Tag Archives: solar system

Earth forming around sun-like star?

proto-planetary disk

Worlds without end: The ground-based telescope ALMA has imaged a proto-planetary disk around a sun-like star that suggests an exoEarth is forming there the same distance from the star as our Earth is from our Sun.

The star, TW Hydrae, is a popular target of study for astronomers because of its proximity to Earth (approximately 175 light-years away) and its status as a veritable newborn (about 10 million years old). It also has a face-on orientation as seen from Earth. This affords astronomers a rare, undistorted view of the complete disk. “Previous studies with optical and radio telescopes confirm that this star hosts a prominent disk with features that strongly suggest planets are beginning to coalesce,” said Sean Andrews with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and lead author on a paper published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “The new ALMA images show the disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there.”

Other pronounced gap features are located 3 billion and 6 billion kilometers from the central star, similar to the distances from the Sun to Uranus and Pluto in our own Solar System.

The image above right is the inner section of that disk, showing the gap at one astronomical unit, or about 100 million miles from the star, the same as the distance of the Earth from the Sun. Essentially, this relatively close star system is providing us a perfect opportunity to study the formation of a solar system not unlike our own.

Earth’s other moon

Link here.

What you might not know is that the moon is not the Earth’s only natural satellite. As recently as 1997, we discovered that another body, 3753 Cruithne, is what’s called a quasi-orbital satellite of Earth. This simply means that Cruithne doesn’t loop around the Earth in a nice ellipse in the same way as the moon, or indeed the artificial satellites we loft into orbit. Instead, Cruithne scuttles around the inner solar system in what’s called a “horseshoe” orbit.

The early bombardment of the Earth

Using computer models based on the Moon’s crater record, scientists have developed a simulation of the great early bombardment of the Earth around 4 billion years ago.

The model suggests that the biggest asteroids to hit Earth would have been as large as 3,000 kilometres across. Between one and four would have been 1,000 kilometres wide or larger, it predicts, with a total of three to seven exceeding 500 kilometres in width. The most recent of these would have hit around 4.2–4.3 billion years ago.

In comparison with Earth’s mass, the amount of rock hitting the planet would have been tiny. But it would have had an enormous effect on Earth’s surface, says Marchi. A 10-kilometre-wide asteroid was enough to kill the dinosaurs, and studies4 show that one 500 kilometres across would vaporize all of the planet’s oceans. “At 1,000 kilometres, the effects would be so wide the planet would probably be completely resurfaced with material from the mantle,” he says.

More here, including animated gifs showing this bombardment unfold.

Voyager 1 might not have left the solar system

The uncertainty of science: Two scientists dispute the finding this year that Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space.

Voyager has yet to detect what scientists long predicted would be the calling card of interstellar space: a shift in the direction of the magnetic field. Scientists had expected the probe to encounter particles under the influence of the interstellar magnetic field draped over the outer shell of the heliosphere, inducing an abrupt shift. But the direction has remained stubbornly constant, and researchers can’t explain why. “This whole region is a lot messier than anyone dreamed of,” Christian says.

It’s a bit too messy for George Gloeckler and Lennard Fisk, Voyager scientists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They wondered whether the magnetic field and particle density conditions measured by Voyager could exist within the heliosphere. In a paper accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, Gloeckler and Fisk argue that the outer heliosphere could allow an influx of galactic particles from beyond the bubble that would explain the density measurements.

The researchers’ analysis includes a way to definitively test the idea: If Voyager 1 is within the heliosphere, Gloeckler and Fisk note, then it should still be at the mercy of the sun’s magnetic field. If that were the case, within a year or so, Voyager should detect a 180-degree flip in the field’s direction, a regular occurrence caused by the sun’s rotation. “If that happens,” Gloeckler says, “Len and I will have a big celebration.”

I suspect that both sides are right, and that the transition into interstellar space is simply very complex. Some data will say the spacecraft is outside the solar system, while other data will say it is inside.

Using Kepler data, astronomers have discovered a solar system with seven planets and configured similar to our own, with rocky planets close to the star and gas giants farther away

Using Kepler data, astronomers have discovered a solar system with seven planets and configured similar to our own, with rocky planets close to the star and gas giants farther away.

The system is far more compact than ours, with the gas giants in orbits similar to Mercury, Venus, and Earth.

Voyager 1 has found the edge of the solar system to be far more complex than predicted by scientists.

The uncertainty of science: Voyager 1 has found the edge of the solar system to be far more complex than predicted by scientists.

Scientists had assumed that Voyager 1, launched in 1977, would have exited the solar system by now. That would mean crossing the heliopause and leaving behind the vast bubble known as the heliosphere, which is characterized by particles flung by the sun and by a powerful magnetic field.

The scientists’ assumption turned out to be half-right. On Aug. 25, Voyager 1 saw a sharp drop-off in the solar particles, also known as the solar wind. At the same time, there was a spike in galactic particles coming from all points of the compass. But the sun’s magnetic field still registers, somewhat diminished, on the spacecraft’s magnetometer. So it’s still in the sun’s magnetic embrace, in a sense.

Has Voyager 1 already left the solar system?

Has Voyager 1 already left the solar system?

New data from the spacecraft indicate that the historic moment of its exit from the solar system might have come and gone two months ago. Scientists are crunching one more set of numbers to find out for sure.

More signs that the Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to enter interstellar space.

More signs that the Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to enter interstellar space.

For the last seven years, Voyager 1 has been exploring the outer layer of the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. In one day, on July 28, data from Voyager 1’s cosmic ray instrument showed the level of high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our solar system jumped by five percent. During the last half of that same day, the level of lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system dropped by half. However, in three days, the levels had recovered to near their previous levels.

A third key sign is the direction of the magnetic field, and scientists are eagerly analyzing the data to see whether that has, indeed, changed direction. Scientists expect that all three of these signs will have changed when Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space. A preliminary analysis of the latest magnetic field data is expected to be available in the next month.

Based on this report, expect scientists to announce that Voyager 1 has left the solar system sometime before the end of the year.

“The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly. It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system’s frontier.”

“The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly. It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system’s frontier.”

Scientists have discovered that the half life of one of their key isotopes for dating the solar system is 30% shorter than previously believed.

The uncertainty of science: Scientists have discovered that the half life of one of their key isotopes for dating the age of the solar system is 30% shorter than previously believed.

The main result of the work of the international scientists, detailed in a recent article in Science, is a new determination of the half-life of 146Sm, previously adopted as 103 million years, to a much shorter value of 68 million years. The shorter half-life value, like a clock ticking faster, has the effect of shrinking the assessed chronology of events in the early solar system and in planetary differentiation into a shorter time span.

The new time scale, interestingly, is now consistent with a recent and precise dating made on a lunar rock and is in better agreement with the dating obtained with other chronometers. The measurement of the half-life of 146Sm, performed over several years by the collaborators, involved the use of the ATLAS particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

The Pioneer anomaly is fading

The Pioneer anomaly is fading.

The analysis shows that the anomaly is not constant, as researchers had believed, but is decreasing with time. The finding points toward a conventional explanation of the phenomenon, most likely asymmetric radiation of heat, and against some of the more exotic proposals.