3 Major Space Discoveries Revealed: 140 Trillion Times Earth of Fresh Water Surrounding A Black Hole, Active Volcanoes on Moon and Oxygen Molecules Detected by Nasa Near The Orion Star
Posted August 3, 2011on:
“Oxygen is the third most common element in the universe and its molecular form must be abundant in space,” said Bill Danchi, Herschel program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Herschel Space Observatory’s large telescope and state-of-the-art infrared detectors have provided the first confirmed finding of oxygen molecules in space. The molecules were discovered in the Orion star-forming complex.
Individual atoms of oxygen are common in space, particularly around massive stars. But molecular oxygen, which makes up about 20 percent of the air we breathe, has eluded astronomers until now.
“Oxygen gas was discovered in the 1770s, but it’s taken us more than 230 years to finally say with certainty that this very simple molecule exists in space,” said Paul Goldsmith, NASA’s Herschel project scientist at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Goldsmith is lead author of a recent paper describing the findings in the Astrophysical Journal. Herschel is a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions.
Astronomers searched for the elusive molecules in space for decades using balloons, as well as ground- and space-based telescopes. The Swedish Odin telescope spotted the molecule in 2007, but the sighting could not be confirmed.
Goldsmith and his colleagues propose that oxygen is locked up in water ice that coats tiny dust grains. They think the oxygen detected by Herschel in the Orion nebula was formed after starlight warmed the icy grains, releasing water, which was converted into oxygen molecules.
“This explains where some of the oxygen might be hiding,” said Goldsmith. “But we didn’t find large amounts of it, and still don’t understand what is so special about the spots where we find it. The universe still holds many secrets.”
The researchers plan to continue their hunt for oxygen molecules in other star-forming regions.
Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away.
The quasar, APM 08279+5255, was discovered in 1998. Observations with optical and infrared telescopes revealed that the quasar, a young galaxy with a voracious black hole at its center (image above), was forming new stars rapidly in a starburst. At a distance of more than 12 billion light-years, the quasar is seen as it was more than 12 billion years ago, just a billion or so years after the Big Bang.
“This thing is at the edge of the dark ages,” before the first stars in the universe were born, Chris Carilli, an astronomer at the NSF’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, NM.
“The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.” Bradford leads one of the teams that made the discovery. His team’s research is partially funded by NASA and appears in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that steadily consumes a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. Both groups of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which harbors a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as a thousand trillion suns.
Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe, but had not detected it this far away before. There’s water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar, because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice.
Water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the nature of the quasar. In this particular quasar, the water vapor is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years in size (a light-year is about six trillion miles). Its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation, and that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is at a chilly minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it’s still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what’s typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.
Measurements of the water vapor and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, suggest there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size. Whether this will happen is not clear, the astronomers say, since some of the gas may end up condensing into stars or might be ejected from the quasar.
Bradford’s team made their observations starting in 2008, using an instrument called “Z-Spec” at the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory, a 33-foot (10-meter) telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Follow-up observations were made with the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.
The second group, led by Dariusz Lis, senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to find water. In 2010, Lis’s team serendipitously detected water in APM 8279+5255, observing one spectral signature. Bradford’s team was able to get more information about the water, including its enormous mass, because they detected several spectral signatures of the water.
According to a recent discovery by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists now have photos showing silicate volcanoes on the far side of the moon. Silicate volcanoes are a type that do not ooze magma; deeming them “dead” by scientists. Hhe silicate volcanoes on the far side of the moon are estimated to be around 800 years old, extending the volcanic activity of the moon by 200 million years.The moons far side was not visible from the Earth due to tidal forces between it and the moon, until 1959 when the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 Spacecraft took pictures of the region.
The nature of the terrain vividly comes to life when orbiter camera images are overlaid on a digital terrain model. At the center of the province is an irregular depression that might well be a caldera and at its edges are domes with features that suggest they were formed by the intrusion of high-viscosity silicic lava, a type of lava rare on the moon. Any model of the moon’s thermal evolution must now be able to account for this volcanic province as well as the familiar mare.
“Most of the volcanic activity on the moon was basaltic,” said primary author Brad Joliff of Washington University to SPACE.com in an email. “Finding other volcanic types is interesting as it shows the geologic complexity and range of processes that operate on the moon, and how the moons volcanism changed with time.”
According to Joliff, the domes were likely formed by lava which came from within the moon that flowed up through cracks to pool just beneath the moon’s surface, which then pressed out to create them.
In 1998, NASA’s Lunar Prospector probe circled the moon’s surface revealing a highly reflective plain lying between two ancient impact craters which is now known as the Compton-Belkovich region.
The silicate rocks and thorium found in this region suggested a more involved type of volcanic activity similar to that which created the moons well-known dark plains of basaltic plains known as “maria”, or “seas.”
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In Just A One Many Were Made Public About The Possible Life Beyond Earth. And Still This Are Just a Taste of Other More Important Discoveries Yet To Be Revealed…