Learning About Exoplanets

For generations, people have always wondered what life might exist in the universe besides ours. It has become a hot topic in movies, books, and of course, science.

Before even reaching space, humans have always hypothesized about “The Great Beyond” So far we have not found alternative life, but we have made significant progress. 

On major discovery is exoplanets. It seems pretty obvious that extraterrestrial life must exist on another planet, however before we can find life, we must find planets that can support it. 

An exoplanet by definition is a planet outside our solar system that orbits a star(1). The first scientific detection of an exoplanet was in 1988, although we have hypothesized the existence of exoplanets for over 100 years. 

Although we know have the technology to find exoplanets semi-regularly (the current number of known planets is almost 4,000), scientists are looking for planets in what is called the habitable zone (also called the Goldilocks zone). This arbitrary zone describes planets that are just far enough from their sun to support liquid water, but not too far to cause it to freeze. 

1920px-Diagram_of_different_habitable_zone_regions_by_Chester_Harman
An example of the habitable zone and a few exoplanets that exist within a habitable zone. Source

Of course, it takes more than possessing water to host life on a planet. Since, we only have one example to go off of, scientists are looking for planets most similar to our own. As of now there is an estimated 40 billion planets Earth-sized and orbiting the habitable zone of stars we have yet to discover(2). It’s these planets that we are most interested in.

In fact, recently a group of scientists met and explained how water should not be the only candidate for a planet within the habitable zone able to host liquid water. Certain geological structures are necessary to allow growth of organisms and proper collection of minerals that can give life a better chance (4).

With new discoveries and scientific advancements, researchers are also trying to unravel the mysteries of exoplanet geology. 

The research even has a name. Exogeology. This area brings together scientists from the field of astronomy, planetary scientists, and geologists together with the task to reveal what exoplanets look like from a geological perspective(3).

One of the best tools we have to decipher exoplanet surfaces, called the Z machine, has just begun scratching the surface in exploring exoplanet material. 

This machine is currently the largest high frequency electromagnetic wave generator, and its purpose within this context is to test various materials under extreme temperature and pressure  (5).

While we are not able to travel to exoplanets yet, we are now working to understand them as best as possible by working to create artificial environments we would normally see to try and discern how exoplanets behave.  

With more information, we can better understand exoplanets, and focus our attentions on those with the best chances of other beings. Perhaps one of them may write a blog with us someday.

As always, be sure to leave a comment with any questions. You can also reach us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Remember to be curious, and stay mindful!

Written By: Cody Wolf 

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanet
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_potentially_habitable_exoplanets
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07844-y
  4. http://www.nature.com/news/exoplanet-hunters-rethink-search-for-alien-life-1.23023
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z_Pulsed_Power_Facility

Featured Image: https://wallpapercave.com/cool-planet-backgrounds

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Book Review: The Bobiverse Trilogy by Dennis E. Taylor

Recently, I have come across a fiction series known as The Bobiverse Trilogy. As a fan of all things science, I could not resist reading the series. The first book in Bobiverse, We Are Legion, was recommended to me. I was not disappointed. Following is a quick review on the trilogy (no spoilers).

The series revolves around a quirky character known as Bob Johansson, who recently sold his software company for a small fortune. Now with the ability and funds to live a life of relaxation, Bob has little cares in the world.

Part of his new fortune is invested in cryogenics, and has chosen to be frozen upon his death. Unfortunately for Bob, his death occurred more recently than he hoped, getting hit by a car during a sci-fi conference.

Bob awakes a century later, to discover that his brain has been downloaded into a computer. As a corpsicle (term for cryogenically frozen individuals; mix between corpse and popsicle), he has no rights in the new world, and his new purpose is to operate AI probes for interstellar space discovery.

Bob’s probe however, is no ordinary space ship. His task is not only to seek out the mysteries of the universe, but also to generate additional ships during his travels using the resources he finds, and 3-D printers (self replicating).

These ships in turn would be operated by clones of Bob who would then search out other areas of the universe and repeat the process, thus having the potential to discover much more space one probe could do alone.

Of course, Bob is not the only space probe in development. Other countries are working diligently to launch a probe and claim galaxies before anyone else has a chance. And they will not hesitate to destroy Bob in the process.

All three books are immensely entertaining, and difficult to put down. The concept of the series should make any science fiction fan water at the mouth, and the character Bob is hard to dislike. Dennis E. Taylor is a grea

Not only are the book’s suspenseful and interesting, but are hilarious. The books are littered with sci-fi references that provide necessary comedic relief.

The last two books in the series revolve around Bob, his clones, and the shenanigans they get into while discovering the universe. All three books are worth reading, and if you are like me, you will be depressed there are only three in the series. 

I give the series as whole, 4.5 stars out of 5 and will recommend to anyone interested in science fiction.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming blogs, one of which will be discussing the technique of space exploration that was utilized in this fiction series (called Von Neumann Probes)

As always, you can reach us via email directly at copernicuscalledblog@gmail.com, or you can visit with us via Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr.

Remember to always be curious and stay mindful!

 

Here is a link to Dennis E. Taylor’s website to learn more about him and other books he has written. 

Photo Source: https://www.space.com/23747-earth-radiation-belts-fast-electrons.html

 

 

Life on Titan? Farewell to Cassini

Cody Wolf

Researchers have recently discovered evidence for a molecule that may indicate potential life on Saturn’s moon; Titan.

There has been immense interest in regard to Titan. With it being the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons, and a nitrogen based atmosphere, scientists have been trying to understand it further. Part of our interest has stemmed from the famous Cassini orbital that has been orbiting around Saturn gathering data about the planet and its many moons.

Now, an article published in Science Advances further elucidates the potential this moon has on fostering alien life.

Life  would be challenging…well impossible….living on Titan due to its extremely cold temperature. By cold we are talking about -178 degrees Celsius ( -350 Fahrenheit). At this temperature, surface water is frozen. However, Titan happens to have another liquid source that makes up its lakes and seas; methane.

Methane on Earth cannot exactly support life, considering it is gaseous and highly flammable. With the freezing temperatures on the moon however, methane is present in liquid form and acts similar to what water does here on Earth.

These liquid methane pools provide an excellent source for other other molecules, even ones that might promote life formation.

 

Previous studies have suggested that vinyl cyanide (also known as acrylonitrile) might be present on Titan.

This molecule is has been shown through computer models to hold potential for forming membrane-like spheres able to protect molecules….like DNA for example. These membranes are important for early life, due to their capabilities of protecting and preserving genetic information and forming barriers to provide selective entrance and exit of molecules.

saturn 4
Source

Studies have shown that vinyl cyanide is also present in the “methane seas” to create millions of cell like bubbles per centimeter.

This data is very exciting, however it is still far away from confirming life on other planets.

And while we have learned a substantial amount about Titan, there is much left to learn.

 

How did scientists discover all of this information?

A good portion of the discoveries were made by a beautiful piece of equipment; the Cassini Orbiter.

In 1997, Cassini was launched from Earth, destined to reveal the great mysteries of our outer solar system. One of the major targets was, of course, Saturn. Cassini’s first picture of the planet was October 31st 2002, at approximately 177 million miles away (about twice the distance of the Earth from the Sun).

Saturn 1
This is not the first picture Cassini took of Saturn. Source: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/science/overview/caption

Cassini then spent the next 16 years evaluating Saturn extensively. From examining the  famous ring structures, analyzing the surface of Titan, and even discovering two previously unknown moons, Cassini has enlightened and excited the human population with data and beautiful photographs.

saturn 2
Surface of Titan. Taken in 2005 Source:  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA08113

 

saturn 3
Picture of Earth taken from Saturn. The arrow indicates Earth Source: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/5868/

A major part of Cassini’s contribution to science was not just snapping amazing photographs, but also to analyze the atmospheres and states of Saturn and its moons. It is partially from Cassini that we can thank the research done in the article mentioned above.

Unfortunately however, all good things must come to an end. After 20 years, Cassini is (as I am typing this blog) beginning its descent towards Saturn for its final mission. Eventually it will vaporize and be destroyed by Saturn’s atmosphere. While it goes down, it will collect and transmit every ounce of data it can about the atmosphere and the innermost rings of Saturn. The spacecraft will also degrade in such a way that it will not damage any moons that could harness life (Titan for example).

We at Copernicus Called would personally like to thank the craft Cassini for everything it has done for science and science communication. It is through these wonderful experiments that we understand just how expansive the universe is, and how much the human population has left to learn. We highly recommend that you visit NASA’s website and see all of the incredible accomplishments scientists have made with Cassini and other spacecrafts.  

If you have any questions, as always, do not hesitate to email us directly at copernicuscalledblog@gmail.com. You can also contact us through Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

 

Remember to always be curious, and stay mindful!

 

Sources:

  1. Palmer, Maureen Y. ALMA detection and astrobiological potential of vinyl cyanide on Titan. Sciences Advances. 2017; 3:e170002. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700022
  2. Saey, Tina Hesman. Potential ingredient for alien life found on Titan. ScienceNews. July 28, 2017. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/potential-ingredient-alien-life-found-titan
  3. https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/#launch-from-cape-canaveral
  4. Cover photograph-https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/