One wandering planet can ruin your whole day

Edward Willett @ 22-04-2008

Mars striking Earth This blog is called Futurismic, but mostly we just talk about the near future. Let’s take a look at the far future…say, a few tens of millions of years down the road.

New studies suggest that after 40 million years or so, there’s a small but not insignificant chance–one or two percent–that the solar system will lose its stability, and, Velikovsky-like, start throwing whole planets off on wandering courses through the rest of the system, where they just might crash into ours. (Via NewScientistSpace.)

Although no one can say for sure what will happen beyond that, new calculations are now providing a rough guide to the more distant future. These suggest that there is a 1 to 2% chance that Mercury’s orbit will get seriously out of whack within the next 5 billion years.

This would tend to destabilise the whole inner solar system and could lead to a catastrophic collision between Earth and either Mercury or Mars, wiping out any life still present at that time.

In the case of a smash-up with Mars, for example, “all life gets extinguished immediately, and Earth glows at the temperature of a red giant star for about 1000 years”, says Gregory Laughlin, a co-author of one of the studies at the University of California in Santa Cruz, US.

Interestingly enough, it might not be the first time that has happened:

Many scientists think a Mars-sized object bashed into Earth in the early solar system, throwing out debris that eventually formed the Moon.

Earth was heated to thousands of degrees by the impact, with an ocean of lava covering its surface. A future replay of that event would be disastrous, Laughlin says.

That last quote qualifies, I think, for understatement of the year.

(Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech.)

[tags]solar system, astronomy, catastrophes, far future[/tags]

Moving the Earth

Jeremy Eades @ 26-03-2008

450825428_b0ef55b12e_m_d The typical ending of our lovely planet will come in several billion years when the Sun swells up and engulfs all of the inner planets.  But it’s never too early to start thinking of how to rescue our beloved cradle.

According to an article in the NYTimes, the Earth faces an unknown future because it will move further out in orbit as the Sun expends its mass and the gravitational forces become weaker.

One solution is to lasso comets and asteroids, swinging them near the Earth and using their slight gravity to boost the Earth to a higher orbit, where it could escape the Sun’s expansion.  Because, y’know, what could go wrong with that?

(image from NASA website)

The search for life on Europa begins here on Earth

Edward Willett @ 13-02-2008


Although the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system has focused on Mars for many years (and it still might be found there), increasing attention is now being paid to Jupiter’s moon Europa. That’s because the scientific consensus now is that Europa almost certainly boasts an ocean, hidden beneath a shell of ice.

Life on Earth originated in the ocean. Could life have similarly arisen in Europa’s ocean?

We’ll have to go there to find out. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are actively studying launching a mission to Europa within the next decade, but even before that happens, technologies that could help us explore beneath the ice shell are being tested here on Earth. (Via Universe Today.)

This week–February 11 to 15–researchers are testing the NASA-funded ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer), a robotic probe designed to swim on its own under ice, creating 3D maps of the underwater environment, collecting data on environmental conditions, and taking samples of microbial life. The testing is taking place in Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; later this year, the probe will be shipped to Antarctica for tests in permanently frozen Lake Bonney.

Manwhile, a team of U.S., Russian and Asutrian scientists are already heading to Australia to look for life in another Antarctic lake, Lake Untersee. Always covered in ice, Lake Untersee has a pH level closer to that of bleach than regular lake water. It’s also the planet’s single largest natural source of methane. All of these things mean conditions there may well resemble conditions in Europa’s ocean and other locations in the outer solar system.

One question: is life found on Europa European, or Europaen? Copy editors want to know!

(Image: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.)

[tags]solar system, NASA, space exploration, extraterrestrial life, Europa[/tags]

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