Sky Matters: Search for evidence of life beyond Earth a step closer

Sky Matters: Search for evidence of life beyond Earth a step closer

By Niall Smith

The search for evidence of life beyond the Earth got here a small step closer — maybe — when NASA’s Curiosity Rover lately found natural molecules in a crater on Mars referred to as Gale Crater. 

Organic molecules are the constructing blocks of life as we all know it. 

This composite picture constructed from a sequence of June 15, 2018 photographs exhibits a self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover within the Gale Crater. Pic NASA/JPL-Caltech by way of AP

They will not be uncommon, being discovered even in meteorites that survive the burning passage by means of the Earth’s environment. What makes the Mars discovery intriguing, nonetheless, is the situation of the natural molecules. 

While immediately Gale Crater is a barren wasteland, some three.5 billion years in the past it seems to have been a lake with rivers flowing out and in. 

So we are able to think about a lake wherein each liquid water and natural molecules as soon as existed side-by-side, for most likely a billion years. 

At the very least this was prone to have been lengthy sufficient for some fascinating chemistry to happen, and probably may need spawned life. 

Right now, we’ve no evidence for life on Mars and we might by no means discover such evidence, however the outcomes remind me of an Isaac Azimov quote: “The most exciting phrase in science is not ‘eureka! (I’ve found it)’ but ‘That’s funny…’.” 

And this discovery is definitely ‘funny’ and deserves additional investigation.

You can catch a have a look at the Red Planet for your self in July as Mars is well-placed within the morning sky. Due to the quick nights you’ll have to stand up early, or keep up late, whichever is your choice or life-style. 

Mars is due south round 4am, however a helpful solution to discover it’s to look for a crimson object just under the Moon on July 1. 

Mars’ attribute crimson color is because of a skinny protecting of rust which covers the whole planet, typically being whipped up by planet-scale mud storms that dwarf something we discover on Earth.

Counterintuitively, the sundown or dawn on Mars is blue, not crimson!

Unlike the mud in Earth’s environment, which is simply the fitting dimension to scatter blue mild and permit crimson mild to cross unscattered, the reverse is true on Mars the place the dustier nature of the environment scatters the crimson mild. 

At dawn and sundown the impact is for the crimson mild to be scattered away out of your eyes and the blue mild to be unscattered in direction of your eyes.

On July 27, round 9.30pm, the rising Moon will seem dimmer than regular and will have an eerie deep crimson color to it. 

The cause is that the Moon is about half manner by means of a complete lunar eclipse, a phenomenon that happens when the Earth’s shadow blocks a lot of the Sun’s mild from reaching the Moon. 

The mild that does make it to the Moon has handed by means of the Earth’s environment and is subsequently crimson in color for the explanations famous above. 

As the Moon will get increased within the sky you’ll start to see the left-hand-side brighten and its color develop into that of a regular full moon. This heralds the Moon transferring out of the Earth’s shadow. 

The greatest solution to observe a complete lunar eclipse is, in my expertise, with the unaided eye and a heat drink, or presently of 12 months a late-night-barbecue. 

Before observing it’s often a good thought to let your eyes adapt to the darkish, however for lunar eclipses this isn’t mandatory. 

Instead make it an excuse to convey some mates round and ponder what may need been in your world cup swimming pools should you hadn’t been given Panama. 

Or come watch the eclipse from Blackrock Castle Observatory from 9pm and discover fascinating conversations galore.

Dr Niall Smith is head of analysis/head of Blackrock Castle Observatory at Cork Institute of Technology.

Further details about the sky is obtainable on the CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory web site at

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