Archive for the ‘Environment and Climate’ Category

What if There was Life on Other Worlds?   19 comments

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

What is Planetary Protection?

Planetary protection refers to ‘interplanetary contamination’ – protecting solar system bodies (i.e., planets, moons, comets, and asteroids) from ‘biological contamination’ by Earth organisms, (Forward contamination – the transfer ofviable organisms’ from Earth to another interplanetary body), and protecting Earth from the transmission of alien organisms, to Earth’s biosphere e.g. as a result of ‘extra-terrestrial sample-return missions.’ (Back contamination)

 

The Outer Space Treaty

Why is Planetary Protection Important?

Planetary protection is a directive code in the blueprint of an interplanetary assignment, and is critical for several important reasons:  

  • mirrors the unknown nature of the space environment 
  • to safeguard our ability to study other worlds in detail, in their natural conditions 
  • to prevent contamination that would make it difficult/impossible to find potential life on another world  
  • to ensure that we take judicious safety measures to shield Earth’s biosphere in case it does.  

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

The legal basis for planetary protection is located in Article IX of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty ratified in 1967 by the US, USSR, and UK.

“Article IX: … States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extra-terrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

Requirements for Protecting Life on Other Bodies

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Planetary protection prerequisites for each mission and interplanetary body in focus are ascertained based on the scientific advice of the Space Studies Board, NASA or international policy guidelines.

Each mission is categorized according to:

  • Type of mission (e.g. flyby, orbiter, or lander)
  • Nature of its destination (e.g. a planet, moon, comet, or asteroid)
  • And the planetary bodies that may be discovered over the course of the mission (e.g. Mars and Europa).

Proposal to Increase Time-Scale for Planetary Protection

In the case of  Europa, the majority opinion was, that not only should Europa be kept it is not contamination-free during current times of exploration, but that it could well be scientifically important enough to warrant being kept in an un-touched and un-contaminated condition for future generations to benefit from studying too. 

“One consequence of this view is that Europa must be protected from contamination for an open-ended period, until it can be demonstrated that no ocean exists or that no organisms are present. Thus, we need to be concerned that over a time scale on the order of 10 million to 100 million years (an approximate age for the surface of Europa), any contaminating material is likely to be carried into the deep ice crust or into the underlying ocean.” 

(The minority opinion was that these protection measures are unnecessarily strong.)

But What About the Natives??!!

Europa and Alien Life

It is natural that we should want to explore worlds with the potential for life, and even to exploit them, but what if these worlds, such as Europa, do prove to have natives? There are different views on this subject. For example:

  • If the life is only microbial then there is no cause to worry about it. We should not let microbes interfere with potential colonisation.
  • It has its own ecosystem, and this should be left alone. However, if the long-term aim was to terraform Europa it would change the climate of the moon along with the rest of Europa.

Will we as egotistical humans decide, that despite knowing that this is a world that we have had no hand in creating, none-the-less that we should take measures to change it anyway? Or will we recognise our boundaries and appreciate that we have a unique standing in the cosmos, and therefore put aside our arrogance and leave untouched, a world, and possibly an eco-system, that we have had no hand in creating?

Europa’s Icewolf’s Personal Howl!

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My personal howl on this subject is that absolutely Europa needs to be protected from Earth contamination! We do not know the consequences of any potential contamination. And precautions should be taken so that accurate observations can be made regarding any life found on Europa. If we find life there, it will have its own ecosystem and we should leave it alone and allow it to be a nature reserve moon. We may even be able to find ways to improve its habitat to help its life to thrive in ways not yet possible for it on icy Europa. It may be possible to ring fence the inhabited areas to reduce human contact, but it seems to me that such action would serve only to damage Europa, and ultimately this moon needs to be left alone! 

As mentioned earlier, backward contamination by micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, certain algae and fungi) from other worlds are also a risk, when carried back to Earth on probes. which could have catastrophic upshots for Earth dwellers. Our immune systems will not have any resistance to extra-terrestrial micro-organisms. Not only would our bodies be totally unable to fight them it is pretty much guaranteed that we would have no time and no opportunity to research the creation of the necessary vaccine. Therefore, it will be essential to have high-level, cutting-edge systems for filtering and highly advanced procedures in place.

What do YOU think?!!

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Discovering beyond all doubt that alien life does exist would have big impacts on Earth.

  • Inevitably there would be changes to terrestrial science, technology, religion, politics and ecosystems as a result of contact with extra-terrestrial life, whether it be microbial or a technologically advanced civilisation.

Consequences for Society and Cultural Back-Lashes

Nobody will avoid the impact from the culture shock that would occur if we were to discover extra-terrestrial life, whatever form it might take. We would be forced to face the sudden reality that we were not a unique exception in the universe, which could cause a very serious back-lash in society as we know it. A culture shock of this nature could last for decades, possibly centuries. It would not only be ourselves affected in the deepest and most profound of ways but also our children and our children’s children. As we reach out to new, unexplored worlds with no real knowledge of what we might find there, exactly how the potential revelation of extra-terrestrial life and the impact on future generations is an issue that requires our consideration…

…NOW!!  

Sources: 

https://planetaryprotection.nasa.gov/overview 

https://www.state.gov/t/isn/5181.htm 

http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/publications/STSPACE11E.pdf   (SpaceTreaty PDF) 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_protection 

www.space.com  (What Finding Alien Life Could Mean for Earth) 

www.wikipedia.com  (Potential Cultural Impact) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Join IceWolf’s Holiday in the Sun!   4 comments

😃Send Your Name to the Sun 😃🛰🚀

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So! That’s Icewolf’s summer holiday sorted! And a sun tan the like of which has never been seen before!! 

Launch Site: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center:  July 31 – Aug 19, 2018

Join the Mission – Send Your Name to the Sun

Follow the Mission at Facebook: NASASunScience

Follow the Mission at Twitter: NASASun

Additional Information about the Parker Solar Probe Mission

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Europa’s Icewolf is Going to Mars!   35 comments

Europa’s Icewolf is Going to Mars!!

Mars-InSight Boarding Pass 🙂

My name is onboard the “passenger list” for the next mission to Mars-InSight!

InSight will launch in May, 2018. It will study the interior of Mars and listen for Marsquakes. 

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Feel free to join me! I’ve recently completed an Open University course – How to Survive on Mars, so everyone will be fine! All my shiny new followers welcome too 🙂 It will be the perfect time to get to know each other…it takes a while to get to Mars! Look carefully, and you may even see the Black Wolves of Mars 😉

Happy Easter from Europa :)   13 comments

 

 

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New evidence from NASA indicates that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth are Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus. They, like Earth, are both ocean worlds and in both therein are some of the key ingredients for life.

A wealth of hydrogen molecules in water plumes soaring from the ruptures in Enceladus’s icy surface, have been detected by the Cassini spacecraft. The vital chemical methane, could also be establishing itself in the ocean beneath the ice.

The elusive presence of a water plume erupting on the warmest part of Europa’s icy surface, which has a salty liquid ocean beneath it was shown by the Hubble Space Telescope. The ocean itself contains double the amount of water found in the oceans of Earth.

 

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Europa could be the pick of the bunch for life-bearing within our own solar system outside of our homeworld. will launch In the 2020’s the Europa Clipper will be launched, and should arrive at Europa a few years later. It will be the first to explore an alien ocean and will also fly through the plume to collect data.

It will definitely be a first to discover Intergalactic Liver Cake – staple diet of Icewolves, and indeed most domestic canines Earth! The structure of the Liver Cake may differ slightly from much-loved Earthly treat, but the Europan version is just as mouthwatering and tasty to both lupine and canine alike 🙂 And what better time than Easter, the time of ressurection and new life, to discover tantsalising new life hopes on worlds not so very far from home?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icewolf of course, did not go hunting any down without telling Clowie, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog…she would never dream of such indiscretion 😉 …. Never!

Image: Europa’s Icewolf 2017_ Europa’s Icewolf: Jupiter, seen from Europa.

 

Proxima B – Life in the Habitable Zone?   26 comments

Historic Potentially Earth-Like World Proxima B

The historic discovery of potentially Earth- like world Proxima-b was announced 24 August 2016. Orbiting Proxima Centauri, a Red Dwarf star in the habitable zone and the nearest star to our own Sun Proxima-b marks not only the closest alien planet ever found but also with the potential to be habitable.

Proxima b

This artist’s impression shows what the sky might look like on Proxima Centauri b if the planet has a surface. The exoplanet orbits the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, currently the closest star to the solar system at 4.2 light-years. The other two members of the Alpha Centauri triple, Alpha Centauri A and B, would appear in the sky, too.
ESO / M. Kornmesser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this proves to be the case, then there is no shortage of time for some form of life to originate based on the fact that red dwarf stars such as Proxima Centauri burn for trillions of years.

From the point of view of the average Earth-based visitor stopping by for a summer vacation, Proxima-b runs the risk of being a rather boring holiday resort. The sun-tan would be awesome, not so much so the destruction of the biological cells exposed to the intensely dodgy UV radiation that is present. Combined with the prospect of heavy duty sun-screen to protect from the sun’s constant bombardment of energy flares bouncing around the planetary surface probably wouldn’t be classed as entirely awesome either. On top of which the Proxima Centauri flares would also banish any hope of using mobile phones, tablets, X-boxes or any other such devices thanks to its electronics-disabling qualities. so no ET calling home and definitely no Skype!

Proxima b _Bustle DarkBAlthough it is a tidally locked planet– roasting hot on its star- facing side, freezing cold on the other, there is also enough wind around in the atmosphere to circulate the heat, balancing out the extreme temperatures that would otherwise exist. None-the-less a visit to the the planetary darkside, where it is bathed in perpetual night could prove to be the safest, and possibly the only option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately astronomers are choosing to be particularly pessimistic about this little world following the initial euphoria and have currently decided it is probably a dead, airless rock that will never harbour life due to it’s close proximity sun (20x nearer than Earth to the Sun) creating a risk of it boiling off the water and thereby stripping away the planet’s atmosphere. Researchers its oxygen will be gone in about 10 million years. Life on Earth took billions of years to develop.

Young M Dwarf StarsYoung M dwarf stars can unleash dangerous flares, (“planet-frying radiation”) that strip off atmosphere-forming oxygen spelling doom for closely orbiting planets. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / S. Wiessinger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

proxima bImage: NASA Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab

However hope lives eternal. Theoretically it is possible life could advance to endure the high levels of radiation, by altering the worst of Proxima Centauri’s emissions into inoffensive visible light. We know this is plausible, because due to a process known as biofluorescence this —has already happened on many occasions on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately It is expected that the 2018 launch of The James Webb Space Telescope, will provide answers to the critical question of whether there is any chance at all that Proxima b is capable of supporting life.

Proxima b – Habitable ‘Ocean Planet’??

Another possibility is the Proxima b could be an ocean world whose entire surface consists of a liquid ocean. This may bear a similarity to the Jupiter and Saturn moons that are icy worlds with subsurface oceans.

On the other hand the more optimistic researchers suggest that Proxima b may in fact be habitable after all. So don’t put the suitcases back in the attic just yet intrepid cosmic holiday makers! If Proxima b had in reality formed further out from it’s sun than its current position this would also offer a high possibility of there being water. This idea is based on the outer realms of planetary systems being more likely to form ice. If it then moved inwards for a up closer and more personal relationship with its sun then this ice could melt and form seas. Maybe 😉

Sea

Proxima b – A Desert World??

be8a53dc8479400431b0270a3d2ef730But it still seems most likely, according to Victoria Meadows (University of Washington), that this exoplanet is a desert world since the radiation bombarding it would almost certainly have evaporated the majority of the water. This process could have collected the oxygen and hydrogen in the water and created an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Then again it could a 2nd Venus with an atmosphere rich in Carbon Dioxide, or even another Uranus or Neptune.

The Other Closest Habitable-Zone Worlds

If all else fails cosmic holiday makers may wish to try some of the nearbyProxima Wolf 3, potentially habitable exoplanet worlds, for size….: Kapteyn b (13 light-years away) and Wolf 1061 c (14 light-years). Both planets are just over half again as wide as Earth, with minimum masses of 4 to 5 Earths, and both are in their stars’ habitable zones. Wolf 1061 c does not look at all hopeful in terms of habitability. But Kapteyn b looks good. It’s about 3½ times farther from its sun than Proxima b is from its sun so potentially it could be far enough out of reach of its sun’s rather violent output to provide a half decent holiday resort!

 

References:

www.skyandtelescope.com

www.gizmodo.com

www.space.com

www.scinews.com

www.csmonitor.com

Another Earth? Exoplanet Kelper-452b   32 comments

What Would it Be Like to Live on Earth’s Cousin?

The discovery of Kelper 452b was announced on 23/05/15, and is 1,400 Light years away.

 

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Photo Credit: Kelper 452-b JPL/NASA

An alien experience!

Exoplanet Kelper 452-b is 60% wider than Earth and approximately 5x as massive so much stronger surface gravity.

This provides for a great workout! For the manly among us this essentially means it will make you much stronger 🙂

For everybody chilling on this Earth cousin, the higher gravity would probably lead to significant body changes long term – e.g. becoming stockier built. This is probably not a plus if you’re already on the stocky side…you may become very short and squat…like a rotund garden gnome 😉

 

A Familiar Experience

As this world’s sun is roughly the same distance away as on Earth, the light factor would be much the same as on our home-world and Earth plants transported to its cousin-world could photosynthesis the same as on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

So Kelper 452-b is similar to Earth but not the same. Its sun is 6 billion years old whereas our Sun is only 4.5 billion years old. Kelper 452-b’s sun is at a far more energetic life-stage therefore it is hotter. And it is about 10% larger and 20% brighter in the sky. Not bad for the sun tan then 😉

Kelper 452-b completes one orbit every 385 days so it’s year is only about 20 days longer than Earth’s. Pretty much home from home.

 

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Photo Credit: Kelper 452-b JPL/NASA

 

“…substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

(Jon Jenkins, Kelper data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffat Field, California. (Led team that discovered Kelper 452-b)  )

 

 

 

 

FireWolves of Io   26 comments

Howling New Moonshine….

Spirit of the FireWolves…

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Howling new moonshine tumbling and stealing across the contrasting volcanic world of Io’s Fire wolves. Half hidden in the new moon shadows they gathered in moon dark silhouettes amongst the volcanic mountain ranges, calling the song of the stars, drawing on the fiery heart of the pack to call home the Fire wolves of Io, adorned in the mighty colours of the volcanic fire breed. The “Watcher at the Window” gazed in alluring fascination at the mountains peaks of Io bejewelled in the spectacular rainbow arrays of black and gold, catching too the starlight dancing in the gold-fire eyes of the Fire wolves of Io, bathed in the new moon darkness gliding around craters and dark plains.

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