The Mighty Tardigrade

Water bear, SEM


There remains a theory about the origin of life on Earth, and it is that life did not start on Earth. This theory holds that life began instead on Mars and was then scootched on over to earth through the vacuum of space. Theoretically, in this scenario a large impact occurred on Mars before life ever originated on Earth. This impact caused debris from Mars that contained life to travel through space and impact earth. This alien life then became the origin for all life on Earth. However, some do not believe it possible for life to exist through during the debris travel between the two planets. However, there exists an organism already on Earth known to be able to survive in the vacuum of space for a period of time–the mighty Tardigrade. Tardigrades, also known as ‘space bears”, are one of the most adaptable and burly of all organisms on Earth, being found in a wide variety of environments. Even more than an extremophile, tardigrades are more suited to survive the long journey from Mars to Earth in that they can survive in the vacuum of space and survive without sustenance for many years (Wikipedia)


OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb or The Iceball Planet



Yesterday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced the discover of a new planet orbiting the star much fainter than our sun, but, it is of similar size to earth and a similar distance to earth. In fact, this is actually the smallest planet ever discovered using a technique called microlensing (ScienceDaily). Microlensing utilizes the gravitational field of a foreground and the light of a background star. As the foreground star passes in front of the other, its gravitational field acts almost as a lense for the light of the background star and the light brightens–but not really, it only appears to brighten. The rest of the technique is very similar to the transit method, in that a planet passing in front of the foreground star will cause dip in the light coming from the star. The Iceball planet recently discovered by NASA is said to be orbiting a star that is quite dim and therefore does not heat the planet enough to sustain life, hence Iceball Planet.

Blog 5: Lakes on Titan

Other than Earth, there is only one other object known to have liquid lakes and oceans on its surface. However, it is not any of the other planets, it is in fact a moon. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, maintains both lakes and oceans on its surface (Wikipedia & NASA). Unlike the lakes and oceans on Earth however, Titan’s are filled with hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. This is due to the extremely low surface temperature of Titan, which is about -180 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, water has frozen, but it does allow for hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane to liquefy from there gaseous state, as they exist here on Earth. Scientists are now beginning to understand how the physical depressions of these bodies of water formed.



In fact, the cause is not that much different from how some bodies of water form here on Earth. Due to rainfall, the land is eroded, however, this requires the presence of rock minerals that are dissolvable in methane and ethane. Over time the depression the liquid hydrocarbons deepens allowing for a body of liquid to form (NASA).

Blog 4: Voyager Mission



The voyager mission consists of 2 spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The purpose of their mission is to explore the farther reaches of our Solar System. This area is defined by NASA as “beyond the neighborhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence” (NASA). However, both crafts were able to provide important information about the neighborhood of planets we live in.┬áThis was in fact the original intent of their mission, to explore Saturn and Jupiter. After the success of the information gathered about both planets and their moons the crafts were given new mission directives, to explore both Uranus and Neptune. Neptune and its moon Triton were the lasts objects studied by Voyager before it left the planetary neighborhood. Now, the crafts search for then edge of our suns influence to find what can truly be defined as interstellar space.

Blog 3: Cosmic Background Radiation

A radiation that is an after-effect of the Big Bang still around today. It was actually discovered accidentally by two Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1965. They noticed a static that appeared to be coming from every direction at the same strength. Later scientists were able to trace out a Black Body curve for this background radiation, shown below.


Essentially, at very early point in the beginnings of the universe, everything cooled down enough to where atoms could form and this radiation was formed. The temperature to which it has cooled, estimated to be around -270 K, scientists believe to be consistent with a universe that started at a very high temperature and in a very dense state, the Big Bang. Therefore, this cosmic radiation is very strong evidence in favor of the Big Bang. [1]

Blog 2: Celestial Navigation

Even though astronomers use scales such as arcseconds and arcminutes to measure certain distances between stars, the main tool of celestial navigation, the sextant, is only able to measure arcminutes. The sextant uses reflection in order to find the angle of celestial objects. Traditionally, the sextant has two mirrors. The horizon mirror is stationary and keeps half of what the observer sees to be the horizon line. The second is called the index mirror. This mirror pivots until the celestial object comes into view and meets the horizon line. It is then necessary to rotate the sextant in order to ensure the correct angle has been found. The celestial object should move in a “u” shape from side to side as the sextant is rotated side to side. After the correct angle is found, the observer may read the angle above the horizon the celestial body is at on the bottom of the incidence bar, which is connected to the incidence mirror and pivots with it. The diagram below illustrates the basic operation of a traditional sextant. [1]


Blog 1: The Speed of Light And Refractive Index

Light travels at a velocity incredibly difficult for us to comprehend other then as just a very, very large number. To be exact, light travels at a constant velocity of 299,792,458 m/s within a vacuum. This is not the same for light traveling through other conditions. When light does travel through things other then a vacuum, there exists something called the refractive index. This index represents the amount that light is slowed. It represents this as the ration between the speed of light in vacuum and the speed at which the light travels within the medium, which is always greater then one since light can never travel faster then when it’s in a vacuum. What’s interesting is that this equation is also defined a different way. Instead of being the ration between two velocities it is defined as sin(i)/sin(r), where i is equal to the angle of incidence and r is the angle of refraction. Since this ration is always greater then 1, then it means that everything light passes through bends it in some way. This diagram from Encyclopedia Britannica represents a visual of the how light travels through a medium.57722-050-37d0407f