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Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars?

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Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars?

Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars? Since the beginning of the space age, nearly 30 spacecraft and landers have been sent to the red planet. According to geneticist Christopher Mason, microbes may survive the long journey.

Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars?

Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars?

As you read this article, NASA’s Perseverance rover is orbiting the surface of Mars. The speed of this rover only reaches 152 meters per hour, But it carries a wide set of tools and tests and has achieved good results so far.

But might the endurance rover carry something else in addition to its instruments? Is it possible that traces of bacteria were accidentally transferred from Earth to Mars? NASA and its engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have strict protocols to minimize the number of organisms that accidentally enter space missions. International standards are consistent with NASA protocols and sometimes even exceed them; But according to the results of two studies, despite all the protocols, living organisms may survive the cleaning process and even reach Mars and evolve in space.

First, we begin the explanation with the manufacturing process of the Endurance Rover, as well as most spacecraft built at the JPL Assembly Facility (SAF). Spaceships are built like an onion, and each layer is cleared before being added. These methods minimize the number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in spacecraft.

Spacecraft are equipped with air filters and detailed biological control routines. These items are designed to ensure that the spacecraft is not contaminated, But reaching zero biomass in a spacecraft is almost impossible. Microbes have been living on Earth for billions of years and are found almost everywhere. They are inside the human body, on the body, and around him. Some of them find their way into even the cleanest rooms. In the past, biological contamination tests depended on the ability to grow life from samples taken from equipment. Newer methods extract the whole DNA and sequence them in a shotgun manner. As the term suggests, this process is like pointing a gun at sample cells and breaking them up into billions of tiny pieces of DNA, and then sequencing each piece.

Will terrestrial life contaminate Mars?

NASA uses strict protocols to clean probes and landers, minimizing biological contamination.

Due to the capability of DNA sequencing in disinfected rooms, we will reach a more comprehensive view of the types of microbes present in disinfected rooms. In JPL’s decontamination rooms, there was evidence of microbes that could become problematic during space missions. The number of genes available for DNA repair in these organisms increases and the ability of microbes to resist radiation increases; So these organisms can survive on the surface of the equipment and in very cold spaces.

The above findings will have several implications for planetary protection. Ensuring security and preserving life in other parts of the world is very important; Because with the arrival of new organisms, the ecosystem of the planet may be endangered. On the other hand, scientists must make sure that the discovery of life on another planet is specific to that planet and not of human origin. Germs can make their way to Mars even after rigorous disinfection procedures. The genome of these microbes changes rapidly. According to experiments, microbes can evolve on the International Space Station. Of course, NASA engineers are trying hard to prevent these living organisms from entering the soil or air of Mars, and any signs of life on Mars must be carefully investigated to ensure that it is not of terrestrial origin.

Microbes that find their way into space can endanger the health of astronauts and even cause their life equipment to fail, But planetary protection is two-way. Another component of planetary protection is avoiding reverse contamination or transfer of extraterrestrial microbes to Earth and endangering the planet including humans. This event has been the subject of many science fictions. In these films, an imaginary microbe usually threatens all life on Earth; But with the launch of the joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency to Mars in 2028, this problem can become a serious concern. If all goes according to plan, the Mars Sample Return Mission will send the first samples back to Earth by 2032.

Based on past research, it is unlikely that Martian samples contain harmful and active biology, and the Endurance probe is also looking for signs of ancient microbial life left on this planet; But according to NASA and the European Space Agency, necessary precautions should be taken to return samples from Mars in an isolated and multilayered system.

But if signs of life are discovered on Mars, this life may have a terrestrial origin. Two Soviet Union probes landed on the surface of Mars in 1971, followed by the American lander Viking 1 in 1976; Traces of microbial life or even human DNA may have reached Mars through these old probes. On the other hand, with the existence of sand storms on Mars and the possibility of DNA on these probes, the life discovered on Mars may have a terrestrial origin.

Read More: Presenting a stunning new map of Mars

But even if the Endurance probe or probes before it accidentally transferred organisms or DNA from Earth to Mars, there are ways to distinguish this type of life from Martian life. DNA sequences contain information about their origin. An ongoing project called Metasub (Genomes of Underground Passages and Urban Climates) seeks to sequence DNA found in more than a hundred cities around the world. Researchers from Metasab’s team and a group in Switzerland have published global metagenomic data to create a genetic index of the planet from sequenced DNA.

By comparing DNA discovered on Mars with sequences found in JPL cleanrooms, subways, medical samples, sewage, or the surface of the Endurance rover before it left Earth, we can see the difference. Even if discoveries of the solar system lead to the transfer of microbes to other planets, these cases can still be separated from each other. Space experiments and unusual environments can cause the evolution of microbes. If a living organism on Earth quickly adapts to the environment of space or Mars, using genetic tools, we can find out the reason for its change. The strange species recently discovered on the International Space Station by JPL scientists contained similar adaptations to clean rooms (including resistance to radiation).

Eventually, humans will step on the soil of Mars and the microbes that live inside or on their bodies will enter this planet. These microbes can quickly adapt to the environment and mutate and change. They can even make life on Mars easier for future generations; Because unique genomes adapted to the Martian environment are capable of being sequenced and returned to Earth, and can be used for therapeutic and research purposes on both planets.

With all the planned Mars missions, we are on the edge of a new era of interplanetary biology, and we can learn a lot from the adaptation of life on a planet. Lessons from evolution and genetic adaptations exist in the DNA of organisms. It is the duty of man to protect his species and other species. Only humans understand extinction and therefore only humans can prevent it. With the excessive heating of the earth and the evaporation of the oceans, human migration from the earth and the search for life on other planets will be inevitable. In such a situation, there is no other option but to pollute other planets with terrestrial life. This will probably happen in the next 500 years.

Space

What is the aurora and where can you see them?

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Aurora
Aurora Borealis is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs due to the collision of energetic particles of the sun with the upper atmosphere of the earth.

What is the aurora and where can you see them?

The energetic particles of the sun collide with the upper atmosphere of the earth at a speed of nearly 27 million kilometers per hour, but the earth’s magnetic field protects us from this attack. The magnetic field of the earth directs the particles towards the poles and auroras are created during a process. This impressive atmospheric phenomenon has amazed scientists and skywatchers for years.

Table of Contents
  • What is the aurora?
  • How is the aurora formed?
  • Why does the aurora borealis consist of different colors?
  • Northern and Southern lights
  • When will we see the aurora borealis?
  • Where can we see the aurora borealis?
  • Auroras on other planets
  • Conclusion

What is the aurora?

The northern lights or aurora borealis are the colorful and eye-catching display of light in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, the auroras of the southern hemisphere are known as the southern lights. The northern and southern lights are both auroras or auroras; Because they appear near the Earth’s magnetic poles.

Northern lights of FinlandThe Northern Lights (Aurora borealis) have lit up the sky of the Gulf of Finland.

How is the aurora formed?

At certain moments, the Sun ejects charged particles from its corona or upper atmosphere, causing the formation of the solar wind. The solar wind collides with the ionosphere, or Earth’s upper atmosphere, and these collisions create tiny sparks that fill the sky with colored light. Auroras move or dance across the sky as billions of sparks form in succession. In the northern hemisphere, this phenomenon is called the northern lights (aurora borealis), while in the southern hemisphere, it is known as the southern lights or aurora australis.

Solar charged particles are guided by the Earth’s magnetic field towards the poles and collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. The shape of the Earth’s magnetic field creates two aurora ellipses above the north and south magnetic poles.

Solar winds and Earth's magnetic fieldEarth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar wind.

Why does the aurora borealis consist of different colors?

Each type of atom or molecule absorbs and emits a unique set of colors. This feature can be compared to the unique fingerprint of humans. In general, the following colors can be seen in the northern lights of the sky:

  • Green: Green is the most common color seen from Earth and is usually created when charged particles collide with oxygen molecules at altitudes of 100 to 300 km.
  • Dark red and pink: Sometimes, the lower edges of the aurora are pink or dark red. This color is the result of nitrogen molecules at an altitude of almost 100 km.
  • Red: At a higher altitude than the Earth’s atmosphere (300-400 km), the collision with oxygen atoms leads to the production of red auroras.
  • Blue and purple: Hydrogen and helium molecules can form blue and purple auroras; But it is usually difficult for the human eye to distinguish these colors from the night sky.
Northern lights in NorwayA rare pink aurora in the Norwegian sky

Northern and Southern lights

On Earth, the Northern Lights counterpart in the Southern Hemisphere is called the Southern Lights. The southern and northern lights have the same physical characteristics and the only difference is in their geographical location. Scientists expect the northern and southern auroras to occur simultaneously during a solar storm, but sometimes they appear delayed.

One of the most difficult aspects of the aurora borealis is comparing the northern and southern lights. The hemispheric asymmetry of the aurora is partly due to the interference of the magnetic field of the sun with the magnetic field of the background, but researches is still ongoing in this field.

An aurora-like event is STEVE (Strong Thermal Ray Enhancement). Like the northern and southern auroras, STEVE is a bright atmospheric phenomenon but slightly different from its auroral counterpart. These rays appear as narrow, discrete curves, are often violet in color, and have a green spike-like structure. STEVE is also seen at lower altitudes near the equator.

According to a study published in 2019 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, STEVE is the result of two mechanisms: the purple streaks that result from the heating of charged particles in the upper atmosphere, and the spike-like structure that results from the fall of electrons into the atmosphere. The second process is the same as the cause of the aurora borealis, that’s why the STEVE phenomenon is considered a special and combined type of aurora borealis.

THE STEVE PHENOMENONTHE STEVE PHENOMENON

When will we see the aurora borealis?

If you’re looking to see the auroras, try not to do it in the summer. You need darkness to see the aurora borealis, and usually, the summer months have the least darkness; The good news is that the 11-year cycle of solar activity is at its peak, and we will likely see sunspots, flares, and coronal mass ejections more frequently than in previous years.

The phenomenon of mass ejection from the solar corona is the most powerful source of pregnancy particles that leave the solar corona or the upper atmosphere of the sun. When the Sun emits these plasma eruptions towards the Earth, amazing auroras are created; But knowing the solar weather alone is not enough to predict the aurora borealis. But you need a clean and clear sky. In the Northern Lights region, the spring and winter seasons are less cloudy than the fall season, so planning a trip between December and April is a good idea. Ideally, it is better to travel at the time of the new moon and make sure you are far enough away from the city lights.

Dress warmly and go watch the Northern Lights between 10 pm and 2 am local time. Periods of aurora activity usually last 30 minutes and occur every two hours. Aurora is an intermittent phenomenon and occurs randomly for short intervals.

You can use Geophysical Institute’s aurora forecasts to find out the extent of aurora activity in your area. It also provides instant information for aurora enthusiasts for a website called Aurorasaurus.

You can even see the aurora borealis without leaving your home. The Canadian Space Agency provides live sky feedback over northwestern Canada during the fall, winter, and spring seasons.

Shafaq next to the radar facilityAurora over the radar facility, Mount Murphy Dome, April 2012

Where can we see the aurora borealis?

But where exactly should we go to see the auroras? People living in Europe can go to Norway, Sweden and Finland. Many of the native people of these regions are fluent in English and there are numerous tours to see the Northern Lights.

Iceland is also a good choice, although the country’s cloudy skies make it difficult to see the aurora borealis on some nights. Also, the country of Russia has a part of Shafaqi in the northern areas, but it is difficult to reach these areas because they lack tourist infrastructure. If you are lucky, you can see aurora borealis in Moscow or St. Petersburg; But you must get away from urban light pollution.

In North America, there are many options for seeing the aurora borealis. Of course, eastern Canada is usually cloudy. Alaska Tours also provides visitors with different types of trips and options.

Read More: The planet Neptune; Everything you need to know

Auroras on other planets

Auroras can also occur on other planets. The prerequisites for the aurora to appear are the atmosphere and the magnetic field. Auroras can be seen in the atmosphere of all gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which is not strange; Because all these planets have very strong magnetic fields. Surprisingly, auroras can be seen on Venus and Mars despite their weak magnetic fields.

Astronomers have also observed glimpses of auroral activity in other systems. For example, two studies in 2021 reported the discovery of radio waves emitted by red dwarf stars, which are stars smaller and fainter than the Sun. These waves are likely related to a type of inverted aurora that occurs near stars and is caused by particles emitted from nearby planets. Auroras are probably also common in the sky of exoplanets, but we need more detailed and clear observations of these planets.

Jupiter's aurora borealisJupiter’s aurora borealis

Conclusion

Aurora Borealis is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs due to the collision of energetic particles with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Auroras have different colors based on air molecules and can be seen in both North and South Poles. The best times of the year to see the Northern Lights are spring and winter because the sky is clearer and less cloudy at these times, and the best countries are the Nordic countries like Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. However, during rare conditions, auroras can also be seen at lower altitudes, such as England. Northern lights do not occur in Iran due to the great distance from the pole.

Auroras can also be seen in other planets of the solar system, such as gas giants. The possibility of auroras occurring on these planets is high due to the presence of a strong magnetic field. However, auroras have also been observed on planets such as Mars and Venus, which have weak magnetic fields.

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The Sun; Quirks, features and everything you need to know

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The Sun
The sun, the star that gives life to the Earth, is the largest body in the solar system and determines the fate of the objects that revolve around it.

The Sun; Quirks, features, and everything you need to know

The Sun is the closest star to Earth and one of the key components of the life cycle on this planet. This yellow dwarf star is the largest and brightest object in the solar system, accounting for 99.8% of its mass.

The sun has a significant effect on the earth and without it, the formation of life on earth would not be possible. This star influences the weather, ocean currents, seasons, and climate of the earth. It enables the growth of plant life through photosynthesis and is a source of heat for life on Earth.

Table of Contents
  • What is the sun?
  • How the sun formed
  • The structure of the sun
  • Characteristics of the sun
  • What is the size and distance of the sun from the earth?
  • The influence of the sun on the Earth
  • Sunspots and solar cycles
  • death of the sun
  • Discoveries of the sun
  • Interesting facts about the sun
  • Conclusion

What is the sun?

The Sun is an ordinary star and one of the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, which is approximately 25,000 light-years away from the center of the galaxy. The sun is a relatively young star and is part of the generation of stars called population 1, which are mainly composed of elements heavier than helium. The oldest generation of stars is called population 2 and the oldest generation of stars is called population 3. Of course, no stars from the population 3-star generation have been definitively identified yet.

Animated image of the sunThe view of the sun from the perspective of the Solar Dynamics Observatory

How the sun formed

The sun was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. According to many scientists, the sun and other planets of the solar system were formed from a huge and rotating cloud of gas and dust called the solar nebula. As the nebula collapsed under its own gravity, its rotation speed increased and it became a disk. Much of the material of the disk was pulled towards the center and formed the Sun. The remnants of the nebula led to the formation of planets, asteroids, comets, and other objects in the solar system.

The structure of the sun

The Sun is in a period of its stellar life when it produces helium by burning hydrogen. The mass difference between hydrogen atoms and its child helium atom is released in the form of energy. This energy is the heat and light that sustains our planet. This stage of Khushid’s life is called the main field.

At first, main sequence stars such as the sun form a mass known as a protostar. Then they gradually collect mass from their surroundings and reach the mass required to start nuclear fusion; Like all main sequence stars, most of the Sun’s mass is hydrogen, with some helium and traces of heavier elements. The amount of heavier elements is called the metallicity of the star (according to the astronomical definition, metal is any element heavier than helium).

The Sun

The internal structure of the sun

73% of the sun’s mass is hydrogen, 25% is helium, and the remaining 2% is made up of other metals. The progenitors of stars before the Sun probably had lower metallicity ratios and filled the galaxies with large amounts of metal after their deaths.

The more massive a star is, the faster it burns its hydrogen content. Some of the largest stars, such as those with 40 times the mass of the Sun, have lifetimes as short as a million years. While the lifespan of main sequence stars like the sun can reach 10 billion years.

The sun and its atmosphere are divided into several regions and multiple layers. The interior of the sun consists of the core, the radiative region, and the convective region. The sun’s atmosphere includes parts of the photosphere, chromosphere, transition zone, and solar corona. Beyond this region is the solar wind, or outflow of gas from the solar corona.

Image of the surface of the sunThe Daniel K. Inoue Solar Telescope captured this image from the surface of the Sun.

The core of the sun occupies only 2% of its volume; However, its density is 15 times that of lead and it has almost half the mass of the sun. Then we reach the radiative zone, which constitutes 32% of the Sun’s volume and 48% of its mass. The light of the nucleus is scattered in this region so that a photon needs about a million years to pass through it.

Read more: The planet Mercury; Everything you need to know about the closest world to the Sun

The convection zone is close to the Sun’s surface and makes up 66% of the Sun’s mass, but its mass is only slightly more than 2% of the Sun’s mass.

The photosphere is the lowest layer of the Sun’s atmosphere and emits the light we see. The photosphere is approximately 500 km thick, although most of its light comes from the lower third. The temperature of the photosphere varies between 6125 degrees Celsius in the lower part and 4125 degrees Celsius in the upper part.

The temperature of the solar corona can reach millions of degrees Celsius

Then we reach the chromosphere, whose temperature can reach 19,725 degrees Celsius and is made up of blade-like structures known as spikes, which have a diameter of 1,000 km and a height of nearly 10,000 km.

Then we reach the transition zone, whose thickness is between several hundred and several thousand kilometers. This region is also heated by the solar corona above it and emits a large part of the light in the form of ultraviolet rays.

Finally, we reach the super-hot solar corona, which has structures such as rings and streams of ionized gas. The temperature of the solar corona varies between 500,000 and 6 million degrees Celsius, and even in the event of a solar flare, this temperature can reach tens of millions of degrees Celsius. Materials from the solar corona are released in the form of the solar wind.

Characteristics of the sun

The Sun’s magnetic field is defined by a combination of three complex mechanisms: a central electric current that runs through the Sun, layers of the Sun that rotate at different speeds, and the Sun’s ability to conduct electric current. Near the Sun’s equator, the magnetic field lines form small rings near the surface. The magnetic field lines that flow through the poles travel thousands of kilometers to reach the opposite pole.

The sun is at the center of the solar systemThis image shows the sun at the center of the solar system.

The Sun’s magnetic field is almost twice as strong as the Earth’s magnetic field. However, it is highly concentrated in some small areas, so that its strength reaches 3000 times the normal level. These changes lead to the creation of features such as sunspots to spectacular eruptions known as flares and mass ejections from the solar corona.

The sun rotates around its axis just like the earth. This rotation is counterclockwise and it takes between 25 and 53 days to complete one rotation. The Sun also rotates clockwise around the center of the Milky Way. The Sun’s orbit is between 24,000 and 26,000 light years away from the center of the galaxy. It takes 225 million to 250 million years for the Sun to make a complete revolution to the center of the galaxy.

What is the size and distance of the sun from the earth?

The sun is approximately 150 million kilometers away from the earth. This distance called an astronomical unit (AU), has become the standard scale for measuring the distance between stars and planets. An astronomical unit can be measured based on the speed of light or the time it takes for a photon of light to travel from the Sun to Earth.

It takes approximately eight minutes and nineteen seconds for sunlight to reach the Earth. The radius of the sun or its distance from the center is approximately 700 thousand kilometers. This distance is about 109 times the radius of the Earth. The Sun is not only larger in radius than the Earth, but its mass is 333,000 times that of the Earth. Also, 99.8% of the total mass of the solar system belongs to the sun.

Dimensions of the sunComparison of the dimensions of the sun compared to the gaseous and rocky planets of the solar system.

The influence of the sun on the Earth

The influence of the sun on the earth is very impressive. The sun is responsible for the formation of life on our planet and without it, we would not exist. Plants and animals depend on the sun to grow. Plants obtain their food through a process called photosynthesis. In addition to water and carbon dioxide, the sun helps plants produce glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar that acts as food for plants.

In addition, another product of photosynthesis is oxygen, which plants release from themselves. On the other hand, we humans need oxygen for our lives. For this reason, plants are often called the lungs of the earth. Plants in the oceans, such as phytoplankton and seaweed, use sunlight for photosynthesis. In this way, the ocean produces half of the oxygen in the world. On the other hand, the oceans absorb a large part of the carbon dioxide on the earth.

solar energySolar energy can be used to provide electricity.

The sun is the main driver of the Earth’s climate and ocean currents. The heat of the sun is unevenly distributed on the earth. Areas around the equator receive direct sunlight and are therefore warmer than areas near the poles. The heat from the equator moves towards the poles and creates currents. This movement transports nutrients into the oceans and helps regulate the climate.

On the other hand, for humans, the day and night cycle is the basis for daily activities. Humans are often active during the day. Sunrise signals indicate the beginning of the day and sunset signals rest time.

In addition to setting the body clock, the sun has direct benefits on our overall health. Sunlight is good for bones and helps improve our health. Our body produces vitamin D through exposure to direct sunlight. It also helps to produce serotonin, the feel-good hormone and boosts our sense of energy. However, moderation is important, as too much sun exposure can lead to sunburn.

Sunspots and solar cycles

Sunspots are dark and relatively cold spots on the sun’s surface that often have a circular appearance. These spots appear when dense parts of the Sun’s magnetic field lines make their way from the inner space to the Sun’s surface.

The number of sunspots depends on the solar magnetic activity. The change in the number of spots from a minimum to a maximum of 250 spots and then back to the minimum value is called the solar cycle. This cycle repeats almost every 11 years.

Sun transition zoneAn image of the transition zone of the sun.

death of the sun

The Sun is almost halfway through its main sequence life and has been burning hydrogen for 4.5 billion years. Our star is in a constant battle because the external radiation pressure from the nuclear fusion process is always in balance with the external gravitational forces. When the sun’s core hydrogen runs out in about 5 billion years, no force will be able to counter the inward force of gravity.

Finally, the center of the sun undergoes gravitational collapse and turns into a compact core. In the next stage, helium fusion occurs and elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are produced. In this way, the sun enters the red giant phase and spreads its outer layers into space. During this phase, the Sun will swallow the inner planets of the Solar System, such as Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth. Finally, after millions of years, with the release of all the outer layers, the core of the Sun remains in the form of a white dwarf. The white dwarf loses its heat over time and theoretically turns into a cold object called a black dwarf.

Giraffe red giant starCamelopardalis red giant star. Our sun will become a red giant one day

Discoveries of the sun

Ancient cultures often altered natural stone structures or built stone monuments to mark the movements of the sun and moon, thus recognizing the seasons, creating calendars, and tracking the process of solar and lunar eclipses. According to the belief of many ancient people, the sun revolved around the earth, so Ptolemy, the ancient Greek researcher, made the central earth model in 150 BC. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus presented the sun-central model of the solar system, and in 1610, the discovery of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo Galilei confirmed the hypothesis that all celestial bodies do not revolve around the Earth.

For the first time, Nicolaus Copernicus presented the heliocentric model of the solar system

To learn more about the Sun and other stars, scientists began to study the Sun from Earth’s orbit. NASA launched a series of eight orbiting observatories known as Orbiting Solar Observatory between 1962 and 1971. Seven of them performed successfully and examined the Sun in X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths. Also, one of their achievements was photographing the super-hot solar corona.

In 1990, NASA and the European Space Agency launched the Ulysses probe to observe the polar regions of the Sun. In 2004, NASA’s Genesis spacecraft returned samples of the solar wind to Earth for research. In 2007, the STEREO dual probe released the first 3D images of the Sun. NASA lost contact with STEREO-B in 2014. SETERO-A continued to operate.

Artistic illustration of Parker ExplorerArtist’s rendering of the Parker Probe.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is one of the most important solar probes designed to study the solar wind and the outer layers and internal structure of the Sun. Among the important achievements of this probe, we can mention the following: photographing the structure of subsurface sunspots, measuring the acceleration of solar winds, discovering corona waves and solar tornadoes, discovering more than 1000 comets, creating a revolution in the human ability to predict space weather.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in 2010, has released unprecedented detail of sunspot outflows, as well as close-up images of the Sun’s surface activity and precise measurements of solar flares across a wide range of ultraviolet wavelengths.

The most recent spacecraft added to the Sun Observing fleet are the Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Orbiter spacecraft from NASA and the European Space Agency, which were launched in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Both probes are moving in unprecedentedly close orbits around the Sun, providing complementary measurements of the star’s environment.

On its closest approach to the Sun, the Parker probe entered the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, and withstood its extremely hot temperatures. At its closest, this spacecraft is located at a distance of 6.5 million kilometers from the surface of the sun. The measurements help scientists learn more about the Sun’s energetic currents, the structure of the solar wind, and how energetic particles are accelerated and transported.

Solar orbiterHypothetical image of NASA solar orbiter with Parker probe.

Although the Solar Orbiter will not fly as close to the Sun as the Parker Probe, it is equipped with advanced cameras and telescopes that take pictures of the star’s surface as close as possible. It was technically impossible for the Parker probe to carry such a camera to directly photograph the Sun. The Parker probe has also flown through a Coronal Mass Eruption (CME) in its most recent attempt.

Solar Orbiter is closest to the Sun at an altitude of 43 million kilometers from this star, which is 25% closer to the Sun than Mercury. This orbiter has recorded a collection of the closest images to the Sun and unprecedented features such as miniature flares.

Interesting facts about the sun

Up to this section, we have provided almost all the necessary information about the sun. However, there are some facts about this amazing star that you have rarely heard.

  • The sun constitutes 99.86% of the total mass of the solar system. The sun has a mass of 330,000 times the mass of the Earth. Three-quarters of the sun is hydrogen and the rest is helium. Therefore, the sun is the heaviest object in the solar system.
  • More than a million Earths fit in the Sun. If you were to fill a hollow sun with spherical Earths, it would fit nearly 960,000 Earths inside. However, if you want to make sure that no space is wasted, 1,300,000 crushed Earths fit inside the Sun. The surface area of ​​the sun is 11,990 times the area of ​​the Earth.
  • One day, the sun will destroy life on Earth. The sun will eventually run out of hydrogen fuel after five billion years. Finally, this star expands and enters the red giant phase. As a result, the Sun will swallow the planets Mercury and Venus and possibly the Earth.
  • The energy produced by the Sun’s core is called nuclear fusion. Most of the sun’s energy is produced when four hydrogen nuclei combine to form a helium nucleus.
  • The sun is almost a perfect sphere. Considering the sheer dimensions of the sun, there is only a ten kilometer difference between its polar and equatorial diameters; And this feature makes the Sun the closest object to a perfect sphere in nature.
  • The sun is moving at a speed of 220 km/s. The Sun is between 24,000 and 26,000 light-years away from the center of the galaxy. It takes approximately 225 to 250 million years for the Sun to make a complete orbit around the center of the Milky Way.
  • The sun will eventually become the same size as the Earth. When the Sun ends its red giant phase, it undergoes internal collapse. The large mass of the Sun is conserved, yet this large mass is condensed into an Earth-sized volume. When this happens, the Sun enters the white dwarf phase.
  • It takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach the earth. The average distance between the sun and the Earth is approximately 150 million kilometers. Light travels at a speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, by dividing these numbers we get 500 seconds or eight minutes and twenty seconds. Energy from the Sun reaches the Earth in just a few minutes, but it takes millions of years to reach the surface of the Sun’s core.
  • The sun is in the middle of its life. With a lifetime of 4.5 billion years, the Sun has burned almost half of its hydrogen storage and has enough storage for the next 5 billion years. Currently, the Sun is a yellow dwarf star.
  • The distance between the Earth and the Sun changes. The reason for this problem is the movement of the Earth in an elliptical orbit around the sun. For this reason, the distance between the Earth and the Sun varies between 147 and 152 million kilometers.
  • The sun revolves around the Earth. If you look at the sun from the north, the sun rotates in a counter-clockwise direction, i.e. from east to west. This process is similar to all the planets of the solar system except for Venus and Uranus.
  • The rotation of the sun at the equator is faster than the rotation of its poles. This phenomenon is called differential rotation.
  • The sun produces the solar wind. These winds are plasma eruptions or very hot charged particles that originate from a layer of the sun called the solar corona. These particles can move at a speed of 450 km/s in the solar system.
  • The sun belongs to the group of yellow dwarf stars. The sun is a type of main sequence star with a surface temperature between 5000 and 5700 degrees Celsius, which is included in the group of yellow dwarf stars.
  • The auroras are the result of the collision of the solar wind with the Earth’s atmosphere. When the sun’s charged particles collide with the earth’s atmosphere, beautiful aurora borealis in different colors are created, and as the name aurora borealis suggests, they are mostly seen in the polar regions and near the poles.

Conclusion

The sun is the star responsible for the emergence and continuation of life on Earth, which constitutes nearly 99.8% of the total mass of the solar system. This yellow dwarf star, which is in the main sequence stage of its life, was formed about 4.6 billion years ago from a huge cloud of gas and dust. Gradually, the planets formed around the sun.

The sun has a great influence on the earth’s climate and weather, and since thousands of years ago, humans have used the sun to regulate their daily activities. In about 5 billion years, the life of the Sun will end and by entering the red giant phase, the rocky planets will swallow the inner part of the solar system. So far, researchers have sent many probes to the Sun, which have resulted in amazing data on the structure of the Sun.

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Space

The planet Neptune; Everything you need to know

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Neptune
Neptune, the farthest planet from the Sun, is one of the two ice giants of the solar system, along with Uranus.

The planet Neptune; Everything you need to know

Neptune is the eighth planet of the solar system and the farthest planet from the sun. But it is not the coldest planet. This blue gas giant of the solar system is significantly larger than Earth and has 17 times the mass of Earth. Neptune’s rocky core is surrounded by a mixture of water ice, ammonia, and methane.

Table of Contents
  • What does the planet Neptune symbolize?
  • Distance from Earth to Neptune
  • How was Neptune formed?
  • Characteristics of Neptune
  • moons of Neptune
  • Neptune’s rings
  • Interesting facts about the planet Neptune
  • Why is Neptune blue?
  • Neptune’s Diamond Rain
  • The stormiest planet
  • How cold is Neptune?
  • The strange temperature of Neptune
  • Neptune’s solid core is roughly the same size as Earth
  • Neptune has migrated to its current position
  • Life on Neptune is unlikely
  • Discoveries of Neptune
  • Journey to Neptune
  • Photo of the planet Neptune
  • Conclusion

What does the planet Neptune symbolize?

The ice giant Neptune was the first planet to be discovered based on mathematical calculations. This planet was discovered in 1846 based on the predictions of astronomers such as Urban Le Verrier and Johann Galle. The name Neptune is derived from the name of the Roman god of the sea, which was suggested by Le Verrier.

Distance from Earth to Neptune

The distance between Neptune and Earth is between 3.4 billion and 7.4 billion kilometers, depending on the position of the two planets in their orbits. Voyager 2 took 12 years to reach Neptune. This probe traveled at an average speed of 68,000 kilometers per hour, which is much faster than the speeds that humans have traveled so far.

Voyager photo of NeptuneVoyager 2 captured this image in 1989.

How was Neptune formed?

About 4.5 billion years ago, the planet Neptune turned into an ice giant due to the accumulation of gas and dust due to gravity. This planet, like its neighbor Uranus, was probably at a closer distance from the Sun and then moved to the outer solar system about 4 billion years ago.

Characteristics of Neptune

Most of Neptune is made up of water, ammonia, and methane. The planet does not have a solid surface but has a solid core like Earth. Neptune is an ice giant along with Uranus. This nickname distinguishes Neptune from gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn because Neptune and Uranus have higher amounts of ice-forming molecules.

Most of Neptune’s visible atmosphere consists of hydrogen (more than 80%) and helium (15%). A small amount of methane and other molecules such as ethane, acetylene, and some other hydrocarbons are found in this section.

Inside NeptuneNeptune’s internal structure: (1) clouds above the atmosphere (2) atmosphere: a mixture of hydrogen, helium and methane (3) mantle: including water ice, ammonia, and methane (4) rocky core: silicate and iron, nickel

However, the deeper we go into this planet, the more its composition changes. Based on the overall density of Neptune, heavier elements are located in its depths; Therefore, ten to twenty percent of the total composition of Uranus and Neptune includes hydrogen and helium, and 80 to 90 percent of those elements are heavier. The heavier elements are methane, ammonia, and water, as well as other elements that make up the rocky and metallic parts.

Neptune is the fourth largest planet in the solar system with a radius of 24,622 km. One Neptune day is equal to 16 Earth hours (one day is Neptune’s rotation around itself or spin). One Neptune year is equal to 165 Earth years. Sometimes the distance of Neptune from the Sun is further than the distance of the dwarf planet Pluto. Pluto’s highly irregular, elliptical orbit interferes with Neptune’s orbit for twenty years every 248 Earth years. As a result of this shift, Pluto is closer to the Sun than Neptune. This interference occurred for the last time between 1979 and 1999. However, Pluto never collides with Neptune.

Moons of Neptune

Neptune has 14 confirmed moons. The largest moon of this planet is Triton, which rotates in the opposite direction to the spin of Neptune. This reverse orbit shows that Triton was not always associated with Neptune and researchers believe that it was trapped by Neptune’s gravity from the Kuiper belt almost millions of years ago. Triton is the only spherical moon of Neptune and the other 13 moons of this planet have irregular shapes.

The surface temperature of Triton reaches minus 235 degrees Celsius and this feature makes it one of the coldest places in the solar system. However, Voyager 2 discovered glaciers that spewed ice up to 8 km away, indicating Triton’s hot interior. Scientists are also investigating the possibility of an underground ocean on this icy moon. Scientists discovered the existence of seasons in Triton in 2010.

Nereid is another moon of Neptune, due to its special orbit, it is one of the strangest moons in the solar system. This moon can move close to Neptune at a distance of 1.4 million kilometers to a distance of 9.7 million kilometers.

Triton, Neptune's moonThis image of Triton was captured by Voyager 2 in 1989.

Neptune’s rings

Last year, the James Webb Space Telescope captured the clearest image of Neptune’s rings. Neptune is surrounded by strange rings that are not solid and contain thick, glowing clumps of dust. There are at least five rings around Neptune, and their names are Galle, Laurier, LaSalle, Arago, and Adams. These rings are relatively young and have a short life. Ground-based observations show that Neptune’s rings are much more unstable than previously thought.

Neptune's ringsThe James Webb Space Telescope released the clearest image yet of Neptune’s rings in September 2022.

Interesting facts about the planet Neptune

Why is Neptune blue?

Neptune’s surface clouds appear bright blue in part due to the absorption of red light by methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Neptune has clouds that are mainly composed of icy methane, in fact, icy methane particles are the main cause of this planet’s blue color.

Clouds of NeptuneCloud streaks on the surface of Neptune. This image was captured by the Voyager 2 probe. The width of cloud streaks varies from 50 to 200 km.

Neptune’s Diamond Rain

The planets Neptune and Uranus are famous for their diamond showers. This phenomenon occurs due to the high pressure of the atmosphere of these planets, which is 200 thousand times that of Earth. This pressure breaks the methane in the atmosphere and releases carbon. The carbon then forms long chains and diamond-like crystal patterns. Diamond fragments fall onto the mantle and then evaporate due to mantle conditions. The innermost part of the mantle of these planets has an approximate temperature of 6727 degrees Celsius and an approximate pressure of 6 million times that of the Earth.

Neptune's Diamond RainThis visualization shows Neptune’s diamond shower.

The stormiest planet

Neptune is the windiest planet in the entire solar system. Despite being so far away and receiving little energy from the Sun, Neptune’s winds can be three times stronger than Jupiter’s and nine times stronger than Earth’s. These winds move frozen methane clouds across the surface of the planet at speeds of over 2,000 km/h. This is while the speed of the strongest winds on earth reaches only 400 km/h.

In 1989, a large oval-shaped storm called the Great Black Spot appeared in Neptune’s southern hemisphere. This storm was so big that it could contain the entire globe. The Great Black Spot has disappeared, but new spots have appeared in various parts of Neptune.

big black spotThe Great Black Spot as seen by the Voyager 2 probe

How cold is Neptune?

The temperature of Neptune’s atmosphere reaches minus 225 degrees Celsius. Although Neptune is expected to be the coldest planet as the farthest planet from the Sun, Uranus and Neptune have almost the same temperature, and some regions of Uranus are even colder than Neptune.

The strange temperature of Neptune

Neptune's temperature changesTemperature changes of Neptune in different years

In 2019, NASA discovered evidence of Neptune’s strange temperature changes. Using thermal cameras, researchers tracked the average temperature of the planet. Since changes were first recorded in 2003, Neptune has cooled over time. The temperature of Neptune’s southern hemisphere has decreased by 8.7 degrees Celsius between 2003 and 2018. But this trend seems to have reversed between 2018 and 2020 and the temperature has suddenly increased up to 10.6 degrees Celsius. The reason for these changes is not clear, but one of the possible reasons is the seasonal changes, each lasting 40 years.

Neptune’s solid core is roughly the same size as Earth

Under the thick atmosphere of Neptune, it is speculated that there is a solid core about the size of the planet Earth. Despite the lack of data, Neptune’s core is likely composed of heavier elements such as iron, nickel, and silicates.

Neptune has migrated to its current position

Another fascinating fact about Neptune is that it probably moved to its current position early in its formation. This attitude goes back to the exact mechanism of the formation of Neptune. According to researchers, this planet probably formed at a closer distance from the sun and then moved.

Life on Neptune is unlikely

Most scientists consider the possibility of life on Neptune to be small or impossible. Neptune’s conditions are very different from those of a planet like Earth, and the absence of liquid water would completely disrupt the existence of life as we know it. On the other hand, the atmosphere and surface of Neptune experience new temperatures and pressure, and this arrangement of the planet Neptune is a harsh environment for the formation of any kind of complex or primitive life.

Cassini image of NeptuneThe Cassini spacecraft released this image of Neptune in August 2017.

Discoveries of Neptune

Scientists discovered Neptune in 1846 after calculating the orbit of Uranus. According to these calculations, an unknown planet was influencing the gravity of Uranus. It is not possible to see Neptune with the naked eye, but researchers were able to confirm the existence of this planet with a telescope. Astronomer Galileo Galilei was one of the first people to identify Neptune as a space body, however, because of its slow motion, he thought Neptune was a star.

Journey to Neptune

Voyager 2 is the only land probe that managed to visit Neptune. This probe released the first images of the blue planet in 1989 on its way out of the solar system. Neptune appears blue in these images due to methane in the atmosphere.

In 2020, NASA talked about the possibility of launching a new mission called Trident to visit Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. In general, learning about ice-giant planets like Neptune is important for several reasons. First of all, the extreme atmospheric conditions and long seasonal intervals of the ice giants provide a unique opportunity to understand the physics of weather and climate. In addition, these planets help us learn more about the formation of the solar system. Understanding Uranus and Neptune will also help to better understand the formation of the planets and how they differ from Jupiter and Saturn.

From a more general perspective, these ice giants are likely representative of the general group of planets common in the galaxy. According to the survey of exoplanets that have been discovered in the past years, exoplanets the size of Neptune are one of the most common planets. By understanding the formation and characteristics of ice giants, scientists hope to gain a better perspective of other exoplanets.

Photo of the planet Neptune

Voyager 2 is the only probe that has captured clear images of Neptune. However, Hubble and James Webb space telescopes also released images of this blue giant. In 2016, using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists discovered a new black spot on Neptune, which is considered the first stormy spot in the 21st century.

Hubble Space Telescope photo of NeptuneHubble Space Telescope photo of Neptune

Conclusion

Neptune is the eighth planet in the solar system and the farthest planet from the sun. This blue planet has 14 moons and five unstable rings. The speed of Neptune’s winds reaches 2000 kilometers per hour, which is several times the speed of the strongest winds on Earth. Voyager 2 is the only probe that visited Neptune and captured beautiful images of this planet. Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, is also a mysterious source with fascinating geyser-like features that scientists have proposed projects to investigate.

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