Quirks & Quarks

July 16: Best of Quirks & Quarks - Our favourite space science stories

From astronauts exploring Labrador to prepare for a visit to the moon, to the bubble that surrounds the Milky Way, here are some of our favourite space stories from this past season.

Desert sand melted by an exploding comet, water on Jupiter's moon, gravitational waves, and more.

This image of Europa, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft, shows long, linear cracks and ridges crisscross the surface, interrupted by regions of disrupted terrain where the surface ice crust has been broken up and re-frozen into new patterns. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

On this week's episode of The Best of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

The Solar wind makes water on asteroids, which carry it to Earth
Originally broadcast December 04, 2021

Researchers have found evidence that particles emitted by the sun may have helped give Earth its seas and oceans. The team included Hope Ishii, a research professor with the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. They studied dust from an ancient asteroid, and found evidence that "solar wind" — charged hydrogen particles streaming out from the sun — may have combined with dust grains to create water, which would have then travelled to Earth after the planet's formation 4.6 billion years ago. The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Solar winds are streams of hydrogen and helium ions flowing constantly out of the sun. When those hydrogen ions hit space dust or asteroids, they can break chemical bonds and interact with oxygen that's present in the rock to create water. (BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

Ridges on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa could mean water — and life
Originally broadcast April 23, 2022

Jupiter's moon Europa has fascinated planetary scientists because they believe under its 30km thick icy shell there is a huge ocean of water, and water could mean life. Now new research, led in part by PhD student Riley Culberg, suggests that icy ridges spotted on the moon could mean that water is closer to the surface than we thought, which means it might be easier for future missions to Europa to explore it. The work was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read more: Ridges on the surface of an icy Jupiter moon could mean water – and life

An exploding comet created slabs of glass in the Atacama Desert 12,000 years ago
Originally broadcast November 13, 2021

A 75 km long swath of Chile's Atacama desert today is covered in broken slabs of natural glass. Now researchers have identified material in that glass that suggests it was formed when a comet exploded in the atmosphere and its heat fused the desert soil. Peter Schultz from Brown University says that the heat from the explosion fused soil over a nearly 80-kilometre swath of the desert into fragments, balls and small slabs of glass, heating the soil to over 1700 degrees Celsius. The study was published in the journal GeoScienceWorld.

Read more: 12000 years ago an exploding comet turned part of a desert into glass
A strip of the Atacama Desert in Chile is strewn with slabs of glass, which scientists say was created by the intense heat of an exploding comet. (Scott Harris)

Astronauts in Labrador get a taste of lunar geology
Originally broadcast November 27, 2021

To prepare for a return to the moon, geologist Gordon Osinski took Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk and an American colleague to a 35-million-year-old crater in northern Labrador to teach them about impact crater geology. It was just like the moon, except for the rain, howling winds and ravenous blackflies.

Read more: Why an ancient crater in Labrador is the perfect place for astronauts to train for a moon mission

We're living in a bubble — no not that one. A bubble in our galaxy
Originally broadcast January 15, 2022
Astronomers have known for several decades that the Earth and our sun sit in the middle of a cosmic bubble, 1000 light-years wide, known as the Local Bubble. A new study has traced its history and evolution, explaining why this area of space is strrangely empty, and why at its edge a burst of star formation has been happening. It was developed by a team that included Catherine Zucker from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
Labelled illustration of the Local Bubble (Leah Hustak, Space Telescope Science Institute)

Seeing gravitational waves from the biggest things in the universe
Originally broadcast February 5, 2022

Astronomers believe that when galaxies collide, the titanic black holes at their cores, weighing as much as a hundred million or even a billion suns, fall into close orbit around each other and emit low-frequency gravitational waves in the process. Astrophysicist Maura McLaughlin of West Virginia University is participating in a new project that aims to use pulsars — a special kind of neutron star — to measure these elusive ripples in space-time. Her team's preliminary results were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


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