Is Your First Memory Even Real, Bro?

By Lacy Schley | July 17, 2018 6:00 pm
(Credit: Senjuti Kundu/Unsplash)

(Credit: Senjuti Kundu/Unsplash)

Think back to the earliest memory you have. How old were you? Three, maybe 2? Younger? If it’s the latter, you’re not alone. Problem is, you’re probably imagining it.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain

Egyptian Tomb Discovery Puts Curses on the Brain Online

By Mark Barna | July 17, 2018 3:25 pm
A 2,000-year-old sealed black coffin was unearthed in Alexandria this month. Plans to exhume and open it has caused chatter online. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities)

A 2,000-year-old sealed black coffin was unearthed in Alexandria this month. Plans to exhume and open it has caused chatter online. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities)

Alexandria, known for its ancient library and a lighthouse counted among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, just keeps on giving.

The reaction to its latest gift has been bad mummy jokes online. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Jupiter’s Got Twelve New Moons — One is a Bit of a Problem Child

By Erika K. Carlson | July 17, 2018 9:00 am
The orbits of Jupiter's moons

The orbits of the twelve newly discovered moons of Jupiter are shown here in bold. One moon is located in the outer group but orbits in the opposite direction. (Credit: Roberto Molar-Candanosa/Carnegie Institution for Science)

Jupiter’s family has really grown since Galileo first recorded its four largest moons in 1610.

On Tuesday, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the discovery of 10 new moons orbiting Jupiter. Along with two found through the same research project but announced in June 2017, this brings the roster of Jupiter’s known natural satellites to 79.

One of these new moons turned out to be a bit of a rebel. Of the 12 latest moons to join Jupiter’s family, it’s a maverick whose odd orbit may give astronomers crucial insights to understanding how the moons of Jupiter came to be.

Two Birds with One ‘Scope

The discovery of these moons came from a totally different search for new solar system bodies. Astronomer Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science is on the hunt for Planet Nine, a hypothetical planet many astronomers think should exist in the distant reaches of our Solar System, beyond Pluto. He and his team have been photographing the skies with some of today’s best telescope technology, hoping to catch sight of this mysterious ninth planet.

In the spring of 2017, Jupiter happened to be in an area of sky the team wanted to search for Planet Nine. Sheppard, who is broadly interested in the formation of solar systems and has been involved in the discovery of 48 of Jupiter’s known moons, realized this was the perfect opportunity to advance two separate research goals with the same telescope data.

The Blanco 4-meter telescope Sheppard was using is uniquely suited to spotting potential new moons both because the camera installed on it can photograph a huge area of sky at once and because it’s particularly good at blocking stray light from bright objects nearby — say, Jupiter — that might wash out fainter ones.

“It’s allowed us to cover the whole area around Jupiter in a few shots, unlike before, and we’re able to go fainter than people have been able to go before,” says Sheppard.

Once the Blanco telescope spotted previously unidentified objects near Jupiter, the research team used other telescopes to follow up on these moon candidates and confirm that they were orbiting Jupiter.

Jupiter's moon Valetudo

Jupiter’s moon Valetudo (pointed out with orange bars) moves relative to background stars in these images taken with the Magellan Telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory. Jupiter is not in the frame and is off to the upper left. (Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science)

On a Collision Course

One moon in particular caught the researchers’ attention.

“The most interesting find is this object we’re calling Valetudo,” Sheppard says. “It’s like it’s going down the highway in the wrong direction.”

Of the 79 moons now known, most orbit in the same direction as other moons nearest them. The moons closer to Jupiter, including the four Galilean satellites, orbit Jupiter in the same direction as the planet’s rotation — astronomers call this a prograde orbit. The outer moons move in the opposite direction — a retrograde orbit.

Eleven of the twelve new moons follow these conventions, but Valetudo is the odd one out. It’s out where the outer, retrograde moons are, but it’s orbiting Jupiter in the prograde direction, driving into the oncoming traffic.

The curious find might shed light on how many of Jupiter’s current moons were formed. Aside from the hulking Galilean moons that stretch thousands of miles in diameter, most of Jupiter’s moons, including the new twelve, are between a mile and a few tens of miles across. The outer moons are clustered in at least three groups based on their distances from Jupiter and the angles of their orbits, and astronomers think these moons are fragments of three larger objects that were captured by Jupiter’s gravity and later broken up by collisions — though whether that was with passing comets, rogue asteroids, or other moons is unclear.

Because Valetudo’s orbit crosses the orbits of some of the outer retrograde moons, it’s possible that it suffered a head-on collision in the past. The research team thinks Valetudo could be a leftover chunk from a once-larger moon that rammed into another past Jovian satellite, creating the many smaller objects that exist today. To check whether this could have happened, the researchers are working on supercomputer simulations of these orbits to calculate how many times an object with Valetudo’s orbit could have collided with the retrograde moons in the solar system’s lifetime.

Lunar Remnants

Finding lots of these small moons also tells us about conditions in the early solar system. When Jupiter and the other giant planets were forming, the solar system was a disk of gas and dust that surrounded the infant Sun.

“The giant planets formed out of material that used to be in that region. They were like vacuums, they sucked up all that material and that created the planets,” Sheppard explains. “We think these moons are the last remnants of the material that formed the giant planets.”

The fact that these smaller moons exist today is evidence that any collisions that created them happened after this era of planet formation. If small moons like these were around when the solar system was still thick with gas and dust, drag forces would have slowed them down and caused them to fall into Jupiter, never to be seen again. Only in today’s much emptier solar system, after the giant planets finished forming and clearing their surroundings of gas and dust, would small moons like these have been able to survive.

Once they finish running and analyzing the simulations, the team plans to publish the results in early 2019. In the meantime, they’re waiting for the IAU to formally accept “Valetudo” as the name for the oddball moon.

The IAU requires moons of Jupiter to have names related to the Roman god Jupiter. Valetudo is the name of Jupiter’s great-granddaughter and a Roman goddess of health and hygiene, so it fits the bill. But why hygiene? Sheppard says it comes from an inside joke with his girlfriend.

“I kind of always jokingly say that she’s a very cleanly person; she likes to take multiple showers a day,” Sheppard says. “And so when she told me about Valetudo, which is the goddess of hygiene, I said ‘That’s it, that’s what we’re naming it.’”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: Jupiter, moons, solar system

Researchers Discover A Quadrillion Tons of Diamonds in Earth’s Deep Crust

By Nathaniel Scharping | July 16, 2018 4:40 pm
(Credit: RTImages/Shutterstock)

(Credit: RTImages/Shutterstock)

Earth’s interior is dark, but filled with diamonds.

A study published Monday estimates the composition of deep rock layers known as cratons and concludes that they may be far more glittery than previously suspected. Parts of Earth’s mantle may be up to two percent diamond by composition, far more than previously suspected. In terms of sheer mass, that works out to around a quadrillion, or thousand trillion, tons of diamond. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
MORE ABOUT: earth science

These Bread-makers Predate Farming

By Mark Barna | July 16, 2018 2:00 pm
(Credit: MaraZe/Shuttersto ck)

(Credit: MaraZe/Shutterstock)

Agriculture is thought to have been developed 11,000 years ago in the Levant, where Iraq, Israel and Jordan are today. But in recent years, archaeologists have discovered sites in the region suggesting hunter-gatherers were making use of crops thousands of years earlier.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers reveals that foragers in northeastern Jordan were baking bread from wild cereals more than 14 millennia ago. Charred breadcrumbs taken from two fireplaces at an ancient site known as Shubayqa 1 are the oldest ever discovered. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Cassini Catches The Spooky Whooshing Sounds Of Saturn

By Alison Klesman | July 13, 2018 2:55 pm
Cassini captured this stunning image of Saturn with its rings and the moon Enceladus from a distance of approximately 87,000 miles on August 18, 2015. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Cassini captured this stunning image of Saturn with its rings and the moon Enceladus from a distance of approximately 87,000 miles on August 18, 2015.
(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Though it’s been gone for nearly a year, the Cassini spacecraft continues to fuel new studies of Saturn and its many moons. In particular, Cassini’s unique and close-up view of the system during its Grand Finale orbits produced data that have revealed how plasma waves moving outward from the planet interact with both its rings and its moons.

Research based on evaluation of the data was published April 26 and June 7 in Geophysical Research Letters. Now, in a video produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory using the data, you can tune in to the “sounds of Saturn”: the radio emission generated by these plasma waves as they travel along the invisible magnetic field lines linking the planet with its icy moon Enceladus.

As it plunged close to the planet during its Grand Finale on September 2, 2017, Cassini’s Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument picked up electromagnetic waves as it traveled through the Enceladus flux tube — a sort of conduit between the moon and the planet, bounded by magnetic field lines and through which charged particles can flow back and forth. The waves fall in the range of human hearing, and scientists have now amplified them into the audio file below, compressing about 16 minutes’ worth of data down to 28.5 seconds of spooky space sounds.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system, space

Strange ‘Equal Mass’ Binary Asteroid Found Near Earth

By Amber Jorgenson | July 13, 2018 2:42 pm
Researchers discovered a near-Earth asteroid in December 2017 that would soon make its closest approach to Earth for the next 170 years. Observations during its fly-by revealed it to be something more extraordinary than expected —a near-Earth equal mass binary. (Credit: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers discovered a near-Earth asteroid in December 2017 that would soon make its closest approach to Earth for the next 170 years. Observations during its fly-by revealed it to be something more extraordinary than expected —a near-Earth equal mass binary. (Credit: Arecibo/GBO/NSF/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

More than 18,000 near-Earth asteroids have been identified, and all of them are thought to be remnants of our solar system’s formation. They each have their own unique structure and properties. But despite their distinct variations, we still come across an oddball every once in awhile. On June 26, two separate teams of scientists confirmed an unusual “equal mass” binary asteroid cruising past Earth — one of only four ever discovered.

Asteroid 2017 YE5 consists of two equal-size objects, each stretching roughly 3,000 feet (900 meters) in diameter, orbiting each other once every 20 to 24 hours. It’s pretty common for large asteroids to link up with smaller ones, with about 15 percent of near-Earth asteroids over 650 feet (200 meters) being binary pairs. But coming across a binary consisting of two similar-sized objects is much more rare.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: asteroid, solar system

New Detector Brings X-ray Scans Into Living Color For the First Time

By Nathaniel Scharping | July 13, 2018 2:02 pm
A 3D image of a wrist with a watch showing part of the finger bones in white and soft tissue in red. (Image: MARS Bioimaging Ltd)

A 3D image of a wrist with a watch showing part of the finger bones in white and soft tissue in red. (Image: MARS Bioimaging Ltd)

Like Dorothy coming to Oz, doctors might finally be experiencing their world in color.

A new scanner, using technology developed by CERN for detecting subatomic particles, can produce color X-ray scans of the inside of the body, allowing doctors to see soft tissues in unprecedented detail. The technology is set for clinical trials in New Zealand soon. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
MORE ABOUT: medical technology

Mild Temps On Earth-Sized World Just 11 Light-Years Away

By Amber Jorgenson | July 12, 2018 12:30 pm
This artist’s impression shows Ross 128 b, the second closest temperate planet to Earth. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

This artist’s impression shows Ross 128 b, the second closest temperate planet to Earth. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The discovery of any Earth-like exoplanet evokes excitement in the science community, but the hype is definitely heightened when a possible rocky world is found close to home. Last year, researchers announced the discovery of an exoplanet just 11 light-years from Earth — practically in our own backyard. And now, a detailed study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters reveals crucial details about its composition and potential habitability.

ESO’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) first spotted the prosperous exoplanet while observing its host star, Ross 128, in 2017. Early observations suggested that the exoplanet, dubbed Ross 128 b, was similar in size to Earth and likely had a temperate climate. This would make it the second-closest temperate world to Earth, trailing behind Proxima b, which sits just four light years away.

To shed more light on our close neighbor, a group of researchers, led by Diogo Souto of the Observatório Nacional in Brazil, set out to study the chemical composition of the planet’s main influencer — its host star. In their early years, stars are encased by disks of gas and dust that go on to form planets, with the star’s composition influencing the elements present in the disks, and therefore the structure and composition of the resulting planets.

By measuring the star’s near-infrared light with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s APOGEE spectroscopic instrument, the research team was able to determine the star’s abundance of aluminum, calcium, carbon, iron, magnesium, oxygen, potassium, and titanium.

“The ability of APOGEE to measure near-infrared light, where Ross 128 is brightest, was key for this study,” said researcher Johanna Teske of the Carnegie Institution of Science in a news release. “It allowed us to address some fundamental questions about Ross 128 b’s `Earth-like-ness.'”

The team was able to combine Ross 128’s iron and magnesium levels to estimate the mass ratio of Ross 128 b’s core and mantel layers, revealing that it likely has a core larger than Earth’s. By combining this mass data with the star’s chemical composition, they were also able to estimate Ross 128 b’s radius. A common trend is that planets with radii larger than 1.7 times that of Earth’s have gaseous envelopes, limiting their chances of habitability. Planets with smaller radii, on the other hand, are more likely to have rocky surfaces, and Ross 128 b luckily falls into this category.

In addition, the researcher’s temperature measurements of Ross 128 show that its planet likely hosts a temperate climate. This corroborates previous HARPS data, which suggested that even though Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer to its host star than Earth does to the Sun, the red dwarfs’ mild temperatures would protect the planet from extreme weather conditions.

“It’s exciting what we can learn about another planet by determining what the light from its host star tells us about the system’s chemistry,” said Souto. “Although Ross 128 b is not Earth’s twin, and there is still much we don’t know about its potential geologic activity, we were able to strengthen the argument that it’s a temperate planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface.”

Many questions about Ross 128 b still hang in the air, but since it’s incredibly close to Earth, we might end up shedding light on our neighbor sooner rather than later.

This article originally appeared on Astronomy.com.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Black Hole Ghost Particle Caught Striking Earth

By Michelle Hampson | July 12, 2018 10:00 am
Blazars are active supermassive black holes sucking in immense amounts of material, which form swirling accretion disks and generate high-powered particle jets that churn out particles that astronomers have believed eventually result in neutrinos. (Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab)

Blazars are active supermassive black holes sucking in immense amounts of material, which form swirling accretion disks and generate high-powered particle jets that churn out particles that astronomers have believed eventually result in neutrinos. (Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab)

Four billion years ago, an immense galaxy with a black hole at its heart spewed forth a jet of particles at nearly the speed of light. One of those particles, a neutrino that is just a fraction of the size of a regular atom, traversed across the universe on a collision course for Earth, finally striking the ice sheet of Antarctica last September. As it hit, a neutrino detector planted by scientists within the ice recorded the neutrino’s charged interaction, causing a blue flash of light that lasted just a moment. The results are published today in the journal Science.

This detection marks the second time in history that scientists have pinpointed the origins of a neutrino from outside of our solar system. And it’s the first time they’ve confirmed that neutrinos are created in the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies — a somewhat unexpected source.

Neutrinos are highly energetic particles that rarely ever interact with matter, passing through it as though it weren’t even there. Determining the type of cosmological events that create these particles is critical for understanding the nature of the universe. Before this, the only confirmed source of neutrinos — other than our sun — was a supernova that was recorded in 1987.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
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