Posts tagged astronomy
An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, today announced the discovery of a rare molecule – phosphine – in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes – floating free of the scorching surface, but still needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine molecules, which consist of hydrogen and phosphorus, could point to this extra-terrestrial ‘aerial’ life. The new discovery is described in a paper in Nature Astronomy.
There are lots of ways to get involved in radio astronomy but they are rarely obvious and do not always offer immediate gratification such as when looking through an optical telescope. Most radio telescope packages involve some construction and software set-up by the user, and that can be time consuming and frustrating especially if there are no clear instructions to guide the amateur. Nonetheless, it is a very rewarding intellectual endeavor to keep you busy to the end of your life. Beginners usually purchase one of the 3 types of radio telescopes, which cost less than $200 each.
She explains: “Phosphorus is one of just six chemical elements on which Earth organisms depend, and it is crucial to the compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which cells use to store and transfer energy. Astronomers have just started to pay attention to the cosmic origins of phosphorus and found quite a few surprises. In particular, P is created in supernovae – the explosions of massive stars – but the amounts seen so far don’t match our computer models. I wondered what the implications were for life on other planets if unpredictable amounts of P are spat out into space and later used in the construction of new planets.”
Today, a team that includes MIT and is led by the Carnegie Institution for Science has released the largest collection of observations made with a technique called radial velocity, to be used for hunting exoplanets. The huge dataset, taken over two decades by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, is now available to the public, along with an open-source software package to process the data and an online tutorial. By making the data public and user-friendly, the scientists hope to draw fresh eyes to the observations, which encompass almost 61,000 measurements of more than 1,600 nearby stars.