четверг, 12 июля 2018 г.

Climate variability and increasing aridity brought an end to Paranthropus robustus

Africa plays a prominent role in human evolution, and is considered by researchers to be the cradle of humanity. In the mid-20th century anthropologists found fossils of Paranthropus robustus in South Africa, which belongs to an evolutionary side branch of Homo sapiens. Paranthropus robustus lived around two million years ago but eventually died out. Possible reasons for the extinction have now been brought to light by an international team of anthropologists and geoscientists led by Dr. Thibaut Caley of the University of Bordeaux. In this effort, the researchers, who include Dr. Lydie Dupont and Dr. Enno Schefuß of MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen combined various indicators to reconstruct the climatic conditions in southeast Africa at this time. The results were now published in the journal Nature.

Climate variability and increasing aridity brought an end to Paranthropus robustus
The original complete skull of a 1.8 million years old Paranthropus robustus discovered in South Africa.
Collection of the Transvaal Museum, Northern Flagship Institute, Pretoria South Africa
[Credit: José Braga, Didier Descouens; Ditsong National Museum of Natural History]

The idea of combining different methods arose from a seeming contradiction: While climate records from northern Africa indicate that conditions were becoming more arid, data from Lake Malawi suggest exactly the opposite. Was it really true that southeast Africa became more humid as northern Africa became drier? What, then, could have led to the extinction of Paranthropus robustus? Lake Malawi lies to the northeast of the catchment basin of the Limpopo, one of Africa’s largest rivers. In Maputo Bay (Mozambique) the Limpopo flows into the Indian Ocean. The sediment core – the archive investigated by the researchers for this study – was taken from here.

Due to the continuous deposition, marine sediment cores allow the researchers to observe a sequence of climate changes over long periods of time. Microfossils and pollen from the land are also washed into the ocean by the Limpopo and deposited on the ocean floor. This allows the findings from sites on land to be compared to their temporal development. As Dr. Lydie Dupont from MARUM notes, data from the land often only encompass short time periods, but they can provide important clues about the occurrences of species and their food sources. With the help of the sediment cores, the scientists had access to a climate record spanning about 2.14 million years.

The team combined very different kinds of analyses. Hydrogen as well as carbon isotopes of molecular plant fossils were investigated, and these were compared with the results of pollen analyses and element compositions. Each analysis alone can be interpreted in different ways. “Only through the comprehensive consideration could a coherent picture of the climate in the Limpopo region be reconstructed,” says Lydie Dupont.

Furthermore, the team determined the changes in sea-surface temperatures for this time period, allowing them to assess the influence of the ocean on the climate on land. Combining their results with data from the literature, the researchers were able to draw conclusions about the causes of climate changes that occurred during the time when Paranthropus robustus lived and ultimately died out.

The combined results from Limpopo portray a different picture than the study from Lake Malawi. From about 1 million years ago to 600,000 years ago climate became substantially more arid. At the same time, climate variability increased noticeably. “What eventually led to the extinction is difficult to say,” says Dr. Enno Schefuß. Climatic changes always lead to adaptations by organisms – including adaptation of their feeding habits. If the conditions change extremely rapidly over a short period of time, organisms are less apt to adjust evolutionarily to the altered circumstances. According to the findings in the Limpopo region, Paranthropus robustus died out 600,000 years ago.

Source: University of Bremen [July 10, 2018]




Ancient bones reveal two whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea

Two thousand years ago the Mediterranean Sea was a haven for two species of whale which have since virtually disappeared from the North Atlantic, a new study analysing ancient bones suggests.

Ancient bones reveal two whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea
Aerial view of some of the fish-salting tanks (cetaria) in the ancient Roman city of Baelo Claudia, near today’s Tarifa
in Spain. The largest circular tank is 3 meters wide, with a 18m3 capacity. These tanks were used to process
 large fish, particularly tuna. This study supports the possibility that they could have also
been used to process whales [Credit: D. Bernal-Casasola, University of Cadiz]

The discovery of the whale bones in the ruins of a Roman fish processing factory located at the strait of Gibraltar also hints at the possibility that the Romans may have hunted the whales.

Prior to the study, by an international team of ecologists, archaeologists and geneticists, it was assumed that the Mediterranean Sea was outside of the historical range of the right and gray whale.

Academics from the Archaeology Department at the University of York used ancient DNA analysis and collagen fingerprinting to identify the bones as belonging to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Atlantic gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus).

After centuries of whaling, the right whale currently occurs as a very threatened population off eastern North America and the gray whale has completely disappeared from the North Atlantic and is now restricted to the North Pacific.

Co-author of the study Dr Camilla Speller, from the University of York, said: “These new molecular methods are opening whole new windows into past ecosystems. Whales are often neglected in Archaeological studies, because their bones are frequently too fragmented to be identifiable by their shape.

“Our study shows that these two species were once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem and probably used the sheltered basin as a calving ground. The findings contribute to the debate on whether, alongside catching large fish such as tuna, the Romans had a form of whaling industry or if perhaps the bones are evidence of opportunistic scavenging from beached whales along the coast line.”

Ancient bones reveal two whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea
Archaeologists working on the ruins of Baelo Claudia [Credit: D. Bernal-Casasola, University of Cadiz]

Both species of whale are migratory, and their presence east of Gibraltar is a strong indication that they previously entered the Mediterranean Sea to give birth.

The Gibraltar region was at the centre of a massive fish-processing industry during Roman times, with products exported across the entire Roman Empire. The ruins of hundreds of factories with large salting tanks can still be seen today in the region.

Lead author of the study Dr Ana Rodrigues, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, said: “Romans did not have the necessary technology to capture the types of large whales currently found in the Mediterranean, which are high-seas species. But right and gray whales and their calves would have come very close to shore, making them tempting targets for local fishermen.”

It is possible that both species could have been captured using small rowing boats and hand harpoons, methods used by medieval Basque whalers centuries later.

The knowledge that coastal whales were once present in the Mediterranean also sheds new light on ancient historical sources.

Anne Charpentier, lecturer at the University of Montpellier and co-author in the study, said: “We can finally understand a 1st-Century description by the famous Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, of killer whales attacking whales and their new-born calves in the Cadiz bay.

“It doesn’t match anything that can be seen there today, but it fits perfectly with the ecology if right and gray whales used to be present.”

The study authors are now calling for historians and archaeologists to re-examine their material in the light of the knowledge that coastal whales where once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem.

Dr Rodriguez added: “It seems incredible that we could have lost and then forgotten two large whale species in a region as well-studied as the Mediterranean. It makes you wonder what else we have forgotten”.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

Source: University of York [July 10, 2018]




Our fractured African roots

A scientific consortium led by Dr. Eleanor Scerri, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, has found that human ancestors were scattered across Africa, and largely kept apart by a combination of diverse habitats and shifting environmental boundaries, such as forests and deserts. Millennia of separation gave rise to a staggering diversity of human forms, whose mixing ultimately shaped our species.

Our fractured African roots
Middle Stone Age cultural artefacts from northern and southern Africa [Credit: Eleanor Scerri/
Francesco d’Errico/Christopher Henshilwood]

While it is widely accepted that our species originated in Africa, less attention has been paid to how we evolved within the continent. Many had assumed that early human ancestors originated as a single, relatively large ancestral population, and exchanged genes and technologies like stone tools in a more or less random fashion.

In a paper published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution this week, this view is challenged, not only by the usual study of bones (anthropology), stones (archaeology) and genes (population genomics), but also by new and more detailed reconstructions of Africa’s climates and habitats over the last 300,000 years.

One species, many origins

“Stone tools and other artifacts – usually referred to as material culture – have remarkably clustered distributions in space and through time,” said Dr. Eleanor Scerri, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Oxford, and lead author of the study. “While there is a continental-wide trend towards more sophisticated material culture, this ‘modernization’ clearly doesn’t originate in one region or occur at one time period.”

Our fractured African roots
Evolutionary changes of braincase shape from an elongated to a globular shape. The latter evolves within the
Homo sapiens lineage via an expansion of the cerebellum and bulging of the parietal. Left: micro-CT scan
of Jebel Irhoud 1 (~300 ka, Africa); Right: Qafzeh 9 (~95 ka, the Levant) [Credit: Philipp Gunz,
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology]

Human fossils tell a similar story. “When we look at the morphology of human bones over the last 300,000 years, we see a complex mix of archaic and modern features in different places and at different times,” said Prof. Chris Stringer, researcher at the London Natural History Museum and co-author on the study. “As with the material culture, we do see a continental-wide trend towards the modern human form, but different modern features appear in different places at different times, and some archaic features are present until remarkably recently.”

Credit: Eleanor Scerri

The genes concur. “It is difficult to reconcile the genetic patterns we see in living Africans, and in the DNA extracted from the bones of Africans who lived over the last 10,000 years, with there being one ancestral human population,” said Prof. Mark Thomas, geneticist at University College London and co-author on the study. “We see indications of reduced connectivity very deep in the past, some very old genetic lineages, and levels of overall diversity that a single population would struggle to maintain.”

An ecological, biological and cultural patchwork

To understand why human populations were so subdivided, and how these divisions changed through time, the researchers looked at the past climates and environments of Africa, which give a picture of shifting and often isolated habitable zones. Many of the most inhospitable regions in Africa today, such as the Sahara, were once wet and green, with interwoven networks of lakes and rivers, and abundant wildlife. Similarly, some tropical regions that are humid and green today were once arid. These shifting environments drove subdivisions within animal communities and numerous sub-Saharan species exhibit similar phylogenetic patterns in their distribution.

Our fractured African roots
The patchwork of diverse fossils, artefacts and environments across Africa indicate that our species
 emerged from the interactions between a set of interlinked populations living across the continent,
whose connectivity changed through time [Credit: Yasmine Gateau/
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History]

The shifting nature of these habitable zones means that human populations would have gone through many cycles of isolation – leading to local adaptation and the development of unique material culture and biological makeup – followed by genetic and cultural mixing.

“Convergent evidence from these different fields stresses the importance of considering population structure in our models of human evolution,” says co-author Dr. Lounes Chikhi of the CNRS in Toulouse and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Lisbon.”This complex history of population subdivision should thus lead us to question current models of ancient population size changes, and perhaps re-interpret some of the old bottlenecks as changes in connectivity,” he added.

“The evolution of human populations in Africa was multi-regional. Our ancestry was multi-ethnic. And the evolution of our material culture was, well, multi-cultural,” said Dr Scerri. “We need to look at all regions of Africa to understand human evolution.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History [July 11, 2018]




Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously...

Ancient tools and bones discovered in China by archaeologists suggest early humans left Africa and arrived in Asia earlier than previously thought.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought
Stone tools from an archaeological site in China are as old as 2.1 million years
[Credit: Zhu et al./Nature 2018]

The artefacts show that our earliest human ancestors colonised East Asia over two million years ago. They were found by a Chinese team that was led by Professor Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and included Professor Robin Dennell of Exeter University. The tools were discovered at a locality called Shangchen in the southern Chinese Loess Plateau. The oldest are ca. 2.12 million years old, and are c. 270,000 years older than the 1.85 million year old skeletal remains and stone tools from Dmanisi, Georgia, which were previously the earliest evidence of humanity outside Africa.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought
Nestled on a hillside in China’s Shaanxi Province, this dig site exposed
Shangchen’s oldest stone tools [Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu]

The artefacts include a notch, scrapers, cobble, hammer stones and pointed pieces. All show signs of use – the stone had been intentionally flaked. Most were made of quartzite and quartz that probably came from the foothills of the Qinling Mountains 5 to 10 km to the south of the site, and the streams flowing from them. Fragments of animal bones 2.12 million years old were also found.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought
Chinese Academy of Sciences geologist Zhaoyu Zhu and his colleagues
excavated the area for 13 years [Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu]

The Chinese Loess Plateau covers about 270,000 square kilometres, and during the past 2.6m years between 100 and 300m of wind-blown dust – known as loess – has been deposited in the area.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought
Stone tools may have helped make it possible for hominins to travel far from Africa,
 archaeologists said [Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu]

The 80 stone artefacts were found predominantly in 11 different layers of fossil soils which developed in a warm and wet climate. A further 16 items were found in six layers of loess that developed under colder and drier conditions. These 17 different layers of loess and fossil soils were formed during a period spanning almost a million years. This shows that early types of humans occupied the Chinese Loess Plateau under different climatic conditions between 1.2 and 2.12 million years ago.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought
Picture taken at the site of the discovery of ancient tools in China
[Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu]

The layers containing these stone tools were dated by linking the magnetic properties of the layers to known and dated changes in the earth’s magnetic field.

Discovery of ancient tools in China suggests humans left Africa earlier than previously thought

Professor Dennell said: “Our discovery means it is necessary now to reconsider the timing of when early humans left Africa”.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of Exeter [July 11, 2018]




Eating bone marrow played a key role in the evolution of the human hand

The strength required to access the high calorie content of bone marrow may have played a key role in the evolution of the human hand and explain why primates hands are not like ours, research at the University of Kent has found.

Eating bone marrow played a key role in the evolution of the human hand
Large pebble choppers like this were used to smash the massive bones of fauna such as mammoths, rhinos
and giant deer to gain access to the nourishing marrow inside [Credit: PaleoDirect]

In an article in The Journal of Human Evolution, a team lead by Professor Tracy Kivell of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation concludes that although stone tool making has always been considered a key influence on the evolution of the human hand, accessing bone marrow generally has not.

It is widely accepted that the unique dexterity of the human hand evolved, at least in part, in response to stone tool use during our evolutionary history.

Archaeological evidence suggests that early hominins participated in a variety of tool-related activities, such as nut-cracking, cutting flesh, smashing bone to access marrow, as well as making stone tools. However, it is unlikely that all these behaviours equally influenced modern human hand anatomy.

To understand the impact these different actions may have had on the evolution of human hands, researchers measured the force experienced by the hand of 39 individuals during different stone tool behaviours – nut-cracking, marrow acquisition with a hammerstone, flake production with a hammerstone, and handaxe and stone tool (i.e. a flake) – to see which digits were most important for manipulating the tool.

They found that the pressures varied across the different behaviours, with nut-cracking generally requiring the lowest pressure while making the flake and accessing marrow required the greatest pressures. Across all of the different behaviours, the thumb, index finger and middle finger were always most important.

Professor Kivell says this suggests that nut-cracking force may not be high enough to elicit changes in the formation of the human hand, which may be why other primates are adept nut-crackers without having a human-like hand.

In contrast, making stone flakes and accessing marrow may have been key influences on our hand anatomy due to the high stress they cause on our hands. The researchers concluded that eating marrow, given its additional benefit of high calorific value, may have also played a key role in evolution of human dexterity.

Source: University of Kent [July 11, 2018]




Mexico earthquake reveals ancient temple

A devastating earthquake that struck central Mexico last September gave way to a fascinating discovery: remnants of a rain god temple within an Aztec pyramid.

Mexico earthquake reveals ancient temple
The substructure inside the Teopanzolco pyramid in Cuernavaca, 
Morelos State, Mexico [Credit: INAH via AFP]

The temple, dedicated to a deity called Tlaloc and located within the Teopanzolco pyramid in Cuernavaca, Morelos state, belonged to the region’s Tlahuica culture.

As a result of the earthquake, “the pyramid suffered considerable rearrangement of the core of its structure,” said archaeologist Barbara Koniecza of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Mexico earthquake reveals ancient temple
After an earthquake took place last year, the pyramid was damaged 
and a substructure inside was revealed [Credit: INAH]

The greatest damage was at the top, where two temples had already been discovered — one dedicated to the Mesoamerican god of the sun and war, Huitzilopochtli, and another to Tlaloc.

“The floor of both shrines sank and bent, which also put their stability in danger,” Koniecza said.

When INAH carried out studies with radar to examine the pyramid’s structure, they found traces of the newly discovered Tlaloc temple.

The structure is believed to date back to around the year 1150. Experts say it would have been around six meters long and four meters wide. Ceramic remains and an incense burner belonging to the Tlahuica culture were also found.

Shortly after midday on September 19, 2017, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit central Mexico, killing 369 people, mostly in the capital Mexico City.

Source: AFP [July 12, 2018]




HiPOD (12 July 2018): The Sand Always Gets Through   – There are…

HiPOD (12 July 2018): The Sand Always Gets Through

   – There are also eroded layers here in Orson Welles Crater.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (279 km above the surface. Black and white is less than 5 km across; enhanced color is less than 1 km)


Captioned Image Spotlight (12 July 2018): Clays in the Eridania…

Captioned Image Spotlight (12 July 2018): Clays in the Eridania Basin

This colorful image shows clays within the Eridania basin region. Many scientists using orbital data have proposed that a large lake may have once existed here during the Late Noachian through Early Hesperian time periods, and then much of the water drained out to the north via Ma’adim Vallis.

Understanding where and what kind of clay exists within this region using CRISM data can help scientists learn more about how long the postulated lake existed and the water chemistry within the lake. 

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona (277 km above the surface, less than 1 km across)


Space Station Shrinks Fluorescence Microscopy Tool

ISS – International Space Station logo.

July 12, 2018

Honey, I shrunk the microscope! A miniaturized fluorescence microscope makes it possible to observe changes in living cells in microgravity. Future observations of astronauts’ cells could tell scientists important information about how the body adapts to space.

Image above: FLUMIAS team members install the 3D fluorescence microscope that will allow live-cell imaging in microgravity into Payload Card-8 of the TangoLab in preparation for launch aboard the SpaceX Dragon last month. Image Credit: DLR.

“An astronaut’s physiology changes during long duration spaceflight because of the lack of gravity,” said Principal Investigator Oliver Ullrich, University of Magdeburg. “Knowing the molecular basis of this cellular response to altered gravity is key for risk management, monitoring, and development of countermeasures for future long-term space exploration. Cellular adaptation to the microgravity environment can only be studied and understood in dynamic or live measurements. Live imaging experiments in space are a crucial contribution to the understanding of cellular adaptation to microgravity.”

An investigation aboard the International Space Station will demonstrate this new technology. FLUMIAS-DEA observes samples of fixed cells and live cells using a modified, patented illumination technique that contributes to the microscope’s smaller size and reduced technical complexity.

Image above: FLUMIAS-DEA miniaturized fluorescence microscope loaded in TangoLab 2.  Image Credit: Airbus.

“The dimensions of FLUMIAS-DEA can be accommodated in the volume of seven cubes inside the Space Tango TangoLab,” said investigator Rainer Treichel of Airbus Defence and Space, which operates the investigation for the German Space Agency (DLR). “At the beginning of its development, it was not clear whether this could be accomplished. Standard laboratory microscopes with comparable capabilities typically take up the space of a full-sized writing desk.”

Fluorescence microscopy is a key tool in biological and medical science, used to visualize the spatial structure of cells and tissues. The technique applies an array of fluorochromes, or stains that respond to different wavelengths of irradiated light, to a specimen. The fluorescence microscope then irradiates the specimen with specific wavelengths to separate the signals of the stains. This makes it possible to identify specific cells and sub-microscopic cellular components. Using fluorescence microscopy to observe living cells provides insights into dynamic cellular processes such as the transport of proteins within and between cells, cytoskeleton rearrangement, and ion flux, such as the flow of calcium ions into and out of a cell. High-resolution microscopes document these processes over time and in 3D.

This tool for 3D imaging of biological samples has many applications for research on the space station.

Image above: Image of fixed macrophages using three chromophores created by the FLUMIAS-DEA miniaturized fluorescence microscope during Science Verification Test. Image Credit: Airbus.

The FLUMIAS-DEA investigation is meant to pave the way for the use of fluorescence microscopy for more complex biological studies in space. A next-generation facility, called FLUMIAS-ISS, is currently in development for potential flight as early as 2020. It will enable investigation of inner cellular processes of mammalian and plant cells under variable artificial gravity levels between microgravity and 1 g. 

A compact fluorescence microscope capable of providing 3D imaging of biological samples has potential applications on Earth, making it possible to use this valuable technology in remote environments and disaster situations.

This microscope might have shrunk, but there is nothing small about its potential.
This investigation was sponsored by the ISS National Lab, which is managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

Related links:

FLUMIAS-DEA: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7836

Space Tango TangoLab: http://www.spacetango.com/

Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS): http://www.iss-casis.org/

ISS National Lab: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/nlab/index.html

German Space Agency (DLR): https://www.dlr.de/dlr/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-10002/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Melissa Gaskill.

Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link


James Webb Space Telescope to Inspect Atmospheres of Gas Giant Exoplanets

NASA / ESA / CSA – James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) patch.

July 12, 2018

In April 2018, NASA launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Its main goal is to locate Earth-sized planets and larger “super-Earths” orbiting nearby stars for further study.  One of the most powerful tools that will examine the atmospheres of some planets that TESS discovers will be NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Since observing small exoplanets with thin atmospheres like Earth will be challenging for Webb, astronomers will target easier, gas giant exoplanets first.

Image above: This is an artist’s impression of the Jupiter-size extrasolar planet, HD 189733b, being eclipsed by its parent star. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the planet’s atmosphere. The planet is a “hot Jupiter,” which is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in only 2.2 days. The planet is too hot for life as we know it. But under the right conditions, on a more Earth-like world, carbon dioxide can indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life. This observation demonstrates that chemical biotracers can be detected by space telescope observations. Image Credits: ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI.

Some of Webb’s first observations of gas giant exoplanets will be conducted through the Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science program. The transiting exoplanet project team at Webb’s science operations center is planning to conduct three different types of observations that will provide both new scientific knowledge and a better understanding of the performance of Webb’s science instruments.

“We have two main goals. The first is to get transiting exoplanet datasets from Webb to the astronomical community as soon as possible. The second is to do some great science so that astronomers and the public can see how powerful this observatory is,” said Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago, a co-principal investigator on the transiting exoplanet project.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Image Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA

“Our team’s goal is to provide critical knowledge and insights to the astronomical community that will help to catalyze exoplanet research and make the best use of Webb in the limited time we have available,” added Natalie Batalha of NASA Ames Research Center, the project’s principal investigator.

Transit – An atmospheric spectrum

When a planet crosses in front of, or transits, its host star, the star’s light is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. Molecules within the atmosphere absorb certain wavelengths, or colors, of light. By splitting the star’s light into a rainbow spectrum, astronomers can detect those sections of missing light and determine what molecules are in the planet’s atmosphere.

For these observations, the project team selected WASP-79b, a Jupiter-sized planet located about 780 light-years from Earth. The team expects to detect and measure the abundances of water, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide in WASP-79b. Webb also might detect new molecules not yet seen in exoplanet atmospheres.

Phase curve – A weather map

Planets that orbit very close to their stars tend to become tidally locked. One side of the planet permanently faces the star while the other side faces away, just as one side of the Moon always faces the Earth. When the planet is in front of the star, we see its cooler backside. But as it orbits the star, more and more of the hot day-side comes into view. By observing an entire orbit, astronomers can observe those variations (called a phase curve) and use the data to map the planet’s temperature, clouds, and chemistry as a function of longitude.

How Do We Learn About a Planet’s Atmosphere?

Video above: This animation describes how Webb will use transmission spectroscopy to study the atmospheres of distant exoplanets. Video Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI).

The team will observe a phase curve of the “hot Jupiter” known as WASP-43b, which orbits its star in less than 20 hours. By looking at different wavelengths of light, they can sample the atmosphere to different depths and obtain a more complete picture of its structure. “We have already seen dramatic and unexpected variations for this planet with Hubble and Spitzer. With Webb we will reveal these variations in significantly greater detail to understand the physical processes that are responsible,” said Bean.

Eclipse – A planet’s glow

The greatest challenge when observing an exoplanet is that the star’s light is much brighter, swamping the faint light of the planet. To get around this problem, one method is to observe a transiting planet when it disappears behind the star, not when it crosses in front of the star. By comparing the two measurements, one taken when both star and planet are visible, and the other when only the star is in view, astronomers can calculate how much light is coming from the planet alone.

This technique works best for very hot planets that glow brightly in infrared light. The team plans to study WASP-18b, a planet that is baked to a temperature of almost 4,800 degrees Fahrenheit (2,900 K). Among other questions, they hope to determine whether the planet’s stratosphere exists due to the presence of titanium oxide, vanadium oxide, or some other molecule.

Habitable planets

Ultimately, astronomers want to use Webb to study potentially habitable planets. In particular, Webb will target planets orbiting red dwarf stars since those stars are smaller and dimmer, making it easier to tease out the signal from an orbiting planet. Red dwarfs are also the most common stars in our galaxy.

“TESS should locate more than a dozen planets orbiting in the habitable zones of red dwarfs, a few of which might actually be habitable. We want to learn whether those planets have atmospheres and Webb will be the one to tell us,” said Kevin Stevenson of the Space Telescope Science Institute, a co-principal investigator on the project. “The results will go a long way towards answering the question of whether conditions favorable to life are common in our galaxy.”

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

For more information about Webb, visit https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/webb/main/index.html

Related links:

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS): https://www.nasa.gov/tess-transiting-exoplanet-survey-satellite

Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science: https://jwst.stsci.edu/news-events/news/News%2520items/selections-made-for-the-jwst-directors-discretionary-early-release-science-program

Exoplanets: https://www.nasa.gov/content/the-search-for-life

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner/Space Telescope Science Institute, by Christine Pulliam.

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Cargo Ships and Cancer Research Keeps Orbital Lab Humming

ISS – Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 11, 2018

Russia’s Progress 70 (70P) cargo craft delivered nearly 5,700 pounds of crew supplies and station cargo to the International Space Station on Monday less than four hours after launch. Meanwhile, the U.S. Cygnus resupply ship from Northrop Grumman tested its ability to boost the orbital laboratory’s altitude today.

Monday’s arrival of the Russian resupply craft set a milestone for station operations by arriving with its cargo in just 3 hours and 40 minutes, or only two Earth orbits. The new Progress makes six spacecraft parked at the orbital complex including the Progress 69 resupply ship, the Soyuz MS-08 and MS-09 crew ships and the SpaceX Dragon and Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighters.

Image above: The Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus resupply ship with its round, brass-colored UltraFlex solar arrays is guided to its port on the Unity module shortly after it was captured with the Canadarm2 robotic arm on May 24, 2018. Image Credit: NASA.

The engine on Northrup Grumman’s Cygnus cargo ship fired for 50 seconds Tuesday at 4:25 p.m. EDT to reboost the station in a test designed to verify an additional capability to adjust the station’s altitude, if required. The brief engine firing raised the station’s altitude by about 295 feet. Cygnus will depart the station on Sunday after delivering several tons of supplies and science experiments back in May for the six crewmembers on board.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst continued more life science work today exploring cancer research and fertility. Serena split her time today between testing ways to develop safer, more effective cancer therapies and exploring how living in space impacts fertility. Gerst set up a specialized microscope to look at proteins that could be used for cancer treatment and radiation protection.

Related links:

Six spacecraft parked: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/visiting-vehicle-launches-arrivals-and-departures

Cygnus cargo ship: https://go.nasa.gov/2x8pV2b

Cancer therapies: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7502

Living in space impacts fertility: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1922

Cancer treatment and radiation protection: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7743

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link


Listen: Sound of Electromagnetic Energy Moving Between Saturn, Enceladus

NASA – Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

July 11, 2018

New research from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s up-close Grand Finale orbits shows a surprisingly powerful and dynamic interaction of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its rings and its moon Enceladus. The observations show for the first time that the waves travel on magnetic field lines connecting Saturn directly to Enceladus. The field lines are like an electrical circuit between the two bodies, with energy flowing back and forth.

Image above: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s Grand Finale orbits found a powerful interaction of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its rings and its moon Enceladus. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Researchers converted the recording of plasma waves into a “whooshing” audio file that we can hear — in the same way a radio translates electromagnetic waves into music. In other words, Cassini detected electromagnetic waves in the audio frequency range — and on the ground, we can amplify and play those signals through a speaker. The recording time was compressed from 16 minutes to 28.5 seconds.

Much like air or water, plasma (the fourth state of matter) generates waves to carry energy. The Radio Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument on board NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recorded intense plasma waves during one of its closest encounters to Saturn.

Sounds of Saturn: Hear Radio Emissions of the Planet and Its Moon Enceladus

Video above: New research from the up-close Grand Finale orbits of NASA’s Cassini mission shows a surprisingly powerful interaction of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its moon Enceladus. Researchers converted the recording of plasma waves into a “whooshing” audio file that we can hear — in the same way a radio translates electromagnetic waves into music. Much like air or water, plasma (the fourth state of matter) generates waves to carry energy. The recording was captured by the Radio Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument Sept. 2, 2017, two weeks before Cassini was deliberately plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn. Video Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Iowa.

“Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy,” said Ali Sulaiman, planetary scientist at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a member of the RPWS team. “Now we find that Saturn responds by launching signals in the form of plasma waves, through the circuit of magnetic field lines connecting it to Enceladus hundreds of thousands of miles away.”

Sulaiman is lead author of a pair of papers describing the findings, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters.

The interaction of Saturn and Enceladus is different from the relationship of Earth and its Moon. Enceladus is immersed in Saturn’s magnetic field and is geologically active, emitting plumes of water vapor that become ionized and fill the environment around Saturn. Our own Moon does not interact in the same way with Earth. Similar interactions take place between Saturn and its rings, as they are also very dynamic.

The recording was captured Sept. 2, 2017, two weeks before Cassini was deliberately plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn. The recording was converted by the RPWS team at the University of Iowa, led by physicist and RPWS Principal Investigator Bill Kurth.

The GRL research is available on the American Geophysical Union’s website:



The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The RPWS instrument was built by the University of Iowa, working with team members from the U.S. and several European countries.

Related link:

Radio Plasma Wave Science (RPWS): https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/radio-and-plasma-wave-science/

More information about Cassini mission:



Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/JoAnna Wendel/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch Archive link


Круг на поле в Швейцарии 17 июня 2018

Фото от Pavel Havlik в месте Baggwilgraben, nr Bern, Switzerland координаты

2018 July 12 Centaurus A Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC…

2018 July 12

Centaurus A
Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC Team at Chilescope, Processing – Bernhard Hubl

Explanation: Only 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy also known as NGC 5128, is featured in this sharp telescopic view. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a fantastic jumble of star clusters and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy’s center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180712.html


Copernicus Sentinel-5P releases first data

ESA – Sentinel-5P Mission logo.

11 July 2018

Following months of tests and careful evaluation, the first data on air pollutants from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite have been released. These first maps show a range of trace gases that affect air quality such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Launched on 13 October 2017, Sentinel-5P is the first Copernicus satellite dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere. It is part of the fleet of Sentinel missions that ESA develops for the European Union’s environmental monitoring Copernicus programme managed by the European Commission.

Air pollution movement

Philippe Brunet, Director of Space Policy, Copernicus and Defence at the European Commission, welcomed the release and accuracy of the new data, which has shone a light on air pollution on a global scale.

“These first data are another milestone for our Copernicus programme. They show how Sentinel-5P is set to make a real difference in monitoring air quality and highlight European Union’s contribution to combatting the global issue of air pollution.”


As poor air quality continues to prematurely claim the lives of millions of people every year, it is more important than ever that we find better and more accurate ways of monitoring the air we breathe.

Thanks to its Tropomi instrument – the most advanced multispectral imaging spectrometer to date – Sentinel-5P can zoom down to the surface of Earth and deliver highly detailed and accurate data about the atmosphere.

With a resolution of up to 7 x 3.5 km, it can even detect air pollution over individual cities.

Nitrogen dioxide from Sentinel-5P

This higher spatial resolution is key to what makes the data produced by Sentinel-5P so useful. Tropomi also has the capacity to locate where pollutants are being emitted, effectively identifying pollution hotspots.

Initial data have highlighted air pollution as emitted by big cities and ship lanes through measurements of nitrogen dioxide over Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India.

These new data also show the transport of carbon monoxide from India to China, and the closing of the ozone hole during 2017.

Harry Förster from the Netherlands Space Office explains, “Sentinel-5P further enhances existing and initiates new European applications in this area because the very high resolution of Tropomi is simply unprecedented.

“In combination with the improved sensitivity of the detectors we now have a spectrometer that is about 10 times better than its predecessor.

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, added, “I am proud that we now have a state-of-the-art measuring instrument that allows us to capture high-quality data on the atmosphere worldwide, and to do this more accurately than ever before.

Claus Zehner, ESA’s Sentinel-5P mission manager, affirmed, “We often hear about climate change and the depletion of the ozone layer when we consider why we need to monitor the atmosphere.

Closing of the ozone hole

“But air quality is also a huge global problem. It affects the health of humans and affects agriculture and the economy in general.”

Having completed its commissioning phase, Copernicus Sentinel-5P data is now available to all, free of charge.

From policy makers and environmental agencies to scientists, users have access to data that ultimately help to better forecast and mitigate air quality problems.

Copernicus Sentinel-5P will also contribute to services such as volcanic ash monitoring for aviation safety and warnings of high level UV radiation.

Related links:

Sentinel-5P: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-5P

Sentinel data access: https://scihub.copernicus.eu/

Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service: http://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/

Netherlands Space Office: http://www.spaceoffice.nl/en/

Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute: http://www.knmi.nl/over-het-knmi/about

DLR: http://www.dlr.de/dlr;internal&action=_setlanguage.action?LANGUAGE=en

BIRA: http://www.aeronomie.be/en/index.htm

Video, Images, Animations, Text, Credits: ESA/Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by SRON, KNMI, DLR/BIRA.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link


Crew Unpacking New Cargo, Researching Life Science Before Sunday Ship Departure

ISS – Expedition 56 Mission patch.

July 11, 2018

Expedition 56 crew members are transferring cargo in and out of U.S. and Russian cargo ships today. Two astronauts are also planning to release a U.S. resupply ship on Sunday ending its mission at the International Space Station.

Astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Alexander Gerst were back inside the SpaceX Dragon today unloading science gear and station hardware from inside the space freighter. Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos continued unloading the nearly three tons of crew supplies and station hardware delivered Monday aboard the new Progress 70 cargo craft.

Image above: Expedition 56-57 crewmates (from left) Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA; Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency); and Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos. Image Credit: NASA.

The Cygnus resupply ship will complete its stay at the orbital Sunday at 8:35 a.m. EDT after 52 days attached to the Unity module. Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) will use the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus back into Earth orbit backed up by Auñón-Chancellor of NASA. Cygnus will remain in orbit until July 30 supporting engineering activities before it is deorbited to burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Space research aboard the orbital lab is always ongoing as the crew explored a variety of life science today. The space residents explored how microgravity impacts fertility, algae production and the gastrointestinal system. The crew also completed routine eye checks with an ultrasound device Wednesday morning to maintain good vision during spaceflight.

Related article:

ROSCOSMOS – Soyuz-2.1A carrying Progress cargo successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome

Related links:

SpaceX Dragon: https://www.nasa.gov/spacex

Cygnus resupply ship: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/orbital.html

Living in space impacts fertility: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1922

Algae production: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7446

Gastrointestinal system: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7425

Expedition 56: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition56/index.html

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link


Colourful Celestial Landscape

Celestial Art 

PR Image eso1823b

RCW 38 in the Constellation of Vela

PR Image eso1823c

Digitized Sky Survey image around the stellar cluster RCW 38


ESOcast 171 Light: Colourful Celestial Landscape (4K UHD)

ESOcast 171 Light: Colourful Celestial Landscape (4K UHD)

Zooming into RCW 38

Panning across RCW 38

Panning across RCW 38

New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope show the star cluster RCW 38 in all its glory. This image was taken during testing of the HAWK-I camera with the GRAAL adaptive optics system. It shows RCW 38 and its surrounding clouds of brightly glowing gas in exquisite detail, with dark tendrils of dust threading through the bright core of this young gathering of stars.

This image shows the star cluster RCW 38, as captured by the HAWK-I infrared imager mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. By gazing into infrared wavelengths, HAWK-I can examine dust-shrouded star clusters like RCW 38, providing an unparalleled view of the stars forming within. This cluster contains hundreds of young, hot, massive stars, and lies some 5500 light-years away in the constellation of Vela (The Sails).

The central area of RCW 38 is visible here as a bright, blue-tinted region, an area inhabited by numerous very young stars and protostars that are still in the process of forming. The intense radiation pouring out from these newly born stars causes the surrounding gas to glow brightly. This is in stark contrast to the streams of cooler cosmic dust winding through the region, which glow gently in dark shades of red and orange. The contrast creates this spectacular scene — a piece of celestial artwork.

Previous images of this region taken in optical wavelengths are strikingly different — optical images appear emptier of stars due to dust and gas blocking our view of the cluster. Observations in the infrared, however, allow us to peer through the dust that obscures the view in the optical and delve into the heart of this star cluster.

HAWK-I is installed on Unit Telescope 4 (Yepun) of the VLT, and operates at near-infrared wavelengths. It has many scientific roles, including obtaining images of nearby galaxies or large nebulae as well as individual stars and exoplanets. GRAAL is an adaptive optics module which helps HAWK-I to produce these spectacular images. It makes use of four laser beams projected into the night sky, which act as artificial reference stars, used to correct for the effects of atmospheric turbulence — providing a sharper image.

This image was captured as part of a series of test observations — a process known as science verification — for HAWK-I and GRAAL. These tests are an integral part of the commissioning of a new instrument on the VLT, and include a set of typical scientific observations that verify and demonstrate the capabilities of the new instrument.

More Information

The Principal Investigator of the observing proposal which led this spectacular image was Koraljka Muzic (CENTRA, University of Lisbon, Portugal). Her collaborators were Joana Ascenso (CENTRA, University of Porto, Portugal), Amelia Bayo (University of Valparaiso, Chile), Arjan Bik (Stockholm University, Sweden), Hervé Bouy (Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux, France), Lucas Cieza (University Diego Portales, Chile), Vincent Geers (UKATC, UK), Ray Jayawardhana (York University, Canada), Karla Peña Ramírez (University of Antofagasta, Chile), Rainer Schoedel (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain), and Aleks Scholz (University of St Andrews, UK).

The Science Verification of HAWK-I with the GRAAL adaptive optics module was presented in an article in ESO’s quarterly journal The Messenger entitled HAWK-I GRAAL Science Verification.

The science verification team was composed of Bruno Leibundgut, Pascale Hibon, Harald Kuntschner, Cyrielle Opitom, Jerome Paufique, Monika Petr-Gotzens, Ralf Siebenmorgen, Elena Valenti and Anita Zanella, all from ESO.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.



    Calum Turner
    ESO Assistant Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
    Email: pio@eso.org

    Source: ESO/News  

    Archive link


    Israel wants to land on the Moon

    SpaceIL – Lunar XPRIZE Team SpaceIL patch.

    July 11, 2018

    An Israeli spacecraft is expected to be sent to the moon in December using a SpaceX launcher.

    Image above: The Israeli company SpaceIL did not win the “Google Lunar XPtice” but continued its project. Photo Credit: SpaceIL.

    SpaceIL, an Israeli private company, announced on Tuesday that it plans to send an Israeli spacecraft to the moon for the first time in December. It will be launched with a rocket from SpaceX company of American entrepreneur Elon Musk.

    The unmanned 585-kilogram vessel will land on the moon on February 13, 2019, if all goes according to plan, the organizers said at a press conference. His mission will include the study of lunar magnetic waves.

    His first task will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, the organizers added. The project was launched as part of the “Google Lunar XPtice” award, which has invested $ 30 million to encourage scientists and private sector entrepreneurs to organize inexpensive missions around the moon.

    Image above: A drawing of the SpaceIL lunar spacecraft. Image Credits: Google Lunar XPRIZE.

    The Israeli company SpaceIL then decided to take part in the competition and joined forces with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the largest Israeli aerospace group. The price of Google was finally not awarded, which did not stop the Israeli team to continue the project.

    Funded by private funds, it is expected to cost $ 95 million, most of which will be paid by Israeli-born billionaire Morris Khan of South Africa. “It will show the way to the rest of the world” and prove that it is possible to send a spacecraft to the moon without an exorbitant cost, said IAI official Ofer Doron.

    For more information about SpaceIL, visit: http://www.spaceil.com/mission/

    Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: SpaceIL/ATS/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

    Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link



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