The ultra-powerful James Webb Space Telescope will launch soon. Once it’s deployed, and in position at the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 2, it’ll begin work. One of its jobs is to examine the atmospheres of exoplanets and look for biosignatures. It should be simple, right? Just scan the atmosphere until you find oxygen, then close your laptop and head to the pub: Fanfare, confetti, Nobel prize.
Of course, Universe Today readers know it’s more complicated than that. Much more complicated.
In fact, the presence of oxygen is not necessarily reliable. It’s methane that can send a stronger signal indicating the presence of life.
Continue reading “If a Planet Has a Lot of Methane in its Atmosphere, Life is the Most Likely Cause”
At a fundamental level, Mars is a volcanic planet. Its surface is home to the Solar System’s largest extinct volcano, Olympus Mons, and another trio of well-known volcanoes at Tharsis Montes. And those are just the highlights: there are many other volcanoes on the surface. Though that volcanic activity ceased long ago, the planet’s surface tells the tale of a world disrupted and shaped by powerful volcanic eruptions.
Continue reading “You Can See the Spot Where Lava Broke Through the Wall of a Martian Crater and Began Filling it Up”
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.
Continue reading “Scientists Think They Know What Caused the Deadliest Mass Extinction in the History of the Earth”
The detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere was one of those quintessential moments in space science. It was an unexpected discovery, and when combined with our incomplete understanding of planetary science, and our wistful hopefulness around the discovery of life, the result was a potent mix that lit up internet headlines.
As always, some of the headlines were a bit of an over-reach. But that’s the way it goes.
At the heart of it all, there is compelling science. And the same, overarching question that keeps popping up: Are we alone?
Continue reading “Maybe Volcanoes Could Explain the Phosphine in Venus’ Atmosphere”
Earth’s lithosphere is made up of seven large tectonic plates and a number of smaller ones. The theory of plate tectonics that describes how these plates move is about 50 years old. But there’s never really been an understanding of how this system developed, and how the Earth’s shell split into separate plates and started moving.
Now a group of researchers have a possible explanation.
Continue reading “What Cracked the Earth’s Outer Shell and Started its Plate Tectonics?”
Venus’ surface is no stranger to volcanoes. Radar images show more than 1,000 volcanic structures on the planet. But for the most part, they appear to be ancient and inactive.
Now a new study says that Venus is still volcanically active, and has identified 37 volcanic structures that were recently active. If true, there’s more going on inside Venus than thought.
Continue reading “It Looks Like There are Still Active Volcanoes on Venus”
It seems almost certain that an asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs. But only almost. Another competing theory won’t completely go away: the extinction-by-volcano theory.
A new study from the UK piles more evidence on the asteroid side of the debate, while adding a new volcanic twist. These researchers say that volcanic activity actually helped life recover from the asteroid strike.
Continue reading “It Was Almost Certainly an Asteroid Impact that Wiped Out the Dinosaurs. In Fact, Volcanoes Might Have Helped Life Recover”
200 million years ago, a mass extinction event wiped out about 76% of all species on Earth—both terrestrial and marine. That event was called the end-Triassic extinction, or the Jurassic-Triassic (J-T) extinction event. At that time, the world experienced many of the same things as Earth is facing now, including a warming climate and the acidification of the oceans.
A new paper shows that pulses of volcanic eruptions were responsible, and that those pulses released the same amount of CO2 as humans are releasing today.
Continue reading “During Mass Extinction Events, Volcanoes Were Releasing About the Same Amount of CO2 as We Are Today”
Which camp are you in: volcanoes? Or asteroids?
When it comes to the extinction of the dinosaurs, science has whittled it down to those two possibilities. The asteroid strike has been the leading candidate for quite some time now, but those darn volcanoes refuse to stand down.
A new study is presenting even more evidence that it was the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, and not volcanoes.
Continue reading “The Evidence is Leaning More and More Towards an Asteroid Ending the Dinosaurs”
A surtseyan eruption is a volcanic eruption in shallow water. It’s named after the island Surtsey, off the coast of iceland. In 2015, a surtseyan eruption in the Tongan Archipelago created the island Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai. Despite the odds, that island is still there almost five years later.
Continue reading “A Brand New Island in the Pacific has Survived 5 Years”