Fireballs in Jupiter's Atmosphere Observed by Amateur Astronomers

jupiter fireballsThe solar system is crowded with small objects like asteroids and comets. Most have stable orbits which keep them out of harm’s way, but a small proportion of them are in orbits that risk them colliding with planets.

The smaller the objects, the more numerous they are, and the more frequent these collisions should occur. Collisions like the recent meteor seen over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, are rare because the object was relatively large, around 17 meters across.

The giant planet Jupiter -- a big target with tremendous gravitational attraction -- gets hit far more often than the Earth, and these collisions are much faster, happen at a minimum speed of 60 kilometers per second.

Amateur astronomers observing Jupiter with video cameras have been able to observe three of these collisions in the last 3 years and a detailed report of these collisions has been presented at the European Planetary Science Congress at UCL this week by Ricardo Hueso (University of the Basque Country, Spain).

“Our analysis shows that Jupiter could be impacted by objects around 10 meters across between 12 and 60 times per year,” Hueso says. “That is around 100 times more often than the Earth.”

The study, a broad collaboration between professional and amateur astronomers, also includes detailed simulations of objects entering Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrating at temperatures above 10,000 °C and observations from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the Very Large Telescope of the impact area taken only tens of hours after the impact. Despite observing the planet soon after the impact, Hubble and the VLT saw no signature of the disintegrated objects, showing that such impacts are very brief events.

Because the glow of these impacts is so short-lived, and they happen at unpredictable times, major observatories like Hubble and the VLT cannot reliably observe them -- these telescopes have packed observing schedules and cannot be dedicated to long-term monitoring of a planet. Amateur astronomers, who can dedicate night after night to observing a planet, have a far better chance of spotting these impacts, even if their equipment is far more rudimentary.

Media Contact:
Anita Heward
EPSC 2013 Press Officer
anitaheward@btinternet.com
+44 (0)7756034243

Science Contact:
Ricardo Hueso
Universidad del Pa’s Vasco
ricardo.hueso@ehu.es

Images

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/t_field.jpg
The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/jupiter_fireballs.jpg
Simulations of object entering Jupiter’s atmosphere. Credit: Jarrad Pond/South Florida University.

About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC):
EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science. EPSC 2013 is taking place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013. It is the first time that the Congress has been held in the UK. The 2013 program includes around 75 sessions and workshops. Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website:
http://www.epsc2013.eu/

EPSC 2013 is organized by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings and the event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. To celebrate EPSC coming to London, a ‘Festival of the Planets’ has been organized across the Capital in collaboration with partners including the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Astronomical Association, the British Interplanetary Society, the Natural History Museum, the Open University, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Museums Greenwich and University College London. http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/outreach-activities

Follow #epsc2013 @epsc2013 @europlanetmedia on Twitter.

About Europlanet:
Europlanet (http://www.europlanet-eu.org) is a network of planetary scientists, whose aim is to bring together the disparate European community so that Europe can play a leading role in space exploration. Europlanet’s activities complement the mission activities of the European Space Agency through field work at planetary-analogue terrains on Earth, laboratory measurements, computer modeling and observations from ground-based telescopes. Founded in 2002 and funded by the European Commission from 2005-2012, Europlanet has evolved into a community-based organization that will carry on this work and plan for future missions and mission support.

About UCL (University College London):
Founded in 1826, UCL (http://www.ucl.ac.uk) was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is among the world’s top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses -- UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Its annual income is more than £800 million.

Changes in Titan's Surface Brightness Point to Cryovolcanism

solomonidou3Changes in surface brightness on Titan observed over four years by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have added to evidence that cryovolcanism is active on Saturn’s largest Moon. Anezina Solomonidou has presented results at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 in London. The authors compared many volcanic-like features, such as flows, calderas and craters, with similar geological features found on the Earth to study the possibility of cryovolcanic activity within regions observed close to Titan’s equator.

Titan has an atmosphere rich in organic carbon-based compounds and astronomers believe that beneath its icy surface there is an ocean of liquid water, possibly mixed with ammonia. The low number of impact craters seen on Titan suggests that the surface is relatively young and is therefore dynamic and active. Titan has clouds and rains of liquid methane that mimic Earth’s water cycle. Its landscape is remarkably Earth-like with dunes and lakes, erosion due to weathering and tectonic-like features.

“All of these features, plus a need for a methane reservoir and volcanic activity to replenish the methane in the atmosphere, is compatible with the theory of active cryovolcanism on Titan,” explained Solomonidou, of the Observatoire de Paris and National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Solomonidou and colleagues investigated the potentially cryogenic regions of Tui Regio, Hotei Regio and Sotra Patera using Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS).

“We were able to penetrate the atmosphere with VIMS and view any changes in these surface features. Interestingly, the albedo (brightness) of two of the areas has changed with time,” explained Solomonidou. “Tui Regio got darker from 2005 to 2009 and Sotra Patera -- the most favourable cryovolcanic candidate on Titan -- got brighter between 2005 and 2006.”

Surface variations, together with spectral albedo properties and the presence of volcanic-like features, suggest that these cryovolcanic candidate regions are connected to Titan’s deep liquid ocean.

“These results have important implications for Titan’s potential to support life as these cryovolcanic areas might contain environments that could harbour conditions favourable for life,” said Solomonidou.

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/media-press

Attached files
1. Titan and terrestrial analogues: (a) Sand dunes on Titan (upper) (NASA/JPL), Namimbian sand dunes-terrestrial analogue (lower) (NASA/JPL); (b) Short, stubby drainage channels leading to a 'shoreline' or boundary of some sort (left) (ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona). Volcan Colima drainage network in Mexico (right) (NASA).
Cryovolcanic candidate ‘Sotra Patera’ on Titan has a deep crater (1km) and a significantly high mountain. (Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech/USGS/University of Arizona). The Kirishima volcano in Japan, a terrestrial analogue (Image credit: USGS).
Notes for editors
Contacts
Anezina Solomonidou
Observatoire de Paris/National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
asolomonidou@geol.uoa.gr

About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC)

EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science. EPSC 2013 is taking place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013. It is the first time that the Congress has been held in the UK. The 2013 programme includes around 75 sessions and workshops. Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2013.eu/

EPSC 2013 is organised by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings and the event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

To celebrate EPSC coming to London, a ‘Festival of the Planets’ has been organised across the Capital in collaboration with partners including the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Astronomical Association, the British Interplanetary Society, the Natural History Museum, the Open University, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Museums Greenwich and University College London. More information about the events can be found at:
http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/outreach-activities

Follow #epsc2013 @epsc2013 @europlanetmedia on Twitter

About Europlanet

Europlanet is a network of planetary scientists, whose aim is to bring together the disparate European community so that Europe can play a leading role in space exploration. Europlanet’s activities complement the mission activities of the European Space Agency through field work at planetary-analogue terrains on Earth, laboratory measurements, computer modelling and observations from ground-based telescopes. Founded in 2002 and funded by the European Commission from 2005-2012, Europlanet has evolved into a community-based organisation that will carry on this work and plan for future missions and mission support.

www.europlanet-eu.org

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.
UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by its performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Its annual income is more than £800 million.

www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV

Catastrophic collapse of ice lake created Aram Chaos on Mars

roda4Aram Chaos, the lumpy, bumpy floor of an ancient impact crater on Mars, formed as a result of catastrophic melting and outflow of a buried ice lake. A new study combines observations from satellite photos of the 280 kilometre wide and four kilometre deep crater plus models of the ice melting process and resulting catastrophic outflow. Manuel Roda has presented the results at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) at UCL in London.

Chaotic terrains are enigmatic features, stretching up to hundreds of kilometres across, that are distinctive to Mars. The mechanism by which they formed has been poorly understood by scientists.

"About 3.5 billion years ago, the pristine Aram impact crater was partly filled with water ice that was buried under a two-kilometre thick layer of sediment. This layer isolated the ice from surface temperatures, but it gradually melted over a period of millions of years due to the heat released by the planet. The sediment overlying fluid water became unstable and collapsed," said Roda.

The resulting massive expulsion of a hundred thousand cubic kilometres of liquid water was four times the volume of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake on Earth. The water carved a valley of 10 kilometres wide and 2 kilometres deep in about one month and a chaotic pattern of blocks was left in the Aram crater.

"An exciting consequence is that rock-ice units are possibly still present in the subsurface. These never achieved the melting conditions, or melted only a lower thin layer, insufficient to result in a full collapse event. Buried ice lakes testify of Mars rapidly turning into a cold, frozen planet, but with lakes buried in the subsurface. These lakes could provide a potentially favourable site for life, shielded from hazardous UV radiation at the surface," said Roda.

The study was carried out by Roda and colleagues Tanja E. Zegers, Maarten G. Kleinhans and Rob Govers from Utrecht University and Jelmer H.P. Oosthoek of Jacobs University Bremen.

IMAGES

Figure 1 - View of Aram Chaos with elevation map. Aram Chaos is an impact crateron Mars. It is connected to Ares Vallis by a 10 km wide and 2 km deep outflow channel.

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/roda1.jpg

Figure 2 - Melting process Numerical modelling shows how the internal heat of the planet diffuses up into the crater with the ice layer. The 273K line indicates the melting point. After roughly 280 million years the sediment layer on the ice has become so thick that the water melts. The layer of rock on top of fluid water is unstable and would have broken up in reality.

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/roda2.jpg

Figure 3 – Prospective view of Aram Valley inlet The Aram Valley is a deep (2 km) V-shaped valley which connects Aram Chaos to the Ares Vallis. Credit: http://google.com/mars (Vertical exaggeration 3)

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/roda3.jpg

Figure 4 – Artist’s impression of the chaotization event in Aram Chaos Credits: Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/roda4.jpg

SCIENCE CONTACTS

Manuel Roda
Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences
m.roda@uu.nl

Maarten Kleinhans
Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences
m.kleinhans@uu.nl

MEDIA CONTACTS

Monique Westrik
Utrecht University, Marketing & Communications Department
m.westrik@uu.nl

Evelien Harmsen
Marketing & Communications Department
e.harmsen@uu.nl

Anita Heward
EPSC 2013 Press Officer
anitaheward@btinternet.com
+44 (0)7756034243

NOTES FOR EDITORS

About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC)

EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science. EPSC 2013 is taking place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013. It is the first time that the Congress has been held in the UK. The 2013 programme includes around 75 sessions and workshops. Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2013.eu/

EPSC 2013 is organised by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings and the event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

To celebrate EPSC coming to London, a ‘Festival of the Planets’ has been organised across the Capital in collaboration with partners including the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Astronomical Association, the British Interplanetary Society, the Natural History Museum, the Open University, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Museums Greenwich and University College London. More information about the events can be found at: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/outreach-activities

Follow #epsc2013 @epsc2013 @europlanetmedia on Twitter

About Europlanet

Europlanet is a network of planetary scientists, whose aim is to bring together the disparate European community so that Europe can play a leading role in space exploration. Europlanet’s activities complement the mission activities of the European Space Agency through field work at planetary-analogue terrains on Earth, laboratory measurements, computer modelling and observations from ground-based telescopes. Founded in 2002 and funded by the European Commission from 2005-2012, Europlanet has evolved into a community-based organisation that will carry on this work and plan for future missions and mission support.

www.europlanet-eu.org

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by its performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Its annual income is more than £800 million. www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV

EPSC2013: Get ready for Rosetta's wake-up call with activity schedule for target comet

rosetta dust comaAfter a journey of almost ten years, the Rosetta mission has just a few months left to wait before beginning its rendezvous with a time capsule. Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko is a dirty snowball of ice and dust that preserves material from the formation of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. During 2014, the European Space Agency’s most ambitious mission to date will both start to orbit the comet’s nucleus and deploy a small laboratory of scientific instruments, Philae, to dock with the comet’s surface. To aid Rosetta in safely achieving its task, an international group of scientists back on Earth are using ground-based telescopes and computer models to understand the behaviour of the comet as it approaches the Sun and begins to form its tail. Their findings have been presented this week at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 at University College London.

“For two or three orbits now, our community has been observing the comet to determine the shape of the nucleus, the angle at which it spins on its axis and how its activity varies as it orbits the Sun.   All of this information is vital for the planning of Rosetta’s orbit and Philae’s delivery,” said Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS).

“At this meeting, we have discussed everything from the make-up of the surface layer of the nucleus to the dust production rates, size and velocity of the particles emitted, the way the comet interacts with the solar magnetic environment… There are a lot of things we need to know!” added Matt Taylor, ESA’s Project Scientist for the Rosetta Mission.

Jean-Baptiste Vincent (MPS) has used images and modelling to study the development of gas jets as the comet becomes active. “We need to understand the formation and evolution of dust coma structures at all scales: from tiny filaments only visible close to the surface of the nucleus, to large structures extending tens of thousands of kilometres in the coma. Comet 67P appears to behave in a very consistent way, at least over the last two orbits. The southern hemisphere is more active than the northern and there are three major active regions from where gas jets evolve, which can eject dust particles at around 50 kilometres per hour.”       

To safeguard the spacecraft during its long, cold journey through deep space, Rosetta was placed into hibernation in 2011. Research by a group led by Colin Snodgrass and Cecilia Tubiana of MPS suggests that 67P will start emitting gas and dust by March 2014, earlier than expected and just two months after the spacecraft receives its wakeup call on Monday 20 January 2014.

The scientists have based their predictions on 31 sets of images showing the comet at different points during its orbit. The images were recorded between 1995 and 2010 with telescopes including the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO). By subtracting successive images to remove the starry background and making the comet stand out, they were able to study changes in brightness and hence the activity levels of the comet was at different points in its orbit.

"For the first time, we have a meaningful comparison of all data sets so that we can reconstruct the activity of the comet as it moves around the Sun," said Snodgrass. “The results were something of a surprise.”

Scientists had estimated that the comet would start to form is tail at distance of around 450 million kilometres from the Sun, when it would become warm enough for water ice to sublimate. Instead, it became active much further out -- at 650 million kilometres.

"Water will still be frozen solid at that distance from the Sun. Some other gas must be responsible for this earlier activity that we’ve observed," said Tubiana.

IMAGES AND ANIMATIONS

Image of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko acquired in February 2009, processed using a numerical filter. Structures visible in the image are signatures of regions of enhanced activity on the nucleus surface. Credit: J-B Vincent/MPS/GP Tozzi/L Lara/Z-Y Lin

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/rosetta_jets1.jpg

Image acquired between June 2008 and Feburary 2009. The location of the dust coma structures are enhanced by different filtering techniques ((1-3) adaptive Laplace-filtered images, (4) adaptive Laplace-filtered image with the structure geometry indicated by annotations and (5) dashed lines, (6) Larson-Sekanina filtered image). Credit: J-B Vincent/MPS/GP Tozzi/L Lara/Z-Y Lin http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/rosetta_67p-evolution.jpg

Dust coma of 67P at a distance of 187 million kilometres from the Sun, shortly before the comet’s closest approach. Image acquired on 18 Feb. 2009. The image (top left) is presented as processed through various numerical filters to enhance the visibility of the jets. J-B Vincent/MPS/GP Tozzi/L Lara/Z-Y Lin

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/rosetta_dust_coma.jpg

Movie showing modelled dust jets of comet 67P/C-G as they would be observed by the OSIRIS WAC camera on board Rosetta. Credit: J-B Vincent/MPS

http://www.mps.mpg.de/homes/vincent/COSSIM.html

Still from movie showing modelled dust jets of comet 67P/C-G as they would be observed by the OSIRIS WAC camera on board Rosetta. Credit: J-B Vincent/MPS

CONTACTS

Matt Taylor
Rosetta Project Scientist
ESTEC, European Space Agency
Noordwijk, Netherlands
Tel:+31 (0)71 565 8009
mtaylor@rssd.esa.int

Jessica Agarwal
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

agarwal@mps.mpg.de

Jean-Baptiste Vincent
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
vincent@mps.mpg.de

Colin Snodgrass
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
snodgrass@mps.mpg.de

Cecilia Tubiana
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

tubiana@mps.mpg.de

MEDIA CONTACTS

Anita Heward

EPSC 2013 Press Officer

anitaheward@btinternet.com

+44 (0)7756034243

Oli Usher

Communications Manager

MAPS Faculty, UCL

o.usher@ucl.ac.uk

+44 (0)20 7679 7964

NOTES FOR EDITORS

About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC)

EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science. EPSC 2013 is taking place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013. It is the first time that the Congress has been held in the UK. The 2013 programme includes around 75 sessions and workshops. Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2013.eu/

EPSC 2013 is organised by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings and the event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

To celebrate EPSC coming to London, a ‘Festival of the Planets’ has been organised across the Capital in collaboration with partners including the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Astronomical Association, the British Interplanetary Society, the Natural History Museum, the Open University, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Museums Greenwich and University College London. More information about the events can be found at:

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/outreach-activities

Follow #epsc2013 @epsc2013 @europlanetmedia on Twitter

About Europlanet

Europlanet is a network of planetary scientists, whose aim is to bring together the disparate European community so that Europe can play a leading role in space exploration. Europlanet’s activities complement the mission activities of the European Space Agency through field work at planetary-analogue terrains on Earth, laboratory measurements, computer modelling and observations from ground-based telescopes. Founded in 2002 and funded by the European Commission from 2005-2012, Europlanet has evolved into a community-based organisation that will carry on this work and plan for future missions and mission support.

www.europlanet-eu.org

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by its performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Its annual income is more than £800 million.

www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV

Could life have survived a fall to Earth?

impact smallIt sounds like science fiction, but the theory of panspermia, in which life can naturally transfer between planets, is considered a serious hypothesis by planetary scientists. The suggestion that life did not originate on Earth but came from elsewhere in the universe (for instance, Mars), is one possible variant of panspermia. Planets and moons were heavily bombarded by meteorites when the Solar System was young, throwing lots of material back into space. Meteorites made of Mars rock are occasionally found on Earth to this day, so it is quite plausible that simple life forms like yeasts or bacteria could have been carried on them.

Yet serious questions remain for supporters of this theory. Would even the hardiest life forms be able to survive an impact which ejects the rock into space? Could they live through the freezing temperatures and deadly radiation of space? And could they enter the atmosphere and hit the surface of the earth without being killed?

New research presented at the European Planetary Science Congress at UCL aims to answer the final question, of whether entry and impact is survivable for simple organisms. Using frozen samples of Nannochloropsis oculata, a type of single-celled ocean-dwelling algae, Dina Pasini (University of Kent) set out to test the conditions which early life would have had to survive if it did indeed travel through space.

Using a two-stage light gas gun, which can accelerate objects up to very high speeds, Pasini fired frozen pellets of Nannochloropsis into water, and tested the samples to see if any had survived.

“As you might expect, increasing the speed of impact does increase the proportion of algae that die,” Pasini explains, “but even at 6.93 kilometres per second, a small proportion survived. This sort of impact velocity would be what you would expect if a meteorite hit a planet similar to the Earth.”

As well as surviving freezing and impacts, like those experienced when rocks are ejected from planets or hit them, there are good reasons to think that the other problems faced by panspermia are not insurmountable either. Ice and rocks can provide protection against radiation, especially if the organism is deeply embedded inside. What is more, heating caused by entry into the atmosphere is unlikely to heat anything more than a thin layer around the outside of rocks, forming what is known as a ‘fusion crust’.

This research suggests that panspermia, while certainly not proven, is not impossible either.

“Our research raises several questions,” Pasini says. “If we find life on another planet, will it be truly alien or will it be related to us? And if so, did it spawn us or did we spawn it? We cannot answer these questions just now, but the questions are not as farfetched as one might assume.”

IMAGES

Asteroid impacting Earth's oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/stories/epsc2013/impact.jpg

MEDIA CONTACTS

Anita Heward
EPSC 2013 Press Officer
anitaheward@btinternet.com
+44 (0)7756034243

Oli Usher
Communications Manager
MAPS Faculty, UCL o.usher@ucl.ac.uk
+44 (0)20 7679 7964

NOTES FOR EDITORS

About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC)

EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science. EPSC 2013 is taking place at University College London (UCL) from Sunday 8 September to Friday 13 September 2013. It is the first time that the Congress has been held in the UK.  The 2013 programme includes around 75 sessions and workshops.  Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2013 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2013.eu/

EPSC 2013 is organised by Europlanet, UCL and Copernicus Meetings and the event is sponsored by the UK Space Agency, UCL, Astrium and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

To celebrate EPSC coming to London, a ‘Festival of the Planets’ has been organised across the Capital in collaboration with partners including the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, the Bloomsbury Theatre, the British Astronomical Association, the British Interplanetary Society, the Natural History Museum, the Open University, Queen Mary University of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Museums Greenwich and University College London.  More information about the events can be found at: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/epsc2013/outreach-activities

Follow #epsc2013 @epsc2013 @europlanetmedia on Twitter

About Europlanet   Europlanet is a network of planetary scientists, whose aim is to bring together the disparate European community so that Europe can play a leading role in space exploration. Europlanet’s activities complement the mission activities of the European Space Agency through field work at planetary-analogue terrains on Earth, laboratory measurements, computer modelling and observations from ground-based telescopes. Founded in 2002 and funded by the European Commission from 2005-2012, Europlanet has evolved into a community-based organisation that will carry on this work and plan for future missions and mission support.

www.europlanet-eu.org

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine.

UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by its performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world.

UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Its annual income is more than £800 million. www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow UCL on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV