NASA Telescopes Detect Signs of Water on Distant ‘Warm Neptune’

NASA Telescopes Detect Signs of Water on Distant 'Warm Neptune'

Scientists using NASA telescopes have detected “a strong water signature” in the atmosphere of a distant Neptune-sized planet, that could help understand more about the birth and development of planetary systems.

The study, combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, shows that the distant planet HAT-P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Located about 437 light-years away, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as our Sun.

The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a “warm Neptune,” or a planet that is Neptune-sized and close to its star.

The researchers determined that HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world. This is the best measurement of water to date on an exoplanet of this size.

Compared to Neptune and Uranus, the planets in our solar system with about the same mass, HAT-P-26b likely formed either closer to its host star or later in the development of its planetary system, or both.

“Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system,” said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US.

To study HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere, the researchers used data from transits – occasions when the planet passed in front of its host star.

During a transit, a fraction of the starlight gets filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, which absorbs some wavelengths of light but not others.

By looking at how the signatures of the starlight change as a result of this filtering, researchers can work backward to figure out the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

Researchers pooled data from four transits measured by Hubble and two seen by Spitzer. Together, those observations covered a wide range of wavelengths from yellow light through the near-infrared region.

“To have so much information about a warm Neptune is still rare, so analysing these data sets simultaneously is an achievement in and of itself,” said Tiffany Kataria of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.

Researchers were also able to use the water signature to estimate HAT-P-26b’s metallicity – an indication of how rich the planet is in all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. It gives more clues about how a planet formed. They determined its metallicity is only about 4.8 times that of the Sun.

“This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said David K Sing of the University of Exeter in the UK.

ISRO to launch South Asia Satellite on May 5

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India plans to launch on May 5 the ‘South Asia Satellite’ that will benefit all the countries in the region, except Pakistan which is not a part of the project.

India plans to launch on May 5 the ‘South Asia Satellite’ that will benefit all the countries in the region, except Pakistan which is not a part of the project. “It’s going up in the first week of May,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told PTI in a telephonic interview.

According to ISRO sources, the launch of this communication satellite (GSAT-9) is scheduled for May 5 on board the space agency’s rocket GSLV-09 from Sriharikota spaceport. Kiran Kumar said the satellite, with a lift-off mass of 2,195 kg, would carry 12 ku-band transponders. “Pakistan is not included in that. They did not want (to be part of the project),” he said. Sources said the satellite is designed for a mission life of more than 12 years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made an announcement about this satellite during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in 2014 calling it a “gift to India’s neighbours.””It (name) was changed to this (South Asia Satellite) because of that only (Pakistan not being part of it),” Kiran Kumar said. Earlier, it was named as ‘SAARC Satellite.’

“Basically, it (the satellite) is meant for providing communication and disaster support, connectivity among States (countries of South Asia region). It will provide a significant capability to each of these participating States in terms of DTH, certain VSAT capacity plus linking among the states for both disaster information transfer and also in terms of library type of things,” he said.

“So, there is a significant amount of inter-linking possible among the States (these countries),” Kiran Kumar said.According to ISRO officials, there is a potential for each participating country to use a dedicated transponder with a capacity of 36 to 54 Mhz for its own internal use. Each country would be responsible for content generation and its use, they said.

Research spotlights early signs of disease using infrared light: New research

While more research is needed to confirm the findings published in the FASEB Journal, the use of FITR could herald a fast and easy way to spot early signs of infection, cancer, and difficult to diagnose neurological conditions.

The research led by Professors Peter Lay and Georges Grau used Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to detect and characterize the release of sub-micron sized microvesicles.

Produced from the cell membranes of mammals, microvesicles play a role in cell communication and carry a “cargo” of RNA, DNA, proteins, lipids and other biomolecules that they use to dramatically change the biochemistry of other cells.

Microvesicles are involved in normal physiology but are released into the bloodstream at higher levels during the acute and early development phase of many diseases. They are also potent vectors and mediators of disease, so detecting changes in their number and biochemistry could be helpful for spotting mechanisms of early diseases development.

The researchers used FTIR to monitor microvesicle-biomolecular changes in white blood cells, known as monocytes, they stimulated with a component of deadly bacteria called lipopolysaccharide, comparing the changes to those in healthy, uninfected white blood cells.

Lipopolysaccahride from various bacteria can reach the blood and cause septic shock, a life-threatening complication of sepsis where the body’s infection-response can injure tissues and organs.

“We found a threefold increase in the number of microvesicles from white blood cells stimulated with lipopolysaccharide that points to a pathophysiological role for these microvesicles in bacterial infection and its subsequent immune response,” said study co-author Georges Grau at the University of Sydney’s Vascular Immunology Unit and Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases.

“We also saw clear biomolecular changes — more lipids and proteins — in microvesicles produced by white blood cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharides, compared to those produced by resting white blood cells.”

The researchers also discovered that most of the “cargo” of RNA, DNA, lipids and proteins released by the white blood cells were contained within these microvesicles.

“This is very important since there is an enormous research effort looking at circulating RNA, DNA and proteins in blood as diagnostics of diseases and our results indicate that they are mostly carried in these microvesicles,” said senior author, Professor Peter Lay at the University’s School of Chemistry and Vibrational Spectroscopy Core Facility.

“In many respects, the microvesicles released under bacterial stimulation during an infectious episode are like viruses whereby the altered lipid content and increases and proteins appear designed to invade and change the biochemistry of target cells by releasing their DNA and RNA.

“This use of FTIR spectroscopy to analyse microvesicles provides a new way characterize the biomolecular differences in this model of septic shock-induced white blood cell-microvesicle and could easily be applied to other models of microvesicle release, notably in a range of inflammatory diseases.”

ESA Maps More Than a Billion Stars in Our Galaxy

The Gaia space probe, launched in 2013, has mapped more than a billion stars in the Milky Way, vastly expanding the inventory of known stars in our galaxy, the European Space Agency said Wednesday.

ESA Maps More Than a Billion Stars in Our Galaxy

Released to eagerly waiting astronomers around the world, the initial catalogue of 1.15 billion stars is “both the largest and the most accurate full-sky map ever produced,” said French astronomer Francois Mignard, a member of the 450-strong Gaia consortium.

In a web-cast press conference at the ESA Astronomy Centre in Madrid, scientists unveiled a stunning map of the Milky Way, including stars up to half a million times feinter than those that can be seen with the naked eye.

The images were captured by Gaia’s twin telescopes — scanning the heavens over and over — and a billion-pixel camera, the largest ever put into space.

The resolution is sharp enough to gauge the diameter of a human hair at a distance of 1,000 kilometres (620 miles), said Anthony Brown, head of the Gaia data processing and analysis team.

Gaia maps the position of the Milky Way’s stars in a couple of ways.

Not only does it pinpoint their location, the probe — by scanning each star multiple times — can plot their movement as well.

The data release today includes both kinds of data for some two million stars.

But over the course of Gaia’s five-year mission, that catalogue is set to expand 500-fold.

Orbiting the Sun 1.5 million kilometres (nearly a million miles) beyond Earth’s orbit, the European probe started collected data in July 2014.

How a Computer Helped a Paralysed Chimp Walk Again

In a first, Japanese researchers have rehabilitated a paralysed chimpanzee through interaction with computers and touch screens.

The case of Reo, a male chimpanzee that learned to walk again after being paralysed due to illness, shows how much can be done to rehabilitate animals injured in captivity, said lead author Yoko Sakuraba of Kyoto University.

How a Computer Helped a Paralysed Chimp Walk Again

Reo’s example suggests that euthanasia does not have to be the only option for injured animals

The case was described in an article in Primates, the official journal of the Japan Monkey Centre published by Springer.

In their normal work, researchers of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University use chimpanzees’ interaction with computers and touch screens to study the cognition and perception of these primates.

When Reo was paralysed from the neck down, dedicated staff put this technology to further use by encouraging the animal to walk again.

When Reo was 24 years old in 2006, he suddenly became paralysed when a portion of his spinal cord became inflamed.

For the first ten months thereafter, the chimpanzee was severely disabled, lying on his back. He gradually recovered enough to sit up, and could later pull himself upright by using suspended ropes.

Intensive physiotherapy over a period of 41 months followed, after which he was able to climb about again using only his arms.

To aid Reo’s ultimate integration back among the other twelve animals held at the institute, his carers decided to try to get him walking again.

They incorporated a computerised task in this process. This was considered an option because in his youth Reo had learnt how to perform cognitive tasks on a touch panel, and in so doing had become used to receiving food rewards whenever he succeeded at tasks presented to him.

A computer-controlled monitor was, therefore, placed on one wall, and cognitive tasks were again put to him.

The rehabilitation sessions encouraged him to increase his movements considerably, and he started walking up to five hundred metres in a two-hour session.

“Cognitive tasks may be a useful way to rehabilitate physically disabled chimpanzees, and thus improve their welfare in captivity,” Sakuraba said.

New 3D-Printed Polymer Can Convert Methane Into Methanol

Scientists have combined 3D printed polymers with methane-eating bacteria to create the first reactor that can produce methanol from the greenhouse gas, an advance that may lead to a more efficient energy production.

The researchers removed enzymes from methanotrophs, bacteria that eat methane, and mixed them with polymers that they printed or molded into innovative reactors.

New 3D-Printed Polymer Can Convert Methane Into Methanol: Study

“Remarkably, the enzymes retain up to 100 percent activity in the polymer,” said Sarah Baker, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US.

“The printed enzyme-embedded polymer is highly flexible for future development and should be useful in a wide range of applications, especially those involving gas-liquid reactions,” Baker said.

Advances in oil and gas extraction techniques have made vast new stores of natural gas, composed primarily of methane, available.

A large volume of methane is leaked, vented or flared during these operations, partly because the gas is difficult to store and transport compared to more-valuable liquid fuels.

Methane emissions also contribute about one-third of current net global warming potential, primarily from these and other distributed sources such as agriculture and landfills.

Current industrial technologies to convert methane to more valuable products, like steam reformation, operate at high temperature and pressure, require a large number of unit operations and yield a range of products.

The only known catalyst to convert methane to methanol under ambient conditions with high efficiency is the enzyme methane monooxygenase (MMO), researchers said.

The reaction can be carried out by methanotrophs that contain the enzyme, but this approach inevitably requires energy for upkeep and metabolism of the organisms.

Instead, the team separated the enzymes from the organism and used the enzymes directly.

The team found that isolated enzymes offer the promise of highly controlled reactions at ambient conditions with higher conversion efficiency and greater flexibility.

“Up to now, most industrial bioreactors are stirred tanks, which are inefficient for gas-liquid reactions,” said Joshuah Stolaroff, an environmental scientist on the team.

“The concept of printing enzymes into a robust polymer structure opens the door for new kinds of reactors with much higher throughput and lower energy use,” said Stolaroff.

The team found that the 3D-printed polymer could be reused over many cycles and used in higher concentrations than possible with the conventional approach of the enzyme dispersed in solution.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Why Solar-Powered Planes Are Still a Long Way From Carrying Passengers

Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard made headlines on Saturday when he glided a solar-powered plane onto Moffett Airfield in California after a three-day journey across the Pacific Ocean. It’s the most recent stop in an around-the-world trip that began in Abu Dhabi last spring and is intended to raise awareness about the importance of reducing carbon emissions through the use of clean energy.

The plane itself, “Solar Impulse 2,” is a true zero-fuel aircraft, powered by more than 17,000 solar cells. It’s designed to carry just one pilot – Piccard and his colleague André Borschberg have been tag-teaming the journey around the world – and has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, although it weighs only two tons.

Why Solar-Powered Planes Are Still a Long Way From Carrying Passengers

The daring trans-Pacific flight has drawn global interest to the concept of electric planes, which have existed in various forms for several decades now. Some designs rely on solar cells, while others use various types of batteries, but the overall goal is the same: to achieve flight with minimal or no fuel burning.

Electric aircraft are among the more ambitious technologies being researched around the world in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from aviation. It’s a cause that’s rapidly gaining international attention. Aviation is currently responsible for about 1 percent of all the world’s carbon emissions – and as air traffic is expected to experience rapid growth in the coming decades, that proportion could quickly climb if no steps are taken to improve the fuel efficiency of aircraft. Some estimates have suggested that by 2020, emissions from aviation could be 70 percent higher than they were in 2005.

To that end, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) proposed the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions standards for aircraft back in February. And while some environmentalists have argued that the proposal did not go far enough, the action has placed aircraft emissions on the international radar – and scientists around the world are researching ways to reduce them.

Electric flight, however, may be among the technologies that are furthest from becoming practical. So far, most of the electric planes that have achieved flight have only been able to accommodate one or two people, and it will likely be at least a decade or two before the technology will progress to the point that it’s commercially viable.

“The big challenge is the batteries,” said David Zingg, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies. For electric planes to become competitive, their power sources need to be able to store more energy per unit mass – otherwise, their speed and weight capacities will remain impractically low.

Japan Abandons Costly X-Ray Satellite Lost in Space

Japan’s space agency has abandoned its efforts to restore the operations of a multimillion-dollar satellite that was to probe the mysteries of black holes using X-ray telescopes.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced Thursday that it would stop trying to fix the satellite after determining that it was “highly likely” that its two solar arrays had broken off at their bases.

Contact was lost with the satellite on March 26, more than a month after its launch from southern Japan on February 17.

Japan Abandons Costly X-Ray Satellite Lost in Space

The satellite, named Hitomi, was much larger than previous Japanese scientific satellites, measuring 14 meters (46 feet) in length and weighing 2.7 tons. It was designed to study X-rays emitted by black holes and other objects in space. The X-rays cannot be detected on Earth, because they are blocked by its atmosphere.

The space agency initially thought it had received signals from the lost satellite on three occasions, but later concluded that the frequencies of the communications indicated they were not from Hitomi.

Nasa was a principal partner in the Japan-led mission, which involved eight other nations, including Canada and the Netherlands.

Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported that Japan spent about JPY 31 billion ($290 million) on the project, and Nasa had invested about $70 million.

SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX plans to send an unmanned Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, the company said on Wednesday, a first step in achieving founder Elon Musk’s goal to fly people to another planet.

US space agency Nasa, which is aiming for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s, said it will provide technical support for SpaceX’s first foray, known as Red Dragon.

SpaceX Targets 2018 for First Mars Mission

SpaceX “could provide valuable entry, descent and landing data to Nasa for our journey to Mars, while providing support to American industry,” Nasa said in a statement.

The announcement marks SpaceX’s first target date for its unmanned mission to Mars.

The SpaceX program is intended to develop technologies needed for human transportation to Mars, a long-term aim for Musk’s privately held company, which is formally known as Space Exploration Technologies.

The company said it will provide details of its Mars program at the International Astronautical Congress in September.

“Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system,” Musk posted on Twitter. “Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight.”

He said that with an internal volume about the size of a sports utility vehicle, the Dragon spacecraft would be uncomfortable for people making the long journey to Mars.

Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur who helped to found Tesla Motors and PayPal, started SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of slashing launch costs to make Mars travel affordable.

SpaceX intends to debut its Mars rocket, a heavy-lift version of the Falcon 9 booster currently flying, later this year.

The company recently has made spaceflight history by returning Falcon 9 rockets to landing pads on land and sea – key to Musk’s quest to develop a relatively cheap, reusable launch vehicle.

SpaceX now flies cargo versions of its Dragon capsule to and from the International Space Stationunder a $2 billion resupply services contract with Nasa.

SpaceX also is upgrading the capsules to carry astronauts, with test flights to the station scheduled for 2017, under a separate Nasa contract worth up to $2.6 billion.

Nasa does not plan to provide financial assistance to SpaceX’s Mars mission. The agency is investing in its own heavy-lift rocket, capsule and launch pad modifications targeting Mars travel.

By the time Nasa expects to debut a test flight in lunar orbit with astronauts onboard in 2023, the agency will have spent about $24 billion on the program, an April 2016 Government Accountability Office report shows.

British Astronaut Tim Peake to Control Rover on Earth From ISS

British astronaut Tim Peake, currently on the International Space Station, will command a robot to roll around a giant sandpit in Stevenage town that simulates the surface of Mars.

The programme is part of a European Space Agency project that aims to learn how astronauts can control remote systems on other worlds, BBC reported on Friday.

British Astronaut Tim Peake to Control Rover on Earth From ISS

Known as Meteron (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network), the programme has already seen Danish ISS crewman Andreas Mogensen get a robot on Earth to put pegs in a series of holes.

Peake will drive a prototype Mars rover into a darkened “cave” to find and map a number of targets.

Airbus DS is leading the development of the rover that ESA will send to Mars in 2018 or, more likely, in 2020. As part of this project, it uses a number of “breadboard” robots to test flight hardware and software.

Peake will control the breadboard named Bridget.

He will command the vehicle to drive up to targets inside the cave that have been marked with ultraviolet paint.

Illuminated by a light on Bridget, he will centre these markings in the camera view and then notify ground control.