Space Weather

Space weather is an interesting topic that has not been discussed much. We know that the temperature in space is ~3 degrees Kelvin, however, we don’t consider space weather to be important because it is hard for us to visualize weather in space. Space weather is primarily affected by the interplanetary magnetic fields carried by solar wind plasma and solar winds. These can cause geomagnetic storms, geomagnetically induced currents on Earth’s surface, and Auroraes.

Although these doesn’t affect most people here on Earth, it can still have a negative effect on some of us. For instance, these space weather events can damage electronics on board spacecrafts, as that is what happened to the Galaxy 15 spacecraft (a telecommunications spacecraft) which caused us to lose communication. In some cases, this can threaten the lives of astronauts if something goes awry.

So even though space weather seems trivial, as we begin to further explore space, it will become more of a problem, and luckily we have devices now that can predict future solar events so we can better prepare for them.

Solar Winds visualized

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Goldilocks Planet

Looking for another habitable planet outside of Earth has drawn the attention of scientists for years. Initially scientists believed that as long as a planet orbits a star in a habitable zone that the could be a potential planet for humans to colonize on. However, over the years that list has gotten more extensive. So, distance matters. So does an active molten core with volcanism, plate tectonics, a magnetic field, it can’t be too close or too far from a gas giant (a gas giant can either cause asteroids to hit the planet, but can also prevent it as well), circular orbit (so conditions on the planet are consistent throughout the revolution), not too fast or slow of a rotation rate. These are just some of the necessary conditions for making a planet habitable. These conditions also don’t include the factors that make a star system habitable, which makes it a longer list, such as it can’t be too close to a supernovae or other cosmic explosions.

                  There have been a few planets that have met a lot of the qualifications for a habitable planet, however, scientists have differing factors about what makes a planet habitable, so there is no consensus whether there are any planets that are currently potentially habitable. We must keep looking throughout the Milky Way to see if we can find the ‘goldilocks’ planet.

An extrasolar planet example

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Strain 121: Surviving Beyond Boiling

Image of Strain 121

For my blog post I wanted to learn more about extremophiles. One extremophile I found particularly interesting was Strain 121. This single-celled organism is considered a hyperthermophile. Strain 121 can survive and reproduce at temperatures as high as 121 degrees Celsius (250 degrees Fahrenheit), which is where it gets its name. It was first discovered in 2003 near a hydrothermal vent 200 miles from the Puget Sound. Strain 121 is actually capable of surviving in temperatures up to 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) without dying. It cannot grow at this temperature, but when it returns to a lower temperature it can start reproducing again. This means that Strain 121 can survive the sterilization process of medical equipment; however, Strain 121 poses no threat to humans as our body temperatures are actually too cold for it to grow. Since the discovery of Strain 121 scientists believe that temperatures as high as 150 degrees Celcius might be able to support microbial life. This insight broadens the scope of where we might find life beyond Earth.

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Blog 7: The Fermi Paradox

Pictured Above: ET from the movie ET

The universe is almost infinitely large, and there are many planets that appear habitable in our astronomical observations. These worlds are commonly a comparable distance from their parent star, replete with suitable levels of specific elements, and in many ways are indistinguishable from Earth.

Despite all of this, however, we have not communicated with any other intelligent life from any other world. This brings about the Fermi Paradox, which points out that because the universe is nearly infinitely big, with infinitely many opportunities for the rise of intelligent life, we have not received any communication and have no evidence for other intelligent life.

There are a couple of possible views that seek to answer this paradox. One is the Rare Earth Hypothesis, which is the idea that though the size of the universe is very large, the chance of intelligent life developing is so slim that it essentially “cancels out” the vastness of the universe. This idea would posit that Earth is the only world with intelligent life.

Another possible view is the Great Filter hypothesis, which says that even if intelligent life develops on a planet, there is some major filtering event that causes civilizations to die out or not be able to exist outside their planet. This means that either we have overcome this filtering event already (in which case, we would be the only one to do so, creating a “forever civilization”) or we will have this filtering event on our horizon. This event could be related to climate change, asteroid impact, or some other unforeseen circumstance that would threaten humanity’s attempts to exist in perpetuity and expand past the Earth.

Because we have not seen evidence for other intelligent life in the galaxy, one might be tempted to conclude that this is sufficient evidence to reject the possibility of life outside of Earth. This, however, would be foolish, and does not treat the Fermi paradox in good faith. There are scenarios where other intelligent life could exist and us not know about it, such as aliens visiting/observing Earth before humanity had fully developed, but choosing not to establish a colony because they did not want to interfere with our development, or aliens visiting before humanity altogether. Another conclusion from the Fermi paradox is that it is not fair to say that the only logical development of intelligent civilization is the colonization of the entire galaxy just because that seems to be what humanity would do if we had the resources available.

In conclusion, while the Fermi paradox creates an interesting discourse around whether intelligent life exists, and what they are doing if it does, it should not be taken as evidence in and of itself for or against the existence of extraterrestrials. Instead, it is a framework that can be used to generate ideas about why we do not yet have evidence of aliens in our galaxy.

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Deadly Exoplanet

While my last blog post talked about the search for intelligent alien civilizations on habitable planets, I want to dedicate this blog post to the exact opposite. This blog post is dedicated to one of the weirdest exoplanets discovered, HD 189773b. Do not be confused by it’s bright blue beauty. The planet is anything but habitable. Located 64 light years away, HD 189773b reaches temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius (2372 degrees Fahrenheit). Further, the planet is home to ridiculously fast winds that travel up to 5400 mph, or seven times the speed of sound! If the winds are not crazy enough, what the winds blow is even stranger.

Visual of HD 189773b

The blue hue of the planet, as depicted in the visual above, is due to the immense amount of silicate in its atmosphere. When this silicate is heated to intense temperatures, like it is in HD 189773b’s atmosphere, it transforms into grains of glass. Therefore, molten glass rains down on HD 189773b, sideways, at over seven times the speed of sound! I don’t know about you but I will NOT be vacationing on HD 189773b any time soon!

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Blog 8 – Beyond Saturn


There is likely a subsurface ocean on Enceladus! Enceladus is the sixth moon of Saturn and is the brightest world in the solar system. This world is small and icy, which lead scientists to believe it was geologically dead, as most small, icy worlds tend to be. However, it was discovered geyser-like jets spew water vapor and ice particles from an underground ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus. The evidence of salt-water on this world gives us hope for life beyond Saturn. If there is water on this world, it is worth searching it for signs of life. While we still haven’t found any signs of life beyond our home planet Earth, discoveries such as these make the prospect all the more exciting, and all the more possible!!

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Blog 8

Welcome to my last blog on topics related to our Solar System! It has been fun time writing random stuff running through my head and calling it a blog. Here’s another:

It’s really interesting to see the connections between worlds in science fiction and worlds in our solar system. For example, let’s compare Mustafar and Io.

Credit: Star Wars Wookiepedia

Their surfaces are colored differently. Mustafar is red, orange, and black whereas Io is yellow, with some greenish-yellow spots. They both have some whitish color as well. Due to the whitish surface, we can reasonably infer that Mustafar is far from its Star. Both, Mustafar and Io have volcanoes. So, we know that Mustafar is geologically active. Therefore, Mustafar must be tidally heated. For Mustafar to be tidally heated, it must be have an elliptical orbit, which would probably be caused by orbital resonance with other planets in the solar system. Since Mustafar is geologically active, we know that its surface is very young. Since it still in its liquid form, Mustafar is a very young planet and was probably just born, very similar to Io and other rocky planets in the early parts of the formation of our solar system. But not so early since parts are freezing up as seen by white tops. Since it is in its liquid form and early in the formation of the solar system, we can assume that its day is significantly smaller compared to Earth’s and has a rapid rotation rate.

As we can see, there are similarities between science fiction and reality, which brings up an interesting question. Are we living in a fictional world of another writer?

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The Drake Equation

Have you ever wondered if aliens exist or how many there are? I sure have and so have many scientists. In 1961, Frank Drake created an equation to estimate the number of intelligent alien civilizations that may exist in our galaxy. This equation is called the Drake Equation.

The Drake Equation Formula

The terms of this formula are the following:

N = # of civilizations in Milky Way with detectable emissions

R* = stars made in Milky Way per year

Fp = fraction of stars with planets

Ne = fraction of those planets with environment suitable for life

Fl = fraction of planets that actually have life

Fi = fraction of planets with intelligent life

Fc = fraction of planets that have developed technology that produces detectable signals

L = # of years communicating intelligent civilization lasts

One of the reasons why the Drake Equation is so famous and popular is because it is very straight forward and easy to follow. It is so straight forward that it can be compared to more mundane estimates such as the number of students at a school. However, the downside to this equation is that their are many uncertainties. The only variable which scientists are confident about is R*. Scientists have many different predictions for the other six variables, leading to a wide range of values for N. Overall, the equation is a great tool to consider, but until all variables are know for sure, the number of intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy will still remain a mystery.

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It’s a Great, Big Universe…

The thing about space is, it’s big. There’s always something new being discovered even in the solar system; ancient astronomers used to think Venus was a star, and now we’re discovering actual stars that even have their own solar systems. More exceptions are being discovered to rules that our own system led us to think were concrete, such as jovian planets that lay abnormally close to their suns. So many questions have been answered, from how planets are formed to where necessities like water originated from, but there’s always more to see, be it other galaxies or strange planet compositions or even other lifeforms…

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Black Holes

Black Hole

Black holes have always been one of the most fascinating things about our universe. I’m sure everyone remembers how the internet went insane when this photo was released. Black holes are everywhere in popular media like movies and video games. The concept that something so massive exists and nothing can ever escape from it astonishes and intrigues many, including me. The most notable example of black holes in media to me is the movie Interstellar in which they go into a black hole and suddenly have the ability to reach the fourth dimension and they can time travel and its crazy. Anyway, the fun part about that is that is that no one knows what goes on once an object goes into the singularity, or middle, of the black hole. The line that once crossed means it can never come back is called the event horizon. Since nothing can escape, even light, this is why black holes appear black, and that is how they got their names. However, I like to think of black holes as the only things in the universe that we know of that are completely invisible. Since no light can escape then there is no light for your eyes to see. We do of course see the light surrounding black holes, which kind of ruins my whole “invisible” head cannon, but I still like to think of them that way.

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