James Webb Space Telescope delivers stunning views of PHANGS galaxies – See in 4K
Uracil Has Been Found In Asteroid Ryugu Samples
Researchers have analyzed samples of asteroid Ryugu collected by the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft and found uracil—one of the informational units that make up RNA, the molecules that contain the instructions for how to build and operate living organisms. Nicotinic acid, also known as Vitamin B3 or niacin, which is an important cofactor for metabolism in living organisms, was also detected in the same samples.
This discovery by an international team, led by Associate Professor Yasuhiro Oba at Hokkaido University, adds to the evidence that important building blocks for life are created in space and could have been delivered to Earth by meteorites. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
“Scientists have previously found nucleobases and vitamins in certain carbon-rich meteorites, but there was always the question of contamination by exposure to the Earth’s environment,” Oba explained. “Since the Hayabusa2 spacecraft collected two samples directly from asteroid Ryugu and delivered them to Earth in sealed capsules, contamination can be ruled out.”
The researchers extracted these molecules by soaking the Ryugu particles in hot water, followed by analyses using liquid chromatography coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry. This revealed the presence of uracil and nicotinic acid, as well as other nitrogen-containing organic compounds.
“We found uracil in the samples in small amounts, in the range of 6–32 parts per billion (ppb), while vitamin B3 was more abundant, in the range of 49–99 ppb,” Oba elaborated. “Other biological molecules were found in the sample as well, including a selection of amino acids, amines and carboxylic acids, which are found in proteins and metabolism, respectively.” The compounds detected are similar but not identical to those previously discovered in carbon-rich meteorites.
The team hypothesizes that the difference in concentrations in the two samples, collected from different locations on Ryugu, is likely due to the exposure to the extreme environments of space. They also hypothesized that the nitrogen-containing compounds were, at least in part, formed from the simpler molecules such as ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide. While these were not detected in the Ryugu samples, they are known to be present in cometary ice—and Ryugu could have originated as a comet or another parent body which had been present in low temperature environments.
“The discovery of uracil in the samples from Ryugu lends strength to current theories regarding the source of nucleobases in the early Earth,” Oba concludes. “The OSIRIS-REx mission by NASA will be returning samples from asteroid Bennu this year, and a comparative study of the composition of these asteroids will provide further data to build on these theories.”
Associate Professor Yasuhiro Oba
Institute of Low Temperature Science
Sohail Keegan Pinto (International Public Relations Specialist)
Public Relations Division
Yasuhiro Oba, et al. Uracil in the carbonaceous asteroid (162173) Ryugu. Nature Communications. March 21, 2023.
The Hayabusa2 project has been led by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in collaboration with DLR (German Space Center) and CNES (French Space Center) and supported by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ASA (Australian Space Agency). This research is partly supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) under KAKENHI (21H04501, 21H05414, 21J00504, 21KK0062, 20H00202); the Consortium for Hayabusa2 Analysis of Organic Solubles, supported by NASA. This study was partly conducted by the official collaboration agreement through the joint research project with JAMSTEC, Keio University and HMT Inc. This study was conducted in accordance with the Joint Research Promotion Project at the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University (21G008, 22G008).
How to Break the Universe and Other Adventures in UMass Astronomy
A team of astronomers, including assistant professor Kate Whitaker, recently published research in the journal Nature that many popular publications have said “breaks the universe.” While not literally true, the team, which used the newest trove of data retrieved from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), discovered that very old, very massive galaxies seem to exist on the fringes of the universe—which, according to current astronomical theory, shouldn’t be possible.
“Do I think we broke the universe? Well, no”, says Whitaker, “but this puzzling discovery tells us that something isn’t quite right in our models. This discovery is a learning opportunity, opening completely unexplored parameters in space and impacting our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution at the most fundamental level.”
These six galaxies are about 13.5 billion light-years away, which means that the light the team saw was emitted 13.5 billion years ago. Put another way, the team was able to look back in time 13.5 billion years. This is exciting because the universe itself is only about 14 billion years old, which means that the team was able to observe the universe’s infancy.
It has long been thought that only very young, small galaxies would have existed 13 billion years ago because not enough time would have elapsed since the Big Bang for cosmic dust and gas to accrete into massive galaxies.
And yet, this is exactly what the team seems to have found.
“These galaxies are impossibly massive for their epochs, suggesting an accelerated growth very early on. It would be like seeing a picture of a toddler, when we expected to find infants.”
This upends what many astronomers considered to be largely settled matters. All that extra mass at the fringes of the universe means either the current cosmological models need significant altering or our scientific understanding of galaxy formation in the early universe is incorrect. Both options require rethinking what we know about the universe’s earliest days.
“The revelation that massive galaxy formation began extremely early in the history of the universe upends what many of us had thought was settled science,” said Joel Leja assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Pennyslvania State University and one of the paper’s co-authors. “We’ve been informally calling these objects ‘universe breakers’—and they have been living up to their name so far.”
But before throwing out the old astronomy textbooks, the team needs to follow up on their initial observation with more sensitive measurements that can confirm distance and size, and whether or not all of the objects are actually galaxies.
U of A students celebrate successful launch of wildfire-monitoring satellite
A student-built satellite from the University of Alberta that will capture images of active wildfires has made it into orbit after a successful launch last week.
The satellite Ex-Alta 2, a miniature satellite about the size of a loaf of bread and weighing about two kilograms, launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre aboard the Falcon 9 SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on March 14.
“The moment it launched there was a pin-drop silence,” Thomas Ganley, lead manager on the AlbertaSat’s project, told CBC’s Edmonton AM.
The atmosphere was celebratory and he and his teammates were there to watch the countless years of their hard work blast off into space as part of a resupply mission to the International Space Station.
“Everyone was in awe and just jaw dropped looking at the amazing marvel happening in front of us.”
The satellite, known as a cubesat, is a small, light and affordable device that will burn upon re-entry, meaning it doesn’t leave behind space debris. Each mission could take up to a year to complete.
AlbertaSat builds cubesats composed of three units.
Ex-Alta 2 includes a multispectral camera, called an Iris, to take the images they need.
“We’re going to be studying active wildfires post-burn, the effect on vegetation to hopefully enable wildfire scientists to make some conclusions that will help us mitigate wildfires in the future,” Ganley said.
“It’s quite impressive the amount of technology that you can pack into there and the really valuable science that you can still do with such a small size,” he said.
Listen here | The atmosphere at Cape Canaveral was celebratory as students watched their satellites be launched into space
Edmonton AM5:27U of A students have launched a satellite into orbit
Real space mission opportunity for students
Students from various degrees at the university have been working on the Ex-Alta 2 project for six years now. In 2017, they launched Ex-Alta 1.
Ex-Alta 1 was designed to study space weather and carried instruments that measured the electron density of the ionosphere, magnetic signatures and radiation of the spacecraft.
Both satellites are part of the Canadian Space Agency’s Canadian CubeSat Project and the Northern Space Program for Innovative Research and Integrated Training (Northern SPIRIT), which aim to give students the opportunity to experience a real space mission.
The project is made up of a collaboration between three post-secondary institutions to create a nanosatellite design.
AlbertaSat worked with Yukon University and Aurora Research Institute in the Northwest Territories to build three cubesats.
“It really sets you up for leadership in the industry,” said Nikhil Velagapudi, a third-year chemical engineering student.
“Having that leadership and management skills from an early age in the student group sector really helps us, it sets us up for success in the workforce.”
AlbertaSat plans on partnering up with the Canadian Space Agency to develop a satellite that will monitor snow and ice in the country’s northern region.
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