Showing posts with label astronomy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label astronomy. Show all posts

Scientific Analysis of Meteor Strike Confirms Biblical Account of Sodom's Destruction

Circa 1650 B.C.E. a 50 meter wide meteor destroyed the ancient Middle Eastern city of Tall el-Hammam and all of its inhabitants, perhaps inspiring the narrative of the destruction of Sodom found in the Bible.


BY NANCY ATKINSON

This article was first published in Universe Today

An archeological dig has uncovered evidence of a massive cosmic airburst event approximately 3,600 years ago that destroyed an entire city near the Dead Sea in the Middle East. The event was larger than the famous Tunguska airburst event in Russia in 1908, with a blast 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The event flattened the thriving city of Tall el-Hammam, located in what is now Jordan.

Using evidence unearthed in the dig along with an online impact calculator, the researchers estimate a space rock approximately 50 meters wide exploded about 4 km (2.5 miles) above the Earth, sending a blinding flash and a wave of heat at 2,000 degrees (3,600 F). This would have immediately incinerated wood structures and bodies, and melted any metal objects like swords or spears, and even pottery and mudbrick structures.

But the destruction wasn’t over. A few seconds later, a massive shockwave leveled everything, including a 4-to-5-story palace complex and a large 4-m-thick mudbrick fortification wall.

The authors of the paper, published in Nature Scientific Reports, say that although this doesn’t fall into their area of expertise, “an eyewitness description of this 3600-year-old catastrophic event may have been passed down as an oral tradition that eventually became the written biblical account about the destruction of Sodom.” Sodom was the city, which, according to biblical texts, was destroyed for its lecherousness, with stones and fire falling from the sky. However, this story originates from a time when many natural disasters were blamed on the anger of the gods.

Location of Tall el-Hammam. Photo of the southern Levant, looking north, showing the Dead Sea, the site location (TeH), and nearby countries. The Dead Sea Rift, the fault line marking a major tectonic plate boundary, runs through the area. Credits: NASA, West et al.

In many sites in the Middle East, archeological digs or studies reveal several layers of past habitation that have religious or nationalist significance for more than one ethnic group, where the victor of wars or conquests built upon the ruins of the city or buildings it just conquered – with the cycle repeating over the millenniums.

The region around Tall el-Hammam is different however, in that since the end of the Middle Bronze Age, this region in eastern Jordan suffered some sort of civilization-ending calamity, and remained unoccupied for the next five-to-seven hundred years. Additionally, this area was originally one of the most productive agricultural lands in the region, and which had supported flourishing civilizations continuously for at least 3,000 years. But suddenly the soil in the region was inundated with salts where nothing would grow.

This mystery is being investigated by researchers from multiple universities and organizations and archeologists have been working at the Tall el-Hammam site since 2005. Even the earliest archaeological excavations revealed the presence of unusual materials, including melted mudbrick fragments, melted pottery, ash, charcoal, charred seeds, and burned textiles, all intermixed with pulverized mudbrick. Additionally, further digs revealed incredible destruction.

The researchers eliminated the usual suspects, such as warfare, fires, volcanic eruption, or earthquakes because these events were unlikely to cause the kind of destruction they found at the site, and none of those events could have produced the intense heat required to cause the melting that they found.  But then the excavators found spherules of shocked quartz, a tell-tale sign of an intense and sudden high-temperature event such as a cosmic impact.

Catastrophic leveling of the palace at TeH. (a) Artist’s evidence-based reconstruction of the 4-to-5-story palace that was about 52 m long and 27 m wide before its destruction. (b) Artist’s evidence-based reconstruction of palace site on upper tall, along with modern excavation. “MB II” marks the top of 1650-BCE Middle Bronze rubble. Note that the field around the excavation is essentially flat, unlike the view in panel ‘a’. Originally, parts of the 4-story palace were about 12m tall, but afterward, only a few courses of mudbricks remain on stone foundations, labeled as “wall remnants”. Part of the foundation of the massive wall around the palace is at the bottom. Debris from between sheared walls has been removed by excavation. A comparison of panel ‘a’ to panel ‘b’ shows that millions of mudbricks from the upper parts of the palace and other buildings are missing. Credit: West, et al.

“After eleven seasons of excavations, the site excavators independently concluded that evidence pointed to a possible cosmic impact,” the team wrote in their paper. “They contacted our outside group of experts from multiple impact-related and other disciplines to investigate potential formation mechanisms for the unusual suite of high-temperature evidence.”

While an asteroid impact could have created all the evidence found by the archaeologists, that type of event was dismissed because there was no evidence of a crater in the area.

Using an impact calculator, a group of 21 researchers determined the most likely cause of the destruction was a cosmic air burst caused by a comet or meteor. Their calculations showed such an event would result in the unusal destruction found by archaeologists, such as pottery sherds with outer surfaces melted into glass, some bubbled as if they were boiled, mudbrick fragments and “extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans.”

Human bones in the destruction layer. Credit: West et al.

Also, an airburst-related influx of salt produced hypersalinity in the surrounding soil, making agriculture impossible, causing a 600-year-long abandonment of about 120 regional settlements within a 25-km radius.

“We think the explosion may have vaporized or splashed toxic levels of Dead Sea salt water across the valley,” wrote a group of research collaborators in an article in The Conversation (archaeologist Phil Silvia, geophysicist Allen West, geologist Ted Bunch and space physicist Malcolm LeCompte). “Without crops, no one could live in the valley for up to 600 years, until the minimal rainfall in this desert-like climate washed the salt out of the fields.”

Read the team’s paper in Nature Scientific Reports
More information about the Tall el-Hammam excavation can be found at this website



This article is republished from Universe Today under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License / Title and subtitle have been reworded.
Read the original article here.
Universe Today has been reporting on space and astronomy news since 1999. Thousands of articles, podcasts and videos for the super space fan.

The Moons of Mars Might Be the Best Place to Look for Evidence of Life on Mars

Mars' moons, Phobos and Deimos, may seem like unlikely places to look for evidence of past life on the red planet, but after considering the possibilities, it could turn out to be a very promising approach.


NASA JET PROPULSION LAB/ CALTECH














BY ANDY TOMASWICK - September 2, 2021

This article was first published on  Universe Today.

The search for Martian life has been ongoing for decades.  Various landers and rovers have searched for biosignatures or other hints that life existed either currently or in the past on the Red Planet.  But so far, results have been inconclusive.  That might be about to change, though, with a slew of missions planned to collect even more samples for testing.  Mars itself isn’t the only place they are looking, though. Some scientists think the best place to find evidence of life is one of Mars’ moons. 

Phobos and Deimos are usually an afterthought when discussing Mars exploration priorities, but interest has been growing recently due to their unique place in the overall Martian system.  They might serve as a depository for material that was blasted off of Mars’ surface in the past.

UT video discussing the possibility of life on Mars.

Many scientists think that early Mars could have been habitable, with temperatures in a biologically suitable range, an atmosphere that hadn’t yet been stripped away, and liquid water flowing on its surface, some of which formed Jerezo Crater, where Perseverance is now exploring.  If any life existed back in these more hospitable conditions, it would have been subjected to the catastrophes commonly thought of as extinction-level events here on Earth – asteroid impacts.

Asteroid impacts were much more common earlier in the solar system’s formation, ejecting a multitude of the Martian regolith into space.  While some of that ejecta takes the form of meteorites that eventually wind up on Earth, a large amount of it is absorbed by the moons, particularly Phobos.  Scientists estimate that over 1 billion kg of ejected material was deposited relatively evenly across Phobos’ surface, making up over 1000 parts per million of the material on the small moon. 

UT video discussing how life on Mars and Earth could be related.

The moon itself is incapable of supporting life – it has no water to speak of and is constantly irradiated by the sun and more general cosmic rays.  No life could survive on its surface, yet searching for life on Phobos still has some major advantages over searching for life on Mars itself.

While Mars doesn’t have a traditional weather cycle, like Earth’s, its surface changes regularly, with dust storms and wind causing the erosion and deposition of long-standing geological edifices.  However, both Martian moons lack any such system, so any biosignature that landed there from an asteroid impact would likely still be in the same position now, and in much the same shape it would have been in when it was blasted in space.

UT video discussing the Mars Sample Return Mission

This is all great in theory, but getting data to prove that theory is another matter entirely.  Luckily there are a series of missions in the works to attempt to do so.  The Mars Sample Return mission (MSR) is ongoing, and Perseverance’s jaunt in Jezero Carter is the first step. The Japanese Space Agency’s Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) mission plans to return to Earth with a regolith sample from Phobos in 2029.

Another advantage that MMX would have over the MSR is that the debris spread across Phobos’ surface wouldn’t be specific to a particular area on Mars, unlike the samples of Jezero that Perseverance is currently attempting to collect. Asteroid impacts are equally destructive ejecta creators, so if life happened to spring up only in a certain region of Mars, it would be more likely to have been caught in an asteroid impact and partially deposited on Phobos. There’s a much better chance of scientists finding that evidence there than of them luckily choosing the right area to look in with no previous knowledge.

UT video on why it might be better to send humans to Mars’ moons first.

No matter where they look, and no matter what they find, scientists working on both the MSR and MMX missions will be adding valuable knowledge to humanity’s stockpile.  And if they happen to find evidence of one of the most important discoveries in history, so much the better.

Learn More:
Science – Searching for life on Mars and its moons
Inverse – THE BEST PLACE TO FIND MARTIAN LIFE MIGHT NOT BE ON MARS AT ALL
The Independent – Martian moon Phobos could be home to extinct alien life from an ancient lake, new Jaxa study suggests
Digital Trends – To find evidence of life on Mars, we should look to its moon Phobos



This article is republished from Universe Today under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License/Title and subtitle have been reworded.
Read the original article here.
Universe Today has been reporting on space and astronomy news since 1999. Thousands of articles, podcasts and videos for the super space fan.

Four Ways Artificial Intelligence is Helping Us Learn About the Universe

BY ASHLEY SPINDLER - August 4, 2021

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Astronomy is all about data. The universe is getting bigger and so too is the amount of information we have about it. But some of the biggest challenges of the next generation of astronomy lie in just how we’re going to study all the data we’re collecting.

To take on these challenges, astronomers are turning to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to build new tools to rapidly search for the next big breakthroughs. Here are four ways AI is helping astronomers. 

1. Planet hunting

There are a few ways to find a planet, but the most successful has been by studying transits. When an exoplanet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks some of the light we can see.

By observing many orbits of an exoplanet, astronomers build a picture of the dips in the light, which they can use to identify the planet’s properties – such as its mass, size and distance from its star. Nasa’s Kepler space telescope employed this technique to great success by watching thousands of stars at once, keeping an eye out for the telltale dips caused by planets.

With more missions devoted to finding new exoplanets, such as Nasa’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), humans just can’t keep up. This is where AI comes in.







Humans are pretty good at seeing these dips, but it’s a skill that takes time to develop. With more missions devoted to finding new exoplanets, such as Nasa’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), humans just can’t keep up. This is where AI comes in.

Time-series analysis techniques – which analyse data as a sequential sequence with time – have been combined with a type of AI to successfully identify the signals of exoplanets with up to 96% accuracy.

2. Gravitational waves

Time-series models aren’t just great for finding exoplanets, they are also perfect for finding the signals of the most catastrophic events in the universe – mergers between black holes and neutron stars.

When these incredibly dense bodies fall inwards, they send out ripples in space-time that can be detected by measuring faint signals here on Earth. Gravitational wave detector collaborations Ligo and Virgo have identified the signals of dozens of these events, all with the help of machine learning.

By training models on simulated data of black hole mergers, the teams at Ligo and Virgo can identify potential events within moments of them happening and send out alerts to astronomers around the world to turn their telescopes in the right direction.

Finding these lenses is like finding a needle in a haystack – a haystack the size of the observable universe.





3. The changing sky

When the Vera Rubin Observatory, currently being built in Chile, comes online, it will survey the entire night sky every night – collecting over 80 terabytes of images in one go – to see how the stars and galaxies in the universe vary with time. One terabyte is 8,000,000,000,000 bits.

Over the course of the planned operations, the Legacy Survey of Space and Time being undertaken by Rubin will collect and process hundreds of petabytes of data. To put it in context, 100 petabytes is about the space it takes to store every photo on Facebook, or about 700 years of full high-definition video.

You won’t be able to just log onto the servers and download that data, and even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to find what you’re looking for.

Machine learning techniques will be used to search these next-generation surveys and highlight the important data. For example, one algorithm might be searching the images for rare events such as supernovae – dramatic explosions at the end of a star’s life – and another might be on the lookout for quasars. By training computers to recognise the signals of particular astronomical phenomena, the team will be able to get the right data to the right people.

4. Gravitational lenses

As we collect more and more data on the universe, we sometimes even have to curate and throw away data that isn’t useful. So how can we find the rarest objects in these swathes of data?

One celestial phenomenon that excites many astronomers is strong gravitational lenses. This is what happens when two galaxies line up along our line of sight and the closest galaxy’s gravity acts as a lens and magnifies the more distant object, creating rings, crosses and double images.

Finding these lenses is like finding a needle in a haystack – a haystack the size of the observable universe. It’s a search that’s only going to get harder as we collect more and more images of galaxies.

In 2018, astronomers from around the world took part in the Strong Gravitational Lens Finding Challenge where they competed to see who could make the best algorithm for finding these lenses automatically.

The winner of this challenge used a model called a convolutional neural network, which learns to break down images using different filters until it can classify them as containing a lens or not. Surprisingly, these models were even better than people, finding subtle differences in the images that we humans have trouble noticing.

Over the next decade, using new instruments like the Vera Rubin Observatory, astronomers will collect petabytes of data, that’s thousands of terabytes. As we peer deeper into the universe, astronomers’ research will increasingly rely on machine-learning techniques.


The Search for Earth-Like Planets is On

The Search for Earth-Like Planets is On
image courtesy of Oleg K

Something that has me very excited is the prospect that we may be discovering, within the next few years, Earth-like planets, about the same size as earth, with similar atmospheres, similar temperatures, and possibly even life.

It shouldn't be difficult to find Earth-like planets given the new estimate of how common they are.
- National Geographic

And we've already found one. Although, when they say "habitable" it's in the broadest sense of the term as we don't yet know what gasses are in it's atmosphere, or if it actually does have water on it's surface. We only know that it's in the right place, and could have water.
-National geographic

On March 6, 2009 the Kepler planet-hunting telescope was launched into orbit. You can read all about Kepler in this article. They also have a very well done video there as well. This article also states exactly how many Earth-like planets we should expect to find in our galaxy, a mind-blowing 100 billion.
Kepler spacecraft will hunt for planets that are just right for life
- guardian.co.uk

"By 2014 headlines could be announcing the first tentative evidence of life beyond our solar system."
- Discover

We could even find Earth-like moons around gas giants that orbit in other stars habitable zones.
- Science Daily


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