Planetary research

February 11, 2017

Aliens and extra terrestrial life is something which keeps us always on our toes. Whenever we hear the word aliens, we always land up into the fantasy world, imagining those flying saucers, with bright and mystical lights around, some living beings looking so different than we humans and animals on this planet earth, so magical tricks and super powers those beings possess, etc. But all that may or may not be true and day in and day out research and development is being done in, to find planets or people who might be living like us humans, or to find a place in the outer space, where we humans can travel to and set up a entire new colony, free of all the barriers and chaotic wars, pure and pious and set up a whole new life to begin with.

 

 

 

Hello again friends, in our last article we covered the places where, there have been alien sightings and about Astrobiology, Exobiology and Exoplanets. For your quick review let us again go through what does the same mean.

 

Astrobiology is the study of origin of life, the evolution in the life forms, the spread of various life forms and for how long such life forms shall continue to exist (in simple terms the future of such life forms) in the universe and it includes both, the life forms which exist on earth and the extra – terrestrial life forms whereas Exobiology is understanding of the processes leading to the origin, evolution and distribution of life on Earth or elsewhere in the universe. In this endeavour, scientists from a wide variety of disciplines are involved, such as astronomy, planetary research, organic chemistry, palaeontology and the various subdisciplines of biology including microbial ecology and molecular biology. In this article we shall be focusing on the topic Astrobiology and shall try to cover up what Astrobiology does really mean.

 

Astrobiology:

 

What are the limits to life and can it survive space travel? Can life hitchhike across the Galaxy, and where did life come from to begin with? How can we protect life on Earth and avoid contaminating other planets we explore? Astrobiology and Exobiology seeks to answer these questions.

 

Ever since early humans first looked skyward and imagined the stars as distant campfires, humanity has wondered if we are alone in the Universe. The ancient Greeks argued against our home planet being the only cradle for life, but lacked the technology to prove their beliefs. In the late 20th century, the near-simultaneous discoveries of the possible remains of bacterial life in a Martian meteorite, and the first planets orbiting other stars, brought the question of the existence of life beyond the Earth to the forefront of scientific endeavor. In the 21st century, the new field of Astrobiology harnesses the required technological and scientific capability to seriously address this ancient and fundamental question.

 

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. The search for life beyond the Earth requires an understanding of life, and the nature of the environments that support it, as well as planetary, planetary system and stellar processes.   To provide this understanding, astrobiology combines the knowledge and techniques from many fields, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, atmospheric science, oceanography and aeronautical engineering. Astrobiologists can work alone on particular scientific questions, but often astrobiologists from different scientific disciplines work together to examine complex questions that no one field can answer alone. These questions cover topics such as:

 

  • How does life originate?

  • How does life evolve?

  • What kind of environment is necessary for life to survive?

  • What are the environmental limits or “extremes” under which life can survive?

  • What might life look like on another world?

  • Is there or has there been life elsewhere in our solar system?

  • How can we observe and identify a habitable – or even inhabited – world?

  • What is humanity’s future on Earth and beyond?

 

A research by ESA (EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY) found life that can survive spaceflight. Both lichen and small organisms called tardigrades or ‘water bears’ have spent months attached outside the International Space Station and returned to Earth alive and well. The Agency has a long history of experiments exposing life to the harsh conditions of space. The atmosphere protects all life from the Sun’s UV rays and cosmic radiation so satellites are the only way to experiment with the space environment. Living organisms surviving in open space support the idea of ‘panspermia’ – life spreading from one planet to another, or even between star systems.

 

As explained earlier various disciplinary sciences are involved into Astrobiology we shall now shift our focus to those disciplinary sciences –

 

Astronomy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Astronomy? In simple terms, Astronomy is the study of anything outside the earth’s atmosphere. Mankind has long gazed toward the heavens, searching to put meaning and order to the universe around him. Although the movement of constellations — patterns imprinted on the night sky — was the easiest to track, other celestial events such as eclipses and the motion of planets were also charted and predicted. Astronomy today is a large, fast-moving enterprise, in which new instruments and theories are constantly evolving. We live in a golden age of science, and astronomy is enjoying more than its share of breakthroughs.

 

The astronomy major is under the umbrella of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Until recently, a separated major wasn't available. You may wonder, then, what astronomy is, and how it relates to the other subject in the department, physics.

 

Astronomy is among the oldest of sciences. In the Renaissance the clean, mathematically predictable motions of the planets played a decisive role in the birth of physics. Physics and astronomy became even more closely joined as discoveries in atomic physics opened the path to understanding the true nature of the stars, and the development of nuclear physics finally made it possible to understand how they shine for so long. Over the past twenty years or so it has become clear that astronomical observations may be the only way to get at certain very big questions in fundamental physics, since the conditions of the Big Bang may never be replicated.

 

Even though astronomy and physics are intimately co-mingled, they are not quite the same. The fundamental aim of physics is to uncover the fundamental laws of Nature, and to apply these rules in situations where they are helpful. Astronomy, in contrast, is concerned with a particular object which we find -- the Universe -- and everything in it, in much the same way that geology is concerned with a particular object, in that case the earth. There is a discipline of geophysics, just as there's a discipline of astrophysics, but in geophysics and astrophysics, the physics is often not an end in itself, but rather a tool used to understand what is there. Physics is used in the design of instruments, the interpretation of the data the instruments produce, and finally in the construction of the grand theories which explain the evolution of stars, galaxies, and the universe (or the earth!).

 

Other disciplines come into play as well. Computers are used at every step of the way, not just to simulate physical situations, but to deal with the reams of data modern instruments produce. Some astronomers specialize in telescope and instrument building, and become very good engineers. Even chemistry has its place in understanding molecular clouds in space, cool stellar atmospheres, and the composition of planets. And because randomness is everywhere, both in the sky and in our data, some astronomers make very clever use of statistics. Astronomy is not a mere subfield of physics, but a truly interdisciplinary quest to understand the universe.

 

Astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences. The early civilizations in recorded history, such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Nubians, Iranians, Chinese, and Maya performed methodical observations of the night sky. Historically, astronomy has included disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy and the making of calendars, but professional astronomy is now often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics. One of the major source of the outcomes and results of astronomy is through observational astronomy. Observational astronomy further includes Optical Astronomy – One which is done just by looking at the sky; Ultraviolet Astronomy – Looking at the sky in the ultraviolet wavelengths; X-Ray Astronomy – Looking at the sky by observing X – Rays; Gamma Astronomy – Use of Satellites to observe the gamma rays that strike the earth atmosphere; Radio Astronomy – by use of radio waves of high amplitude and wavelength; Infrared Astronomy – which is done by detection and analysis of Infrared Radiations.

 

Planetary Research:

 

Planetary research also known as planetary science is the scientific study of planets and their planetary systems which includes moons, ring systems, gas clouds, and magnetospheres. It involves understanding how planetary systems formed, how these systems work and how all their components interact. It is a cross-discipline field including aspects of astronomy, atmospheric science, geology, space physics, biology and chemistry.

What are the big scientific questions that Planetary Science tries to answer?

  • How did the Solar System form?

  • What are the conditions for life?

  • How does the Solar System work?

  • How does the Sun influence planets and planetary systems?

  • How do planetary systems evolve?

 

How are these questions answered?

  • Planetary scientists use lots of different techniques involving lots of branches of science to try to answer these questions:

  • Use unmanned robot spacecraft to make measurements of the planets and their planetary systems.

  • Use telescopes on the ground or in space to make observations of distant planets, moons, etc.

  • Carry out experimental work in laboratories or in at different sites on the Earth which replicate different planetary environments.

  • Do theoretical work involving mathematical work and building models of planetary systems or their components using computers.

 

Example: The discovery of large organic molecules in Titan’s atmosphere.

Titan is Saturn's largest moon and the second largest moon in the Solar System. MSSL Planetary scientists used measurements made by the Cassini spacecraft, as it flew through Titan's upper atmosphere, to discover very large electrically charged organic molecules in Titan's atmosphere. By measuring their mass and considering the chemistry involve creating them we found out that they could be created by complex chemistry in the atmosphere. The energy to drive this process comes from sunlight and from particles in Saturn's magnetosphere raining down on the atmosphere. These particles slowly rain down onto Titan's surface, becoming neutral as they do so, and become a type of heavy molecule known as a Tholin. We think these are important for the origins of life and may have been important early in the history of the Earth. So in a sense Titan is like a window into the past history of the Earth.

 

Planetary Science further involves Geomorphology - study of features on planetary surfaces and reconstructs the history of their formation, inferring the physical processes that acted on the surface; Planetary Astronomy – which is concerned with Dynamics, the application of celestial machines to the Solar System and Extrasolar planetary systems; planetary geology – which involves of study of heavenly bodies close to a planet eg: Study of moon which is near to the Earth. It also involves coscochemistry, geochemistry and petrology etc. We shall further lay emphasis over these topics in our next articles to come.

 

Also in our next articles we shall further cover the topics Organic Chemistry, palaeontology and other sub disciplinary aspects of biology which are useful in the study of extra – terrestrial life. Till then, stay tuned for more such research works.

 

 

References

http://epss.ucla.edu/

https://science.jpl.nasa.gov

http://epss.ucla.edu/

http://en.wikipedia.org

http://www.nasa.gov.in              

http://dos.gov.in

 

Let's Bring Light Into Darkness!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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