Planetary Atmospheres: Why study them? What can they teach us about finding life beyond Earth?

Image of the faint, nitrogen atmosphere of the dwarf planet, Pluto, obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Universe Today has surveyed the importance of studying impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, solar physics, and comets, and what these fantastic scientific fields can teach researchers and space fans regarding the search for life beyond Earth. Here, we will discuss how planetary atmospheres play a key role in better understanding our solar system and beyond, including why researchers study planetary atmospheres, the benefits and challenges, what planetary atmospheres can teach us about finding life beyond Earth, and how upcoming students can pursue studying planetary atmospheres. So, why is it so important to study planetary atmospheres?

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Comets: Why study them? What can they teach us about finding life beyond Earth?

Image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft on Jan. 31, 2015. (Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Universe Today has explored the importance of studying impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, astrobiology, and solar physics, and what this myriad of scientific disciplines can teach scientists and the public regarding the search for life beyond Earth. Here, we will explore some of the most awe-inspiring spectacles within our solar system known as comets, including why researchers study comets, the benefits and challenges, what comets can teach us about finding life beyond Earth, and how upcoming students can pursue studying comets. So, why is it so important to study comets?

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Titan Probably Doesn’t Have the Amino Acids Needed for Life to Emerge

Image of Titan’s surface obtained by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe from an approximate altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) during the probe’s slow descent to the surface on January 14, 2005. (Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Does Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, possess the necessary ingredients for life to exist? This is what a recent study published in Astrobiology hopes to address as a team of international researchers led by Western University investigated if Titan, with its lakes of liquid methane and ethane, could possess the necessary organic materials, such as amino acids, that could be used to produce life on the small moon. This study holds the potential to help researchers and the public better understand the geochemical and biological processes necessary for life to emerge throughout the cosmos.

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Brrr. JWST Looks at the Coldest Brown Dwarf

Artist's illustration of a cold brown dwarf star. (Credit: NASA)

What are the atmospheric compositions of cold brown dwarf stars? This is what a recent study published in The Astronomical Journal hopes to address as an international team of researchers used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to investigate the coldest known brown dwarf star, WISE J085510.83?071442.5 (WISE 0855). This study holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the compositions of brown dwarf stars, which are also known as “failed stars” since while they form like other stars, they fail to reach the necessary mass to produce nuclear fusion. So, what was the motivation behind using JWST to examine the coldest known brown dwarf star?

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Solar Physics: Why study it? What can it teach us about finding life beyond Earth?

Image of a coronal mass ejection being discharged from the Sun. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Universe Today has investigated the importance of studying impact craters, planetary surfaces, exoplanets, and astrobiology, and what these disciplines can teach both researchers and the public about finding life beyond Earth. Here, we will discuss the fascinating field of solar physics (also called heliophysics), including why scientists study it, the benefits and challenges of studying it, what it can teach us about finding life beyond Earth, and how upcoming students can pursue studying solar physics. So, why is it so important to study solar physics?

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There’s One Last Place Planet 9 Could Be Hiding

Artist's illustration of Planet Nine with the Sun and orbit of Neptune (ring) in the distance. (Credit: ESO/Tomruen/nagualdesign)

 A recently submitted study to The Astronomical Journal continues to search for the elusive Planet Nine (also called Planet X), which is a hypothetical planet that potentially orbits in the outer reaches of the solar system and well beyond the orbit of the dwarf planet, Pluto. The goal of this study was to narrow down the possible locations of Planet Nine and holds the potential to help researchers better understand the makeup of our solar system, along with its formation and evolutionary processes. So, what was the motivation behind this study regarding narrowing down the location of a potential Planet Nine?

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Saturn’s “Death Star Moon” Mimas Probably has an Ocean Too

Saturn's moon, Mimas, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2010. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

A recent study published in Nature presents a groundbreaking discovery that Saturn’s moon, Mimas, commonly known as the “Death Star” moon due to its similarities with the iconic Star Wars space station, possesses an internal ocean underneath its rocky crust. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to help planetary geologists better understand the conditions for a planetary body to possess an internal ocean, which could also possess the conditions for life as we know it. While Mimas was photographed on several occasions by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, including a close flyby in February 2010, what was the motivation behind this recent study regarding finding an internal ocean on Mimas?

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Chickpeas Grown in Lunar Regolith Are Stressed but Reach Maturity

Image of the chickpea plants after five weeks displaying a diversity of chlorophyll. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Jessica Atkins)

A recent preprint investigates how chickpeas have been successfully grown in lunar regolith simulants (LRS), marking the first time such a guideline has been established not only for chickpeas, but also for growing food for long-term human space missions. This study was conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University and Brown University and holds the potential to develop more efficient methods in growing foods using extraterrestrial resources, specifically with NASA’s Artemis program slated to return humans to the lunar surface in the next few years.

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Should We Send Humans to Mars?

Featured Image: True-color image of the Red Planet taken on October 10, 2014, by India’s Mars Orbiter mission from 76,000 kilometers (47,224 miles) away. (Credit: ISRO/ISSDC/Justin Cowart) (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Universe Today has explored the potential for sending humans to Europa, Venus, Titan, and Pluto, all of which possess environmental conditions that are far too harsh for humans to survive. The insight gained from planetary scientists resulted in some informative discussions, and traveling to some of these far-off worlds might be possible, someday. In the final installment of this series, we will explore the potential for sending humans to a destination that has been the focus of scientific exploration and science folklore for more than 100 years: Mars aka the Red Planet.

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How Did Life Get Started on Earth? Atmospheric Haze Might Have Been the Key

Color-composite of Titan made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 7, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

A recent study accepted to The Planetary Science Journal investigates how the organic hazes that existed on Earth between the planet’s initial formation and 500 million years afterwards, also known as Hadean geologic eon, could have contained the necessary building blocks for life, including nucleobases and amino acids. This study holds the potential to not only help scientists better understand the conditions on an early Earth, but also if these same conditions on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, could produce the building blocks of life, as well.

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