Tag Archives: Jupiter

[COSMIC BODIES] – Lost Worlds

20 Oct

It is easy to lose something small, it might slip down the back of the sofa, or you might drop it on a night out but surely it is a lot harder to lose something the size of a planet?

Ok, well no one has lost anything quite this big, because well frankly it never belonged to anyone. I am, however, referring to rouge planets and their stars. These are huge wandering worlds slowly meandering across the universe perhaps looking for a parent star to take them into their protective care.

There is one particular lost world, which was only discovered in the winter of last year that has everyone in the planetary scientific community mystified.

This bizarre place does not have a name of yet but is known by its scientific designation: CFBDSIR 2149-0403. For the purpose of this article I would like to nickname it ‘Columbus’

‘Columbus’ lies about 100 light-years from us here on Earth and is about the size of 4-7 Jupiter’s. We judge exosolar planets on their comparable size to our biggest heavenly neighbour because, well, we have no comprehension on just how massive these spheres are. Temperatures on ‘Columbus’ get as hot as Mercury, reaching at least 700 Kelvin or around 425 Degrees Celsius.

It is highly likely that ‘Columbus’ was created in a gas cloud similar to the one that formed our solar system; it would have originally had a parent star to orbit around just as we do the Sun. Then after a few millennia the Planet would have been ejected of its orbit by a huge force, most probably another planet or even star.

Now this lonely domain is scheduled to spend the rest of its existence slowly rambling throughout the cosmos. Maybe ‘Columbus’ will get lucky and full into the orbit of a star big enough to hold its mass or maybe this planet’s fate lies in eventual vaporisation and destruction.

Scientists will continue to watch as ‘Columbus’ embarks on the next leg of its exploratory journey. Whilst it does they will also keep their eyes peeled for any other ambling orbs.

Voyager: Humanity’s First Interstellar Explorer

21 Jun

Interstellar space travel has only ever existed in the science fiction works of the past. Films, television and books appear to make emigrating to a new sun seem effortless and trouble free. The reality is that in order to cover these distances you need enormous amounts of energy or a copious amount of time. It is the latter that seems more realistic to us humans and the instruments of exploration we develop.

One such craft appears to be nearing this feat and is to become the first known object to traverse the stars. NASA’s Voyager twin spacecraft have been travelling through our solar system for decades now and they are approaching the final frontier and near conclusion to their epic mission. Launched in 1977 Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 took advantage of the intricate clockwork of our solar system by aiming to capture Jupiter and Saturn as they aligned in what was dubbed ‘The Grand Tour’.

Gravitational Slingshot Effect

Voyager 2 seized the opportunity of planetary configuration by flying onwards to Uranus and Neptune as it followed its twin sister out into the Universe. NASA scientists used a ‘gravitational slingshot’ effect allowing both spacecraft to fly in between the planets and hurl them outwards saving energy. Voyager 1 passed Jupiter just two years after launch in 1979 and Saturn, along with her moons, the following year. Voyager 1 is now some 10.8 Billion miles away from home, with Voyager 2 some 2 Billion miles behind, both hurtling towards the edge of our solar system and into the scary yonder of interstellar space.

The craft is approaching the edge of what is known as the Heliosphere, this is a ‘bubble’ around our star where charged particles are flung out into space by the Sun and its solar winds. Any day now Voyager 1 will start to detect a rapid increase in the amount of charged particles it has already encountered as it detects stars that have exploded in the past.

 More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five per cent in a week and nine percent in a month. Says Project Manager, JPL – Ed Stone.

Charged particles fill the Universe between the stars streaming radiation far and wide. Voyager will negotiate this wilderness en route to Proxima Centauri, our local neighbouring star. Unfortunately it would take Voyager 76,000 years to get there but we can still  be proud a human built craft is travelling between the stars.

Voyager 1 is a true pioneer in space travel, its time in the cosmos has lasted 35 years and is sure to continue until 2025 when the spacecrafts’s plutonium core propulsion system expires. On board the machine is a gold disc containing images and sounds of Earth along with drawings of human beings in the hope a distant civilization will discover them and learn about our fascinating species.

[COSMIC BODIES] – Frozen Oceans

12 Aug

Ever since man first started to gaze out into the skies, he has always wondered if he is alone. Is life possible among the millions of stars he could see or even just in this small band of planets we call the Solar System? Ever since man has had the aid to his eyes and knowledge of science, he has been able to come closer to the conclusion of that question.

Places like Mars and The Moon (Lunar) have always had romanticisms about alien life living on their surfaces, and as of yet we are still to proven wrong. I’d like to introduce two more alluring worlds among our Solar System that show decent signs of a habitat for E.T.

These worlds are far out into the more inhospitable regions of our host star system; they both orbit huge gas giant planets and both have a temperature that is lower than -150 degrees Celsius.

These worlds are the small icy Moons; Europa, who orbits Jupiter, and Enceladus, who’s host planet is Saturn. These worlds, although some distance apart, share a few similarities in the essential aspects for them to support life. Both moons share the most important of these, water, and lots of it. In fact, Enceladus is believed to be made up of 91% water vapor.

As a species we know that water is an essential building block for life, you only have to look around you for proof. So it seems entirely plausible that these moons can be the habitat for some bizarre marine life as there is already so much of it here on Earth.

Enceladus is a tiny moon, smaller than Great Britain, which sits in the E-ring of the planet Saturn, over 147,000 miles away from its host. Discovered in 1789 by William Herschel, the man who also discovered Uranus, Enceladus is the sixth moon of Saturnian orbit and the brightest object in the solar system. Believed to reflect 99% sunlight off its surface, Enceladus is small but an incredible find. Scientists are excited about this moon because of it’s surface appearance and subterranean goings-on.

In 2005 a probe named ‘Cassini’ was sent passed Enceladus with instructions to take photographs. The satellite took some amazing images of giant jets of liquid water protruding into outer space some 80 miles. This indicated the presence of liquid water and the possibility of a subterranean ocean beneath its icy surface.

The area of interest became known as the ‘tiger stripes’, a series of linear depressions on the surface indicating a raised temperature in the south Polar Regions. This proved the presence of an ice volcano fuelled by underground heat.

‘This finding is a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life can be sustained on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets’ – Nicolas Altobelli, ESA project scientist for Cassini.

No impact craters in the surrounding area also implies that this region is young, therefore ever changing. A spectacle this moon shares with her step-sister Europa.

Jupiters moon Europa

Europa is a Jovian moon, meaning it orbits within the realms of Jupiter, and is also one of four of the Galilean moons. Named by Galileo Galilei, in respect to a Greek queen, Europa was discovered in 1610, along with the three other closets moons to Jupiter. Although somewhat bigger than Enceladus, Europa is still smaller than our moon but with a high potential to preserve life due to its huge ocean. Scientists believe the surfaces layer, some -160 degrees Celsius, is tens of kilometers thick and the water layer below is thought to be 50 -105 kilometers deep, that’s more water than Earths oceans combined.  This leads scientists to believe that the shear size of the ocean underneath, in comparison to the size and diversity to life on Earth, that life on Europa is a mathematical certainty.

‘we calculate that the odds of finding life in the waters of Europa are 122 out of 123. The 122 known bodies of saltwater harbor microbial life. The 123rd body of saltwater, Europa’s vast ocean, is the body that has yet to be tested. Therefore, the odds are 122 of 123 in favor of finding life, or above 99%’– David Darling, part time astronomer and science writer.

Europa is close to Jupiter, so close that the massive planet exerts tidal pressures on the moon much like the relationship the Earth has with it’s lunar neighbour. This causes ‘plates’ on the moons surface to crack and move due to warm temperatures below the surface most probably caused by underwater hydrothermal vents.

This below surface phenomena is also true of Enceladus and as we recently discovered, on our planet, life does not necessarily require sunlight to exist.

Hydrothermal vents were discovered just in the last decade, they prove that life can go on without heat provided for it by the Sun. These vents send columns of water reaching temperatures of 460 degrees Celsius from the core and out into the depths of our oceans. Crabs, worms and bacteria like creatures were discovered to be living within this eco-system and thriving well without sunlight. It was clearly all down to these vents and the heat they were giving off that allowed complex life to live in such an extreme enviroment. Now scientists were excited because they thought that this could just as easily be true of any other body supporting water or water ice.

Underwater Hydrothermal Vents

So scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) went on the hunt for worlds that looked like a suitable home for these hydrothermal vents and their answers were both Europa and Enceladus.

As mentioned before Enceladus has a satellite nearby already, named Cassini after the Italian/French astronomer of the 17th and 18th century. Launched in 1997 Cassini has beamed back tons of information surrounding Saturn and her moon system and will continue to do so for the 20-year duration of its mission.

ESA and NASA also had a similar, but far more advanced, probe that was scheduled for launch in 2020 in order to understand Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. NASA have since pulled out of the mission called, Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) and have left ESA to fund its own quest to the region, Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE).

Russian interests have also spurred this assignment forwards as they look to actually having a lander set up home on the moon. In an attempt to understand Europa’s icy surface and subterranean ocean the Europa Lander will be separated from the main rocket in order to carry out various fly-by missions. This launch looks likely to be scheduled far beyond its original date of 2020.

Until this mission we still have a lot to understand about both these moons complexity and intriguing imagery. They both leave us wondering just what lies beneath their surfaces and how much of it is Alien and how much is familiar.

For Galileo to have gazed up and wondered so much and known so little speaks the same of us today. With his help, along with Herschel and the understanding of the critical aspects of life, we can envisage, like Galileo did, the grandeur of celestial knowledge while still understanding so little.

JUNO – Misson to understand complex Jupiter

2 Aug

Nasa will this week launch a brand new satellite into the orbit of the biggest planet in our Solar System. This new spacecraft will aid humans in understanding more about Jupiter and her atmospheric moods.

Juno, as the satellite is named, is due for launch on 5th August 2011 with a window of 3 weeks allowing for any launch complications. The craft will propel out of the Earths atmosphere attached to an Atlas Rocket, numbered V551, from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida.

Juno will career towards Jupiter, once being detached from the rocket, at nearly 160,000 miles per hour. However astonishing this speed is, the craft will still take 5 years to reach its destination circling above the dangerous atmosphere of the fifth planet from the Sun.

Jupiter is a strange and inhabitable place that consists of toxic storms of gas and lightning that ravage its structure. The planet is just over 483 million miles away from the Sun making its freezing temperatures reach -160 degrees Celsius. Which is shy of the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth doubled. Jupiter is 318 times the mass of Earth stretching out over a distance of 88,000 miles.

Jupiter’s surface atmosphere is dominated by what is known as the Great Red Spot. This ‘Spot’ is actually 3 times the size of our planet and is made up of a giant storm that has been ravaging Jupiter since records began. With a complex consistency of Water, Methane, Ammonia and Hydrogen this spot, as well as the rest of Jupiter, is thought to render the planet completely lifeless. So Juno will not be alien hunting on its long journey to the planet.

What Juno will be helping scientists with is, understanding even more about its bizarre atmosphere, the planets gravity and magnetic fields along with how the magnetosphere and Auroras behave at the planets polar regions. With state of the art cameras and sampling equipment on board this should be the only thorough cross section we need of Jupiter, at least for the time being.  The craft is a lot bigger than you would think, reaching a height of 14 feet with a panel span of 66 feet, when fully retracted. Juno will be the first ever solar paneled space craft to be released into the Outer Solar System when its launch period opens on Friday.

Scott Bolton, the missions chief investigator says ‘…the team is really excited that the final days of preparation, which we’ve been looking forward to for years, are finally here. We are ready to go’.

After Juno has completed its 10 year mission of reaching Jupiter and conducting 33 orbits around this gigantic planet, it will send its last transmission before being plummeted purposely towards the surface to be broken apart in its storm system. By that time the knowledge that the satellite would have communicated will be forever essential in our understanding of the solar system and beyond.

For 3D information detailing the craft itself visit:

http://missionjuno.swri.edu/