Connect with us

Well, it looks like Jerry might have been right all along. Astronomer and new found hero to Pluto fans everywhere, Dr. Will Grundy, is making the case to redefine what we mean when we say “planet”. This would have the happy the coincidence of once again handing Pluto the coveted title of Planet.

Ever since we first realized that there places other than the Earth in our solar system the word planet meant “wanderer”. This applied to pretty much everything in our solar system, including the moon and the sun. Over time, the moon and the sun were dropped from this definition but most other large objects in remained. This all changed in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union voted to redefine the word planet. Their new definition was as follows.

“A planet is defined as a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

Translated into plain English, this means that a planet is any round object, orbiting the sun that is large enough to have an influence on other objects in its orbit. Unfortunately for Pluto, it failed to meet that last criterion and so was demoted to a lowly Dwarf Planet. The public reaction was negative, to say the least. There were even a number of astronomers who questioned the decision, believing it to be too ambiguous. There are also arguments that under this definition, technically Mars, Earth and a whole host of other planets would not qualify as their orbits are constantly criss-crossed by asteroids and other space debris.

Grundy and his colleagues laid out their arguments against the old definition during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. They proposed their own definition, one remarkably similar to the “wanderers”of old. By Grundy’s definition, any round object in space that is smaller than a star is a planet. This would reclassify Pluto and approximately 110 other objects in our solar system as planets. Yes, that is rather a lot of new planets.

Why bother changing the definition at all? Well, apart from pleasing some Pluto fanatics, the move could also help shift the focus onto features of planets themselves. Scientists could pay more attention to the geography, physics and atmosphere and less on what is happening around an object.

Grundy and his colleagues arguing the redefinition are all members of NASA’s New Horizon project whose primary goal was to explore Pluto and the other planets ice wreathed worlds that reside within the Kuiper belt.

Looking at the images captured by the New Horizons project one thing is for certain. Planet or not, Pluto is absolutely breathtaking.

You'll find me wandering around the Science sections mostly, excitedly waving my arms around while jumping up and down about the latest science and tech news. I am also occasionally found in the gaming section, trying to convince everyone else that linux is the future of the computer gaming.


NASA’s flyby of Europa shows that “something” is moving under the ice



Europa’s surface has marks that show the icy crust is vulnerable to the water below. The most important thing is that Juno’s recent visit shows what might be plume activity. If this is real, it would let future missions take samples of the ocean inside the planet without having to land.

Even though it’s been almost two years since Juno got the closest to Europa, its data is still being looked at. Even though Juno has been going around Jupiter since 2016, the five pictures it took on September 29, 2022, were the closest views of Europa since Galileo’s last visit in 2000.

Some might say that’s a shocking lack of interest in one of the Solar System’s most interesting worlds, but it could also have been a good way to see how things had changed over time.

Europa is the smoothest object in the solar system because its ocean keeps it from sinking to the surface. Still, it’s not featureless; Juno saw some deep depressions with steep walls that are 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 31 miles) wide, as well as fracture patterns that are thought to show “true polar wander.

In a statement, Dr. Candy Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute said, “True polar wander occurs if Europa’s icy shell is separated from its rocky interior. This puts a lot of stress on the shell, which causes it to break in predictable ways.”

The shell that sits on top of Europa’s ocean is thought to be rotating faster than the rest of the moon. This is what true polar wandering means. People think that the water below is moving and pulling the shell along with it. Ocean currents are thought to be causing this. The currents are most likely a result of heat inside Europa’s rocky core, which is heated up as a result of Jupiter and its larger moons pulling on Europa and turning it into a large stress ball.

The ocean and ice could stretch and compress parts of the ice, which is how the cracks and ridges that have been seen since Voyager 2 visited were made.

A group under the direction of Hansen is viewing images of Europa’s southern half. The scientist said, “This is the first time that these fracture patterns have been mapped in the southern hemisphere. This suggests that true polar wander has a bigger effect on Europa’s surface geology than was thought before.”

Ocean currents are not to blame for all of Europa’s map changes. It appears that optical tricks can even fool NASA. Hansen said, “Crater Gwern is no longer there.” “JunoCam data showed that Gwern, which was once thought to be a 13-mile-wide impact crater and one of Europa’s few known impact craters, was actually a group of ridges that crossed each other to make an oval shadow.”

But Juno gives more than it takes away. The team is interested in what they’re calling the Platypus because of its shape, not because it has a lot of parts that shouldn’t go together. Ridges on its edge look like they are collapsing into it. The scientists think this might be because pockets of salt water have partially broken through the icy shell.

The Europa Clipper would find these pockets to be fascinating indirect targets for study, but the dark stains that cryovolcanic activity might have left behind are even more intriguing.

“These features suggest the possibility of current surface activity and the existence of liquid water beneath the surface on Europa,” stated Heidi Becker from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There is evidence of such activity in the geysers of Enceladus, but there is still uncertainty regarding whether it is currently happening on Europa.

Engaging in such an endeavor would enable the sampling of the interior ocean to detect signs of life simply by flying through a plume and gathering ice flakes without the need for landing or drilling.

It seems that in the past, there was a significant shift of over 70 degrees in the locations of features on Europa’s surface, although the reasons for this remain unknown. However, at present, polar wander only leads to minor adjustments.

Continue Reading


The Sun emitted the largest solar flare in the past 20 years, resulting in power outages



Solar Cycle 25 is decidedly more turbulent than its predecessor. The Sun is currently experiencing heightened activity, characterized by solar storms, coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms of unprecedented intensity in recent years. Currently, the sun has emitted its most powerful solar flare to date during this particular cycle.

The flare was quantified as an X8.7, indicating a considerably higher strength compared to the flares emitted last week. The event emitted highly energetic light in the extreme ultraviolet range, which resulted in the ionization of the uppermost layer of the atmosphere. Consequently, a radio blackout occurred over the Americas, adversely impacting aircraft and vessels that depend on signals with frequencies below 30 MHz.

Ionization of the atmosphere causes an expansion, resulting in increased drag on satellites in low Earth orbit. They will require strategic maneuvering to be moved away from Earth. Solar flares have the potential to interfere with satellite communications.

A gif of the Sun yesterday with two bright flashes corresponding to the flares on its limb

Sunspot AR 3664 is where it comes from. Last week, several strong flares were seen coming from this area, including the second strongest of this cycle at the time. The Sun also sent out a number of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which hit Earth and caused the beautiful auroral display we saw last weekend.

Back then, the sunspot was right on the side of the Sun that could be seen, and anyone could see it. It’s sixteen times wider than Earth! As the Sun turns, the spot is now on its side, so we can only see it from the side. We might have seen a bigger flare if it had happened last week.

“Another X-ray flare was made by Region 3664 as it moved past the western solar limb!!” It was an X8.7 flare this time, the biggest of this solar cycle! NASA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said in a post that any coronal mass ejection (CME) linked to this flare “likely WILL NOT have any geomagnetic effects on Earth due to its location.” “As always, please check our website for news!”

Today, as the CME moves past Earth, there may be a small rise in auroral activity. It’s too bad that nothing as exciting will happen as last Friday.

The solar cycle has a high point and a low point every 11 years. Around the peak, which could happen at any time, the most intense events tend to happen, but every once in a while, there are exceptions. There have been 10 times as many powerful flares this century.

Continue Reading


This planet like Earth is the first one that has been proven to have an atmosphere



Astronomers have successfully utilized the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to observe the presence of an atmosphere around a terrestrial exoplanet, marking the first such discovery beyond our solar system. Despite its inability to sustain life due to its likely magma ocean, this planet could provide valuable insights into the early geological development of Earth, as both planets share a rocky composition and a history of being molten.

Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who was not part of the study, states that the discovery of a gaseous envelope surrounding an Earth-like planet is a significant achievement in the field of exoplanet research. The Earth’s tenuous atmosphere plays a vital role in supporting life, and the ability to detect atmospheres on comparable rocky planets is a significant milestone in the quest for extraterrestrial life.

JWST is currently studying the planet 55 Cancri e, which orbits a star similar to the Sun at a distance of 12.6 parsecs. It is classified as a super-Earth, meaning it is a terrestrial planet slightly larger than Earth. Specifically, it has a radius approximately twice that of Earth and a mass more than eight times greater. The paper published in Nature1 suggests that the atmosphere of the planet is likely to contain significant amounts of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. Additionally, the thickness of the atmosphere is estimated to be “up to a few percent” of the planet’s radius.

A mysterious world
55 Cancri e is also not a good place to live because it is very close to its star—about 1.6 times as close as Earth is to the Sun. Still, Aaron Bello-Arufe, an astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and a co-author of the paper, says, “it’s perhaps the most studied rocky planet.” Its host star is bright at night, and the planet is big for a rocky one, so it’s easier to study than other places outside of the Solar System. “In astronomy, every telescope or other tool you can think of has pointed to this planet at some point,” says Bello-Arufe.

55 Cancribe was studied so much that when JWST was launched in December 2021, engineers pointed the infrared spectrometers of the spacecraft at it to test it. As these instruments soak up infrared wavelengths from starlight, they can find the chemical signatures of gases swirling around planets. Then Bello-Arufe and his coworkers chose to look into it more to find out for sure if the planet had an atmosphere.

Astronomers had changed their minds about 55 Cancri a huge number of times before the most recent observations. In 2004, the planet was found. Scientists first thought it might be the center of a gas giant like Jupiter. Researchers looked at 55 Cancri e as it passed in front of its star3 with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2011. They found that it is a rocky super-Earth, much smaller and denser than a gas giant.

After some time, scientists found that 55 C was cooler than it should have been for a planet that was so close to its star. This suggests that it probably has an atmosphere. One hypothesis was that the planet is a “water world” with supercritical water molecules all around it. Another was that it has a large, primordial atmosphere mostly made up of hydrogen and helium. But in the end, these ideas were shown to be wrong.

According to Renyu Hu, a planetary scientist at JPL and co-author of the new study, stellar winds would make it difficult for a planet this close to its star to retain volatile molecules in its atmosphere. He says there are still two options. The first was that the planet is completely dry and has a very thin layer of rock vapor in the air. The second reason was that it has a thick atmosphere made up of heavier, less volatile molecules that don’t easily escape.

A better picture
The most recent information shows that 55 Cancrie’s atmosphere has gases made of carbon, which points to option two. Seager says that the team did indeed find evidence of an atmosphere but that more observations are needed to fully understand its make-up, the amounts of gases present, and its exact thickness.

Laura Schaefer is a planetary geologist at California’s Stanford University. She wants to know how the atmosphere of 55 Cancrie affects things below the surface of the planet. The authors of the study say it’s still possible that stellar winds are carrying away parts of the atmosphere. However, rocks melting and releasing gases into the magma ocean could replace the gases.

Continue Reading