The solar system has some strange stuff in it. Learning how it ended up that way can tell us where we're going.
- A new model of Saturn's atmosphere might finally explain how a bizarrely shaped storm developed there.
- The model produced a polygonal storm system similar, but not identical to, that observed on Saturn.
- The findings may shed light on the formation of the solar system.
Why this matters on Earth<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7e7df6b85fb3b8a7883f31d905d6c2fa"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/DB08Hhldg5s?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p> Figuring this out can also help shed light on Saturn's formation as, by extension, the formation of the solar system. As Yadav <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-10-d-formation-hexagon-storm-saturn.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explains</a>:</p><p>"From a scientific point of view, the atmosphere is really important in determining how quickly a planet cools. All these things you see on the surface, they're basically manifestations of the planet cooling down and the planet cooling down tells us a lot about what's happening inside of the planet. The scientific motivation is basically understanding how Saturn came to be and how it evolves over time."<br> </p><p>Understanding how the solar system came into being can help us not only understand how other star systems might work but also help us determine how our solar system, including Earth, will change in the future. So even if you don't have to worry about a hexagonal storm anytime soon, you may someday benefit from the attempt to understand how such a thing could ever exist. </p>
This meteorite is the oldest known volcanic rock in the solar system, dated at 4,565,000,000 years old.
- It's very rare that we discover something on our planet that was around before we were even a small speck. But every once in a while, we do—and this meteorite is a living testament.
- Scientists estimate the new discovery to be approximately 4.6 billion years old, almost as old as the solar system itself.
- New discoveries like this one bring us a small step closer in piecing together what an earlier version of Earth might have looked like.
What is the discovery, and why is it important?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODczMTQ3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0OTkzOTE4NH0._E1KOCK8mWNNOe1_OOJW6fT83tvI94z3OsQqkrKRTPg/img.jpg?width=980" id="2da6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5765b62a08a8de1e550c81592d0ebc5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
This meteorite is the oldest known volcanic rock in the solar system, dated at 4,565,000,000 years old.
Photo: University of New Mexico<p><em></em>Northwest Africa (NWA) 11119 is a small, baseball-sized rock. It's formed from sparkly green meteorite and has an unusual light green fusion crust. Broken fragments of the interior have revealed bright green and grey crystals that are up to 3mm in size. Scientists expect that it is approximately 4.6 billion years old, almost as old as the solar system itself.</p><p>The rock was acquired by a meteorite dealer in Mauritania, Africa, in 2016. It weighs 453g, and it is currently located at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum.</p><p>For those who don't know much about meteorites, distinguishing between a terrestrial rock and an actual meteorite can be challenging. To make matters worse, there are many sellers who try to disguise terrestrial rocks as meteorites to scam their customers.</p><p>Many people are surprised that meteorites can actually be bought, sold, and collected outside of museums and labs. However, since the invention of the Internet, there has been a surge in the number of collectors and dealers.</p><p>eBay is actually one of the most popular websites for people to buy and sell meteorites. However, before using such websites, it is important that you take the required precautions and buy from reputable dealers. For example, websites like <em>Meteorite Exchange</em> has a <a href="https://www.meteorite.com/meteorites-for-sale/" target="_blank">page</a> that summarizes the listings from known dealers in order to help buyers make more informed decisions.</p><p>To make the process of buying and selling meteorites safer, meteorite dealers are often hired to confirm that what the customer is buying is an actual meteorite (this means it came from space) and not just a rock.</p>
At first glance, this meteorite didn't look like much<p>When the rock was first found, the planetary geologist and meteorite curator at the University of New Mexico, Carl Agee, didn't think that it was a meteorite at all. In fact, he thought it was a rock from Earth.</p><p>He then passed it on to his doctoral student, Poorna Srinivasan, to examine it. </p><p>Despite the rock bearing a close resemblance to volcanic rocks on Earth, its chemical composition revealed that it was definitely from space and that it wasn't just a regular meteorite.</p>
What is special about the meteorite?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODczMTQ2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTk5NjE0OX0.eboZaUVYFaN4rQLflQ5crXcE2nO7Tt_X1Ak5hMpnobQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="0d3e8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d82a5a4837f9a0d97e247b9ca7e3c02" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Skeleton of a tridymite crystal.
How often do we come across things that are older than Earth?<p>It's easy to see why this discovery is so exciting. It's not very often that we come across things that are older than our planet—but there have been a couple of instances over the past few years.</p><p>In fact, analysis of NWA 11119 has revealed that it has a strong chemical resemblance to two other known unusual meteorites: <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/meteor/metbull.php?code=55317" target="_blank">NWA 7235</a> (discovered in 2011), and <a href="http://m.espacepourlavie.ca/blogue/en/almahata-sitta-a-unique-meteorite" target="_blank">Almahata Sitta</a> (discovered in 2008). The link is strong enough to suggest that all three of these space rocks could potentially have originated from the same parent body. </p><p>In November 2015, geologists working in outback South Australia recovered a <a href="http://news.curtin.edu.au/media-releases/amazing-new-years-eve-gift-for-fireball-researchers/" target="_blank">primordial meteorite</a> from Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. This meteorite was thought to be a chondrite or stony meteorite and serves as an example of the material that was created when the solar system was being formed over 4.5 billion years ago.</p><p>What's more, as little as a couple of months ago, scientists discovered <a href="http://www.alphr.com/space/1009595/interstellar-dust-earth-solar-system" target="_blank">stardust</a> particles on Earth that are even older than our solar system. Its chemical composition, which shows us how far the particles had traveled, suggested that the grains had to be significantly older than 4.6 billion years. </p>
What happens next?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="ShWMxbyK" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8af04f522848e929f746a56c7aa5c31d"> <div id="botr_ShWMxbyK_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ShWMxbyK-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/ShWMxbyK-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/ShWMxbyK-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>There is still so much we have yet to understand about how planets are formed, and in particular, how the Earth's crust might have been formed.</p><p>However, every once in a while, new discoveries like this one bring us a small step closer in piecing together what an earlier version of Earth might have looked like. Over the past few years, scientists have even discovered frozen meteorites in the <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-are-hunting-down-frozen-meteorites-in-the-antarctic" target="_blank">Antarctic</a>. </p><p>Hopefully one day we might be able to collect enough pieces of such evidence to come to a reasonable conclusion. </p>
Cryovolcanoes that eject ice instead of magma have been confirmed to exist on Ceres, which will help studying this formation on other planets and moons throughout the solar system.
- Cryovolcanoes that ooze out ice instead of shooting out magma have been confirmed to exist on the asteroid Ceres.
- Scientists believe that ice volcanoes may be prevalent throughout the solar system in places like Titan and Pluto.
- Further research is needed to find out if they serve an important function for planetary structure and exo geological systems.
Science of a cryovolcano<p>Researchers behind the study looked at images taken by the spacecraft's onboard camera. They searched for any exo geological features that were dome shaped and larger than 10 kilometers in diameter. Scientists found and measured 22 of these features and found that these domes were composed of 50 percent of ice. On further analysis, it was found that on average these cryovolcanoes on Ceres spewed out roughly 10 thousand cubic meters per year of ice.</p><p>It was determined that a cryovolcano on Ceres doesn't serve an important function say compared to volcanic activity on Earth. But that doesn't rule out that other planet's with cryovolcanoes might be function as an important part to the geological pressures and planetary structural systems. </p> <p>There were some limitations to the study, as this was all researched through pictures and there wasn't an on the ground rover or robotic presence. Also the scientists weren't able to get a real time reading of the amount of activity each cryovolcano produced.</p>
Cryovolcano on Pluto? Maybe.<p>Planetary scientist Michael Sori, utilized calculations made from observations and simulations to uncover the mystery about Ceres's cryovolcanoes. His theory was that since Ceres is both made out of predominantly rock and ice, the formations on the planet flow and move due to their own weight – similar to how glaciers operate on Earth. The ice flows would then be affected by slight temperature variations throughout the asteroid. <br></p><p>Sori said:</p><p>"Ceres' poles are cold enough that if you start with a mountain of ice, it doesn't relax… But the equator is warm enough that a mountain of ice might relax over geological timescales."<br></p><p>It was observed through simulation with the set parameters that cryovolcanoes on the poles would remain frozen while places in the equator and other latitudes, a cryovolcano would begin to steepen and also grow rounder over time.</p><p>Volcanic eruptions on Ceres are much more subdued than what you'd see on Earth. They do not explode, but rather ooze. This output of ice, rock and other chemicals slowly seeps from the openings out onto the rest of the asteroid.</p><p>Further research will help yield answers to determine if other suspected formations on other planets and moons may also be cryovolcanoes. After scientists from NASA's New Horizons mission stitched together a high resolution color view of Pluto, it was thought that an area known as Wright Mons may be a cryovolcano. At 150 kilometers across and 4 kilometers high, it'd be one of the largest in the far reaches of the solar system – proving that this phenomenon is not rare </p>
Are there any cryovolcanoes on earth?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODY0ODY1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjg5NDkxMH0.IZPDFb2cJ0um7D89um8bzY6B_i1hzXaPiafgqdjdFq4/img.jpg?width=980" id="18de2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc0296045fd62c0e02ac1bc0ecccae5b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>There are no cryovolcanoes on earth. The material that erupts out of these formations is either in the form of an icy liquid or gas. Earth simply is too warm for this type of formation to occur, even in the deepest reaches of Antarctica or Greenland, it wouldn't be possible. The higher surface temperature on Earth combined with its thick atmosphere makes it unable to freeze volatiles that would include Nitrogen, Methane and carbon dioxide for example.</p> <p>Overall, the processes on other astral bodies make them more conducive spots for hosting a cryovolcano. </p>
A machine learning algorithm has shown it can discover planets from weak signals overlooked in the Kepler spacecraft’s database.
Humans in the Western world for a long time thought that Earth was the center of the universe. At one point, it was heresy not to think so. After the heliocentric universe was adopted, we felt smaller and less self-important. But we’d also gained something, new knowledge and a new avenue in which to explore the heavens. That was a paradigm shift in our understanding and now, it’s happening again.
TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light years from Earth. It would take us millions of years to get there.
Back in September 2016, NASA announced that nearby exoplanet Proxima b might have what it takes to sustain life. In December however, it announced that it gets bombarded with “super flares” from time to time by its star, Proxima Centauri, and so perhaps isn’t the best candidate. It was a letdown for those of us who marvel at the thought of intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy, but this latest announcement might just make up for it. The odds are better at least.