Re-Post: Say Hello To Baby Aliens On Enceladus


(Originally posted on Read With The Gringa 7/6/17)

If scientists discover microbial life one of Saturn’s moons, is this a big deal? Well, the gringa supposes that humans could officially lay to rest the question of whether or not we are alone in the universe. But it does leave open the question of whether or not mankind shares the Universe with intelligent life. After all, I’m not so sure microbial life counts as an intellectual peer for humanity. So what, exactly, did NASA report they found on Enceladus? See for yourself:

So microbes eat hydrogen like candy. Does that mean that life might evolve on Enceladus or that life is dead and gone and this candy is all that’s left? You know, kind of like coming home and finding traces of teenagers in the crumbs left on the sofa and smears of chocolate on the gaming controls.

It means that it’s possible that microbes can exist in Enceladus’ ice covered sea. The next step would be to explore this cosmic ocean, perhaps with a probe that can take samples, to see if microbes are alive and well. But what kind of environmental conditions would microbes need in order to survive? Let’s take a look at some of the basic environmental conditions of Enceladus:

-Surface temperature of -330 degrees F (or -201 degrees C)

-Freshwater ice surface that reflects 100% of sunlight

-5 surface features: cracks, ridges, fissures and crust deformation

-Liquid fresh water sea underneath surface crust of ice

-Tidal forces created upon internal sea by Saturn’s pull, which creates internal heat, so sea temperature would be warmer than surface temperature but still unknown

-Smooth surface plains of ice crust indicate that water once flowed upon the surface, possibly forced upward from eruptions of volcanoes in the interior sea

-No detectable atmosphere

-No magnetic field

Are there any microbes known to man that could survive these conditions?

-Microbe Colwellia psychrerythraea strain 34H can survive temperatures as cold as -320 degrees F. Testing was conducted with liquid nitrogen, which is -321 degrees F.

-No detectable atmosphere and no magnetic field means no protection from radiation. But, as concluded from microbe studies on the International Space Station (ISS), there are microbes that not only survive such conditions, but actually thrive in them: Deinococcus radiodurans, also called the Conan of microbes, could live quite happily in Enceledus’ frigid ocean.

So, if there are microbial Conans alive and well in the interior sea of Enceledus, how long might it take for them to gain some intelligence and start communicating? Well, let’s start with the moon’s suspected age, 100 million years. The earth, by comparison, is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old. Enceledus is just a baby.  It was during Earth’s second phase, the Archean phase, when the first signs of microbial life appeared on Earth. This would have been when Earth was about 1 billion years ago.

So, Enceledus may just be getting started. Those microbes out there in its interior sea? Those could be the earliest seeds of a future humanoid race that evolves to build a bone-chilling, zero oxygen, radiated civilization in another couple of billion years or so. So, just stay tuned, right?

Sources: Science Mag

New Scientist

Sea Sky Org.

BBC

Image Credit: America Space

Video Credit:  NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Singing Space Soup


On February 24 the gringa posted “Moon Music – It’s Classified” with an interesting audio recording from the Apollo 10 mission in 1969. Today I would like to share a great video posted by NASA entitled “NASA Space Sounds”. Although there is an eeriness to the multi-planet ensemble, the gringa finds the sounds to have a meditative quality.

Now, the gringa wants to know how music and sound is produced in outer space. Sound is a vibration that travels through air. In order for vibrations to travel through outer space molecules have to exist in outer space. It is the vibrating air molecules that produce the sound. Outer space is a vacuum, meaning that in the area between planets and stars, there are no molecules. So how is this space music produced?

These symphonies are, indeed, vibrating wave patterns. Planets and moons emit electromagnetic pulses that bounce back and forth between surrounding rings and atmospheric barriers that are not visible to the naked eye. The charged particles within these atmospheres, plasma, are the “carriers” of the sound.

To capture these sounds NASA uses space probes equipped with plasma wave antennae. One particular NASA spacecraft featuring a plasma wave antenna is Voyager. This craft also has on board “The Golden Record” which shares images and sounds from Earth. So, Voyager is on an interactive sound mission, capturing and sharing.

Other things Voyager has captured are “tsunami solar waves”. When there is a burst of energy from the sun, a solar flare, a plasma shockwave is created. It takes about one year for the shockwave to reach Voyager and have the sound recorded. NASA has three recordings thus far.

Shock waves from the sun, as well as cosmic rays from other nearby stars within our Milky Way galaxy, are filled with plasma particles. Plasma is dense and creates very rapid oscillations when something causes the particles to vibrate. A plasma “bubble”, also called a “bell”, surrounds stars like our sun. When a solar flare occurs it’s like ringing a bell. A plasma shockwave resonates. March, 2014 was the third recording by Voyager 1 of our singing Sun.

Plasma is very interesting. It is filled with charged particles. It’s kind of like space soup that has the potential to sing. So the Voyager spacecrafts are basically recording singing space soup. Space soup is also called interstellar space. This is the area of space that exists between stars and contains plasma.

The Voyager mission launched in 1977 with two Voyager spacecraft. Voyager 2 launched about two weeks earlier than Voyager 1 and is still on the job making it the longest operating spacecraft in history. Both Voyagers have visited Jupiter and Saturn. #2 did a fly-by of Uranus and Neptune. One thing they have taught us in their travels is that space is a noisy and musical place thanks to plasma.

 

Source & Image Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Uranus – The Teenager Planet


Why are astronomers fascinated by Uranus? Some have even gone so far as to claim it is the best darn planet in the Solar System. The gringa says, “Hey! What about Earth and Mars? Aren’t they the ones NASA is making such a fuss over? Trying to save one and explore the other?”

Well, astronomical appreciation for Uranus is because it is just so bizarre. Bizarre, huh? Like, odd rainbow colored creatures with spiny noses and squishy springs for appendages and gumballs for tails? Well, no, not quite that bizarre.

Uranus is bizarre because, apparently, it’s a bit lazy. You see, other planets spin around on their axis,  or axi, the gringa’s not quite sure about the plural spelling of axis, but you know what I mean. To get back to the point, yes, Uranus is lazy. It does not spin on its axis like other planets. It lays on its side.

Another oddity is that, even though it is not the farthest planet from the Sun, it is the coldest. Perhaps that’s because it’s so darn lazy. It’s never up, spinning around creating friction and heat and all that good, heat-generating stuff that movement creates.

Also, Uranus is confused and misplaces things, things like its magnetic field. Its magnetic field is NOT where it’s supposed to be. Uranus is kind of like a teenager. It lays about doing a lot of nothing and is messy, laying other things about where they are not supposed to be.

One more thing that makes Uranus like a teenager is its greenish atmosphere. It’s moody. It vacillates between dull boredom and doing absolute nothing to crazy business.

Uranus also has an identity crisis. You know how a parent names a child, like, say, the gringa named her eldest son, Zachary, then he goes off to school and engages in some mild rebellion to assert his independence and comes home with a name like, say, Milkshake? Yes, that’s Uranus, too. While all the other planets were named after Roman gods, Uranus had to go and be different and have a name after a Greek god instead, Ouranos, the sky father, who beget Saturn (aka Cronus) and Jupiter (aka Zeus).

Another aspect of Uranus is, because of its laziness and slow motion movement, for a very long time it was thought to be a star. It wasn’t until 1781 that Sir William Hershel discovered that it was actually a planet. Poor Uranus, so misunderstood and underestimated.

If we chose to colonize Uranus instead of Mars, life would be rather odd living on a sideways planet. Summer would last for twenty years without a single sunset and winter would be just as long, spent entirely in darkness. The gringa would surely go mad.

It takes the planet over eighty years to orbit the sun. Surrounded by its 27 moons (that we know about) and ringed about by 13 circlets of rock and spacedust, Uranus plods along at its own snail’s pace. And those moons and rings are just as odd as the planet they surround.

One ring is made up completely of spacedust astronomers think came from the moon named Mab when it was hit by asteroids. Another ring has simply disappeared since the last image received while another moved about and is now somewhere else. But, perhaps the strangest ring of all is the one that “breathes”. Every few hours it expands and then contracts throughout a five kilometer difference. Now that’s just weird.

The moons don’t just orbit Uranus but seem to engage in a dance. They are not considered stable because they are constantly pushing and pulling one another with their different gravities. Scientists expect a few will eventually crash into one another and then who knows what kind of changes will develop. Maybe the planet will get another ring or two.

And with an atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, the gringa’s pretty sure it would be a very unpleasant place to set up household. Everyone would speak ridiculously, no more opera and musicals to appreciate. The air would also smell like a big fart, everywhere, and your eyes would sting and tear. There are also storms with winds over 100 mph that can last for years.

However, one oddity that the gringa thinks may just make all that nastiness about the stinky, unpleasant air worth the sacrifice is what scientists think about the “oceans” of Uranus. Underneath those thick, smelly gas clouds there could be an “ocean” of liquid diamonds! For heaven’s sake! You don’t say?! The gringa has just GOT to know if this is true! Can you imagine! If it is, every single woman I know who loves sparkly things will be on the first commercial rocket, no matter the cost. Goodbye Earth!

So, what the heck happened to Uranus? What got it knocked off its axis? Some experts theorize a large moon, that is long since extinct, had a powerful gravitational pull that overpowered the planet. Others consider that perhaps it had a cosmic collision with something larger than Earth.

Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t expect to dig in to a deeply involved study of this mysterious planet anytime soon. We just don’t have the technology developed that can effectively get an orbiter that far away (almost 2 billion miles) and successfully cope with the instability of all the oddities of Uranus. But, with NASA, the word is never “impossible”. The word is always, well, the two words are always, “not yet”. So, the gringa hopes somewhere there are some NASA scientists as incredibly curious as herself and are being some Johnnies-on-the-spot getting this technology developed. I just have to know more!

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

The Real Cassini of the Stars


The name “Cassini” is a bit of a give away that this mission is a cooperative project with NASA and Italy’s space agency. It is actually called the “Cassini-Huygens” mission, involving also the European Space Agency (ESA). And, no it has nothing to do with high space fashion for Hollywood stars in honor of ol’ Oleg. This Cassini is a photographer of the stars, or, I should say, moons, the moons of Saturn to be exact. The mission is managed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA in California although the images for the mission are handled at the Space Science Institute in Colorado. The Cassini spacecraft has returned some fantastic images from Saturn’s moon “Enceladus” this past October. Although this cold, icy moon may look like a dead globe of dust, it actually has an active southern polar region.

The probe passed as close as 30 miles from the moon’s South Pole and transmitted data for several days. What sort of data? Most of it will be geological analysis of gas and dust. Cassini captured samples from a plume of gas and ice particles when it made its close fly by. The above image from Cassini was taken when sunlight was at an angle so as to make some of the spray from the South Pole geysers visible. Scientists know that there is an ocean beneath the frozen surface of Enceladus and these samples should help to determine if there is any hydrothermal activity going on down below.

And, if there is an active ocean on Enceladus, why would that matter? Because Saturn’s moon would then become a candidate for exploration to study its potential as a future habitable environment.  Although it seems incredible enough that NASA has colonization ambitions for Mars, the space agency would love to add other locales to their list.

Scientists have learned that Enceladus is basically divided into two separate geographical hemispheres. The northern hemisphere is pock marked by impact craters with much less being visible in the southern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere terrain features fractured terrain with linear, ropy features.

Scientists believe the moon’s core to be solid rock and enveloped by an ocean that is sealed under an icy, frozen crust. The southern hemisphere has active jets which vent oceanic spray. This hypothesis is based on the finding that the moon has a bit of a wobble when it orbits Saturn. The presence of a global ocean underneath but not frozen to the icy crust would explain this wobble. It would also account for the plumes of icy spray that have been observed venting at the southern pole.

Scientists suspect that the ocean of Enceladus may also experience tidal type activity which could be the reason why the crust has not frozen solid to the surface of the water. If this is the case, it would be an indicator that Saturn’s gravity keeps the core of Enceladus warmer than was expected. Scientists have been studying Saturn and its moons for over seven years. Cassini will have a final close-up photo shoot of Enceladus in mid-December. Its task is to measure the heat emanating from the interior of the moon. The gringa is hoping for a tropical paradise hidden beneath that frigid surface. I can imagine living like a beach mole never seeing the sun but picnicking beach side in a sauna like atmosphere and catching space fish that have no eyeballs.