Part 1: Searching for Other Life and Dark Matter in This Universe
© 2016 by Linda Moulton Howe
“Europa's ocean could extend through the ice up to the surface where
there is access to oxidants, organic compounds, and light. … If there IS life
there, it would not necessarily be restricted to microorganisms. [ Meaning there
could be swimming creatures in Europa’s deep ocean.] So, probably the best
chance of finding current life in our solar system right now would be on Europa.”
- Richard Greenberg, Ph.D., Prof. of Planetary Sciences,
Univ. of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Lab
“Dragonfly 44 is as heavy as the Milky Way. So, it’s as big as the Milky Way.
But it has only .1% of the stars of the Milky Way! It is almost entirely
made up of dark matter — 99.99%!”
- Pieter van Dokkum, Ph.D., Prof. of Astronomy, Yale University
Astronomy news in September 2016 highlights possibility
of life in Europa's deep, salty ocean and the shocking discovery
of a galaxy called Dragonfly 44 that is 99% dark matter and
only 1% matter. This NASA image: Galaxy cluster Abell 1689.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took direct ultraviolet images of the icy moon Europa (foreground sphere) transiting across the disk of Jupiter (black and purple background). Out of ten observations, Hubble saw what may be the silhouettes of water plumes rising about 125 miles above Europa's
surface in the southern hemisphere. (light blue enhancement) The above three intermittent
water vapor plumes in 2014
were dated Jan. 26, Mar. 17 and April 4. This adds another piece of supporting evidence to the existence of water vapor plumes on Europa. Now NASA would like
to have a spacecraft mission that could fly near the plume region to "sniff" for signs of organic
life if the water vapor is coming from the huge Europa ocean beneath the moon's thick ice crust.
Published on Sept. 26, 2016, by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Katrina Jackson.
The silhouette of plumes is similar to a 2012 Hubble image when spectroscopic signatures
of water vapor were reported. Graphic illustration superimposed on actual Jupiter by NASA.
Close-up Hubble image of fingers of water vapor plume silhouetted in green dashed oval
of what appear to be eruptions from Europa against the bright background
of Jupiter. Image by Hubble 2012.
Europa is one of Jupiter's 67 moons that is about the size of Earth's moon.
Europa has a crust of cracked ice estimated to be 60 miles thick. Beneath it is
likely the deepest ocean in our solar system — 62 miles of salty water around
the entire moon. In comparison, Earth's Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean
at its deepest is only 6.8 miles. The water vapor plumes appear to erupt in cycles
in Europa's southern hemisphere, perhaps related to the gravitational
tug and pull of its orbit around massive Jupiter. Image source NASA.
September 30, 2016 New Haven, Connecticut - On Monday, September 26, 2016, NASA held a Washington, D. C., teleconference about Hubble Telescope searches in 2012 and 2014 for signs of atmosphere on one of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa, that is about the size of Earth's moon. Hubble 2014 images showed what might have been three different H2O water vapor plumes 125 miles high!
But what exactly is the source? Scientists are not certain if the intermittent water vapor is coming from the 60-mile-deep ice crust that surrounds Europa? Or from Europa’s big, deep, salty ocean beneath the ice?
NASA artist's illustration of what 125-mile-high water vapor plume might
look like erupting through Europa's 60-mile-deep ice crust from the even deeper
salty ocean below the ice as the 6th largest moon of Jupiter orbits
around the massive gaseous planet. Illustration by NASA.
Astronomers think Europa has the deepest ocean in our solar system — at least 62 miles-deep of salty water all around the moon beneath the thick ice. Compare that 62 miles to Earth’s Marianas Trench that is only 6.8 miles at its deepest. If the Europa plumes are coming from the ocean salt water, then the odds of finding organic life there go up because on Earth pretty much anywhere there is liquid water and energy there is life. The chances of life go up even higher if that salty water is heated a little by a rocky core of radioactive elements or volcanic eruptions.
At the NASA press conference, William Sparks, Ph.D., Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, explained why it is important to learn if the water is coming from the subsurface ocean. “If there are plumes emerging from Europa, it is significant because it means we may be able to explore that ocean for organic chemicals or even signs of life without having to drill through unknown miles of ice.”
NASA illustration of deep blue salty ocean on Europa that is estimated to be 62-miles-deep
around the moon beneath a 60-mile-thick ice crust. If the Hubble images of 2012 and 2104 have
captured water vapor plumes erupting through the ice and if that water vapor is coming from
the Europa ocean as depicted above, then a NASA spacecraft could fly close to the southern
hemisphere region of the plume activity to "sniff" for organic molecules of life. Illustration by NASA.
Reinforcing the importance of the salty ocean on Europa to humans searching for other life in this universe, NASA astrophysicist Paul Hertz said at the teleconference, “For a long time humanity has been wondering whether there is life beyond Earth. We’re lucky enough to live in an era where we can address questions like that scientifically. We have a special interest in any place that might possess those characteristics for life. Europa might be such a place.”
Search for Life On Europa
EUROPA: The Search for
Life On Jupiter's Ocean Moon
© 2008 by Richard Greenberg.
In 2008, planetary scientist, Richard Greenberg, Ph.D., at the University of Arizona, released a book entitled, “Unmasking Europa: The Search for Life On Jupiter’s Ocean Moon.” In an interview with me at the time, he said: “The real key to life on Europa is the permeability of the ice crust. There is strong evidence that the ocean below the ice is connected to the surface through cracks and melting, at various times and places. ... Europa's ocean could extend through the ice up to the surface where there is access to oxidants, organic compounds, and light. … If there IS life there, it would not necessarily be restricted to microorganisms. [ Meaning there could be swimming creatures in Europa’s deep ocean.] So, probably the best chance of finding current life in our solar system right now would be on Europa.”
Europa's reddish, veiny surface that has long provoked questions about life forms
on the strange icy, watery moon of Jupiter. Images in 1990s by NASA's Galileo spacecraft.
The Europa discoveries are described by scientists in the September 29, 2016, issue of The Astrophysical Journal. Getting close to Europa to fly through a plume to find out what it’s made of is the ultimate goal, but it’s very difficult because of all the intense radiation from Jupiter that can fry computer systems. But the European Space Agency plans to launch a probe to Europa in 2022 — six years from now — called Jupiter Icy moons Explorer, or JUICE. That will be followed by a NASA launch of the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission to search for hotspots on the moon’s surface where water vapor plumes could erupt. By then, Elon Musk wants to launch humans to Mars where alien life might be found beneath the red planet’s surface. Wherever, whenever, life is found beyond Earth, it will be one of the biggest paradigm shifts in human history.
Dragonfly Telescope Discovers
99.99% Dark Matter Galaxy!
Pieter van Dokkum, Ph.D., Sol Goldman Prof. of Astronomy, Yale University, New Haven,
Connecticut, with his creation, the Dragonfly telescope in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, designed
specifically to look through the universe for very faint, but large, objects. Now, the galaxy
Dragonfly 44 is the telescope's most unique discovery because it is a massive galaxy 300
million light-years from Earth that is 99.99% dark matter and only .1% matter
in a few stars. Image © 2016 by Pieter van Dokkum.
Meanwhile, there has been another breakthrough discovery in our universe that is so weird that even the astronomer who discovered it can barely believe it exists. Pieter van Dokkum, Ph.D., Prof. of Astronomy at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, once placed a bet with a colleague that he could build a telescope that would have clear vision of very faint, but large, cosmic objects. Prof. van Dokkum won the bet. Now he has used his unique telescope of 48 telephoto lenses in an array at Cloudcroft, New Mexico, between Alamogordo and Roswell, to find what he calls the “Dark Twin” of our Milky Way galaxy. Looking like a smudge at 300 million light-years from Earth, the “Dark Twin” is 99.99% dark matter and only .1% matter of a few stars. He named the eerie and incomprehensible galaxy Dragonfly 44 and he found it with his breakthrough telescope that he calls Dragonfly.
Dragonfly 44 is the faint greyish-green “smudge” in the bottom of these two images
taken by the Dragonfly Telescope in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Dragonfly 44 was the
44th faint object discovered in Prof. Pieter van Dokkum's research at Yale University
and turned out to be the first galaxy of its kind ever found: 99.99%
dark matter. Images by van Dokkum/Dragonfly Telescope.
1 kpc (kiloparsec) = 1,000 parsecs = 3,260 light-years. So, the Dragonfly 44 images are
showing a 10 kpc distance measurement to judge distances and sizes in these Dragonfly
Telescope. 10 kpc = 32,600 light-years, which shows how massive the Dragonfly 44 galaxy is.
Images by Pieter van Dokkum, Ph.D., Astronomer, Yale University,
using his Dragonfly Telescope in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
Pieter van Dokkum, Ph.D., Sol Goldman Prof. of Astronomy, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut: “There were a bunch of reasons to call it Dragonfly. One is that the special coatings that these lenses have that give them these superb optical qualities were actually inspired by the wings of insects — the way they refract and reflect the light. Also, the telescope’s lenses are in an hexagonal pattern and they kind of resemble compound eyes of insects.
We operate the telescope every night. It’s robotic. We just send instructions during the day and then it figures everything out by itself.
Dragonfly Telescope, one of two lens arrays that together total 48 lenses, Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
The Dragonfly Telescope operates in Cloudcroft, New Mexico,in the mountains between
Alamogordo and Holloman AFB in the lower left and Roswell, in upper right.
SO THE DRAGONFLY TELESCOPE IS COMPLETELY ROBOTIC AND TAKES COMPUTER INSTRUCTIONS FROM YOU WHEREVER YOU ARE.
Yes, I’ve even operated it from a cell phone. All we have to do is in the afternoon, we come up with a short list of instructions such as ‘Observe moon.’ And then, when it gets dark, it just gets to work. It checks what the weather is like and then it starts to take calibration exposures. Then when it’s dark enough, it starts to go to its first target and focuses itself and sends us updates. And then in the morning, it sends a little summary of what it has done and it goes to sleep.
We’re even thinking of making it make decisions on what to observe by itself so that it could operate for like a week without us doing anything.
SO, DRAGONFLY 44 IS THE 44TH VERY FAINT GALAXY THAT YOU DISCOVERED AND PHOTOGRAPHED WITH YOUR DRAGONFLY TELESCOPE, BUT TO YOUR SURPRISE, THIS MASSIVE GALAXY 300 MILLION LIGHT-YEARS FROM EARTH TURNS OUT TO BE ALMOST ALL DARK MATTER.
Yeah, that’s correct. It is an extraordinary object. We knew that it was a strange galaxy when we first saw it because it’s very large. It’s as big as the Milky Way. And we measured motions of the stars in this galaxy. That in turn gave us information on how much mass there was.
Shocking Discovery That Dragonfly 44 Galaxy
Is 99.99% Dark Matter
And then it turned out Dragonfly 44 is as heavy as the Milky Way. So, it's as big as the Milky Way. But it has only .1% of the stars of the Milky Way!
And that led us to conclude that this very unusual Dragonfly galaxy is almost entirely made up of dark matter, 99.99%!
HOW DID YOU FIND DRAGONFLY 44 IF IT IS 99.99% DARK MATTER?
We built this telescope to find exactly these kinds of things — things that are so faint that other telescopes just look through them basically. So, this galaxy and galaxies like it span a very large area in the sky. They are not small, but they are very, very faint because they have so few stars.
So a lot of other people had looked at this area of sky and had just not noticed this galaxy. It was sitting there all the time, but people just did not pick it up.
And then when we built the Dragonfly telescope and we looked at this area of sky, we saw all these faint smudges in the Dragonfly image, almost like you have a little smudge on your lens of the camera. And then we began to investigate these smudges — what they might be. And that ultimately led to the conclusion that they are these giant galaxies that have very few stars.
IT’S THIS ISSUE OF YIN AND YANG AS A METAPHOR FOR OPPOSITES IN THIS UNIVERSE THAT ARE JUXTAPOSED WITH EACH OTHER.
Yeah, it is fascinating that Dragonfly 44 with its very few stars and a huge amount of dark matter — and then the Milky Way, which is where we live dominated by normal matter. We don’t understand that yet — why there is this large diversity in galaxies and we need to figure that out.
What Is Dark Matter?
WHAT ARE ASTRONOMERS’ SPECULATIONS ABOUT WHAT DARK MATTER IS AND WHERE IT CAME FROM?
Well, one extreme is that dark matter does not really exist as a particle, but that a change is required in Newton’s Laws. Some people have speculated that perhaps Newton’s Laws do apply on Earth and in solar systems. But on the scale of galaxies, perhaps a revision is required. And that means that when we determine how much mass there is, based on the motion of stars, we are making an error in that equation. It could be a different equation that would lead to a normal amount of mass and no dark matter at all.
But those theories have difficulties explaining a lot of the phenomena that we see in the sky and galaxies and also in galaxy clusters, large groups of galaxies.
I think most astronomers would guess that the dark matter is a particle and it’s certainly something that is real. I mean, when I say certainly, that’s what most astronomers think — that dark matter is something you could touch. It’s a thing rather than a force or something that is not tangible.
But until we find the particle, you know, it’s an open question. And it dominates the mass in the universe! So it’s always a little embarrassing that we don’t know what most of the stuff in the universe is made of.
How Can A Galaxy Be Nearly All Dark Matter?
OK, THERE IS SO MUCH CONFUSION ABOUT DARK MATTER. CAN YOU NOW GIVE A GENERAL WORLD AUDIENCE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT IT MEANS TO SAY THAT THIS DRAGONFLY 44 GALAXY IS 99.99% DARK MATTER?
Dark matter is really a mysterious substance and we don’t know what it is. We can only detect it because of the influence it has on other things. That makes it so mysterious. It’s a word for something that we haven’t discovered yet. It’s very strange because if you haven’t discovered something, why would you even talk about it. Well, we cannot get around the dark matter because of its influence on everything else. We can see what it does, even though we don’t know what it is.
An example would be that even if we couldn’t see the sun, we would still know it’s there because of the motions of the Earth. We know the Earth goes around some object. You know, it takes a year for the Earth to go around the Sun. We can measure how fast the Earth moves and how far away it is from the Sun, or from that point in space. And then we could actually determine how massive the Sun is, how much it weighs, just from the motion of the Earth without ever having looked at the Sun.
And this is how we found the dark matter. It exerted a gravitational pull on everything that had dark matter, but we don’t know what it is that causes that pull. We think it’s some elementary particle that hasn’t been discovered yet. People are looking for it. Then the actual discovery of the dark matter particles is one of those Holy Grails in science that everybody would love to discover. But right now, we still don’t know.
ISN’T IT TRUE THAT ASTRONOMERS SAY THAT DARK MATTER IS WHAT HOLDS GALAXIES TOGETHER, WHAT WOULD KEEP THE MILKY WAY IN THE SHAPE IT IS WITH ALL OF THE VAST NUMBERS OF SUNS. IF THE DARK MATTER WERE NOT THERE, THEN ESSENTIALLY THE DISK SHAPE OF THE MILKY WAY MIGHT TATTER AND DISSIPATE IN SOME WAY. AND THAT IF YOU GO TO DRAGONFLY 44, THE ASTONISHING THING IS THAT EVEN POINT-1% ARE STARS. IF THE DARK MATTER WERE NOT THE OTHER 99.99%, THOSE STARS WOULDN’T BE THERE.
Yeah, that is essentially correct. We measure the velocities of stars — how fast are they moving, both in the Milky Way and in this galaxy, Dragonfly 44. And then we know that something must hold the galaxy together. Otherwise, it would just fly apart. The stars are moving so fast that there has to be some unseen matter that keeps the galaxy together.
Dragonfly 44 Is Like A “Dark Twin”
of the Milky Way Galaxy
And even before we measured the velocity in Dragonfly 44, we knew that something must be there to hold the thing together. There are so few stars that just its movement through space and interactions with other galaxies would very quickly disrupt the whole galaxy and tear it apart. Such a tenuous object can only survive if it has a huge amount of unseen mass that holds it together. So we already knew, or suspected, that it might have a lot of dark matter. How much it has was a surprise.
It seems to be this dark twin of the Milky Way.
A DARK TWIN OF THE MILKY WAY. CAN YOU TRY TO EXPLAIN TO A GENERAL AUDIENCE WHY IT IS THAT THERE WOULD BE MILKY WAYS AND ANDROMEDAS AND GALAXIES THAT WE ARE USED TO SEEING IN PHOTOGRAPHS — MILLIONS, BILLIONS, OF GALAXIES IN THIS UNIVERSE. WHY WOULD THERE EVEN BE ONE LIKE DRAGONFLY 44 THAT WOULD BE ONLY 1% VISIBLE MATTER AND 99% WHATEVER MYSTERIOUS DARK MATTER IS?
Well, the exciting thing is that I can’t! And nobody can.
Could Dark Matter and Dark Energy
Relate to Other Universes?
IN THE CONFUSION ABOUT WHETHER DARK MATTER IS A PARTICLE OR NOT, IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THE CONCEPT OF MULTI-UNIVERSES, GROUPS OF UNIVERSES, COULD EXPLAIN THAT DARK ENERGY AND DARK MATTER ARE RELATED TO FORCES AND INFLUENCES IN GRAVITY BECAUSE WE ARE CLOSE TO OTHER UNIVERSES THAT WE HAVEN’T DETECTED YET?
Yeah, until we actually know what these things are and we detect the dark matter particle, there’s a lot of room for exciting other options.
SINCE MATTER GALAXIES LIKE THE MILKY WAY GALAXY ARE ALL NOW SUPPOSED TO HAVE A BLACK HOLE AT THE CENTER, DOES DRAGONFLY 44 HAVE A BLACK HOLE AT THE CENTER OF ALL THIS DARK MATTER?
That is an excellent question and I would love to know the answer to that.”
Continued in Part 2: Self-Activating Intelligence
of Dragonfly and James Webb Telescopes