Meteor Activity Outlook for June 25-July 1, 2016

by Robert Lunsford – American Meteor Society

The June Bootids (JBO) are usually a very weak shower that occasionally produces outbursts. Nothing out of the ordinary is expected this year but with the moon out of the way so viewing for unusual activity is warranted. These meteors are best seen from June 23-25, with maximum activity occurring on the 23rd. At maximum the radiant is located at 14:56 (224) +48. This position lies in northwestern Bootes, 15 degrees east of the second magnitude star known as Alkaid (Eta Ursae Majoris). This radiant is best placed in the evening sky just as the sky becomes dark. Observers in the northern hemisphere have a distinct advantage over those located south of the equator as the radiant lies much higher in the evening sky. No matter your location, little activity is expected from this source. With an entry velocity of 13 km/sec., the average June Bootid meteor would be of very slow velocity.

skywatch

During this period the moon reaches its last quarter phase on Monday June 27th. At this time the moon will lie 90 degrees west of the sun and will rise between midnight and 0100 local daylight saving time for most sites located in mid-northern latitudes. The half-illuminated moon will interfere with meteor observing, but to a much lesser degree than when near its full phase. Toward the end of the period the waning crescent moon will rise during the late morning hours allowing  most of the night to be free of lunar glare. The estimated total hourly meteor rates for evening observers this week is near 2 for observers located in the northern hemisphere and 3 for observers located in tropical southern locations (25S). For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near 4 as seen from mid-northern latitudes (45N) and 6 as seen from tropical southern locations (25S).

Morning rates are reduced during this period due to interfering moonlight. The actual rate  s will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Note that the hourly rates listed below are estimates as viewed from dark sky sites away from urban light sources. Observers viewing from urban areas will see less activity as only the brightest meteors will be visible from such locations.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning June 25/26. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period. Most star atlases (available at science stores and planetariums) will provide maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates so that you may find out exactly where these positions are located in the sky.

A planisphere or computer planetarium program is also useful in showing the sky at any time of night on any date of the year. Activity from each radiant is best seen when it is positioned highest in the sky, either due north or south along the meridian, depending on your latitude. It must be remembered that meteor activity is rarely seen at the radiant position. Rather they shoot outwards from the radiant so it is best to center your field of view so that the radiant lies at the edge and not the center. Vi  ewing there will allow you to easily trace the path of each meteor back to the radiant (if it is a shower member) or in another direction if it is a sporadic. Meteor activity is not seen from radiants that are located far below the horizon. The positions below are listed in a west to east manner in order of right ascension (celestial longitude). The positions listed first are located further west therefore are accessible earlier in the night while those listed further down the list rise later in the night.

These sources of meteoric activity are expected to be active this week.

The f Ophiuchids (FOP) were discovered by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel using video data from the IMO network of cameras. These meteors are only active on 3 nights centered on June 30th. Maximum actually occurs on June 29th when the radiant is located at 17:40 (265) +08. This area of the sky is located in central Ophiuchus, 3 degrees north of the 3rd magnitude star known as Celbalrai (beta Ophiuchi). The radiant is best placed near midnight LDT when it lies on the meridian and is highest in the sky. Rates of less than 1 per hour are expected, even at maximum. With an entry velocity of 17 km/sec., the average f Ophiuchid meteor would be of very slow velocity.

The center of the large Anthelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 19:08 (287) -22. This position lies in central Sagittarius, just south of the the twin stars known as pi and omicron Sagittarii.  Due to the large size of this radiant, Anthelion activity may also appear from the nearby constellations of Scutum, Serpens Caput, southern Aquila, and western Capricornus as well as Sagittarius. This radiant is best placed near 0100 local daylight saving (LDST), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Hourly rates at this time should be near 2 as seen from mid-northern latitudes and 3 as seen from tropical southern latitudes. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Anthelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

The Sigma Capricornids (SA) were discovered by Zdenek Sekanina and are active for a month lasting from June 19 through July 24. Maximum occurs on June 27th when the radiant is located at 20:24 (306) -07. This area of the sky is actually located in southeastern Aquila, five degrees north of the naked eye double star Algiedi (Alpha Capricornii). The radiant is best placed near 0300 LDT when it lies on the meridian and is highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near one per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 42 km/sec., the average Sigma Capricornid meteor would be of medium velocity. This velocity is significantly faster than the stronger Alpha Capricornids, which appear from the same general area of the sky during the second half of July.

The Pi Piscids (PPS) were discovered by Dr. Peter Brown in his meteoroid stream survey using the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar. This shower was later verified by Dr. Peter Jenniskens and David Holman using data from the CAMS network in northern California. These meteors are active from June 11 through July 25 with maximum activity occurring on July 1st. The current position of the radiant is 00:44 (011) +23. This position actually lies in southeastern Andromeda, 2 degrees west of the 4th magnitude star known as eta Andromedae. Rates are currently expected to be less than 1 per hour no matter your location. Rates will increase to near 2 per hour at maximum. With an entry velocity of 68 km/sec., the average Pi Piscid meteor would be of swift speed.

The c-Andromedids (CAN) was discovered by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel using video data from the IMO network. Activity from this source is seen from June 26 though July 20 with maximum activity occurring on July 12. The radiant currently lies at 00:54 (013) +41, which places it in northern Andromeda, close to the faint star known as nu Andromedae. This position is also just 1 degree east of the naked eye Andromeda Galaxy. This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Observers in the northern hemisphere are better situated to view this activity as the radiant rises much higher in the sky before dawn as seen from northern latitudes. Current rates would be less than 1 per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 60 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately 6 sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near 1 per hour. As seen from the tropical southern latitudes (25S), morning rates would be near 9 per hour as seen from rural observing sites and 2 per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Evening rates during this period are reduced due to moonlight.

The June Bootids (JBO) are usually a very weak shower that occasionally produces outbursts. Nothing out of the ordinary is expected this year but with the moon out of the way so viewing for unusual activity is warranted. These meteors are best seen from June 23-25, with maximum activity occurring on the 23rd. At maximum the radiant is located at 14:56 (224) +48. This position lies in northwestern Bootes, 15 degrees east of the second magnitude star known as Alkaid (Eta Ursae Majoris). This radiant is best placed in the evening sky just as the sky becomes dark. Observers in the northern hemisphere have a distinct advantage over those located south of the equator as the radiant lies much higher in the evening sky. No matter your location, little activity is expected from this source. With an entry velocity of 13 km/sec., the average June Bootid meteor would be of very slow velocity.

During this period the moon reaches its last quarter phase on Monday June 27th. At this time the moon will lie 90 degrees west of the sun and will rise between midnight and 0100 local daylight saving time for most sites located in mid-northern latitudes. The half-illuminated moon will interfere with meteor observing, but to a much lesser degree than when near its full phase. Toward the end of the period the waning crescent moon will rise during the late morning hours allowing  most of the night to be free of lunar glare. The estimated total hourly meteor rates for evening observers this week is near 2 for observers located in the northern hemisphere and 3 for observers located in tropical southern locations (25S). For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near 4 as seen from mid-northern latitudes (45N) and 6 as seen from tropical southern locations (25S).

Morning rates are reduced duri this period due to interfering moonlight. The actual rate  s will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Note that the hourly rates listed below are estimates as viewed from dark sky sites away from urban light sources. Observers viewing from urban areas will see less activity as only the brightest meteors will be visible from such locations.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning June 25/26. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period. Most star atlases (available at science stores and planetariums) will provide maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates so that you may find out exactly where these positions are located in the sky.

A planisphere or computer planetarium program is also useful in showing the sky at any time of night on any date of the year. Activity from each radiant is best seen when it is positioned highest in the sky, either due north or south along the meridian, depending on your latitude. It must be remembered that meteor activity is rarely seen at the radiant position. Rather they shoot outwards from the radiant so it is best to center your field of view so that the radiant lies at the edge and not the center. Vi  ewing there will allow you to easily trace the path of each meteor back to the radiant (if it is a shower member) or in another direction if it is a sporadic. Meteor activity is not seen from radiants that are located far below the horizon. The positions below are listed in a west to east manner in order of right ascension (celestial longitude). The positions listed first are located further west therefore are accessible earlier in the night while those listed further down the list rise later in the night.

These sources of meteoric activity are expected to be active this week.

The f Ophiuchids (FOP) were discovered by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel using video data from the IMO network of cameras. These meteors are only active on 3 nights centered on June 30th. Maximum actually occurs on June 29th when the radiant is located at 17:40 (265) +08. This area of the sky is located in central Ophiuchus, 3 degrees north of the 3rd magnitude star known as Celbalrai (beta Ophiuchi). The radiant is best placed near midnight LDT when it lies on the meridian and is highest in the sky. Rates of less than 1 per hour are expected, even at maximum. With an entry velocity of 17 km/sec., the average f Ophiuchid meteor would be of very slow velocity.

The center of the large Anthelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 19:08 (287) -22. This position lies in central Sagittarius, just south of the the twin stars known as pi and omicron Sagittarii.  Due to the large size of this radiant, Anthelion activity may also appear from the nearby constellations of Scutum, Serpens Caput, southern Aquila, and western Capricornus as well as Sagittarius. This radiant is best placed near 0100 local daylight saving (LDST), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Hourly rates at this time should be near 2 as seen from mid-northern latitudes and 3 as seen from tropical southern latitudes. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Anthelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

The Sigma Capricornids (SCA) were discovered by Zdenek Sekanina and are active for a month lasting from June 19 through July 24. Maximum occurs on June 27th when the radiant is located at 20:24 (306) -07. This area of the sky is actually located in southeastern Aquila, five degrees north of the naked eye double star Algiedi (Alpha Capricornii). The radiant is best placed near 0300 LDT when it lies on the meridian and is highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near one per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 42 km/sec., the average Sigma Capricornid meteor would be of medium velocity. This velocity is significantly faster than the stronger Alpha Capricornids, which appear from the same general area of the sky during the second half of July.

The Pi Piscids (PPS) were discovered by Dr. Peter Brown in his meteoroid stream survey using the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar. This shower was later verified by Dr. Peter Jenniskens and David Holman using data from the CAMS network in northern California. These meteors are active from June 11 through July 25 with maximum activity occurring on July 1st. The current position of the radiant is 00:44 (011) +23. This position actually lies in southeastern Andromeda, 2 degrees west of the 4th magnitude star known as eta Andromedae. Rates are currently expected to be less than 1 per hour no matter your location. Rates will increase to near 2 per hour at maximum. With an entry velocity of 68 km/sec., the average Pi Piscid meteor would be of swift speed.

The c-Andromedids (CAN) was discovered by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel using video data from the IMO network. Activity from this source is seen from June 26 though July 20 with maximum activity occurring on July 12. The radiant currently lies at 00:54 (013) +41, which places it in northern Andromeda, close to the faint star known as nu Andromedae. This position is also just 1 degree east of the naked eye Andromeda Galaxy. This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Observers in the northern hemisphere are better situated to view this activity as the radiant rises much higher in the sky before dawn as seen from northern latitudes. Current rates would be less than 1 per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 60 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

As seen from the mid-norther hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately 6 sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near 1 per hour. As seen from the tropical southern latitudes (25S), morning rates would be near 9 per hour as seen from rural observing sites and 2 per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Evening rates during this period are reduced due to moonlight.

BREAKING NEWS: New Study Reinforces Cyclical Magnetic Pole Reversals

It is important to understand there are scientifically identified varying forms of cyclical events, sometimes referred to as time-variable control parameters. As it is with the nature of scientific formulas and equations, it can be a bit complicated. Therefore, I will explain in a way that is reflective of schematics.

magnetic-field-earth

Specially related to Geophysics and Paleomagnetism, periods of magnetic reversals are basically defined in three forms of cycles. The reason for such variables, is unlike the study of solar cycles goes back only a few hundred years, the research related to Earth’s magnetic reversals covers billions of years. And to this researcher, it highlights Earth’s relationship to our galaxy Milky Way and beyond which I believe already shows cycles going back hundreds of thousands years, and at the rate of new research coming in, I believe new data will identify cyclical events related to our solar system going back to near the Big Bang.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-earth-core-structure-to-scale-isolated-illustrated-geological-layers-according-black-elements-d-image-furnished-image38470080

One measurement of a magnetic reversal (MR) is defined as ‘below random’. The reason for this variable is the period between supercrons and clustering. This is because of the variance in convection between the Earth’s core and mantle. In simple terms, it is yet specifically identified as to the external cause of heating and cooling cycles of Earth’s core. Again, to this writer, it is a sure sign the convection process goes far beyond or Sun’s influence. Remember, the Sun’s magnetic field reversal has only a 22 year oscillation; which actually suggests it plays a small part related to Earth’s magnetic reversal. However, this does not mean the solar flux does not cause harmful effects to Earth and humans. During times of high solar activity, solar flares and cmes can pierce through the magnetic field. And during times of low solar activity, the lack of solar plasma allows the more harmful and damaging Galactic Cosmic Rays to enter our atmosphere which brings with it a blast of radiation.

liquid-core

A second measurement of a MR cycle is defined as ‘nearly periodic’. Again, this has to do with periods of Earth’s development such as the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. As the Earth’s inner core developed, of course this would have a developing influence on the convection process.

A third measurement of a MR cycle is defined as ‘time-dependent periodic’. This is to say, from the time of Earth’s fully developed inner core, there is a time-dependent cycle of magnetic fluctuation of a pre, during, and post reversal. The reason for the term “time-dependent” is directly related to the ebb and flow of mantle plumes. In other words, it is directly related to the heating and cooling of Earth’s core through the process of convection.

multipile magnetic fields ancient earth

Why is this important? Because it can be fully identified and measured. In other words, there will be signs and symptoms during the process. In fact, we are already seeing them. First the magnetic north pole will drift. It will continue and speed up over time and may go as far south as 40th degree parallel. Then in its final stages it will bounce back and forth between north and south, then finally and perhaps in a single day, flip completely.

More coming soon…………

 

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X-ray Echoes Of A Shredded Star Provide Close-up Of ‘Killer’ Black Hole

Some 3.9 billion years ago in the heart of a distant galaxy, the intense tidal pull of a monster black hole shredded a star that passed too close. When X-rays produced in this event first reached Earth on March 28, 2011, they were detected by NASA’s Swift satellite, which notified astronomers around the world. Within days, scientists concluded that the outburst, now known as Swift J1644+57, represented both the tidal disruption of a star and the sudden flare-up of a previously inactive black hole.

bhole

Now astronomers using archival observations from Swift, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton observatory and the Japan-led Suzaku satellite have identified the reflections of X-ray flares erupting during the event. Led by Erin Kara, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), the team has used these light echoes, or reverberations, to map the flow of gas near a newly awakened black hole for the first time.

“While we don’t yet understand what causes X-ray flares near the black hole, we know that when one occurs we can detect its echo a couple of minutes later, once the light has reached and illuminated parts of the flow,” Kara explained. “This technique, called X-ray reverberation mapping, has been previously used to explore stable disks around black holes, but this is the first time we’ve applied it to a newly formed disk produced by a tidal disruption.”

Stellar debris falling toward a black hole collects into a rotating structure called an accretion disk. There the gas is compressed and heated to millions of degrees before it eventually spills over the black hole’s event horizon, the point beyond which nothing can escape and astronomers cannot observe. The Swift J1644+57 accretion disk was thicker, more turbulent and more chaotic than stable disks, which have had time to settle down into an orderly routine. The researchers present the findings in a paper published online in the journal Nature on Wed., June 22.

One surprise from the study is that high-energy X-rays arise from the inner part of the disk. Astronomers had thought most of this emission originated from a narrow jet of particles accelerated to near the speed of light. In blazars, the most luminous galaxy class powered by supermassive black holes, jets produce most of the highest-energy emission.

“We do see a jet from Swift J1644, but the X-rays are coming from a compact region near the black hole at the base of a steep funnel of inflowing gas we’re looking down into,” said co-author Lixin Dai, a postdoctoral researcher at UMCP. “The gas producing the echoes is itself flowing outward along the surface of the funnel at speeds up to half the speed of light.”

X-rays originating near the black hole excite iron ions in the whirling gas, causing them to fluoresce with a distinctive high-energy glow called iron K-line emission. As an X-ray flare brightens and fades, the gas follows in turn after a brief delay depending on its distance from the source.

“Direct light from the flare has different properties than its echo, and we can detect reverberations by monitoring how the brightness changes across different X-ray energies,” said co-author Jon Miller, a professor of astronomy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Swift J1644+57 is one of only three tidal disruptions that have produced high-energy X-rays, and to date it remains the only event caught at the peak of this emission. These star shredding episodes briefly activate black holes astronomers wouldn’t otherwise know about. For every black hole now actively accreting gas and producing light, astronomers think nine others are dormant and dark. These quiescent black holes were active when the universe was younger, and they played an important role in how galaxies evolved. Tidal disruptions therefore offer a glimpse of the silent majority of supersized black holes.

“If we only look at active black holes, we might be getting a strongly biased sample,” said team member Chris Reynolds, a professor of astronomy at UMCP. “It could be that these black holes all fit within some narrow range of spins and masses. So it’s important to study the entire population to make sure we’re not biased.”

The researchers estimate the mass of the Swift J1644+57 black hole at about a million times that of the sun but did not measure its spin. With future improvements in understanding and modeling accretion flows, the team thinks it may be possible to do so.

NASA Scientists Discover Unexpected Mineral On Mars

Scientists have discovered an unexpected mineral in a rock sample at Gale Crater on Mars, a finding that may alter our understanding of how the planet evolved.

nasa

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has been exploring sedimentary rocks within Gale Crater since landing in August 2012. In July 2015, on Sol 1060 (the number of Martian days since landing), the rover collected powder drilled from rock at a location named “Buckskin.” Analyzing data from an X-ray diffraction instrument on the rover that identifies minerals, scientists detected significant amounts of a silica mineral called tridymite.

This detection was a surprise to the scientists, because tridymite is generally associated with silicic volcanism, which is known on Earth but was not thought to be important or even present on Mars.

The discovery of tridymite might induce scientists to rethink the volcanic history of Mars, suggesting that the planet once had explosive volcanoes that led to the presence of the mineral.

Scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston led the study. A paper on the team’s findings has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“On Earth, tridymite is formed at high temperatures in an explosive process called silicic volcanism. Mount St. Helens, the active volcano in Washington State, and the Satsuma-Iwojima volcano in Japan are examples of such volcanoes. The combination of high silica content and extremely high temperatures in the volcanoes creates tridymite,” said Richard Morris, NASA planetary scientist at Johnson and lead author of the paper. “The tridymite was incorporated into ‘Lake Gale’ mudstone at Buckskin as sediment from erosion of silicic volcanic rocks.”

The paper also will stimulate scientists to re-examine the way tridymite forms. The authors examined terrestrial evidence that tridymite could form at low temperatures from geologically reasonable processes and not imply silicic volcanism. They found none. Researchers will need to look for ways that it could form at lower temperatures.

“I always tell fellow planetary scientists to expect the unexpected on Mars,” said Doug Ming, ARES chief scientist at Johnson and co-author of the paper. “The discovery of tridymite was completely unexpected. This discovery now begs the question of whether Mars experienced a much more violent and explosive volcanic history during the early evolution of the planet than previously thought.”

Volcanoes Get Quiet Before They Erupt

When dormant volcanoes are about to erupt, they show some predictive characteristics–seismic activity beneath the volcano starts to increase, gas escapes through the vent, or the surrounding ground starts to deform. However, until now, there has not been a way to forecast eruptions of more restless volcanoes because of the constant seismic activity and gas and steam emissions.

volcano

Carnegie volcanologist Diana Roman, working with a team of scientists from Penn State, Oxford University, the University of Iceland, and INETER has shown that periods of seismic quiet occur immediately before eruptions and can thus be used to forecast an impending eruption for restless volcanoes. The duration of the silence can indicate the level of energy that will be released when eruption occurs. Longer quiet periods mean a bigger bang.

The research is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

The team monitored a sequence of eruptions at the Telica Volcano in Nicaragua in 2011. It is a so-called stratovolcano, with a classic-looking cone built up by many layers of lava and ash. They started monitoring Telica in 2009 with various instruments and by 2011 they had a comprehensive network within 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of the volcano’s summit.

The 2011 eruptive event was a month-long series of small to moderate ash explosions. Prior to the eruption, there was a lack of deep seismicity or deformation, and small changes in sulfur dioxide gas emissions, indicating that the eruption was not driven by fresh magma. Instead, the eruption likely resulted from the vents being sealed off so that gas could not escape. This resulted in an increase in the pressure that eventually caused the explosions.

Of the 50 explosions that occurred, 35 had preceding quiet periods lasting 30 minutes or longer. Thirteen explosions were preceded by quiet intervals of at least five minutes. Only two of the 50 did not have any quiet period preceding the explosion.

“It is the proverbial calm before the storm,” remarked Roman. “The icing on the cake is that we could also use these quiet periods to forecast the amount of energy released.”

The researchers did a “hindsight” analysis of the energy released. They found that the longer the quiet phase preceding an explosion, the more energy was released in the ensuing explosion. The quiet periods ranged from 6 minutes before an explosion to over 10 hours (619 minutes) for the largest explosion.

The researchers were also able to forecast a minimum energy for impending explosions based on the data from the previous quiet/explosion pairs and the duration of the particular quiet period being analyzed. The correlation between duration of quiet periods and amount of energy released is tied to the duration of the gas pathways being blocked. The longer the blockage, the more pressure builds up resulting in more energy released. Sealing might be occurring due to mineral precipitation in cracks that previously acted as gas pathways, or due to the settling of the rock near the volcano’s surface.

“What is clear is that this method of careful monitoring of Telica or other similar volcanoes in real time could be used for short-term forecasts of eruptions,” Roman said. “Similar observations of this phenomenon have been noted anecdotally elsewhere. Our work has now quantified that quiet periods can be used for eruption forecasts and that longer quiet periods at recently active volcanoes could indicate a higher risk of energetic eruptions.”

The paper’s other authors are Mel Rodgers of Oxford University, Peter LaFemina of Penn State University, Halldor Geirsson of the University of Iceland, and Virginia Tenorio of the Instituto Nicaraguense de Estudios Territoriales.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Nicaraguan Institute of Earth Sciences (INETER).

Possible Solution To ‘Faint Young Sun Paradox’

In the first billion years of Earth’s history, the planet was bombarded by primordial asteroids, while a faint Sun provided much less heat. A Southwest Research Institute-led team posits that this tumultuous beginning may have ultimately fostered life on Earth, particularly in terms of sustaining liquid water.

earth

“The early impacts caused temporary, localized destruction and hostile conditions for life. But at the same time, they had a long-term beneficial effect in stabilizing surface temperatures and delivering key elements for life as we know it,” said Dr. Simone Marchi, a senior research scientist at SwRI’s Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colo. He is the lead author of a paper, “Massive Impact-induced Release of Carbon and Sulfur Gases in the Early Earth’s Atmosphere,” recently published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The paper addresses a major problem, one of the outstanding mysteries in the history of the solar system and Earth — the faint young Sun paradox.

“Atmospheric and surface conditions during the first billion years of Earth’s history are poorly understood due to the scarcity of geological and geochemical evidence,” said Marchi. However, ancient zircon crystals in sedimentary rocks provide evidence that our planet had liquid oceans, at least intermittently, during this earliest period. His team created a new model for impact-generated outgassing on the early Earth, showing how a resulting greenhouse effect could have counterbalanced the weak light from the infant Sun enough to sustain liquid water.

The findings could be key to understanding how life started on Earth despite the faint young Sun and havoc caused by collisions. Studies of other stars, as well as theoretical modeling, have shown that Sun-like stars begin their life about 20 to 30 percent fainter in visible wavelengths than the Sun is at present. They gradually increase in luminosity over time.

“Today Earth is in the ‘Goldilocks zone,’ where liquid water can exist on its surface,” said Marchi. Referencing the fairy tale about the three little bears, the Goldilocks zone is an orbit around a star where it’s not too hot, nor too cold, for liquid water. Liquid water is generally considered a key ingredient for life. When the Sun was much fainter, the Earth with its present atmospheric composition would have been frozen solid. If the oceans were frozen, life may not have formed.

The most straightforward explanation would be a massive atmospheric greenhouse effect, from either carbon dioxide or methane, or both. Previous work has speculated that volcanic outgassing or impact-vaporized materials could have released greenhouse gases. Marchi’s team proposes a novel, more efficient mechanism As the planet was pummeled by primordial asteroids — some larger than 100 kilometers in diameter — impacts would melt large volumes of rock, creating temporary lakes of lava. These pools of lava could have released large quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

“This early heavy bombardment could have been responsible for the large greenhouse effect needed to maintain warmer conditions, which may have been conducive to the early start for life on Earth,” said Marchi. “The bombardment also delivered large quantities of sulfur, one of the most important elements for life.”

Fix For 3-Billion-Year-Old Genetic Error Could Dramatically Improve Genetic Sequencing

For 3 billion years, one of the major carriers of information needed for life, RNA, has had a glitch that creates errors when making copies of genetic information. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a fix that allows RNA to accurately proofread for the first time. The new discovery, published June 23 in the journal Science, will increase precision in genetic research and could dramatically improve medicine based on a person’s genetic makeup.

life

Certain viruses called retroviruses can cause RNA to make copies of DNA, a process called reverse transcription. This process is notoriously prone to errors because an evolutionary ancestor of all viruses never had the ability to accurately copy genetic material.

The new innovation engineered at UT Austin is an enzyme that performs reverse transcription but can also “proofread,” or check its work while copying genetic code. The enzyme allows, for the first time, for large amounts of RNA information to be copied with near perfect accuracy.

“We created a new group of enzymes that can read the genetic information inside living cells with unprecedented accuracy,” says Jared Ellefson, a postdoctoral fellow in UT Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology. “Overlooked by evolution, our enzyme can correct errors while copying RNA.”

Reverse transcription is mainly associated with retroviruses such as HIV. In nature, these viruses’ inability to copy DNA accurately may have helped create variety in species over time, contributing to the complexity of life as we know it.

Since discovering reverse transcription, scientists have used it to better understand genetic information related to inheritable diseases and other aspects of human health. Still, the error-prone nature of existing RNA sequencing is a problem for scientists.

“With proofreading, our new enzyme increases precision and fidelity of RNA sequencing,” says Ellefson. “Without the ability to faithfully read RNA, we cannot accurately determine the inner workings of cells. These errors can lead to misleading data in the research lab and potential misdiagnosis in the clinical lab.”

Ellefson and the team of researchers engineered the new enzyme using directed evolution to train a high-fidelity (proofreading) DNA polymerase to use RNA templates. The new enzyme, called RTX, retains the highly accurate and efficient proofreading function, while copying RNA. Accuracy is improved at least threefold, and it may be up to 10 times as accurate. This new enzyme could enhance the methods used to read RNA from cells.

“As we move towards an age of personalized medicine where everyone’s transcripts will be read out almost as easily as taking a pulse, the accuracy of the sequence information will become increasingly important,” said Andy Ellington, a professor of molecular biosciences. “The significance of this is that we can now also copy large amounts of RNA information found in modern genomes, in the form of the RNA transcripts that encode almost every aspect of our physiology. This means that diagnoses made based on genomic information are far more likely to be accurate. ”

In addition to Ellefson and Ellington, authors include Jimmy Gollihar, Raghav Shroff, Haridha Shivram and Vishwanath Iyer. All are affiliated with the Department of Molecular Biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin.

This research was supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows, NASA and the Welch Foundation. A provisional patent was filed on the new sequence of the enzyme.