суббота, 4 августа 2018 г.

Unnamed Cairn, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18.

Unnamed Cairn, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18.

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From the Deep In oceans, lakes and rivers all over the world,…

From the Deep

In oceans, lakes and rivers all over the world, microorganisms called diatoms are sculpting strangely shaped shells – pyramids, stars, bowl-like curves, all built slowly from layer upon layer of silica. Inspired by these creative microbes, nanotechnologists are creating their own sturdy silica designs (shown on the top row) with thousands of uses. First they use DNA origami to produce a sort of scaffolding out of a mesh of DNA strands. Next, clumps of silica are pulled towards the DNA by their electrical charge. Layered up like an artificial diatom shell, the finished biomimetic structures (pictured here with two different types of high-powered microscope) are much stronger than DNA scaffolding alone. They could be just the thing to deliver drugs inside the human body, all while withstanding the sloshing currents in our veins and tissues – much like the diatoms bobbing in the ocean waves.

Written by John Ankers

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Horses may have been ridden into battle as early as the Bronze Age (Chechushkov et al....

Over at the Journal of Archaeological Science at this LINK. Below is the abstract. Emphasis is mine:

The morphological similarities/dissimilarities between antler and bone-made cheekpieces have been employed in several studies to construct a relative chronology for Bronze Age Eurasia. Believed to constitute a part of the horse bit, the cheekpieces appear in ritual contexts everywhere from the Mycenaean Shaft Graves to the Bronze Age kurgan cemeteries in Siberia. However, these general understandings of the function and morphological changes of cheekpieces have never been rigorously tested. This paper presents statistical analyses (e.g., similarities, multidimensional scaling, and cluster analysis) that document differences in cheekpiece morphology, comparing shield-like, plate-formed, and rod-shaped types in the context of temporal change and spatial variation. We investigated changes in function over time through the use of experimental replicas used in bridling horses. This experimental work supports the hypothesis that these objects served to bridle harnessed (shield-like) or ridden (plate-formed and rod-shaped) horses. Moreover, comparison of use wear on the ancient artifacts with the replicas provides insight into how long the artifacts were used before they were deposited in the funeral contexts or discarded. These observations support that the Sintashta chariots dating back to ca. 2100 BC were ridden and suggest the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1200 BC) as the earliest possible date for horseback riding in warfare. This study highlights changes in horse exploitation and simultaneous shifts in human societies.

Chechushkov et al., Early horse bridle with cheekpieces as a marker of social change: An experimental and statistical study, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 97, September 2018, Pages 125-136, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2018.07.012
See also…
Of horses and men
An early Iranian, obviously
Graeco-Aryan parallels



HiPOD (4 August 2018): An Outcrop of Light-Toned Deposit South…

HiPOD (4 August 2018): An Outcrop of Light-Toned Deposit South of Coprates Chasma

   – 265 km above the surface. (Black and white is less than 5 km across; enhanced color is less than 1 km.) 

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Unnamed Stone Circle, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18. One of the…

Unnamed Stone Circle, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18.

One of the most beautiful and serene prehistoric sites in the UK. I can stay here forever!

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2018 August 4 Central Cygnus Skyscape Image Credit &…

2018 August 4

Central Cygnus Skyscape
Image Credit & Copyright: Mauro Narduzzi (acquisition) / Roberto Colombari (processing)

Explanation: Supergiant star Gamma Cygni lies at the center of the Northern Cross, famous asterism in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Known by its proper name, Sadr, the bright star also lies at the center of this gorgeous skyscape, featuring a complex of stars, dust clouds, and glowing nebulae along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. The field of view spans almost 4 degrees (eight Full Moons) on the sky and includes emission nebula IC 1318 and open star cluster NGC 6910. Left of Gamma Cygni and shaped like two glowing cosmic wings divided by a long dark dust lane, IC 1318’s popular name is understandably the Butterfly Nebula. Above and left of Gamma Cygni, are the young, still tightly grouped stars of NGC 6910. Some distance estimates for Gamma Cygni place it at around 1,800 light-years while estimates for IC 1318 and NGC 6910 range from 2,000 to 5,000 light-years.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180804.html


Moel-y-Sensigl (Fonlief Hir Stone A), Standing Stone, Rhinogau,…

Moel-y-Sensigl (Fonlief Hir Stone A), Standing Stone, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18.

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Carreg (Fonlief Hir Stone B) Standing Stone, Rhinogau, North…

Carreg (Fonlief Hir Stone B) Standing Stone, Rhinogau, North Wales, 1.8.18.

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Urban geophone array offers new look at northern Los Angeles…

Urban geophone array offers new look at northern Los Angeles basin http://www.geologypage.com/2018/08/urban-geophone-array-offers-new-look-at-northern-los-angeles-basin.html


Icy Greenland’s heated geologic past…

Icy Greenland’s heated geologic past http://www.geologypage.com/2018/08/icy-greenlands-heated-geologic-past.html


Platinum is key in ancient volcanic related climate change…

Platinum is key in ancient volcanic related climate change http://www.geologypage.com/2018/08/platinum-is-key-in-ancient-volcanic-related-climate-change.html


New understanding of deep earthquakes…

New understanding of deep earthquakes http://www.geologypage.com/2018/08/new-understanding-of-deep-earthquakes.html


NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft

NASA – Commercial Crew Program logo.

Aug. 3, 2018

Image above: NASA introduced to the world on Aug. 3, 2018, the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. Image Credit: NASA.

ASA introduced to the world on Friday the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

NASA Announces Astronaut Crews for First Commercial Vehicle Flights

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.”

Starliner Test Flight Astronauts

Eric Boe was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta. He came to NASA from the Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot and rose to the rank of colonel. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and piloted space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.

Christopher Ferguson is a native of Philadelphia. He is a retired Navy captain, who piloted space shuttle Atlantis for STS-115, and commanded shuttle Endeavour on STS-126 and Atlantis for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-135. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral part of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program.

Nicole Aunapu Mann is a California native and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.

Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Crew Dragon Test Flight Astronauts

Robert Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He has a doctorate in engineering and is a flight test engineer and colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours.

Douglas Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127 and Atlantis for STS-135, the final space shuttle mission.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.

Starliner First Mission Astronauts

Josh Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.

Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.

Crew Dragon First Mission Astronauts

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California. He is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft. He made 400 carrier landings and flew 24 combat missions. He was selected as part of the 2013 astronaut candidate class, and this will be his first spaceflight.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA’s international partners at a later date.

Image above: NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working with the American aerospace industry as companies develop a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems to carry crews safely to and from low-Earth orbit – the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA’s continuous presence on the space station for almost 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences. This research has led to dramatic improvements in technology, infrastructure and medicine, and thousands of spinoff technologies that have improved quality of life here on Earth.

The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. 

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. The public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew Program at: https://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

Commercial Space: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/index.html

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Stephanie Schierholz/Sean Potter/JSC/Brandi Dean/KSC/Stephanie Martin.

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After the Kepler supernova explosion, no survivors were left behind

A new study argues that the explosion that Johannes Kepler observed in 1604 was caused by a merger of two stellar residues.

After the Kepler supernova explosion, no survivors were left behind
Credit: Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias

The Kepler supernova, of which only the supernova remnant remains, took place in the constellation of Ophiuchus, in the plane of the Milky Way, 16,300 light years from the sun. An international team led by the researcher Pilar Ruiz Lapuente (UB-IECC y CSIC), in which IAC researcher Jonay González Hernández participated, has tried to find the possible surviving star of the binary system in which the explosion took place.

In these systems, when at least one of the stars (with the highest mass) reaches the end of its life and becomes a white dwarf (WD), the other can begin to transfer matter up to a certain mass limit (equivalent to 1,44 solar masses, the so-called “Chandrasekhar limit”). This process leads to the central ignition of carbon in the white dwarf, producing an explosion that can multiply 100,000 times its original brightness. This phenomenon, brief and violent, is known as a supernova. Sometimes, these can be observed with the naked eye from Earth, as in the case of the Kepler supernova (SN 1604), observed and identified by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1604.

After the Kepler supernova explosion, no survivors were left behind
Johannes Kepler’s original drawing from De Stella Nova(1606) depicting the location
of the supernova, marked with an N. [Credit: Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias]

Kepler’s supernova arose from the explosion of a white dwarf in a binary system. Therefore, as reported by the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers were searching for the possible surviving companion of the white dwarf, which allegedly transferred mass up to the level of WD explosion. The impact of this explosion would have increased the luminosity and speed of the missing companion; it could even have modified its chemical composition. The team, therefore, searched for stars with some anomaly that would allow them to identify one of them as the companion of the white dwarf that exploded 414 years ago.

Pilar Ruiz Lapuente, researcher at the Instituto de Física Fundamental (IFF-CSIC) and the ICC of the UB (UB-IEEC) says, “We were looking for a peculiar star as a possible companion of the progenitor of the Kepler supernova, and we characterized all the stars around the center of the remnant of SN 1604, but we have not found any with the expected characteristics. So everything points to the explosion being caused by the merging mechanism of the white dwarf with another or with the core of the already evolved companion.”

To carry out this investigation, the researchers studied images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). “The goal was to determine the proper motions of a group of 32 stars around the center of the supernova remnant that still exists today,” says Luigi Bedin, researcher at Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova (INAF) and co-author of the work. They also used data obtained with the FLAMES instrument, installed at the 8.2m Very Large Telescope (VLT), at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to characterize stars, and determine their distance and their radial velocity with respect to the sun. “The stars of the Kepler supernova field are very weak stars, only accessible from the Southern Hemisphere with a large diameter telescope such as VLT telescopes,” says John Pritchard, an ESO researcher and another of the authors of this study.

“There is an alternative mechanism to produce the explosion. It consists of the merging of two white dwarfs, or the white dwarf with the carbon and oxygen core of the companion star, in a late stage of its evolution, in both cases giving rise to a supernova,” explains Jonay González Hernández, Ramón y Cajal postdoctoral researcher at the IAC and co-author of the publication. “In the Kepler field, we do not see any star that shows anomalies. However, we found evidence that the explosion was caused by the merging of two white dwarfs or a white dwarf with the core of the companion star, possibly exceeding the Chandrasekhar limit.”

The Kepler supernova is one of the five “historical” supernovas of a thermonuclear type. The other four are Tycho Brahe’s supernova, documented by the Danish astronomer in 1572 (which has been also investigated by this team); SN 1006; SN 185 (which could be the origin of the remnant RCW86); and the recently discovered SNIa G1.9 + 03, which took place in our galaxy around 1900 and was only visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

Source: Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias [August 01, 2018]




Scientists identify exoplanets where life could develop as it did on Earth

Scientists have identified a group of planets outside our solar system where the same chemical conditions that may have led to life on Earth exist.

Scientists identify exoplanets where life could develop as it did on Earth
Artist’s concept depicting one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b
[Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle]

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB), found that the chances for life to develop on the surface of a rocky planet like Earth are connected to the type and strength of light given off by its host star.

Their study, published in the journal Science Advances, proposes that stars which give off sufficient ultraviolet (UV) light could kick-start life on their orbiting planets in the same way it likely developed on Earth, where the UV light powers a series of chemical reactions that produce the building blocks of life.

The researchers have identified a range of planets where the UV light from their host star is sufficient to allow these chemical reactions to take place, and that lie within the habitable range where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface.

“This work allows us to narrow down the best places to search for life,” said Dr Paul Rimmer, a postdoctoral researcher with a joint affiliation at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and the MRC LMB, and the paper’s first author. “It brings us just a little bit closer to addressing the question of whether we are alone in the universe.”

The new paper is the result of an ongoing collaboration between the Cavendish Laboratory and the MRC LMB, bringing together organic chemistry and exoplanet research. It builds on the work of Professor John Sutherland, a co-author on the current paper, who studies the chemical origin of life on Earth.

In a paper published in 2015, Professor Sutherland’s group at the MRC LMB proposed that cyanide, although a deadly poison, was in fact a key ingredient in the primordial soup from which all life on Earth originated.

Scientists identify exoplanets where life could develop as it did on Earth
Diagram of confirmed exoplanets within the liquid water habitable zone
(as well as Earth) [Credit: Paul Rimmer]

In this hypothesis, carbon from meteorites that slammed into the young Earth interacted with nitrogen in the atmosphere to form hydrogen cyanide. The hydrogen cyanide rained to the surface, where it interacted with other elements in various ways, powered by the UV light from the sun. The chemicals produced from these interactions generated the building blocks of RNA, the close relative of DNA which most biologists believe was the first molecule of life to carry information.

In the laboratory, Sutherland’s group recreated these chemical reactions under UV lamps, and generated the precursors to lipids, amino acids and nucleotides, all of which are essential components of living cells.

“I came across these earlier experiments, and as an astronomer, my first question is always what kind of light are you using, which as chemists they hadn’t really thought about,” said Rimmer. “I started out measuring the number of photons emitted by their lamps, and then realised that comparing this light to the light of different stars was a straightforward next step.”

The two groups performed a series of laboratory experiments to measure how quickly the building blocks of life can be formed from hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulphite ions in water when exposed to UV light. They then performed the same experiment in the absence of light.

“There is chemistry that happens in the dark: it’s slower than the chemistry that happens in the light, but it’s there,” said senior author Professor Didier Queloz, also from the Cavendish Laboratory. “We wanted to see how much light it would take for the light chemistry to win out over the dark chemistry.”

The same experiment run in the dark with the hydrogen cyanide and the hydrogen sulphite resulted in an inert compound which could not be used to form the building blocks of life, while the experiment performed under the lights did result in the necessary building blocks.

The researchers then compared the light chemistry to the dark chemistry against the UV light of different stars. They plotted the amount of UV light available to planets in orbit around these stars to determine where the chemistry could be activated.

They found that stars around the same temperature as our sun emitted enough light for the building blocks of life to have formed on the surfaces of their planets. Cool stars, on the other hand, do not produce enough light for these building blocks to be formed, except if they have frequent powerful solar flares to jolt the chemistry forward step by step. Planets that both receive enough light to activate the chemistry and could have liquid water on their surfaces reside in what the researchers have called the abiogenesis zone.

Among the known exoplanets which reside in the abiogenesis zone are several planets detected by the Kepler telescope, including Kepler 452b, a planet that has been nicknamed Earth’s ‘cousin’, although it is too far away to probe with current technology. Next-generation telescopes, such as NASA’s TESS and James Webb Telescopes, will hopefully be able to identify and potentially characterise many more planets that lie within the abiogenesis zone.

Of course, it is also possible that if there is life on other planets, that it has or will develop in a totally different way than it did on Earth.

“I’m not sure how contingent life is, but given that we only have one example so far, it makes sense to look for places that are most like us,” said Rimmer. “There’s an important distinction between what is necessary and what is sufficient. The building blocks are necessary, but they may not be sufficient: it’s possible you could mix them for billions of years and nothing happens. But you want to at least look at the places where the necessary things exist.”

According to recent estimates, there are as many as 700 million trillion terrestrial planets in the observable universe. “Getting some idea of what fraction have been, or might be, primed for life fascinates me,” said Sutherland. “Of course, being primed for life is not everything and we still don’t know how likely the origin of life is, even given favourable circumstances – if it’s really unlikely then we might be alone, but if not, we may have company.”

Source: University of Cambridge [August 01, 2018]




Dragon Ends Stay at Station, On Its Way Home

SpaceX – Dragon CRS-15 Mission patch.

August 3, 2018

Robotic flight controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 12:38 p.m. EDT, and Expedition 56 Serena Auñon-Chancellor of NASA is monitoring its departure.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft begins its separation from the space station after being released from the Canadarm2. Image Credit: NASA.

Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 5:23 p.m. The capsule will splashdown about 6:17 p.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where the SpaceX recovery team will retrieve the capsule and its more than 3,800 pounds of cargo, including a variety of technological and biological studies.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. National Laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

SpaceX CRS-15: Dragon departure from the ISS

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft currently capable of returning cargo to Earth, and this was the second trip to the orbiting laboratory for this spacecraft. SpaceX launched its 15th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission to the station June 29 from Space Launch Complex 40 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket that also previously launched NASA’s TESS mission to study exoplanets.

Related links:

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

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

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), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/SciNews.

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Space Station ‘Space Botanist’ Observes California, Nevada Wildfires

NASA – ECOSTRESS Mission logo.

Aug. 3, 2018

Image above: ECOSTRESS image acquired on July 28 shows three wildfires burning in the western US (in red) — the Carr and Whaleback fires in California, and the Perry Fire in Nevada. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) has captured new imagery of three wildfires burning in California and Nevada — the first image of its kind to be taken by the agency’s newest Earth-observing mission.

ECOSTRESS’ primary mission is to detect plant health by monitoring Earth’s surface temperature from the vantage point of the International Space Station. However, it can also detect other heat-related phenomenon — like heat waves, volcanoes and fires.

Image above: This zoomed-in ECOSTRESS image shows the Carr Fire burning in California in red. It also shows the fire’s thick smoke plumes. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The new image, acquired on July 28, captures three wildfires — the Carr and Whaleback fires in California, and the Perry Fire in Nevada. Surface temperatures above 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) are shown in red, highlighting the burning areas along the fire fronts. Zooming in on the Carr and Perry fires shows the heat data in more detail, and also the very distinct smoke plumes the fires are producing. The measurements have a ground resolution of nearly 77 yards by 77 yards (70 meters by 70 meters).

The Carr Fire, one of the largest of more than a dozen fires burning in California,  started on July 23. As of August 2, the fire had grown to over 121,000 acres. The Whaleback Fire started near Spalding, California on July 27 and spanned nearly 19,000 acres on August 2. The Perry Fire, which started just north of Reno, Nevada on July 27, had engulfed more than 49,000 acres as of August 2.

Image above: This zoomed-in ECOSTRESS image shows the Perry Fire burning in Nevada in red. Thick smoke plumes can also be seen rising from the fire. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

ECOSTRESS launched on June 29 as part of a SpaceX commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. It docked with the space station a few days later, and sent back its first temperature data on July 9. Detecting wildfires is not its primary mission, but its ability to do so is useful to responders as well as scientists.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA’s Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

More information about ECOSTRESS, visit: https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov and https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ecostress

Related links:

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

Fire and Smoke: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/fires/main/

Climate: https://www.nasa.gov/subject/3127/climate

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL/Esprit Smith.

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As temperatures rise, Earth’s soil is ‘breathing’ more heavily

The vast reservoir of carbon stored beneath our feet is entering Earth’s atmosphere at an increasing rate, most likely as a result of warming temperatures, suggest observations collected from a variety of the Earth’s many ecosystems.

As temperatures rise, Earth's soil is 'breathing' more heavily
Dead leaves are a common source of carbon that makes its way into the soil and then into the atmosphere.
A PNNL study shows that carbon in soil is entering our atmosphere at an increasing rate
[Credit: Vision Webagency/Unsplash]

Blame microbes and how they react to warmer temperatures. Their food of choice — nature’s detritus like dead leaves and fallen trees — contains carbon. When bacteria chew on decaying leaves and fungi chow down on dead plants, they convert that storehouse of carbon into carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.

In a study published in Nature, scientists show that this process is speeding up as Earth warms and is happening faster than plants are taking in carbon through photosynthesis. The team found that the rate at which microbes are transferring carbon from soil to the atmosphere has increased 1.2 percent over a 25-year time period, from 1990 through 2014.

While that may not seem like a big change, such an increase on a global scale, in a relatively short period of time in Earth history, is massive. The finding, based on thousands of observations made by scientists at hundreds of sites around the globe, is consistent with the predictions that scientists have made about how Earth might respond to warmer temperatures.

“It’s important to note that this is a finding based on observations in the real world. This is not a tightly controlled lab experiment,” said first author Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.

“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide which enters the atmosphere. Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might respond due to climate warming, these soil changes can potentially contribute to even higher temperatures due to a feedback loop,” he added.

Globally, soil holds about twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. In a forest where stored carbon is manifest in the trees above, even more carbon resides unseen underfoot. The fate of that carbon will have a big impact on our planet. Will it remain sequestered in the soil or will it enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, further warming the planet?

To address the question, the team relied heavily on two global science networks as well as a variety of satellite observations. The Global Soil Respiration Database includes data on soil respiration from more than 1,500 studies around the globe. And FLUXNET draws data from more than 500 towers around the world that record information about temperature, rainfall and other factors.

“Most studies that address this question look at one individual site which we understand very well,” said author Vanessa Bailey, a soil scientist. “This study asks the question on a global scale. We’re talking about a huge quantity of carbon. Microbes exert an outsize influence on the world that is very hard to measure on such a large scale.”

The study focused on a phenomenon known as “soil respiration,” which describes how microbes and plants in the soil take in substances like carbon to survive, then give off carbon dioxide. Soils don’t exactly breathe, but as plants and microbes in soil take in carbon as food, they convert some of it to other gases which they give off — much like we do when we breathe.

Scientists have known that as temperatures rise, soil respiration increases. Bond-Lamberty’s team sought to compare the roles of the two main contributors, increased plant growth and microbial action.

The team discovered a growing role for microbes, whose action is outstripping the ability of plants to absorb carbon. In the 25-year span of the study, the proportion of soil respiration that is due to microbes increased from 54 to 63 percent. Warmer temperatures can prompt more microbial action, potentially resulting in more carbon being released from carbon pools on land into the air.

“We know with high precision that global temperatures have risen,” said Bond-Lamberty. “We’d expect that to stimulate microbes to be more active. And that is precisely what we’ve detected. Land is thought to be a robust sink of carbon overall, but with rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever.”

Source: DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [August 01, 2018]




Understanding soil through its microbiome

Soil is full of life, essential for nutrient cycling and carbon storage. To better understand how it functions, an international research team led by EMBL and the University of Tartu (Estonia) conducted the first global study of bacteria and fungi in soil. Their results show that bacteria and fungi are in constant competition for nutrients and produce an arsenal of antibiotics to gain an advantage over one another. The study can also help predict the impact of climate change on soil, and help us make better use of natural soil components in agriculture.

Understanding soil through its microbiome
Global warfare between bacteria and fungi [Credit: EMBL/Hildebrand/Krolik & Campbell Medical Illustration]

Research on the soil microbiome requires scientists to get their hands dirty. Over the course of five years, 58.000 soil samples were collected from 1450 sites all over the world (40 subsamples per site), that were carefully selected to be unaffected by human activities such as agriculture. First authors Mohamad Bahram (University of Tartu) and Falk Hildebrand (EMBL), together with a large team of collaborators, set up this massive project, gathered samples, and analysed the 14.2 terabyte dataset. Of the 1450 sites sampled, 189 were selected for in-depth analysis (see Figure 1), covering the world’s most important biomes, from tropical forests to tundra, on all continents.

Global microbial war

Only half a percent of the millions of genes found in this study overlapped with existing data from gut and ocean microbiomes. “The amount of unknown genes is overwhelming, but the ones we can interpret clearly point to a global war between bacteria and fungi in soil,” says Peer Bork, EMBL group leader and corresponding author of the paper.

Overall, the bacterial diversity in soil is lower if there are relatively more fungi. The team also found a strong link between the number of antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria and the amount of fungi, especially those with potential for antibiotics production such as Penicillium. Falk Hildebrand: “This pattern could well be explained by the fact that fungi produce antibiotics in warfare with bacteria, and only bacteria with adequate antibiotic resistance genes can survive this.”

“The antagonism between fungi and bacteria influences the overall diversity of bacterial communities and determines their genetic repertoire of antibiotic resistance”, says Mohamad Bahram. This information can be used to predict the spread of genes that lead to antibiotic resistance in different ecosystems, and via what routes they may reach human pathogens. It could also help predict and pinpoint locations with high levels of natural antibiotics producers.

Regional differences

The team also found regional differences in the distribution of bacteria and fungi. Bacteria are everywhere, with the highest genetic diversity in temperate zones with a moderate climate. Environmental factors such as temperature are most decisive in their relative abundance: they often prefer hot and wet locations. Fungi are usually more prevalent in colder and dryer climates like the tundra. They also tend to be more geographically restricted, with differences in populations between continents. This implies that the relative contributions of bacteria and fungi to nutrient cycling are different around the world, and that global climate change may affect their composition and function differently.

Effects of human activity

When comparing data from the unspoiled soil sites with data from locations affected by humans, such as farmland or garden lawns, the ratios between bacteria, fungi and antibiotics were completely different. According to the scientists, this shift in the natural balance – that probably evolved over most of the earth’s history – shows the effect of human activities on the soil microbiome, with unknown consequences so far. However, a better understanding of the interactions between fungi and bacteria in soil could help to reduce the usage of soil fertilizer in agriculture, as one could give beneficial microorganisms a better chance at survival in their natural environment.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

Source: European Molecular Biology Laboratory [August 01, 2018]




Scientists draw new connections between climate change and warming oceans

It happened once before, and it could happen again. That’s the warning from ocean scientists at the University of Toronto and the University of California, Santa Cruz in a study recently published in Science that shows how an increase in CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere more than 50 million years ago, dramatically changed the chemistry of the planet’s oceans.

Scientists draw new connections between climate change and warming oceans
Oxygen concentrations at 1,000 meters water depth in the modern ocean. Reddish to yellow colors show regions with
a high oxygen content. Blue tones depict regions with a low oxygen content that are potentially susceptible to
hydrogen sulfide poisoning in a warming world [Credit: Uli Wortmann/University of Toronto]

The researchers suggest if contemporary global carbon emissions continue to rise, the future of many fish species in our oceans could be at risk.

“Our study shows that global warming is not only about extreme weather events, or hotter summers, but it has the potential to alter the ocean structure with unknown consequences for fisheries,” said Professor Uli Wortmann in the Department of Earth Sciences in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T, and co-author of the study.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened.

“We show that the last time large amounts of CO2 were injected into the atmosphere, not only did the planet get hot — which is known as the so called Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, about 55 million year ago — but it also changed the chemistry of the ocean quite markedly,” said Wortmann. He was joined in the research by U of T PhD student Weiqi Yao, lead author of the study, and Adina Paytan of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

It is widely accepted that an increase in CO2 leads to warming, which then results in less oxygen in our oceans. Less oxygen allows sulfate-eating bacteria to thrive, which produces hydrogen sulfide — a broad-spectrum toxin which is lethal in small concentrations.

“This will affect fish species that live or dive deep in the ocean,” said Wortmann. “Most notably it would impact high level predators like tuna and whales, which in turn would have a ripple effect on fish species living in the commercially more relevant shallow waters — up to 200 metres below sea level – and those living in the middle depth approximately 1,000 metres below the surface of the ocean.

“The middle and deep ocean are the largest and least explored part of our planet, home to giant squid and weird deep sea fish but also some commercially important fish like the Patagonian Toothfish, otherwise known as Chilean Sea Bass.”

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) gets its name from the boundary between two periods in Earth’s past. The amount of CO2 input into the atmosphere during the period was similar to the predicted trajectories of CO2 in the atmosphere towards the year 2100 adopted by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if emissions continue to rise throughout the 21st century. It is viewed as a good model for the fossil fuel burning activity occurring currently and is intensely studied by scientists in the context of climate change.

In the course of exploring how ocean chemistry evolved over the last 60 million years, Yao stumbled upon some unusual data – hinted at in previous low-resolution work by Paytan – that Wortmann suggests conventional wisdom would consider faulty. Upon noticing that it coincided with the PETM interval, the authors dug deeper for more data and were able to show that it was no measurement artifact, but a real signal.

“Increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations go hand in hand with oxygen loss in the ocean, and this is the first demonstration that the CO2 release from human activity could be large enough to turn parts of the ocean into a toxic brew,” said Wortmann.

While the researchers cannot say how long it would take for the impact of increased CO2 levels to become evident, they say the transition would be quick.

“Our study is another piece in the puzzle,” said Yao. “It highlights an often overlooked aspect of the global climate change debate: what will happen to marine fisheries in a warming world?”

Source: University of Toronto [August 01, 2018]




95% of lemur population facing extinction: conservationists

Ninety-five percent of the world’s lemur population is “on the brink of extinction,” making them the most endangered primates on Earth, a leading conservation group said Wednesday.

95% of lemur population facing extinction: conservationists
Out of a total of 111 lemur species and subspecies, 105 are under threat, IUCN said
[Credit: ANP/AFP/Bas Czerwinsk]

The arboreal primates with pointed snouts and typically long tails are found only in Madagascar, where rainforest destruction, unregulated agriculture, logging and mining have been ruinous for lemurs, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.

“This is, without a doubt, the highest percentage of threat for any large group of mammals and for any large group of vertebrates,” Russ Mittermeier of IUCN’s species survival commission said in a statement.

Out of a total of 111 lemur species and subspecies, 105 are under threat, IUCN said, as it released its first update on the lemur population since 2012.

Among the most concerning trends is an “increase in the level of hunting of lemurs taking place, including larger-scale commercial hunting,” Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at the Bristol Zoological Society, said in the statement.

He described the hunting as “unlike anything we have seen before in Madagascar.”

One of the species identified as “critically endangered” is the northern sportive lemur, of which there are thought to be only 50 individuals left, IUCN said.

“Lemurs are to Madagascar what giant pandas are to China—they are the goose that laid the golden egg, attracting tourists and nature lovers,” said Jonah Ratsimbazafy of the domestic primate research group known as GERP.

Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse nations in the world.

IUCN said it was launching “a major action plan for lemur conservation,” to help preserve the endangered primates.

Source: AFP [August 01, 2018]




Common evolutionary origins between vertebrates and invertebrates revealed

Placodes and neural crests are defining features of vertebrates (animals with a spinal cord surrounded by cartilage or bone). Placodes are embryonic structures that develop into sensory organs such as ear, nose, and lens cells, while neural crests develop into various cell lineages such as bone, craniofacial cartilage, and epidermal sensory neurons.

Common evolutionary origins between vertebrates and invertebrates revealed
This is a diagram of Ciona tadpole showing the position of PSCs (palp sensory cells), aATENs (anterior
 trunk epidermal neurons9, pATENs (posterior apical trunk) and BTNs (bipolar tail neurons)
[Credit: University of Tsukuba]

In spite of extensive study on placodes and neural crests, their evolutionary origins remain unclear. The puzzle is further compounded by evidence of the presence of rudiments of both cell types in invertebrate chordates (animals without a spinal cord). This spurred a team of Tsukuba-centered researchers to unravel this evolution mystery.

“For the purpose of our study, the researchers used a combination of lineage tracing, gene disruption and single-cell RNA-sequencing assays to explore the properties of the lateral plate ectoderm, a peripheral embryonic structure, of the proto-vertebrate, Ciona intestinalis, a marine invertebrate animal commonly known as the sea squirt,” explains Ryoko Horie, one of three co-first authors of the study which was in the prestigious journal Nature.

By analyzing the regulatory “blueprint” of the Ciona embryo, the researchers identified several genetic determinants of the lateral plate ectoderm, and successfully obtained evidence for the interlocking regulatory interactions among them.

“The most striking deviation between the Ciona and vertebrate regulatory fate maps is the compartmentalization of the Ciona front lateral plate into two distinct domains,” says corresponding author Takeo Horie.

The researchers found that the antero-posterior compartmentalization of the Ciona lateral plate led to the development of related but distinct sensory cell types, including palp sensory cells (PSCs), anterior trunk epidermal neurons (aATENs) and bipolar tail neurons (BTNs). aATENS have been shown to have dual properties of placode-derived chemosensory neurons, such as neurons involved in the sense of smell, while BTNs are thought to share properties with neural crest-derived dorsal root ganglia, a cluster of neurons (a ganglion) in a dorsal root of a spinal nerve.

Notably, the BTNs readily transformed into PSCs when regulatory genes of the former were misexpressed. The proof of transformation was confirmed by whole-embryo single-cell RNA-sequencing assays.

“Taken together, our findings suggest the possibility of the entire lateral plate of the last shared tunicate and vertebrate ancestor being the source of both placodal and neural crest derivatives in vertebrates,” says Takeo Horie.

Source: University of Tsukuba [August 01, 2018]




Researchers rebuild the tree of life of freshwater macroinvertebrates in the European...

A study from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio-UB) analysed how water macroinvertebrate species, such as beetles, mosquitos and dragonflies, evolved and diversified since their beginnings. With the analysis of the ecological features of about 6,600 European species, researchers rebuilt the functional space they occupy.

Researchers rebuild the tree of life of freshwater macroinvertebrates in the European continent
Researchers gathered and analysed the information of the ecology of about 6,600 species
[Credit: Núria Bonada (IRBio-UB)]

At the same time, they used DNA sequencing to rebuild the tree of life of aquatic macroinvertebrates -evolutionary and phylogenic relation between species- to estimate when they first appeared and their evolution. Results prove previous studies right, which suggested the number of species of each lineage does not depend on the evolutionary time. This study concludes that oldest lineages have more functional diversity -they can do more things and live in more habitats- than younger ones, whose functional diversity is conditioned by oldest lineages which colonized that habitat previously.

Age of lineage and functional diversity

Macroecology is the field of ecology that studies global patterns in biodiversity, such as the decrease of richness of species ranging from tropical areas to the poles, or how this variety gets reduced while the elevation of a mountain rises. In this study, researchers analysed the tree of life of European aquatic macroinvertebrates to determine the time these colonized water ecosystems out of terrestrial or marine ancestors. For instance, it is well established that lineages such as dragonflies colonized continental freshwaters before others, such as beetles or mosquitoes. The next step was to relate the age of lineage to the functional diversity they currently have. “To understand biodiversity global patterns and the processes that created it, it is important to know what these species do -breathe, eat, breed- and where they live -elevation, pH, temperature, amount of oxygen and organic matter of the habitat-, which is known as functional diversity”, says Cesc Múrria, member of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences and FEHM.

Researchers rebuild the tree of life of freshwater macroinvertebrates in the European continent
The study concludes that the functional diversity of the youngest lineages in water ecosystems
is limited by the oldest lineages that colonized these habitats [Credit: Tony Herrera]

Youngest lineages are found in less used places

To relate the evolutionary age and functional diversity, researchers gathered ecological data from about 6,600 species of aquatic macroinvertebrates published in previous studies. Results prove the hypothesis according to which oldest lineages would have a larger functional diversity than young ones, but it also shows how this evolution occurs. “Our results show that young lineages have a functional space which was not used before by other lineages, such as salty environments where we cannot find old lineages. This diversification would occur due older lineages colonizing continental waters with no competitors to limit the functional space. Therefore, as other lineages appeared and occupied functional space, the new ones would evolve to use ecological spaces which were not used before, and they would do fewer things and live in particular habitats”, says Cesc Múrria.

A pioneer research in evolutionary studies

This research study is one of the first ones in the field of evolution which determines how lineages in a new habitat can condition the functional diversity of lineages that will colonize the habitat later. “We offer a new perspective for the evolutionary studies that have to consider the ecology of species and not only the amount of species within different lineages. Although it seems something obvious, since the origin of species depends on what the species do, this ecological and evolutionary view is rare in studies that analyse diversity patterns at a big time and space scale. This involvement goes further than the study of aquatic organisms and it can be applied to the whole biota”, adds Cesc Múrria.

“The new study is a step forward to a better understanding of the evolutionary and ecological history of rivers, since the study mixes three research fields that have been worked on separately: phylogeny, functional ecology and evolution”, conclude the researchers.

The study has been published in the journal Ecography.

Source: University of Barcelona [August 01, 2018]





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