Featuring image: Titan’s atmosphere is rich in organic molecules, but we still don’t know if there is life on Saturn’s icy moon. With JWST and the coming generation of telescopes, we will be able to observe the atmospheres of exoplanets. Is there a way to search for life on these distant worlds? NASA/JPL, public domain (CC0).
Paper: The case and context for atmospheric methane as an exoplanet biosignature
Authors: M. A. Thompson, J. Krissansen-Totton, N. Wogan, M. Telus and J. J. Fortney
Visiting and exploring exoplanets for extraterrestrial life still belong to the realm of science fiction. However, the coming generation of telescopes will enable us to look into the atmospheres of exoplanets and search for possible biosignatures, chemical compounds that could indicate the presence of life.
Searching for life on a planet is not a trivial task. Since the first Mars landing in 1976, scientists still search for recent or ancient traces of life. It becomes even more difficult on planets that we cannot directly visit. The next telescope generation will enable us to observe the atmosphere of distant planets remotely. Are there ways to find evidence of life in a planet’s atmosphere? A new study suggests that the freshly launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could help us to search for life on other worlds.
Continue reading “How to connect methane in atmosphere to a planets geology and biology”
Featuring image: Ceres is the largest body inside the main asteroid belt. Could this icy dwarf planet be still geological active? NASA/JPL-CalTech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, public domain (CC0).
Paper: Brine residues and organics in the Urvara basin on Ceres
A. Nathues, M. Hoffmann, N. Schmedemann, R. Sarkar, G. Thangjam, K. Mengel, J. Hernandez, H. Hiesinger, J. H. Pasckert
When you think about asteroids, you might picture an old, cold collection of rocks and dust. But the closer we look at them, the more complex these bodies turn out to be. Could some of them still be geologically active?
Ceres, a major body in the main asteroid belt, is covered by several big impact craters. A group of researchers led by Dr. Nathues from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, used data from a former space mission to investigate the geology of one of the most prominent impact craters. Not only did they find the expected landscape of a post-impact region, but they also found signs of more recent geological processes and evidence for a global brine layer under the surface of Ceres.
Continue reading “Looking into Ceres interior”
Featuring image: White dwarf make perfect natural mass spectrometer, more powerful as any instrument on Earth. Can they help us to learn about exoplanets? NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva, Creative Common (CC BY 4.0)
Paper: Polluted white dwarfs reveal exotic mantle rock types on exoplanets in our solar neighborhood
Authors: K. D. Putirka and S. Xu
For a long time, geologist were only able to study rocks on the ground. We extended this knowledge to our neighbouring planets. Now finally, scientist have found a way to study rocks from planets far away, using the light of their host stars. And they look very strange.
Over the last 30 years, exoplanets have evolved from mere theory into a fantastic reality. Today we know that nearly all stars host at least one exoplanet and even exoplanets with an Earth-like mass are relatively common. Still, we know very little about the geology of these worlds. In a new study, Keith Putirka and Siyi Xu were able to observe and compare the mineralogy of exoplanets to that of the rocky planets in the solar system. Surprisingly, these exoplanets exhibit types of mineralogy unlike any we have known before.
Continue reading “Do we need new types of geology to understand exoplanets?”
Featuring image: Pluto is an icy object in the outer solar system. Its surface it not only covered by ice, but also by an unidentified red material. The largest of these red areas is the Cthulhu region in the southern hemisphere. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI, public domain (CC0)
Paper: Testing tholins as analogues of the dark reddish material covering Pluto’s Cthulhu region
Authors: M. Fayolle, E. Quirico, B. Schmitt, L. Jovanovic, T. Gautier, N. Carrasco, W. Grundy, V. Vuitton, O. Poch, S. Protopapa, L. Young, D. Cruikshank, C. Dalle Ore, T. Bertrand, A. Stern
Pluto is an icy object beyond Neptune. Its surface is not only covered by innocent pale ice, but also by mysterious dark-red fields. What lurks in these hellish regions and where do they come from?
Far behind Neptune’s orbit, the icy body Pluto orbits our Sun. Pluto got a lot of attention in 2006, when it lost its status as a planet. Since then, it remained as a trans neptunian objects (TNO) of major interest. In 2015, Pluto presented itself in high resolution pictures for the first time in history, when NASA’s space probe New Horizons explored the outer regions of our solar system. What the pictures showed, was not the expected icy desert, but multiple areas of deep red all over Pluto’s surface. The largest of them is located on the southern hemisphere. As a homage to the master of subtle horror, H. P. Lovecraft, the area is called Cthulhu region, because some of the most mysterious and powerful beings in Lovecraft’s world originate from Pluto (in Lovecraft’s stories called Yuggoth). Fayolle and co-workers tried to better understand the origin of these red materials by using laboratory experiments and numerical modelling in comparison with the data recorded by the New Horizons space probe.
Continue reading “Call of Cthulhu — Can we uncover the secret of Pluto’s red spots?”
Featuring image: Titan seen in infrared light. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona, public domain (CC0)
Paper: Titan in a Test Tube: Organic Co-crystals and Implications for Titan Mineralogy
Authors: M. L. Cable, T. Runčevski, H. E. Maynard-Casely, T. H. Vu and R. Hodyss
Titan, Saturn largest moon, is a strange world. Its surface is covered by ice, dunes and haze of organic molecules and lakes of liquid methane. It even rains. The diversity of surface features may remind us of our own home planet, but the chemistry between these two celestial bodies lies worlds apart.
Continue reading “Mineralogy on other worlds”
Featured image: the Moon by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash
Paper: Černok, A., White, L.F., Anand, M. et al. Lunar samples record an impact 4.2 billion years ago that may have formed the Serenitatis Basin. Commun Earth Environ 2, 120 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-021-00181-z
About 4 billion years ago, the inner Solar System fell prey to an apocalyptic assault by asteroids. These asteroids slammed into the terrestrial planets—Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars—and the Moon, leaving behind the scars and basins that make up the planets’ landscapes today. This attack, called the Large Heavy Bombardment, helps explain the genesis of a majority of the formations decorating the inner planets of the Solar System. Previous dating of Moon rocks helped pindown the occurrence of the Bombardment somewhere around 3.8 billion years ago. While this window of time is widely accepted in the planetary science community, one of the Moon’s most iconic features, the Serinatits Basin, might poke a hole in it.
Continue reading “One of the Moon’s most prominent features is older than we thought”
Featured Image: Zircon grain under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Image used with permission from Wikipedia (Emmanuel Roquette).
Article: The internal structure and geodynamics of Mars inferred from a 4.2-Gyr zircon record.
Authors: Maria M. Costa, Ninna K. Jensen, Laura C. Bouvier, James N. Connelly, Takashi Mikouchi, Matthew S. A. Horstwood, Jussi-Petteri Suuronen, Frédéric Moynier, Zhengbin Deng, Arnaud Agranier, Laure A. J. Martin, Tim E. Johnson, Alexander A. Nemchin, and Martin Bizzarro
While sitting in Geology 101 studying the geological time scale, most of us have gone through this experience where we imagined ourselves going back in time; visualizing mammoths passing by, dinosaurs hunting and fighting. But all these pictures start to become hazy and unclear when we reach close to 4 billion years. It is the time for which we have no rock records, and this is where zircons or what I would like to call “tiny survivors” comes in.
Continue reading “Tiny Crystals, Big Story: Time capsules from the Early Mars”
Paper: Persistent influence of obliquity on ice age terminations since the Middle Pleistocene transition
Featured image: Stalagmites captured by mareke on Pixabay
Authors: Petra Bajo, Russell N. Drysdale, Jon D. Woodhead, John C. Hellstrom, David Hodell, Patrizia Ferretti, Antje H.L. Voelker, Giovanni Zanchetta, Teresa Rodrigues, Eric Wolff, Jonathan Tyler, Silvia Frisia, Christoph Spötl, Anthony E. Fallick
Our planet has been circling and spinning in a wobbly dance around the Sun for billions of years. The exact motions of this dance- governed by Earth’s near-circular orbit (eccentricity), the tilt of its axis, and the orientation of the tilted axis in space (precession) fluctuate predictably. Variations in this planetary dance have changed the amount and distribution of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface through time, and have determined when the planet experienced long periods of cold temperatures and growth of massive ice caps on the continents (ice ages). However, scientists have not been so sure about which planetary motion is the most important for the timing of ice ages. New research uses climate information stored in caves to precisely link these motions to ice ages, showing that axis tilt may be the most important position in the dance when it comes to pulling Earth’s climate out of those frigid times.
Continue reading “Cave formations show link between ice ages and the tilt of Earth’s axis”