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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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European Space Agency to launch space waste collector

A four-armed robotic junk collector will be launched into space by the European Space Agency in what it says will be the first mission to remove an item of debris from orbit.

European Space Agency to launch space waste collector

The ClearSpace-1 mission, scheduled for launch in 2025, will cost €120m and will grab a single piece of junk. But the agency hopes the mission will pave the way for a wide-reaching clear-up operation, with Esa’s director general calling for new rules that would compel those who launch satellites to take responsibility for removing them from orbit once they are retired from use.

Jan Wörner, CEO of ESA, said:

Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water. That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

In the past 60 years, thousands of tonnes of junk has accumulated around the Earth, including old rocket parts, about 3,500 defunct satellites and an estimated 750,000 smaller fragments, some from collisions between larger bits of junk. The fragments are typically circulating with a velocity of 20,000km/h (12,500mph).

Unless a clear-up operation is mounted, the chances of collisions will escalate as thousands more satellites are put into orbit.

Funding for the mission was agreed at Space19+, ESA’s misterial council, which took place in Seville, Spain, at the end of November. The mission will be run by a consortium led by a Swiss startup called Clearspace.

The target for ClearSpace-1 is a piece of junk called Vespa, which was left in an orbit around 800km above the Earth by ESA’s Vega launcher in 2013. Vespa weighs 100kg – around the size of a small satellite – and was selected because it has a simple shape and sturdy construction, which make it unlikely to fragment when it is grabbed.

The “chaser” ClearSpace space probe will be launched into the target orbit where it will track down Vespa, grab it using a quartet of robotic arms and drag it out of orbit, with Vespa and the chaser both burning up in the atmosphere on the way down to Earth.

A future ambition is to create a clear-up robot that could eject junk into the atmosphere, before continuing to capture and de-orbit other pieces of junk.

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Asteroid as big as the pyramids on its way and could zoom past Earth on Friday

An asteroid as big as the Egyptian pyramids is zooming towards Earth and will squeeze past us on Friday – if it doesn’t smash on to our home planet’s surface.

Named 2019 WR3, NASA expects the space rock to make a “close approach” to Earth later this week.

The space agency has classified the asteroid as a “near-Earth object (NEO)” which means its orbit brings it very close – in cosmic terms – to Earth.

The asteroid was first spotted late last week.

NASA has now observed the asteroid some 74 times to better get a sense of its size and trajectory.

WR3 is believed to have a diameter of between 76m to 170m.

It is expected that on December 6, the asteroid will pass within 5.44 million km of Earth at speeds of 27,036 km/hr.

The warning comes as the European Space Agency approves a $471 million mission called Hera to examine whether a rogue asteroid on its way to Earth could be deflected out of the way.

Working with NASA, the ESA will send a pair of spacecraft to a double-asteroid system called Didymos to examine the asteroids and send valuable data back home.

The larger asteroid Didymoon is about 800m across, orbited by a moon about 160m wide.

If an asteroid the size of Didymoon were to hammer into Earth, it would be devastating.

Patrick Michel, ESA’s lead scientist for Hera, said it was vital to keep an eye on it so we can take action if needed.

“The probability is low but the consequences are high,” Michel told Space.com.

“This is why it’s relevant to take care of it. Moreover, we have the tools … We can’t lose more time.”

The Hera spacecraft will launch in 2024.

Meanwhile, Queens University Belfast professor Alan Fitzsimmons has called for amateur astronomers to assist the Hera mission’s broader goal of protecting Earth against asteroids by nominating asteroids to watch.

“We will get a serious asteroid impact sometime,” he told the BBC.

“It may not be in our lifetime, but mother nature controls when that will happen.

‘We will get a serious asteroid impact sometime.’

“We will need to do something about it. We’ll need to move that asteroid so it misses us and doesn’t hit us.

“Asteroid research is one area of astronomy where amateur observes continue to make an essential contribution,” he said.

Source 7news.com.au

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An ultralight source of x-rays detected, coming from the Draco constellation

ESA / Hubble

Intriguing ultralight source of X-rays, one of the brightest ever seen. It comes from a galaxy of the Draco constellation.

The ultraluminous X sources were discovered in 1980 with the Einstein space detector. The X-rays currently detected come from a galaxy located 14.8 million light years from Earth. This type of radiation has been quite mysterious to astronomers because it is extremely bright.

These astronomical systems ULEX, for its acronym in English, UltraLuminous X-ray source, have a brightness level of more than 10 raised to 39 erg per second (Ergis are units of measure of energy). The galaxy is called UGC 6456, and, interestingly, it is found in the constellation Draco (Dragon), a constellation object of legends and mythology.

X-ray source, UGC 6456 ULX

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Ultra-light X-ray sources. Credit: NASA

The study was conducted by Russian astronomers. These electromagnetic emissions are less luminous than a galactic core, but shine more than any process of formation or evolution of stars.

The group of astronomers is led by Alexander Vinokurov, from the Special Astrophysical Observatory, located in Nizhnij Arkhyz, Russia. The study presented says:

We present preliminary results of a study of the ultra-bright X-ray source UGC 6456 ULX. (…) To identify an optical counterpart of UGC 6456 ULX, we use archive images of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and HST.

Note: HST stands for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Overlay of images B, V and Rc of galaxy UGC 6456 "width =" 421 "height =" 428 "srcset ="
Overlay of images B, V and Rc of the UGC 6456 galaxy. The box shows the HST WFPC2 / F555W image of the region around the UGC 6456 ULX source, marked by the square; the circle indicates the 0.8 inch error box, derived from the Chandra Observatory data. Credit: Vinokurov et al.

The UGC 6456 galaxy is listed as a compact blue dwarf galaxy and is one of the closest to our Milky Way. Its UGC 6456 ULX source, or ultralight X-ray source, has mysterious properties, which they had not been studied in detail.

Among the brightest ever observed

The emissions of UGC 6456 ULX have brightness changes of more than two orders of magnitude with a maximum value of 17 erg duodecillions per second in the energy range of 0.3–8 keV (electron volts).

A duodecillón is a very long numerical scale equivalent to a 10 followed by 72 zeros! An electron volt is a unit of measurement that represents the energy per motion that an electron experiences.

Map of the constellation Draco "width =" 451 "height =" 500 "srcset ="
Map of the constellation Draco. Credit: Torsten Bronger / Wikimedia commons.

The magnitude of this source in its bright state is exceeded by an amount of -7.6. That makes her one of the ultraluminous sources of X-rays brightest ever discovered in the optical range.

The study presents a correlation between X-ray flows and optical (observable) flows in UGC 6456 ULX. This could indicate that the emission of optical light is produced by the X-ray re-processing in the outer parts of the so-called «Optically thick wind».

Ultra-light X-ray font "width =" 720 "height =" 488 "srcset =" https://www.soulask.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1575347443_138_They-detect-an-ultralight-source-of-x-rays-that-comes-from.jpg 720w
Illustration of the phenomenon. Credit: NASA

The detection of many hydrogen and helium emission lines could relate to the wind that emerges from the powerful and dynamic accretion disk. This disk is a structure full of powder and cosmic gas that forms around a central object.

More details are expected with the following observations of this ultra-light source of X-rays. The light and energy changes of this system are similar to that of another known source, the so-called NGC 7793 P13, which has a neutron star.

The scientific study has been published on the pre-print website arXiv.org.

References: phys.org.

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