Have authorities lost their minds in planning to release 100,000 mosquitoes into Ecuador? No! The mosquitoes were sterilized with radiation, and their infusion into the natural populations on the Galápagos Islands may reduce disease transmission. So, relax and read about giant ants, new spacesuits, and water in the universe.
Researchers made a complete map of every nerve cell and their connections in a fruit fly brain. Exhibiting 548,000 connections, this “brain connectome” is a landmark, surpassing previous connectomes from other animals. Although the brain came from a baby fruit fly, it took 12 years to slice up and image the whole thing — another step towards mapping the human brain someday.
NASA releases new spacesuit designs for Artemis III Moon mission
It’s all about the dress, say some. For NASA astronauts, it’s all about the spacesuit, and the debut design takes into account that the first woman to walk on the Moon in the Artemis III Moon Surface Mission will wear it. See the unveiling of the spacesuit HERE in a ceremony that looks distinctly unlike any fashion show.
“And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” is followed by a description of the suit’s headlights and HD-video camera attached to the helmet bubble; the mobility joints in the arms and legs; the portable life support backpack; and how the boots will keep the astronaut’s feet warm in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon. Explains NASA’s Lara Kearney, “NASA is…leveraging industry capabilities and NASA’s expertise to provide moonwalking services as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible.”
Check out some of the international reactions to the prototype, including “Where can I buy this?”, “Super Classy space suit”, and, “it’s LITERALLY a fortnite skin.” OK, so it looks cool too, but function is definitely the focus.
Researchers unearth giant flying ant fossil in Canada
A decade ago, these giant ants were named Titanomyrma, based on a specimen discovered in Wyoming. Rivaling hummingbirds with 6-inch wingspans, they were flying around Eocene habitats 50 million years ago, with a specimen found in Germany as well. And a new study announces a fossil Titanomyrma in BC, Canada.
Wait, flying? The fossils are from queen ants who, like ants today, sported wings for their nuptial flights to find a mate and, well, you know. After ants do it, the mated queens chew off their wings and start a colony comprised of their daughters. The males pull a Romeo (they die).
While the gigantic ant fossil from Canada may help explain how Titanomyrma traveled between Germany and Wyoming, it also leaves scientists scratching their heads. Giant ants favor warm climates, and the Canadian Arctic was not very warm, even then. Says study author Bruce Archibald, “Understanding how life dispersed among the northern continents in a very different climate 50 million years ago in part explains patterns of animal and plant distribution that we see today.”
Newly discovered "pioneer peptide" may have sparked life on Earth
How life on Earth started is an ongoing scientific mystery. Life’s origin requires carbon-based molecules and liquid water, which may have been delivered to Earth by comets or asteroids. Still, it needs an energy source, which could not have been the Sun before the advent of photosynthesis. Now, a new study adds a piece to the puzzle.
Says study author Vikas Nanda, “Scientists believe that sometime between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years ago there was a tipping point, something that kickstarted the change from prebiotic chemistry — molecules before life — to living, biological systems.” The energy source for the first microbes was likely hydrogen, and these researchers created a peptide that can produce hydrogen under a range of conditions.
This “Nickelback” peptide binds the element nickel, which was abundant in early oceans. And the peptide’s structure is so simple (with just 13 amino acids) that it could “have emerged spontaneously,” write the study authors. As we search for incipient life on other planets, we now have another target — the Nickelback peptide.
Water is nonnegotiable in a planet’s suitability for life. Yet, scientists still puzzle over how water got to Earth. The prevailing hypothesis is that asteroids or comets from the icy outer solar system delivered water. A 2019 study reported the findings that a comet (Wirtanen) observed by NASA’s stratospheric observatory (SOFIA), contained water with an ocean-like composition.
But things melt as they transit the solar system — from collisions, decay of radioactive isotopes, and friction with the atmosphere if they hurtle towards Earth. As frozen balls of ice interspersed with rock and chemicals, comets leave vaporized melt-tails as they streak along.
So, the ice on a space object becomes water, but may not persist for long enough to reach Earth. A recent analysis shows that even meteorites from the outer solar system have extremely low water content, therefore ruling out melted meteorites as the water carriers.
That’s not to say that the solar system is dry. Explains study author Megan Newcombe, "Getting water and having surface oceans on a planet that is small and relatively near the Sun is a challenge," despite the many places where water exists or used to exist (NASA describes the Solar System as “awash in water.”).
Planetary scientists recently announced the discovery of a relict glacier near Mars’s equator, evidence of recent surface water there. Says study author Pascal Lee, “It is possible that all the glacier's water ice has sublimated away by now. But there's also a chance that some of it might still be protected at shallow depth under the sulfate salts,” a potential boon for humans colonizing Mars.
Regardless, a flood of evidence reveals frozen water at both of Mars’ poles. Radar data from the 2018 European Mars spacecraft (MARSIS) suggested a lake buried a mile under its South Pole.
A new study of the icy South Pole shows how water and carbon dioxide have traversed its surface over half a million years as Mars’s position relative to the Sun shifted. Says study author Peter Buhler, "Mars experiences 100,000-year cycles in which its poles vary from tilting more toward or away from the Sun… Water ice moves from warmer to colder regions during these cycles” Maybe liquid water on Mars is just a matter of time.
Many planets are water-rich or once were. The gas giants — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — are thought to contain abundant water. And, data from the Atacama telescope (ALMA) indicate that water formed billions of years before our Sun. The recent study found water similar in composition to Earth’s water in the disk around a young star in the Orion constellation.
The researchers traced water’s trajectory from protostar to protoplanetary disk to comets, see HERE. Study author Merel van ‘t’ Hoff explains, “Our results show that this water got directly incorporated into the Solar System during its formation.”
So, we are closing in on the origins of Earth’s vital water.
Next time we’ll follow whales to some strange places that they’re ending up.
Written by Devin Reese, Edited by Jake Currie
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