Tag Archives: meteorite

Asteroid to make close fly-by on Feb 15, no reason to worry

Close, but not too close – an asteroid like that can crash on our planet every 1200 years, but there’s no reason to worry, even though it will make a flyby on February 15, passing at a distance of only 26.780 km. For comparison, the distance to the Moon varies from around 356,400 km to 406,700 km.

asteroid 2012

However, astronomers warn against worrying and creating a doomsday-ish panic. The asteroid named 2012 DA14, is a space rock weighing roughly 143,000 tons, measuring less than 50 meters across, making it about half as big as a football field. The uncertainty surrounding the orbit of this asteroid is just 150 km, so at worst, it will pass at 26.500 km away; there is a 1 in 7,692,308,000 chance of 2012 DA14 impacting Earth. However, there is some slight danger for geosynchronous satellites, but it’s estimated that the asteroid will pass closer to Earth than them.

If a similar asteroid were to hit our planet, it would produce the equivalent of 2.5 megatons of TNT. The Tunguska event that took place in 1908, in Siberia, is estimated to have had an energy of 5 to as high as 30 megatons. It’s estimated that an asteroid or similar body of this size hits Earth about every once in 1200 years.

Via SpaceRef

Asteroid Vesta is a lot like Earth, study shows

The cold, lifeless Vesta asteroid might be a lot more like our planet than astronomers believed – having a very active life in the early stages of the solar system evolution, a study of a Saharan meteorite shows.

The planet that wasn’t

asteorid

Vesta might host a magmatic layer under its rocky exterior, allowing minerals to travel between softer and harder layers of material, according to a study published online Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience. If this were true, then Vesta is a lot more Earth like than previously believed.

“People think asteroids are big, gray, cold, almost potato-shaped lumps of rock that sometimes crash into the Earth and threaten us,” said study leader Beverley Tkalcec, a planetary geologist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Instead, she said, “it has a dynamic interior similar to what might have been at the beginning of the Earth.”

Hot or not, Vesta is just big enough to have experienced melting inside. When this happens, the thicker, heavier material sinks towards the center and the lighter stuff gets pushed towards the crust. In this way, Vesta (much like its “cousin” Ceres) are planetary embryos that never really came to life, and since there are no tectonics to recirculate the rocks, the rocks are probably as old as the solar system.

The crystal and the electron

The study was conducted on a meteorite which is believed to have carved out Vesta’s mantle by impact; they made the connection between the meteorite by analysing its chemical and isotopical composition. However, unlike other studies which focus on the composition, this one focused on how the matter is distributed; if Vesta were indeed active beneath the surface and have a magmatic layer, then some clues should pop out.

The researchers used a technique called electron backscatter diffraction, in which basically electrons are bounced off crystals to determine their structure. They focused their research on a mineral called olivine (we’ve occasionally written about this mineral, see here) and found that instead of a regular pile of crystals with one sitting on top of each other, the crystal lattice was severely deformed.

olivine

Olivine crystals

They then tried to find something equivalent to this, and they found that the only rocks which resemble this type of structure is with igneous rocks formed by forces in Earth’s mantle – something which led to the natural conclusion that the meteorite is probably a result of the same process on Vesta, with the heavier elements sinking in.

They then plugged this data into a computer model of Vesta and found that, given specific conditions, the asteroid could host a magma ocean.

“When you have dense solid material over partially molten material, then it’s unstable,” said Harry McSween, a planetary geoscientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and co-investigator for the Dawn mission. “The top’s trying to become the bottom and the bottom’s trying to become the top.”

Among other things, Vesta is believer to host water and have a mountain 3 times bigger than the Everest.

Apophis meteorite will buzz nearby Earth tonight – no reason to worry

The Apophis meteorite was named after an Egyptian demon of destruction, and for good reason – every now and then, it keeps buzzing our planet, a little to close for comfort.

asteriod-apophis-trece-azi-pe-langa-terra-potentiala-ciocnire-18440431

The 275 meter object will pass at about 15 million km away from the Earth – the Moon, for example is much closer, at only 400.000 km. Scientists have ruled out any possibility of a collision, so there’s really no reason to worry – instead, it promises to give some remarkable views and increase our knowledge on close passings of asteroids, ultimately preparing us for any potential future impacts.

However, Apophis will pass by Earth again in 2036 – but much closer. At only 30.000 km, it will be about as close as some of our satellites – which is indeed a reason for worry. Should it would collide with Earth, Apophis would generate a blast equivalent to over 500 megatons of TNT – 9 times bigger than any bomb detonated on our planet. A course of collision for 2036 still hasn’t been ruled out.

“Scientists haven’t been able to rule out an impact yet,” Dr Hugh Lewis from the University of Southampton said.

But even if it is on course for Earth, even today, we have the possibility to prepare for this.

Vesta covered in carbon by gentle asteroids

Vesta is “peppered” with carbon materials which researchers believe were left behind by asteroids gently striking its surface.

Vesta is an asteroid itself – but one so large that some astronauts were actually thinking about declaring it a planet, or at least a protoplanet. It is the second largest asteroid in our solar system, second only to Ceres, comprising 9% of the total mass in the asteroid belt. This year, Vesta has been studied in detail by the Dawn spacecraft.

It is actually the first evidence astronomers have about asteroid material across a large body’s surface, and it could explain the curious patterns observed by Dawn, which orbited Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012.

“The earliest images we had of the surface — shortly after going into orbit — were sometimes spectacular examples of very bright and very dark material on the surface,” said researcher Tom McCord of the Bear Fight Institute, a science research facility in Washington state. McCord is the lead author of a study reporting the findings that will be published in the Nov. 1 issue of the journal Nature.

They had three initial theories regarding the dark coloured patterns: they could either be volcanic basalts which are typically black, they could be “shock-melted and darkened” material melted from the surface heat caused by impacts, or it could be carbonic, primitive organic material.

The light spectrum analysis revealead that the black matter came off of asteroids, and that it also contains lots of hydrogen and hydroxyl in the materials, which tends to be present in carbonaceous asteroids.

“All of that is consistent, but it doesn’t [definitively] prove carbonaceous chondrite material,” he said. “There are pieces of material, and there is no evidence of any other source that we can think of, at least.”

The only statue carved from a meteorite: Buddhist ‘Iron man’ is from outer space

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany by a Nazi expedition to Tibet has been proven to be of extraterrestrial origin. Sounds like an Indiana Jones movie, right? Well, it isn’t.

The only known meteorite sculpture - the Iron Man

The only known meteorite sculpture – the Iron Man

Known as the ‘Iron man’ the 24 cm high sculpture was carved out from a Chinga meteorite (rich in iron) found near the Mongolian-Russian border that crashed down to the Earth somewhere between 10.000 and 20.000 years ago. The sculpture most likely depicts the god Vaiśravaṇa, the chief of the Four Heavenly Kings, an important figure in Buddhist mythology.

The team analyzed the statue and the geochemistry suggested by the iron, nickel, cobalt, and other trace elements very much matches the Chinga meteorite. The piece that made the ‘Iron man’ is the third biggest known from that fall.

Interestingly enough, the material is extremely hard, and not adequate for sculptures, because it requires a huge effort to carve; this means the artist definitely knew the rock was somehow special and worth the effort. It is still unknown who made the statue and when, but archaeologists believe it was created by the 11th century Ben culture – more exact estimates are impossible at the moment.

The Nazis were probably thrilled by the fact that the statue has a Swastika on it, a symbol they adopted and distorted during World War II.

“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” said Buchner in a statement. “The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite.”

Although this is the only known meteorite human carving, other meteorites have been given a religious sense across the world. The best example comes from North America, where a piece called the Willamette meteorite is sacred for to some native Americans.

The Willamete meteorite

Scientific source

Lunar rock

Biggest moon rock auctioned so far set to fetch $380,000

Lunar rock

This four pound geological marvel, captioned above, is what’s commonly reffered to as a lunar meteorite. And like all things of rarity, it’s been recently listed for auction – the biggest chunk of moon rock yet. Experts believe it should sell around the $380,000 mark.

Lunar meteorites are a special class of moon rocks. During meteorite collisions with the moon’s surface, which happen quite often given its  cheesy aesthetic, inevitably some chunks of rocks get blown off and enter Earth’s atmosphere due to the weak gravity on our natural satellite. The rocks big enough to survive atmospheric entry end up on Earth’s surface.

So far, a mere 100 pounds of lunar meteorites have been found, most of which in Antarctica and North Africa. Concerning the slab-shape moon rock in question, dubbed Dar al Gani 1058, experts believe it originated as a piece of lunar highland breccias from the moon’s far side. It was discovered in Libya in 1998, according to the Meteoritical Society, and was put up for auction by an anonymous collector.

The auction is set to end on October 14, and opening bids start $170,000. That may seem like much, but collectors have paid far more for far less. It’s worth considering however, that lunar rocks which end up on Earth due to natural conditions, pale in worth to those gathered during lunar missions. In fact, the 800 pounds or so of lunar rocks gathered so far from the moon from missions like the Appollo are considered invaluable and national treasures by the world’s governments.

Hand-picked moon rocks have never been awarded to individuals, and are considered completely off limits to civilians. Actually, I remember writing last year about a granny who was seized by armed government officials after auctioning a spec of lunar dust the size of a grain of rice for $1.7 million; aside from the fact that officials were a bit overzealous and the uncertainty of how exactly a 74-year-old got ahold of such an artefact, it gives to show that lunar meteorites are virtually your single best shot at owning a piece of the lunar pie.

Massive meteorite crater found in Canada, after oldest and biggest one was found in Greenland

Researchers have found evidence that the crater in case was formed when the ground was slammed by a massive meteorite, millions of years ago.

Prince Albert crater

Prince Albert crater

Measuring about 25 kilometers across, Prince Albert crater was named after the peninsula in which it was discovered. Researchers never were really sure when it was formed, the likely period being between 130 million and 350 million years old, according to geologists from the University of Saskatchewan.

A team spotted this newly identified crater totally random, while surveying the area for mineral and energy resources. Initially, they were intrigued by steeply tilted strata visible in river gorges, as well as other strange features of the area.

“Unless you recognized the telltale clues, you wouldn’t know what you were looking at,” researcher Brian Pratt explained in the statement. “You might see a bunch of broken rocks and wonder how they got there, but we found abundant shatter cones.”

Shatter cones are extremely rare geological features which form only in the bedrock beneath meteorite impacts or nuclear explosions. Shatter cones have a distinctively conical shape that radiates from the top (apex) of the cones repeating cone-on-cone in large and small scales in the same sample.

Analyzing shatter cones

“Impact craters like this give us clues into how the Earth’s crust is recycled and the speed of erosion, and may be implicated in episodes of widespread extinction of animals in the geological past,” Pratt said. “It’s an exciting discovery.”

The biggest and oldest crater

At the moment, there are some 180 known impact craters on Earth – geologists would have found many more by now, if it hand’t been for the continuous action of plate shifting, erosion, crust recycling and volcanic activity. Earlier this year, researchers from Greenland reported the finding of what may be the oldest and largest meteorite crater ever found on Earth.

Location of meteorite cratere in Greenland

Researchers estimate the crater is some 3 billion years old, and measures 100 kilometers from one side to another; however, given the extremely old age, it probably measured over 500 kilometers in its ‘glory days’. The team believes it was caused by a meteorite 30 kilometers wide, which, if would hit Earth today, would pretty much wipe out all advanced life on our planet.

Organic carbon might have originated on Mars

A new study conducted by NASA indicates that large molecules containing carbon came to Earth from Mars – molecules which are a key ingredient for life as we know it.

Studying meteorites that landed on Earth and originated on Mars, the Carnegie Institution for Science alongside NASA researchers concluded that the reduced carbon – carbon that’s bonded to hydrogen or itself – found inside isn’t a result of contamination, and is in fact the original stuff, but appeared not as a result of life, but through volcanic processes.

“These findings show that the storage of reduced carbon molecules on Mars occurred throughout the planet’s history and might have been similar to processes that occurred on the ancient Earth,” says Carnegie’s Andrew Steele.

The fact that these carbon molecules were created on Mars could mean a number of things; either they were formed there and then brought to Earth via meteorites, or that the same processes that formed them took place on Mars as well, which means they might have just as well took place some other place.

“Understanding the genesis of these non-biological, carbon-containing macromolecules on Mars is crucial for developing future missions to detect evidence of life on our neighboring planet.”

The team analyzed samples from 11 Martian meteorites from a period spanning about 4.2 billion years of Martian history and detected carbon molecules in 10 of them, locked inside crystallized minerals. They were then able to show that at least some of these molecules originated on Mars and are not a result of some sort of contamination.

In order to find out even more about these molecules, they then analyzed their relationship to other minerals from the meteorites to see what kinds of processes they have endured prior their crash on Earth. Their findings show that they were created on Mars through volcanic processes – showing that Mars has been creating organic-type molecules for most of its history.

“Although this study has not yielded evidence that Mars has or once may have supported life, it does address some important questions about the sources of organic carbon on Mars,” says Mary Voytek, director of NASA’s Astrobiology Program.

Indeed, this study doesn’t show if Mars has, or had life in any given point of its history, but it does show that, given the proper conditions, it could have had life; so given the proper conditions, many other planets could host life as well.

“With the Curiosity rover scheduled to land in August, these new research results may help Mars Science Laboratory scientists fine-tune their investigations on the surface of the planet by understanding where organic carbon may be found and how it is preserved.”

Mars rock fell in Africa last July

Well if we can’t go to Mars, it seems Mars is coming to us… at least some chunks of it. Scientists have reported a rather unusual invasion by Martians: meteorite-like chunks that fell from the Red Planet in Morocco last summer.

This is the first time since 1962 that researchers have confirmed such a sample, and only the fifth time ever, so this is really a big deal, especially as it could provide valuable information about our planetary neighbor, with virtually no costs whatsoever.

The results were confirmed by a special committee of experts, which declared that almost 7 kilograms of Martian rock indeed fell in Morocco. The biggest rock weighs about 1 kilo.

Astronomers believe that this happened because a few million years ago, Mars suffered a big collision with some other object, and that small fragments are still drifting about since then, and occasionally fall on the surface of Earth. We’ll keep up with the details as they develop, but this kind of research usually takes quite a lot of time. However, it’s extremely pleasant and lucky for such an event to occur.

Shorties: Stunning pictures of Fukang Pallasite

Photo by Captmondo.

You’re probably wondering what a Pallasite is; well Pallasites are is a type of iron meteorite, quite rare, made out of large olivine crystals in an iron-nickel matrix – and they look just fabulous. Olivine is a a magnesium iron silicate quite common in our planet’s subsurface, but which weathers fast when exposed to the surface.

Photo by Wolfgang Sauber.

What you are looking at here is a man holding a three foot slab of Pallasite in the Sun – it’s not really glowing by itself. I just can’t stop wondering where he got it though… probably just found it on the street, or on some field.

 

Shorties: 4.5 billion meteorite shows new mineral

A recently analyzed 4.5 billion years old meteorite yields one of the oldest minerals known in our solar system: krotite. The mineral is not actually new, in that it was thought to be only a man-made constituent of some high-temperature concrete, according to study researcher Anthony Kampf, curator of Mineral Sciences at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM).

“This is one that simply was not known in nature until we found it here,” Kampf told LiveScience. “That’s pretty dramatic.”

The mineral is a compound of calcium, aluminum and oxygen, and it needs an estimated temperature of 1500 degrees Celsius to form, which supports the idea that it was created in the early solar system, as the solar nebula condensed and planets started to form.

“This meteorite likely came from an asteroid in the asteroid belt,” leader researcher Chi Ma of Caltech stated.

NASA scientists find evidence of life in meteorites

Wherever it’s possible, life finds a way; the old saying seems to be more and more actual these days, with NASA and other space agencies reporting interesting discoveries that point towards life existing in many more other places other than our own planet. After rewriting the biology books with the arsenic eating microbe, NASA researchers claim to have found evidence of fossilized bacteria in meteorites that landed on Earth.

Dr Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama sparked the discussion after he said he found a bacteria in an extremely rare type of meteorite, of which only nine are currently known to us. He reported finding traces of nitrogen, which couldn’t have come from the rock sample, which absolutely lacked that particular element.

“I interpret it as indicating that life is more broadly distributed than restricted strictly to the planet Earth.”, he briefly said, igniting the imagination of numerous scientists and not only.

However, this is still a matter of certain debate, and an impressive number of experts have been called to shed more light on this findings. This discovery was published in the Journal of Cosmology; editor-in-chief Rudy Schild said:

“Given the controversial nature of his discovery we have invited 100 experts, and have issued a general invitation to over 5,000 scientists from the scientific community, to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis.”

Given the huge number of people involved, it will definitely stir up discussion throughout the scientific community, so we probably shouldn’t have too much to wait until we get more details on this matter.

All life on earth could come from alien zombies

That’s right people, all the life on this beautiful planet (yep, that includes you) could descend from alien zombies. Well, this is indeed a slight imagination leap, but what I’m talking about are viruses; dead viruses, to be more exact. Dead viruses who contained information, enough information to pave the way for lifeforms to appear.

The theory of panspermia suggests that life on Earth came from outer space, on comets or meteorites or even on dust grains; this theory has been around for more than a century, when Lord Kelvin suggested that microbes could have come from comets. However, most astrobiologists believe that radiation would be fatal for the microbes in case.

“That essentially kills panspermia in the classical sense,” said astrobiologist Rocco Mancinelli of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

But maybe panspermia doesn’t have to die; maybe our zombie viruses could save it (yes, zombies is definitely not the best word, but it sounds too damn cool). Paul Wesson, a visiting researcher at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada argues that even the microbes are dead on arrival, the information they carry can still allow life to rise from the charred remains.

“The vast majority of organisms reach a new home in the Milky Way in a technically dead state,” Wesson wrote. “Resurrection may, however, be possible.”

The key here is how much genetic information survives; genetic information can be quantified just like hard disk space. For example, a bacteria such as E. coli carries about 6 million bits of information in their DNA. Random chemical processes can only produce 194 bits of information over 500 million years, which couldn’t suffice for even a single cell. So how can this paradox be solved ?

“It must be admitted that all versions of panspermia suffer from a hole in our knowledge, concerning how to go from an astrophysically delivered entity which contains substantial information to one which has the characteristics of what we normally regard as life,” he wrote.

He pinpointed the virus as a good source however; they can carry about 100.000 bits of information, which would be more than enough. David Morrison, the director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe admits that the “looks good, and interesting, although of course highly speculative”.

“The critical issue is whether the information in broken strands of nucleic acid could serve as the template for life on another world … since we know so little about the actual process by which life originated on Earth, who can really say?”

There are of course those who challenge this idea – Mancinelli is one of them.

“Once you’re dead, you’re dead,” he said. “It’ll give off enough radiation that it’ll just chop up all the nucleic acids,” he said. “There’s no way the organism will survive. Going from Earth to Mars, not a problem,” he said. “Even going from Earth to Pluto, or from Pluto to Earth, not a problem. But once you start heading out of the solar system, it’s so far away that it takes a long time. That’s the thing, the length of time.”

The 8 coolest ways the Earth might be destroyed

We’ve all seen at least one movie in which our planet is destroyed, but most of them were quite repetitive and kind of uninteresting. Our planet deserves so much more!

Black holes

750px-bh_lmcWell, it seems the more we understand things about black holes, the more we find out things we don’t know, and the more we fear them. Let’s just make a short recap:
Black holes are regions of space with a gravitational field so powerful that absolutely nothing, not even light can escape them once it hits the event horizon, aka the point of no return (it’s believed that they do emit a radiation, but that’s not the topic here). Since light can not escape from them, we see them as black.

black_hole_big_2_3

There is no telling what the inside of a black hole looks like, but we can estimate certain things by analyzing the stars and planets surrounding it. The thing about the black holes is, they have a nasty habit of pulling things towards them. Now, when you’re dealing with something that can be as heavy as a thousand billions suns (1.000.000.000.000!!), you don’t wanna joke around with it. There is a supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, and researchers concluded that almost all, if not all galaxies have one, and these supermassive ones may have actually contributed to the creating of galaxies. Yeah, they may be the reason why we exist, and they may very well be the reason we cease to exist, according to some scientists.

falling_into_a_black_hole

Supernova

cosmic_ray_supernovaDid you ever go out and see the sun shine right in your eye? Well, now think of the same thing, only a billion times brighter – a supernova can do just that. A supernova is basically a stellar explosion that’s extremely bright and expels much or all of the star’s material. In order for you to make an idea of just how bright it is, you should know that it often outshines the whole galaxy for several weeks or even months before finally fading away! In this short period of time, it emits about as much energy as the Sun emits in it entire lifespan.

300px-2dkeplers-supernova-small

Supernovas occur every 50 years and if the Earth would be on the direction of one, it wouldn’t be destroyed, but the whole atmosphere will be wiped out and the supernova will bring clouds of dust and gas weighing several times as much as our whole solar system. However, we would be filthy rich, since researchers believe a supernovae created the heavy elements (gold and uranium, for example) found on our planet.
supernova-remnant1

Asteroid/Comet/other NEO impact

As Col. Gen. O’Neill so eloquently puts it – ‘I’ve seen this movie. It hits Paris‘.

impact3

Well, when it comes to NEOs (near Earth objects), one thing’s for sure: our atmosphere saves us every week, literally. How often have you heard of a meteorite, for example, hitting Earth? I think not so often. Why not? Well, it’s either the government trying to hide everything, or they actually don’t hit our planet that often (protip: go for the 2nd option).

meteorite2

In the vast majority of the cases, atmosphere causes a tremendous amount of friction that literally burns the meteorite (an asteroid becomes defined as a meteorite when it enters our atmosphere). However, what happens when the it’s so big that there’s not enough time for it to fully burn, and this massive fireball breaks through our atmosphere? There’s a belief that 65 million years ago, an asteroid destroying almost all (or all) of the large vertebrates, leaving our planet subject to a mass extinction. It’s practically impossible to accurately determine the chance of another one such as that to hit our planet again, but it’s estimated that one as big as 1/5 of it hits our planet every million of years or so. Well, I haven’t heard of such a big impact recently… maybe it’s overdue?

meteorite

Cannibal galaxies

It’s a dog eat dog out there, and this is natural selection at its best. Whether you believe it or not, sometimes galaxies grow by devouring their own; it gets even better – the Milky Way is no exception. Yep, that’s right. Just a few years ago, astronomer Steven Majewski showed that our galaxy feasted on the Sagittarius galaxy, which gets close to us every 750 million years or so. Even our own neighbor, Andromeda is planning to gobble up a galaxy named M33 in the constellation of Triangulum.

andromeda

As was the case with the black holes, galaxy formation and galaxy destruction go hand in hand. I can’t help but appreciate the irony.

Cosmic Cannibal

Gamma Ray Burst

swift-gamma-ray-lg1

Gamma rays don’t only give Hulk his powers, they also have other extremely interesting properties. A gamma ray is basically an electromagnetic radiation of very high energy, practically most luminous electromagnetic waves that we have knowledge of. They have extremely high frequencies (10^19 Hz), and thus really high energies and small wavelengths.

gamma-ray

However, gamma ray bursts often have an afterglow effect as the longer wavelengths arrive slightly later. If our planet would be in the way of such a ray, the ozone would be depleted and our planet would be subject to all the UV rays, leading to a short and hopeless extinction. It’s believed that it was such a burst that caused the Ordovician-Silurian planetary extinction that took place about 444 million years ago.

Sun’s death

sunslife

Think of our sun as a huge power source, running on fuel that is not endless. Unless we someday find some way to reverse nuclear fusion, the sun will run out of fuel, will become a red giant, and then a white dwarf. Well, don’t worry, there’s still about 5 billion years until that happens, but the change is gradual. The sun gets hotter and hotter and probably by the time it (almost) becomes a red giant, life on Earth will already be extinct. Oh well, after 10 billion years of delivering heat and light towards our solar system, a permanent vacation is nothing short of what our sun deserves.

sun5

The big rip

Well, the name pretty much speaks for itself here. The big rip is all about matter being ripped. Basically, it starts on the fact that the whole Universe is expanding, heavily relying on relies the type of dark energy in the universe. Dark energy is a hypothetical kind of energy that saturates all the universe and is ‘pulling’ its edges, making it expand. If this theory were to happen, a while before the big rip makes its final move, the Solar System will be gravitationally unbound. The stars and planets will just drift, and after that, they will be torn from their very core. The same thing will happen at atom scale.

The Heat death of our Universe

The heat death is explained the most easily in physical terms: it is a state in which the Universe has reached maximum entropy. It is a final stage in which the Universe can no longer provide thermodynamic free energy in order to sustain any form of life as we know it. The result would be that temperature would asymptotically be absolute 0. What we do know now is that entropy can be produced at least for 10^100 years (which is the time estimated for the black holes to ‘run out’), but after that, the Universe will enter it’s dark era, or to put it in layman’s terms, die.

Life had a big rebound following marine mass extinction event

In 1980, Luis Alvarez and his team shocked the whole world when they announced their theory that an asteroid impact that took place 65 millions years ago was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and much of that time’s living organisms. Despite the fact that they delivered substantial evidence, there are still some minor gaps in the theory, and the subject is open for debate. However, something did happen, and the devastated life on the planet had to make a comeback.

asteroid-impact

Artistic representation of the asteroid impact that took place 65 million years ago and killed (almost) every large species of vertebrate

Researchers have been debating how long that comeback actually took; previous research pointed somewhere at about 1 million years, but researchers from the MIT and their coworkers found that at least some microscopic marine life forms such as algae or cyanobacteria (the so-called “primary producers”) recovered within a century of the mass extinction. This was extremely hard to prove because while previous studies analyzed fossils in the layers of sediment from that period, this one looked at soft bodied organisms that do not leave fossils behind them. Instead, they focused on what is called “chemical fossils” — traces of organic molecules (compounds composed of mostly carbon and hydrogen) that reveal the organism they once formed despite the organism itself being long gone.

In order to achieve this, they went in Denmark, to look at a section of a well known cliff face at Stevns Klint; the cliff face is known for having an extremely thick layer of sediment from that period of about 40 cm (that may not seem much, but compared to the few cm of the layer Luis Alvarez studied 30 years ago, it is). Also, they had an advantage the American scientists couldn’t have: one of the most powerful Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometers (GC-MS) in the world (it’s a device that can measure minute quantities of the molecules located in the rock).

The point is that many people have analyzed that particular face cliff, but when they lack the sensitive of the MIT equipment (or something equivalent, they “miss a big part of the picture,” leader of the study Julio Sepúlveda says.

“Many of these microorganisms are at the base of the food chain, but if you don’t look with biochemical techniques you miss them.”

They claim this analysis clarified the sequence of events that took place after the big impact . Just after the impact, some areas of the ocean were ‘robbed’ of all their oxygen and thus became hostile to algae. However, in areas close to the continental microbial life took less then a hundred years to bounce back and algae showed the first signs of recovery; however, as you move towards the middle of the ocean, it took more and more time to recover.

“Very soon after the impact, the food supply was not likely a limitation” [for other organisms, and yet] “the whole ecology of the system remained disrupted”, Sepulveda says.

“Primary productivity came back quickly, at least in the environment we were studying,” says Roger Summons, another researcher involved in this study, referring to the near-shore environment represented by the Danish sediments. “The atmosphere must have cleared up rapidly.
People will have to rethink the recovery of the ecosystems. It can’t be just the lack of food supply.”.

Dramatic fireball flies above Arizona

I’m really sorry I didn’t find out about this earlier, but better late than never. So, on June 23, several observers from Tucson, Arizona reported they noticed a bright fireball on the sky.

As it turns out, it was rock from outer space that broke apart and took a dive in our planet’s atmosphere, a ‘shooting star’, and a pretty big one too. Events such as these one are not really uncommon, but in the vast majority of the cases, they take place above the ocean, so it’s pretty hard to see one of them.

Observers compared it to a famous local event, the Peekskill Fireball in 1992, and one eve wrote about it.

Here’s the recent fireball:

Here’s the one in ’92

NASA researchers help explain why life is left-handed

Scientists that analyzed meteorite dust made some discoveries that gave them clues about the ever standing mystery of how life works at its most basic, molecular level. This question has puzzled researchers for quite a while now and definitive answers are yet to be found.

“We found more support for the idea that biological molecules, like amino acids, created in space and brought to Earth by meteorite impacts help explain why life is left-handed,” according to Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “By that I mean why all known life uses only left-handed versions of amino acids to build proteins.”

Proteins are life’s basic worker, used in basically everything, and they’re the building bricks of most structures. They’re made of amino acids arranged in a linear chain and joined together by peptide bonds. Also, despite the fact that there are only 20 amino acids, they can arrange in virtually any order and in any number, so you get a huge number of combinations. These amino acid molecules can be built in a mirror fashion, meaning that they can be built in two different directions that mirror each other. Life based on right handed amino acids should be just fine, only it’s not.

“If you do [right handed molecules], life turns to something resembling scrambled eggs — it’s a mess. Since life doesn’t work with a mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids, the mystery is: how did life decide — what made life choose left-handed amino acids over right-handed ones?

Over the last 4 years, scientists looked at sample meteorites with different amounts of water and looked particularily for an amino acid called isovaline because it has the ability to preserve its handedness for billions of years and there are very little chances that it would be contaminated by Earth life, because it’s extremely rarely used. If the original shift to “lefties” originated in space, the search for life in our solar system becomes much harder, but the probability of its origin becomes much more probable.

“If we find life anywhere else in our solar system, it will probably be microscopic, since microbes can survive in extreme environments,” said Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard, co-author of the study. “One of the biggest problems in determining if microscopic life is truly extra-terrestrial is making sure the sample wasn’t contaminated by microbes brought from Earth. If we find the life is based on right-handed amino acids, then we know for sure it isn’t from Earth. However, if the bias toward left-handed amino acids began in space, it likely extends across the solar system, so any life we may find on Mars, for example, will also be left-handed. On the other hand, if there is a mechanism to choose handedness before life emerges, it is one less problem prebiotic chemistry has to solve before making life. If it was solved for Earth, it probably has been solved for the other places in our solar system where the recipe for life might exist, such as beneath the surface of Mars, or in potential oceans under the icy crust of Europa and Enceladus, or on Titan.”

First firm prediction of an incoming space rock confirmed

gaspra

Gaspra asteroid

A very small asteroid exploded over the continent of Africa this week, confirming the prediction of astronomers. Despite the fact that nobody has seen and photographed the asteroid due to the fact that it entered in a very remote area, it was detected with an infrasound array in Kenya; it exploded without striking the Earth.

Scientists estimate that it was about the size of a table, and it exploded with the energy of a quantity between 1.1 and 2.1 kilotons of TNT. They expected a huge fireball, visible for anybody, but this particular asteroid wasn’t quite ordinary.

“A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand,” Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center explained just before the highly anticipated event. “This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!”

There has been only one visual confirmation of such a fireball.

“I have received confirmation that a KLM airliner, roughly 750 nautical miles southwest of the predicted atmospheric impact position, has observed a short flash just before the expected impact time 0246 UTC,” Kuiper said. “Because of the distance it was not a very large phenomenon, but still a confirmation that some bright meteor has been seen in the predicted direction.”

Huge Meteorite Impact Found In UK — Britain’s Largest

meteoriteAfter the “crash site” in Peru, meteorites keep the headlines again! This time, scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen found the biggest meteorite to ever crash in the British islands. The scientists believe that a large meteorite hit northwest Scotland about 1.2 billion years ago near the Scottish town of Ullapool. It was previously believed that the rocks in that area were formed by volcanic eruptions but now they have found evidence that a meteorite is responsable. Ken Amor of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, co-author on the Geology paper, said:

Chemical testing of the rocks found the characteristic signature of meteoritic material, which has high levels of the key element iridium, normally only found in low concentrations in surface rocks on Earth. We found more evidence when we examined the rocks under a microscope; tell-tale microscopic parallel fractures that also imply a meteorite strike.’

He also drew the conclusions: ‘

This is the most spectacular evidence for a meteorite impact within the British Isles found to date, and what we have discovered about this meteorite strike could help us to understand the ancient impacts that shaped the surface of other planets, such as Mars.’

Peru meteorite forces scientists to rewrite books

meteorite

Back in September, a meteorite crashed somewhere in Peru, scaring locals and digging a hole in the ground, but pleased scientists which had the opportunity of studying it. But it behaved so strangely that in fact it forces scientists to rethink the way alien objects behave when entering Earth’s atmosphere and when they hit out planet.

The meteorite was believed to disintegrate before it reached the ground, but that is very far away from the truth, as the object left a 15 metre crater, reaching a speed which was 40-50 times faster than expected. Peter Shultz, professor of geological sciences at Brown University says it should have already melted before hitting the ground, but instead, the meteorite hit the ground with a speed of 24,000 kilometres per hour.

“They come into the atmosphere, they slow down, and they plop,” Schultz says. “It would make a hole in the ground, like a pit, but not a crater. But this meteorite kept on going at a speed about 40-50 times faster than it should have been going. We have to go back to the drawing board and think again,” he says.

The meteorite landed in what locals call an arroyo, or dry stream, so the crater was quickly filled by water from underneath the surface. The findings definetly made scientists go back to the drawing board, but hopefully this time they’ll get things right and understand more about alien objects that hit planets.