Olympus Mons, located at the northwest edge of the Tharsis Montes region on Mars, was appropriately named. Based on readings obtained by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), this mountain is the tallest in the Solar System, standing 21.9 km (13.6 mi) tall – about two and a half times the height of Mount Everest (8.85 km; 5.5 mi). According to current estimates, this extinct shield volcano formed during Mars’ Hesperian Period (ca. 3.7 to 3 billion years ago), which was characterized by widespread volcanic activity and catastrophic flooding.
This coincides with a period when Mars had a denser atmosphere, a warmer environment, and flowing water on its surface. This included a global ocean that spanned much of the northern hemisphere, known today as the Northern Lowlands, encompassing Olympus Mons. According to a recent study led by researchers from the Centre National de Recherches Scientifique (CNRS), features found on the slopes of Olympus Mons indicate that it could have been a massive volcanic island where volcanic eruptions flowed into the ocean, similar to ones found on Earth.
The research was conducted by a team of CNRS researchers with the Geosciences Paris-Saclay Laboratory (GEOPS) at the Unversity of Paris-Saclay. The team was led by Anthony Hildenbrand, a CNRS GEOPS researcher, with the assistance of Fernando Ornelas Marques, a geology professor at the Universidade de Lisboa. The paper that describes their findings – “A giant volcanic island in an early Martian Ocean?” – recently appeared in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
Olympus Mons: a volcanic island in the middle of a vanished Martian ocean. Credit & ©: A.Hildenbrand/Geops/CNRS
As Hildenbrand related to Universe Today via email, knowing when, where, and how long flowing water existed on Mars is crucial to astrobiology studies on the Red Planet.”No one really knows how long early liquid water may have existed at the surface of Mars, which potentially has important implications regarding the fate of early life on Mars and in the Solar System,” he said. According to the geological record, life began on Earth roughly 4 billion years ago when much of the surface was covered in water, and the atmosphere was largely the result of volcanic outgassing.
This ancient atmosphere is similar to what we see on Mars today, which is predominantly composed of carbon dioxide (95%) with trace amounts of nitrogen, argon, oxygen, and minute amounts of water vapor. While the Martian atmosphere was once thicker and able to absorb more heat, it began being stripped away by solar wind once the planet’s global magnetic field disappeared (ca. 4.2 to 3.7 billion years ago). Essentially, by knowing how long Mars maintained a warmer, water environment, astrobiologists hope to determine if the window for the emergence of life was large enough.
For their study, the team analyzed features on the slopes of Olympus Mond and the elevated shorelines of the Tharsis Montes volcanic region. They then compared these to similar features found on volcanoes here on Earth that formed from the interaction of magma and water. Said Hildenbrand, these included “[m]orphological similarities with active volcanic islands on Earth, which show a significant constructional slope break at shore level, due to a drastic increase in lava viscosity during cooling in the presence of liquid water.”
For decades, astronomers and astrogeologists have considered the Tharsis Montes (or Tharsis Bulge) region as an anomaly. While the feature has poorly defined boundaries, it measures about 5,000 km (3,100 mi) in diameter and up to 7 km (4.3 mi) in height. The most widely-held view is that this region sits atop a volcanic “hotspot” created by one or more columns of hot magma rising through the mantle – similar to the islands of Hawaii and other hotspots in the Pacific. Since Mars has no tectonic plates, this led to the build-up of magma over time, resulting in a massive volcanic outburst.
15 Years of Data Reveal the Events Leading Up to Betelgeuse’s “Great Dimming”
Anyone who regularly watches the skies may well be familiar with the constellation Orion the hunter. It is one of the few constellations that actually looks like the thing it is supposed to look like rather than some abstract resemblance. One prominent star is Betelgeuse and back in 2020 it dimmed to a level lower than ever before in recorded history. A team of astronomers have been studying the event with some fascinating results.
Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star almost 650 light years from Earth. With a radius of 617 million kilometres, if it were in the position of the Sun, then the orbit of Earth would be buried deep within its layers. It’s also a variable star which means it varies its output of light and in the case of Betelgeuse this variability is semi-regular or in other words, regular with a few irregularities along the way! Its variability is related to a pulsating of the stars radius which occurs over a period of around 400 days although there is a longer period of variability of around 2,100 days of uncertain origin, possibly linked to variation in convective flow.
Back in 2020 Betelgeuse dimmed to a level that had never been recorded in what has since been dubbed the “Great Dimming”. It’s visual brightness or magnitude, dropped by 1.6 although its dimming did not seem consistent across the star’s sphere; the southern hemisphere was much darker than the northern and there have been many theories put forward to explain the event. Among them, large formations of star spots or dust clouds above the photosphere are favourite.
A paper published recently in Astronomy and Astrophysics by a team of astronomers led by Daniel Jadlovský explores the Great Dimming event using 15 years of data from the STELLA robotic telescope. The STELLA system comprises two robotic telescopes in Spain coupled with a high resolution spectrograph and a wide field imager.
STELLA Observatory in Tenerife, Spain.
The data allowed the team to explore the photosphere (visible layer) of Betelgeuse in incredible detail. They were able to gain valuable insight into the radial pulsations, shockwaves and how they passed through the photospheric layers. Five distinct layers of the photosphere were identified using the tomogrpahic technique – a method where images are constructed form a series of projections.
Analysis revealed that the variations in the innermost photospheric layer, known as C1 was in line with the timescales of the visual magnitude variations. Shockwaves travelling through the layers also seemed to be broadly in line with the brightness variations. In regards to the Great Dimming vent of 2020, the data showed two powerful shock waves in the photosphere, the first likely to be the cause of a major outflowing of material which caused an infall of all layers. As the infall reached maximum velocity the second, more powerful shockwave occurred leading to the a significant outflow of material. Due to the different photospheric layers, these events didn’t happen simultaneously across them all and it wasn’t until early 2022 that Betelgeuse settled back down.
Source : The Great Dimming of Betelgeuse: the photosphere as revealed by tomography during the past 15 years
The post 15 Years of Data Reveal the Events Leading Up to Betelgeuse’s “Great Dimming” appeared first on Universe Today.
Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit.
Despite popular opinion, the first animals in space were not dogs or chimps, they were fruit flies launched by the United States in February 1947. The Soviet Union launched Laika, the first dog into space in November 1957 and now, it seems Iran is getting in on the act. A 500kg capsule known as the “indigenous bio-capsule” with life support capability was recently launched atop the Iranian “Salman” rocket. It has been reported by some agencies that there were animals on board but no official statement has been released.
The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) are gearing up to getting humans into space before 2029 but is testing its launch capability with animal passengers. The capsule was launched on December 6 2023 and attained an orbital altitude of 130 kilometres. According to their Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour, it is aimed at sending Iranian astronauts to space by 2029.
The “Salaman” solid-fuelled rocket was designed by the aerospace division of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and built and launched by the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics. It has already been used to launch a data collecting satellite and in 2013 successfully sent and returned monkeys into space.
Ham, a chimpanzee, became the first great ape in space during his January 31, 1961, suborbital flight aboard Mercury-Redstone 2 (Credit : NASA)
To date, only three counties have human spaceflight capability; USA, Russia and China. India are attempting to become the fourth as they work on their Gaganyaan program. Will Iran become the fifth!? Iran plans further tests with further launches bearing animal occupants before attempting to send humans up.
According to the Iranian Space Agency, its satellite program is purely for scientific research and other civilian applications. There is however, international suspicion because there are suspicions that the Salamn rockets could very easily be converted to long range missiles.
Source : Iran says it sent a capsule capable of carrying animals into orbit as it prepares for human missions
The post Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit. appeared first on Universe Today.
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What Could a Next Generation Event Horizon Telescope Do?
Telescopes have come a long way in a little over four hundred years! It was 1608 that Dutch spectacle maker Hans Lippershey who was said to be working with a case of myopia and, in working with lenses discovered the magnifying powers if arranged in certain configurations. Now, centuries on and we have many different telescope designs and even telescopes in orbit but none are more incredible than the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Images las year revealed the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy and around M87 but now a team of astronomers have explored the potential of an even more powerful system the Next Generation EHT (ngEHT).
There is no doubt that our understanding of the processes within our Universe have come on leaps and bounds since the invention of the telescope. The resolution of these space piercing instruments is dictated by the telescope’s aperture. The technique known as interferometry hooks individual telescopes together and combines their signal so they act as one BIG telescope, boosting the resolution.
Telescopes like the EHT have been using interferometry to great advantage to study black holes. These enigmatic and mysterious stellar corpses defy our probing; we do not fully understand their origins and processes and indeed our laws of physics break down if you get too close to the point source in the centre, the singularity. Due to their interaction with space and time, understanding the full nature of black holes will – hopefully – unlock our understanding of the Universe.
Previously, observations have only revealed the movement of stars around galactic centre suggesting an object was lurking there weighing in at around 4 million times the mass of the Sun. Data from the EHT collected during 2022, finally revealed an image of the object at the centre – SgrA* – a super massive black hole and the matter in the immediate vicinity of the event horizon. Whilst this image did not reveal the black hole itself – another article required to explain that – it certainly revealed the telltale signs.
Sag A* compared to M87* and the orbit of Mercury. Credit: EHT collaboration
A recently published paper explores the possibilities of the ngEHT and how they might be able to unpick some of the physics around black holes. The ngEHT will increase the geographical footprint of EHT by 10 further instruments that span across the Earth. Making use of the significant improvement in resolution, the ngEHT will also improve image dynamics range, provide a multi-wavelength capability and facilitate long term monitoring.
The team conclude that future enhancements in measurement sensitivity and data analysis techniques in ngEHT will substantially advance our understanding of black holes and the immediate environments surrounding them with particular focus on the photon ring, mass and spin analysis, binary supermassive black holes and more besides.
Source : Fundamental Physics Opportunities with the Next-Generation Event Horizon Telescope
The post What Could a Next Generation Event Horizon Telescope Do? appeared first on Universe Today.
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