Researchers have found an aquatic environment on the Earth with complete absence of any forms of life, an advance that may lead to an improved understanding of the limits of habitability. The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, revealed that any form of microbial life was absent in the hot, saline, hyperacid ponds of the Dallol geothermal field in Ethiopia. The researchers, including those from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), said Dallol’s landscape extends over a volcanic crater full of salt, constantly releasing toxic gases with water boiling in the midst of the intense hydrothermal activity.
They said it is one of the most torrid environments on the planet with daily temperatures in winter exceeding 45 degrees Celsius.
The landscape, the researchers said, had abundant hypersaline and hyperacid pools, with pH — which is measured on a scale from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline) — even hitting the negative mark.
Earlier studies had pointed that certain microorganisms can develop in this multi-extreme environment and researchers presented the place as an example of the limits of conditions that can support life.
The researchers said the place was even proposed as a terrestrial analogue of early Mars.
“After analysing many more samples than in previous works, with adequate controls so as not to contaminate them and a well-calibrated methodology, we have verified that there’s no microbial life in these salty, hot and hyperacid pools or in the adjacent magnesium-rich brine lakes,” said study co-author Purificacion Lopez Garcia from FECYT.
The researchers found great diversity of a type of primitive salt-loving microorganisms in the desert, and the saline canyons around the hydrothermal site but not in the hyperacid and hypersaline pools, nor in the Black and Yellow lakes of Dallol which are rich in magnesium.
“And all this despite the fact that microbial dispersion in this area, due to the wind and to human visitors, is intense,” Lopez Garcia said.
The researchers confirmed the findings with several other methods including a large scale sequencing of genetic markers to detect and classify microorganisms, microbial culture attempts, using fluorescent probes to identify individual cells, chemical analysis of the hypersaline waters.
They also used scanning electron microscopy and X-ray spectroscopy to probe into the water samples looking for signs of life.
According to the researchers, the study helps in understanding the limits of habitability, and presents evidence that there are places even on the Earth’s surface which are sterile though they contain liquid water.
They said the presence of liquid water on a planet — which is often used as a habitability criterion — does not directly imply the presence of life.
thanks: News Nation
dedicated by: Kavignar Thanigai
An unmanned X-37B space plane landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday, wrapping up a record 780 days in orbit, the US Air Force said Sunday. The mission breaks the mysterious plane’s own record by spending more than two years in space.
“The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable space plane,” secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said in a statement.
Altogether, the program, which has at least two of the reusable planes, has spent 2,865 days in space over the course of five missions, the Air Force said. The fifth mission launched on Sept. 7, 2017.
The Boeing-built space planes resemble a smaller version of NASA’s old space shuttles and have a similar re-entry trajectory that uses a runway, like the old shuttles. They feature a small payload bay and use a deployable solar array for power.
The 11,000-pound vehicle is about 29 feet long with a wingspan of just under 15 feet and was designed to stay in orbit for 270 days. It was originally a NASA program, with roots in the space agency’s lifting-body research, that ran from 1999 to 2004. The X-37B is designed to serve as a platform for experiments and to offer insights on transporting satellite sensors and other equipment to and from space.
The X-37B made its first flight in 2010. A second model took off on its first mission in 2011.
An unmanned X-37B space plane landed Sunday after more than two years in orbit.
Because the program is classified, the Air Force reveals few details about the exact nature of the experiments. The current mission hosted the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, an experiment designed to “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment,” according to an Air Force statement.
thanks to Washington post
dedicated by: Kavignar Thanigai.
thanks: DD news
In an “incredibly exciting” finding, astronomers have for the first time discovered water in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star outside our solar system with Earth-like temperatures that could support life.
K2-18b, which is eight times the mass of Earth, is now the only exoplanet known to have both water and temperatures that could be potentially habitable, according to the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. The planet orbits the cool dwarf star K2-18, which is about 110 light years from the Earth in the Leo constellation, noted the researchers who used data from ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope.
The discovery is the first successful atmospheric detection for an exoplanet orbiting in its star’s ‘habitable zone’, at a distance where water can exist in liquid form, they said. “Finding water in a potentially habitable world other than Earth is incredibly exciting,” said first author Angelos Tsiaras from the University College London (UCL) in the UK. “K2-18b is not ‘Earth 2.0’ as it is significantly heavier and has a different atmospheric composition. However, it brings us closer to answering the fundamental question: Is the Earth unique?” said Tsiaras.
The team used archive data from 2016 and 2017 captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and developed open-source algorithms to analyse the starlight filtered through K2-18b’s atmosphere. The results revealed the molecular signature of water vapour, also indicating the presence of hydrogen and helium in the planet’s atmosphere, researchers said. They believe that other molecules including nitrogen and methane may be present but, with current observations, they remain undetectable.
“This is the coolest exoplanet that we’ve detected water in. While not a true Earth-analogue due to its size, this bodes well for our exploration of small planets,” Josh Lothringer, who studies exoplanet atmospheres at Johns Hopkins University in the US, said on Twitter. “K2-18b receives only 5 per cent more radiation than the Earth, leaving it with an equilibrium temperature of 265 K (minus 8 degrees Celsius),” Lothringer wrote in the tweet.
Further studies are required to estimate cloud coverage and the percentage of atmospheric water present, the researchers said. The researchers noted that given the high level of activity of its red dwarf star, K2-18b may be more hostile than Earth and is likely to be exposed to more radiation. K2-18b was discovered in 2015 and is one of hundreds of super-Earths planets with a mass between Earth and Neptune found by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
“With so many new super-Earths expected to be found over the next couple of decades, it is likely that this is the first discovery of many potentially habitable planets,” said co-author Ingo Waldmann from UCL. “This is not only because super-Earths like K2-18b are the most common planets in our galaxy, but also because red dwarfs stars smaller than our Sun are the most common stars,” said Waldmann.
However, some scientists who were not a part of the research, said the planet should not be described as “habitable.” “This is a Mini-Neptune and not habitable. The pressure at any surface of this planet is likely 10 times higher than the deepest point of the ocean in Earth,” Erin M May, who studies exoplanet atmospheres at the University of Michigan, in the US, wrote on Twitter.
“This planet is about the same temperature as Earth, but 2.7 times larger. While the planet is not habitable due to copious hydrogen/helium, the measurement is a huge leap,” tweeted Andrew Howard, Professor of Astronomy at Caltech in the US.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is back again to its mission Mars and the latest discovery provides insight into the existence of water on the Red Planet. Yes! You read it right. A group of NASA scientists, who currently placed their Curiosity Mars rover in the Gale Crater, has reportedly found an extremely good-looking rock that could end the decades old debate on whether or not the Red Planet harboured or still harbours water.
The rock, nicknamed as ‘Strathdon’, has scale-like features and further indicates that Mars once had flowing water on its surface which eroded the solid material for different periods of time. Each levels of scales are assumed to be periods of time when Mars becomes gradually dry. Scientists suggest that the Red Planet’s journey from being wet to dry has resulted into the rocky layer above it.
Talking about their latest study, Valerie Fox, a research scholar in Caltech said, “We’re seeing an evolution in the ancient lake environment recorded in these rocks”. “It wasn’t just a static lake. It’s helping us move from a simplistic view of Mars going from wet to dry. Instead of a linear process, the history of water was more complicated,” Fox added.
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Earlier too, scientists have discovered a slew of evidence of ancient groundwater system on the surface of the planet. In early 2019, researchers explored 24 deep, enclosed craters in the northern hemisphere of Mars, with floors lying about 4000 metres below martian ‘sea level’ – a level that, given the planet’s lack of seas, is arbitrarily defined on Mars based on elevation and atmospheric pressure.
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There are also reports about the existence of a giant water reservoirs on the planet, in the form of ice layers buried over a kilometre beneath the surface. Besides, researchers from different scientific organisations have detected pools of liquid water beneath the planet’s south pole in the line of interconnected ancient lakes and snowmelt-fed streams.
dedicated by : kavignar thanigai
ET: Health world
Stem cells hold the key to wound healing as they develop into specialised cell types throughout the body – including in the teeth.
London: Researchers have identified the gene called Dlk1 that enhances stem cell activation and tissue regeneration to help in tooth healing.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found a mechanism that could offer a potential novel solution for tooth repairing.
Stem cells hold the key to wound healing as they develop into specialised cell types throughout the body – including in the teeth. Stem cells are so important that in the future they could be used in laboratories to regenerate tissues that have been damaged or lost due to disease, said researchers.
“By uncovering both the new stem cells that make the main body of a tooth and establishing their vital use of Dlk1 in regenerating the tissue, we have taken major steps in understanding stem cell regeneration,” said study lead author Bing Hu from the University of Plymouth.
Researchers identified a new population of mesenchymal stem cells — the stem cells that make up skeletal tissue such as muscle and bone — in a continuously growing mouse incisor model. They showed that these cells contribute to the formation of tooth dentin — the hard tissue that covers the main body of a tooth.
The findings showed that when these stem cells are activated, they send signals back to the mother cells of the tissue to control the number of cells produced, through a molecular gene called Dlk1.
During the study, the researchers also showed that Dlk1 can enhance stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in a tooth wound healing model. This mechanism could provide a novel solution for tooth reparation, dealing with problems such as tooth decay, crumbling and trauma treatment.
“The work has taken place in lab models at this stage, and further work needs to be done before we can bring them to human use. But it’s a really big breakthrough in regenerative medicine that could have huge implications for patients in future,” Hu added.
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.Perhaps because I’m a hypochondriac, I have great faith in medicine. Whenever I pop a pill, I do so in the full confidence it will work. To my horror, I now discover that’s terribly mistaken in the case of many generic drugs and, particularly, those made in India. A large number are actually ineffective and a few even harmful.
© Provided by HT Digital Streams Limited Our faith in Indian generic medicines is often misplaced. They frequently don’t work. Sometimes, no matter how many tablets you take, they will not treat the disease or infection (Shutterstock)This is the key message of a book to be published next week called Bottle of Lies: Ranbaxy and the dark side of Indian Pharma. According to its dust jacket, its author, Katherine Eban, “relies on over 20,000 FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) documents and interviews with over 240 people to show how fraud and treachery are deeply entrenched in much of the (generic drugs) industry in India and raises troubling questions about some of its biggest names – Wockhardt, Dr. Reddy’s, Glenmark and RPG Life Sciences”.
At the core of this book is its research into the shameful story of Ranbaxy. In 2013, in a well-covered court case in America, the company pleaded guilty to seven charges of selling adulterated drugs and paid $500 million in fines. This is what Eban concludes of Ranbaxy’s approach to testing drugs before they are sold – “You had to test the drugs to see if they were properly formulated, stable and effective. The resulting data was the only thing that proved the medicine would cure instead of kill. Yet Ranbaxy was treating data as an entirely fungible marketing tool … it was an outright fraud that could mean the difference between life and death … the company manipulated almost every aspect of its manufacturing process to quickly produce impressive-looking data that would bolster its bottom-line.”
Often generic drugs manufacturers – not just Ranbaxy – produce medicines of higher quality for European and American markets, where regulation is tighter, whilst blithely selling inferior and ineffective drugs in India. Dinesh Thakur, the man who blew the whistle on Ranbaxy, told Eban: “Testing the drugs for India was just a waste of time … because no regulators ever looked at the data … (companies) just invented the dossiers on their own and sent them to the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). What was needed for the DCGI was not real data but good connections.”
Eban’s book is full of hair-raising accounts of visits by US FDA regulators to manufacturing plants in India where fraud, insanitary conditions and deliberately poor standards of manufacturing are revealed. In the microbiology laboratory of one plant, where they were testing for microbes and bacteria, the actual samples didn’t exist: “They were testing nothing. The entire laboratory was a fake.”
If even a quarter of what Eban reveals is true, it is frightening. It means our faith in Indian generic medicines is often misplaced. They frequently don’t work. Sometimes, no matter how many tablets you take, they will not treat the disease or infection. If it’s of any comfort, that’s also true of many Chinese generic drugs.
In September 2014, Dinesh Thakur, who is clearly one of Eban’s main sources, sought a meeting with Harsh Vardhan, both then and now our health minister, to alert him to the problem. He was granted five minutes but Harsh Vardhan was more interested in the office television screen showing news from Kashmir than what Thakur had to say. Finally, Harsh Vardhan asked “Thakur to send whatever it was he wanted to say in writing”. But when Thakur did, “he never received a response”.
As a last resort, in 2016, Thakur petitioned the Supreme Court. He moved a PIL or public interest litigation. His argument was that “India’s regulation system was not just broken but unconstitutional”. Raju Ramachandran was his lawyer. But the judges refused a hearing. In just 15 minutes.
So what does this mean? Neither the executive nor the judiciary are bothered about this deplorable situation. You and I may keep taking generic drugs believing they’re efficacious, but we’re being made fools of. And the authorities simply don’t care.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal
Much of the technology common in daily life today originates from the drive to put a human being on the Moon. This effort reached its pinnacle when Neil Armstrong stepped off the Eagle landing module onto the lunar surface 50 years ago.
As a NASA airborne astronomy ambassador and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium, I know that the technologies behind weather forecasting, GPS and even smartphones can trace their origins to the race to the Moon.
October 4, 1957 marked the dawn of the Space Age, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite. The Soviets were the first to make powerful launch vehicles by adapting World War II-era long-range missiles, especially the German V-2.
From there, space propulsion and satellite technology moved fast: Luna 1escaped the Earth’s gravitational field to fly past the Moon on January 4, 1959; Vostok 1 carried the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961; and Telstar, the first commercial satellite, sent TV signals across the Atlantic Ocean on July 10, 1962.
The 1969 lunar landing also harnessed the expertise of German scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, to send massive payloads into space. The F-1 engines in Saturn V, the Apollo program’s launch vehicle, burned a total of 2,800 tons of fuel at a rate of 12.9 tons per second.
Saturn V still stands as the most powerful rocket ever built, but rockets today are far cheaper to launch. For example, whereas Saturn V cost US$185 million, which translates into over $1 billion in 2019, today’s Falcon Heavy launch costs only $90 million. Those rockets are how satellites, astronauts and other spacecraft get off the Earth’s surface, to continue bringing back information and insights from other worlds.
The quest for enough thrust to land a man on the Moon led to the building of vehicles powerful enough to launch payloads to heights of 21,200 to 22,600 miles (34,100 to 36,440 km) above the Earth’s surface. At such altitudes, satellites’ orbiting speed aligns with how fast the planet spins – so satellites remain over a fixed point, in what is called geosynchronous orbit. Geosynchronous satellites are responsible for communications, providing both internet connectivity and TV programming.
At the beginning of 2019, there were 4,987 satellites orbiting Earth; in 2018 alone, there were more than 382 orbital launches worldwide. Of the currently operational satellites, approximately 40% of payloads enable communications, 36% observe the Earth, 11% demonstrate technologies, 7% improve navigation and positioning and 6% advance space and earth science.
One of the Vanguard satellites in Florida in 1958. Credit: NASA
Space missions – back then and even today – have strict limits on how big and how heavy their equipment can be, because so much energy is required to lift off and achieve orbit. These constraints pushed the space industry to find ways to make smaller and lighter versions of almost everything: Even the walls of the lunar landing module were reduced to the thickness of two sheets of paper.
From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, the weight and energy consumption of electronics was reduced by a factor of several hundred at least – from the 30 tons and 160 kilowatts of the Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer to the 70 pounds and 70 watts of the Apollo guidance computer. This weight difference is equivalent to that between a humpback whale and an armadillo.
Manned missions required more complex systems than earlier, unmanned ones. For example, in 1951, the Universal Automatic Computer was capable of 1,905 instructions per second, whereas the Saturn V’s guidance system performed 12,190 instructions per second. The trend toward nimble electronics has continued, with modern hand-held devices routinely capable of performing instructions 120 million times faster than the guidance system that enabled the liftoff of Apollo 11. The need to miniaturise computers for space exploration in the 1960s motivated the entire industry to design smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computers, which have affected practically every facet of life today, from communications to health and from manufacturing to transportation.
Global network of ground stations
Communicating with vehicles and people in space was just as important as getting them up there in the first place. An important breakthrough associated with the 1969 lunar landing was the construction of a global network of ground stations, called the Deep Space Network, to let controllers on Earth communicate constantly with missions in highly elliptical Earth orbits or beyond. This continuity was possible because the ground facilities were placed strategically 120 degrees apart in latitude so that each spacecraft would be in range of one of the ground stations at all times.
Because of the spacecraft’s limited power capacity, large antennas were built on Earth to simulate “big ears” to hear weak messages and to act as “big mouths” to broadcast loud commands. In fact, the Deep Space Network was used to communicate with the astronauts on Apollo 11 and was used to relay the first dramatic TV images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon. The network was also critical for the survival of the crew on Apollo 13 because they needed guidance from ground personnel without wasting their precious power on communications.
Several dozen missions use the Deep Space Network as part of the continuing exploration of our solar system and beyond. In addition, the Deep Space Network permits communications with satellites that are on highly elliptical orbits, to monitor the poles and deliver radio signals.
Looking Back at Earth
Getting to space has allowed people to turn their research efforts toward Earth. In August 1959, the unmanned satellite Explorer VI took the first crude photos of Earth from space on a mission researching the upper atmosphere, in preparation for the Apollo program.
Almost a decade later, the crew of Apollo 8 took a famous picture of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape, aptly named “Earthrise.” This image helped people understand our planet as a unique shared world and boosted the environmental movement.
Understanding of our planet’s role in the universe deepened with Voyager 1’s “pale blue dot” photo – an image received by the Deep Space Network.
People and our machines have been taking pictures of the Earth from space ever since. Views of Earth from space guide people both globally and locally. What started in the early 1960s as a US Navy satellite system to track its Polaris submarines to within 600 feet (185 meters) has blossomed into the Global Positioning System network of satellites providing location services worldwide.
Images from a series of Earth-observing satellites called Landsat are used to determine crop health, identify algae blooms and find potential oil deposits. Other uses include identifying which types of forest management are most effective in slowing the spread of wildfires or recognising global changes such as glacier coverage and urban development.
As we learn more about our own planet and about exoplanets – planets around other stars – we become more aware of how precious our planet is. Efforts to preserve Earth itself may yet find help from fuel cells, another technology from the Apollo program. These storage systems for hydrogen and oxygen in the Apollo Service Module, which contained life-support systems and supplies for the lunar landing missions, generated power and produced potable water for the astronauts. Much cleaner energy sources than traditional combustion engines, fuel cells may play a part in transforming global energy production to fight climate change.
We can only wonder what innovations from the effort to send people to other planets will affect earthlings 50 years after the first Marswalk.
Jean Creighton is planetarium director, NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
thanks : the wire
dedicated by: Kavignar Thanigai.