WASHINGTON — Scientists have discovered that a comet called 2I/Borisov – only the second interstellar object ever detected passing through the solar system – is surprisingly different in its composition from comets hailing from our celestial neighbourhood.
Gas coming off 2I/Borisov contained high amounts of carbon monoxide – far more than comets formed in our solar system – indicating the object had large concentrations of carbon monoxide ice, researchers said on Monday.
Carbon monoxide, poisonous to humans, is common as a gas in space and forms as ice only in the most frigid locations. The presence of so much carbon monoxide, the researchers said, suggests 2I/Borisov formed in a different manner than comets in our solar system – in a very cold outer region of its home star system or around a star cooler than the sun.
Comets essentially are dirty snowballs composed of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit stars.
“We like to refer to 2I/Borisov as a snowman from a dark and cold place,” said planetary scientist Dennis Bodewits of Auburn University in Alabama, lead author of one of two 2I/Borisov studies published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“Comets are left-over building blocks from the time of planet formation. For the first time, we have been able to measure the chemical composition of such a building block from another planetary system while it flew through our own solar system,” Bodewits added.
Interstellar comet 2I/Borisov is providing a glimpse of another star system’s planetary building blocks. New observations from Hubble are helping to reveal chemical clues to the composition of an object born around another star: https://t.co/Nz4hOMn3Qzpic.twitter.com/PNyGJm26bI
The comet, detected in August 2019 by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov and estimated to be about six-tenths of a mile (1-km) wide, has zoomed through interstellar space after being ejected from its original star system.
It was born long ago in a rotating disc of gas and dust surrounding a newly formed star in a place that must have been rich in carbon monoxide, Bodewits said. That star may have been what is called an M-dwarf, far smaller and cooler than the sun and the smallest type of star that is known, Bodewits said.
Scientists initially concluded last year that 2I/Borisov was similar to comets from our solar system, but data from the Hubble Space Telescope and an observatory in Chile revealed its differences.
The researchers also found an abundance of hydrogen cyanide at levels similar to comets from our solar system.
“This shows that 2I/Borisov is not a completely alien object, and confirms some similarity with our ‘normal’ comets, so the processes that shaped it are comparable to the way our own comets formed,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrobiologist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and lead author of the other study.
The only other interstellar visitor discovered in our solar system was a cigar-shaped rocky object called ‘Oumuamua spotted in 2017.
A beautifully preserved armoured dinosaur found in an Alberta oilsands mine died on a full stomach. The “extraordinarily rare” preservation of its last meal offers new clues and surprises about how the dinosaur lived during its last days.
The 5.5-metre-long, 1,300 kilogram spiky, plant-eating nodosaur, similar to an ankylosaurus but without a tail club, is the only known one of its species, Borealopelta markmitchelli. (Its name means “shield of the north” and honours Mark Mitchell, the technician who spent 7,000 carefully extracting the fossil from the surrounding rock).
Victoria Arbour, an evolutionary paleontologist at the Royal BC Museum, describes how some armoured dinosaurs likely used their horns, spines and armour for fighting each other, not just for protection. 1:34
The nodosaur lived 110 million years ago during the early Cretaceous, in a lush forest of conifers, ferns and palm-like plants called cycads, near the coast of what was then an inland sea. At the time, the climate was warmer, similar to that of South Carolina, said Caleb Brown, a paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta and lead author of the new study. It was published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The fossil was discovered by accident in 2011 by Shawn Funk, a shovel operator at the Suncor Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray. Paleontologists from the Royal Tyrrell were called to have a look and realized at once that it was no ordinary fossil.
While most fossils include only bones, this one included skin. It was so well-preserved that it has been described as “mummified.”
Meet one of the world’s best-preserved dinosaurs ever. Borealopelta fossilized so perfectly that we can see every inch of its armour and skin in 3D, 110 million years after its death. 0:58
In the dinosaur’s belly, “there were these massive concentrations of what looked like rocks,” Brown said.
Those were in a mass about the size of a soccer ball, and it appears they were gastroliths — rocks that some plant-eating dinosaurs use to grind up their food in their stomachs, as modern birds do, instead of using their teeth.
Sure enough, when chunks of the mass were encased in resin, sliced and examined under the microscope, the researcher could see well-preserved twigs, leaves, mosses, pollen and spores.
To get some help at identifying the plant material, the dinosaur researchers turned to paleobotanists, including University of Brandon researcher David Greenwood and his team, along with their retired Royal Tyrrell colleague Dennis Braman.
Ferns and charcoal
They discovered that the dinosaur was a bit of a picky eater. While it lumbered through a landscape that was lush with conifers, horsetails and cycads, there weren’t a lot of those in its stomach.
“It’s almost all ferns,” Brown said, noting that ferns aren’t actually very nutritious. “It wasn’t just hoovering up everything on the landscape.”
But to him, the biggest surprise was that the stomach also contained a significant amount of wood, mostly charcoal, suggesting it was feeding in an area that had recently been ravaged by wildfires.
“And that’s a really cool result,” Brown said. “Because if you look at large mammals that are herbivores today, they often seek out areas that are recovering from forest fires.”
That’s because the new growth tends to be lush, more nutritious than older plants, and low to the ground where it’s easily accessible.
By looking at the types of spores and the fact that the twigs appeared to be in the middle of their growing season, the researchers figured out that the animal died during the wet season, which was late spring or early summer.
The discoveries about the nodosaur’s last meal are significant because to date, Brown said, “we know almost nothing about what herbivorous dinosaurs eat.”
Only guesses can be made based on what plants lived nearby and the dinosaur’s teeth. There are also clues in fossil dinosaur feces, but the plant material in those are often digested beyond recognition and it’s difficult to know which dinosaur they came from.
Part of the problem is that finding preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is “extraordinarily rare,” Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Nine cases of possible dinosaur stomachs of plant-eating dinosaurs have been found, the researchers note, but most have turned out to just be plant material found nearby rather than actual stomachs. In this case, the dinosaur was washed far out to sea, without any plants from the landscape it lived in, before it was fossilized.
“So in this case we have what I would say is by far the best evidence that these are stomach contents,” Brown said.
That said, he notes that it may not necessarily be representative of what this species normally ate, as an animal’s diet can vary depending on its age, its health, and the seasonal availability of different foods.
Still, he said it’s useful to be able to compare it to what scientists think plant-eating dinosaurs were eating at that time and raises new questions to investigate, such as: How much of this food a dinosaur this size would have needed to eat to sustain itself? And how did it digest it?
“I think give us a benchmark for figuring out how this animal may have lived.”
The full moon on Friday, June 5 might look a little different in some parts of the world, where the so-called “Strawberry Moon” will fall partially under the Earth’s shadow.
The phenomenon, known as a penumbral lunar eclipse, occurs when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon, thereby casting a faint shadow on the moon. This penumbral lunar eclipse will make the full moon look slightly darker on part of its surface, although only some portions of the world will see it.
The penumbral lunar eclipse will only be visible from parts of Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, according to NASA’s charts.
In other words, North Americans will need to watch a livestream on the internet to catch a glimpse of the event, which starts at 3 p.m. EDT. Nevertheless, the so-called “Strawberry Moon” will be visible to everyone.
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That name comes from the time of year and not the expected colour of the moon. There are farm-related nicknames for the first full moon of every month, and the strawberry nickname originated from the Algonquin First Nation, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. The first full moon of June often coincided with the harvest season for wild strawberries in North America, the Almanac says.
Although skywatchers in Canada and the U.S. will miss out on this penumbral lunar eclipse, they’ll only have to wait a month to catch the next one. Another penumbral lunar eclipse is slated to happen on July 5, and that one should be visible from North America. The darkest penumbral lunar eclipse of the year is expected on Nov. 30.
A penumbral lunar eclipse also happened on Jan. 10, coinciding with that month’s “Wolf Moon.”
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0:59 Timelapse captures moment sky darkens for total solar eclipse
Timelapse captures moment sky darkens for total solar eclipse
Not to throw shade at the penumbral lunar eclipses, but they’ll likely pale in comparison to the annular solar eclipse predicted for June 21. That’s when the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, making the sun look like a ring of fire for viewers in parts of Africa, China, northern India and Pakistan, according to TimeandDate.com.
Again, it won’t be visible from North America — but you’ll still be able to watch the whole thing online without risking eye damage from staring at the sun.
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pulled a video featuring the SpaceX launch and astronauts
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pulled a video featuring the SpaceX launch and astronauts which appeared to violate NASA’s media regulations, reports said.
The “Make Space Great Again” YouTube ad posted on YouTube showed footage from the Apollo program, as well as video of the landmark SpaceX Demo-2 mission and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the SpaceNews.com website said.
YouTube shows the video was removed by the uploader.
NASA generally allows use of its images and video but prohibits the use of its insignia and photographs of its astronauts in advertisements.
“As a government agency, NASA will not promote or endorse or appear to promote or endorse a commercial product, service or activity. Therefore, there are strict limits placed on the use of any of the NASA identities and emblem imagery in advertisements,” the space agency’s advertising regulations say.
“Astronauts or employees who are currently employed by NASA cannot have their names, likenesses or other personality traits displayed in any advertisements or marketing material.”
Hurley’s wife Karen Nyberg, a retired astronaut, and their young son were also reportedly shown in the clip.
“I find it disturbing that a video image of me and my son is being used in political propaganda without my knowledge or consent. That is wrong,” Nyberg tweeted.
A Change.org petition to “Stop Donald Trump politicizing SpaceX and NASA accomplishments” has attracted more than 6,000 signatures so far.
The New York Times described the video as “the latest effort by the president to parlay his stewardship of American space policy into an upbeat campaign issue.”
The SpaceX mission, which blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30, was the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade.
Trump, who witnessed the liftoff, has relaunched the race to re-conquer the Moon and to journey onwards to the Red Planet.
But the deadlines — 2024 and 2033 respectively — appear unrealistic and have caused turbulence within the space agency.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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