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Science, Space and Technology News 2020
Stellar Flares With a Chance of Radio Bursts: Space Weather Discovery Puts “Habitable Planets” at Risk - SciTechDaily
Stellar Flares With a Chance of Radio Bursts: The Weather From Proxima Centauri A discovery that links stellar flares with radio-burst signatures will make it easier for astronomers to detect space weather around nearby stars outside the Solar System. Unfortu…
Artist’s impression of flare from our neighbouring star Proxima Centauri ejecting material onto a nearby planet. Credit: Mark Myers/OzGrav Stellar Flares With a Chance of Radio Bursts: The Weather From Proxima Centauri A discovery that links stellar flares with radio-burst signatures will make it easier for astronomers to detect space weather around nearby stars outside the Solar System. Unfortunately, the first weather reports from our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, are not promising for finding life as we know it. “Astronomers have recently found there are two ‘Earth-like’ rocky planets around Proxima Centauri, one within the ‘habitable zone’ where any water could be in liquid form,” said Andrew Zic from the University of Sydney. Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light years from Earth. “But given Proxima Centauri is a cool, small red-dwarf star, it means this habitable zone is very close to the star; much closer in than Mercury is to our Sun,” he said. “What our research shows is that this makes the planets very vulnerable to dangerous ionizing radiation that could effectively sterilize the planets.” Lead author Andrew Zic at the GMRT radio telescope in India. Credit: University of Sydney/supplied Led by Mr. Zic, astronomers have for the first time shown a definitive link between optical flares and radio bursts on a star that is not the Sun. The finding, published today (December 9, 2020) in The Astrophysical Journal, is an important step to using radio signals from distant stars to effectively produce space weather reports. “Our own Sun regularly emits hot clouds of ionized particles during what we call ‘coronal mass ejections’. But given the Sun is much hotter than Proxima Centauri and other red-dwarf stars, our ‘habitable zone’ is far from the Sun’s surface, meaning the Earth is a relatively long way from these events,” Mr. Zic said. “Further, the Earth has a very powerful planetary magnetic field that shields us from these intense blasts of solar plasma.” The research was done in collaboration with CSIRO, the University of Western Australia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Colorado and Curtin University. There were contributions from the ARC Centre for Gravitational Waves and University of California Berkeley. The study formed part of Mr. Zic’s doctoral studies at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy under the supervision of Professor Tara Murphy, deputy head of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. Mr. Zic has now taken a joint position at Macquarie University and CSIRO. He said: “M-dwarf radio bursts might happen for different reasons than on the Sun, where they are usually associated with coronal mass ejections. But it’s highly likely that there are similar events associated with the stellar flares and radio bursts we have seen in this study.” Coronal mass ejections are hugely energetic expulsions of ionised plasma and radiation leaving the stellar atmosphere. “This is probably bad news on the space weather front. It seems likely that the galaxy’s most common stars – red dwarfs – won’t be great places to find life as we know it,” Mr Zic said. In the past decade, there has been a renaissance in the discovery of planets orbiting stars outside our Solar System. There are now more than 4000 known exoplanets. This has boosted hopes of finding ‘Earth-like’ conditions on exoplanets. Recent research says that about half the Sun-like stars in the Milky Way could be home to such planets. However, Sun-like stars only make up 7 percent of the galaxy’s stellar objects. By contrast, M-type red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri make up about 70 percent of stars in the Milky Way. The findings strongly suggest planets around these stars are likely to be showered with stellar flares and plasma ejections. Methodology The Proxima Centauri observations were taken with the CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, the Zadko Telescope at the University of Western Australia and a suite of other instruments. University of Western Australia scientist Dr. Bruce Gendre, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), said the research helps understand the dramatic effects of space weather on solar systems beyond our own. Supervising research lead Professor Tara Murphy from the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and School of Physics at the University of Sydney. Credit: University of Sydney “Understanding space weather is critical for understanding how our own planet biosphere evolved – but also for what the future is,” Dr. Gendre said. Professor Murphy said: “This is an exciting result from ASKAP. The incredible data quality allowed us to view the stellar flare from Proxima Centauri over its full evolution in amazing detail. “Most importantly, we can see polarized light, which is a signature of these events. It’s a bit like looking at the star with sunglasses on. Once ASKAP is operating in full survey mode we should be able to observe many more events on nearby stars.” This will give us much greater insights to the space weather around nearby stars. Other facilities, including NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the Zadko Telescope observed simultaneously with ASKAP providing the crucial link between the radio bursts and powerful optical flares observed. Mr. Zic said: “The probability that the observed solar flare and received radio signal from our neighbor were not connected is much less than one chance in 128,000.” The research shows that planets around Proxima Centauri may suffer strong atmospheric erosion, leaving them exposed to very intense X-rays and ultraviolet radiation. But could there be magnetic fields protecting these planets? Mr. Zic said: “This remains an open question. How many exoplanets have magnetic fields like ours?” So far there have been no observations of magnetic fields around exoplanets and finding these could prove tricky. Mr. Zic said one potential way to identify distant magnetic fields would be to look for aurorae, like those around Earth and also witnessed on Jupiter. “But even if there were magnetic fields, given the stellar proximity of habitable zone planets around M-dwarf stars, this might not be enough to protect them,” Mr. Zic said. Reference: 9 December 2020, Astrophyiscal Journal.DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abca90 Funding: Andrew Zic was funded by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. Tara Murphy acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council. Parts of this research were conducted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence
Incredible Vision in Ancient “Radiating Teeth” Deep Sea Creatures Drove an Evolutionary Arms Race - SciTechDaily
Ancient marine creatures called radiodonts had incredible vision that likely drove an evolutionary arms race according to new research published on December 2, 2020. The international study, led by Professor John Paterson from the University of New England's …
An artist’s reconstruction of ‘Anomalocaris’ briggsi swimming within the twilight zone. Credit: Katrina Kenny Ancient marine creatures called radiodonts had incredible vision that likely drove an evolutionary arms race according to new research published on December 2, 2020. The international study, led by Professor John Paterson from the University of New England’s Palaeoscience Research Centre, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum and The Natural History Museum (UK), found that radiodonts developed sophisticated eyes over 500 million years ago, with some adapted to the dim light of deep water. “Our study provides critical new information about the evolution of the earliest marine animal ecosystems,” Professor Paterson said. “In particular, it supports the idea that vision played a crucial role during the Cambrian Explosion, a pivotal phase in history when most major animal groups first appeared during a rapid burst of evolution over half a billion years ago.” Radiodonts, meaning “radiating teeth,” are a group of arthropods that dominated the oceans around 500 million years ago. The many species share a similar body layout comprising of a head with a pair of large, segmented appendages for capturing prey, a circular mouth with serrated teeth, and a squid-like body. It now seems likely that some lived at depths down to 1000 meters and had developed large, complex eyes to compensate for the lack of light in this extreme environment. The eye of ‘Anomalocaris’ briggsi. Left complete fossil eye (scale bar is 5mm); middle close-up of lenses (scale bar is 0.5mm); right artist’s reconstruction showing the acute zone. Credit: University of Adelaide “When complex visual systems arose, animals could better sense their surroundings,” Professor Paterson explained. “That may have fuelled an evolutionary arms race between predators and prey. Once established, vision became a driving force in evolution and helped shape the biodiversity and ecological interactions we see today.” Some of the first radiodont fossils discovered over a century ago were isolated body parts, and initial attempts at reconstructions resulted in “Frankenstein’s monsters.” But over the past few decades many new discoveries — including whole radiodont bodies — have given a clearer picture of their anatomy, diversity and possible lifestyles. The radiodont Anomalocaris, with its large stalked eyes, is considered a top predator that swam in the oceans over 500 million years ago. Credit: Katrina Kenny Co-author, Associate Professor Diego García-Bellido from the University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum, said the rich treasure trove of fossils at Emu Bay Shale on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island in particular has helped to build a clearer picture of Earth’s earliest animals. “The Emu Bay Shale is the only place in the world that preserves eyes with lenses of Cambrian radiodonts. The more than thirty specimens of eyes we now have, has shed new light on the ecology, behavior, and evolution of these, the largest animals alive half-a-billion years ago,” A/Prof. García-Bellido said. In 2011, the team published two papers in the journal Nature on fossil compound eyes from the 513-million-year-old Emu Bay Shale on Kangaroo Island. The first paper on this subject documented isolated eye specimens of up to one centimeter in diameter, but the team were unable to assign them to a known arthropod species. The second paper reported the stalked eyes of Anomalocaris, a top predator up to one meter in length, in great detail. “Our new study identifies the owner of the eyes from our first 2011 paper: ‘Anomalocaris’ briggsi — representing a new genus that is yet to be formally named,” Prof. Paterson said. “We discovered much larger specimens of these eyes of up to four centimeters in diameter that possess a distinctive ‘acute zone’, which is a region of enlarged lenses in the center of the eye’s surface that enhances light capture and resolution.” The large lenses of ‘Anomalocaris’ briggsi suggest that it could see in very dim light at depth, similar to amphipod crustaceans, a type of prawn-like creature that exists today. The frilly spines on its appendages filtered plankton that it detected by looking upwards. Dr. Greg Edgecombe, a researcher at The Natural History Museum, London and co-author of the study, added that the South Australian radiodonts show the different feeding strategies previously indicated by the appendages — either for capturing or filtering prey — are paralleled by differences in the eyes. “The predator has the eyes attached to the head on stalks but the filter feeder has them at the surface of the head. The more we learn about these animals the more diverse their body plan and ecology is turning out to be,” Dr. Edgecombe said. “The new samples also show how the eyes changed as the animal grew. The lenses formed at the margin of the eyes, growing bigger and increasing in numbers in large specimens — just as in many living arthropods. The way compound eyes grow has been consistent for more than 500 million years.” Reference: “Disparate compound eyes of Cambrian radiodonts reveal their developmental growth mode and diverse visual ecology” by John R. Paterson, Gregory D. Edgecombe and Diego C. García-Bellido, 2 December 2020, Science Advances.DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc6721
New Atlas of the Universe Created – Includes a Million Galaxies We've Never Seen Before - SciTechDaily
A world-leading CSIRO radio telescope has conducted its first survey of the entire southern sky in record speed and detail, creating a new atlas of the Universe. The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), developed and operated by Australia’s n…
Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope creates a new atlas of the Universe. Credit: CSIRO A world-leading CSIRO radio telescope has conducted its first survey of the entire southern sky in record speed and detail, creating a new atlas of the Universe. The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), developed and operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, mapped approximately three million galaxies in just 300 hours. The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey is like a Google map of the Universe where most of the millions of star-like points on the map are distant galaxies – about a million of which we’ve never seen before. CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Larry Marshall said ASKAP brought together world-class infrastructure with scientific and engineering expertise to unlock the deepest secrets of the Universe. “ASKAP is applying the very latest in science and technology to age-old questions about the mysteries of the Universe and equipping astronomers around the world with new breakthroughs to solve their challenges,” Dr. Marshall said. “It’s all enabled by innovative receivers developed by CSIRO that feature phased array feed technology, which see ASKAP generate more raw data at a faster rate than Australia’s entire internet traffic. “In a time when we have access to more data than ever before, ASKAP and the supercomputers that support it are delivering unparalleled insights and wielding the tools that will underpin our data-driven future to make life better for everybody.” Australian SKA Pathfinder Radio Telescope in the day. Credit: CSIRO Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews said ASKAP is another outstanding example of Australia’s world-leading radio astronomy capability. “ASKAP is a major technological development that puts our scientists, engineers and industry in the driver’s seat to lead deep space discovery for the next generation. This new survey proves that we are ready to make a giant leap forward in the field of radio astronomy,” Minister Andrews said. The telescope’s key feature is its wide field of view, generated by new CSIRO-designed receivers, that enable ASKAP to take panoramic pictures of the sky in amazing detail. Using ASKAP at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia, the survey team observed 83 percent of the entire sky. The initial results were published on November 30, 2020, in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. This record-breaking result proves that an all-sky survey can be done in weeks rather than years, opening new opportunities for discovery. The new data will enable astronomers to undertake statistical analyses of large populations of galaxies, in the same way social researchers use information from a national census. Australian SKA Pathfinder Radio Telescope at night. Credit: CSIRO “This census of the Universe will be used by astronomers around the world to explore the unknown and study everything from star formation to how galaxies and their super-massive black holes evolve and interact,” lead author and CSIRO astronomer Dr David McConnell said. With ASKAP’s advanced receivers the RACS team only needed to combine 903 images to form the full map of the sky, significantly less than the tens of thousands of images needed for earlier all-sky radio surveys conducted by major world telescopes. “For the first time ASKAP has flexed its full muscles, building a map of the Universe in greater detail than ever before, and at record speed. We expect to find tens of millions of new galaxies in future surveys,” Dr. McConnell said. The 13.5 exabytes of raw data generated by ASKAP were processed using hardware and software custom-built by CSIRO. The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre’s ‘Galaxy’ supercomputer converted the data into 2D radio images containing a total of 70 billion pixels. The final 903 images and supporting information amount to 26 terabytes of data. Pawsey Executive Director Mark Stickells said the supercomputing capability was a key part of ASKAP’s design. “The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre has worked closely with CSIRO and the ASKAP team since our inception and we are proud to provide essential infrastructure that is supporting science delivering great impact,” Mr. Stickells said. The images and catalogs from the survey will be made publicly available through the CSIRO Data Access Portal and hosted at Pawsey. ASKAP’s advanced technologies are providing insights for the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international mega-science project to build the world’s largest radio telescopes. CSIRO will host the low-frequency SKA telescope at the MRO. CSIRO acknowledges the Wajarri Yamaji as the traditional owners of the MRO site. Reference: “The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey I: Design and first results” by D. McConnell, C. L. Hale, E. Lenc, J. K. Banfield, George Heald, A. W. Hotan, James K. Leung, Vanessa A. Moss, Tara Murphy, Andrew O’Brien [Opens in a new window], Joshua Pritchard, Wasim Raja, Elaine M. Sadler, Adam Stewart, Alec J. M. Thomson, M. Whiting, James R. Allison, S. W. Amy, C. Anderson, Lewis Ball, Keith W. Bannister, Martin Bell, Douglas C.-J. Bock, Russ Bolton, J. D. Bunton, A. P. Chippendale, J. D. Collier, F. R. Cooray, T. J. Cornwell, P. J. Diamond, P. G. Edwards, N. Gupta, Douglas B. Hayman, Ian Heywood, C. A. Jackson, Bärbel S. Koribalski, Karen Lee-Waddell and N. M. McClure-Griffiths, 30 November 2020, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.DOI: 10.1017/pasa.2020.41
Researchers Solve Anti-aging Mystery – Identify Gene Responsible for Cellular Aging - SciTechDaily
Cellular reprogramming can reverse the aging that leads to a decline in the activities and functions of mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs). This is something that scientists have known for a while. But what they had not figured out is which molecular mecha…
Cellular reprogramming can reverse the aging that leads to a decline in the activities and functions of mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs). This is something that scientists have known for a while. But what they had not figured out is which molecular mechanisms are responsible for this reversal. A study released today in STEM CELLS appears to have solved this mystery. It not only enhances the knowledge of MSC aging and associated diseases, but also provides insight into developing pharmacological strategies to reduce or reverse the aging process. The research team, made up of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, relied on cellular reprogramming — a commonly used approach to reverse cell aging — to establish a genetically identical young and old cell model for this study. “While agreeing with previous findings in MSC rejuvenation by cellular reprogramming, our study goes further to provide insight into how reprogrammed MSCs are regulated molecularly to ameliorate the cellular hallmarks of aging,” explained lead investigator, Wan-Ju Li, Ph.D., a faculty member in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. When mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) age, the transcription factor GATA6 is increasingly produced in the cell to induce aging response. By transcription factor-based cellular reprogramming, aged MSCs are rejuvenated with a reduction in GATA6 effects on cellular aging. Credit: AlphaMed Press The researchers began by deriving MSCs from human synovial fluid (SF-MSCs) — that is, the fluid found in the knee, elbow and other joints — and reprogramming them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Then they reverted these iPSCs back to MSCs, in effect rejuvenating the MSCs. “When we compared the reprogrammed MSCs to the non-rejuvenated parental MSCs, we found that aging-related activities were greatly reduced in reprogrammed MSCs compared to those in their parental lines. This indicates a reversal of cell aging,” Dr. Li said. The team next conducted an analysis of the cells to determine if there were any changes in global gene expression resulting from the reprogramming. They found that the expression of GATA6, a protein that plays an important role in gut, lung and heart development, was repressed in the reprogrammed cells compared to the control cells. This repression led to an increase in the activity of a protein essential to embryonic development called sonic hedgehog (SHH) as well as the expression level of yet another protein, FOXP1, necessary for proper development of the brain, heart and lung. “Thus, we identified the GATA6/SHH/FOXP1 pathway as a key mechanism that regulates MSC aging and rejuvenation,” Dr. Li said. “Identification of the GATA6/SHH/FOXP1 pathway in controlling the aging of MSCs is a very important accomplishment.” Said Dr. Jan Nolta, Editor-in-Chief of STEM CELLS. “Premature aging can thwart the ability to expand these promising cells while maintaining function for clinical use, and enhanced knowledge about the pathways that control differentiation and senescence is highly valuable.” To determine which of the Yamanaka transcription factors (four reprogramming genes used to derive iPSCs) were involved in repressing GATA6 in the iPSCs, the team analyzed GATA6 expression in response to the knockdown of each factor. This yielded the information that only OCT4 and KLF4 are able to regulate GATA6 activity, a finding consistent with that of several previous studies. “Overall, we were able to demonstrate that SF-MSCs undergo substantial changes in properties and functions as a result of cellular reprogramming. These changes in iPSC-MSCs collectively indicate amelioration of cell aging. Most significantly, we were able to identify the GATA6/SHH/FOXP1 signaling pathway as an underlying mechanism that controls cell aging-related activities,” Dr. Li said. “We believe our findings will help improve the understanding of MSC aging and its significance in regenerative medicine,” he concluded. Reference: “GATA6 regulates aging of human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells” by Hongli Jiao, Brian E. Walczak, Ming‐Song Lee, Madeleine E. Lemieux and Wan‐Ju Li, 30 November 2020, STEM CELLS.DOI: 10.1002/stem.3297
Good COVID News: None of the SARS-CoV-2 Genetic Mutations Appear to Increase Transmissibility - SciTechDaily
None of the mutations currently documented in the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear to increase its transmissibility in humans, according to a study led by University College London researchers. The analysis of virus genomes from over 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 9…
None of the mutations currently documented in the SARS-CoV-2 virus appear to increase its transmissibility in humans, according to a study led by University College London researchers. The analysis of virus genomes from over 46,000 people with COVID-19 from 99 countries is published today (November 25, 2020) in Nature Communications. First and corresponding author Dr. Lucy van Dorp (UCL Genetics Institute) said: “The number of SARS-CoV-2 genomes being generated for scientific research is staggering. We realized early on in the pandemic that we needed new approaches to analyze enormous amounts of data in close to real time to flag new mutations in the virus that could affect its transmission or symptom severity. “Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making COVID-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out.” Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are a type of RNA virus, which can all develop mutations in three different ways: by mistake from copying errors during viral replication, through interactions with other viruses infecting the same cell (recombination or reassortment), or they can be induced by host RNA modification systems which are part of host immunity (e.g. a person’s own immune system). Most mutations are neutral, while others can be advantageous or detrimental to the virus. Both neutral and advantageous mutations can become more common as they get passed down to descendant viruses. The research team from UCL, Cirad and the Université de la Réunion, and the University of Oxford, analyzed a global dataset of virus genomes from 46,723 people with COVID-19, collected up until the end of July 2020. The researchers have so far identified 12,706 mutations in SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. For 398 of the mutations, there is strong evidence that they have occurred repeatedly and independently. Of those, the researchers honed in on 185 mutations which have occurred at least three times independently during the course of the pandemic. To test if the mutations increase transmission of the virus, the researchers modeled the virus’s evolutionary tree, and analyzed whether a particular mutation was becoming increasingly common within a given branch of the evolutionary tree — that is, testing whether, after a mutation first develops in a virus, descendants of that virus outperform closely-related SARS-CoV-2 viruses without that particular mutation. The researchers found no evidence that any of the common mutations are increasing the virus’s transmissibility. Instead, they found most common mutations are neutral for the virus. This includes one mutation in the virus spike protein called D614G, which has been widely reported as being a common mutation that may make the virus more transmissible. The new evidence finds that this mutation is in fact not associated with significantly increasing transmission. The researchers found that most of the common mutations appear to have been induced by the human immune system, rather than being the result of the virus adapting to its novel human host. This situation is in contrast with another analysis by the same team of what happened when SARS-CoV-2 later jumped from humans into farmed minks. Dr. van Dorp said: “When we analyzed virus genomes sourced from mink, we were amazed to see the same mutation appearing over and again in different mink farms, despite those same mutations having rarely been observed in humans before.” Lead author Professor Francois Balloux (UCL Genetics Institute) added: “We may well have missed this period of early adaptation of the virus in humans. We previously estimated SARS-CoV-2 jumped into humans in October or November 2019, but the first genomes we have date to the very end of December. By that time, viral mutations crucial for the transmissibility in humans may have emerged and become fixed, precluding us from studying them.” It is only to be expected that a virus will mutate and eventually diverge into different lineages as it becomes more common in human populations, but this does not necessarily imply that any lineages will emerge that are more transmissible or harmful. Dr. van Dorp said: “The virus seems well adapted to transmission among humans, and it may have already reached its fitness optimum in the human host by the time it was identified as a novel virus.” The researchers caution that the imminent introduction of vaccines is likely to exert new selective pressures on the virus to escape recognition by the human immune system. This may lead to the emergence of vaccine-escape mutants. The team stressed that the computational framework they developed should prove useful for the timely identification of possible vaccine-escape mutations. Professor Balloux concluded: “The news on the vaccine front looks great. The virus may well acquire vaccine-escape mutations in the future, but we’re confident we’ll be able to flag them up promptly, which would allow updating the vaccines in time if required.” Reference: 25 November 2020, Nature Communications.DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19818-2 The study was supported by the Newton Fund UK-China NSFC initiative and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Finding water on the Moon - Space News - Particle
Frozen ice has been discovered on the Moon's hot surface? Sounds like lunacy!
Frozen ice has been discovered on the Moon's hot surface? Sounds like lunacy! In late October, NASA announced astronomers had found ice on the Moons surface! But wait, didnt we already know that? And why should Australia care? Well, we knew there was ice on the Moons north and south poles, but the rest of the Moons surface was a mystery. Astronomers knew about water-like molecules on the surface, but they werent sure if this was H2O or the molecule OH-, which acts like drain cleaner. Ice, ice baby The NASA announcement was based on two scientific papers. The first paper used a NASA jet called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). SOFIA picks up the infrared light the Moon gets from the Sun and reflects to Earth. Each molecule has a unique way of reflecting light. By studying the infrared light from the Moon, we can tell what molecules are on its surface. A team of astronomers using SOFIA found H2O molecules on the Moons sunny surface by mapping one of the Moons biggest craters, Clavius. SOFIA found roughly enough ice to melt and fill one 360mL bottle per cubic metre. At the same time, another group discovered ice in crater shadows. Sunny side up Dr Sascha Schediwy is a space scientist who studies the Moon. He was hyped when NASA announced news of water on the Moons sunny side. Sascha leads the ICRAR/UWA Astrophotonics Group in Western Australia. This group uses light in different ways to study space. Its a really exciting find. It makes human exploration of the Moon more compelling, Sascha says. Whats amazing about these findings is that astronomers long thought water ice couldnt exist on the Moons sunny surface. The Moon’s sunny surface is also 127°C. That would boil water on Earth, but the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere. This means shadows stay cool enough for ice, while areas nearby are roasting. Quench your thirst with space water So why is ice on the Moon important? Astronauts can drink the water, use it to protect against radiation and turn it into rocket fuel. A large ice deposit on the Moon is like a goldmine on Earth. NASA plans to build a Moon outpost starting in 2024, and theyll need water to do it. Australia’s trip to the Moon Australia will be involved by building launch pads and monitoring stations. Australia should be involved in Moon settlement. We have a geographical advantage in the southern hemisphere. That’s important for activities on the Moons south pole, says Sascha. The Australian Government has set aside a fund of nearly $20 million this year for space businesses. Sascha says Australia should send its own microsatellites to explore the Moon. These satellites could find more outpost sites and expand our space industry. Discovering ice on the Moons surface means were one step closer to humanity exploring and settling the Solar System. I guess this makes ice pretty cool! This article was originally published on Particle. Read the original article.
Antibodies Fade Quickly in Recovering COVID-19 Patients - SciTechDaily
In the absence of approved, effective treatments for COVID-19, some hospitals have been treating patients with severe COVID symptoms with blood plasma from recovering patients. The blood of recovered patients contains antibodies that act against the coronavir…
In the absence of approved, effective treatments for COVID-19, some hospitals have been treating patients with severe COVID symptoms with blood plasma from recovering patients. The blood of recovered patients contains antibodies that act against the coronavirus. While plasma hasn’t yet shown a benefit in randomized trials, some small retrospective studies suggest it may reduce illness severity and reduce hospitalization time. This week in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers report that antibody levels in the blood of COVID-19 patients drop rapidly during the weeks after their bodies have cleared the virus and symptoms have subsided. If convalescent plasma is ultimately shown to have a clear benefit, the authors concluded, then it needs to be collected during a specific window of time after recovery. However, recovering patients can’t donate blood until at least 14 days after symptoms have subsided, to give the body time to clear viral particles. “We don’t want to transfuse the virus, just transfuse the antibodies,” said Andrés Finzi, Ph.D., at the University of Montreal, in Canada. “But at the same time, our work shows that the capacity of the plasma to neutralize viral particles is going down during those first weeks.” The spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 plays a crucial role in helping the virus grab and invade host cells. Antibodies produced by the body’s immune system bind to a part of this protein and block the capacity of this “key” to engage with the host’s cellular “lock”, said Finzi, preventing the viral particle from infecting a cell host. Previous studies suggest that antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein peak 2 or 3 weeks after the onset of symptoms. Findings from an earlier cross-sectional study by Finzi’s group, involving more than 100 patients, suggested that the ability of plasma to neutralize the virus decreased significantly between 3 and 6 weeks after symptom onset. In the new longitudinal study, Finzi and his colleagues analyzed blood samples collected at one-month intervals from 31 individuals recovering from COVID-19. They measured levels of immunoglobulins that act against the coronavirus S protein and tested the ability of the antibodies to neutralize the virus. The researchers observed variation on the level of individual patients but identified a consistent overall signal: The levels of Immunoglobulins G, A, and M that target the binding site decreased between 6 and 10 weeks after symptoms began. During the same time period, the ability of the antibodies to neutralize the virus similarly fell. Finzi’s group has continued to study blood samples from the patients. Understanding how the levels of antibodies change over time, he said, is critical not only for optimizing the use of convalescent plasma but also for understanding vaccine efficacy and whether or not previously infected people are at risk of re-infection. “How long do antibodies protect you?” he asked. Finzi’s other research focuses on the immune response to human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which differs dramatically from SARS-CoV-2. Reference: “Decline of Humoral Responses against SARS-CoV-2 Spike in Convalescent Individuals” by Guillaume Beaudoin-Bussières, Annemarie Laumaea, Sai Priya Anand, Jérémie Prévost, Romain Gasser, Guillaume Goyette, Halima Medjahed, Josée Perreault, Tony Tremblay, Antoine Lewin, Laurie Gokool, Chantal Morrisseau, Philippe Bégin, Cécile Tremblay, Valérie Martel-Laferrière, Daniel E. Kaufmann, Jonathan Richard, Renée Bazin and Andrés Finzi, 16 October 2020, mBio.DOI: 10.1128/mBio.02590-20 ASM is keeping the pulse on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic with the COVID-19 Research Registry of top-ranked research articles curated by experts. In the eye of a pandemic, this curated database will ensure that scientists, journalists and the public have an efficient way to find the timeliest and most valuable SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 research from the latest journal articles and preprints. The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM’s mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences. ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.
Astronomers Surprised by Lingering X-rays Years After Landmark Neutron Star Collision - SciTechDaily
New, most complete start-to-finish view of neutron star merger rewrites the way scientists understand these events. It's been three years since the landmark detection of a neutron star merger from gravitational waves. And since that day, an international team…
An artistic rendition of two neutron stars merging. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State/A. Simonnet New, most complete start-to-finish view of neutron star merger rewrites the way scientists understand these events. It’s been three years since the landmark detection of a neutron star merger from gravitational waves. And since that day, an international team of researchers led by University of Maryland astronomer Eleonora Troja has been continuously monitoring the subsequent radiation emissions to provide the most complete picture of such an event. Their analysis provides possible explanations for X-rays that continued to radiate from the collision long after models predicted they would stop. The study also reveals that current models of neutron stars and compact body collisions are missing important information. The research was published on October 12, 2020, in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Researchers have continuously monitored the radiation emanating from the first (and so far only) cosmic event detected in both gravitational waves and the entire spectrum of light. The neutron star collision detected on August 17, 2017, is seen in this image emanating from galaxy NGC 4993. New analysis provides possible explanations for X-rays that continued to radiate from the collision long after other radiation had faded and way past model predictions. Credit: E. Troja “We are entering a new phase in our understanding of neutron stars,” said Troja, an associate research scientist in UMD’s Department of Astronomy and lead author of the paper. “We really don’t know what to expect from this point forward, because all our models were predicting no X-rays and we were surprised to see them 1,000 days after the collision event was detected. It may take years to find out the answer to what is going on, but our research opens the door to many possibilities. The neutron star merger that Troja’s team studied — GW170817 — was first identified from gravitational waves detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and its counterpart Virgo on August 17, 2017. Within hours, telescopes around the world began observing electromagnetic radiation, including gamma rays and light emitted from the explosion. It was the first and only time astronomers were able to observe the radiation associated with gravity waves, although they long knew such radiation occurs. All other gravity waves observed to date have originated from events too weak and too far away for the radiation to be detected from Earth. Seconds after GW170817 was detected, scientists recorded the initial jet of energy, known as a gamma ray burst, then the slower kilonova, a cloud of gas which burst forth behind the initial jet. Light from the kilonova lasted about three weeks and then faded. Meanwhile, nine days after the gravity wave was first detected, the telescopes observed something they’d not seen before: X-rays. Scientific models based on known astrophysics predicted that as the initial jet from a neutron star collision moves through interstellar space, it creates its own shockwave, which emits X-rays, radio waves and light. This is known as the afterglow. But such an afterglow had never been observed before. In this case, the afterglow peaked around 160 days after the gravity waves were detected and then rapidly faded away. But the X-rays remained. They were last observed by the Chandra X-ray Observatory two and a half years after GW170817 was first detected. The new research paper suggests a few possible explanations for the long-lived X-ray emissions. One possibility is that these X-rays represent a completely new feature of a collision’s afterglow, and the dynamics of a gamma ray burst are somehow different than expected. “Having a collision so close to us that it’s visible opens a window into the whole process that we rarely have access to,” said Troja, who is also a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It may be there are physical processes we have not included in our models because they’re not relevant in the earlier stages that we are more familiar with, when the jets form.” Another possibility is that the kilonova and the expanding gas cloud behind the initial jet of radiation may have created their own shock wave that took longer to reach Earth. “We saw the kilonova, so we know this gas cloud is there, and the X-rays from its shock wave may just be reaching us,” said Geoffrey Ryan, a postdoctoral associate in the UMD Department of Astronomy and a co-author of the study. “But we need more data to understand if that’s what we’re seeing. If it is, it may give us a new tool, a signature of these events that we haven’t recognized before. That may help us find neutron star collisions in previous records of X-ray radiation.” A third possibility is that something may have been left behind after the collision, perhaps the remnant of an X-ray emitting neutron star. Much more analysis is needed before researchers can confirm exactly where the lingering X-rays came from. Some answers may come in December 2020, when the telescopes will once again be aimed at the source of GW170817. (The last observation was in February 2020.) “This may be the last breath of a historical source or the beginning of a new story, in which the signal brightens up again in the future and may remain visible for decades or even centuries,” Troja said. “Whatever happens, this event is changing what we know about neutron star mergers and rewriting our models.” Reference: “A thousand days after the merger: continued X-ray emission from GW170817” by E. Troja, H. van Eerten, B. Zhang, G. Ryan, L. Piro, R. Ricci, B. O’Connor, M. H. Wieringa, S. B. Cenko and T. Sakamoto, 12 October 12 2020, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.DOI: 10.1093/mnras/staa2626 Additional authors of the paper from the UMD Department of Astronomy are Faculty Assistant Brendan O’Connor and Adjunct Associate Professor Stephen Cenko. This work was partially supported by NASA (Chandra Award Nos. G0920071A, NNX16AB66G, NNX17AB18G, and 80NSSC20K0389.), the Joint Space-Science Institute Prize Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme (Award No. 871158). The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.
Scientists Precisely Measure Total Amount of Matter & Dark Energy in the Entire Universe - SciTechDaily
UC Riverside-led team's technique relied on determining the mass of galaxy clusters. A top goal in cosmology is to precisely measure the total amount of matter in the universe, a daunting exercise for even the most mathematically proficient. A team led by sci…
UC Riverside-led team’s technique relied on determining the mass of galaxy clusters. A top goal in cosmology is to precisely measure the total amount of matter in the universe, a daunting exercise for even the most mathematically proficient. A team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has now done just that. Reporting in the Astrophysical Journal, the team determined that matter makes up 31% of the total amount of matter and energy in the universe, with the remainder consisting of dark energy. “To put that amount of matter in context, if all the matter in the universe were spread out evenly across space, it would correspond to an average mass density equal to only about six hydrogen atoms per cubic meter,” said first author Mohamed Abdullah, a graduate student in the UCR Department of Physics and Astronomy. “However, since we know 80% of matter is actually dark matter, in reality, most of this matter consists not of hydrogen atoms but rather of a type of matter which cosmologists don’t yet understand.” The team determined that matter makes up about 31% of the total amount of matter and energy in the universe. Cosmologists believe about 20% of the total matter is made of regular — or “baryonic” matter — which includes stars, galaxies, atoms, and life, while about 80% is made of dark matter, whose mysterious nature is not yet known but may consist of some as-yet-undiscovered subatomic particle. Credit: Mohamed Abdullah, UC Riverside Abdullah explained that one well-proven technique for determining the total amount of matter in the universe is to compare the observed number and mass of galaxy clusters per unit volume with predictions from numerical simulations. Because present-day galaxy clusters have formed from matter that has collapsed over billions of years under its own gravity, the number of clusters observed at the present time is very sensitive to cosmological conditions and, in particular, the total amount of matter. “A higher percentage of matter would result in more clusters,” Abdullah said. “The ‘Goldilocks’ challenge for our team was to measure the number of clusters and then determine which answer was ‘just right.’ But it is difficult to measure the mass of any galaxy cluster accurately because most of the matter is dark so we can’t see it with telescopes.” To overcome this difficulty, the UCR-led team of astronomers first developed “GalWeight,” a cosmological tool to measure the mass of a galaxy cluster using the orbits of its member galaxies. The researchers then applied their tool to observations from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to create “GalWCat19,” a publicly available catalog of galaxy clusters. Finally, they compared the number of clusters in their new catalog with simulations to determine the total amount of matter in the universe. Like Goldilocks, the team compared the number of galaxy clusters they measured with predictions from numerical simulations to determine which answer was “just right.” Credit: Mohamed Abdullah, UC Riverside “We have succeeded in making one of the most precise measurements ever made using the galaxy cluster technique,” said coauthor Gillian Wilson, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCR in whose lab Abdullah works. “Moreover, this is the first use of the galaxy orbit technique which has obtained a value in agreement with those obtained by teams who used noncluster techniques such as cosmic microwave background anisotropies, baryon acoustic oscillations, Type Ia supernovae, or gravitational lensing.” “A huge advantage of using our GalWeight galaxy orbit technique was that our team was able to determine a mass for each cluster individually rather than rely on more indirect, statistical methods,” said the third coauthor Anatoly Klypin, an expert in numerical simulations and cosmology. By combining their measurement with those from the other teams that used different techniques, the UCR-led team was able to determine a best combined value, concluding that matter makes up 31.5±1.3% of the total amount of matter and energy in the universe. Reference: “Cosmological Constraints on Ωm and σ8 from Cluster Abundances using the GalWCat19 Optical-spectroscopic SDSS Catalog” by Mohamed H. Abdullah, Anatoly Klypin and Gillian Wilson, 25 September 2020, Astrophysical Journal.DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aba619 The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA.
New Electronic Skin Can React to Pain Like Human Skin – For Better Prosthetics and Smarter Robots - SciTechDaily
Prototype device electronically replicates the way human skin senses pain. Researchers have developed electronic artificial skin that reacts to pain just like real skin, opening the way to better prosthetics, smarter robotics and non-invasive alternatives to …
A concept image of electronic skin that can sense touch, pain, and heat. Credit: Ella Maru Studio Prototype device electronically replicates the way human skin senses pain. Researchers have developed electronic artificial skin that reacts to pain just like real skin, opening the way to better prosthetics, smarter robotics and non-invasive alternatives to skin grafts. The prototype device developed by a team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, can electronically replicate the way human skin senses pain. The device mimics the body’s near-instant feedback response and can react to painful sensations with the same lighting speed that nerve signals travel to the brain. Lead researcher Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said the pain-sensing prototype was a significant advance towards next-generation biomedical technologies and intelligent robotics. “Skin is our body’s largest sensory organ, with complex features designed to send rapid-fire warning signals when anything hurts,” Bhaskaran said. We’re sensing things all the time through the skin but our pain response only kicks in at a certain point, like when we touch something too hot or too sharp. “No electronic technologies have been able to realistically mimic that very human feeling of pain — until now. “Our artificial skin reacts instantly when pressure, heat, or cold reach a painful threshold. It’s a critical step forward in the future development of the sophisticated feedback systems that we need to deliver truly smart prosthetics and intelligent robotics.” The skin-like sensing prototype device, made with stretchable electronics. Credit: RMIT University Functional sensing prototypes As well as the pain-sensing prototype, the research team has also developed devices using stretchable electronics that can sense and respond to changes in temperature and pressure. Bhaskaran, co-leader of the Functional Materials and Microsystems group at RMIT, said the three functional prototypes were designed to deliver key features of the skin’s sensing capability in electronic form. With further development, the stretchable artificial skin could also be a future option for non-invasive skin grafts, where the traditional approach is not viable or not working. “We need further development to integrate this technology into biomedical applications but the fundamentals — biocompatibility, skin-like stretchability — are already there,” Bhaskaran said. The functional prototypes developed by the RMIT University team deliver the key features of the skin’s sensing capability in electronic form. Credit: RMIT University How to make electronic skin The new research, published in Advanced Intelligent Systems and filed as a provisional patent, combines three technologies previously pioneered and patented by the team:
- Stretchable electronics: combining oxide materials with biocompatible silicon to deliver transparent, unbreakable and wearable electronics as thin as a sticker.
- Temperature-reactive coatings: self-modifying coatings 1,000 times thinner than a human hair based on a material that transforms in response to heat.
- Brain-mimicking memory: electronic memory cells that imitate the way the brain uses long-term memory to recall and retain previous information.
Laser-Etched Metal Purifies Contaminated Water Using Sunlight With Greater Than 100% Efficiency - SciTechDaily
By etching metal with ultrashort laser bursts, Rochester researchers demonstrate a way to purify water without wasting energy. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people in developed countries are assured of ample supplies of clean water to wash their hands as oft…
A laser-etched, energy absorbing, water wicking metal surface, continually angled directly at the sun, provides a cheap, efficient way to purify water from sunlight. The technology was developed by the lab of Chunei Guo at the University of Rochester. Credit: H.M. Cao/University of Rochester By etching metal with ultrashort laser bursts, Rochester researchers demonstrate a way to purify water without wasting energy. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people in developed countries are assured of ample supplies of clean water to wash their hands as often as needed to protect themselves from the virus. And yet, nearly a third of the world’s population is not even assured of clean water for drinking. University of Rochester researchers have now found a way to address this problem by using sunlight—a resource that everyone can access—to evaporate and purify contaminated water with greater than 100 percent efficiency. How is this possible? In a paper in Nature Sustainability, researchers in the laboratory of Chunlei Guo, professor of optics, demonstrate how a burst of femtosecond laser pulses etch the surface of a normal sheet of aluminum into a superwicking (water-attracting), super energy-absorbing material. When placed in water at an angle facing the sun, the surface:
- Draws a thin film of water upwards over the metal’s surface
- Retains nearly 100 percent of the energy it absorbs from the sun to quickly heat the water
- Simultaneously changes the inter-molecular bonds of the water, significantly increasing the efficiency of the evaporation process even further.
Heatwave Trends Accelerate Worldwide – More and Longer Heatwaves Since 1950’s - SciTechDaily
The first comprehensive worldwide assessment of heatwaves down to regional levels has revealed that in nearly every part of the world heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950’s. The research published in Nature Communications ha…
The first comprehensive worldwide assessment of heatwaves down to regional levels has revealed that in nearly every part of the world heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950’s. The research published in Nature Communications has also produced a new metric, cumulative heat, which reveals exactly how much heat is packed into individual heatwaves and heatwave seasons. As expected, that number is also on the rise. In Australia’s worst heatwave season, an additional 80°C of cumulative heat was experienced across the country. In Russia and the Mediterranean, their most extreme seasons baked in an additional 200°C or more. “Not only have we seen more and longer heatwaves worldwide over the past 70 years, but this trend has markedly accelerated,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Perkins Kirkpatrick from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. “Cumulative heat shows a similar acceleration, increasing globally on average by 1°C-4.5°C each decade but in some places, like the Middle East, and parts of Africa and South America, the trend is up to 10°C a decade.” The only heatwave metric that hasn’t seen an acceleration is heatwave intensity, which measures the average temperature across heatwaves. This is because globally we see more heatwave days and heatwaves are lasting longer. When the average temperature is measured across longer heatwaves any shifts in intensity are almost undetectable. Only southern Australia and small areas of Africa and South America show a detectable increase in average heatwave intensity. The study also identified that natural variability impacts on heatwaves can be large at regional levels. This variability can overwhelm heatwave trends, so regional trends shorter than a few decades are generally not reliable. To detect robust trend changes, the researchers looked at how the trends had changed over multi-decade intervals between 1950-2017. The changes were stark. For example, the Mediterranean, saw a dramatic uptick in heatwaves when measured over multi-decade spans. From 1950-2017, the Mediterranean saw an increase in heatwaves by two days a decade. But the trend from 1980 to 2017 had seen that accelerate to 6.4 days a decade. The regional approach also showed how the trends vary. Regions like the Amazon, north east Brazil, west Asia and the Mediterranean are experiencing rapid changes in heatwaves while areas like South Australia and North Asia are still seeing changes but at a slower rate. However, no matter whether these changes are rapid or slow, it seems inevitable that vulnerable nations with less infrastructure will be hit hardest by extreme heat. “Climate scientists have long forecast that a clear sign of global warming would be seen with a change in heatwaves,” said Dr Perkins Kirkpatrick. “The dramatic region-by-region change in heatwaves we have witnessed over the past 70 years and the rapid increase in the number of these events, are unequivocal indicators that global warming is now with us and accelerating. “This research is just the latest piece of evidence that should act as a clarion call to policymakers that urgent action is needed now if we are to prevent the worst outcomes of global warming. The time for inaction is over.” Reference: “Increasing trends in regional heatwaves” by S. E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick and S. C. Lewis, 3 July 2020, Nature Communications.DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16970-7