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Where did Peggy go? Plus, volunteers find mystery objects in space and ancient rocky worlds raise the chances for life in the universe.

What's Up In Space? A vanishing moon, mystery objects, and oldest Earth-sized worlds found

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 2:07 PM - Last week on What's Up In Space? we spanned the inner and outer reaches of our solar system, in search of asteroids and exploring dwarf planets. This week, we'll make a brief stop at the planet Saturn while on our way out towards a new class of mystery objects discovered by volunteers and an ancient rocky star system that could boost the chances for life in the universe.

Where did Peggy go?

As Kim MacDonald details in the video above, back in April 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft snapped pictures of the rings of Saturn that led astronomers to spot a tiny 'lump' at the edge of the planet's A-ring - shown in the image below, just down and slightly to the left of center.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Carl Murray, the Queen Mary University of London astronomer that first spied the object, named it "Peggy" and published research on it in April 2014, stating that it could be a small moon, perhaps a kilometre in diameter, in the process of developing. To read the original announcement by NASA, click here.

However, according to a recent story published in National Geographic, the fate of Peggy is a bit of a mystery, as all signs of the moon have now vanished.

What could have happened to her? From what the story says, based on the images taken later in 2013, one very likely possibility is that Peggy broke up due to collisions with other objects in the ring. However, there is some hope for her.

"It may be that the original Peggy has left the rings," said Murray, according to National Geographic, "in which case we’ll be hard-pressed to see it again. Unless something hits it."

Volunteers lead astronomers to mystery objects 

There's so much going on out in space, no matter how much they want to, astronomers just can't look at it all. That's where Zooniverse and their citizen scientist projects come in, putting the abundance of astronomical data in front of the eyes of the multitude of space enthusiasts in the world, to see what the crowd can pick out. One such effort, the Milky Way Project, lets people scan through the infrared images taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and this has recently led to an important new discovery.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,


Volunteers using the web-based Milky Way Project brought star-forming features nicknamed "yellowballs" to the attention of researchers, who later showed that they are a phase of massive star formation. The yellow balls -- which are several hundred to thousands times the size of our solar system -- are pictured here in the center of this image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared light has been assigned different colors; yellow occurs where green and red overlap. The yellow balls represent an intermediary stage of massive star formation that takes place before massive stars carve out cavities in the surrounding gas and dust (seen as green-rimmed bubbles with red interiors in this image).


To read the full news release on this discovery, click here

An ancient system of rocky worlds expands opportunities for life in the universe

Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine/Iowa State University

Astronomers studying the data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope have uncovered a nearby star system with five rocky, Earth-sized worlds. While there are other star systems, both nearby and far away that have as many and more, what's remarkable about this system is that it is 11.2 billion years old.

"This is one of the oldest systems in the galaxy," Steve Kawaler, a study co-author from Iowa State University, said in a press release. "Kepler-444 came from the first generation of stars. This system tells us that planets were forming around stars nearly 7 billion years before our own solar system."

"Planetary systems around stars have been a common feature of our galaxy for a long, long time," he added.

What does this mean for life in the universe? The amount of time that life, as we know it, would have to develop in the universe depends on exactly when stars were able to produce rocky worlds, like the Earth, around them. Limit this ability to just the last 5-6 billion years, and opportunities for life to take hold and flourish are limited. With the Kepler-444 system now showing that rocky worlds developed much, much further back in time, at least 11 billion years ago, that gives much more time for life to develop.

Is there something alive in the Kepler-444 system? Not likely, or at least not likely on the five rocky worlds that they've found there. They all have orbits of less than 10 Earth days, making them burning hot, and unsuitable for life. However, there could be more planets in the system that have gone undetected so far, so we won't close the door completely, and it's definitely one to keep an eye on, since right down the street, galactically-speaking, at only 117 light years away from us.

To read more on this discovery, check out the press release (click here), and for more news about Kepler and its search for alien worlds, head to NASA's website (click here).

GET YOUR SPACE FIX HERE: More news and updates on the events going on around our planet, in our solar system and beyond are presented here each week on 'What's up in space?'

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