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From Spitzer to JWST’s Early Targets

Yesterday’s post on the Spitzer Space Telescope leads naturally to the targets it produced for its successor. For when Spitzer’s mission ends on January 30, we have the far more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, also operating at infrared wavelengths, in queue for a 2021 launch. In many ways, Spitzer has been the necessary precursor for JWST, for it was the need to operate a telescope at extremely low temperatures in order to maximize infrared sensitivity that drove Spitzer design. JWST must maintain its gold-coated beryllium mirror at similarly precise temperatures.

With over 8,700 scientific papers published based on Spitzer findings, a number that will continue to grow for many years, a path has been charted that JWST will follow in the form of observations early in its mission. Consider WASP-18b, a gas giant of ten times Jupiter mass in a tight orbit around its star. Data from both Spitzer and Hubble showed in 2017 that the planet is laden with carbon monoxide and all but devoid of water vapor. No other extrasolar planet can match this one in the way carbon monoxide dominates its upper atmosphere.

What’s going on in the atmosphere of this planet merits close study because it’s extreme even for ‘hot Jupiters’ in being so close to its star that it may not survive another million years. Expect a long look from JWST into the processes at work here. Nikku Madhusudhan (University of Cambridge) was a co-author on the 2017 paper describing the WASP-18b findings:

“The only consistent explanation for the data is an overabundance of carbon monoxide and very little water vapor in the atmosphere of WASP-18b, in addition to the presence of a stratosphere. This rare combination of factors opens a new window into our understanding of physicochemical processes in exoplanetary atmospheres.”

The image below implies the method: Transmission spectroscopy. We can look at the light of the star passing through the atmosphere of the planet as it moves around the star in its orbit.

Image: A NASA-led team of scientists determined that WASP-18b, a “hot Jupiter” located 325 light-years from Earth, has a stratosphere that’s loaded with carbon monoxide, or CO, but has no signs of water. Credit: Goddard Space Flight Center.

At TRAPPIST-1, expect the fourth planet, TRAPPIST-1e, to receive early JWST scrutiny because of its density and surface gravity, both similar to Earth’s, in combination with incoming stellar flux sufficient to keep temperatures in the range needed for water on the surface. JWST should be able to tell us whether this planet does indeed have an atmosphere, and assuming it does, whether molecules like carbon dioxide or water vapor are present.

Here again Spitzer helped set the table, working with ground-based telescopes to confirm the first two candidates (found by the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope in Chile) and discover the other five. Our ideas of what these planets look like will change with the new data JWST, 1000 times more powerful than Spitzer, will bring in. The Hubble instrument has not been able to detect evidence for a hydrogen-dominated atmosphere on TRAPPIST-1d, e and f, making rocky composition likely. But it’s going to take JWST to further clarify the presence of atmospheres on the seven worlds and begin the study of their chemistry.

All of that should take what is a very fanciful image (below) and help us determine how far from reality it actually is. At present we’re simply injecting sparse data into the realm of art. As Nikole Lewis (Cornell University) says, “The diversity of atmospheres around terrestrial worlds is probably beyond our wildest imaginations. Getting any information about air on these planets is going to be very useful.”

Image: This artist’s concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets’ diameters, masses and distances from the host star, as of February 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Spitzer’s work on 55 Cancri e will also inform early JWST studies of the system. Spitzer was able to produce data leading to the first temperature map of a super-Earth, in this case an apparently rocky world about twice the size of our own. Lava flows may be the cause of the extreme temperature swings between one side of the planet and the other, as noted in 2016 by Brice Olivier Demory (University of Cambridge), who was lead author of the paper in Nature:

“Our view of this planet keeps evolving. The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet. We propose this could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”

Spitzer put in 80 hours of infrared telescope time in the 55 Cancri e work, watching this tidally locked world move about its star and allowing the construction of the temperature map. Mission scientists pushed Spitzer hard in accumulating their data, using novel calibration techniques to extract maximum results from a detector that had not been design to work at such high precision. Now JWST will help sharpen the map’s focus to explain its unusual temperature swings, which argue against a thick atmosphere and global temperature distribution.

Image: 55 Cancri e is tidally locked to its star, just as our moon is to Earth, which means that one side always sizzles under the heat of its star while the other side remains in the dark. If the planet were covered in lava, then the hot, sun-facing side of the planet would have liquid lava flows, while the colder, dark side would see solidified lava rock. The hardened lava would be unable to transport heat across the planet, explaining why Spitzer detected that the cold side of the planet is much colder than the hot side. Such a lava planet, if it exists, would have dust streaming off of it, as illustrated here. Radiation and winds from the nearby star would blow off the material. Scientists say that future observations with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope should provide more details about the nature of this exotic world. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Both Spitzer and Webb are sensitive to the infrared glow of gas and dust orbiting in circumstellar rings around stars, which means JWST will be able to extend our knowledge of planetary formation. The same sensitivity will make JWST the instrument of choice in the study of brown dwarfs, an area where Spitzer has already been able to examine clouds in brown dwarf atmospheres. What’s interesting here are the differences between the distribution and motion of clouds on brown dwarfs and the atmospheric boiling seen on true stars. JWST will investigate winds that seem reminiscent of the belts of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

I’ve focused on exoplanetary targets here, but of course the handoff from Spitzer to JWST will also involve using the large surveys of Spitzer and the Hubble instrument to furnish JWST with targets like GN-z11, now the most distant galaxy ever measured. Sean Carey is manager of the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena:

“Spitzer surveyed thousands of galaxies, mapped the Milky Way and performed other groundbreaking feats by looking at large areas of the sky. Webb won’t have this capability, but it will revisit some of the most interesting targets in the Spitzer surveys to reveal them in amazing clarity.”

JWST’s higher sensitivity should make it possible to find galaxies that are even older. It will also home in on luminous infrared galaxies (LIRG), which Spitzer found to be producing far more energy per second than typical galaxies, most of it in the form of far-infrared light. Star formation and galactic mergers come into focus, as does the growth of supermassive black holes. All of this depends, of course, on getting a fabulously complex telescope plagued by cost overruns into its future home at the L2 Lagrangian point 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth.

All launches are scary, but this one more than most. We need Spitzer’s successor to fly.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Charley January 24, 2020, 14:56

    “Data from both Spitzer and Hubble showed in 2017 that the planet is laden with carbon monoxide …” carbon monoxide ??
    Not carbon dioxide ??

  • Ashley.Baldwin January 25, 2020, 12:30

    Spitzer will be sadly left to drift away into Earth trailing oblivion – with honour.

    But talking about soon to be defunct satellites, I see that the Spaceway-1 telecommunications orbiter has also reached the end of its operational life. It is now going to be moved out from its current geostationary position to a parking , ahem.. “graveyard” orbit 380kms or so further out.

    Tidally locked still, but “Super synchronous” – as described in a “a deep dive into tidal locking” .

    • Michael Fidler January 26, 2020, 10:55

      Hi, Ashley,
      Reading about this last week, that Spaceway-1 had a major battery failure, could it have been caused in Earth’s magnetosphere during a magnetic reconnection storm close to geosynchronous orbit?

      Magnetic storms originate closer to Earth than previously thought, threatening satellites.

      Earth’s magnetosphere during a magnetic storm. At right, three satellites witnessed reconnection close to geosynchronous orbit where many other critical satellites reside. The red “X” identifies the reconnection site, and the yellow arrows indicate the direction of explosive outflows of energized particles toward and away from Earth. Earth-directed electrons (shown in red and pink) carry energy along magnetic field lines to power the aurora at Earth’s north and south poles. These energized electrons were detected by a weather satellite (center).

      I’m really worried if JWST may be crippled if it’s trajectory to L2 may pass thru one of these storms. I’m glad to hear that TRAPPIST-1e is a high priority target and that the rest of the Trappist 1 gang will be scrutinized.

      • Michael Fidler January 26, 2020, 23:10

        Found some interesting articles on the launch sequence and trajectory of JWST to L2.

        James Webb Space Telescope – The First 30 Days After Launch.

        Timeline of the James Webb Space Telescope.

        This has a good YouTube HD video of the “James Webb Space Telescope Deployment In Detail”

        It looks like the time period from 30 minutes after launch when it passes geosynchronous orbit to 2.5 days after launch when passing the moon’s orbit is when it may encounter the effects from a magnetic reconnection. One of the images:
        shows a curve ball trajectory, but this may just be artistic license. The big question is if the scope passes thru the areas in the earth’s magnetic tail where reconnection may be taking place.

        Another interesting article on magnetic reconnection blowing bubbles. “The magnetic reconnection occurred and turned the magnetic balloon into a magnetic bubble called a plasmoid that carries electric current”.

        Physicists uncover clues to mechanism behind magnetic reconnection.

      • Ashley Baldwin January 28, 2020, 18:16

        Common things are commonest.

        Spaceway-1 is the largest communications satellite ever launched . It was also well over it’s expected operational lifetime . Boeing have been coy about what happened to it other than saying it suffered ‘irreversible thermal damage’ to its batteries . I’ve not found out what sort of batteries this satellite used. However what little I’ve read suggests that a common high risk with the large rechargeable batteries used in satellites is short circuits and thermal overload . Especially the Lithium ion variety.

        • Michael Fidler January 29, 2020, 10:27

          Getting old, my batteries run down and overheat pretty quickly now too! I remember hearing about static charges developing on spacecraft during solar storms. The last solar maximum in 2012 they had 26 failures in eight geostationary satellites operated by the London-based company Inmarsat.
          “Despite protective shielding, the buildup likely caused internal charging that damaged the satellites’ amplifiers, which are needed to strengthen and relay a signal back to Earth. Over an extended mission, the researchers warn that this phenomenon could also cause the satellites’ backup amplifiers to fail.”

          This sounds pretty much why GAO thinks there will be another delay:
          “Much of the program’s latest schedule reserve, which was established in June 2018, was used to address challenges with two components that will transmit science data to scientists on the ground, the review found.”

          Sounds all too familiar!

          “The three NASA THEMIS satellites observed magnetic reconnection only about three to four Earth diameters away.”
          That’s only 24 to 36 thousand miles out.

          This jets out toward earth on our nightside causing the auroras and away from earth just past the reconnection. Now if we could learn how to ride these jets maybe interstellar travel would be a lot easier and a lot closer!

  • Mike Serfas January 25, 2020, 18:44

    The “dust streaming off of it” comes as a surprise. Wikipedia’s article lists 55 Cancri e as having 2.2 times Earth’s gravity and 8.5 times its mass. What kind of solar wind and radiation is there that it can pry grains of dust from such a planet’s atmosphere and fling them into space? (Also, could this mechanism disperse living organisms from a cooler planet…?)

  • Geoffrey Hillend January 25, 2020, 19:54

    The water vapor or H2O must have been lost through the photolysis by UV and broken down into oxygen and hydrogen which were split apart, and the lighter hydrogen and free oxygen escaped due to large stellar UV radiation, heat and close position to the star.

    The chemical bonds between carbon and oxygen in CO1 or carbon monoxide is much stronger than in CO2 carbon dioxide, so CO2 is easier to split apart than CO1 which only has one oxygen atom combined with one carbon atom. Consequently the molecular oxygen in CO2 was split apart through UV photolysis and turned into CO1 by the close proximity to the star, high temperature and large amount of EUV radiation? I am not the expert in chemistry, but I intuit that might be why there is no CO2.

  • Harry R Ray January 27, 2020, 10:21

    “Effect of vegitation on the temperature of Trappist-1 planets.” by Antonio Vecchio, Leonardo Primavera, Fabio Lepriti, Tommaso Alverdi, Vincenzo Carbone. The purple hills of TRAPPIST-1e?

    • Alex Tolley January 27, 2020, 15:05

      A cursory look over the paper indicates that the vegetation doesn’t have much effect on habitability on a tidally locked planet like Trappist-1e. They also only model albedo, so I assume that this is the most important variable and any atmospheric composition changes either insignificant or irrelevant. Vegetation is restricted to the terminator and at some latitudes, extends the habitable zone by a tiny percentage.

      It looks to me that they only consider land plants and only the terminator, assuming the planet is too hot towards the sun-facing hemisphere and frozen and lightless in the other hemisphere. The paper ignores extremophiles that can live in temperatures above 100C, and the many possible ways organisms can adapt to lightless and subsurface conditions below water ice. The plants are assumed to be immobile, rather than possibly motile, or that ammobile organisms could live below the icy crust and feed at the terminator, which would extend the habitable zone if such conditions exist. We shouldn’t assume that life will not “find a way” in hostile conditions, modifying themselves or their environment (extended phenotype) to make a living. Should an intelligent, fire using species evolve, then I would think that all bets are off regarding the extent of the actual inhabited, vs theoretical inhabitable zone.

      • Andrei January 28, 2020, 15:30

        Yes agreed, while the illustration here for Trappist1 look like cozy livable planets, they will be ‘eyeball’ planets at best or any extreme of fire and ice at worst.
        Without any study of a world of this kind we’re limited to models, the more optimistic ones do indeed predict a terminator or zone world where a liveable area could exist.
        And I tend to think that their conclusions are correct, that any living ecology have less or no chance of improving the local conditions on such a planet – while life on Earth have changed conditions on this planet to a significant degree.
        We might very well find a terminator world that have naturally occurring life, but it will be marginal and only on a place where cryogenically cold winds from the dark side don’t kill everything on a regular basis.
        So when we talk about life, think algae, moss and lichens.
        And that’s nothing to be little, such would be a good start for terraforming if any of our descendants decide to colonize such a world.
        We simply need to start that by getting off the planet not to build fancy scifi starships but to use sensible propulsion to build a planetary economy. Dumbo – not Nerva for starters, or pulse core NTR. But I am preaching for the ones already converted again! ;)

        • Harry R Ray January 29, 2020, 11:28

          I finally had enough free time on my hands to read the whole paper. The one MAJOR thing I noticed is that, for some reason, the authors base their conclusions on the “Earth-like” scenario for all of the planets instead if the now most generally accepted Yang et al 2013 paper model(see “A Deep Dive Into Tidal Lock) that takes into account cloud migration towards the stellar point, resulting in a PERMANENT “cloud shield” resulting in substantial reduction of temperature disequilibrium between the stellar and anti-stellar points. For the “Earth-like” model to be more favorable to them, they must assume either one ot two things. One, all of the planets’ atmospheres will most likely be virtually cloudless(although that is hard to reconcile with “Earth-like”. Or two(and most probably)intense CONTINUOUS stellar flux at the stellar point will EVAPORATE the clouds QUICKER than they can form at the mid-lattitudes and replace the evaporated ones. This is quite contentious to me, especially because, in my opinion, it extremely OVERESTIMATES the flux for TRAPPIST-1d. Even though I believe that TRAPPIST-1d is not particularily that potentially habitable, I do not think the prospects are as bad as the authors present.

          • Andrei January 30, 2020, 7:46

            Hello Harry
            Yes, Trappist-D could have been more Earth like as it is smaller, between Earth and Mars in size.
            The observations with Hubble suggest the atmosphere got a lot of hydrogen. Also for Trappist-1E.
            The UV and X-ray flux from the star is rather worse with a thin atmosphere anyway.
            That Trappist-1E that might have plenty of water – is further out is only of marginal help, it’s such a close system one have to think out of the box all the time. That we have such good data for this system is thanks to the fact they do not only affect the star but each other so we have unusually little uncertainty on their mass.
            Better data might come from JWST, that space telescope is very suitable for learning more of this system.

  • Geoffrey Hillend January 27, 2020, 19:02

    I don’t model an ecosystem of life on an exoplanet first or assume that a tidally locked Earth sized exoplanet has vegetation. If we use Earth as an example, life evolved in ideal conditions and then it migrated to more hostile conditions which it had a long time to adapt like thermophiles in hot water near volcanic vents. I don’t think we can use the reverse and start with hostile conditions first, since life might be able to get started. Consequently, the thickness and chemical composition of the atmosphere does matter. It mattered on Earth since most of Earth’s oxygen is from marine plants or phytoplankton. None these could have survived without their oxygen production; An increase in atmospheric oxygen came from cyanobacteria or blue green algae. The two molecules of molecular oxygen O2 are split by UV into two single Oxygen atoms. One of the single oxygen atom combines with O2 to make O3, or ozone which blocks the dangerous UV radiation.

    I will believe it when it see it when it comes to life on tidally locked Earth sized exoplanets. I doubt oxygen is an ambiguous spectral signature and even if it was one it has to come with nitrogen cycle for there to be vegetation. If there is no oxygen, nitrogen and methane in the spectral signature, then there is not life at least not on a large scale so one would have to travel to the planet to prove there was life there.

    Intuitively it seems to me that if we found O2, N2 and CH4 on an exoplanet around an M or K class, then it would have to be terraformed by ET’s. I don’t expect to see all three of those gases in the spectra.

    • Alex Tolley January 28, 2020, 15:21

      I don’t think we can use the reverse and start with hostile conditions first, since life might be able to get started.

      It doesn’t have to be as extreme as that. The paper is about adding vegetation and determining what impact that would have on the distribution of life at the terminator. If life could evolve there (or be added), then would the Gaia mechanism change the distribution of life. This is the classic Daisy World modeling. In the event, the authors suggest the vegetation makes very little difference.

      I would also point out that we don’t know how life started. There is some evidence that contrary to Darwin’s “warm pond” model, life may have started in some extreme conditions, as the Archaea contains most extremophiles. If they are the most ancient, extant class (unknown), then they would have evolved in extreme conditions first, e.g. hot vents, hot springs. Land-based vegetation appeared billions of years after abiogenesis, and therefore it is valid to ask teh question whether this evolutionary event could change the habitability range on a tide-locked world.

      What I would add is that wherever life has a toehold, it will evolve to maximize its distribution. It is purely speculative at this point whether there is life anywhere else, let alone on tide-locked worlds around M-dwarf stars. If abiogenesis is extremely rare, then panspermia may be the only way to increase the distribution of life. The recent discovery of 2 bodies from outside the solar system adds some support to this hypothesis. If that proves to be the case, it will be a lot less interesting molecular biology than if abiogenesis is common, although the range of genotypes and phenotypes should still fill multitudes of volumes.

      • Michael Fidler January 29, 2020, 23:06

        In one of the old artistic images of the eyeball tidally locked planets, they showed rivers and ocean near the terminator. The life that of developed in the oceans may have pushed into the more inhospitable land of heat and radiation. The ability of life evolve and protect itself from as hostile environment is the norm here on earth. The oceans are like a warm womb for life to develop and get a foothold and once on land to have protective shields against radiation.

        Panspermia may be more common also since encounters with planets, comets and dust as the solar system passes thru Nearby Stellar Nurseries. (see ljk and my comments below) One of the more interesting theories with plenty of evidence is “On a Possible Giant Impact Origin for the Colorado Plateau” 31 Dec 2019.
        “It is proposed and substantiated that an extraterrestrial object of the approximate size and mass of Planet Mars, impacting the Earth in grazing incidence along an approximately N-NE to S-SW route with respect to the current orientation of the North America continent, at about 750 million years ago (750 Ma), is likely to be the direct cause of a chain of events which led to the rifting of the Rodinia supercontinent and the severing of the foundation of the Colorado Plateau from its surrounding craton. It is further argued that the impactor was most likely a rogue exoplanet, which originated from one of the past crossings of our Solar System through the Galactic spiral arms, during the Sun’s orbital motion around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. New advances in galactic dynamics have shown that the sites of galactic spiral arms are locations of density-wave collisionless shocks. The perturbations from such shocks are known to lead to the formation of massive stars, which evolve quickly and die as supernovae. The blastwaves from supernova explosions, in addition to the spiral-arm collisionless shocks themselves, could perturb the orbits of the streaming disk matter, occasionally producing rogue exoplanets that can reach the inner confines of our Solar System. The similarity of the period of spiral-arm crossings of our Solar System, with the approximate period of major extinction events in the Phanerozoic Eon of the Earth’s history, as well as with the (half) period of the supercontinent cycle, indicates that the global environment of the Milky Way Galaxy may have played a major role in initiating Earth’s tectonic activities.”
        Now a rogue planet with a thick ice layer and underlying ocean that could of had advance life in it, has a grazing impact to the earth leaving the first animals behind.
        Is This the First Fossil of an Embryo?

        • Michael Fidler January 31, 2020, 10:29

          The studies suggest that the common ancestor of all living animals lived somewhere around 750 million years ago — well before the Cambrian.

          The origin of animals: Can molecular clocks and the fossil record be reconciled?

          715-Million-Year-Old Fungi Microfossils Found.

          Sponge-like creatures living 750 million years ago identified as ancestors of humans – and all other animals.

          Bristol study resolves dispute about the origin of animals.

          Poisonous oceans delayed animal evolution.
          “Animals require oxygen, but oxygenated environments were rare on early Earth. New research from University of Southern Denmark shows that poisonous sulfide existed in the oceans 750 million years ago making large areas of the seafloor inhospitable to animal life.”
          “We have investigated the cycling of molybdenum (Mo) in ancient oceans by studying the elemental and isotopic composition of Mo in sedimentary rocks from Grand Canyon that formed in the oceans 750 million years ago”

          Animal embryos evolved before animals.

          Venus May Have Been Habitable Until 700 Million Years Ago.
          “The team suggests that about 700–750 million years ago, an ‘outgassing’ of carbon dioxide due to massive volcanic activity spewed out molten magma before cooling off to form a thick protective coating, preventing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be reabsorbed triggering a runaway greenhouse effect, which trapped all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere making it thicker & hotter till it reached the present-day levels.”

          Sooo, what exactly happened 750 million years ago???
          Sponges and mushrooms have very similar characteristics, hmmm.

          Chemosynthetic Bacteria in Hydrothermal Vents
          Hydrothermal vents are fissures in the deep ocean crust where super-heated lava and magma seep, releasing dissolved chemicals when coming in contact with the deep ocean’s cold water. The dissolved chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, methane, and reduced sulfate metals, form chimney-like structures known as black smokers. Hydrothermal vents are located very deep into the ocean where sunlight is unable to penetrate; therefore, the organisms that live at hydrothermal vents obtain their energy from the chemicals ejected out from the ocean crust.

          “Around hydrothermal vents, many miles below the ocean’s surface, there exists a community of organisms that utilize the substances coming out from the cracks as sources of energy to produce organic material. The giant tube worm (Riftia pachyptila) lives in a symbiotic relationship with sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Since the energy from the Sun cannot be utilized at such depths, the tube worm absorbs hydrogen sulfide from the vent and provides it to the bacteria. The bacteria capture the energy from the sulfur and produces organic compounds for both the tube worm and the bacteria.”

          Poisonous sulfide existed in the oceans 750 million years. Then it disappeared???

          Seems funny that 750 millions years keep showing up, so are we Venusens or Rogue planet aliens???

          • Alex Tolley January 31, 2020, 15:27

            First animals emerged before the Cambrian explosion is a requirement. What the CE is about is the rapid diversification of body plans, represented by phyla. The Ediacaran period approx. 635-540 mya is generally considered the period when animals emerged, although it is possible we just have not found fossil animals in earlier rocks due to their soft-bodied nature. Without that period, Earth could conceivably be stuck in what looks like the Ediacaran period.

            The difficulty with theories where life or certain life forms on Earth are due to non-local events with possibly special conditions is that we cannot hope to replicate and experiment on such unknown conditions, which stymies our theories on the emergence of life. Suppose life emerged on Venus and was transported to Earth by some event[s]. How would we determine this? In the far future we might be able to take rock cores on Venus and get lucky finding fossil evidence. Perhaps more easily by finding rocks on the Moon that contain fossils and are determined to be Venusian in origin. But since life emerged on Earth fairly quickly (within a billion years) after formation, that suggests that Venusian life was already sending Earth life by that period, and possibly continuing to send us life including advanced forms that Earth had not yet evolved locally.

            As to whether animal life emerged on Earth due to an introduction from an impact, there is the difficulty that such life must coincidently have the same DNA, genetic code, and cellular components as existing life on Earth. That might be a stretch, although not impossible if there have been frequent such events that also predated animals or animals emerged not by panspermia, but by changed conditions due to the impact. Our knowledge of evolution gets rather thin due to the lack of direct fossil evidence and has to be determined by various, but often powerful, proxies.

            • Michael Fidler February 5, 2020, 17:36

              This would seem to be perfect for the radiation levels on the sun facing side of planets around red dwarfs like Trappist 1. These fungi eats up hard radiation, gamma rays no less, and uses it for food: “This process called “radiosynthesis” works in the same way in which plants convert carbon dioxide and chlorophyll into oxygen and glucose via photosynthesis, the fungi sapped up deadly rays which allowed it to produce energy.” So giant mushrooms will love the hard big solar flares of the M dwarfs, the spores would survive in space and infect the other planets in the system, the perfect panspermia. So one giant fairy ring may be the first sign of life we see on these planets!

  • ljk January 28, 2020, 14:13

    So where is Earth in relation to the Milky Way galaxy…


  • Michael Fidler January 28, 2020, 18:25

    Looks like another delay is in the works:
    James Webb Space Telescope: Technical Challenges Have Caused Schedule Strain and May Increase Costs.

    “As of October 2019, the project had used about 76 percent of its available schedule reserve and no longer plans to launch in November 2020 (see figure). The project is now managing to a March 2021 launch date but estimates only a 12 percent likelihood that this date will be achieved. NASA plans to reassess the launch date in the spring of 2020.”

    • Michael Fidler January 31, 2020, 22:02

      It Looks Like James Webb’s Launch Date is Going to Slip to July 2021.


      Well, when they get all the bugs worked out and launched and working as planned, congress should order a couple of dozen more. ;-}

      If anything happens like in the movie Contact and contractors are to make a quantum entangled wormhole travel device I’m sure it will take 200 years and 200 trillion dollars to build it. The passenger will end up in downtown New York due to a software glitch! :-X