. Scientific Frontline: Space Science
Showing posts with label Space Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space Science. Show all posts

Friday, March 22, 2024

Signs of life detectable in single ice grain emitted from extraterrestrial moons

An artist’s rendition of Saturn’s moon Enceladus depicts hydrothermal activity on the seafloor and cracks in the moon’s icy crust that allow material from the watery interior to be ejected into space. New research shows that instruments destined for the next missions could find traces of a single cell in a single ice grain contained in a plume.
Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The ice-encrusted oceans of some of the moons orbiting Saturn and Jupiter are leading candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life. A new lab-based study led by the University of Washington in Seattle and the Freie Universität Berlin shows that individual ice grains ejected from these planetary bodies may contain enough material for instruments headed there in the fall to detect signs of life, if such life exists.

“For the first time we have shown that even a tiny fraction of cellular material could be identified by a mass spectrometer onboard a spacecraft,” said lead author Fabian Klenner, a UW postdoctoral researcher in Earth and space sciences. “Our results give us more confidence that using upcoming instruments, we will be able to detect lifeforms similar to those on Earth, which we increasingly believe could be present on ocean-bearing moons.”

The open-access study was published March 22 in Science Advances. Other authors in the international team are from The Open University in the U.K.; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the University of Colorado, Boulder; and the University of Leipzig.

The Cassini mission that ended in 2017 discovered parallel cracks near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Emanating from these cracks are plumes containing gas and ice grains. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, scheduled to launch in October, will carry more instruments to explore in even more detail an icy moon of Jupiter, Europa.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Icy impacts: Planetary scientists use physics and images of impact craters to gauge the thickness of ice on Europa

Brandon Johnson and his team study impact craters around the solar system for clues about planetary bodies’ history and composition.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Robinos / Purdue University

Sometimes planetary physics is like being in a snowball fight. Most people, if handed an already-formed snowball, can use their experience and the feel of the ball to guess what kind of snow it is comprised of: packable and fluffy, or wet and icy.

Using nearly the same principles, planetary scientists have been able to study the structure of Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon.

Europa is a rocky moon, home to saltwater oceans twice the volume of Earth’s, encased in a shell of ice. Scientists have long thought that Europa may be one of the best places in our solar system to look for nonterrestrial life. The likelihood and nature of that life, though, heavily depend on the thickness of its icy shell, something astronomers have not yet been able to measure.

A team of planetary science experts including Brandon Johnson, an associate professor, and Shigeru Wakita, a research scientist, in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in Purdue University’s College of Science, announced in a new paper published in Science Advances that Europa’s ice shell is at least 20 kilometers thick.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Explaining a supernova’s ‘string of pearls’

The simulation shows the shape of the gas cloud on the left and the vortices, or regions of rapidly rotating flow, on the right. Each ring represents a later time in the evolution of the cloud. It shows how a gas cloud that starts as an even ring with no rotation becomes a lumpy ring as the vortices develop. Eventually the gas breaks up into distinct clumps.
Illustration Credit: Michael Wadas, Scientific Computing and Flow Laboratory

Physicists often turn to the Rayleigh-Taylor instability to explain why fluid structures form in plasmas, but that may not be the full story when it comes to the ring of hydrogen clumps around supernova 1987A, research from the University of Michigan suggests.

In a study published in Physical Review Letters, the team argues that the Crow instability does a better job of explaining the “string of pearls” encircling the remnant of the star, shedding light on a longstanding astrophysical mystery.

“The fascinating part about this is that the same mechanism that breaks up airplane wakes could be in play here,” said Michael Wadas, corresponding author of the study and a graduate student in mechanical engineering at the time of the work.

In jet contrails, the Crow instability creates breaks in the smooth line of clouds because of the spiraling airflow coming off the end of each wing, known as wingtip vortices. These vortices flow into one another, creating gaps—something we can see because of the water vapor in the exhaust. And the Crow instability can do something that Rayleigh-Taylor could not: predict the number of clumps seen around the remnant.

“The Rayleigh-Taylor instability could tell you that there might be clumps, but it would be very difficult to pull a number out of it,” said Wadas, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology.

Rethinking galactic origins through heavy-element mapping challenges conventional theory

Galactic gas shows varying heavy element distribution: blue indicates scarcity, red indicates richness. Heavy elements are less abundant in gas than Galaxy.
Image Credit: T. Hayakawa/Y.Fukui, Nagoya University

A groundbreaking study of the origins of intermediate-velocity clouds (IVCs) challenges a 20-year-old theory and suggests a new era of deep-space research. Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan discovered that IVCs have much lower heavy elements than previously reported. Rather than the materials being constantly recycled like water in a fountain, their findings suggest that the particles that make the clouds originated outside our galaxy. The group published their findings in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

IVCs are a type of interstellar cloud characterized by their velocity. They are found at altitudes of thousands of light years away throughout the Milky Way. Gas clouds are important because they are sources of elements that enable star formation and the creation of planetary systems. 

In the conventional model, elements are released back into the interstellar medium when the stars die in events called supernovae. This material is then reincorporated into the gas clouds. According to this model, the heavy elements in IVCs are generated through nuclear fusion reactions and supernova explosions within our galaxy. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Juno Spacecraft Measures Oxygen Production on Jupiter's Moon, Europa

For the first time, SwRI scientists used the Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument to definitively detect oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere of one of Jupiter's largest moons, Europa. NASA's Juno spacecraft, using its SwRI-developed instrument, made the measurements during a 2022 flyby of Europa.
Image Credit: Courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has directly measured charged oxygen and hydrogen molecules from the atmosphere of one of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa. According to a new study co-authored by SwRI scientists and led by Princeton University, these observations provide key constraints on the potential oxygenation of its subsurface ocean.

“These findings have direct implications on the potential habitability of Europa,” said Juno Principal Investigator Dr. Scott Bolton of SwRI, a co-author of the study. “This study provides the first direct in-situ measurement of water components existing in Europa’s atmosphere, giving us a narrow range that could support habitability.”

In 2022, Juno completed a flyby of Europa, coming as close as 352 kilometers to the moon. The SwRI-developed Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) instrument aboard Juno detected significant amounts of charged molecular oxygen and hydrogen lost from the atmosphere.

Groundbreaking survey reveals secrets of planet birth around dozens of stars

This research brings together observations of more than 80 young stars that might have planets forming around them in spectacular discs. This small selection from the survey shows 10 discs from the three regions of our galaxy observed in the papers. V351 Ori and V1012 Ori are located in the most distant of the three regions, the gas-rich cloud of Orion, some 1600 light-years from Earth. DG Tau, T Tau, HP Tau, MWC758 and GM Aur are located in the Taurus region, while HD 97048, WW Cha and SZ Cha can be found in Chamaeleon I, all of which are about 600 light-years from Earth.  The images shown here were captured using the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). SPHERE’s state-of-the-art extreme adaptive optics system corrects for the turbulent effects of Earth’s atmosphere, yielding crisp images of the discs around stars. The stars themselves have been covered with a coronagraph — a circular mask that blocks their intense glare, revealing the faint discs around them.  The discs have been scaled to appear roughly the same size in this composition. 
Full Size Zoomable Image
Image Credit: ESO/C. Ginski, A. Garufi, P.-G. Valegård et al.

In a series of studies, a team of astronomers has shed new light on the fascinating and complex process of planet formation. The stunning images, captured using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) in Chile, represent one of the largest ever surveys of planet-forming discs. The research brings together observations of more than 80 young stars that might have planets forming around them, providing astronomers with a wealth of data and unique insights into how planets arise in different regions of our galaxy.

“This is really a shift in our field of study,” says Christian Ginski, a lecturer at the University of Galway, Ireland, and lead author of one of three new papers published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics. “We’ve gone from the intense study of individual star systems to this huge overview of entire star-forming regions.”

Monday, March 4, 2024

Water May Have Flowed Intermittently in Martian Valleys for Hundreds of Millions of Years

Detail of an unnamed valley network on Mars. Impact craters are marked with blue and red circles. Craters marked in red postdate the valley network while those marked in blue predate the valley network. Dashed circles have a lower degree of superposition certainty with the valley network. Dashed black line is the mapped valley network. (a) overview of the valley system. The entire basin is outlined in white; the highland areas that have undergone less erosion are outlined in black. (b) detail of the area marked in (a).

Using impact craters as a dating tool, Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist Alexander Morgan has determined maximum timescales for the formation of Martian valley networks shaped by running water.

“Mars today is a global desert, but its surface preserves extensive evidence of past flowing water, including what appear to be river valleys. The timescale over which these valleys formed has big implications for early Mars’ habitability, as long eras with stable liquid water would be more conducive to life,” said Morgan, sole author of “New maximum constraints on the era of Martian valley network formation” that appears in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Martian valley networks formed more than 3 billion years ago and have long been considered among the strongest pieces of evidence of liquid water on early Mars. Previous work has found that it took a minimum of tens of thousands of years to erode these valleys, but the frequency of flow events, and thus the total time era over which the valleys formed, has not been constrained.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Biomolecules from Formaldehyde on Ancient Mars

Diagram showing the formation of formaldehyde (H2CO) in the warm atmosphere of ancient Mars and its conversion into molecules vital for life in the ocean.
Illustration Credit: ©Shungo Koyama

Organic materials discovered on Mars may have originated from atmospheric formaldehyde, according to new research, marking a step forward in our understanding of the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

Scientists from Tohoku University have investigated whether the early atmospheric conditions on Mars had the potential to foster the formation of biomolecules - organic compounds essential for biological processes. Their findings, published in Scientific Reports, offer intriguing insights into the plausibility of Mars harboring life in its distant past.

Today, Mars presents a harsh environment characterized by dryness and extreme cold, but geological evidence hints at a more hospitable past. About 3.8-3.6 billion years ago, the planet probably had a temperate climate, sustained by the warming properties of gases like hydrogen. In such an environment, Mars may have had liquid water, a key ingredient for life as we know it.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Metal scar found on cannibal star

This artist’s impression shows the magnetic white dwarf WD 0816-310, where astronomers have found a scar imprinted on its surface as a result of having ingested planetary debris.  When objects like planets or asteroids approach the white dwarf they get disrupted, forming a debris disc around the dead star. Some of this material can be devoured by the dwarf, leaving traces of certain chemical elements on its surface.   Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers found that the signature of these chemical elements changed periodically as the star rotated, as did the magnetic field. This indicates that the magnetic fields funneled these elements onto the star, concentrating them at the magnetic poles and forming the scar seen here.
Illustration Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

When a star like our Sun reaches the end of its life, it can ingest the surrounding planets and asteroids that were born with it. Now, using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) in Chile, researchers have found a unique signature of this process for the first time — a scar imprinted on the surface of a white dwarf star. The results are published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“It is well known that some white dwarfs — slowly cooling embers of stars like our Sun — are cannibalizing pieces of their planetary systems. Now we have discovered that the star’s magnetic field plays a key role in this process, resulting in a scar on the white dwarf’s surface,” says Stefano Bagnulo, an astronomer at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium in Northern Ireland, UK, and lead author of the study.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Black hole fashions stellar beads on a string

The international team used a combination of X-ray, radio, and optical data to understand how this unusual chain of star clusters formed stellar jewellery 3.8 billion light-years from Earth.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/O. Omoruyi et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/G. Tremblay et al.; Radio: ASTRON/LOFAR; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/N. Wolk

One of the most powerful eruptions from a black hole ever recorded has been discovered by an international team of astronomers.

The mega-explosion, which took place billions of years ago, may help explain the formation of a pattern of star clusters resembling beads on a string, according to the study.

This stellar jewelry is located in SDSS J1531, a massive galaxy cluster 3.8 billion light-years from Earth, containing hundreds of individual galaxies and a huge reservoir of hot gas and dark matter.

At the heart of SDSS J1531, two of the cluster’s largest galaxies are colliding with one another.

These colliding giants are surrounded by a set of 19 large clusters of stars, called superclusters, arranged in an ‘S’ formation that resembles a string of beads.

The team used a combination of X-ray, radio, and optical data to understand how this unusual chain of star clusters formed.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

SwRI scientists find evidence of geothermal activity within icy dwarf planets

Eris and Makemake
Image Credit: Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

A team co-led by Southwest Research Institute found evidence for hydrothermal or metamorphic activity within the icy dwarf planets Eris and Makemake, located in the Kuiper Belt. Methane detected on their surfaces has the tell-tale signs of warm or even hot geochemistry in their rocky cores, which is markedly different than the signature of methane from a comet.

“We see some interesting signs of hot times in cool places,” said SwRI’s Dr. Christopher Glein, an expert in planetary geochemistry and lead author of a paper about this discovery. “I came into this project thinking that large Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) should have ancient surfaces populated by materials inherited from the primordial solar nebula, as their cold surfaces can preserve volatiles like methane. Instead, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) gave us a surprise! We found evidence pointing to thermal processes producing methane from within Eris and Makemake.”

The Kuiper Belt is a vast donut-shaped region of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune at the edge of the solar system. Eris and Makemake are comparable in size to Pluto and its moon Charon. These bodies likely formed early in the history of our solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago. Far from the heat of our Sun, KBOs were believed to be cold, dead objects. Newly published work from JWST studies made the first observations of isotopic molecules on the surfaces of Eris and Makemake. These so-called isotopologues are molecules that contain atoms having a different number of neutrons. They provide data that is useful in understanding planetary evolution.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Discovery of Unexpected Ultramassive Galaxies May Not Rewrite Cosmology, But Still Leaves Questions

Infrared view of the universe captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI.

Ever since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) captured its first glimpse of the early universe, astronomers have been surprised by the presence of what appear to be more “ultramassive” galaxies than expected. Based on the most widely accepted cosmological model, they should not have been able to evolve until much later in the history of the universe, spurring claims that the model needs to be changed.

This would upend decades of established science.

“The development of objects in the universe is hierarchical. You start small and get bigger and bigger,” said Julian Muñoz, an assistant professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin and co-author of a recent paper that tests changes to the cosmological model. The study concludes that revising the standard cosmological model is not necessary. However, astronomers may have to revisit what they understand about how the first galaxies formed and evolved.

Cosmology studies the origin, evolution and structure of our universe, from the Big Bang to the present day. The most widely accepted model of cosmology is called the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (ΛCDM) model or the “standard cosmological model.” Although the model is very well informed, much about the early universe has remained theoretical because astronomers could not observe it completely, if at all.

Monday, February 12, 2024

SwRI Scientists Identify Water Molecules on Asteroids for the First Time

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
Image Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas/SwRI

Using data from the retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) — a joint project of NASA and the German Space Agency at DLR — Southwest Research Institute scientists have discovered, for the first time, water molecules on the surface of an asteroid. Scientists looked at four silicate-rich asteroids using the FORCAST instrument to isolate the mid-infrared spectral signatures indicative of molecular water on two of them.

“Asteroids are leftovers from the planetary formation process, so their compositions vary depending on where they formed in the solar nebula,” said SwRI’s Dr. Anicia Arredondo, lead author of a Planetary Science Journal paper about the discovery. “Of particular interest is the distribution of water on asteroids, because that can shed light on how water was delivered to Earth.”

Anhydrous, or dry, silicate asteroids form close to the Sun while icy materials coalesce farther out. Understanding the location of asteroids and their compositions tells us how materials in the solar nebula were distributed and have evolved since formation. The distribution of water in our solar system will provide insight into the distribution of water in other solar systems and, because water is necessary for all life on Earth, will drive where to look for potential life, both in our solar system and beyond.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

A carbon-lite atmosphere could be a sign of water and life on other terrestrial planets

In the search for extraterrestrial life, MIT scientists say a planet’s carbon-lite atmosphere, relative to its neighbors, could be a sure and detectable signal of habitability.
Image Credit: Scientific Frontline stock image.

Scientists at MIT, the University of Birmingham, and elsewhere say that astronomers’ best chance of finding liquid water, and even life on other planets, is to look for the absence, rather than the presence, of a chemical feature in their atmospheres.

The researchers propose that if a terrestrial planet has substantially less carbon dioxide in its atmosphere compared to other planets in the same system, it could be a sign of liquid water — and possibly life — on that planet’s surface.

What’s more, this new signature is within the sights of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). While scientists have proposed other signs of habitability, those features are challenging if not impossible to measure with current technologies. The team says this new signature, of relatively depleted carbon dioxide, is the only sign of habitability that is detectable now.

“The Holy Grail in exoplanet science is to look for habitable worlds, and the presence of life, but all the features that have been talked about so far have been beyond the reach of the newest observatories,” says Julien de Wit, assistant professor of planetary sciences at MIT. “Now we have a way to find out if there’s liquid water on another planet. And it’s something we can get to in the next few years.”

The team’s findings appear today in Nature Astronomy. De Wit co-led the study with Amaury Triaud of the University of Birmingham in the UK. Their MIT co-authors include Benjamin Rackham, Prajwal Niraula, Ana Glidden Oliver Jagoutz, Matej Peč, Janusz Petkowski, and Sara Seager, along with Frieder Klein at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Martin Turbet of Ècole Polytechnique in France, and Franck Selsis of the Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Cosmic lights in the forest

TACC’s Frontera, the fastest academic supercomputer in the US, is a strategic national capability computing system funded by the National Science Foundation.
Photo Credit: TACC.

Like a celestial beacon, distant quasars make the brightest light in the universe. They emit more light than our entire Milky Way galaxy. The light comes from matter ripped apart as it is swallowed by a supermassive black hole. Quasar light reveals clues about the large-scale structure of the universe as it shines through enormous clouds of neutral hydrogen gas formed shortly after the Big Bang on the scale of 20 million light years across or more. 

Using quasar light data, the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) helped astronomers develop PRIYA, the largest suite of hydrodynamic simulations yet made for simulating large-scale structure in the universe.

“We’ve created a new simulation model to compare data that exists at the real universe,” said Simeon Bird, an assistant professor in astronomy at the University of California, Riverside. 

Bird and colleagues developed PRIYA, which takes optical light data from the Extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS) of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). He and colleagues published their work announcing PRIYA in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics (JCAP). 

Monday, December 18, 2023

Recent volcanism on Mars reveals a planet more active than previously thought

This image taken by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter shows an oblique view focusing on one of the vast lava flows in Elysium Planitia.
Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

A vast, flat, "featureless" plain on Mars surprised researchers by revealing a much more tumultuous geologic past than expected, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Arizona. Enormous amounts of lava have erupted from numerous fissures as recently as one million years ago, blanketing an area almost as large as Alaska and interacting with water in and under the surface, resulting in large flood events that carved out deep channels.

Lacking plate tectonics – shifting chunks of crust that constantly reshape Earth's surface – Mars has long been thought to be a geologically "dead" planet where not much is happening. Recent discoveries have researchers questioning this notion, however. Just last year, a team of planetary scientists, also at UArizona, presented evidence for a giant mantle plume underneath the region Elysium Planitia, driving intense volcanic and seismic activity in a relatively recent past.

In the most recent study, a team led by Joana Voigt and Christopher Hamilton at UArizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory combined spacecraft images and measurements from ground-penetrating radar to reconstruct in three-dimensional detail every individual lava flow in Elysium Planitia. The extensive survey revealed and documented more than 40 volcanic events, with one of the largest flows infilling a valley named Athabasca Valles with almost 1,000 cubic miles of basalt.

Exoplanets' climate – it takes nothing to switch from habitable to hell

Runaway greenhouse effect can transform a temperate habitable planet with surface liquid water ocean into a hot steam dominated planet hostile to any life
Image Credit: (Chaverot et al., 2023). © Thibaut Roger / UNIGE

The Earth is a wonderful blue and green dot covered with oceans and life, while Venus is a yellowish sterile sphere that is not only inhospitable but also sterile. However, the difference between the two bears to only a few degrees in temperature. A team of astronomers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), with the support of the CNRS laboratories of Paris and Bordeaux, has achieved a world’s first by managing to simulate the entirety of the runaway greenhouse process which can transform the climate of a planet from idyllic and perfect for life, to a place more than harsh and hostile. The scientists have also demonstrated that from the initial stages of the process, the atmospheric structure and cloud coverage undergo significant changes, leading to an almost-unstoppable and very complicated to reverse runaway greenhouse effect. On Earth, a global average temperature rise of just a few tens of degrees, subsequent to a slight rise of the Sun’s luminosity, would be sufficient to initiate this phenomenon and to make our planet inhabitable. These results are published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Long-sought binary star population found! Discovery could answer questions about hydrogen-poor supernova origins

An artist’s conception of the hydrogen being stripped from one half of a binary system, leaving a very hot, helium rich exposed core that will eventually explode as a hydrogen-poor core collapse supernova.
 Illustration Credit: Navid Marvi, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

A team of astronomers has found a long- “missing” population of stars that could answer long-standing questions about the origins of a mysterious type of supernova. Their discovery, published in Science, could help researchers understand how hydrogen-poor core-collapse supernovae and neutron star collisions occur—major stellar events that are the source of many of the elements on the periodic table.

The project’s leaders, the University of Toronto’s Maria Drout and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria’s Ylva Götberg, met as junior researchers, and both went on to complete postdoctoral positions at the Carnegie Observatories—where the majority of this work was done—and have since moved onto assistant professor positions at their respective institutions.

Supernovae are violent stellar explosions that spew material into their cosmic surroundings, seeding the next generation of stars. But astronomers are still working to elucidate how they originate and what their various stellar progenitors look like—which differ between types of supernovae.

Drout and Götberg were particularly interested in one type of supernovae that stands out from their celestial peers for being hydrogen poor.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Ryugu Samples Illuminate Terrestrial Weathering Effects on Primitive Meteorites

Optical images of the Ryugu sample (left) and the CI chondrite (Orgueil ; right).
Image Credit: ©Kana Amano et al.

A groundbreaking study conducted by a team of international scientists has unveiled unprecedented insights into the nature of the asteroid Ryugu and shed light on the composition of water- and carbon-rich small bodies in the solar system.

Asteroids like Ryugu are remnants of planetary embryos that never reached larger sizes, making them invaluable windows into materials that formed in the early solar system. The study centered on laboratory measurements of the samples brought back to the Earth by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft in 2020. Led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Hayabusa2 aimed to uncover the true nature of Ryugu and explore how astrologists can use knowledge from meteorites to interpret telescopic observations of other hydrous asteroids.

Unlike meteorites derived from similar hydrous asteroids, the Ryugu samples avoided terrestrial alteration - the interaction with oxygen and water in the Earth's atmosphere.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Mystery Resolved: Black Hole Feeding and Feedback at the Center of an Active Galaxy

Fig. 1
An illustration depicting the distribution of interstellar medium in the active galactic nucleus based on the results of this observation.
Illustration Credit: ©ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), T. Izumi et al.

An international research team led by Takuma Izumi, an assistant professor at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, has observed in high resolution (approximately 1 light year) the active galactic nucleus of the Circinus Galaxy - one of the closest major galaxies to the Milky Way. The observation was made possible by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) astronomical observatory in Chile.

This breakthrough marks the world's first quantitative measurement at this scale of gas flows and their structures of a nearby supermassive black hole in all phase gases, including plasma, atomic, and molecular. Such high resolution allowed the team to team to capture the accretion flow heading towards the supermassive black hole, revealing that this accretion flow is generated by a physical mechanism known as 'gravitational instability.' Furthermore, the team also found that a significant portion of this accretion flow does not contribute to the growth of the black hole. Instead, most of the gas is expelled from the vicinity of the black hole as atomic or molecular outflows, and returns to the gas disk to participate again into an accretion flow towards the black hole, much like how water gets recycled in a water fountain. These findings represent a crucial advancement towards a greater understanding of the growth mechanisms of supermassive black holes.

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