June 6, 2013
Astronomers Find Comet Factory – The Daily Orbit
Scientists finding a little nomenclature inspiration in music…
Using sunscreen to save a little face…
Comet production is no laughing matter…
And Curiosity is on the move! On today’s Daily Orbit!
Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.
The science community has honored the late great Jim Morrison of ‘The Doors’ in, well, the best way scientists can honor someone – naming a species after them. And it’s only fitting that the species be a lizard, since the late rocker was known as “The Lizard King.” One of the biggest lizards ever, Barbaturex morrisoni was a 60-foot, 60-pound giant plant-eating reptile that competed with mammals for food in the warm, tropical forests of Southeast Asia some 40 million years ago. Fossils were found in the 70s, but were left unstudied for decades. Researchers said they often listened to The Doors’ music while doing their research, so the name was only appropriate. I think Morrison would have liked that!
I have to admit, I’m not always the best about putting on sunscreen before I head out, but believe me — I won’t leave home without it now. A new study confirmed what scientists have long assumed, that sunscreen not only helps to prevent burns and skin cancer, but it actually prevents wrinkles! Exciting! Researchers found that participants who used sunscreen daily were 24 percent less likely to show increased signs of aging, which was gauged by microtopography — looking for signs of damage on the back of participants’ hands at the microscopic level. Researchers said, “Maybe sheer vanity will encourage young people to be proactive and use their sunscreen.” Works for me!
Welcome to the comet factory!! What do you call a story about a comet? A tale! Thank you, thank you. So it’s not exactly the comedy factory, but astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array have found a veritable ‘comet factory’ — a region around a young star where dust particles can grow by clumping together. Scientists already knew that dust grains grow by colliding and sticking together, but they also realized that when these bigger grains collide again at high speeds, they are often smashed to pieces and sent back to square one. So they would need a “safe haven” where they could grow without being destroyed. Though scientists theorized that such an area existed, this is the first time it has been observed and modeled, allowing scientists to see how dust particles grow to larger sizes so that they can eventually form comets, planets, and other rocky bodies. In the future, scientists hope to use ALMA to observe such regions around other stars to see the same mechanisms at work!
And it’s snowing, it’s snowing! Well, on Saturn’s moon Titan anyway. Astronomers have already observed aerosol particles in Titan’s lowest atmosphere haze layer, but didn’t know their origin. New observations show the presence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in the moon’s upper atmosphere. A reaction from sunlight or highly charged particles causes nitrogen and methane molecules to break up and lead to the production of carbon-based aerosols that then sink like snowflakes to Titan’s lower atmosphere – hence snow or something snow-like anyway – on Titan! Enjoy your winter wonderland, Titan!
And just as the seasons change, the rover Curiosity has reached a turning point. NASA says they’re finished investigating the Glenelg area on Mars where Curiosity has spent the last six months, and it’s time for the rover to make a five-mile journey to a new destination — the base of Mount Sharp. But its short journey will take many months. And the rover might investigate interesting features along the way. Curiosity drilled its final hole in the Glenelg area last month, which took only a quarter of the amount of time the first hole took, and NASA says they’re hitting “full stride.” Onward and upward, our little rover! Godspeed!
And that’s all for the Daily Orbit. See you tomorrow!