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Uranus smells like farts, astronomers have confirmed — and the discovery indicates there was ‘a big shakeup’ early in the solar system

A photo of Uranus taken by Voyager 2 in 1986 (edited to show its moon and rings).NASA/JPL-Caltech

  • Uranus is one of the solar system’s most mysterious planets.
  • Scientists had long believed that the “ice giant” world has clouds of hydrogen sulfide, a compound that smells bad to people, but they couldn’t be certain.
  • New telescope observations confirm the planet is clouded by the chemical.
  • The discovery may help astronomers further unravel the twisted history of the solar system‘s formation.

Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, has held a vital (and smelly) secret of the solar system for decades.

An international team of researchers reported on Monday that they’ve discovered evidence that Uranus holds one of the most unpleasant-smelling chemicals known to humankind.

“They found hydrogen sulfide, the odiferous gas that most people avoid, in Uranus’s cloud tops,” according to a press release from Gemini Observatory, a high-power telescope atop a Hawaiian volcano.

Voyager 2 was the only spacecraft ever to visit the chilly, blue-green “ice giant.” The probe tried to see which chemicals were in Uranus’ clouds during its 1986 flyby, but it couldn’t tell scientists for certain.

Now, however, astronomers have used an instrument at the Gemini Observatory to “sniff” the planet’s gases from Earth. Their discovery could help write the book on when and where the planets of the solar system formed — and if they ever switched places.

“This is evidence of a big shakeup early on in the solar system’s formation,” Glenn Orton, a co-author of the new study and a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Business Insider. “There was definitely a migration taking place.”

The journal Nature Astronomy published the findings on Monday.

Why it took so long to detect Uranus’s stinky clouds

The reason most people avoid hydrogen sulfide is because the compound is a signature ingredient in the scent of rotten eggs — and farts.

Humans can smell hydrogen sulfide when it makes up as little as three out of every billion molecules in the air, the EPA says. At higher concentrations, such as near volcanic areas, it can be poisonous. Breathing a concentration of a few hundred parts per million can kill a person in about half an hour, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“If an unfortunate human were ever to descend through Uranus’s clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and odiferous conditions,” Patrick Irwin, a physicist at the University of Oxford who led the new study, said in the press release. But he added that “suffocation and exposure” to Uranus’ -200 degree Celsius temperatures “would take its toll long before the smell.”

Researchers had long suspected that Uranus’s atmosphere was laced with hydrogen sulfide, and in concentrations dozens of times higher than at Saturn or Jupiter.

They couldn’t be certain, though, since Uranus orbits the sun from 1.85 billion miles away.

The vast distance, aside from making the planet distant and difficult to study, leads to blisteringly cold temperatures that freezes hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen-sulfide ice can form clouds, but the solid crystals are hard for chemical-analyzing instruments called spectrometers to study. (The method works far better with liquids and gases.)

Irwin and others suspected there were at least whiffs of hydrogen sulfide gas drifting above the clouds. And now, thanks to an extremely sensitive Gemini instrument that can see light invisible to humans, Irwin said scientists “have the fingerprint which caught the culprit.”

Why the discovery might ‘shake up’ ideas about the solar system’s evolution

An artist’s conception of the dust and gas surrounding a newly formed planetary system.

Astronomers like Irwin have an interest in hydrogen sulfide on Uranus that goes far beyond the gas’ smell.

The discovery of hydrogen sulfide may help piece together the story of how the solar system formed and arranged itself some 4.6 billion years ago. Figuring out the exact makeup of distant planets could help determine where in the solar system they first formed — and how far they migrated away from the sun afterward.

Like all planets, Uranus and Neptune formed from a giant disk of gas and dust that shrouded the sun some 4.6 billion years ago. The planets are mostly made of heavier elements, and didn’t balloon with lightweight hydrogen and helium gases.

“Uranus and Neptune never had the time to grow into gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn,” Imke de Pater, an astronomer at the University of California Berkeley who wasn’t involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying article in Nature Astronomy. “The composition of a celestial body is a fundamental parameter in determining its formation and evolutionary history.”

The two planets failed to become gas giants (and instead became “ice giants”) for two main reasons.

First, the solar system’s early disk of dust and gas grew more diffuse farther out from the sun. With less material available, it took Uranus and Neptune longer to form.

Second, this slower formation gave the sun more time to blow hydrogen and helium out of the solar system with its stellar winds— before Uranus and Neptune could grow massive enough to capture it with their gravity.

“Giant planets form really fast, in a few million years,” Kevin Walsh, who studies planet formation at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, told Space.com in March. “That creates a time limit because the gas disk around the sun only lasts 4 to 5 million years.”

Scientists agree on this much, but Orton said they have “too many theories” about the migration of Uranus and Neptune, which came next.

A true-color photo of Uranus (left) and a false color image (right) taken at the turn of 1986 by NASA’s Voyager 2 probe.

One leading idea says the planets coalesced millions of miles closer to the sun, then quickly migrated outward.

But Orton said the newly detected hydrogen sulfide — and a strange lack of ammonia in the Gemini Observatory readings — suggest the planets actually formed farther out, then moved inward. (The ratio of the two molecules suggests the worlds were once even colder than they are today.)

To solve the question once and for all, Orton says researchers need to send spacecraft to plunge through the clouds of Uranus, not unlike how the Cassini probe dove into Saturn. The goal: figure out the exact abundances of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, among other gases, and use the readings to pin the exact birth locations of Uranus and Neptune.

“We’re working on that now,” Orton said, referring to a proposal for a new Uranus probe.

Source www.businessinsider.com

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Space

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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Scientists believe that Europa’s underground ocean is habitable: The secrets that Jupiter’s satellite hides

K. Retherford/Southwest Research Institute

The dream of Mankind is the existence of celestial bodies that can host life, initially in our own solar system as the Earth is considered that in the near future will not be able to sustain the growing population.

Scientists claim that Europa, the satellite of the planet Jupiter, has the necessary conditions for the development of life and characterize the large ocean’s underground ocean as “potentially habitable”.

When we say life development we mean organisms that are based on the “function” of carbon biochemistry.

This theory has been developed for several years and Europa, along with the planet Mars, is considered to be the two celestial bodies to which humanity could “escape”.

It is worth adding that the delicate atmosphere of Europa consists mainly of … oxygen!

Of course, living conditions will not be the same as on Earth, but they are considered to be “tolerable” for a start.

According to scientific observations, this vast expanse of water may have been able to develop and support the growth of microbes in the past, perhaps even in the present period.

Europa, with an ocean hidden beneath a thick ice shell that surrounds its surface, has long been considered a possible habitat for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, along with other candidates such as Mars and Saturn’s moon, Egelados. A new study presented Wednesday at a geo-scientific conference underscores Europa’s potential to develop life, even at the microbial level.

“We believe that the ocean of Europa may have been habitable early on when it was formed, because our models show that the composition of the ocean may have been only slightly acidic, containing carbon dioxide and some sulfates,” Mohit Melwani Daswani said, the planetary scientist and head of the study of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The availability of liquid water is the first step towards sustainability. In addition, the exchange of chemicals between the ocean and the rocky interior may have been significant in the past, so the potential life may have been able to use chemical energy to survive, “  he added.

Daswani said the germs resemble some of the Earth’s bacteria that use carbon dioxide for energy and could have survived using ingredients available in Europa’s early oceans.

Europa is slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon. The ocean of Europa, with a possible depth of 65 to 160 km, may contain twice as much water as the Earth’s oceans!

The study assessed whether Europa was previously habitable and did not examine its current inhabitability, a question that researchers are investigating by examining all the data collected from space missions and observations from telescopes.

According to many, in order for Humanity to be able to diffuse into space (the so-called scattering), it needs to create bases in its own solar system.

Most likely, terrafoming (geoengineering) methods will be used to completely change any “compatible” celestial bodies. A process that can take centuries.

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