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Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter's moon Europa 86

Scientists already had indications that there was a large ocean beneath the ice sheet of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Now, with this finding, it could become the first habitable place of our Solar System, in addition to the Earth.

Europa Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter's moon Europa

Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft took the first foreground images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

These revealed brown cracks that cut the icy surface of the moon, which gives Europa the appearance of a venous eyeball.

Missions to the outer solar system in subsequent decades have accumulated enough additional information about Europa to make it a priority research objective in NASA’s search for life.

What makes this moon so attractive is the possibility that it has all the necessary ingredients for life.

Scientists have evidence that one of these ingredients, liquid water, is present beneath the icy surface and that it can sometimes break into space in huge geysers.

But nobody has been able to confirm the presence of water in these plumes by directly measuring the water molecule itself, until now …

Recently, a team led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has detected water vapor for the first time on the surface of Europa.

To do this, the vapor was measured by observing this moon through one of the largest telescopes in the world, the WM Keck Observatory on top of the Mauna Kea volcano, Hawaii.

Confirming that there is water vapor over Europa helps scientists better understand the inner workings of the moon.

For example, it helps support an idea: that there is an ocean of liquid water, possibly twice as large as Earth’s, splashing beneath the ice sheet of miles of this moon – an idea that is almost a certainty.

Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter's moon Europa
Left: the image of Europa taken 2.9 million km by the Voyager 1 probe, on March 2, 1979. Center: color image was taken on July 9, 1979, by the Voyager 2 probe. Right: view of Europa made with images taken by the Galileo probe in the late 1990s.

Some scientists suspect that another source of water for plumes could be shallow deposits of melted water ice not far below the surface of Europa.

It is also possible that Jupiter‘s strong radiation field is removing water particles from Europe’s ice sheet, although recent research argued against this mechanism as the observed water source.

«Essential chemical elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) and energy sources, two of the three requirements for life, are found throughout the solar system.

But the third, liquid water, is somewhat difficult to find beyond Earth, ”said Lucas Paganini, a NASA planetary scientist and who led the water detection investigation.

“While scientists have not yet detected liquid water directly, we have found the following best option: water in the form of steam.”

Paganini and his team reported in the journal Nature Astronomy on November 18 that they detected enough water release from Europa (2,360 kilograms per second) to fill an Olympic pool in minutes.

However, scientists also discovered that water appears infrequently; at least not in quantities large enough to detect them frequently from Earth.

In fact, surface water molecules were detected only once in 17 nights of observation.

“For me, the interesting thing about this work is not only the first direct detection of water on Europa but also the lack of it within the limits of our detection method,” Paganini concluded.

Future research

Soon we could find definitive answers about the mysteries of Europa and its habitability level.

The Clipper mission to this moon is expected to be launched in the middle of next year, to finally round off decades of investigation of other missions.

When it arrives on Europa, Clipper will orbit it and make a detailed survey of its surface, interior, atmosphere, subsurface ocean, and other characteristics.

It will also take pictures of the geysers and perform analysis of the atmospheric molecules with mass spectroscopes.

And if that were not enough, it will leave everything ready for the next step, finding an ideal place for NASA to send a robot to collect samples.

Source: NASA

Space

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 99
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 100

A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Space

Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 101
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

Why the universe does not fit into science 102

How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

Why the universe does not fit into science 103

It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

Why the universe does not fit into science 104

Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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Space

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars 105

The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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