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  • Psychrophiles!

    lichen Xanthoria elegans photosynthesizing at -24°C

    Extremophiles are organisms that can live in extreme environments. There are many different environments in which extremophiles live in, but I am going to talk about one of them: pyschrophiles!

    Psychrophiles are organisms that have adapted to perpetually freezing environments. These environments include deep seas and polar regions. These bacteria survive in these temperatures by desiccating at extremely low temperatures. This means that they remove moisture from themselves (cool) at a slow rate.

    I find these extremely interesting because it could expand where life could exist in our own galaxy like in planets beyond the frost line. What if these organisms could survive on Neptune? Or even Pluto? There are so many possibilities!

  • Thermophiles on Venus

    Venus Cloud Temperatures

    Thermophiles are a type of extremophiles that can survive above 45 degrees Celsius. These organisms are usually bacteria, and here on Earth they are found in hot springs.

    I wanted to talk about the possibility of life existing on Venus, not on the surface (it is far too hot there – 475 degrees Celsius). But, instead the life could possibly exist in the perpetual clouds above the surface. Above are the temperatures that these clouds get to be. It is hypothesized by scientists that these clouds are cool enough (in reference to the surface temp) that these thermophiles can exist.

    I think this is super interesting because it expands our parameters of what conditions life could possibly survive in. It allows us to question if intelligent life could evolve from these bacteria in other solar systems, and it could even change what our definition of what intelligent life could look like on other planets; it may not (and is most likely) to not even look humanoid at all! Isn’t that interesting? 🙂

  • James Webb Space Telescope and the Carina Nebula

    James Webb Telescope by dima_sel via Getty Images

    The James Webb Space Telescope is by far the most intricate piece of technology we have ever sent into space. The engineering process for the JWST took nearly 30 years to build with Randy Kimble (who had worked on its predecessor – the Hubble Space Telescope) and had a cost of $10 billion.

    The components of the the JWST are as follows:

    • Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam): this is the primary imager of the JWST that covers an infrared wavelength from 0.6 to 5 microns. This allows the telescope to detect light from the earliest galaxies and stars, young stars in the Milky Way, and Kuiper Belt objects.
    • Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) : this is the instrument used to gather the light collected from the NIRCam into a spectrum. This spectra gathered allows us to know the physical properties like temperature, mass, and chemical composition of deep space objects.
    • Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) : this is both a camera and spectrograph that detects light in the “mid-infrared” region of the electromagnetic spectrum in which the wavelengths are longer than our eyes can see. This has a wavelength range of 5 to 28 microns which allows it to see the redshift of distant galaxies and newly forming stars amongst much more!
    • Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS): this is the instrument that allows for the JWST to take the beautiful high quality images we see as it sends them to us. It also allows for scientists to further discover things like exoplanets and their transit spectroscopy.

    Using all of these instruments, on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, we received JWST’s first full color image of the Carina Nebula (left).

    This is so significant because it showed the extreme amount of progress given that this image (right) is of the same nebula but taken from the Hubble Telescope in 2008.

    The amount of detail present in the JWST photo compared to the Hubble Telescope catapulted astrophotography light years ahead (HA!) of what it used to be.

    The Carina Nebula contains the stellar nursery (that is so cute) NGC 3324 – the region in which new stars are formed. The peaks of this region are nearly 7 light years high, and the types of stars created in these regions are usually O- and B- type stars as they are formed by cosmic recycling. The nebula is about 7,500 light years away and coupled with the superior technology of the JWST, will shed light on how stars are formed and evolution of galactic clouds!

  • Exoplanet – VHS 1256b

    Artist Depiction of VHS 1256b

    There have been over 5,000 exoplanets discovered to this day. Amongst those 5,000 is exoplanet VHS 1256b. This exoplanet is about 40 light years away from Earth. It was discovered fairly recently with the James Webb Telescope, and it is especially interesting because of its relatively young astronomical age. This exoplanet was formed only about 150 million years ago. Out of the 4 categories of exoplanets, VHS 1256b is considered Jupiter-like and about fifteen times bigger than Jupiter. It orbits a binary star system in which it is about 4 times farther away from than Pluto is from our parent star, which would make a single orbit around the binary system about 10,000 years. VHS 1256b is especially interesting because it is one of the only exoplanets that has an abundance of molecules occurring at the same time outside of Earth. The atmosphere contains carbon dioxide, water, methane and carbon monoxide.

    I find this incredibly fascinating because of the relatively young age of the exoplanet, and what the possibilities of finding/happening are when the planet further cools down and solidifies the molecules on it. I think the presence of water could maybe give way to life later millions of years down the road. However, the distance from the parent stars might be a bit of an issue (LOL!).

  • Trappist 1-E and the Possibility of Life

    Depiction of an Artist Rendition of the Trappist Exoplanet System

    The Trappist 1 system is a collection of seven rocky worlds that orbit an ultra cool dwarf star which was named 2MASS J23062928-0502285 at the time of its discovery because of the telescope used. All of the worlds in Trappist 1 are Earth-like meaning it contains the same elements like iron, oxygen, magnesium, etc; however, it is assumed they are in different ratios because the masses of all seven are lighter than the mass of Earth. They are all likely to have liquid water, and the most Earth-like planet of this system is Trappist 1-E (the fourth planet from the central star).

    My interest in this system mainly stems from my love for astrobiology – the study of life on other planets – because of the sheer amounts of evidence collected suggesting 1-E is like Earth. Trappist 1E lies in the habitable zone of its central star just like Earth does. Coupled with the fact that there’s liquid water, this means there is a possibility for life to survive with the right temperatures from the stars and evolve like microorganisms did millions of years ago on Earth.

    This system was discovered rather recently, and it’s only around 40 light years away; so, it will be super interesting to see what we discover in the ever evolving realm of science!!

  • Historical Astronomers in Context!

    Isaac Newton (1643-1727)

    Sir Isaac Newton was born on January 5, 1643 in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England to Hannah Ayscough and Isaac Newton Sr. During his lifetime he made enormous contributions of the field of physics, math and astronomy. He invented calculus jointly with Gottfried Leibniz (another famous mathematician), and created the theory of gravity. This work in the laws of motion and gravity formed the early beginnings of modern physics that we still use today. He died in Kensington, London, England in his sleep on March 21, 1727.

    In art, the style of architecture that was gaining popularity was English Baroque that occurred after the Great London fire in 1666. Since the fire had flattened some of the landscape, architectures of this time had a blank slate to work with. This style was used to display power and was mainly used by rulers and the Church.

    William Penn (1644-1718)

    Born to a wealthy Anglican family in Tower Hill, London on October 14, 1644, William Penn was important because he was one of the original group of Quakers (who were facing religious persecution in England at this time) to draft a plan to settle in New Jersey. His democratic proposals for this settlement were some ideas that influenced the U.S. Constitution which included freedom of religion, fair elections, no unjust imprisonment, and fair and free trials by jury. He would then go on to become one of the founders of Pennsylvania through familial debt owed by English King Charles II. He dies in July 30, 1718 in Berkshire, UK due to a stroke.

    All in all, I think the contextualization of Isaac Newton being alive at the same time as the colonization of America was very eye opening to me. I also find it interesting that some of the famous astronomers also helped each other; I think I always thought that “there cannot be two great people alive at once,” so I thought they didn’t live at the same time or something.

  • The Cosmic Calendar 🪐

    “We humans appear on the cosmic calendar so recently that our recorded history occupies only the last few seconds of the last minute of December 31st.”

    -Carl Sagan

    The Cosmic Calendar is a concept presented by famous astronomer Carl Sagan. In this diagram, the 13.8 billion year history of the universe is condensed into a single calendar year with the Big Bang happening on January 1st and recorded humanity being comprised in the last day of the last month of the last minute in which we exist.

    This concept is so interesting to me as our history as humanity is only in the last few minutes but in reality it’s been hundreds of thousands of years since we’ve been here. I often think about the quote that says “too late to explore the Earth, but too early to explore the Universe,” (which comes from a meme, mind you) because it’s sooooo true. We have the math and such to date us back, but not the technology to actually move at the speed of light to explore the things we are discovering. It’s also so interesting because all of this progress in technology has been done in relatively such little time compared to the universe!

  • About Me 🙂

    “Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries, questions that were once treated only in religion and myth.”

    -Carl Sagan,
    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980)

    My name is Cortneia, and I am from Phoenix, Arizona! My major is Physics with a concentration in Astronomy. I have always loved space (I even wrote my college essay on it), and I really look forward to this class and all the things I will learn in it!

    Carl Sagan Quote