is very similar to the Martian landscape

So, scientists became aware of the distinctive features of the two types of valleys. Based on this data, they developed an algorithm that was able to quickly study photographs of 10,000 Martian irregularities. 

Among them, the researchers found many valleys, which clearly formed under a thick layer of ice. Most of them were formed about 3.8 billion years ago. It turns out that once upon a time, although not all, but most of Mars, was covered with ice and snow. But scientists assumed that it was very similar to our blue-green Earth.

Above is the surface of Mars, and below is the surface of Devon Island

Life on Mars

If Mars really was covered with layers of ice, then the probability of the existence of living organisms on it increases markedly. The fact is that microorganisms could well inhabit the waters hidden under the ice sheet. And this shield, in turn, could perfectly protect them from cosmic radiation. 

Indeed, the Red Planet has a very weak magnetic field, which is precisely what serves to protect against harmful radiation. So, despite the changes in the idea of ​​the appearance and conditions of ancient Mars, the probability that at least primitive creatures lived on it remained. Maybe someday their traces will be discovered by devices like InSight and we will gain confidence that life on other planets can exist.

According to the new theory, 3.8 billion years ago Mars looked something like this

The computer algorithm created within the framework of scientific work will not disappear. According to the developers, it can be useful for studying the past of the Earth. 

Technologies existing at the moment allow us to look at history no further than 5 million years, and a new algorithm can reconstruct the history of glaciations on our planet over the past 35 million years. It sounds intriguing, so we can only hope that new discoveries will not be long in coming.

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Neutron star formed in front of astronomers

Astronomers fought their way through the dusty curtain to the newborn neutron star

Thirty-three years ago, astronomers recorded a supernova explosion, 1987A. And just recently they found a neutron star formed in this cataclysm. This is the youngest such object in the history of observations. For some time, scientists doubted that they were observing exactly a neutron star, but fresh scientific work has provided very convincing evidence of this.

On February 23, 1987, male astronomers (and also female astronomers) received a gift from the Universe. On this day, supernova 1987A was discovered, which exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud – a nearby dwarf galaxy, a satellite of the Milky Way.

As you know, a star dying in a supernova explosion (or rather, what is left of it) turns either into a black hole or into a neutron star. Scientists were confident that in the case of 1987A, the second option was realized. This was indicated by the flux of neutrinos recorded by terrestrial detectors simultaneously with the light of the flash.

Recall that a neutron star is a celestial body with a diameter of only a few kilometers, which, at the same time, is comparable in mass to the Sun. Due to the monstrous density and the most powerful magnetic field, the matter inside such an object is in states that cannot be reproduced in terrestrial laboratories. Therefore, neutron stars are of great interest to physicists. And, of course, astronomers who seek to figure out the ins and outs of every object and process in the universe.

The 1987A explosion gave researchers the first chance to study the neutron star that formed before their eyes and understand what these celestial bodies are like immediately after birth. All other known neutron stars are much older.

So, the second place belongs to the recently discovered object , which is 240 years old, and even it is surprisingly young compared to its counterparts millions of years old.

Let us clarify that new supernova explosions are discovered regularly and in large numbers , but in galaxies that are too distant to make out the formed neutron star. And the 1987A flare occurred only 168 thousand light years from Earth. It was the closest supernova explosion seen since the invention of the telescope.

Supernova Remnant 1987A at different wavelengths. The inset shows the radiation of a hot central object.Illustration ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), P. Cigan, R. Indebetouw; NRAO / AUI / NSF, B. Saxton; NASA / ESA.

Alas, by pointing telescopes at the site of the 1987A flare, astronomers saw only a dense cloud of dust formed during a supernova explosion. For more than thirty years, using increasingly powerful instruments, scientists have tried to discern at least some trace of the central body. And finally they succeeded.

In 2019, the ALMA radio telescope helped astronomers see the supernova remnant 1987A in unprecedented detail. Thanks to this, astronomers discovered that there is a compact and very hot object in the center of the dust cloud. Although the “heater” itself remains hidden behind the dust curtain, the telescope records the radiation of the dust heated by it.

“We were very surprised to see this hot ball formed in a thick cloud of dust in a supernova remnant,” says co-author Mikako Matsuura of Cardiff University. “There must be something in the cloud that heats the dust and makes it glow This is why we assumed there was a neutron star hiding inside the dust cloud.

However, the radiation power seemed suspicious to scientists. Could a neutron star be so hot? Or is there something else lurking in the center of the dust cloud?

“We thought that such a neutron star might be too bright to exist. But then Dani Page and his team published a study that showed that a neutron star could actually be so bright because it is so young,” Matsuura says.

Supernova Remnant 1987A. Imaging in radio waves, visible light and X-rays. Translated by Vesti.Ru.Illustration ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), P. Cigan, R. Indebetouw; NRAO / AUI / NSF, B. Saxton; NASA / ESA.

The scientific article , published in the edition of the Astrophysical Journal by Dany Page of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and his colleagues, set the record straight. Experts have shown that the dust-heating object at the center of Supernova remnant 1987A not only could be a neutron star, but could hardly be anything else.

According to the calculations of Page and his co-authors, the temperature of a neutron star 30 years after its birth should be five million degrees. This is just enough to explain the observed heating of the dust.

In addition, the central object is located exactly where the neutron star should have been thrown by the explosion (by the way, at the time of the cataclysm, it was moving at a speed of hundreds of kilometers per second).

Finally, recall that the neutrinos recorded in 1987 indicate that a neutron star was formed during a supernova explosion, not a black hole.

However, theoretically, the central object can be a black hole, onto which a dense stream of matter falls. But this requires a fantastically accurate adjustment of its properties to observational data, which is extremely unlikely. So experts are confident that they have finally “groped” for a newborn neutron star.

We now see the 1987A supernova remnant as it was 33 years after the explosion. Perhaps, after a few more decades, the dust cloud dispersed a little and began to transmit the radiation from the central object. Scientists are looking forward to the moment when these rays will reach the Earth.

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