De-Extinction - Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life
Within the next several years, we will have the ability to bring extinct animals like the wooly mammoth or the passenger pigeon or the European auroch back to life. Unlike the silly fiction of Jurassic Park and its “dino DNA!!!” in a fossilized mosquito, we have uncovered nearly intact mammoth remains in Siberian permafrost. We have their genome … we can rebuild them.
But should we? Is this a world that a mammoth, or countless other extinct species targeted for de-extinction, belongs in? Who decides what belongs where, or rather when? Should we direct these efforts toward saving today’s endangered species instead?
There’s a lot of questions to answer. Luckily National Geographic has put together an entire issue and online collection on the subject, digging into the technology, the pros and the cons, and the very human motivations behind even asking these questions. It’s highly recommended reading.
What do you think?
Source: National Geographic
Asteroid Threat Collides with Earthly Budget Realities in Congress
In the wake of last month’s meteor strike in Russia and a close asteroid flyby on the same day, members of Congress asked NASA, White House and Air Force officials what they’re doing to combat the threat of near-Earth asteroids during a hearing today (March 19) on Capitol Hill.
By and large, the experts stressed that the two space rock events were a coincidence and that the chance of a catastrophic asteroid impact to Earth any time soon is remote. On Feb. 15, a surprise meteor exploded in the sky over Russia’s Ural Mountains, just hours before the 150-foot-wide (40 meters) asteroid 2012 DA14 flew close by Earth in a pass that had been predicted beforehand by scientists.
“The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive causalities and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large that it makes sense to take the risk seriously,” John Holdren, science advisor to President Barack Obama, told the Science, Space and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Still, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said it was “not reassuring” to learn that NASA has so far detected only about 10 percent of the near-Earth objects that are wider than 459 feet (140 meters) across. Holdren estimated that there may be hundreds of thousands of such objects within one-third the distance from Earth to the sun that remain unknown.
In 2005, Congress directed NASA to detect, track and characterize 90 percent of these space rocks —those near-Earth asteroids larger than 459 feet feet (140 m). The space agency’s chief, Charles Bolden, said today that NASA was unlikely to meet that deadline given its current budget.
“Our estimate right now is at the present budget levels it will be 2030 before we’re able to reach the 90 percent level as prescribed by Congress,” Bolden said.
Bolden criticized the lawmakers for slowing NASA down through budget cuts. “You all told us to do something, and between the administration and the Congress, the bottom line is the funding did not come,” Bolden said.
Furthermore, he said the goal of finding a way to respond to asteroid threats has been repeatedly put off by lawmakers who cite a lack of money.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) asked what NASA would do if a large asteroid headed on a collision course with Earth was discovered today with only three weeks before impact.
“The answer to you is, ‘if it’s coming in three weeks, pray,’” Bolden said. “The reason I can’t do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off.”
Budget concerns also hamper the military’s ability to monitor near-Earth objects and other space threats, such as orbital debris (defunct satellites and spent rocket stages that litter Earth orbit).
“We are clearly less capable under sequestration,” Gen. William Shelton, the current commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, told the committee. He said that any further budget cuts could have dire consequences.
“Our dependence on space, not only for our way of life but also for military operations, is very high, so we would sacrifice that,” Shelton said.
This story was updated at 4:56 p.m. ET to correct the size of large near-Earth asteroids (459 feet, or about 140 meters) NASA seeks to identify under its 2005 congressional mandate.
Lasers Can Affect an Atom’s Spin
Weizmann Institute researchers suggest one can affect an atom’s spin by adjusting the way it is measured.
One of the most basic laws of quantum mechanics is that a system can be in more than one state – it can exist in multiple realities – at once. This phenomenon, known as the superposition principle, exists only so long as the system is not observed or measured in any way. As soon as such a system is measured, its superposition collapses into a single state. Thus, we, who are constantly observing and measuring, experience the world around us as existing in a single reality.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2013/03/lasers-can-affect-atoms-spin
Hopefully tonight the Soyuz TMA-06M will be able to land, yesterday’s attempt was canceled due to bad weather in Kazakhstan. Here’s tonight’s schedule:
- Hatch closure: 4:25 pm ET (1:25 pm PT)
- Undocking from ISS: 7:43 pm ET (4:43 pm PT)
- Deorbit burn: 10:13 pm ET (7:13 pm PT)
- landing near Arkalyk, Kazakhstan: 11:05 pm ET (8:05 pm PT)You can watch here, all going well.
As demonstrated in the video above, lasers can be used to excite molecules into a higher energy state, which will decay via the emission of photons, causing the medium to glow. This laser-induced fluorescence is utilized in several techniques for measurements in fluid dynamics, including planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) and molecular tagging velocimetry (MTV). In these techniques a flow is usually seeded with a fluorescing material—nitric oxide is popular for super- and hypersonic flows—and then lasers are used to excite a slice of the flow field. The resulting fluorescence can be used for both qualitative and quantitative flow measurements. Here are a couple of examples, one in low-Reynolds number flow and one in combustion. (Video credit: L. Martin et al./UC Berkeley)
The announcement this week that Mars definitely could have supported some form of life in the ancient past is an unmistakable reminder that future missions to the Red Planet should focus on bringing Martian rock samples back to Earth, a celebrated planetary scientist says.
NASA unveiled the discovery on Tuesday (March 12) with a bold announcement that Mars could have supported primitive life at some point billions of years ago. The Martian find was made with the help of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, the largest rover ever to explore the Red Planet. But in order to create a clear picture of the story of habitability and life on Mars, scientists will need to get their hands on fresh samples of the planet collected by an ambitious future mission.
“On the one hand, it shows what we can do with instruments on the surface of Mars,” Bruce Betts, the director of projects at the Planetary Society, told SPACE.com. “We’ll always be able to do more with our labs on Earth than what we can do on Mars.”
The Curiosity rover was able to bore into a Martian rock and find evidence of a habitable environment, but more comprehensive work can be done in labs on Earth, Betts said.
For this reason, scientists like Betts have campaigned to have sample return added as non-negotiable for the next mission to the Red Planet.
NASA is taking the concept seriously. Sample return is at the top of the space agency’s list when planning for missions to Mars in the next decade, Betts added. NASA has placed it as the highest priority for any new missions to the Red Planet.
“You want rocks that are carefully collected,” Betts said.
It’s important to know exactly where the rocks are coming from, Betts said. If scientists know the context in which the rocks were found, it will help them analyze them in a broader context.
Although there are no solid plans to build sample return into a mission currently in development, future NASA missions are using other means to investigate the Martian interior and exterior.
The MAVEN mission — a Mars orbiter launching later this year — will investigate the ionosphere of the Red Planet to see how carbon dioxide, oxygen and other compounds could have dissipated over time, leaving Mars with the cold, arid atmosphere scientists see today.
NASA’s InSight Mars is a lander that will burrow deep into the Martian dirt to learn more about the planet’s geological evolution. It is on track to launch in 2016. The agency is also planning to launch a new Mars rover in 2020, but it won’t have the capability for sample return.
Europe and Russia are also planning new Mars missions together, including an orbiter and the ExoMars rover.
NASA’s announcement on Tuesday means that astronomers are one step closer to understanding what a primitive Mars could have looked like, something that missions in the future will help clarify, Betts added.
“I think the findings like today’s continue to increase the interest in Mars as a complex and interesting place,” Betts said.
image 1: Artist’s view of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) ascent module lifting off from Mars’ surface with the Martian soil samples. credit: ESA
image 2: Rendezvous above Mars. This artist’s view of the proposed Mars Sample Return mission shows an orbiting sample container loaded with martian rock and soil specimens lining up for capture by an Earth return vehicle. credit: NASA/JPL
Giant Alien Planet in Supersized Solar System May Solve Mystery
The glowing atmosphere of a strangely giant alien world could help solve mysteries of not just how it formed, but how our own solar system arose, scientists say.
The exoplanet discovery comes from the most detailed look yet at the alien planets around the distant star HR 8799, which lies about 130 light-years from Earth. The HR 8799 system is home to four giant planets orbiting a relatively young, 30-million-year-old star, with each planet far larger than any world found in Earth’s solar system.
The planets orbiting HR 8799 weigh in at between five to 10 times the mass of Jupiter and are still glowing with the heat of their formation, allowing researchers to directly image them.
“It’s the only system in which multiple planets can individually be seen,” said study co-author Bruce Macintosh, an astronomer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
The planetary system resembles a scaled-up version of our solar system, suggesting there may be smaller Earth-size planets closer in, although the researchers currently have not yet seen any.
It even “has something that kind of looks like maybe an asteroid belt interior to the closest giant planet like we have in our solar system, and something that maybe you can refer to as an Oort cloud analog out beyond the most distant gas giant” — that is, a cloud of icy comets, said study lead author Quinn Konopacky, an astronomer at the University of Toronto.
Exoplanet’s atmosphere revealed
The astronomers concentrated on one of the star’s visible planets, named HR 8799c, a colossal gas giant about seven times the mass of Jupiter. It circles the star HR 8799 at a range comparable to Pluto’s distance from the sun.
The birth of such a massive planet at such a great distance from its parent star conflicts with the two popular models of planetary formation. In the multistep process known as core accretion, gas slowly accumulates onto a planetary core, while the mechanism known as gravitational instability involves the simultaneous creation of a planet’s interior and atmosphere.
“In the traditional core accretion model of planet formation, it is difficult to form planets as large as the HR 8799 planets at such large distances from their parent star,” Konopacky told SPACE.com. “Typically, in this model, objects the size of Jupiter or larger must form much closer to their parent star. This is for several reasons, but has a lot to do with there being less material at large distances from the star that can form planets.”
“In the gravitational instability method of formation, it is possible to form big planets at large distances, usually because they invoke a much more massive disc of material,” Konopacky added. “But the model generally predicts that there should be many more massive objects orbiting lots of other stars at these distances, and these kinds of objects have not been discovered in surveys [of many stars for exoplanets].”
To help solve this mystery, the scientists analyzed the glow from HR 8799c using a high-resolution imaging spectrograph called OSIRIS at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Molecules in atmospheres can absorb light, resulting in patterns known as spectra that allow scientists to identify what they are.
HR8799c is both fairly bright and located a fair distance from its star, helping the researchers acquire this spectral data for the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-like planet beyond the solar system.
“The most exciting part of this result is that we were able to make these observations of an exoplanet atmosphere with this level of detail, much more than I even imagined was possible,” Konopacky said. “We have broken the light from the planet down to such a fine level of detail that the chemical fingerprints of the molecules in the atmosphere are breathtakingly sharp and distinct. This is important because it requires data of this quality to truly probe the makeup of a planetary atmosphere, and in turn, say something about how the planet formed.”
image 1: This artist’s rendering of the planetary system of HR 8799 130 light-years from Earth as it may have appeared at an early stage in its evolution. The image shows the giant exoplanet HR 8799c, as well as a disk of gas and dust, and interior planets. Image added March 14, 2013.
credit: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm
image 2: One of the discovery images of the supersized alien solar system around the star HR 8799, about 130 light-years from Earth, obtained by the Keck II telescope using an adaptive optics system and NIRC2 Near-Infrared Imager. The rectangle indicates the field-of view of the OSIRIS instrument. Image added March 14, 2013.
credit: RC-HIA, C. Marois & Keck Observatory
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