(CNN)This week, scientists discovered the interstellar origins of a meteor that crashed into Earth in 2014, and DNA was extracted from the bones of 13th-century soldiers who fought in the Crusades.
NASA astronaut Christina Koch is also aiming to hold the record for longest single spaceflight by a woman.
Here’s what you missed this week in space and science.
An interstellar visitor on Earth
In 2014, a 1.5-foot-wide meteor crashed near Papua New Guinea. But this one traveled a long, long way to do so — from another solar system. Researchers were able to determine this because of its velocity. It was moving so fast that it was able to make it to our solar system after probably traveling tens of thousands of years.
They don’t know how old it is, but it’s probably ancient and contains a combination of a time capsule and message in a bottle with regards to information about its origin.
“Most importantly, there is a possibility that life could be transferred between stars,” researcher Abraham Loeb of Harvard University said. “In principle, life could survive in the core of a rock. Either bacteria, or tardigrades (a microscopic, water-dwelling animal); they can survive harsh conditions in space and arrive right to us.”
Love and loss during the Crusades
DNA from 13th-century remains buried in a pit in Lebanon is shedding light on the lives of Crusader soldiers and how they mixed with the local population.
Crusader burials are rare, and these weren’t in the best condition. The soldiers bore the marks of the blunt force that killed them. Then they were dumped in a pit and burned and lay in warm and humid conditions for hundreds of years.
But thanks to some intrepid scientists, DNA was extracted from their temporal bones. And it contains a fascinating story that had been lost to the historical record.
The researchers weren’t expecting the diverse origins of the men. Some were from Spain and Sardinia, four were locals who were probably recruited to fight, and two carried mixed genetics indicating that they were the result of relations between Crusaders and locals.
Some of the soldiers who traveled from western Europe to fight stayed in the newly established Christian states that popped up along the Eastern Mediterranean coast, according to a study. They settled down and had families with locals. As the wars raged on, they also died together in battle.
And then, they were eventually cast out, leaving no genetic mark on the local population.
The year of the woman (in space)
NASA astronaut Christina Koch was scheduled to take part in the first all-female spacewalk alongside Anne McClain on March 29, but it was scrapped due to spacesuit availability. Instead, Koch conducted her spacewalk alongside Nick Hague.
Koch arrived on the International Space Station on March 14 for her first mission. She will remain on the station until February 2020, according to NASA’s new schedule.
Normally, astronauts stay on the station for six months. Koch’s mission will surpass that of Peggy Whitson, who spent 288 consecutive days in space, and end up just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut: 340 days, set by Scott Kelly.
The next hot trend: moon water
Meteorites don’t just stir up dust when they crash into the moon. They also send plumes of water shooting into space. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “meteor shower.”
Micro-meteorites collide with the moon at high velocity and send shock waves reverberating through the lunar surface. They need to penetrate only a few inches to stir up deposits of water, and the high energy of the collision converts the molecules into water vapor. The plumes spurt out into space. Most of the molecules dissipate into the very thin atmosphere around the moon, while some settle back into the ground.
This is exciting news for missions that may rely on the natural resources of the moon, which is proving to be much more than a quiet satellite.
Our whole universe was in a hot, dense state
It all started with the Big Bang.
When the universe formed during the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, the chemical reactions of the aftermath formed the first molecules. Those molecules were crucial in helping form everything we know, but they’re also absent.
And although HeH+, the helium hydride ion, has been proposed for years as that first molecule, scientists couldn’t find any evidence of its existence in space — until now.
After the Big Bang, HeH+ formed in a molecular bond when helium atoms and protons combined. Later, these would break apart into hydrogen molecules and helium atoms. Both elements are the two most abundant throughout the universe, with hydrogen first and helium second.
A high-resolution spectrometer called GREAT on board a telescope called SOFIA detected the molecule in the planetary nebula NGC 7027, finally bring an end to a decades-long search.
The biggest bad after the dinosaurs
Millions of years ago, animals were on a much bigger scale — and some of them were downright terrifying.
For example, Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, which is Swahili for “big lion coming from Africa.” Simba brings to mind “The Lion King,” but the real creature was more like your worst nightmare.
The skull is comparable to that of a rhinoceros, and given its size and giant sharp teeth, the carnivore was at the head of its food chain. Researchers estimate that it weighed 1.6 tons and could prey on large herbivores akin to today’s elephant and hippopotamus.
Timon and Pumbaa would have been food, not friends, to this giant predator.
Simbakubwa was part of the hyaenodonts, an extinct group of mammalian carnivores that lived in Africa. And Simbakubwa is the oldest of this group, making it one of the largest carnivorous mammals ever to live on land.
After the extinction of dinosaurs, they enjoyed a 45 million-year reign as the key predators. But tectonic plates shifted, introducing animals from other landmasses like the relatives of dogs, cats and hyenas. And eventually, they went extinct.
Hopefully, “Hyaenodont Park” never becomes a thing.
TESS finds its first Earth-size planet
TESS the planet-hunting satellite is living up to its name. It just spied an Earth-sized exoplanet, as well as a warm mini-Neptune, in a star system 53 light-years away from us.
The Earth-size planet, dubbed HD 21749c, completes an orbit of its host star every eight days. Its planetary sibling, HD 21749b, is about 23 times Earth’s mass and has a radius about 2.7 times that of Earth. This puts the exoplanet in the category of a sub-Neptune or mini-Neptune.
TESS has been operating for only about a year and has already made some exciting discoveries. So this is just the beginning for Kepler’s successor.
Happy birthday, Hubble!
Twenty-nine years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope launched, and it has been capturing stunning views of the Milky Way galaxy ever since.
To celebrate, Hubble’s team shared a beautiful new look at the Southern Crab Nebula in all of its tentacled glory.
The hourglass-shaped nebula is due to an aging red giant star and a white dwarf. Materials that they ejected are pulled around the aging star and the dead star by gravity, creating its unique shape.
In addition to taking us through the wonders of space, Hubble has made discoveries that affect astronomy and astrophysics.
“Among Hubble’s landmark accomplishments include making the deepest views ever taken of the evolving universe, finding planet-forming disks around nearby stars, chemically probing the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars, identifying the first supermassive black hole in the heart of a neighboring galaxy, and providing evidence of an accelerating universe, propelled perhaps by some unknown source of energy in the fabric of space,” the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a news release.