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Scientists get first look inside comet from outside our solar system – CTV News



When interstellar comet 2I/Borisov entered our solar system last year, this time capsule from another place in the universe opened and revealed information about its origin, according to new research.

Since it was first observed in 2019, the comet has been streaming across our solar system and the heat of our sun has caused it to shed gas. Within that gas and the melting bits of the comet is information, some of which could be millions or even billions of years old.

In December, astronomers ensured that telescopes in space and on the ground were oriented to observe the comet’s closest approach to Earth. It passed within 190 million miles of Earth, shedding more gas and dust evaporating through its cometary tail.

This close (for a comet) pass was observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array of telescopes in Chile, known as ALMA.

“This is the first time we’ve ever looked inside a comet from outside our solar system,” said Martin Cordiner, astrochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and an author of one of two studies on the comet that published Monday.

“And it is dramatically different from most other comets we’ve seen before,” he said in a statement.

Astronomers could identify the gas streaming from the comet, which contained an unusually high amount of carbon monoxide — more than has been identified in a comet within two times the distance from the Earth to the sun, according to the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. This suggests that the comet may have formed under different circumstances than those in our own solar system.

A second study about the nature of the carbon monoxide also published Monday in Nature Astronomy.

The amount of carbon monoxide is thought to be between nine and 26 times greater than the average comet in our solar system.

The also detected hydrogen cyanide, which was expected and the amount was similar to that found our solar system’s comets.

“The comet must have formed from material very rich in [carbon monoxide] ice, which is only present at the lowest temperatures found in space, below -420 degrees Fahrenheit (-250 degrees Celsius),” said Stefanie Milam, study co-author and planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, in a statement.

Carbon monoxide is common in comets, but the amount appears to vary.

Astronomers believe this variation might be due to the particular region where the comet was formed, or how often a comet is brought closer to a star due to its orbit. This closer approach causes it to melt and shed elements that evaporate easily.

“If the gases we observed reflect the composition of 2I/Borisov’s birthplace, then it shows that it may have formed in a different way than our own solar system comets, in an extremely cold, outer region of a distant planetary system,” said Cordiner. This region can be compared to the cold region of icy bodies beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt.

Comets can uniquely preserve information about how they were formed because most of the time, they’re far away from stars and cold enough that they remain unchanged.

For now, astronomers don’t know what kind of star the comet orbited before being kicked out of its solar system and sent into ours. Astronomers suspect the eviction occurred when the comet interacted with the gravity of its host star or a giant planet in the system.

It’s been traveling on its own, for millions or billions of years, and then entered our solar system and was spotted in August 2019.

So where did it come from?

The comets in our solar system are leftovers from the material that makes planets, which was found in a protoplanetary disk around our sun.

The ALMA group of telescopes can observe disks around younger versions of stars similar to our sun.

These protoplanetary disks contain gas and dust where planets pull together and form — and leftover pieces of this gas, dust and ice form comets. So it’s possible that the star this comet orbited was a younger version of our sun.

And the melting elements from the comet tell us what could be found in a protoplanetary disk around a star in another solar system.

“ALMA has been instrumental in transforming our understanding of the nature of cometary material in our own solar system — and now with this unique object coming from our next door neighbors,” said Anthony Remijan, study co-author and at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, in a statement.

“It is only because of ALMA’s unprecedented sensitivity at submillimeter wavelengths that we are able to characterize the gas coming out of such unique objects.”

This is only the second interstellar object to cross into our solar system after ‘Oumuamua was spotted in 2017. Astronomers didn’t have long to observe it, and it was classified as an interstellar asteroid.

But 2I/Borisov is with us for longer. And its signature cometary tail gave it away as an interstellar comet.

The comet won’t remain in our solar system, despite the gravity of our sun, because it’s zipping along at 100,000 miles per hour. By June 2020, the comet will be well past Jupiter and on its way back to interstellar space.

“2I/Borisov gave us the first glimpse into the chemistry that shaped another planetary system,” said Milam.

“But only when we can compare the object to other interstellar comets, will we learn whether 2I/Borisov is a special case, or if every interstellar object has unusually high levels of CO (carbon monoxide).”

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A 2020 space oddity? Mysterious metal object found in Utah desert –



A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.

That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.

Read more:
Famous alien-hunting telescope shut down to avoid ‘catastrophic failure’

State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Its true origin is unknown.

“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.

Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.

“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.

Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.

“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.

The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.

State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.

Read more:
‘Hell’ planet found with lava oceans, rocky rain and supersonic winds

“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.

He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.

The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.

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No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.

The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.

Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.

“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.

“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Scientists produce diamonds in minutes at room temperature –



“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometres deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius,”  Jodie Bradby, professor at The Australian National University and one of the authors of the study, said in a media statement.

“The twist in this story is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called ‘shear’ – which is like a twisting or sliding force. We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamond.” 

The RMIT team’s pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of these Lonsdaleite veins under this new method. (Image courtesy of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology).

To observe and understand how this process works, the researchers used advanced electron microscopy techniques to capture solid and intact slices from the experimental samples to create snapshots of how the two types of diamonds formed.

The pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of Lonsdaleite veins under this new method.

“Seeing these little ‘rivers’ of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they might form,” Dougal McCulloch, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said. 

According to the scientists, Lonsdaleite has the potential to be used for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites. As such, they said that creating more of this rare diamond is the long-term aim of their work.

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Siemens, Deutsche Bahn launch local hydrogen trains trial – The Guardian



MUNICH (Reuters) – Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn have started developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains and a filling station which will be trialled in 2024 with view to replace diesel engines on German local rail networks.

The prototype, to be built by Siemens, is based on electric railcar Mireo Plus which will be equipped with fuel cells to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity on board, and with a battery, both companies said.

Siemens mobility chief executive Michael Peter told Reuters the train combined the possibility to be fed by three sources in a modular system – either by the battery, the fuel cell or even existing overhead lines, depending on where it would run.

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn has not electrified 40% of its 33,000 kilometre (km) long network, on which it runs 1,300 fossil-fuel emitting diesel locomotives.

Rail transport must be decarbonised over the long-term under European Union and national climate targets.

“Our hydrogen trains are able to replace diesel-fuelled trains in the long term,” Peter said.

The new prototype will be fuelled within 15 minutes, have a range of 600 km and a top speed of 160 km/hour.

It will be tested between Tuebingen, Horb and Pforzheim in Baden Wuerttemberg state.

The main target market are operators of regional networks that typically re-order lots of 10 to 50 trains, Peter said.

“We see a market potential of 10,000-15,000 trains in Europe that will need to be replaced over the next 10-15 years, with 3,000 alone in Germany,” he said.

Each train will cost between five and 10 million euros ($5.9-$11.9 million), creating a market potential of 50-150 billion euros overall.

The Berlin government expects green hydrogen to become competitive with fossil fuels over the long term and to play a key role in decarbonising industry, heating and transport.

(Reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt, editing by David Evans)

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