Astronomers Challenge Recent Findings About Venus. “No Statistically Significant Detection of Phosphine”

In September, a team of scientists reported finding phosphine in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine can be a biomarker and is here on Earth. But it’s also present on Jupiter, where it’s produced abiotically. The discovery led to conjecture about what kind of life might survive in Venus’ atmosphere, continually producing the easily-degraded phosphine.

The authors of that study were circumspect about their own results, saying that they hope someone can determine a source for the phosphine, other than life.

Now a new study says that the original phosphine detection is not statistically significant.

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Scientists Think They Know What Caused the Deadliest Mass Extinction in the History of the Earth

This illustration shows the percentage of marine animals that went extinct during Earth's worst extinction at the end of the Permian era by latitude, from the model (black line) and from the fossil record (blue dots).A greater percentage of marine animals survived in the tropics than at the poles. The color of the water shows the temperature change, with red being most severe warming and yellow less warming. At the top is the supercontinent Pangaea, with massive volcanic eruptions emitting carbon dioxide. The images below the line represent some of the 96 percent of marine species that died during the event. [Includes fossil drawings by Ernst Haeckel/Wikimedia; Blue crab photo by Wendy Kaveney/Flickr; Atlantic cod photo by Hans-Petter Fjeld/Wikimedia; Chambered nautilus photo by John White/CalPhotos.]Justin Penn and Curtis Deutsch/University of Washington

Humanity can have a love/hate relationship with itself, but there’s no denying that we’re the pinnacle of evolution on Earth as things stand now. But it took an awfully long time for evolution to produce beings such as we. Several times, life had to drag itself back from near annihilation.

The largest extinction setback was the Permian-Triassic extinction, also called the “Great Dying,” some 252 million years ago. Up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species went extinct.

What happened?

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Weekly Space Hangout: October 21, 2020, Dr. Jill Tarter and the Search for Technosignatures

This week we are excited (and honored) to welcome Dr. Jill Tarter to the Weekly Space Hangout. Best known for her work in the field of SETI, tonight Jill will be discussing the search for technosignatures.

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Tales of Two Fall Comets: 88P Howell and M3 ATLAS

M3 Atlas

Two more comets – 88P Howell and M3 ATLAS – are worth scouting the sky for into November 2020.

If you’re like us, you’ve been at taking advantage of every clear night during quarantine to get out and observe the night sky. Thankfully, 2020 has thus far been a ‘comet year,’ with a steady string of binocular comets, led by bright comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE this summer. Fall is seeing another surge in comets topping +10th magnitude. Late October sees a brief dawn apparition of Comet C/2020 P1 NEOWISE and now, two other comets grace the dawn and dusk skies.

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What Would a Realistic Space Battle Look Like?

Science fiction space movies can do a poor job of educating people about space. In the movies, hot-shot pilots direct their dueling space ships through space as if they’re flying through an atmosphere. They bank and turn and perform loops and rolls, maybe throw in a quick Immelman, as if they’re subject to Earth’s gravity. Is that realistic?

No.

In reality, a space battle is likely to look much different. With an increasing presence in space, and the potential for future conflict, is it time to think about what an actual space battle would look like?

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The Crew of the ISS has Found the Source of the Station’s Air Leak

It’s no secret that the International Space Station (ISS) has had a problem with leaks for more than a year. While pressure loss is a perpetual issue, officials noticed an increase last September, which became more serious over the past summer. As of August, the crew began a hard-target search for the source of the leak, eventually narrowing it down to the Zvezda module in the Russian section.

Thanks to an ongoing search over the past two months, the crew has finally pinpointed the leak using a novel detection method. Simply put, they released tea leaves into the Zvezda module and followed them to the source! According to a statement by Roscosmos, the crew of Expedition 63/64 has patched the hole with some heavy-duty tape they had aboard the station. Talk about DIY repairs!

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We use the Transit Method to Find other Planets. Which Extraterrestrial Civilizations Could use the Transit Method to Find Earth?

We have discovered more than 4,000 planets orbiting distant stars. They are a diverse group, from hot Jupiters that orbit red dwarf stars in a few days to rocky Earth-like worlds that orbit Sun-like stars. With spacecraft such as Gaia and TESS, that number will rise quickly, perhaps someday leading to the discovery of a world where intelligent life might thrive. But if we can discover alien worlds, life on other planets could find us. Not every nearby star would have a good view of our world, but some of them would. New work in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society tries to determine which ones.

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The Oxygen Supply has Failed in the Russian Zvezda Module of the ISS. Don’t Worry, the Astronauts aren’t in Danger, but the Station is Showing its Age

In November of 1998, the first modules of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched into orbit, and the first crew arrived almost two years later. With almost twenty years of hosting astronauts from all over the world, the ISS holds the record for the longest continuous human presence in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After all that time, the ISS is beginning to show the signs of age.

Back in August, the ISS crew reported there was a leak in the Zvezda module. By Sept. 29th, Roscosmos announced that the crew had found the source of the leak, but determined it was worse than previously thought. In the latest news, Roscomos announced on Wednesday (Oct. 14th) that the oxygen supply system has failed on a Russian segment of the ISS, but reassured everyone that the crew are not in danger.

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Success! OSIRIS-REx Touches Asteroid Bennu to Collect Samples

Out in the asteroid belt, 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth, a little spacecraft briefly touched down on the surface of Asteroid Bennu today, attempting to collect samples of dust and rocks.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) spent about 10 seconds on the ancient asteroid to collect samples, slated to come back to Earth in 2023.  While mission scientists and engineers need to confirm that samples from the asteroid were collected, preliminary data show that every step of the procedure went as planned.

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Wow, Betelgeuse Might Be 25% Closer than Previously Believed

In the last year, Betelgeuse has experienced two episodes of dimming. Normally, it’s one of the ten brightest stars in the sky, and astrophysicists and astronomers got busy trying to understand what was happening with the red supergiant. Different research came up with some possible answers: Enormous starspots, a build-up of dust, pre-supernova convulsions.

Now a new study is introducing another wrinkle into our understanding of Betelgeuse. The authors say that Betelgeuse is both smaller and closer than previously thought.

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