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Inverclyde Skywatchers

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The James Webb Space Telescope


The James Webb Space Telescope, previously known as the next Generation Space Telescope, is part of NASA'S ongoing flagship programme.


Launch date: October 2018 Rocket: Ariane.

5 Contractor: Arianespace.

Organisation: European Space Agency'

Manufactures: Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace & Technologies.



NASA'S James Webb Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, will probe the Cosmos to uncover the history of the Universe from the Big Bang to alien planet formation and beyond. It will focus on four main areas: first light in the Universe, assembly of galaxies in the early Universe, birth of stars and protoplanetary systems, and planets ( including the origins of life)

The powerful $8.8 billion spacecraft is also expected to take amazing photos celestial objects like its predecessor, Hubble Space Telescope. Luckily for astronomers, the Hubble Space Telescope remains in good health and its probable that the two telescopes will work together for JWST's first years.

JWST will also look at exoplanets that the Kepler Space Telescope found, or follow up on real-time observations from ground based telescopes.


The Area of The Sky (Constellation) Known as Cancer

Containing An Asterism Resembling A Crab?


Cancer is Latin for crab and it is commonly represented as one. Cancer is a medium-size constellation  (31st largest) and its stars are rather faint, its brightest star .beta Cancri. It contains two stars with known planets, including 55 Cancri, which has five: one super-earth and four gas giants, one of which is in the habitable zone and as such has expected temperatures similar to Earth. Located at the centre of the constellation is M 44, one of the closest open clusters to Earth and a popular target for amateur astronomers.


In mythology, Cancer is associated with the crab in the story of the Twelve Labours of Heracles (represented by the Hercules constellation). In the myth, Hera sends the crab to distract Hercules while the hero is fighting the Lernaean Hydra, the serpent-like beast with many heads and poisonous breath, represented by Hydra constellation. When the crab tries to kill Hercules, the story goes, Hercules kicks it all the way to the stars.


In another version, the crab gets crushed instead and Hera, a sworn enemy of Hercules, places it in the sky for its efforts. However, she places the crab in a region of the sky that has no bright stars, because despite its efforts, the crab was not successful in accomplishing the task.


In Chinese mythology it falls within the “Vermilion Bird of the South. In Egyptian mythology it is a scarab. In Tibet they saw it as a frog.


M44 is also seen as a manger or a pile of hay on which two donkeys are feeding.


Before the current version of Leo this constellation extended as far out to the region of what is now Cancer and M44 was described as the Lions whiskers.



alpha Cancri  also named Acubens.  Acubens (Açubens) is derived from the Arabic al zubanāh "the claws”. Acubens is a fourth-magnitude star with an apparent magnitude of 4.20, making it barely visible to the naked eye under good lighting conditions. Nevertheless, it is 23 times more luminous than the Sun. The Hipparcos mission estimated the distance of Acubens to be roughly 53 parsecs from Earth, or approximately 174 light years away. Hipparcos was a scientific satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), launched in 1989 and operated until 1993. It was the first space experiment devoted to precision astrometry, 


beta CancriAltarf is the brightest star in the zodiacal constellation Cancer. At approximately 290 light years from earth, it has a visual apparent magnitude of +3.5 and absolute magnitude of −1.2. The star is an orange K-type giant, about 61 times the radius of the Sun.

The traditional name Tarf or Al Tarf (anglicized as Altarf), can be translated from Arabic as "end" or "edge". β Cancri is Barium star, a type of cool giant showing enhanced abundances of Barium. β Cancri is known to have a fourteenth magnitude, red dwarf companion star. From its angular distance of 29 arcseconds, the companion's distance from its parent star is estimated at some 2600 AU, and has an orbital period of 76,000 years.



gamma Cancri - bore the traditional name Asellus Borealis (Latin for "northern donkey colt"). In 2016, the International Astronomical Union organized a Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) to catalogue and standardize proper names for stars. The WGSN approved the name Asellus Borealis for this star on 6 November 2016 and it is now so entered in the IAU Catalogue of Star Names. In Chinese, (Guǐ Su), meaning Ghost, refers to an asterism consisting of Gamma Cancri, Theta Cancri, Eta Cancri and Delta Cancri. Consequently, Gamma Cancri itself is known as (Guǐ Su sān, English: the Third Star of Ghost.)Gamma Cancri is a white A-type subgiant with an apparent magnitude of +4.67. Located around 181 light-years from the Sun, it shines with a luminosity approximately 35 times greater and has a surface temperature of 9108 K.



delta Cancri (δ Cancri, abbreviated Delta Cncδ Cnc), also named Asellus Australis, is an orange giant star approximately 180 light-years from the Sun. Delta Cancri also marks the famous open star cluster Praesepe (or the Beehive Cluster, also known as Messier 44).



eta Cancri is a class K3III (orange giant) star in the constellation Cancer. Its apparent magnitude is 5.34 and it is approximately 298 light years away based on parallax.



theta Cancri  s a binary star in the constellation Cancer, 494 light years from Earth.

it  is classified as an orange K-type giant with an apparent magnitude of +5.33. Since it is near the ecliptic. From studying its light curve during occultation, θ Cancri is shown to be a close binary, consisting of two stars each with an apparent magnitude of +6.4.



iota Cancri is a double star  approximately 300 light years from Earth. The two stars are separated by 30 arcseconds, changing only slowly. Although no orbit has been derived, the two stars show a large common proper motion and are assumed to be gravitationally related.

The brighter star, ι Cancri A, is a yellow G-type bright giant with an apparent magnitude of +4.02. It is a mild barium star, thought to be formed by mass transfer of enriched material from an asymptotic giant branch star onto a less evolved companion. No such donor has been detected in the ι Cancri system, but it is assumed that there is an unseen white dwarf.

The fainter of the two stars, ι Cancri B, is a white A-type main sequence dwarf with an apparent magnitude of +6.57. It is a shell star, surrounded by material expelled by its rapid rotation.




THE GAS GIANTS

Jupiter

 

Named after the king of the Roman gods, Jupiter sits far out in the Solar System at a distance of around 778,330,000km. It is beyond the Asteroid Belt, which marks the boundary of the terrestrial planet zone, where worlds lie which are alien to ours.

With vast spheres of coloured gases, four exotic worlds bring light to the outer darkness of our Solar System.

In order of distance from the Sun, we have Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

A wee easy way of remembering the order is “J-SUN” as in Jason.

The first non-rock from the Sun is Jupiter, the giants’ giant. Four hundred million miles from Earth, with over 60 moons in orbit which constitutes a miniature Solar System.

Jupiter doesn’t so much have an atmosphere, but rather it is an atmosphere composed of 84% hydrogen (the lightest of all elements) and 14% of helium (the second lightest).

Jupiter is so massive that it could swallow a thousand Earths. It also holds 70% of the mass of all planets in the Solar System.

 

Mysteries surround Jupiter but the most fundamental is how the planet was formed. Some scientists think it is a failed star and it may represent what happens to a proto-star that does not have enough mass to ignite the process of nuclear fusion and collapses under its own gravity.

Many people believe that the essential ingredients of life could have been delivered to Earth from space, meaning that Jupiter could have had an important role in the development of our planet.

After a six year voyage through the Solar System the Juno Spacecraft finally reached Jupiter in July 2016. It is currently orbiting the planet from pole to pole, slowly spinning as it flies, giving all the instruments on board a chance to scan the planet. By hugging the planet Juno will avoid the regions where Jupiter pumps out its highest lethal levels of radiation particularly around the equator.

It is hoped that Juno will answer numerous questions, for example, the detection of the high level of the noble gases argon, krypton and xenon in Jupiter’s atmosphere. By mapping Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, Juno’s close polar orbit will allow it to check indirectly whether the planet has a solid core of rock and ice, as is believed. And if so, how large the core is.

Another puzzle waiting to be solved is Jupiter’s complex weather system of coloured bands and belts moving in alternately eastern and western directions, and decorated with constantly changing oval spots. Juno’s instruments will check the composition of these clouds, their temperatures, how the winds circulate and how deeply features, such as the famous Great Red Spot, extends into the atmosphere.

The Galileo spacecraft sent a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere that detected a lack of water in the zone it sampled. Juno’s instruments, however, will find out how much ammonia and water the atmosphere contains. Juno will also check the amount of oxygen that Jupiter holds compared to hydrogen, to help determine how much water the planet has.

Planetary scientists are also looking forward to learning what produces Jupiter’s intense magnetic field – the most powerful of any of the planets and what causes the most brilliant aurorae in the Solar System. Theories suggest that hydrogen deep in the atmosphere is under such pressure that it behaves like electrically conducting metal to drive this magnetic field like a dynamo. Juno should be able to find this out.

Juno’s operating time is expected to last about a year and after that the probe, just like Galileo, will be sent plunging into Jupiter’s atmosphere to avoid accidental contamination of the moons by any microbes that might have stowed away on board.  

Human exploration of a gas giant like Jupiter obviously presents lots and lots of technical problems!!


Here is a little information about Jupiter's Moons.

Jupiter has 53 named moons. Fourteen more have been discovered but not given official status or names. Combined, scientists now think Jupiter has 67 moons.

There are many interesting moons orbiting the planet, but the ones of most scientific interest are the first four moons discovered beyond Earth - the Galilean satellites.

The planet Jupiter's four largest moons are called the Galilean satellites after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who first observed them in 1610. The German astronomer Simon Marius claimed to have seen the moons around the same time, but he did not publish his observations and so Galileo is given the credit for their discovery. These large moons, named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are each distinctive worlds.

Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Io's surface is covered by sulfur in different colorful forms. As Io travels in its slightly elliptical orbit, Jupiter's immense gravity causes "tides" in the solid surface that rise 100 m (300 feet) high on Io, generating enough heat for volcanic activity and to drive off any water. Io's volcanoes are driven by hot silicate magma.

Europa Europa’s surface is mostly water ice, and there is evidence that it may be covering an ocean of water or slushy ice beneath. Europa is thought to have twice as much water as does Earth. This moon intrigues astrobiologists because of its potential for having a "habitable zone." Life forms have been found thriving near subterranean volcanoes on Earth and in other extreme locations that may be analogues to what may exist on Europa.

Ganymede  Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system (larger than the planet Mercury), and is the only moon known to have its own internally generated magnetic field. Ganymede plus shadow transit occurs on the morning of Friday 10th March. The shadow transits between 02:37UT and 05:06UT

Callisto Callisto's surface is extremely heavily cratered and ancient -- a visible record of events from the early history of the solar system. However, the very few small craters on Callisto indicate a small degree of current surface activity.

The interiors of Io, Europa and Ganymede have a layered structure (as does Earth). Io has a core, and a mantle of at least partially molten rock, topped by a crust of solid rock coated with sulphur compounds. Europa and Ganymede both have a core; a rock envelope around the core; a thick, soft ice layer; and a thin crust of impure water ice. In the case of Europa, a global subsurface water layer probably lies just below the icy crust. Layering at Callisto is less well defined and appears to be mainly a mixture of ice and rock.

Three of the moons influence each other in an interesting way. Io is in a tug-of-war with Ganymede and Europa, and Europa's orbital period (time to go around Jupiter once) is twice Io's period, and Ganymede's period is twice that of Europa. In other words, every time Ganymede goes around Jupiter once, Europa makes two orbits and Io makes four orbits. The moons all keep the same face towards Jupiter as they orbit, meaning that each moon turns once on its axis for every orbit around Jupiter.

Pioneers 10 and 11 (1973 to 1974) and Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 (1979) offered striking color views and global perspectives from their flybys of the Jupiter system. From 1995 to 2003, the Galileo spacecraft made observations from repeated elliptical orbits around Jupiter, passing as low as 261 km (162 miles) over the surfaces of the Galilean moons. These close approaches resulted in images with unprecedented detail of selected portions of the surfaces.

Close-up images taken by the Galileo spacecraft of portions of Europa's surface show places where ice has broken up and moved apart, and where liquid may have come from below and frozen smoothly on the surface. The low number of craters on Europa leads scientists to believe that a subsurface ocean has been present in recent geologic history and may still exist today. The heat needed to melt the ice in a place so far from the sun is thought to come from inside Europa, resulting primarily from the same type of tidal forces that drive Io's volcanoes.

Where to see Jupiter in March

Jupiter in the constellation of Virgo is now an evening object, rising before 10pm and remaining visible all through the night and high in the south at magnitude -2.3  There is nothing else as bright at Jupiter in that part of the sky so it is impossible to miss it. Jupiter spends the month of March shining above Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. On 13th March, an almost full Moon will be to Jupiter’s upper right and as they rise together at about 9pm they will be striking to the naked eye.  On the following evening they will look even more impressive as the Moon glows less than two degrees to Jupiter’s upper left.

Well guys, I hope you are enjoying our trip through the Solar System and it’s giving you a little bit of an insight of how we all came into being.

MERCURY
Although Mercury is known as the dead planet, scientists believe that it may hold crucial information about the formation of Earth. Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the nearest planet to the Sun. It is too small to generate enough gravity to hold any substantial atmosphere and too small to produce enough internal heat to sustain geological activity.
Mercury is unique among the planets in having both the longest day (the time it takes a planet to rotate around its own axis) and the shortest year (the time it takes a planet to rotate around the Sun) Mercury’s “day” is just over twice as long as its “year”  The cause is the proximity of the Sun, whose gravity causes a tidal friction with Mercury. One half of the planet is exposed to the Sun for six months, resulting in broiling Sun-side temperatures of 600 degrees F, while the dark-side reaches a contrasting temperature of -300 degrees F.
A stand-out feature on Mercury is the largest crater ever surveyed in the entire Solar System. It was caused by the impact of an iron-rich meteor about 60 miles long. The collision sent powerful seismic shock-waves cascading over the planet’s surface, converging at the opposite point, where they blasted the ground into unique rock formations.
Observations of Venus and Mars suggest that they, like Earth, possess an iron core which accounts for 30% or less of their total mass. Observations of Mercury, in contrast, suggest that its core accounts for double this – about 60% of the planet’s entire mass. This would mean that the diameter of Mercury’s iron-rich core is approximately three-quarters the size of the entire planet. 

So, whereas, the other three terrestrial worlds are essentially rocky planets with dense iron cores, Mercury is much more of a dense iron planet with a rocky outer rind. To some extent this fits our overall picture of the Inner Solar System: the farther we get from the Sun, the lighter the stuff of the planets. However, the precise ancient accretion mechanisms which produced this remain a mystery, as does Mercury’s eccentric, individual profile.
One further Mercury mystery, almost certainly linked to the unusual size and composition of its core, is the planet’s magnetic field, which, intriguingly, closely resembles that of Earth, despite Mercury’s relatively tiny size.
Both planets’ magnetic fields are coherent dipolar shapes, like a giant magnet bar driven north to south through the planets’ centres.  In contrast, Venus, Mars and even the Moon show no evidence of having dipolar fields. The Earth’s magnetic field plays a crucial role in protecting us from solar activity. 
Earth’s magnetosphere is, in fact, a dynamic entity constantly changing in response to the activity of the Sun. Mercury’s magnetosphere demonstrates similar behaviour. It is hoped that studying its dynamics will help explain the interactions of solar radiation in the Solar System and in particularly, here on Earth.
At first glance, Mercury seems a dull, lifeless rock, as uninteresting as an alien world could ever be but, it provides a vital key in understanding the creation of the Solar System; and, of our own wonderful planet Earth.

VENUS
Planet Venus is the closest thing Earth has to a twin!
Venus is approximately the same size as Earth (over 90%), the closest in mass to earth (over 80%), closest in gravity (about 90%), and like Earth has a thick silicate mantle around an iron core. Like earth, Venus also has a substantial atmosphere, as well as evidence of internal geological activity.
Venus is the brightest planet in our sky and at 25.5 million miles from Earth it is the closest planet to Earth. And so our glowing, beautiful Morning and Evening star, our planetary Goddess of Love is coyly swathed in a mantle of bright, light-reflecting clouds that has beguiled and intrigued us for centuries, but, in the late 1960’s her veil was lifted to reveal an undeniably evil twin!
Venus spins backwards unlike every other planet in the Solar System. Venus has a retrograde movement which means that she is the only planet in the Solar System that the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east. The eccentric motion is thought to have been caused by a gigantic meteor impact which slowed her rotational speed to the point where a “day” on Venus lasts an unearthly eight months!
Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System with surface temperatures raging at an infernal 900 degrees F combined with devastating atmospheric pressure over 90 times stronger than that of Earth.
The surface of Venus is geologically unwelcoming, a jagged, barren, meteor-ravaged landscape (covering 70% in black lava rock). Unsurprisingly, given these hellish conditions, Venus has proven a somewhat challenging planet to explore. In addition to our natural curiosity about cloud-clad Venus, there is an extra, imperative reason for us to study our hell-like evil twin planet, because, there, but, for the grace of God, goes earth!  Along with scorching lava and poisonous sulphur dioxide volcanic activity on Venus also produces carbon dioxide, the most common and infamous greenhouse gas here on Earth.
It is thought that early in Venus’ history our twin planet was even more twin-like. Scientists believe even Earth-like. Venus was once covered in liquid oceans, which gradually dried up due to the greenhouse effect.  Understanding the details of how this happened on Venus, and what those processes can tell us about parallel ones on Earth, is a priority task in the exploration of our sister planet. Venus is the living proof that destructive, global climate change can occur on a planet very similar to our own.  Our evil twin, in fact, confronts us with a frightening scenario of our own planet’s possible future.
However, Venus, our evil twin, can offer us the opportunity to understand and hopefully avoid that same scenario!


Talking of Earth’s twin, Margaret and Marion went to a presentation entitled “The Search for Earth’ Twin” by Stuart Clark and it was fascinating. If you are interested he also has a book out by that very same name. It’s the extraordinary, cutting-edge story of the search for a distant planet like our own. In 1995 two astronomers discovered a planet circling a star other than our Sun, changing our perception of the Universe forever.
Now, over two decades of exploration, hundreds of planets have been discovered. Some are bathed in molten lava, or scoured by constant hurricanes; some have not one sun but two, and others are perpetually drowned in global oceans. But as well as strange, uninhabitable worlds, astronomers now know of planets just like Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Mercury and Venus orbiting stars similar to our Sun.
The prospect of discovering a planet like ours – the Earth’s own twin – is tantalisingly close.      

Well, we are into a new term now, so to speak, and after the great feedback Margaret and Marion got for the series “When We Left Earth” they have chosen another great series called “The Universe – Inside Our Solar System”

Margaret and Marion know you will enjoy this one too as it starts us off from the the Big Bang.  Some of you will already know a lot or a bit about what we are going to be watching and some of us will not, but it doesn’t matter because we are all at different levels and we will be having various presentations and talks, some of which will connect with the series.

We will be exploring our Solar System and in this series each programme utilises strikingly realistic computer recreations, animated graphics and interviews with world-leading scientists to provide an unprecedented insight into the mysteries of our universe and beyond.



Our first in the series this week is “A Star is Born” - “Secrets of the Sun”

Our star is a gigantic, thermonuclear fireball spawned by cataclysmic ancient forces. Over five billion years ago and about 10 billion years after the Big Bang that created the Universe, a large star in our galactic vicinity disintegrated in a massive stellar explosion known as a “Supernova”. 

The gigantic gas cloud spread over an expanse much greater than that of our present Solar System.  Depending on a myriad of physical factors, the eventual fates of different accreting bodies varied widely, in both size and type, as small knots of material which would have gradually coalesced in this very large cloud. This process of coalescence also known as accretion and is in fact the key mechanism for the formation of bodies in space.  (In astrophysics accretion is the culmination of particles into a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter, typically gaseous matter. Most astronomical objects, such as galaxies, stars and planets, are formed by accretion processes.)

Material and mass in a gas cloud tend to be distributed in an uneven “clumpy” manner, the denser clumps have higher local gravity, and therefore tend to condense and draw in more material from the surrounding medium and further afield increasing their own mass and gravity. And so, begins the runaway process of accretion, which ends in the eventual formation of a sun, a planet or another celestial body.  The lion’s share of our gas-cloud material, without a doubt, went to the Sun which gobbled up over 99% of the entire mass of the Solar System.

The details of the accretion process turn out, in fact, to be crucial to our definitions of different celestial objects (such as planets, moons and asteroids) A planet is defined as a celestial body which

1.      Orbits the Sun.     2.  Has enough mass that its own gravity has formed it into a spherical shape.  And 3.  Has enough mass to have cleared (through accretion) its own orbital zone of other significant debris.

Only the eight planets fulfil these three. 

Bodies which fulfil the first two but not the third are classified as “dwarf planets”.  There are officially five of these; Pluto which was demoted from a planet, Eris which is massive and the second largest dwarf planet in the Solar System, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and was once thought to be a member of an asteroid family, Haumea spinning end over end and shaped like a cigar, is one of the strangest known objects in the Solar System and Makemake perhaps the largest dwarf object in the Kuiper Belt which means its orbit lies far enough from Neptune to remain stable over the age of the Solar System.

Currently there are only five official dwarf planets but some scientists estimate that the total number may be as high as 2,000 in our Solar System.    

However, there is only one yellow dwarf star in our Solar System.  Our Sun!  The Sun is a million times the size of Earth and generates an estimated 380 billion billion megawatts of power. It is estimated that in one second the Sun churns out more energy that has ever been used throughout the entire history of human civilisation!

Although, unimaginably, hostile to human life, the Sun is, nevertheless in a sense, our birthplace! Almost all Earthly elements can only be forged by the alchemical process of a blazing solar furnace, so…. we are made of Stardust. We are Stardust!  

Are we all really made of stardust?  

In 1929 the New York Times printed an article entitled The Star Stuff That is Man”    The astronomer Harlow Shapley, director of Harvard Collage Observatory, was interviewed and stated the following:      “We are made of the same stuff as the stars, so when we study astronomy we are in a way investigating our ancestry and our place in the universe of star stuff. Our very bodies consist of the same chemical elements found in the most distant nebulae, and our activities are guided by the same universal rules.”  

The last statement of the article was also used as a caption for the illustration depicting a human figure with a backdrop of planets and galaxies: "We Are Made of Star Stuff and Are Part of a Magnificent Creation"



So, the next clear night you are out gazing at the sky remember that the twinkling stars owe their light to the energy released by nuclear fusion reactions at their core, the very same reactions which created chemical elements like carbon or iron – the building blocks which make up the world around us!

Earth


When the Solar System was born 4.6 thousand million years ago, Earth was also born. Earth is the third planet from the Sun, situated between Venus and Mars.
Earth was intensely hot following its formation but little of today’s water is likely to date that far back. It is thought to have arrived later in collisions with objects from elsewhere in the Solar System. Comets were long thought to be the most likely source, but data sent back from the Rosetta mission has confirmed suspicions that these “dirty snowballs” contain water with a mix of isotopes different to water found on Earth. Attention has now been switched to the Kuiper Belt Objects orbiting far beyond Neptune. Studies of these asteroid-like objects have revealed the presence of water, and are now suspected of having delivered it to Earth when swarms of them smashed into our planet about 3.8 billion years ago.

Earth is one of the rocky planets in the Solar System, there are three principle layers: the crust, mantle and core. The continental crust is very diverse, containing stones approx 3.8 million years old. Earth orbits the Sun accompanied by its satellite, the Moon. Earth’s axis is not perpendicular to the orbital plane, thus resulting in seasons and the North Pole and the South Pole take turns at facing the Sun for approximately six months of the year each.
Earth’s atmosphere is divided into various layers which surrounds our planet like a giant shield. Wwithout it life on Earth would be impossible, and like other planets, Earth has a magnetic field, which is a shield against the solar wind and is indispensable for our survival.
Earth, nicknamed, the Blue Planet, is dependent on a series of fortunate contingencies. Its distance from the Sun. It was born in just the right place in the Solar System and is simply lucky to find itself in the Goldilocks Zone.
Earth has plenty of water which covers 75% of its surface but where all this water comes from is still a mystery. The water which makes up the Earth’s oceans have a particular signature: it is a mixture of “normal” water – H20 – and heavy water – HDO – in stable ratios.
“Comets and asteroids probably brought essential ingredients for the origin of life to Earth,” says Seiji Sugita of Tokyo University. He added, “These impacts made surface conditions much more favourable for life.”  The entire history of terrestrial meteor impacts is bound up with the story of life on Earth.


If a large comet or asteroid was to strike Earth this would prove devastating to the planet’s ecosystem, however there is no doubt that life would survive and eventually flourish again here on Earth. Our planet’s survivors would be various species of bacteria called extremophiles, meaning that they love extremes. These are organisms which can endure and thrive under conditions that would instantly kill most other life forms. 


Kenneth Nealson of the University of  Southern California points out, “All the Earth’s oldest known organisms are love heating thermophiles. This fact strongly suggests that life on our planet originally evolved at high temperatures.”  
So successful are these hardy bacteria that they support the entire ecosystem around the thermal vents. Newly discovered and unique life forms which rely on the extremophiles include clams, tubeworms and a scaly-footed snail.
Ancient extremophile life forms spawned all life on this planet, and would be Earth’s best hope of life surviving and flourishing again after a cosmic apocalypse.

Iain from our group presented us with an excellent presentation about.

Extra Terrestrial Weather.

Extra Terrestrial Weather

Temperature causes gas to rise leaving surrounding gas to flow to replace the rising gas.  If the pressure gradient is large, wind will flow from high to low.



Mercury is closest to the Sun and has no atmosphere. It is a hot place with huge temperature fluctuations. There are no seasonal changes in its weather.

Venus has hellish weather with a thick atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide 96% and nitrogen 3.5%  The atmospheric pressure is 92x that of Earth.  Venus has a backwards rotation due to a heavy collision. Everything on Venus is squashed, boiled, fried and poisoned all in one go!

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, it has little atmosphere but many dust storms and dust devils at the polar regions. Mars’ missing atmosphere is a mystery thought to be due to the Solar Winds. Sometime in the past Venus must have been quite wet.

Jupiter is a gas planet made up of hydrogen and helium and is 318x the size of Earth. The Great Red Spot has been raging for over 400 years with ammonia clouds and winds up to 360km per hour. It is the fastest spinning planet in the Solar System causing it to flatten at the poles and bulge at the equator and its core could be even hotter than the surface of the Sun.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun with winds of up to 1000 mph and temperatures up to 14,727C at the core. Ammonia, hydrogen and helium make up its clouds and each season lasts more than 7years – that’s a long winter! On Saturn there are huge storms called “Eddy Currents”.  There are hexagonal shaped clouds at the north pole caused by cloud flow coming from different directions. 

Uranus is the coldest planet in the Solar System -371degreesF and its magnetic fields do not line up with the poles. Massive hurricanes have been studied via infrared telescopes and it rains diamonds! Its tilt is 98 degrees and has a relatively circular orbit. Its blue colour means that red light is being absorbed by the methane on the planet. It also has rings which were photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Neptune may also rain diamonds. It has huge storms with the most violent wind speeds in the Solar System of 1500mph as there are no mountains, hills etc, to slow the winds down. The wind speeds often break the sound barrier.

Pluto was very much a mystery until the New Horizon zoomed past and sent photographs back. Pluto’s tilt is 120 degrees and is the highest eccentricity of any planetary orbit. The surface is constantly being refreshed with deposits of ice on time scales of thousands of years and some of the gases freeze on its surface. 

Snippets from Gordon’s Presentation

Snippets from Hazel’s Presentation