Earth formed about 4.6 billion years ago. That simplistic statement is common, and it’s a good starting point for understanding our planet and our Solar System. But, obviously, Earth didn’t form all at once. The process played out for some period of time, and the usual number given is about 100 million years.
New research suggests that Earth formed more quickly than that in only a few million years.
New in-space propulsion techniques seem to be popping out of the woodwork. The level of innovation behind moving things around in space is astounding, and now a company from Japan has just hit a significant milestone. Pale Blue, which I assumed was named as a nod to a beloved Carl Sagan book, recently successfully tested their in-orbit water-based propulsion system, adding yet another safe, affordable propulsion system to satellite designers’ repertoires.
The origins of Earth’s water is a complicated mystery that scientists have been untangling for decades. Life is impossible without water, so the origin of Earth’s life-giving water is a foundational question. As the power of our telescopes grows, researchers have made meaningful headway on the question.
Previous research uncovered links between Earth’s water and the Solar System’s comets and icy planetesimals. But newer research follows the chain back even further in time to when the Sun itself had yet to form.
The field of extrasolar planet studies is undergoing a seismic shift. To date, 4,940 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,711 planetary systems, with another 8,709 candidates awaiting confirmation. With so many planets available for study and improvements in telescope sensitivity and data analysis, the focus is transitioning from discovery to characterization. Instead of simply looking for more planets, astrobiologists will examine “potentially-habitable” worlds for potential “biosignatures.”
This refers to the chemical signatures associated with life and biological processes, one of the most important of which is water. As the only known solvent that life (as we know it) cannot exist, water is considered the divining rod for finding life. In a recent study, astrophysicists Dang Pham and Lisa Kaltenegger explain how future surveys (when combined with machine learning) could discern the presence of water, snow, and clouds on distant exoplanets.
Where did Earth’s water come from? That’s one of the most compelling questions in the ongoing effort to understand life’s emergence. Earth’s inner solar system location was too hot for water to condense onto the primordial Earth. The prevailing view is that asteroids and comets brought water to Earth from regions of the Solar System beyond the frost line.
But a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy proposes a further explanation for Earth’s water. As the prevailing view says, some of it could’ve come from asteroids and comets.
But most of the hydrogen was already here, waiting for Earth to form.
Mars is a parched planet ruled by global dust storms. It’s also a frigid world, where night-time winter temperatures fall to -140 C (-220 F) at the poles. But it wasn’t always a dry, barren, freezing, inhospitable wasteland. It used to be a warm, wet, almost inviting place, where liquid water flowed across the surface, filling up lakes, carving channels, and leaving sediment deltas.
But then it lost its magnetic field, and without the protection it provided, the Sun stripped away the planet’s atmosphere. Without its atmosphere, the water went next. Now Mars is the Mars we’ve always known: A place that only robotic rovers find hospitable.
How exactly did it lose its magnetic shield? Scientists have puzzled over that for a long time.
Data from the Cassini mission keeps fuelling discoveries. The latest discovery is that Saturn’s tiny moon Mimas may have an internal ocean. If it does, the moon joins a growing list of natural satellites in our Solar System that may harbour liquid water under their surfaces.
NASA has delayed their Artemis mission to the Moon, but that doesn’t mean a return to the Moon isn’t imminent. Space agencies around the world have their sights set on our rocky satellite. No matter who gets there, if they’re planning for a sustained presence on the Moon, they’ll require in-situ resources.
Oxygen and water are at the top of a list of resources that astronauts will need on the Moon. A team of engineers and scientists are figuring out how to cook Moon rocks and get vital oxygen and water from them. They presented their results at the Europlanet Science Congress 2021.
Water moves. On Earth, it moves in the form of rivers, rain, or ocean swells. In space, its movements are more subtle but no less more important, and so far we understand very little about that process. Luckily, we had a tool to help us try to understand it better – the Hershel Space Observatory. Though it has been out of commission for over 8 years, a team of scientists have now compiled all a review of all of the papers using Hershel data to track water from its birth in interstellar clouds to its eventual resting place on planets. There are still some gaps, but it’s a worthy step towards a better understanding.
We are extremely interested in the possibility of water on Mars, because where there’s water, there’s the potential for life. But a new study throws a bit of a wet blanket (pun intended) on that tantalizing possibility. Unfortunately, it looks like even the saltiest of brines can only exist on the Martian surface for up to a few hours at a time.