Google+ SpaceTravelFoundation: 2014-11-16

November 18, 2014

Philae discovers organic molecules on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Dear readers and followers,

An instrument aboard the Philae lander detected the molecules after “sniffing” the comet’s atmosphere. An organic compound is one whose molecules contain the carbon atom, the basis of life on earth. Scientists are analysing the data to see whether the organic compounds detected by Philae are simple ones, such as methane and methanol, or a more complex species such as amino acids, the building blocks for proteins.

Credit images: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/

A drill on Philae also obtained some material from the comet’s hard surface, but data about organic molecules from that experiment have yet to be fully analysed. Comets contain some of the most pristine materials in the solar system, dating to about 4.5 billion years ago. Previous studies have suggested that comets forge organic material in their dusty atmospheres.

A study of the comet’s organic materials “will help us to understand whether organic molecules were brought by comets to the early earth,” which could have kickstarted life here, said Stephan Ulamec, the Philae lander manager and scientist at the German Aerospace Centre. The agency runs the lander control centre and oversaw the comet landing last Thursday.

Researchers had expected to find organic molecules on the comet, known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But thanks to the probe, they are for the first time able to conduct a direct search for organic molecules in both the comet’s gases and its surface material.

The data sent back by Philae, part of a European Space Agency mission. now will be checked against similar information already obtained by the orbiting Rosetta. In early August, when Rosetta was within 200km of the comet, one of its sensors was able to study the coma, or envelope of gases surrounding the comet’s nucleus. Those early measurements detected water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which were likely to have been released from below the comet’s surface layer. It also found traces of ammonia, methane and methanol. In October, Rosetta scientists studying the coma said they had picked up traces of the organic compound formaldehyde as well as other molecules, including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.

An even bigger find would be the discovery of an amino acid on comet 67P. In 2009, a US spacecraft discovered the amino acid glycine on a comet. A similar find on 67P would bolster a view that life on earth was seeded by comets that brought organic compounds with them.

Although Philae’s primary battery ran out of power on Saturday (AEDT), scientists completed a manoeuvre that has positioned one of the probe’s larger solar panels more fully toward sunlight. It means that the probe may yet come to life next year or a bit earlier, as the comet heads closer to the sun.

“We are very confident that in coming months we’ll get more sun and power and Philae can be reactivated,” Dr Ulamec said.

Source: +European Space Agency, ESA

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November 17, 2014

Leonids Meteor shower peak occurs tomorrow Morning

Dear readers and followers,

This year’s Leonids meteor shower peaks tomorrow on the morning of November 18th. If forecasters are correct, the shower should produce a mild but pretty sprinkling of meteors. The waning crescent moon will not substantially interfere with viewing the Leonid shower.

“We’re predicting 10 to 15 meteors per hour,” says Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “For best viewing, wait until after midnight on November 18th, with the peak of the shower occurring just before sunrise.”

Credit video: +NASA 

Cooke also recommends going to a location away from city lights, dressing warmly, and lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special viewing equipment needed — just your eyes.

Leonids are bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years the comet visits the inner solar system and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake. Many of these streams have drifted across the November portion of Earth’s orbit. Whenever our planet hits one, meteors appear to be flying out of the constellation Leo.

A live viewing opportunity is available via Ustream from a telescope at Marshall Space Flight Center. The Ustream feed will be live beginning Monday, November 17th at 6:30 p.m. CST here and will continue until sunrise on Tuesday November 18th.


enjoy these pictures taken by fans

Source: +NASA

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