The Moon is inside Earth's atmosphere, European researchers say
Scientists examined data from 20 years ago to reach a startling new conclusion.
- Observations made by the SOHO spacecraft over 20 years ago lead to a new discovery.
- The Earth has a hydrogen envelope as part of its outer atmosphere called the geocorona.
- The geocorona stretches well past the Moon, reveals a study.
We are more linked to the Moon than we've realized. It turns out that the outer part of the Earth's atmosphere stretches considerably past the lunar orbit. In fact, it goes as far as twice the distance to the Moon.
This discovery is a product of observations by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — a spacecraft launched in 1995 to study the sun, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.
Measurements taken over 20 years ago by SOHO got a fresh look in a new study, which came to remarkable conclusions. What the data showed is that the geocorona, a hydrogen envelope which wraps around our planet, extends up to 630,000 km (391,464 miles) away from it. This distance is 50 times the Earth's diameter.
Earth's geocorona from the Moon. An ultraviolet picture taken in 1972 with camera operated by Apollo 16 astronauts on the Moon. Image source: European Space Agency
Igor Baliukin of Russia's Space Research Institute, the lead author of the study on the subject, explained that "the moon flies through Earth's atmosphere."
The geocorona appears where the planet's atmosphere comes into contact with outer space. It's essentially a cloud of hydrogen atoms. Between 1996 and 1998, SWAN, an instrument aboard the SOHO spacecraft, was able to use its sensors to follow hydrogen signatures, thus pinpointing the edges of the geocorona
"Data archived many years ago can often be exploited for new science," said Bernhard Fleck, a European Space Agency SOHO project scientist. "This discovery highlights the value of data collected over 20 years ago and the exceptional performance of SOHO."
The extent of Earth's geocorona. Image source: ESA
Besides being transformative in understanding our own atmosphere, the discovery may be helpful in searching for planets with water beyond our solar system. Detecting the presence of hydrogen in their outer atmospheres can mean the presence of water vapor near the surface.
Check out more SOHO accomplishments over 20 years in space:
- Here's what real science says about the role of CO2 as Earth's ... ›
- Outer space - Wikipedia ›
- Earth's Atmosphere Extends Far Beyond the Moon, Scientists Discover ›
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
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