M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Plume of water seen on Saturn’s moon

May 31, 2023
MThomas

The record-breaking plume reached nearly 6,000 miles into space – covering the distance between Ireland and Japan – and poured water into the void at an estimated rate of 300 litres a second.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/may/30/astronomers-see-6000-mile-water-vapour-plume-blasting-from-saturn-moon

Note that the water jetted out into space nearly 40 times longer than the actual size of the moon (about 500 in diameter, or as the Gurdian puts it “500-mile-wide” for those who forgot the meaning of “diameter).

Enceladus is probably the best bet for life elsewhere in the solar system due to its water — and while whipping around Saturn once per day, which is likely the reason for underwater volcanos and other vents that may provide the proper chemistry for life.

Also the perfect place to trick an inexperienced asteroid hunter crew…

Cancel your asteroid insurance – for the next thousand years

May 22, 2023
MThomas

Does anybody remember Spirographs?

Of all the asteroids they modeled, the one with the largest risk of impact was a kilometer-wide asteroid known as 1994 PC1. Over the next thousand years, the probability that 1994 PC1 will cross within the orbit of the Moon is a paltry 0.00151%, hardly worth worrying about.

https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/cancel-asteroid-insurance-earth-declared-150002866.html

Thanks to Glen Hill over at Engagin’ Science (formerly Scientia, which apparently was far too Latin- and science-esque for search engines to handle) for bringing this (not-so Earth-shattering) info to my attention.

Sorry, folks. Hollywood was once again wrong (sigh).

😂

JUICE it ESA!

April 14, 2023
MThomas

Led by the European Space Agency (ESA), the mission will orbit the largest planet in the solar system and explore its icy moons, which scientists think could support living organisms.

JUICE will explore three possible ocean-bearing moons – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Under their icy surfaces are thought to be huge oceans of water – a crucial ingredient for life as we know it.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/13/explaining-juice-mission-to-jupiter-and-its-moons

The “Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer” is the first time an ESA-headed project will visit another moon.

If it launches successfully, of course.

Lift off in less than seven hours from French Guiana!

Great job by Alzajeera, although “Earth is about 4.1 times the size of Europa and is believed to have a young and active surface that may vent water vapour to space via plumes and geysers.” is a bit misleading (Europa, not Earth, is believed to have…)

Copy editor!

🤞 🚀 🇬🇫

UPDATE

The launch was successful, and the 90 m2 solar array also deployed successfully.

Now we just have to sit and wait until 2031!

The strangeness of Mercury’s huge core

March 30, 2023
MThomas

Mercury is a planet that just doesn’t make sense. It’s incredibly small yet hosts a relatively massive core. Mercury is so strange that astronomers have not been able to explain its properties with simulations of the solar system’s formation. But now, researchers have found an important clue, and Mercury’s weirdness appears to be the fault of the giant planets.

https://www.space.com/mercury-weird-because-of-jupiter-outer-planets

Basically, Mercury is nearly as dense as the Earth despite being less than 6% the size. This is due to the gas giants in our solar system yanking material (“planetesimals” and protoplanets) and ejecting it from the solar system, leaving Mercury with very little material left to form itself.

But there are plenty of questions still…

Titan and its subsurface ocean has tides

February 24, 2023
MThomas

It is this subsurface ocean, or rather its interaction with the ice shell that covers it, that a team of researchers led by the Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain) in Belgium hope to better understand. More specifically, they wish to understand how the ocean’s depth and the pressure exerted by the icy shell on the underground water body influence the formation of tidal motions and currents inside of it. 

https://www.space.com/saturn-moon-titan-ocean-tides-icy-crust-study

When I first heard of “Attack on Titan,” I was disappointed to learn that it didn’t take place actually on Titan. (The title in English is a mistranslation. It should be “Attack of the Titans” or “The Titans Attack” or even “Attacking Titans,” depending.) In any case, it’s a disgusting manga/anime with nothing to do with the icy moon of Saturn. Except for the name. And even that’s a misuse (they should have used “giant” as the storyline is very loosely based on Ymir and the frost giants of Scandinavian myth).

Anyway. It’s a fascinating moon the size of the planet Mercury with a liquid ocean and (mostly) nitrogen atmosphere, making it a candidate for extraterrestrial life. Here’s a cool view of it: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/saturn-moons/titan/overview/

Shooting star over the English Channel

February 15, 2023
MThomas

Courtesy of @dlxinorbit – via @Marco_Langbroek

The agency earlier said the object was expected to “safely strike” the earth’s atmosphere near to the French city of Rouen.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-64621721

“Near to”? OK.

Anyway, “SAR2667” provided some cross-cultural entertainment for people living in England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Lots of photos and videos online.

Interesting note from ESA: they were able to detect it and notify everyone exactly where and when it would disintegrate.

Since there are more than 30,000 of these things that orbit the Sun relatively close to Earth’s orbit, it’s a good thing we’re getting better at detecting them. Maybe we’d better up the ante on deflecting them

“Green comet” buzzing Earth “Wednesday”

February 1, 2023
MThomas

A comet from the outer solar system is set to buzz Earth on Wednesday and skywatchers have a chance to glimpse the celestial object as it journeys through our cosmic neighborhood for the first time in 50,000 years.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/green-comet-approach-flyby-earth-rcna65202

If by “Wednesday” you mean “Wednesday in North America. There is no “on Wednesday” worldwide, thanks.

Observers in the Northern Hemisphere should look northeast just after the Moon sets and before dawn. You should be able to see it with a good pair of binoculars.

The last time Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) made a visit, Homo sapiens still had Neanderthal neighbors, so this is your one and only! ☄️

“Don’t worry,” they said, “the size of a truck,” they said…

January 26, 2023
MThomas

An asteroid is on its way to Earth, but don’t worry – the end is here Not here. The asteroid, named 2023 BU, is about the size of a van and is expected to miss our planet during Thursday’s flyby. However, according to a NASA scientist, it will be “one of the closest approaches of a known near-Earth object ever recorded.”

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/a-truck-sized-asteroid-will-come-extraordinarily-close-to-earth-tomorrow/

This thing is coming closer than even some satellites, but it’s still small enough for most of it to burn up in the atmosphere.

Most of it.

Yikes.

Confirmed: We’re all here thanks to asteroids

January 26, 2023
MThomas

Since the Hayabusa2 returned with the sample from the Ryugu asteroid in December 2020, several important discoveries have been made – most notably analyzes confirming the presence of substances thought to be the building blocks of life on the asteroid, such as liquid water and organics fabrics.

https://newsbeezer.com/germanyeng/ryugu-asteroid-helps-unravel-the-origin-of-life-on-earth/

Hayabusa-2 took several years to land on Ryugu (literally “Dragon Palace”), pound out just over 5 grams of asteroid material, and bring it back to Earth (landing in Australia in late 2020).

NASA scientists have confirmed not just frozen water but liquid — inside crystals called pyrrhotites. JAXA scientists (pictured above with Prof Tsuchiyama of Ritsumeikan University, my main employer!) continue to check the density of the samples.

The water is similar to the carbon dioxide-laden water of hot springs. The research teams have already discovered over 20 amino acids, the basic protein building blocks of carbon-based life.

Another theory called “panspermia” proposes that a key mineral (boron) missing on early Earth came in an asteroid from Mars. ☄️ Hmm. Did Mars produce asteroids? Or more like asteroids hit Mars and broke off lots of tiny fragments? That somehow survived the journey to Earth?

Seems a little unlikely. But there is now evidence that at least some proteins came from space rocks.

So, sorry, Ridley. This isn’t how it happened. Cool movie, though.

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

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