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  • richardmitnick 9:13 am on June 29, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "CLASSE": SwRI’s new Center for Laboratory Astrophysics and Space Science Experiments, "SwRI scientists identify a possible source for Charon’s red cap", New Horizons scientists proposed that a reddish “tholin-like” material at Charon’s pole could be synthesized by ultraviolet light breaking down methane molecules., Planetary Science, Scientists think ionizing radiation from the solar wind decomposes the Lyman-alpha-cooked polar frost to synthesize redder materials responsible for the unique albedo on this enigmatic moon., The first-ever description of Charon’s dynamic methane atmosphere, The likely composition of the red cap on Pluto’s moon Charon,   

    From The Southwest Research Institute : “SwRI scientists identify a possible source for Charon’s red cap” 

    SwRI bloc

    From The Southwest Research Institute

    June 21, 2022

    The Southwest Research Institute scientists combined data from NASA’s New Horizons mission with novel laboratory experiments and exospheric modeling to reveal the likely composition of the red cap on Pluto’s moon Charon and how it may have formed. New findings suggest drastic seasonal surges in Charon’s thin atmosphere combined with light breaking down the condensing methane frost may be key to understanding the origins of Charon’s red polar zones. Courtesy of NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / SwRI.

    Southwest Research Institute scientists combined data from NASA’s New Horizons mission with novel laboratory experiments and exospheric modeling to reveal the likely composition of the red cap on Pluto’s moon Charon and how it may have formed. This first-ever description of Charon’s dynamic methane atmosphere using new experimental data provides a fascinating glimpse into the origins of this moon’s red spot as described in two recent papers.

    “Prior to New Horizons, the best Hubble images of Pluto revealed only a fuzzy blob of reflected light,” said SwRI’s Randy Gladstone, a member of the New Horizons science team. “In addition to all the fascinating features discovered on Pluto’s surface, the flyby revealed an unusual feature on Charon, a surprising red cap centered on its north pole.”

    Soon after the 2015 encounter, New Horizons scientists proposed that a reddish “tholin-like” material at Charon’s pole could be synthesized by ultraviolet light breaking down methane molecules. These are captured after escaping from Pluto and then frozen onto the moon’s polar regions during their long winter nights. Tholins are sticky organic residues formed by chemical reactions powered by light, in this case the Lyman-alpha ultraviolet glow scattered by interplanetary hydrogen atoms.

    “Our findings indicate that drastic seasonal surges in Charon’s thin atmosphere as well as light breaking down the condensing methane frost are key to understanding the origins of Charon’s red polar zone,” said SwRI’s Dr. Ujjwal Raut, lead author of a paper titled “Charon’s Refractory Factory” in the journal Science Advances [below]. “This is one of the most illustrative and stark examples of surface-atmospheric interactions so far observed at a planetary body.”

    The team realistically replicated Charon surface conditions at SwRI’s new Center for Laboratory Astrophysics and Space Science Experiments (CLASSE) to measure the composition and color of hydrocarbons produced on Charon’s winter hemisphere as methane freezes beneath the Lyman-alpha glow. The team fed the measurements into a new atmospheric model of Charon to show methane breaking down into residue on Charon’s north polar spot.

    “Our team’s novel ‘dynamic photolysis’ experiments provided new limits on the contribution of interplanetary Lyman-alpha to the synthesis of Charon’s red material,” Raut said. “Our experiment condensed methane in an ultra-high vacuum chamber under exposure to Lyman-alpha photons to replicate with high fidelity the conditions at Charon’s poles.”

    SwRI scientists also developed a new computer simulation to model Charon’s thin methane atmosphere.

    “The model points to ‘explosive’ seasonal pulsations in Charon’s atmosphere due to extreme shifts in conditions over Pluto’s long journey around the Sun,” said Dr. Ben Teolis, lead author of a related paper titled “Extreme Exospheric Dynamics at Charon: Implications for the Red Spot” in Geophysical Research Letters [below].

    The team input the results from SwRI’s ultra-realistic experiments into the atmospheric model to estimate the distribution of complex hydrocarbons emerging from methane decomposition under the influence of ultraviolet light. The model has polar zones primarily generating ethane, a colorless material that does not contribute to a reddish color.

    “We think ionizing radiation from the solar wind decomposes the Lyman-alpha-cooked polar frost to synthesize increasingly complex, redder materials responsible for the unique albedo on this enigmatic moon,” Raut said. “Ethane is less volatile than methane and stays frozen to Charon’s surface long after spring sunrise. Exposure to the solar wind may convert ethane into persistent reddish surface deposits contributing to Charon’s red cap.”

    “The team is set to investigate the role of solar wind in the formation of the red pole,” said SwRI’s Dr. Josh Kammer, who secured continued support from NASA’s New Frontier Data Analysis Program.

    Extreme Exospheric Dynamics at Charon: Implications for the Red Spot in Geophysical Research Letters.

    Charon’s Refractory Factory in Science Advances.

    For more information, visit Planetary Science or contact Deb Schmid, +1 210 522 2254, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.

    See the full article here .


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    SwRI Campus

    The Southwest Research Institute is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

    The Southwest Research Institute, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development (R&D) organizations in the United States. Founded in 1947 by oil businessman Tom Slick, SwRI provides contract research and development services to government and industrial clients.

    The institute consists of nine technical divisions that offer multidisciplinary, problem-solving services in a variety of areas in engineering and the physical sciences. The Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, also operates on the SwRI grounds. More than 4,000 projects are active at the institute at any given time. These projects are funded almost equally between the government and commercial sectors. At the close of fiscal year 2019, the staff numbered approximately 3,000 employees and research volume was almost $674 million. The institute provided more than $8.7 million to fund innovative research through its internally sponsored R&D program.

    A partial listing of research areas includes space science and engineering; automation; robotics and intelligent systems; avionics and support systems; bioengineering; chemistry and chemical engineering; corrosion and electrochemistry; earth and planetary sciences; emissions research; engineering mechanics; fire technology; fluid systems and machinery dynamics; and fuels and lubricants. Additional areas include geochemistry and mining engineering; hydrology and geohydrology; materials sciences and fracture mechanics; modeling and simulation; nondestructive evaluation; oil and gas exploration; pipeline technology; surface modification and coatings; and vehicle, engine, and powertrain design, research and development. In 2019, staff members published 673 papers in the technical literature; made 618 presentations at technical conferences, seminars and symposia around the world; submitted 48 invention disclosures; filed 33 patent applications; and received 41 U.S. patent awards.

    SwRI research scientists have led several National Aeronautics Space Agency missions, including the New Horizons mission to Pluto; the Juno mission to Jupiter; and the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission to study the Earth’s magnetosphere.

    SwRI initiates contracts with clients based on consultations and prepares a formal proposal outlining the scope of work. Subject to client wishes, programs are kept confidential. As part of a long-held tradition, patent rights arising from sponsored research are often assigned to the client. SwRI generally retains the rights to institute-funded advancements.

    The institute’s headquarters occupy more than 2.3 million square feet of office and laboratory space on more than 1,200 acres in San Antonio. SwRI has technical offices and laboratories in Boulder, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Warner-Robins, Georgia; Ogden, Utah; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Rockville, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Beijing, China; and other locations.

    Technology Today, SwRI’s technical magazine, is published three times each year to spotlight the research and development projects currently underway. A complementary Technology Today podcast offers a new way to listen and learn about the technology, science, engineering, and research impacting lives and changing our world.

  • richardmitnick 11:36 am on June 26, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Astrometry": The measurement of stars’ movements through space, "Astronomers Radically Reimagine the Making of the Planets", "Minimum-mass solar nebula", , ALMA disproved the classical model of planetary formation., , , , How did we get here? Is there anywhere else like here?, New data from our own solar system no longer matches classic theories about how planets are made., , Observations of faraway worlds have forced a near-total rewrite of the story of our solar system., Pebble accretion is now a favored theory for how gas giant cores are made., Planetary Science, Starting in 2013 ALMA captured stunning images of neatly sculpted infant star systems., Teams of researchers are working out the rules of dust and pebble assembly and how planets move once they coalesce., The exoplanet hunt took off after the Kepler space telescope opened its lens in 2009., We come from a diffuse cloud of gas and dust.   

    From “WIRED“: “Astronomers Radically Reimagine the Making of the Planets” 

    From “WIRED“

    Jun 26, 2022
    Rebecca Boyle

    Observations of faraway worlds have forced a near-total rewrite of the story of our solar system.

    Newborn star systems imaged by the ALMA telescope, featuring protoplanetary disks with rings, arcs, filaments and spirals, are among the observations changing the theory of how planets are made.Illustration: S. Andrews et al.; N. Lira/ALMA/ESO/NAOJ/NRAO.

    Start at the center, with the sun. Our middle-aged star may be more placid than most, but it is otherwise unremarkable. Its planets, however, are another story.

    First, Mercury: More charred innards than fully fledged planet, it probably lost its outer layers in a traumatic collision long ago. Next come Venus and Earth, twins in some respects, though oddly only one is fertile. Then there’s Mars, another wee world, one that, unlike Mercury, never lost layers; it just stopped growing. Following Mars, we have a wide ring of leftover rocks, and then things shift. Suddenly there is Jupiter, so big it’s practically a half-baked sun, containing the vast majority of the material left over from our star’s creation. Past that are three more enormous worlds—Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—forged of gas and ice. The four gas giants have almost nothing in common with the four rocky planets, despite forming at roughly the same time, from the same stuff, around the same star. The solar system’s eight planets present a puzzle: Why these?

    Now look out past the sun, way beyond. Most of the stars harbor planets of their own. Astronomers have spotted thousands of these distant star-and-planet systems. But strangely, they have so far found none that remotely resemble ours. So the puzzle has grown harder: Why these, and why those?

    The swelling catalog of extrasolar planets, along with observations of distant, dusty planet nurseries [Astronomy & Astrophysics] and even new data from our own solar system, no longer matches classic theories about how planets are made. Planetary scientists, forced to abandon decades-old models, now realize there may not be a grand unified theory of world-making—no single story that explains every planet around every star, or even the wildly divergent orbs orbiting our sun. “The laws of physics are the same everywhere, but the process of building planets is sufficiently complicated that the system becomes chaotic,” said Alessandro Morbidelli, a leading figure in planetary formation and migration theories and an astronomer at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France.

    Still, the findings are animating new research. Amid the chaos of world-building, patterns have emerged, leading astronomers toward powerful new ideas. Teams of researchers are working out the rules of dust and pebble assembly and how planets move once they coalesce. Fierce debate rages over the timing of each step, and over which factors determine a budding planet’s destiny. At the nexus of these debates are some of the oldest questions humans have asked ourselves: How did we get here? Is there anywhere else like here?

    A Star and Its Acolytes Are Born

    Astronomers have understood the basic outlines of the solar system’s origins for nearly 300 years. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who like many Enlightenment thinkers dabbled in astronomy, published a theory in 1755 that remains pretty much correct. “All the matter making up the spheres belonging to our solar system, all the planets and comets, at the origin of all things was broken down into its elementary basic material,” he wrote.

    Indeed, we come from a diffuse cloud of gas and dust. Four and a half billion years ago, probably nudged by a passing star or by the shock wave of a supernova, the cloud collapsed under its own gravity to form a new star. It’s how things went down afterward that we don’t really understand.

    Once the sun ignited, surplus gas swirled around it. Eventually, the planets formed there. The classical model that explained this, known as the minimum-mass solar nebula, envisioned a basic “protoplanetary disk” filled with just enough hydrogen, helium, and heavier elements to make the observed planets and asteroid belts. The model, which dates to 1977, assumed planets formed where we see them today, beginning as small “planetesimals,” then incorporating all the material in their area like locusts consuming every leaf in a field.

    “The model was just somehow making this assumption that the solar disk was filled with planetesimals,” said Joanna Drążkowska, an astrophysicist at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and author of a recent review chapter on the field. “People were not considering any smaller objects—no dust, no pebbles.”

    Astronomers vaguely reasoned that planetesimals arose because dust grains pushed around by the gas would have drifted into piles, the way wind sculpts sand dunes. The classical model had planetesimals randomly strewn throughout the solar nebula, with a statistical distribution of sizes following what physicists call a power law, meaning there are more small ones than big ones. “Just a few years ago, everybody was assuming the planetesimals were distributed in a power law throughout the nebula,” said Morbidelli, “but now we know it is not the case.”

    The change came courtesy of a handful of silver parabolas in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is designed to detect light from cool, millimeter-size objects, such as dust grains around newborn stars.

    Starting in 2013 ALMA captured stunning images of neatly sculpted infant star systems, with putative planets embedded in the hazy disks around the new stars.

    Astronomers previously imagined these disks as smooth halos that grew more diffuse as they extended outward, away from the star. But ALMA showed disks with deep, dark gaps, like the rings of Saturn; others with arcs and filaments; and some containing spirals, like miniature galaxies. “ALMA changed the field completely,” said David Nesvorny, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

    ALMA disproved the classical model of planetary formation. “We have to now reject it and start thinking about completely different models,” Drążkowska said. The observations showed that, rather than being smoothly dispersed through the disk, dust collects in particular places, as dust likes to do, and that is where the earliest planet embryos are made. Some dust, for instance, probably clumps together at the “snow line,” the distance from the star where water freezes. Recently, Morbidelli and Konstantin Batygin, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, argued [Nature Astronomy] that dust also clumps at a condensation line where silicates form droplets instead of vapor. These condensation lines probably cause traffic jams, curbing the rate at which dust falls toward the star and allowing it to pile up.

    “It’s a new paradigm,” Morbidelli said.

    From Dust to Planets

    Even before ALMA showed where dust likes to accrue, astronomers were struggling to understand how it could pile up quickly enough to form a planet—especially a giant one. The gas surrounding the infant sun would have dissipated within about 10 million years, which means Jupiter would have had to collect most of it within that time frame. That means dust must have formed Jupiter’s core very soon after the sun ignited. The Juno mission to Jupiter showed that the giant planet probably has a fluffy core, suggesting it formed fast. But how?

    The problem, apparent to astronomers since about the year 2000, is that turbulence, gas pressure, heat, magnetic fields, and other factors would prevent dust from orbiting the sun in neat paths, or from drifting into big piles. Moreover, any big clumps would likely be drawn into the sun by gravity.

    In 2005, Andrew Youdin and Jeremy Goodman, then of Princeton University, published a new theory [The Astrophysical Journal] for dust clumps that went part of the way toward a solution. A few years after the sun ignited, they argued, gas flowing around the star formed headwinds that forced dust to gather in clumps, and kept the clumps from falling into the star. As the primordial dust bunnies grew bigger and denser, eventually they collapsed under their own gravity into compact objects. This idea, called streaming instability, is now a widely accepted model for how millimeter-size dust grains can quickly turn into large rocks. The mechanism can form planetesimals about 100 kilometers across, which then merge with one another in collisions.

    But astronomers still struggled to explain the creation of much bigger worlds like Jupiter.

    In 2012, Anders Johansen and Michiel Lambrechts, both at Lund University in Sweden, proposed a variation [Astronomy & Astrophysics] on planet growth dubbed pebble accretion. According to their idea, planet embryos the size of the dwarf planet Ceres that arise through streaming instability quickly grow much bigger. Gravity and drag in the circumstellar disk would cause dust grains and pebbles to spiral onto these objects, which would grow apace, like a snowball rolling downhill.

    Illustration: Merrill Sherman/Quanta Magazine.

    Pebble accretion is now a favored theory for how gas giant cores are made, and many astronomers argue it may be taking place in those ALMA images, allowing giant planets to form in the first few million years after a star is born. But the theory’s relevance to the small, terrestrial planets near the sun is controversial. Johansen, Lambrechts, and five coauthors published research last year [Science Advances] showing how inward-drifting pebbles could have fed the growth of Venus, Earth, Mars, and Theia—a since-obliterated world that collided with Earth, ultimately creating the moon. But problems remain. Pebble accretion does not say much about giant impacts like the Earth-Theia crash, which were vital processes in shaping the terrestrial planets, said Miki Nakajima, an astronomer at the University of Rochester. “Even though pebble accretion is very efficient and is a great way to avoid issues with the classical model, it doesn’t seem to be the only way” to make planets, she said.

    Morbidelli rejects the idea of pebbles forming rocky worlds, in part because geochemical samples suggest that Earth formed over a long period, and because meteorites come from rocks of widely varying ages. “It’s a matter of location,” he said. “Processes are different depending on the environment. Why not, right? I think that makes qualitative sense.”

    Research papers appear nearly every week about the early stages of planet growth, with astronomers arguing about the precise condensation points in the solar nebula; whether planetesimals start out with rings that fall onto the planets; when the streaming instability kicks in; and when pebble accretion does, and where. People can’t agree on how Earth was built, let alone terrestrial planets around distant stars.

    Planets on the Move

    The five wanderers of the night sky—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—were the only known worlds besides this one for most of human history. Twenty-six years after Kant published his nebular hypothesis, William Herschel found another, fainter wanderer and named it Uranus. Then Johann Gottfried Galle spotted Neptune in 1846. Then, a century and a half later, the number of known planets suddenly shot up.

    It started in 1995, when Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva pointed a telescope at a sunlike star called 51 Pegasi and noticed it wobbling. They inferred that it’s being tugged at by a giant planet closer to it than Mercury is to our sun. Soon, more of these shocking “hot Jupiters” were seen orbiting other stars.

    The exoplanet hunt took off after the Kepler space telescope opened its lens in 2009.

    We now know the cosmos is peppered with planets; nearly every star has at least one, and probably more. Most seem to have planets we lack, however: hot Jupiters, for instance, as well as a class of midsize worlds that are bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, uncreatively nicknamed “super-Earths” or “sub-Neptunes.” No star systems have been found that resemble ours, with its four little rocky planets near the sun and four gas giants orbiting far away. “That does seem to be something that is unique to our solar system that is unusual,” said Seth Jacobson, an astronomer at Michigan State University.

    Enter the Nice model, an idea that may be able to unify the radically different planetary architectures. In the 1970s, geochemical analysis of the rocks collected by Apollo astronauts suggested that the moon was battered by asteroids 3.9 billion years ago—a putative event known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. In 2005, inspired by this evidence, Morbidelli and colleagues in Nice argued that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune did not form in their present locations, as the earliest solar nebula model held, but instead moved around 3.9 billion years ago. In the Nice model (as the theory became known), the giant planets changed their orbits wildly at that time, which sent an asteroid deluge toward the inner planets.

    Illustration: Merrill Sherman/Quanta Magazine.

    The evidence for the Late Heavy Bombardment is no longer considered convincing, but the Nice model has stuck. Morbidelli, Nesvorny, and others now conclude that the giants probably migrated even earlier in their history, and that—in an orbital pattern dubbed the Grand Tack—Saturn’s gravity probably stopped Jupiter from moving all the way in toward the sun, where hot Jupiters are often found.

    In other words, we might have gotten lucky in our solar system, with multiple giant planets keeping each other in check, so that none swung sunward and destroyed the rocky planets.

    “Unless there is something to arrest that process, we would end up with giant planets mostly close to their host stars,” said Jonathan Lunine, an astronomer at Cornell University. “Is inward migration really a necessary outcome of the growth of an isolated giant planet? What are the combinations of multiple giant planets that could arrest that migration? It’s a great problem.”

    There is also, according to Morbidelli, “a fierce debate about the timing” of the giant-planet migration—and a possibility that it actually helped grow the rocky planets rather than threatening to destroy them after they grew. Morbidelli just launched a five-year project to study whether an unstable orbital configuration soon after the sun’s formation might have helped stir up rocky remains, coaxing the terrestrial worlds into being.

    The upshot is that many researchers now think giant planets and their migrations might dramatically affect the fates of their rocky brethren, in this solar system and others. Jupiter-size worlds might help move asteroids around, or they could limit the number of terrestrial worlds that form. This is a leading hypothesis for explaining the small stature of Mars: It would have grown bigger, maybe to Earth size, but Jupiter’s gravitational influence cut off the supply of material. Many stars studied by the Kepler telescope harbor super-Earths in close orbits, and scientists are split on whether those are likelier to be accompanied by giant planets farther out. Teams have convincingly shown both correlations and anti-correlations between the two exoplanet types, said Rachel Fernandes, a graduate student at the University of Arizona; this indicates that there’s not enough data yet to be sure. “That’s one of those things that is really fun at conferences,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Yeah, yell at each other, but which science is better?’ You don’t know.”

    Rebounding Planets

    Recently, Jacobson came up with a new model that radically changes the timing of the Nice model migration. In a paper published in April in Nature, he, Beibei Liu of Zhejiang University in China, and Sean Raymond of the University of Bordeaux in France argued that gas flow dynamics may have caused the giant planets to migrate only a few million years after they formed—100 times earlier than in the original Nice model and probably before Earth itself arose.

    In the new model, the planets “rebounded,” moving in and then back out as the sun warmed up the gas in the disk and blew it off into oblivion. This rebound would have happened because, when a baby giant planet is bathed in a warm disk of gas, it feels an inward pull toward dense gas closer to the star and an outward pull from gas farther out. The inward pull is greater, so the baby planet gradually moves closer to its star. But after the gas begins to evaporate, a few million years after the star’s birth, the balance changes. More gas remains on the far side of the planet relative to the star, so the planet is dragged back out.

    The rebound “is a pretty significant shock to the system. It can destabilize a very nice arrangement,” Jacobson said. “But this does a great job of explaining [features] of the giant planets in terms of their inclination and eccentricity.” It also tracks with evidence that hot Jupiters seen in other star systems are on unstable orbits—perhaps bound for a rebound.

    Between condensation lines, pebbles, migrations, and rebounds, a complex story is taking shape. Still, for now, some answers may be in hiding. Most of the planet-finding observatories use search methods that turn up planets that orbit close to their host stars. Lunine said he would like to see planet hunters use astrometry, or the measurement of stars’ movements through space, which could reveal distantly orbiting worlds. But he and others are most excited for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in 2027.

    Roman will use microlensing, measuring how the light from a background star is warped by the gravity of a foreground star and its planets.

    That will let the telescope capture planets with orbital distances between Earth’s and Saturn’s—a “sweet spot,” Lunine said.

    Nesvorny said modelers will continue tinkering with code and trying to understand the finer points of particle distributions, ice lines, condensation points, and other chemistry that may play a role in where planetesimals coalesce. “It will take the next few decades to understand that in detail,” he said.

    Time is the essence of the problem. Human curiosity may be unbounded, but our lives are short, and the birth of planets lasts eons. Instead of watching the process unfold, we have only snapshots from different points.

    Batygin, the Caltech astronomer, compared the painstaking effort to reverse-engineer planets to trying to model an animal, even a simple one. “An ant is way more complicated than a star,” Batygin said. “You can perfectly well imagine writing a code that captures a star in pretty good detail,” whereas “you could never model the physics and chemistry of an ant and hope to capture the whole thing. In planet formation, we are somewhere between an ant and a star.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:50 am on June 25, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Gaia spacecraft reveals mysterious 'hot Jupiter' planets can form quickly or slowly", , , , , , Planetary Science,   

    From SPACE.com : “Gaia spacecraft reveals mysterious ‘hot Jupiter’ planets can form quickly or slowly” 

    From SPACE.com

    Andrew Jones

    These massive worlds are vastly different from anything in our solar system.

    An artist’s depiction of a hot Jupiter planet orbiting its star. (Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

    The existence of “hot Jupiters” is one of the oldest mysteries of the exoplanet-hunting era, but a European spacecraft is revealing some clues about how these enigmatic worlds form.

    So-called hot Jupiters are planets that are roughly as massive as Jupiter and orbit very close to their stars, usually less than one-tenth the distance at which Earth orbits the sun. Hot Jupiters are very different from anything seen in the solar system, posing questions about their formation.

    Now, new data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, which is tracking more than a billion stars in the Milky Way, have provided fresh insight into the formation, evolution and relative age of hot Jupiters.

    Researchers used Gaia’s measurements of objects’ positions and velocities to determine the relative age of stars. Combining this information with data on the alignment of hot Jupiters to their stars’ rotation revealed that there are multiple ways in which hot Jupiters form — both fast and slow.

    “Without this really precise method of measuring ages, there was always missing information,” Jacob Hamer, a doctoral student in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics and Astronomy and lead author of a new paper describing the findings, said in a statement.

    Hot Jupiters with orbits misaligned from the equators of their stars are thought to form late relative to those that are aligned, like the planets in our solar system.

    “One [formation process] occurs quickly and produces aligned systems, and [the other] occurs over longer timescales and produces misaligned systems,” Hamer said in the statement.

    The work has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on June 18, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Martian Meteorite Upsets Planet Formation Theory", By making extremely careful measurements of minute quantities of krypton isotopes in samples of the meteorite the researchers could deduce the origin of elements in the rock., Planetary Science, Some meteorites that fall to Earth come from Mars. Most come from surface rocks that have been exposed to Mars’ atmosphere., The University of California-Davis, When our solar system formed Mars formed earlier than Earth and its composition gives clues about early steps in planet formation.   

    From The University of California-Davis: “Martian Meteorite Upsets Planet Formation Theory” 

    UC Davis bloc

    From The University of California-Davis

    June 16, 2022

    Media Contacts:

    Sandrine Péron
    ETH Zürich

    Sujoy Mukhopadhyay
    UC Davis Earth and Planetary Sciences

    Andy Fell
    UC Davis News and Media Relations

    When our solar system formed Mars formed earlier than Earth and its composition gives clues about early steps in planet formation. A new UC Davis study overturns previous ideas about how rocky planets form. (NASA image)

    A new study of an old meteorite contradicts current thinking about how rocky planets like the Earth and Mars acquire volatile elements such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and noble gases as they form. The work is published June 16 in Science.

    A basic assumption about planet formation is that planets first collect these volatiles from the nebula around a young star, said Sandrine Péron, a postdoctoral scholar working with Professor Sujoy Mukhopadhyay in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Davis.

    Because the planet is a ball of molten rock at this point, these elements initially dissolve into the magma ocean and then degas back into the atmosphere. Later on, chondritic meteorites crashing into the young planet deliver more volatile materials.

    So scientists expect that the volatile elements in the interior of the planet should reflect the composition of the solar nebula, or a mixture of solar and meteoritic volatiles, while the volatiles in the atmosphere would come mostly from meteorites. These two sources — solar vs. meteoritic — can be distinguished by the ratios of isotopes of noble gases, in particular krypton.

    Mars is of special interest because it formed relatively quickly — solidifying in about 4 million years after the birth of the solar system, while the Earth took 50 to 100 million years to form.

    “We can reconstruct the history of volatile delivery in the first few million years of the solar system,” Péron said.

    Meteorite from Mars’ interior

    Some meteorites that fall to Earth come from Mars. Most come from surface rocks that have been exposed to Mars’ atmosphere. The Chassigny meteorite, which fell to Earth in northeastern France in 1815, is rare and unusual because it is thought to represent the interior of the planet.

    By making extremely careful measurements of minute quantities of krypton isotopes in samples of the meteorite using a new method set up at the UC Davis Noble Gas Laboratory, the researchers could deduce the origin of elements in the rock.

    “Because of their low abundance, krypton isotopes are challenging to measure,” Péron said.

    Surprisingly, the krypton isotopes in the meteorite correspond to those originating from meteorites, not the solar nebula. That means that meteorites were delivering volatile elements to the forming planet much earlier than previously thought, and in the presence of the nebula, reversing conventional thinking.

    “The Martian interior composition for krypton is nearly purely chondritic, but the atmosphere is solar,” Péron said. “It’s very distinct.”

    The results show that Mars’ atmosphere does not contain meteoritic isotopes, which means that it cannot have formed purely by outgassing from the mantle. The planet must have acquired atmosphere from the solar nebula after the magma ocean cooled, to prevent substantial mixing between interior meteoritic gases and atmospheric solar gases.

    The new results suggest that Mars’ growth was completed before the sun’s radiation dissipated the solar nebula. But the irradiation should also have blown off the nebular atmosphere on Mars, suggesting that atmospheric krypton must have somehow been preserved, possibly trapped underground or in polar ice caps.

    “However, that would require Mars to have been cold in the immediate aftermath of its accretion,” Mukhopadhyay said. “While our study clearly points to the chondritic gases in the Martian interior, it also raises some interesting questions about the origin and composition of Mars’ early atmosphere.”

    Péron and Mukhopadhyay hope their study will stimulate further work on the topic.

    Péron is now a postdoctoral fellow at ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    UC Davis Campus

    The University of California-Davis is a public land-grant research university near Davis, California. Named a Public Ivy, it is the northernmost of the ten campuses of The University of California system. The institution was first founded as an agricultural branch of the system in 1905 and became the seventh campus of the University of California in 1959.

    The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. The University of California-Davis faculty includes 23 members of The National Academy of Sciences, 30 members of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 17 members of the American Law Institute, 14 members of the Institute of Medicine, and 14 members of the National Academy of Engineering. Among other honors that university faculty, alumni, and researchers have won are two Nobel Prizes, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, three Pulitzer Prizes, three MacArthur Fellowships, and a National Medal of Science.
    Founded as a primarily agricultural campus, the university has expanded over the past century to include graduate and professional programs in medicine (which includes the University of California-Davis Medical Center), law, veterinary medicine, education, nursing, and business management, in addition to 90 research programs offered by University of California-Davis Graduate Studies. The University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is the largest veterinary school in the United States and has been ranked first in the world for five consecutive years (2015–19). University of California-Davis also offers certificates and courses, including online classes, for adults and non-traditional learners through its Division of Continuing and Professional Education.

    The UC Davis Aggies athletic teams compete in NCAA Division I, primarily as members of the Big West Conference with additional sports in the Big Sky Conference (football only) and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

    Seventh UC campus

    In 1959, the campus was designated by the Regents of The University of California as the seventh general campus in the University of California system.

    University of California-Davis’s Graduate Division was established in 1961, followed by the creation of the College of Engineering in 1962. The law school opened for classes in fall 1966, and the School of Medicine began instruction in fall 1968. In a period of increasing activism, a Native American studies program was started in 1969, one of the first at a major university; it was later developed into a full department within the university.

    Graduate Studies

    The University of California-Davis Graduate Programs of Study consist of over 90 post-graduate programs, offering masters and doctoral degrees and post-doctoral courses. The programs educate over 4,000 students from around the world.

    UC Davis has the following graduate and professional schools, the most in the entire University of California system:

    UC Davis Graduate Studies
    Graduate School of Management
    School of Education
    School of Law
    School of Medicine
    School of Veterinary Medicine
    Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing


    University of California-Davis is one of 62 members in The Association of American Universities, an organization of leading research universities devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education.

    Research centers and laboratories

    The campus supports a number of research centers and laboratories including:

    Advanced Highway Maintenance Construction Technology Research Laboratory
    BGI at UC Davis Joint Genome Center (in planning process)
    Bodega Marine Reserve
    C-STEM Center
    CalEPR Center
    California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System
    California International Law Center
    California National Primate Research Center
    California Raptor Center
    Center for Health and the Environment
    Center for Mind and Brain
    Center for Poverty Research
    Center for Regional Change
    Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas
    Center for Visual Sciences
    Contained Research Facility
    Crocker Nuclear Laboratory
    Davis Millimeter Wave Research Center (A joint effort of Agilent Technologies Inc. and UC Davis) (in planning process)
    Information Center for the Environment
    John Muir Institute of the Environment (the largest research unit at UC Davis, spanning all Colleges and Professional Schools)
    McLaughlin Natural Reserve
    MIND Institute
    Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center
    Quail Ridge Reserve
    Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve
    Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) (a collaborative effort with Sierra Nevada University)
    UC Center Sacramento
    UC Davis Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility
    University of California Pavement Research Center
    University of California Solar Energy Center (UC Solar)
    Energy Efficiency Center (the very first university run energy efficiency center in the Nation).
    Western Institute for Food Safety and Security

    The Crocker Nuclear Laboratory on campus has had a nuclear accelerator since 1966. The laboratory is used by scientists and engineers from private industry, universities and government to research topics including nuclear physics, applied solid state physics, radiation effects, air quality, planetary geology and cosmogenics. University of California-Davis is the only University of California campus, besides The University of California-Berkeley, that has a nuclear laboratory.

    Agilent Technologies will also work with the university in establishing a Davis Millimeter Wave Research Center to conduct research into millimeter wave and THz systems.

  • richardmitnick 7:35 am on June 13, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Earth moves far under our feet:: New study shows Earth’s inner core oscillates", Analysis of atomic tests pinpoints Earth core rotation rate and direction., , , , , Planetary Science, , The University of Southern California   

    From The USC Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences: “The Earth moves far under our feet:: New study shows Earth’s inner core oscillates” 

    From The USC Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences


    USC bloc

    The University of Southern California

    June 10, 2022
    Paul McQuiston

    USC Dornsife scientists’ analysis of seismic data identifies a six-year cycle of super- and sub-rotation that affects the length of a day.

    The Earth’s inner core — a hot, dense ball of solid iron the size of Pluto — has been shown to move or change over decades. (Illustration: AdobeStock.)

    USC scientists have found evidence that the Earth’s inner core oscillates, contradicting previously accepted models that suggested it consistently rotates at a faster rate than the planet’s surface.

    Their study, published June 10 in Science Advances, shows that the inner core changed direction in the six-year period from 1969–74, according to the analysis of seismic data. The scientists say their model of inner core movement also explains the variation in the length of day, which has been shown to oscillate persistently for the past several decades.

    “From our findings, we can see the Earth’s surface shifts compared to its inner core, as people have asserted for 20 years,” said John Vidale, co-author of the study and Dean’s Professor of Earth Sciences at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “However, our latest observations show that the inner core spun slightly slower from 1969–71 and then moved the other direction from 1971–74. We also note that the length of day grew and shrank as would be predicted.

    “The coincidence of those two observations makes oscillation the likely interpretation.”

    USC researchers identified a six-year cycle of super- and sub-rotation in the Earth’s inner core, contradicting previously accepted models that suggested it consistently rotates at a faster rate than the planet’s surface. Credit: Edward Sotelo/USC.

    Analysis of atomic tests pinpoints Earth core rotation rate and direction.

    Our understanding of the inner core has expanded dramatically in the past 30 years. Research published in 1996 was the first to propose the inner core rotates faster than the rest of the planet — also known as super-rotation — at roughly 1 degree per year.

    Postdoctoral scholar Wei Wang and Vidale found the inner core rotated slower than previously predicted, approximately 0.1 degrees per year. The study analyzed waves generated from Soviet underground nuclear bomb tests from 1971–74 using a technique developed by Vidale.

    The new findings emerged when Wang and Vidale applied the same methodology to a pair of earlier atomic tests in 1969 and 1971. Measuring the compressional waves resulting from the nuclear explosions, they discovered the inner core had reversed direction, sub-rotating at least a tenth of a degree per year.

    Utilizing data from the Large Aperture Seismic Array, a U.S. Air Force facility in Montana, researcher Wei Wang and Vidale found the inner core rotated slower than previously predicted, approximately 0.1 degrees per year. The study analyzed waves generated from Soviet underground nuclear bomb tests from 1971-74 in the Arctic archipelago Novaya Zemlya using a novel beamforming technique developed by Vidale.

    The new findings emerged when Wang and Vidale applied the same methodology to a pair of earlier atomic tests beneath Amchitka Island at the tip of the Alaskan archipelago — Milrow in 1969 and Cannikin in 1971. Measuring the compressional waves resulting from the nuclear explosions, they discovered the inner core had reversed direction, sub-rotating at least a tenth of a degree per year.

    This latest study marked the first time the well-known six-year oscillation had been indicated through direct seismological observation.

    “We went into this expecting to see the same rotation direction and rate in the earlier pair of atomic tests, but instead we saw the opposite,” Vidale says. “We were quite surprised to find that it was moving in the other direction.”

    Future research to dig deeper into why Earth’s inner core formed

    The study supports speculation that the inner core oscillates based on variations in the length of day — plus or minus 0.2 seconds over six years — and geomagnetic fields. Vidale says the findings provide a compelling theory for many questions posed by the research community.

    “We’re trying to understand how the inner core formed and how it moves over time — this is an important step in better understanding this process.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    USC campus
    The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1880 by Robert M. Widney, it is the oldest private research university in California.

    The university is composed of one liberal arts school, the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and twenty-two undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, enrolling an average of 19,500 undergraduate and 26,500 post-graduate students from all fifty U.S. states and more than 115 countries. USC is ranked among the top universities in the United States and admission to its programs is highly selective.

    USC is a member of The Association of American Universities, joining in 1969. The University of Southern California houses professional schools offering a number of varying disciplines among which include communication, law, dentistry, medicine, business, engineering, journalism, public policy, music, architecture, and cinematic arts. USC’s academic departments fall either under the general liberal arts and sciences of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences for undergraduates, the Graduate School for graduates, or the university’s 17 professional schools.

    USC was one of the earliest nodes on ARPANET and is the birthplace of the Domain Name System. Other technologies invented at USC include DNA computing, dynamic programming, image compression, VoIP, and antivirus software.

    USC’s notable alumni include 11 Rhodes scholars and 12 Marshall scholars. As of January 2021, 10 Nobel laureates, six MacArthur Fellows, and one Turing Award winner have been affiliated with the university. USC has conferred degrees upon 29 alumni who became billionaires, and has graduated more alumni who have gone on to win Academy and Emmy Awards than any other institution in the world by a significant margin, in part due to the success of the School of Cinematic Arts.

    USC sponsors a variety of intercollegiate sports and competes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as a member of the Pac-12 Conference. Members of USC’s sports teams, the Trojans, have won 107 NCAA team championships, ranking them third in the United States, and 412 NCAA individual championships, ranking them third in the United States and second among NCAA Division I schools. Trojan athletes have won 309 medals at the Olympic Games (144 golds, 93 silvers and 72 bronzes), more than any other university in the United States. In 1969, it joined the Association of American Universities (US). USC has had a total of 537 football players drafted to the National Football League, the second-highest number of drafted players in the country.

    The University of Southern California is the largest private employer in the Los Angeles area and generates an estimated $8 billion of economic impact on California.

    Faculty and Research

    The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. According to the National Science Foundation, USC spent $891 million on research and development in 2018, ranking it 23rd in the nation.

    USC employs approximately 4,706 full-time faculty, 1,816 part-time faculty, 16,614 staff members, and 4,817 student workers. 350 postdoctoral fellows are supported along with over 800 medical residents. Among the USC faculty, 17 are members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 are members of the National Academy of Medicine, 37 are members of the National Academy of Engineering, 97 are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and 34 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 5 to the American Philosophical Society, and 14 to the National Academy of Public Administration . 29 USC faculty are listed as among the “Highly Cited” in the Institute for Scientific Information database. George Olah won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and was the founding director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. Leonard Adleman won the Turing Award in 2003. Arieh Warshel won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    The university also supports the Pacific Council on International Policy through joint programming, leadership collaboration, and facilitated connections among students, faculty, and Pacific Council members.

    The university has two National Science Foundation–funded Engineering Research Centers: the Integrated Media Systems Center and the Center for Biomimetic Microelectronic Systems. The Department of Homeland Security selected USC as its first Homeland Security Center of Excellence. Since 1991, USC has been the headquarters of the NSF and USGS funded Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC). The University of Southern California is a founding and charter member of CENIC, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the nonprofit organization, which provides extremely high-performance Internet-based networking to California’s K-20 research and education community. USC researcher Jonathan Postel was an editor of communications-protocol for the fledgling internet, also known as ARPANET.

    In July 2016 USC became home to the world’s most powerful quantum computer, housed in a super-cooled, magnetically shielded facility at the USC Information Sciences Institute, the only other commercially available quantum computing system operated jointly by National Aeronautics Space Agency and Google.

    Notable USC faculty include or have included the following: Leonard Adleman, Richard Bellman, Aimee Bender, Barry Boehm, Warren Bennis, Todd Boyd, T.C. Boyle, Leo Buscaglia, Drew Casper, Manuel Castells, Erwin Chemerinsky, George V. Chilingar, Thomas Crow, António Damásio, Francis De Erdely, Percival Everett, Murray Gell-Mann, Seymour Ginsburg, G. Thomas Goodnight, Jane Goodall, Solomon Golomb, Midori Goto, Susan Estrich, Janet Fitch, Tomlinson Holman, Jascha Heifetz, Henry Jenkins, Thomas H. Jordan, Mark Kac, Pierre Koenig, Neil Leach, Leonard Maltin, Daniel L. McFadden, Viet Thanh Nguyen, George Olah, Scott Page, Tim Page (music critic), Simon Ramo, Claudia Rankine, Irving Reed, Michael Waterman, Frank Gehry, Arieh Warshel, Lloyd Welch, Jonathan Taplin, and Diane Winston.

  • richardmitnick 4:30 pm on June 4, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Our early solar system may have been home to a fifth giant planet", , , , , Planetary Science,   

    From “Science Magazine” : “Our early solar system may have been home to a fifth giant planet” 

    From “Science Magazine”

    11 Aug 2015 [This just popped up today. I wonder why.]
    Nola Taylor Redd

    NASA/JPL/Voyager 2.

    A cluster of icy bodies in the same region as Pluto could be proof that our early solar system was home to a fifth giant planet, according to new research. That planet may have “bumped” Neptune during its migration away from the sun 4 billion years ago, causing the ice giant to jump into its current orbit and scattering a cluster of its satellites into the Kuiper belt in the outer solar system.

    The cluster—a grouping of about a thousand icy rocks called the “kernel”—has long been a mystery to astronomers. The rocks stick close together and never veer from the same orbital plane as the planets, unlike the other icy bodies that inhabit the belt. Previous studies proposed that the tightly bound objects formed from violent collisions of larger parent bodies, but that hypothesis fell apart as soon as scientists realized these collisional families would have to be stretched across the Kuiper belt.

    But now, one scientist may have an answer for this Kuiper belt mystery [The Astronomical Journal]. David Nesvorny, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, proposes the jumping Neptune theory in the September issue of The Astronomical Journal. Using computer simulations to trace the movements of the kernel back about 4 billion years, he found the objects had been swept up in Neptune’s gravitational field as the planet migrated away from the sun. Leaving its orbit near Saturn and Jupiter, Neptune pulled bits of the primordial solar system along with it as they rotated in tandem: The infant kernel traveled around the sun twice for every trip that Neptune made.

    At approximately 4.2 billion kilometers from the sun—close to its current position almost halfway to the outer edge of the modern-day Kuiper belt—Neptune’s orbit lurched outward 7.5 million kilometers.

    The trapped objects couldn’t keep up with the sudden change of pace, and they were jolted out of their orbital configuration 6.9 billion kilometers from the sun, where they continue to travel today as the kernel.

    Nesvorny says the only possible explanation for the sudden shift in orbit is that Neptune came under the gravitational sway of another object with a massive gravitational field—likely a giant planet. Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter aren’t candidates because their orbits have never interacted with Neptune’s in the way that this proposed planet’s might have done.

    Primordial particles filled the outer solar system early in its lifetime. As the orbits of Jupiter (green circle), Saturn (orange circle), Neptune (dark blue circle), and Uranus (light blue circle) shifted over time, gravitational interactions tossed many of these icy rocks into the region today known as the Kuiper belt. Credit: Mark Booth/Wikipedia/Creative Commons.

    No one knows what became of the missing planet, but when Nesvorny developed a previous model in 2011, he found that the best way to wind up with the present-day orbital configuration of the solar system was to include a fifth giant planet. The mystery giant was most likely ejected permanently from the solar system after disrupting the original orbits of the surviving planets, Nesvorny says—a casualty of its gravitational wrestling match. But back in 2011, he never thought he would find evidence of the planet’s possible existence.

    “The Kuiper belt is the clue,” Nesvorny says. “You see the structures there, and you try to figure out what kind of evolution would fit those structures.”

    But trying to figure it out isn’t so simple. Before landing on his current model of how the kernel could have formed, Nesvorny tested about 100 other possibilities. One of the most difficult parts of modeling, says astronomer JJ Kavelaars of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, Canada, is to get multiple objects in the solar system to end up in the right place. Early models for the formation of Pluto, for example, put the dwarf planet in the correct location but neglected other parts of the solar system.

    “What Nesvorny’s models are doing is being very self-consistent and getting multiple structures right at once, which is really quite amazing,” says Kavelaars, who was not involved in the research.

    Nesvorny says the next step is to identify more objects in the Kuiper belt, particularly in the kernel. This could help scientists perform more precise comparisons that could improve the accuracy of the model. Nesvorny hopes observations from the Outer Solar System Origins Survey later this summer will fill in some of the gaps.

    “I’m very much looking forward to seeing what kind of observations they will have and how it fits the modeling,” Nesvorny says.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 3:43 pm on June 3, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "New mapping technology to discover Earth's resources", , , Combining multiple satellite data sets with land-based data sets to see further into the Earth., , , , It is fundamental to understand how the continental lithosphere-the outer part of the Earth-works and to predict the location of geothermal energy and mineral resources., It is the crust’s chemical structure and the small differences in temperature that inform geoscientists on the origin and evolution of the planet and on the location of resources beneath our feet., Planetary Science, Previously the only reliable approach for deep resource exploration was the analysis of rock samples brought to the surface by volcanoes (known as ‘xenoliths’).,   

    From University of Twente [ynivɛrsiˈtɛit ˈtʋɛntə] (NL) : “New mapping technology to discover Earth’s resources” 

    From University of Twente [ynivɛrsiˈtɛit ˈtʋɛntə] (NL)

    2 June 2022
    K.W. Wesselink MSc (Kees)
    Science Communication Officer (available Mon-Fri)
    +31 53 489 9311

    © Innovation Origins by Pixabay

    For years, scientists have tried to understand the structure of the Earth. One of these scientists is University of Twente geophysicist Dr. Juan Carlos Afonso (Faculty of ITC). He has recently developed a new method to analyze the Earth’s continental crust that lays the groundwork to predict geothermal energy sources, but also other critical resources for the Earth and other planets. He published his research in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.

    To minimize the impact of natural hazards and support the transition to green energy technologies, it is fundamental to understand how the continental lithosphere – the outer part of the Earth – works and to predict the location of geothermal energy and mineral resources. Normally, Earth scientists look at one aspect of the earth’s crust at a time using specific data sets. But it is both the crust’s chemical structure and the small differences in temperature that inform geoscientists on the origin and evolution of the planet and on the location of resources beneath our feet. Combining multiple data sets for this purpose, however, remains a major challenge.

    Merging methods

    In his research, Afonso managed to formally combine multiple satellite data sets with land-based data sets to see further into the Earth than previously possible. “It is a completely new way of ‘seeing’ what’s below there”, says Afonso. Previously the only reliable approach for deep resource exploration was the analysis of rock samples brought to the surface by volcanoes (known as ‘xenoliths’). “When you’re dependent on volcanoes, you can imagine that such samples are hard to come by. They are scattered in space and time and still have large uncertainties”, explains Afonso.

    Mapping the crust of Africa

    The research team focused on central and southern Africa. The Kalahari, Tanzanian and Congo cratons – ancient and stable parts of the Earth’s two topmost layers – in the area proved useful. “Central and Southern Africa is a natural laboratory that helps us answer fundamental questions about the formation of cratons”, says Afonso, “and there are plenty of datasets on those needed xenoliths that helped us prove our method.”

    Next challenge

    “This study demonstrated that our method of combining land and satellite data sets works. Now we can extend the research to regions where xenoliths are not available”, says Afonso. According to the researchers, this approach adds to the development of the next-generation planetary models and supports the development of cleaner technologies. It lays the groundwork for innovative resource exploration frameworks for Earth, but also other terrestrial planets. “Maybe Mars and/or the Moon can be next.”

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Twente (NL) [ynivɛrsiˈtɛit ˈtʋɛntə],) is a public technical university located in Enschede, the Netherlands.

    The UT collaborates with Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology and the Wageningen University and Research Centre under the umbrella of 4TU and is also a partner in the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU).

    The University has been placed in the top 400 universities in the world by three major ranking tables. The UT was ranked 65th in the Reuters’s 2017 European Most Innovative Universities, and, 184th worldwide in 2019 according to the Times Higher Education magazine.

    The university was founded in 1961 as Technische Hogeschool Twente or (THT). After Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology, it became the third polytechnic institute in the Netherlands to become a University. The institution was later renamed to Universiteit Twente (University of Twente) in 1986, as the result of the changes in the Dutch Academic Education Act in 1984.

    The Dutch government’s decision to locate the country’s third technical university in Enschede, the main city of Twente, had much to do with the north-eastern province’s rich manufacturing industry (textiles, metal, electrical engineering, chemicals). Another important consideration was the fact that the local economy needed a boost to compensate for the dwindling textile industry. Just as the fact that the municipality of Enschede made the Drienerlo estate available for the first campus University of the Netherlands.

  • richardmitnick 12:02 pm on June 3, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , "Scientists announce a breakthrough in determining life's origin on Earth—and maybe Mars", , , , , If life emerged on Earth via this simple path then it also likely emerged on Mars., Mars is relevant to this announcement because the same minerals; glasses and impacts were also present on Mars of that antiquity., Planetary Science, ribonucleic acid (RNA)-an analog of DNA that was likely the first genetic material for life-spontaneously forms on basalt lava glass- common on Earth and Mars.   

    From “phys.org” : “Scientists announce a breakthrough in determining life’s origin on Earth—and maybe Mars” 

    From “phys.org”

    June 3, 2022

    Comparing the atmospheres of Mars and Earth. Credit: The European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU).

    Scientists at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution announced today that ribonucleic acid (RNA)-an analog of DNA that was likely the first genetic material for life-spontaneously forms on basalt lava glass. Such glass was abundant on Earth 4.35 billion years ago. Similar basalts of this antiquity survive on Mars today.

    “Communities studying the origins of life have diverged in recent years,” remarked Steven Benner, a co-author of the study appearing online in the journal Astrobiology.

    “One community re-visits classical questions with complex chemical schemes that require difficult chemistry performed by skilled chemists,” Benner explained. “Their beautiful craftwork appears in brand-name journals such as Nature and Science.” However, precisely because of the complexity of this chemistry, it cannot possibly account for how life actually originated on Earth.

    In contrast, the Foundation study takes a simpler approach. Led by Elisa Biondi, the study shows that long RNA molecules, 100-200 nucleotides in length, form when nucleoside triphosphates do nothing more than percolate through basaltic glass.

    “Basaltic glass was everywhere on Earth at the time,” remarked Stephen Mojzsis, an Earth scientist who also participated in the study. “For several hundred million years after the Moon formed, frequent impacts coupled with abundant volcanism on the young planet formed molten basaltic lava, the source of the basalt glass. Impacts also evaporated water to give dry land, providing aquifers where RNA could have formed.”

    The same impacts also delivered nickel, which the team showed gives nucleoside triphosphates from nucleosides and activated phosphate, also found in lava glass. Borate (as in borax), also from the basalt, controls the formation of those triphosphates.

    The same impactors that formed the glass also transiently reduced the atmosphere with their metal iron-nickel cores. RNA bases, whose sequences store genetic information, are formed in such atmospheres. The team had previously showed that nucleosides are formed by a simple reaction between ribose phosphate and RNA bases.

    “The beauty of this model is its simplicity. It can be tested by highs schoolers in chemistry class,” said Jan Špaček, who was not involved in this study but who develops instrument to detect alien genetic polymers on Mars. “Mix the ingredients, wait for a few days and detect the RNA.”

    The same rocks resolve the other paradoxes in making RNA in a path that moves all of the way from simple organic molecules to the first RNA. “For example, borate manages the formation of ribose, the ‘R’ in RNA,” Benner added. This path starts from simple carbohydrates that could “not not” have formed in the atmosphere above primitive Earth. These were stabilized by volcanic sulfur dioxide, and then rained to the surface to create reservoirs of organic minerals.

    Thus, this work completes a path that creates RNA from small organic molecules that were almost certainly present on the early Earth. A single geological model moves from one and two carbon molecules to give RNA molecules long enough to support Darwinian evolution.

    “Important questions remain,” cautions Benner. “We still do not know how all of the RNA building blocks came to have the same general shape, a relationship known as homochirality.” Likewise, the linkages between the nucleotides can be variable in the material synthesized on basaltic glass. The import of this is not known.

    Mars is relevant to this announcement because the same minerals; glasses and impacts were also present on Mars of that antiquity. However, Mars has not suffered continental drift and plate tectonics that buried most rocks from Earth older than 4 billion years. Thus, rocks from the relevant time remain on the surface of Mars. Recent missions to Mars have found all of the needed rocks, including borate.

    “If life emerged on Earth via this simple path then it also likely emerged on Mars,” said Benner. “This makes it even more important to seek life on Mars as soon as we can.”

    Related science papers:

    PNAS [2017]

    Astrobiology [2019]

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    About Science X in 100 words
    Science X is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004 (Physorg.com), Science X’s readership has grown steadily to include 5 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Science X publishes approximately 200 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Science X community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

    Mission: 12 reasons for reading daily news on Science X Organization Key editors and writers include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 7:25 am on June 2, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Could homeless aliens migrate to rogue planets?", , , , , Planetary Science   

    From “EarthSky” : “Could homeless aliens migrate to rogue planets?” 


    From “EarthSky”

    June 2, 2022
    Kelly Kizer Whitt

    Artist’s concept of one of the billions of rogue planets thought to float freely through our Milky Way galaxy, not bound to any star. Could homeless aliens use rogue planets to colonize the galaxy? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

    Why haven’t we found alien civilizations, assuming they exist? Irina K. Romanovskaya (Irina Mullins), a professor of physics and astronomy at Houston Community College System, thinks maybe we’ve been looking in all the wrong places. In a press release from Cambridge University Press – dated May 26, 2022 – Romanovskaya said we might be more successful if we considered rogue planets and possible migrating civilizations. Suppose an alien society’s home planet becomes uninhabitable? Then, Romanovskaya said, aliens might hitch a ride on free-floating planets. She pointed out that these worlds would offer space, resources and protection for long interstellar journeys.

    The peer-reviewed International Journal of Astrobiology published Romanovskaya’s study on April 28, 2022.

    Homeless aliens traveling on rogue planets

    Romanovskaya calls her theory the Cosmic Hitchhikers Hypothesis. She says that alien civilizations could migrate to the free-floating planets when these rogue planets pass near the civilizations’ home planets. They could also ride ejected planetary objects away from their dying host stars. (Perhaps on a shattered piece of a planet?) Another possibility is that ETs could use propulsion systems or gravity assist events to convert dwarf planets into rogue planets. Once torn from their solar bonds, they could roam interstellar space.

    The alien civilizations could also use rogue planets to survey interstellar space, stars and planetary systems. They could send biological species to establish colonies in numerous planetary systems. It would give them a jump start on preserving and expanding their civilizations even before they’re faced with threats on their home planets.

    Homeless aliens making themselves at home in new planetary systems

    Rogue planets, by definition, are floating through the emptiness of space, untied to a home star. Without solar energy, Romanovskaya theorizes that aliens on these planets could use controlled nuclear fusion as their energy source. They could also live under the surface of the planet or in oceans as protection against space radiation.

    However, free-floating planets cannot sustain their oceans forever. So Romanovskaya says the civilizations would want to ride their rogue planet to a new stellar system where there are more opportunities and other planets to colonize. Romanovskaya hypothesizes that the aliens would approach a new planetary system from the outskirts, transfer to objects in the Oort cloud (the region of comets on the icy edge of solar systems), and travel inward.
    How to find these rogue-planet civilizations

    So how would we find alien civilizations riding rogue planets across the galaxy? Romanovskaya says we should search for certain technosignatures, or electromagnetic emissions produced by extraterrestrial technologies. In fact, Romanovskaya gives an example that shows we may already have detected one.

    On August 15, 1977, astronomers detected a strange signal from space that they dubbed the Wow! signal. Coming from the direction of Sagittarius, they were only ever able to detect this amplified signal once and are still searching for its source.

    Therefore, Romanovskaya thinks it’s possible for astronomers to detect a rogue planet’s technosignatures without detecting the planet itself, which could lead to misinterpretations of what they’re witnessing. If aliens on a rogue planet were responsible for the Wow! signal, the planet may then have moved from the location where astronomers detected the transmission. So Romanovskaya says astronomers should search for free-floating planets along the lines of observations of unusual and potentially artificial signals coming from space.

    Rogue planets visiting our solar system

    This scenario begs the question: Could aliens on a rogue planet pass near our solar system? Romanovskaya says that while the chances are small, it is possible. In the paper, she discusses the different ways to look for artifacts of the visits of rogue planets supporting alien life or artificial-intelligent scouts.

    If, somewhere in our part of the galaxy, migrating intelligent species or AI are riding free-floating planets looking for a new home, Romanovskaya wants us to be searching for them.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 9:24 pm on May 31, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists model landscape formation on Titan revealing an Earth-like alien world", Planetary Science,   

    From Stanford Earth Matters: “Scientists model landscape formation on Titan revealing an Earth-like alien world” 

    From Stanford Earth Matters



    Stanford University School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences


    Stanford University Name

    Stanford University

    April 25, 2022 [Just now in social media.]

    Danielle T. Tucker
    School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
    (650) 497-9541

    Mathieu Lapôtre
    School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
    (626) 232-5494

    These three mosaics of Titan were composed with data from Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer taken during the last three Titan flybys, on Oct. 28, 2005 (left), Dec. 26, 2005 (middle), and Jan. 15, 2006 (right). In a new study, researchers have shown how Titan’s distinct dunes, plains, and labyrinth terrains could be formed. (Image credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona)

    A new hypothesis reveals that a global sedimentary cycle driven by seasons could explain the formation of landscapes on Saturn’s moon Titan. The research shows the alien world may be more Earth-like than previously thought.

    Saturn’s moon Titan looks very much like Earth from space, with rivers, lakes, and seas filled by rain tumbling through a thick atmosphere. While these landscapes may look familiar, they are composed of materials that are undoubtedly different – liquid methane streams streak Titan’s icy surface and nitrogen winds build hydrocarbon sand dunes.

    The presence of these materials – whose mechanical properties are vastly different from those of silicate-based substances that make up other known sedimentary bodies in our solar system – makes Titan’s landscape formation enigmatic. By identifying a process that would allow for hydrocarbon-based substances to form sand grains or bedrock depending on how often winds blow and streams flow, Stanford University geologist Mathieu Lapôtre and his colleagues have shown how Titan’s distinct dunes, plains, and labyrinth terrains could be formed.

    Titan, which is a target for space exploration because of its potential habitability, is the only other body in our solar system known to have an Earth-like, seasonal liquid transport cycle today. The new model, recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, shows how that seasonal cycle drives the movement of grains over the moon’s surface.

    “Our model adds a unifying framework that allows us to understand how all of these sedimentary environments work together,” said Lapôtre, an assistant professor of geological sciences at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “If we understand how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together and their mechanics, then we can start using the landforms left behind by those sedimentary processes to say something about the climate or the geological history of Titan – and how they could impact the prospect for life on Titan.”

    A missing mechanism

    In order to build a model that could simulate the formation of Titan’s distinct landscapes, Lapôtre and his colleagues first had to solve one of the biggest mysteries about sediment on the planetary body: How can its basic organic compounds – which are thought to be much more fragile than inorganic silicate grains on Earth – transform into grains that form distinct structures rather than just wearing down and blowing away as dust?

    On Earth, silicate rocks and minerals on the surface erode into sediment grains over time, moving through winds and streams to be deposited in layers of sediments that eventually – with the help of pressure, groundwater, and sometimes heat – turn back into rocks. Those rocks then continue through the erosion process and the materials are recycled through Earth’s layers over geologic time.

    On Titan, researchers think similar processes formed the dunes, plains, and labyrinth terrains seen from space. But unlike on Earth, Mars, and Venus, where silicate-derived rocks are the dominant geological material from which sediments are derived, Titan’s sediments are thought to be composed of solid organic compounds. Scientists haven’t been able to demonstrate how these organic compounds may grow into sediment grains that can be transported across the moon’s landscapes and over geologic time.

    “As winds transport grains, the grains collide with each other and with the surface. These collisions tend to decrease grain size through time. What we were missing was the growth mechanism that could counterbalance that and enable sand grains to maintain a stable size through time,” Lapôtre said.

    An alien analog

    The research team found an answer by looking at sediments on Earth called ooids, which are small, spherical grains most often found in shallow tropical seas, such as around the Bahamas. Ooids form when calcium carbonate is pulled from the water column and attaches in layers around a grain, such as quartz.

    What makes ooids unique is their formation through chemical precipitation, which allows ooids to grow, while the simultaneous process of erosion slows the growth as the grains are smashed into each other by waves and storms. These two competing mechanisms balance each other out through time to form a constant grain size – a process the researchers suggest could also be happening on Titan.

    “We were able to resolve the paradox of why there could have been sand dunes on Titan for so long even though the materials are very weak, Lapôtre said. “We hypothesized that sintering – which involves neighboring grains fusing together into one piece – could counterbalance abrasion when winds transport the grains.”

    Global landscapes

    Armed with a hypothesis for sediment formation, Lapôtre and the study co-authors used existing data about Titan’s climate and the direction of wind-driven sediment transport to explain its distinct parallel bands of geological formations: dunes near the equator, plains at the mid-latitudes, and labyrinth terrains near the poles.

    Atmospheric modeling and data from the Cassini mission reveal that winds are common near the equator, supporting the idea that less sintering and therefore fine sand grains could be created there – a critical component of dunes. The study authors predict a lull in sediment transport at mid-latitudes on either side of the equator, where sintering could dominate and create coarser and coarser grains, eventually turning into bedrock that makes up Titan’s plains.

    Sand grains are also necessary for the formation of the moon’s labyrinth terrains near the poles. Researchers think these distinct crags could be like karsts in limestone on Earth – but on Titan, they would be collapsed features made of dissolved organic sandstones. River flow and rainstorms occur much more frequently near the poles, making sediments more likely to be transported by rivers than winds. A similar process of sintering and abrasion during river transport could provide a local supply of coarse sand grains – the source for the sandstones thought to make up labyrinth terrains.

    “We’re showing that on Titan – just like on Earth and what used to be the case on Mars – we have an active sedimentary cycle that can explain the latitudinal distribution of landscapes through episodic abrasion and sintering driven by Titan’s seasons,” Lapôtre said. “It’s pretty fascinating to think about how there’s this alternative world so far out there, where things are so different, yet so similar.”

    Lapôtre is also an assistant professor, by courtesy, of geophysics. Study co-authors are from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

    This research was supported by a NASA Solar System Workings grant.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Stanford Earth Matters

    We are scientists! Undergraduates, graduate students, professors, educational staff, and alumni working professionals. We build community in our field trips, classes, and cocurriculars. We care about the Earth and making its resources available to people across the globe now and in the future.

    The School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences

    The School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences (formerly the School of Earth Sciences) lists courses under the subject code EARTH on the Stanford Bulletin’s ExploreCourses web site. Courses offered by the School’s departments and inter-departmental programs are linked on their separate sections, and are available at the ExploreCourses web site.

    The School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences includes the departments of Geological Sciences, Geophysics, Energy Resources Engineering, and Earth System Science; and three interdisciplinary programs: the Earth Systems undergraduate B.S. and coterminal M.A. and M.S. programs, the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) with Ph.D. and joint M.S, and the Sustainability and Science Practice Program with coterminal M.A. and M.S. programs.

    The aims of the school and its programs are:

    to prepare students for careers in the fields of agricultural science and policy, biogeochemistry, climate science, energy resource engineering, environmental science and policy, environmental communications, geology, geobiology, geochemistry, geomechanics, geophysics, geostatistics, sustainability science, hydrogeology, land science, oceanography, paleontology, petroleum engineering, and petroleum geology;

    to conduct disciplinary and interdisciplinary research on a range of questions related to Earth, its resources and its environment;

    to provide opportunities for Stanford undergraduate and graduate students to learn about the planet’s history, to understand the energy and resource bases that support humanity, to address the geological and geophysical, and human-caused hazards that affect human societies, and to understand the challenges and develop solutions related to environment and sustainability.

    To accomplish these objectives, the school offers a variety of programs adaptable to the needs of the individual student:

    four-year undergraduate programs leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

    five-year programs leading to the coterminal Bachelor of Science and Master of Science (M.S.)

    five-year programs leading to the coterminal Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts (M.A.)

    graduate programs offering the degrees of Master of Science, Engineer, and Doctor of Philosophy.

    Details of individual degree programs are found in the section for each department or program.
    Undergraduate Programs in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences

    Any undergraduate admitted to the University may declare a major in one of the school’s departments or the Earth Systems Program by contacting the appropriate department or program office.

    Requirements for the B.S. degree are listed in each department or program section. Departmental academic advisers work with students to define a career or academic goal and assure that the student’s curricular choices are appropriate to the pursuit of that goal. Advisers can help devise a sensible and enjoyable course of study that meets degree requirements and provides the student with opportunities to experience advanced courses, seminars, and research projects. To maximize such opportunities, students are encouraged to complete basic science and mathematics courses in high school or during their freshman year.
    Coterminal Master’s Degrees in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences

    The Stanford coterminal degree program enables an undergraduate to embark on an integrated program of study leading to the master’s degree before requirements for the bachelor’s degree have been completed. This may result in more expeditious progress towards the advanced degree than would otherwise be possible, making the program especially important to Earth scientists because the master’s degree provides an excellent basis for entry into the profession. The coterminal plan permits students to apply for admission to a master’s program after earning 120 units, completion of six non-summer quarters, and declaration of an undergraduate major, but no later than the quarter prior to the expected completion of the undergraduate degree.

    The student may meet the degree requirements in the more advantageous of the following two ways: by first completing the 180 units required for the B.S. degree and then completing the three quarters required for the M.S. or the M.A. degree; or by completing a total of 15 quarters during which the requirements for the two degrees are completed concurrently. In either case, the student has the option of receiving the B.S. degree upon meeting all the B.S. requirements or of receiving both degrees at the end of the coterminal program.

    Students earn degrees in the same department or program, in two different departments, or even in different schools; for example, a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. in Geological Sciences. Students are encouraged to discuss the coterminal program with their advisers during their junior year. Additional information is available in the individual department offices.

    University requirements for the coterminal master’s degree are described in the “Coterminal Master’s Program” section. University requirements for the master’s degree are described in the “Graduate Degrees” section of this bulletin.
    Graduate Programs in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences

    Admission to the Graduate Program

    A student who wishes to enroll for graduate work in the school must be qualified for graduate standing in the University and also must be accepted by one of the school’s four departments or the E-IPER Ph.D. program. One requirement for admission is submission of scores on the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Exam. Admission to one department of the school does not guarantee admission to other departments.

    Faculty Adviser

    Upon entering a graduate program, the student should report to the head of the department or program who arranges with a member of the faculty to act as the student’s adviser. Alternatively, in several of the departments, advisers are established through student-faculty discussions prior to admission. The student, in consultation with the adviser(s), then arranges a course of study for the first quarter and ultimately develops a complete plan of study for the degree sought.

    Financial Aid
    Detailed information on scholarships, fellowships, and research grants is available from the school’s individual departments and programs.

    Stanford University campus

    Leland and Jane Stanford founded Stanford University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members.

    Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a private research university located in Stanford, California. Stanford was founded in 1885 by Leland and Jane Stanford in memory of their only child, Leland Stanford Jr., who had died of typhoid fever at age 15 the previous year. Stanford is consistently ranked as among the most prestigious and top universities in the world by major education publications. It is also one of the top fundraising institutions in the country, becoming the first school to raise more than a billion dollars in a year.

    Leland Stanford was a U.S. senator and former governor of California who made his fortune as a railroad tycoon. The school admitted its first students on October 1, 1891, as a coeducational and non-denominational institution. Stanford University struggled financially after the death of Leland Stanford in 1893 and again after much of the campus was damaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Following World War II, provost Frederick Terman supported faculty and graduates’ entrepreneurialism to build self-sufficient local industry in what would later be known as Silicon Valley.

    The university is organized around seven schools: three schools consisting of 40 academic departments at the undergraduate level as well as four professional schools that focus on graduate programs in law, medicine, education, and business. All schools are on the same campus. Students compete in 36 varsity sports, and the university is one of two private institutions in the Division I FBS Pac-12 Conference. It has gained 126 NCAA team championships, and Stanford has won the NACDA Directors’ Cup for 24 consecutive years, beginning in 1994–1995. In addition, Stanford students and alumni have won 270 Olympic medals including 139 gold medals.

    As of October 2020, 84 Nobel laureates, 28 Turing Award laureates, and eight Fields Medalists have been affiliated with Stanford as students, alumni, faculty, or staff. In addition, Stanford is particularly noted for its entrepreneurship and is one of the most successful universities in attracting funding for start-ups. Stanford alumni have founded numerous companies, which combined produce more than $2.7 trillion in annual revenue, roughly equivalent to the 7th largest economy in the world (as of 2020). Stanford is the alma mater of one president of the United States (Herbert Hoover), 74 living billionaires, and 17 astronauts. It is also one of the leading producers of Fulbright Scholars, Marshall Scholars, Rhodes Scholars, and members of the United States Congress.

    Stanford University was founded in 1885 by Leland and Jane Stanford, dedicated to Leland Stanford Jr, their only child. The institution opened in 1891 on Stanford’s previous Palo Alto farm.

    Jane and Leland Stanford modeled their university after the great eastern universities, most specifically Cornell University. Stanford opened being called the “Cornell of the West” in 1891 due to faculty being former Cornell affiliates (either professors, alumni, or both) including its first president, David Starr Jordan, and second president, John Casper Branner. Both Cornell and Stanford were among the first to have higher education be accessible, nonsectarian, and open to women as well as to men. Cornell is credited as one of the first American universities to adopt this radical departure from traditional education, and Stanford became an early adopter as well.

    Despite being impacted by earthquakes in both 1906 and 1989, the campus was rebuilt each time. In 1919, The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace was started by Herbert Hoover to preserve artifacts related to World War I. The Stanford Medical Center, completed in 1959, is a teaching hospital with over 800 beds. The DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (originally named the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), established in 1962, performs research in particle physics.


    Most of Stanford is on an 8,180-acre (12.8 sq mi; 33.1 km^2) campus, one of the largest in the United States. It is located on the San Francisco Peninsula, in the northwest part of the Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley) approximately 37 miles (60 km) southeast of San Francisco and approximately 20 miles (30 km) northwest of San Jose. In 2008, 60% of this land remained undeveloped.

    Stanford’s main campus includes a census-designated place within unincorporated Santa Clara County, although some of the university land (such as the Stanford Shopping Center and the Stanford Research Park) is within the city limits of Palo Alto. The campus also includes much land in unincorporated San Mateo County (including the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve), as well as in the city limits of Menlo Park (Stanford Hills neighborhood), Woodside, and Portola Valley.

    Non-central campus

    Stanford currently operates in various locations outside of its central campus.

    On the founding grant:

    Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is a 1,200-acre (490 ha) natural reserve south of the central campus owned by the university and used by wildlife biologists for research.
    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is a facility west of the central campus operated by the university for the Department of Energy. It contains the longest linear particle accelerator in the world, 2 miles (3.2 km) on 426 acres (172 ha) of land.
    Golf course and a seasonal lake: The university also has its own golf course and a seasonal lake (Lake Lagunita, actually an irrigation reservoir), both home to the vulnerable California tiger salamander. As of 2012 Lake Lagunita was often dry and the university had no plans to artificially fill it.

    Off the founding grant:

    Hopkins Marine Station, in Pacific Grove, California, is a marine biology research center owned by the university since 1892.
    Study abroad locations: unlike typical study abroad programs, Stanford itself operates in several locations around the world; thus, each location has Stanford faculty-in-residence and staff in addition to students, creating a “mini-Stanford”.

    Redwood City campus for many of the university’s administrative offices located in Redwood City, California, a few miles north of the main campus. In 2005, the university purchased a small, 35-acre (14 ha) campus in Midpoint Technology Park intended for staff offices; development was delayed by The Great Recession. In 2015 the university announced a development plan and the Redwood City campus opened in March 2019.

    The Bass Center in Washington, DC provides a base, including housing, for the Stanford in Washington program for undergraduates. It includes a small art gallery open to the public.

    China: Stanford Center at Peking University, housed in the Lee Jung Sen Building, is a small center for researchers and students in collaboration with Beijing University [北京大学](CN) (Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University (CN) (KIAA-PKU).

    Administration and organization

    Stanford is a private, non-profit university that is administered as a corporate trust governed by a privately appointed board of trustees with a maximum membership of 38. Trustees serve five-year terms (not more than two consecutive terms) and meet five times annually.[83] A new trustee is chosen by the current trustees by ballot. The Stanford trustees also oversee the Stanford Research Park, the Stanford Shopping Center, the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University Medical Center, and many associated medical facilities (including the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital).

    The board appoints a president to serve as the chief executive officer of the university, to prescribe the duties of professors and course of study, to manage financial and business affairs, and to appoint nine vice presidents. The provost is the chief academic and budget officer, to whom the deans of each of the seven schools report. Persis Drell became the 13th provost in February 2017.

    As of 2018, the university was organized into seven academic schools. The schools of Humanities and Sciences (27 departments), Engineering (nine departments), and Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (four departments) have both graduate and undergraduate programs while the Schools of Law, Medicine, Education and Business have graduate programs only. The powers and authority of the faculty are vested in the Academic Council, which is made up of tenure and non-tenure line faculty, research faculty, senior fellows in some policy centers and institutes, the president of the university, and some other academic administrators, but most matters are handled by the Faculty Senate, made up of 55 elected representatives of the faculty.

    The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) is the student government for Stanford and all registered students are members. Its elected leadership consists of the Undergraduate Senate elected by the undergraduate students, the Graduate Student Council elected by the graduate students, and the President and Vice President elected as a ticket by the entire student body.

    Stanford is the beneficiary of a special clause in the California Constitution, which explicitly exempts Stanford property from taxation so long as the property is used for educational purposes.

    Endowment and donations

    The university’s endowment, managed by the Stanford Management Company, was valued at $27.7 billion as of August 31, 2019. Payouts from the Stanford endowment covered approximately 21.8% of university expenses in the 2019 fiscal year. In the 2018 NACUBO-TIAA survey of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, only Harvard University, the University of Texas System, and Yale University had larger endowments than Stanford.

    In 2006, President John L. Hennessy launched a five-year campaign called the Stanford Challenge, which reached its $4.3 billion fundraising goal in 2009, two years ahead of time, but continued fundraising for the duration of the campaign. It concluded on December 31, 2011, having raised a total of $6.23 billion and breaking the previous campaign fundraising record of $3.88 billion held by Yale. Specifically, the campaign raised $253.7 million for undergraduate financial aid, as well as $2.33 billion for its initiative in “Seeking Solutions” to global problems, $1.61 billion for “Educating Leaders” by improving K-12 education, and $2.11 billion for “Foundation of Excellence” aimed at providing academic support for Stanford students and faculty. Funds supported 366 new fellowships for graduate students, 139 new endowed chairs for faculty, and 38 new or renovated buildings. The new funding also enabled the construction of a facility for stem cell research; a new campus for the business school; an expansion of the law school; a new Engineering Quad; a new art and art history building; an on-campus concert hall; a new art museum; and a planned expansion of the medical school, among other things. In 2012, the university raised $1.035 billion, becoming the first school to raise more than a billion dollars in a year.

    Research centers and institutes

    DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
    Stanford Research Institute, a center of innovation to support economic development in the region.
    Hoover Institution, a conservative American public policy institution and research institution that promotes personal and economic liberty, free enterprise, and limited government.
    Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, a multidisciplinary design school in cooperation with the Hasso Plattner Institute of University of Potsdam [Universität Potsdam](DE) that integrates product design, engineering, and business management education).
    Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, which grew out of and still contains the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project.
    John S. Knight Fellowship for Professional Journalists
    Center for Ocean Solutions
    Together with University of California-Berkeley and University of California-San Francisco, Stanford is part of the Biohub, a new medical science research center founded in 2016 by a $600 million commitment from Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and pediatrician Priscilla Chan.

    Discoveries and innovation

    Natural sciences

    Biological synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) – Arthur Kornberg synthesized DNA material and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1959 for his work at Stanford.
    First Transgenic organism – Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer were the first scientists to transplant genes from one living organism to another, a fundamental discovery for genetic engineering. Thousands of products have been developed on the basis of their work, including human growth hormone and hepatitis B vaccine.
    Laser – Arthur Leonard Schawlow shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai Siegbahn for his work on lasers.
    Nuclear magnetic resonance – Felix Bloch developed new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements, which are the underlying principles of the MRI.

    Computer and applied sciences

    ARPANETStanford Research Institute, formerly part of Stanford but on a separate campus, was the site of one of the four original ARPANET nodes.

    Internet—Stanford was the site where the original design of the Internet was undertaken. Vint Cerf led a research group to elaborate the design of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP/IP) that he originally co-created with Robert E. Kahn (Bob Kahn) in 1973 and which formed the basis for the architecture of the Internet.

    Frequency modulation synthesis – John Chowning of the Music department invented the FM music synthesis algorithm in 1967, and Stanford later licensed it to Yamaha Corporation.

    Google – Google began in January 1996 as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were both PhD students at Stanford. They were working on the Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP). The SDLP’s goal was “to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library” and it was funded through the National Science Foundation, among other federal agencies.

    Klystron tube – invented by the brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian at Stanford. Their prototype was completed and demonstrated successfully on August 30, 1937. Upon publication in 1939, news of the klystron immediately influenced the work of U.S. and UK researchers working on radar equipment.

    RISCARPA funded VLSI project of microprocessor design. Stanford and University of California- Berkeley are most associated with the popularization of this concept. The Stanford MIPS would go on to be commercialized as the successful MIPS architecture, while Berkeley RISC gave its name to the entire concept, commercialized as the SPARC. Another success from this era were IBM’s efforts that eventually led to the IBM POWER instruction set architecture, PowerPC, and Power ISA. As these projects matured, a wide variety of similar designs flourished in the late 1980s and especially the early 1990s, representing a major force in the Unix workstation market as well as embedded processors in laser printers, routers and similar products.
    SUN workstation – Andy Bechtolsheim designed the SUN workstation for the Stanford University Network communications project as a personal CAD workstation, which led to Sun Microsystems.

    Businesses and entrepreneurship

    Stanford is one of the most successful universities in creating companies and licensing its inventions to existing companies; it is often held up as a model for technology transfer. Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing is responsible for commercializing university research, intellectual property, and university-developed projects.

    The university is described as having a strong venture culture in which students are encouraged, and often funded, to launch their own companies.

    Companies founded by Stanford alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion in annual revenue, equivalent to the 10th-largest economy in the world.

    Some companies closely associated with Stanford and their connections include:

    Hewlett-Packard, 1939, co-founders William R. Hewlett (B.S, PhD) and David Packard (M.S).
    Silicon Graphics, 1981, co-founders James H. Clark (Associate Professor) and several of his grad students.
    Sun Microsystems, 1982, co-founders Vinod Khosla (M.B.A), Andy Bechtolsheim (PhD) and Scott McNealy (M.B.A).
    Cisco, 1984, founders Leonard Bosack (M.S) and Sandy Lerner (M.S) who were in charge of Stanford Computer Science and Graduate School of Business computer operations groups respectively when the hardware was developed.[163]
    Yahoo!, 1994, co-founders Jerry Yang (B.S, M.S) and David Filo (M.S).
    Google, 1998, co-founders Larry Page (M.S) and Sergey Brin (M.S).
    LinkedIn, 2002, co-founders Reid Hoffman (B.S), Konstantin Guericke (B.S, M.S), Eric Lee (B.S), and Alan Liu (B.S).
    Instagram, 2010, co-founders Kevin Systrom (B.S) and Mike Krieger (B.S).
    Snapchat, 2011, co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy (B.S).
    Coursera, 2012, co-founders Andrew Ng (Associate Professor) and Daphne Koller (Professor, PhD).

    Student body

    Stanford enrolled 6,996 undergraduate and 10,253 graduate students as of the 2019–2020 school year. Women comprised 50.4% of undergraduates and 41.5% of graduate students. In the same academic year, the freshman retention rate was 99%.

    Stanford awarded 1,819 undergraduate degrees, 2,393 master’s degrees, 770 doctoral degrees, and 3270 professional degrees in the 2018–2019 school year. The four-year graduation rate for the class of 2017 cohort was 72.9%, and the six-year rate was 94.4%. The relatively low four-year graduation rate is a function of the university’s coterminal degree (or “coterm”) program, which allows students to earn a master’s degree as a 1-to-2-year extension of their undergraduate program.

    As of 2010, fifteen percent of undergraduates were first-generation students.


    As of 2016 Stanford had 16 male varsity sports and 20 female varsity sports, 19 club sports and about 27 intramural sports. In 1930, following a unanimous vote by the Executive Committee for the Associated Students, the athletic department adopted the mascot “Indian.” The Indian symbol and name were dropped by President Richard Lyman in 1972, after objections from Native American students and a vote by the student senate. The sports teams are now officially referred to as the “Stanford Cardinal,” referring to the deep red color, not the cardinal bird. Stanford is a member of the Pac-12 Conference in most sports, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in several other sports, and the America East Conference in field hockey with the participation in the inter-collegiate NCAA’s Division I FBS.

    Its traditional sports rival is the University of California, Berkeley, the neighbor to the north in the East Bay. The winner of the annual “Big Game” between the Cal and Cardinal football teams gains custody of the Stanford Axe.

    Stanford has had at least one NCAA team champion every year since the 1976–77 school year and has earned 126 NCAA national team titles since its establishment, the most among universities, and Stanford has won 522 individual national championships, the most by any university. Stanford has won the award for the top-ranked Division 1 athletic program—the NACDA Directors’ Cup, formerly known as the Sears Cup—annually for the past twenty-four straight years. Stanford athletes have won medals in every Olympic Games since 1912, winning 270 Olympic medals total, 139 of them gold. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, and 2016 Summer Olympics, Stanford won more Olympic medals than any other university in the United States. Stanford athletes won 16 medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics (12 gold, two silver and two bronze), and 27 medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics.


    The unofficial motto of Stanford, selected by President Jordan, is Die Luft der Freiheit weht. Translated from the German language, this quotation from Ulrich von Hutten means, “The wind of freedom blows.” The motto was controversial during World War I, when anything in German was suspect; at that time the university disavowed that this motto was official.
    Hail, Stanford, Hail! is the Stanford Hymn sometimes sung at ceremonies or adapted by the various University singing groups. It was written in 1892 by mechanical engineering professor Albert W. Smith and his wife, Mary Roberts Smith (in 1896 she earned the first Stanford doctorate in Economics and later became associate professor of Sociology), but was not officially adopted until after a performance on campus in March 1902 by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
    “Uncommon Man/Uncommon Woman”: Stanford does not award honorary degrees, but in 1953 the degree of “Uncommon Man/Uncommon Woman” was created to recognize individuals who give rare and extraordinary service to the University. Technically, this degree is awarded by the Stanford Associates, a voluntary group that is part of the university’s alumni association. As Stanford’s highest honor, it is not conferred at prescribed intervals, but only when appropriate to recognize extraordinary service. Recipients include Herbert Hoover, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Lucile Packard, and John Gardner.
    Big Game events: The events in the week leading up to the Big Game vs. UC Berkeley, including Gaieties (a musical written, composed, produced, and performed by the students of Ram’s Head Theatrical Society).
    “Viennese Ball”: a formal ball with waltzes that was initially started in the 1970s by students returning from the now-closed Stanford in Vienna overseas program. It is now open to all students.
    “Full Moon on the Quad”: An annual event at Main Quad, where students gather to kiss one another starting at midnight. Typically organized by the Junior class cabinet, the festivities include live entertainment, such as music and dance performances.
    “Band Run”: An annual festivity at the beginning of the school year, where the band picks up freshmen from dorms across campus while stopping to perform at each location, culminating in a finale performance at Main Quad.
    “Mausoleum Party”: An annual Halloween Party at the Stanford Mausoleum, the final resting place of Leland Stanford Jr. and his parents. A 20-year tradition, the “Mausoleum Party” was on hiatus from 2002 to 2005 due to a lack of funding, but was revived in 2006. In 2008, it was hosted in Old Union rather than at the actual Mausoleum, because rain prohibited generators from being rented. In 2009, after fundraising efforts by the Junior Class Presidents and the ASSU Executive, the event was able to return to the Mausoleum despite facing budget cuts earlier in the year.
    Former campus traditions include the “Big Game bonfire” on Lake Lagunita (a seasonal lake usually dry in the fall), which was formally ended in 1997 because of the presence of endangered salamanders in the lake bed.

    Award laureates and scholars

    Stanford’s current community of scholars includes:

    19 Nobel Prize laureates (as of October 2020, 85 affiliates in total)
    171 members of the National Academy of Sciences
    109 members of National Academy of Engineering
    76 members of National Academy of Medicine
    288 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    19 recipients of the National Medal of Science
    1 recipient of the National Medal of Technology
    4 recipients of the National Humanities Medal
    49 members of American Philosophical Society
    56 fellows of the American Physics Society (since 1995)
    4 Pulitzer Prize winners
    31 MacArthur Fellows
    4 Wolf Foundation Prize winners
    2 ACL Lifetime Achievement Award winners
    14 AAAI fellows
    2 Presidential Medal of Freedom winners

    Stanford University Seal

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