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Scientists detect presence of water in dust particles from asteroid Itokawa

Researchers have detected presence of water in grains of dust obtained from the asteroid Itokawa. This finding can be a important clue on how water formed in Earth. The studies have been published in the journal Science Advances.

The peanut shaped asteroid, Itokawa was found in 1998 by LINEAR, a collaboration of NASA with United States Air Force. It has been named after Japanese engineer, Hideo Itokawa. It has a very low density and has a rotation time of 12 hours.

A team of researchers from Arizona State University has measured the quantity of water in the small particles of dust which were carried to earth by the Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa. Hayabusa, a robotic space probe is manufactured by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency for studying the elements, characteristics of Itokawa. It started its journey, collected more than 1500 regolith particles and returned back to Earth in 2010. Though this is not the first evidence of presence of water in an asteroid, scientists have detected water for the first time in laboratory. In other cases, it was done with the help of information collected by telescopes or the equipments present in the spacecrafts.

The first proof of water in asteroid was found in 2010 when scientists used Infrared Telescope Facility of NASA to detect water ice on the asteroid Themis. Also in December, 2018 scientists detected hydrated minerals while studying the rocks of the asteroid Bennu. After these discoveries, scientists have come to the conclusion that presence of water is quite common in our solar system. It may be present either in the form of water ice or hydrated minerals.

From the current findings, the scientists at ASU have concluded that the silaceous asteroids like Itokawa , which are stony asteroids composed of silicates and also one of the most frequently found rocks in space might have delivered almost half of Earth’s water during its formation.

Ziliang Jin, researcher at School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU along with fellow cosmochemist Maitrayee Bose calculated the abundance of water along with the percentage composition of deuterium and hydrogen, a factor which can indicate the similarity of the water to the water found on Earth. It has been found that the composition of isotopes of hydrogen are similar to Earth.

The team at ASU received five samples out of the 1500 ones brought by spacecraft Hayabusa. Each one measured about half of width of human hair. They have been obtained from the Moses Sea, lying in the middle of the asteroid Itokawa.

Dark Matter Cloud

Scientists confirm presence of Dark Matter, removing the existing doubts

The universe as we all know is a big and vast collection of planets, stars and galaxies which is spread across a diameter of 10 billion light years. However, the universe at the same time is a huge area full of mystery and dilemma which is constantly being observed and studied by our scientists in search of a clue to solve the puzzle of this great universe which we all a small part of. A curious mind often wonders what this entire universe is made of. This question has been bothering astrophysicists for a long time until lately a term called Dark Matter was termed.

Dark Matter is thought to account for 90-95% of the mass of the universe. The rest 5% mass is believed to be from the stars, galaxies and planets that are in the universe. It is believed to consist of non-luminous material that is thought about as existing in space. It is unlike normal matter as it cannot interact with electromagnetic force and cannot absorb light nor is able to reflect light that falls on it, thus making it harder to spot. Matter when exits exert a gravitational effect around it. Recently though, the existence of dark matter has been brought into question.

Chiara Di Paolo, a doctoral student of astrophysics at SISSA, has said that three years ago, a few colleagues of the Case Western Reserve University strongly questioned the understanding of the universe and therefore the in-depth work of the many researchers, casting doubt on the existence of matter within the galaxies. The reports have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

After analysis of the rotation curves of 153 curves, an empirical relationship between the total gravitational acceleration of stars was obtained, observed and the component which would be observed in absence of dark matter and presence of ordinary matter as considered in the classical Newtonian theory.

Later Paolo Salucci, a professor of astrophysics at SISSA has stated that they had studied the relationship between total acceleration and its ordinary component in 106 galaxies, obtaining different results from those that had been previously observed from the case of ordinary matter. Thus the variation in results obtained by considering the presence of ordinary matter and the results obtained practically in space which is dark matter is different. He further stated in his statement that the recent developments not only demonstrates the inexactness of the empirical relationship previously described but removes doubts on the existence of dark matter in the galaxies.

Topics such as these continuously being explored and questioned by curious minds all across the world. These theories are constantly questioned in pursuit to prove it, we keep discovering newer things in the ever-changing and mysterious world of physics and astrophysics.

V404Cyg XRT halo fullsize

Scientists discover black hole emitting plasmic clouds by devouring on companion star

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has detected high-speed plasmic clouds emitted from the black hole V404 Cygni. It lies in the constellation Cygnus which is 7800 light years from our galaxy.

V404 Cygni consists of a black hole which is about nine times the Sun’s mass and a companion red star which is smaller than the sun.

The black hole is slowly eating up the red star. The closest regions of the accretion disc are very dense, hot and plasma is emitted as the star gets lost in the black hole.

XMM-Newton, the X-ray observatory of the European Space Agency has confirmed the presence of a “gravitational vortex” surrounding black holes. With the help of Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) of NASA, this finding solves a question which has eluded the researchers for a long time. This will help the astronomers to study the properties and functioning of matter which are located close to the black holes. Besides this, it will also lead to experiments in future for investigating the general relativity theory of Albert Einstein.

As soon as matter drops into a black hole, it gets highly heated before reaching its end. Its temperature goes very high, up to millions of degrees, as it is lost forever inside the black hole. As a result of this, it emits X-Rays in space.

During the 1980s, the astronomers used earlier models of X-Ray telescopes to discover that the X-Rays flicker from the black holes in our galaxy, Milky Way. These changes follow a pattern. When the flickering of X-Rays start, it takes about 10 seconds for the dimming and brightening to complete. With progress in time, this time period reduces slowly to 10 oscillations in one second. Then suddenly the flickering stops.

This is called as Quasi Periodic Oscillation. This makes it possible for the astronomers to know about and understand the innermost areas of accretion disks and also the masses, spinning periods of black holes, neutron stars. It can help in testing the general relativity theory of Einstein that makes the observations vastly different from Newton’s rules of gravity.

Adam Ingram from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands remarked that this phenomenon QPO was instantly identified as something very interesting and fascinating since it is so closely related to the black hole. Ingram started working on QPOs for his thesis in 2009.

It was during the ’90s that scientists predicted that the QPO could be associated with the gravitational vortex as predicted from relativity theory that a spinning matter will give rise to a gravitational vortex. Anything which orbits around a spinning object will have an effect on its motion. The orientation of the entire orbit will change around the central object. The time taken to come back to the original state is called precession cycle.

Extragalactic Space Balls

Hubble Space Telescope confirms presence of buckyballs in interstellar matter

The Hubble Space Telescope has detected proof of buckminster fullerene in the ionised state in the interstellar medium. Buckminsterfullerene is the carbon compound which is commonly known as buckyball.

The interstellar medium comprises of the matter and the radiations which are present in the space between the stars of the galaxy. It mainly comprises of gases in ionic, atomic form as well as dust and other rays. The energy which is present in this region in the form of electromagnetic radiations is called interstellar radiation field.

In a study led by Martin Cordiner, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, it has been confirmed through observations of the Hubble Telescope in 11 star systems that Buckminsterfullerene is present. It contains 60 atoms of carbon arranged in a fused ring structure which is quite similar to a soccer ball shape. First synthesized in 1984, it is the most commonly found fullerene. It is found in soot.

It has been detected in the nebula and in gas around a star. Previously, the largest known elements which were detected in the diffused interstellar medium contained a maximum of three atoms heavier than hydrogen. Hence this makes the discovery of buckyballs a steep rise in the restriction of size.

It is quite difficult to study the individual elements present in the interstellar medium since there is a combination of many factors. Besides this, the environment in which they are created is also unknown making it pretty challenging.

Scientists used a different scanning method to get a very high signal-to-noise spectra of seven stars. They have been reddened to a great extent by the interstellar medium. Four stars remained unreddened and they were probed for absorption signals at four specific wavelengths. These wavelengths are 9348, 9365, 9428, and 9577 Å.

Scientists found reliable detections of three of the strongest absorption lines in the spectra of the seven stars which were reddened. No sign of absorption was found in the four stars that were not reddened. Out of the absorptions, 9348 Å was not detected. But as this has been predicted to a very weak feature, it is not much surprising. These results were in line with the predictions made by the laboratory.

The confirmation of buckyballs in the interstellar medium will help us to know about the several other characteristics and components of the diffused ISM. It will also help us to understand the situations in which the molecules exist in the extreme conditions of the space.

intergalactic stars

Researchers successfully recreate the sounds of stars through simulation softwares

It is well known that sound cannot propagate in vacuum as it requires a medium for its transmission. Sounds propagate as longitudinal waves in solids and fluids and also as a tranverse wave in solid structures. But scientists have been able to overcome this limitation as they have developed an innovative way for interpreting the signals which have been emitted by cosmos.

Researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison have separated a different type of resonance which are caused by stars. These vibrations are actually variations in the temperature and the brightness of stars. Very powerful telescopes can spot these vibrations and then recreate the sounds of the stars with the help of computer simulations.

Jacqueline Goldstein, a graduate student in astronomy at University of Wisconsin-Madison said that a cello’s sound is because of its shape and size, similarly the vibrations of the stars are also dependent on their size and composition. Goldstein studies the connection between the structure of stars and their vibrations with the help of the software which simulates many stars and their frequencies. After comparing the simulations to the real stars, she can improve her model and make necessary changes.

For human beings to hear the sounds, the speed of the vibrations have to be increased by thousand to million times, besides repeating the frequencies from minutes to days. These are known as starquakes after their seismic variants on Earth and the field of study is called as astroseismology.

After the fusion of hydrogen in stars to heavier elements in the star cores, plasmic gas vibrates and hence the stars flicker. Researchers can know about the structure of stars through these fluctuations and also the changes which may occur in the star with the passage of time.

Goldstein studies those stars which are bigger than the sun as these are the ones which explode and lead to the formation of black holes, neutron stars and the heavy objects in the cosmos. Scientists want to study about the functioning of these stars and how they make an impact in the expansion and evolution of the universe.

With the help of professors of astronomy, Rich Townsend and Ellen Zweibel, Goldstein has created a computer software named GYRE which is plugged into the simulation software for stars, MESA. These softwares make it possible to develop models of different kinds of stars and observe their vibrations as they may appear to astronomers.

Since, GYRE and MESA are open source programs, they can be accessed freely by the scientists and modified. Goldstein is currently making a modified version of GYRE to take advantage of the data obtained by TESS.

accelerated expansion of universe

Researchers detect abnormal rates in the expansion of universe

In the latest researches, the results have been shown that the universe is enlarging much quicker than it should be based on the conditions after Big Bang. The constantly increasing rate of the universe is known as Hubble Constant and it has been very hard to pin down the rate. The results of the research have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Adam Riess, professor of astronomy and physics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said that there has been a huge mismatch between what they calculated and the rate by which the size of the universe is increasing and also added that this was totally unexpected. Riess also won a Nobel Prize in physics in the year 2011 for research in the late ’90s about the increase in the speed of expansion of the universe. Astronomers are totally astonished about what’s the reason behind this expansion and many of them use it as an unknown repulsive force known as dark energy.

Riess and his colleagues used a new method with the help of Hubble Space Telescope to study about the 70 Cepheid variable stars present in the Large Magellanic Cloud which is one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. Standard candles are used by the astronomers to calculate the distances since the Cepheid variables faint and enrichen up at an expected rate. The researchers derived a new Hubble Constant of 74.03 kilometers per second per megaparsec using the data which is 9% faster than the data estimated in the Planck data and that the chance of an error is about one in 100,000 now. Adam Riess also said that the Hubble tension connecting the late and early universe might be the most thrilling development in cosmology in decades.

The mysterious form of energy known as dark energy which is thought to be comprised of about 70 percent of the matter-energy as well as the density of the universe and it is currently the most believed statement behind the speed of the growth of the universe. Astronomers aren’t sure about the reason but they say that maybe the dark matter is interchanging with the normal matter strongly that they have thought it to be the reason behind the expansion but it can also mean that the result is cannot be elaborated according to the physics present currently so some brand  new and strange kind of physics might be needed.

Riess also added that these aren’t only the two failed experiments but many more are there We can conclude that researchers are calculating something basically different and the first one is how quickly the universe is expanding and the second is the reason behind its expansion and its calculation.

Mars In Sight Lander Assembly

First seismic tremors detected on Mars by NASA’s InSight

A seismic tremor on Mars has been detected by NASA’s Insight. Initial analysis of the tremor has confirmed that it originated from inside the planet and not due to atmospheric disturbances such as winds.

This breakthrough came five months after robotic probe InSight, which has been designed specifically for studying the interior regions of planets, landed on Mars for a two-year seismological mission. There are a number of instruments in InSight for measuring different properties of a planet’s surface such as its temperature, rotation. It has been manufactured by Lockheed Martin and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages it. The main objectives of InSight are to put a seismometer on Mars’ surface which can not only help in measuring seismic activity but also generate exact 3D models of the interior surfaces of Mars.

Till now most of the sample collected by the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument consisted of background noise, but on April 6, the instrument recorded seismic tremors for the first time. Scientists naturally were quite excited for this moment as they had to wait for several months to obtain this signal. Philippe Lognonné, team head of SEIS reported that the scientific community is quite excited to have evidence that Mars is active seismically.

The seismic waves on propagation through a planet often slow down as they strike different types of materials. This helps the researchers get a clear picture of the internal structure and composition of the planet. However, the signal Sol 128 was very weak and hence scientists could not deduce much about the interior of Mars. Although Mars is not active tectonically, this signal indicates that there is seismic activity on Mars.

The signal Sol 128 has a resemblance to that of the seismic profiles of the moonquakes which were detected with the help of seismometers placed on the surface of the moon by the astronauts who went on the historic Apollo missions.

The moon similar to Mars is not active tectonically but seismic activity has been recorded there. This is due to the slow shrinking of the Moon’s interior surface which has been occurring since it was formed about 5 billion years ago. Due to the shrinking of the interior, stresses are produced on the outer crust until there is a crack, causing tremors.

Scientists believe that similar processes occur in Mars. Bruce Banerdt, head investigator of InSight reported that although they have been gathering background noise for some time, this event has officially led to a new field of research, Martian seismology.


Nasa Mars Mission 2020

Researchers at NASA preparing rigorously for 2020 Mars Mission

In recent months scientists have been working on Mars 2020 spacecraft which is planned to start in the direction of the red planet. Vehicle stacking is a process in which the parts of the aircraft are fitted neatly as it will look at the time of launching. This process needs extreme planning for assembling the parts.

David Gruel, manager of assembling,testing,and launching operations at JPL for Mars 2020 reported that their main job is to positively make the rover and other hardware components which are required for the rover to successfully reach the surface of Mars from Earth. It is to be fitted inside the payload fairing of Atlas V rocket. At first the rocket-powered at falling stage should be placed at the top of the substitute rovers. After attaching everything and when all the holes are lined up and they are verified and cross-checked again then via gantry crane the backshell is dropped over them. The cranes are used for lifting nearly each and every spacecraft that has been developed in JPL from the time of Mariner till now.

The next step after checking if the installation is done properly or not and if the backshell is in its proper place the group position’s the parachute nose cone. This acts as a shield while entering the atmosphere which leads to the entry of a huge doughnut-shaped cruise stage. It will provide power to the spacecraft during its seventh month to the journey of Red Planet.

Stacking plays a vital role in the mission even though their computerized models are capable enough, they need to join everything and see if it fits. He also adds that he feels great when he sees all the arrangements assembled and paused to be worked on further and this will head towards a launch pad in July coming year at Cape Canaveral. Stacking was completed on 3rd April and the spacecraft was sent to face acoustic testing where it will be bombed with a sound wave and then will be checked if and damages caused or loosening of nuts and bolts. After checking the stack is forwarded towards the vacuum chamber for one week to see if it can handle the harsh environments and the functions work accordingly or not.

Gruel says that everything keeps changing in this mission and says after the acoustic and vacuum tests the spacecraft is de-stacked and more testing and work is done, all these testing and work will keep continuing until the aircraft reaches its destination.


planetary nebula 7027

NASA detects helium hydride, one of the oldest molecules for the first time in space

More than 13 billion years ago, when the Universe was formed, it was a simple pool of three simple monoatomic elements that encompassed almost all of it. For next 100 million years, there were no stars or planets formed. However, around 100,000 years after the Big Bang, the first ever molecule in the Universe was formed by the nuclear fusion and fission of Helium and Hydrogen and came to be known as a helium hydride ion, or HeH+.

According to David Neufeld, a John Hopkins University professor and an author of a study published this Wednesday , giving us an insight of the first ever molecule formed in space after nearly a tiring quest of decades. There had been numerous models based on the theory that convinced astrophysicists to a great extent that HeH+ came first into existence, later being followed by numerous complex and heavy molecules. HeH+ had been studied and observed in the laboratory since 1925, however, the detection of its natural existence in the outer space and within the Earth was beyond the horizon of any thought since , there was no definitive evidence to support its existence and thus it remained a dilemma for a long time in the field of astronomy as told by R Gusten, a scientist at Max Planck Institute.

The models developed in early 1970s suggested that HeH+ should exist in significant quantities in the gases that were ejected by the dying Sun-like stars which created exact conditions that prevailed during the early Universe.

Back then, when scientists studied the nebula called NGC 702, an idea was formed that it could give birth to the earliest of molecules. So scientists turned to SOFIA which flies at 45,000 feet, above the Earth’s atmosphere. Though it can’t get as close to objects in space as the Hubble, it can come back to the Earth allowing scientists to make adjustments regarding what they want to see.

One of those instruments is known as the German Receiver at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT which was able to tune in frequencies similar to those generated by HeH+ molecules.
The problem was with the electromagnetic waves that were given off by the molecule in the range which was in far infra-red region and got neutralised by the Earth’s atmosphere, making it fairly undetectable from the surface of the planet.

Hence, NASA joined hands with the German Aerospace and created an airborne observatory with a huge 2.7-metre telescope, an infrared spectrometer, and a Boeing 747 which was big enough to carry these.

christina koch nick hague

Female NASA astronaut to make new record by spending extended time in spaceflight

NASA announced that astronaut Christina Koch will break a space record of the longest continuous spaceflight by a woman which is currently held by astronaut Peggy Whitson. As of now, she holds the record with 288 days but Koch who went to the space with Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin will be staying in the orbit for 328 days. She will return back to Earth in the month of February 2020. Though she will not be breaking the record set by astronaut Scot Kelly of the longest continuous spaceflight at 340 days.

Doctors are quite excited by this announcement as they will be able to learn a lot from it. During her time in space, Koch will monitor the changes taking place in body. It will provide researchers with the much needed valuable data of dangers of spaceflight and how well can human bodies cope with it. This data has been quite difficult to obtain as space flights usually last for six and a half months, but only few astronauts have been able to stay more than 200 days in one spaceflight. This situation presents a problem to NASA, as they aspire to send human beings to Mars within a decade, which is spaceflight lasting for six to eight months in each direction. Koch’s journey in the orbit of Earth will be able to inform us of the hardships of such long spaceflights and how differently male and female bodies react to the changes.

It is significant to note that till date, only three NASA astronauts have been able to remain in space for a continuous 200 days. They are Scott Kelly who holds the record at 340 days, Peggy Whitson, 289 days and Michael Lopez-Alegria at 215 days. It is interesting to note that Soviet Union and Russia combined have sent a dozen men on spaceflights for more than 200 days.

About 12% of the astronauts on spaceflights have been women, hence this mission will provide a more profound understanding of how gender differences affect the response of the body. A coincidence is that this updated flight schedule was announced just a week after the Twin Study was published. This revealed how cells of genetically identical individuals differed in responses, when one brother was in spaceflight and the other on Earth.

Koch will be taking part in several projects such as VECTION for studying how the vestibular system processes the movements of individuals in gravity. Besides this, there will also be experiments checking the stiffness of muscles, elasticity, ability of the brain in controlling blood flow.

Scientists want large sample size of astronauts for spaceflight studies, but since it is not possible they want to utilize the data from every individual who makes long stays.