by Rida Fatima

The Abell S1063 cluster contains a vast number of galaxies
(Fig 1: The Abell S1063 cluster contains a vast number of galaxies, and Hubble’s exceptional sensitivity and resolution have been able to catch an intracluster light, a gentle blue haze. The stars that are responsible for this glow have been expelled from their galaxy. These stars are no longer members of a galaxy and now lead solitary lives, aligning themselves with the gravitational pull of the larger cluster. Intracluster light has been discovered to be a good predictor of the distribution of dark matter in the cluster because of its association with a map of mass distribution in the cluster’s general gravitational field. Credits: NASA and M. Montes.)

The dark matter has enigmatic nature, the unobservable substance which forms most of the cosmos, may be revealed by a fresh study of Hubble photographs of galaxies. It is proved by the astronomers that the diffuse glow that exists between the galaxies in a cluster, also known as intracluster light, can help to trace the path of dark matter, and also help to illuminate the distribution pattern more precisely as compared to the current methods which observe and understand the study through X-ray light. Using Hubble’s earlier images of six giant galaxy clusters from the Frontier Fields mission, they were able to accomplish this. Intergalactic interactions that upend their structures result in intracluster light, which is produced as individual stars are liberated from the gravitational grip of their parent galaxy and realigned with the gravity map of the entire cluster. Additionally, the great majority of dark matter is found here. Where galaxies are colliding is visible in X-ray light, but the cluster’s underlying structure is not revealed. As a result, it is not very authentic and precise to trace the paths of dark matter.

“As the intracluster light is relatively free-floating on the gravity of the cluster itself, which leads it to follow the same gravity, this particular reason makes intracluster light the best way to trace the dark matter in the solar system,” says co-author Mireia Montes. Additionally, we have discovered this precise method to predict the location of the dark matter because we have found a new method to determine the placement of the dark matter as you are monitoring the identical gravitational potential. Our ability to locate dark matter is made possible by a very faint light. (NASA, 2018).

Intracluster Light In The Detection Of Dark Matter

Montes also emphasises that the technique is not only more accurate but also more effective because it just uses deep imaging as opposed to the more involved, time-consuming spectroscopy techniques. As a result, more clusters and objects in space may be researched in less time, providing more possible information about the composition and behaviour of dark matter. The final nature of dark matter may now be statistically characterised thanks to this technology, Montes stated.

The Canary Islands Institute of Astronomy’s Ignacio Trujillo, who co-authored the report and has worked with Montes on intracluster light studies for many years, stated, “The concept for the research was prompted by examining the pristine Hubble Frontier Field photos. Intracluster light was displayed with unparalleled clarity in the Hubble Frontier Fields.” The pictures were motivating, according to Trujillo. “However, I did not anticipate the results to be so accurate. Exciting possibilities exist for the research opportunities in future for space related projects.

A shape matching metric called Modified Hausdorff Distance is used by the astronomer, which helps with the comparison of the contours of the intracluster light. It also compares the different mass maps of the clusters, which are used as a significant part of the data from the Hubble Frontier Fields project, and is placed in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). The MHD is a metric for the distance between two groups. The two-point sets become more equivalent when MHD’s value decreases. Based on archived observations from the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the analysis’s findings showed that the intracluster light distribution visible in the Hubble Frontier Fields images more closely matched the mass distribution of the six galaxy clusters than did X-ray emission. (NASA, 2018).

: The galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 also produces a gentle glow of intracluster light
(Fig 2: The galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 also produces a gentle glow of intracluster light, formed by stars that are not a part of any particular galaxy, amidst the intense light of its component galaxies. Long ago, when the gravitational pull of the cluster tore apart their home galaxies, these stars were dispersed throughout the cluster. Eventually, the wandering stars aligned with the cluster’s general gravitational pull. The feeble light is captured by Hubble’s superior sensitivity and resolution, which is then used to pinpoint the location of unseen dark matter, which dominates the cluster’s gravitational field. Credits: NASA and M. Montes.)

Montes and Trujillo see numerous potentials to broaden their research beyond this initial investigation. They first want to see how well the tracing accuracy holds true before expanding the observing area in the initial six clusters. To expand the data set and validate their results, more research teams’ observation and analysis of galaxy clusters will be a crucial test of their methodology. The WFIRST and the James Webb Space Telescope, which will include far more sensitive instruments for detecting weak intracluster light in the farthest regions of the galaxy, are two strong future space-based telescopes that the astronomers anticipate utilizing the same techniques with.


Trujillo wants to test reducing the method’s scalability from enormous galaxy clusters to solitary galaxies. Exploring the star corona, for example, at galactic sizes would be great. The same concept should, in theory, be true; the celestial bodies that have surrounded the star system as consequences of its blending activity should likewise be tracking its gravity and revealing its dark matter distribution (Kimdeyir, 2018). In order to see the incredibly far-off galaxies beyond them and to understand more about how galaxies have evolved since the early (remote) universe, the Hubble Frontier Fields programme was developed. It was a deep imaging project. In that research, the diffuse intracluster light was a problem since it partially hid the far-off galaxies beyond (Kimdeyir, 2018).


NASA Perseverance Mars Rover Examines ‘Tantalizing’ Rock for Evidence of Ancient Life

by Rida Fatima

NASA Perseverance Mars Rover Examines 'Tantalizing' Rock
(Figure 1: Image of “Yori Pass” taken by Hazard-Avoidance Camera (Hazcams) on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Nov. 5, 2022, the 609th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

To seek evidence of ancient microbial life, Perseverance is investigating a spot called Yori Pass located in the Jazero Crater of the Red Planet. Mars once had a dense atmosphere and liquid water running on its surface. However, it has now been a barren wasteland for billions of years. Studies have shown Microbes from Earth could also thrive on Mars for many millions of years. On Mars, the river channels spewed over the crater wall and formed a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. Water carried minerals from the nearby region into the crater lake. Microbial life might have existed in Jezero during these wet periods. If this is the case, evidence of their remains may be found in lakebed or shoreline sediments.

The Sensational Sandstones on Mars

Scientists are looking for ways to investigate how the Martian environment formed and evolved. Search for signs of past life is at its full pace. Rover is collecting samples of Mars rock and soil that may contain such traces. The region, Yori Pass is located in a long-gone river delta region and at the base of Jezero Crater. The crater is believed to have been flooded with water early in Mars’s history. The delta may have once carried the molecules required for life. After spotting some sensational sandstone, NASA’s Perseverance rover decided to explore Mars’ secrets with much excitement. The rover found some rocks there that have excited scientists back on Earth.

Rock sample collection from the Jazero crater is the primary objective of the Perseverance Mars rover. It has to find any signs that life once existed on the Red Planet. It could be any element, molecule, substance or feature that is characteristic of life. According to NASA, scientists find Yori Pass features to be tantalizing as it is sandstone. Not only that but it is also composed of fine grains that might have come from somewhere else due to flowing water before ending up settling and turning into stones. The geological pieces of evidence are so exciting here for the scientists because they consider these fine-grained rocks to have the best chance of preserving the indication of life. Furthermore, they also contain a higher concentration of clay materials that can protect large organic molecules from harmful UV radiation. Hence, due to the presence of this clay material sandstone molecules remain protected from degradation.

Clues of Ancient Life

Historical confirmations of water on Jazero Crater are the main reason NASA chose it as a landing site for its life-exploring rover. The ancient Mars atmosphere could have supported an underground world overflowing with microbial species. The rover used an abrasion tool to clean off a bit of the rock and look beneath the dusty surface. It uncovered veins of lighter material within the beige surroundings. “Could it hold clues about ancient life?” the Perseverance team tweeted. NASA expects that Perseverance will reveal biosignatures in the Yori Pass rock. This discovery could be defined as “any property, element, molecule, material, or trait that can indicate ancient life.” The rover has recently explored organic compounds in a rock sample, although it is too early to tell if this is proof of microscopic organisms from the red planet’s old days.

Yori Pass and Hogwallow Flats

To properly comprehend what’s going on with the bedrock from Jezero Crater, researchers will have to get their hands on them which is possible through NASA’s innovative Mars Sample Return mission. NASA intends to retrieve rock samples collected by Perseverance and return them to Earth for analysis. A sample of the Yori Pass sandstone would be a valuable prize. Katie Stack Morgan is a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL by NASA) research scientist who is interested in Martian sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geologic mapping of planetary surfaces. Morgan compares the Yori Pass rock bed to Hogwallow Flats, popularly known as “the Bacon Strip” attributed to its light-coloured stripes stones since they are both situated at the very same altitude. They also have a massive, traceable footprint that is evident on the Martian surface. The rocks in Hogwallow Flats look to be particularly fine-grained. Fine-grained rocks are intriguing for mission scientists as they may have the best chance of preserving signs of life.


The Perseverance rover has been investigating the Jezero Crater since it landed on Mars in February 2021. For the first time, the rover’s spectacular fall was captured on video by the spacecraft. This spectacular Mars rover has gathered 14 rock-core samples and an air sample. Since then, these samples are kept in the rover’s belly. The sample-collection mission started in September 2021. First of all, it efficiently extracted a pencil-thin rock core from Jezero Crater. Then it was deposited in an airtight titanium sample tube. These materials are a significant part of the proposed joint NASA/ESA sample-return mission, which seeks to send a spacecraft to Mars. It will recover encased Martian rock and soil samples from Perseverance. Then they will be delivered to Earth for comprehensive and detailed in-depth investigation.


A Never-Seen-Before Exoplanet WASP-39b Atmosphere is Revealed by NASA’s Webb Space Telescope

by Rida Fatima

exoplanet WASP-39 b
(Figure 1: Based on what is known about the planet right now, this graphic depicts what the exoplanet WASP-39 b would look like. WASP-39 b is very hot, puffy full of gas that circulates just 0.0486 au (4,500,000 miles) from its star. It has a diameter that is 1.3 times larger than Jupiter and a mass that is 0.28 times Jupiter (or 0.94 times Saturn). WASP-39 is a star that is somewhat less massive and smaller than the Sun. WASP-39 b is extremely hot due to its near proximity to its star and is most likely tidally locked, with one side constantly facing the side of the star. Credits: www.nasa.gov)

A behemoth the size of Saturn that revolves around its star more closely than Mercury does the Sun, a planet known as WASP-39 b is unmatched by any other planets that exist in our solar system. This exoplanet was one of the first to be studied when NASA started the official science operations on a regular basis by using James Webb Space Telescope. The findings have the exoplanet scientific community in a frenzy. Moreover, potassium, carbon monoxide, Water, sodium, and sulphur dioxide have all been discovered in the profile of WASP-39 b’s atmospheric ingredients created by Webb’s highly sensitive detectors. The results are encouraging for Webb’s sensors’ capacity to carry out a wide range of studies of exoplanets of various types, including rocky, tiny planets that are considered in the TRAPPIST-1 system (Scitechdaily, 2022).

Signatures of molecule with active Chemistry and Clouds

The latest James Webb telescope mission by NASA was to discover the chemical and molecular profile of the skies of a distant world, marking another first. The latest results from Webb show a very comprehensive variety of molecules, atoms, and also some evidence of active chemistry and clouds, in contrast to earlier findings from space observatories, such as Spitzer and NASA’s Hubble. The most recent information also gives a suggestion as to how these clouds would seem up close, suggesting that they are likely split up rather than covering the globe uniformly. The array of the telescope’s highly delicate apparatus was focused right on the environment of WASP-39 b, circulating a star around 700 light-years distant. The results are promising for the ability of Webb’s apparatus to do the extensive range of analyses of all types of exoplanets, or worlds around other stars, that the scientific groups had hoped for. As part of this, it is possible to explore the atmospheres of smaller, stonier planets like those in the TRAPPIST-1 system. It has been noted that the telescope has a variety of equipment that, when combined, offer a wide range of infrared detection and a variety of chemical fingerprints that were previously out of reach. Data like these change the game of understanding these other planets (NASA, 2022).

Five new scientific publications, three of which are in under review and one of which is in press, cover the discoveries in depth. One of the ground-breaking discoveries is that of sulphur dioxide (SO2) for the first time in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. This molecule is the result of chemical processes started by high-energy light from the planet’s parent star. Similar processes are used on Earth to produce the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

Concrete evidence of photochemistry

The formation of Sulphur dioxide in WASP-39 b’s atmosphere was described in the paper by Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Tsai asserted that this was the first time actual proof of photochemistry—chemical processes initiated by energetic stellar light on exoplanets had been seen. I believe this effort has a highly promising future for enhancing our understanding of the atmospheres of exoplanets. Another first as a result of this was the use of photochemistry computer models on the data that assists with the full explanation of such physics. The ensuing advancements in modelling will contribute to the development of the technological know-how necessary to decipher future indications of habitability (NASA, 2022).

“We had anticipated what the telescope would reveal, but it was more accurate, more varied, and more stunning than I had truly anticipated” – Hanna Wakeford.

Planets circling within the host star’s radiation bath are molded and changed. These changes on Earth enable life to flourish. Eight times closer to its home star than Mercury is to our Sun, the planet serves as a testing ground for the effects of radiation from host stars on exoplanets. Improved comprehension of the star-planet relationship should lead to a greater comprehension of how these factors impact the variety of planets seen in the solar system. Webb followed WASP-39 b when it crossed in front of its star, allowing part of the star’s light to get through the planet’s atmosphere and allowing for the detection of light from the object. Astronomers can identify the molecules by looking at the colors that aren’t present because different kinds of particles in the atmosphere absorb different colors of the starlight range. Webb can identify chemical fingerprints in the universe that are invisible to the human eye by observing it in infrared light.

The Webb telescope also picked up measurements of sodium (Na), potassium (K), and water vapor (H2O), which confirmed earlier observations made by ground- and space-based telescopes and discovered new fingerprints of water at these longer wavelengths (NASA, 2022).


How NASA is planning to detect life on the Habitable Ocean Worlds of Europa and Enceladus

by Rida Fatima

Demonstration of the Icy under world of Enceladus
(Figure 1: Demonstration of the Icy under world of Enceladus showing the plumes emerging from beneath and going out in space. Credits: NASA/JPL (jpl.nasa.gov))

A team at the Lab has developed new innovative technologies that could be utilized by future space operations to analyze liquid samples from ocean worlds of Enceladus and Europa in search of alien life. Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known”, enlightening a spark of curiosity to explore the unknown mysteries and riddles of the ever-expanding universe. One of the biggest questions of space exploration and search is “Are we alone in the Universe?” or do we have other interstellar or intergalactic companions living somewhere far away in the cosmos? NASA is playing an active role in this search and constantly developing innovative technologies for space investigations.

However, looking for signs of life in a frosty sea millions of miles away presents enormous challenges. The scientific equipment needed for this purpose must be intricately complex while also being resistant to intense radiation and cryogenic temperatures. Furthermore, the instruments must be capable of performing a variety of independent, complementary measurements that, when combined, may further yield scientifically rational proof of life (NASA, Europa Ocean Moon , 2022)

Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor (OWLS)

A device containing 8 instruments has been developed by NASA scientists that can detect life in watery geysers emerging from the icy moons such as Enceladus and possibly Europa. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa have always intrigued scientists as the prime location for the detection of life in the solar system. Due to thick ice, getting into these frosty ocean worlds is a difficult challenge. The Cassini spacecraft in 2006, discovered plumes of water vapor gushing from Enceladus. Likewise, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered intriguing evidence of geysers arising from Europa as well. A spacecraft upgraded with NASA’s new Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor (OWLS) device could now collect water samples while flying through the plumes. It will look for any microbial cells or bacterial sample evidence that the geysers may have ejected into space.

(Figure 2: OWLS by NASA’s JPL incorporates powerful chemical-analysis instruments that look for life’s building blocks with microscopes that search for cells. This OWLS version would be miniaturized and customized for future missions. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

What Is So Unique About OWLS?

Cassini flyby across the plumes was indeed a significant approach, however, the spacecraft did not have this instrument installed in it. Therefore, it was not able to give us a clear picture of possibility of life residing in Enceladus. Due to the large distances between Earth and Jupiter and Saturn, frequency range for data transmission is limited. As a result, OWLS must collect massive amounts of data, independently analyze it in the hopes of discovering life. Then it will send only the relevant information back to Earth (Cooper, 2022)

OWLS is a complete package of 8 experiments capable of determining whether or not life exists in the specimens that it collects. Experiments with owls in California’s highly saline Mono Lake, which scientists believe is comparable to the salty sea waters of Europa and Enceladus’ oceans, successfully “discovered” life. OWLS is now prepared to confront the icy moons after some restructuring. The microscope system of OWLS could image cells as it is a group of various microscopes attached. It was created in collaboration with researchers at Portland State University in Oregon. A digital holographic microscope (DHM) that identifies cells and motion throughout the volume of a sample is combined with two fluorescent imagers, using dyes to analyze chemical content and cellular structures.


The Extant Life Volumetric Imaging System (ELVIS) is the microscope subsystem. It is unique in that it has no moving parts and it also employs machine-learning algorithms to detect objects illuminated by fluorescent molecules, regardless of whether naturally produced in living organisms or added dyes bound to cell parts (JPL, 2022).

ELVIS receives the liquid samples
(Figure 3: ELVIS receives the liquid samples while others will go under extraction process and are sent for chemical analysis. Credit: NASA/JPL (jpl.nasa.gov))

The DHM can be used in combination with the Organic Capillary Electrophoresis Analysis System (OCEANS) from OWLS. OCEANS is a technology for using electric potential to separate organic molecules in a liquid, such as amino acids, fatty acids, and nucleic acids. The molecules are then sent to a mass spectrometer. The masses of the particulate in the sample, and a volume fluorescence imager are measured. This imager binds these chemical building blocks together using dyes. When the compounds are excited by a laser, they emit photons and start to glow, providing an aim for the DHM to focus on.

After collecting a water sample, OWLS looks for evidence of life at the cellular and molecular level by integrating chemical analysis with high-resolution microscopy. Not only Europa and Enceladus, but all other ocean worlds like Titan, Ganymede, and Ceres are among the most likely candidates for life in our Solar System due to their watery and icy environments resembling to those found on Earth at various points in time. The Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor (OWLS) is the first life detection suite to investigate a broad range of size scales in a water sample, from single molecules to microscopic organisms. OWLS is a life-detection instrument suite that is incorporated, portable, and self-contained (NASA, n.d.).


  1. Cooper, K. (2022, November 01). NASA has a life-detecting instrument ready to fly to Europa or Enceladus . Retrieved from Space.com: https://www.space.com/life-detecting-instrument-ready-study-europa-enceladus
  2. JPL, N. (2022, Oct 06). JPL Developing More Tools to Help Search for Life in Deep Space. Retrieved from Jet Propulsion Laboratory: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/jpl-developing-more-tools-to-help-search-for-life-in-deep-space
  3. NASA. (2022, August 15). Europa Ocean Moon . Retrieved from Solar System Exploration : https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/jupiter-moons/europa/in-depth/
  4. NASA. (n.d.). Ocean Worlds Life Surveyor . Retrieved from Jet Propulsion Laboratory : https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/go/owls