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Scientists detect water vapor on Jupiter’s moon Europa

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

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Space

Is Planet X a miniature black hole? Astrophysicists have come up with a way to find out

This can be tracked by miniature flashes of light that will form after a black hole absorbs surrounding objects.

Could a hypothetical ninth planet of the solar system, the “X-planet,” be a miniature black hole? US astrophysicists have figured out how to find out with the LSST observational telescope under construction. An article describing the work was accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“If small celestial bodies fall in the vicinity of a black hole, they begin to melt under the influence of heat, which produces gas falling on the event horizon. After that, the attraction of the black hole begins to break them, resulting in characteristic flashes of light,” one of the authors work said, professor at Harvard University Abraham Loeb.

Almost five years ago, two American planetologists, Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown, said they had found the first traces of the existence of the mysterious X-Planet. So scientists called the hypothetical ninth planet of the solar system, which is located at least 100 billion kilometers from the sun and is similar in size to Neptune or Uranus.

Until scientists found it, the researchers were only able to narrow down the area where it might be located, as well as find new hints of its existence. These failures made many astronomers doubt the hypothesis. Other planetologists have begun to look for alternatives for what the X-Planet might look like and where it might be.

For example, some astrophysicists now admit that the X-Planet may not actually be a gas giant, a large earth-like planet or a “guest” from another star system, but a much more exotic object – the so-called primary black hole.

It is a miniature analogue of ordinary and supermassive black holes, which in mass are comparable not with stars and galaxies, but with planets. As cosmologists suggest, such black holes could appear in the first moments of the existence of the Universe due to the fact that matter was unevenly distributed over its space. The largest of them could survive to the present day – however, they are gradually decreasing due to Hawking radiation.

Searches for “Planet X”

Finding such objects, as Professor Loeb notes, is even more difficult than the classic X-Planet. This is due to the fact that such black holes, unlike the coldest and most invisible planets, do not themselves generate any radiation.

Harvard astrophysicists have found that, nevertheless, the most sensitive telescopes on Earth can still notice the primary black hole. Astronomers came to this conclusion, drawing attention to the situation in that part of the solar system where the “X-planet” or primary black hole is supposedly located.

As scientists noted, they will be located at a point where the attraction of the Sun is weakening so much that a primary black hole the size of a planet will constantly attract clusters of matter from the surrounding space, including fragments of asteroids and comets that fill the outskirts of the solar system.

As a result, according to the calculations of scientists, due to the activity of a black hole, miniature flashes of light will almost constantly occur. They can appear after the attraction of a black hole will tear apart objects with a diameter from a few centimeters to several hundred meters. For existing ground-based telescopes, these flares will be barely visible, but they can be seen by the LSST observatory under construction, which is located at the edge of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

“The LSST observatory has an extremely wide field of view, so it will receive images of the entire night sky twice a week. This is very important, given that we do not know exactly where the X-planet is located. In addition, its high sensitivity will allow us to find traces flashes that produce even the smallest objects approaching a black hole,” Loeb continues.

If the theorists’ calculations are correct, then LSST can find traces of the existence of a black hole in the first three years of operation, provided that it is comparable in mass with Jupiter or significantly less than it. Otherwise, astronomers will prove that such objects in the solar system do not exist, and will also help theorists to impose more stringent restrictions on the permissible masses of primary black holes. This is important for studying how the expansion of the universe went.

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An inconceivably ancient cosmic object was discovered

An international group of astronomers from the United States, Germany, China and Chile reported the discovery of a largest quasar called Poniua’ena, which in Hawaiian means “an invisible rotating source of creation surrounded by radiance.”

The object is located at a distance of about 30 billion light years, which corresponds to the age of the Universe at 710 million years. A preprint of the article, which will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, is available on the arxiv website.

The light from the quasar J1007 + 2115 flew 13 billion years, however, due to the accelerated expansion of the Universe, its redshift is z = 7.515, which corresponds to the actual distance to it, equal to 29.3 billion light years. Astronomers see the object as it was in the era of reionization, when the first stars appeared, ionizing hydrogen atoms with their light.

Poniua’ena contains a supermassive black hole whose mass reaches 1.5 billion solar masses, making the quasar the largest object in the early Universe. According to Jinyi Yang, lead author of the work from the University of Arizona, this is the earliest object of such a monstrous size known to scientists.

Its existence poses a problem for theoretical models of the formation of supermassive black holes, according to which, J1007 + 2115 simply would not have time to grow in 710 million years if it had originally arisen as a result of the collapse of the star.

Instead, astronomers believe, a hundred million years after the Big Bang, there was already a black hole with a mass of 10 thousand Suns, which was formed as a result of direct gravitational collapse of clouds of cold hydrogen gas.

Poniua’ena is currently the second oldest quasar found to date. In 2018, the quasar J1342 + 0928 was discovered, which is two million years older than J1007 + 2115, but at the same time half as massive.

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Space

Wormholes. To anywhere in the universe in a minute

Wormholes or tunnels in the fabric of spacetime are terribly unstable. As soon as at least one photon hits them, the wormhole closes instantly. A new study suggests that the secret to a stable wormhole is in their form.

Wormholes, if they exist, will allow us to travel from point A to some extremely distant point B without worrying about travel time. The transition would be incredibly fast. Real cheat code of the universe. See a star for millions of light years? You could reach it in just a few minutes if you had a wormhole leading to it. No wonder this is a very popular science fiction theme.

But wormholes are not just a figment of our imagination, created to carve out all the boring scenes of interstellar travel (and this is centuries and millennia). We learned about them through Einstein’s general theory of relativity: matter and energy bend and deform the fabric of space-time, the curvature of which tells matter how to move.

Therefore, when it comes to wormholes, you just need to ask yourself: is it possible to deform space-time so that it overlaps itself, forming a tunnel between two distant points? The answer was given in the 1970s – yes.

Wormholes are entirely possible and not forbidden by the general theory of relativity. But the wormholes are very unstable, because, in essence, they consist of two black holes in contact with each other and forming a tunnel. That is, we are talking about points of infinite density, surrounded by areas known as the event horizon – one-sided space barriers. If you cross the event horizon of a black hole, you will never go back.

To solve this problem, the entrance to the wormhole must be outside the event horizon. Thus, you can cross the wormhole without touching the barrier. But as soon as you enter a wormhole located between huge masses, the gravity of your presence will distort the wormhole tunnel, collapsing it. Slammed shut, the tunnel will leave two lonely black holes, separated by a space in which the remains of your body will hang.

But it turns out there is a way to place the entrance to the wormhole away from the event horizon and make the tunnel stable enough for you to get through it. For this, material with a negative mass is needed. This is an ordinary mass, but with a minus sign. And if you put together enough negative mass in one place, you could use it to keep the wormhole open.

As far as we know, a substance with a negative mass does not exist. In any case, there is no evidence that it exists. Moreover, if it were, it would violate many laws of the Universe, such as inertia and conservation of momentum. For example, if you kicked a ball with a negative mass, it would fly backward. If you place an object with a negative mass next to an object with a positive mass, they will not be attracted. On the contrary, objects will repel each other, instantly accelerating.

Since negative mass seems like a myth, it can be assumed that wormholes are unlikely to exist in the universe. But the idea of ​​wormholes is based on the mathematics of the general theory of relativity – our current understanding of how gravity works. More precisely, our current, incomplete understanding of how gravity works.

We know that the general theory of relativity does not describe all the gravitational interactions in the universe. She gives in to strong gravity with a small body size. For example, before the bowels of black holes. To solve this problem, we need to turn to the quantum theory of gravity, which would combine our understanding of the world of subatomic particles with our broader understanding of gravity. But every time scientists try to put it together, everything just falls apart.

However, we have some clues on how quantum gravity can work, and we can understand wormholes. It is possible that a new and improved understanding of gravity will show that we do not need negative mass matter at all, and that stable, passable wormholes are real. A couple of theoreticians from Tehran University in Iran have published a new study of wormholes.

They applied some methods that allowed them to understand how quantum mechanics can change the standard general picture of relativity. Scientists have found that passable wormholes can exist without a substance with negative mass, but only if the entrance does not represent an ideal sphere, but is slightly elongated.

The results are interesting, but there is one snag. These hypothetical passable wormholes are tiny. Very tiny. Wormholes will be only 30% longer than Planck’s length – 1.6 x 10 ^ 35 meters. The traveler should be the same size. Yes, in addition, this microscopic traveler should fly at almost the speed of light. Despite emerging problems, the study opens a small crack, so to speak, for a look at the existence of wormholes, which can be expanded in the course of further research.

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