пятница, 3 мая 2019 г.

Flaking Off A genetic disease developing early in childhood,…

Flaking Off

A genetic disease developing early in childhood, cystic fibrosis (CF) is characterised by the build-up of thick mucus, bacterial infections and structural damage in the lungs. While some theories suggest an initial infection triggers the onset of other symptoms, a recent study monitoring young CF patients found that the accumulation of mucus in the lungs was the first major sign of the disease. Examining fluids washed through sections of their lungs, a technique known as bronchoalveolar lavage, consistently revealed more mucins, the key proteins in mucus, and more solid mucus flakes compared to healthy children, even when no other symptoms were visible. Their mucus flakes (pictured, left) also had a different appearance under the microscope, denser and more granular than those from healthy lungs (right). With mucus so central to the early stages of CF, the researchers suggest that developing safe mucus-thinning drugs may help slow disease progression in young patients.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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Hera’s APEX CubeSat will reveal the stuff that asteroids are made of

ESA — Hera Mission logo.

3 May 2019

From Earth asteroids appear as little more than dots in the sky. Europe’s miniature APEX spacecraft will operate as a mineral prospector in deep space, surveying the make-up of its target asteroids down to individual boulders, helping prepare the way for future mining missions.

ESA’s proposed Hera mission for planetary defence will explore the twin Didymos asteroids, but it will not go there alone: it will also serve as mothership for Europe’s first two ‘CubeSats’ into deep space.

APEX CubeSat

CubeSats are nanosatellite-class missions based on standardised 10-cm boxes, making maximum use of commercial off the shelf systems.  APEX, the Asteroid Prospection Explorer, will be a ‘6-unit’ CubeSat, selected to fly aboard Hera along with the similarly-sized Juventas, led by the Gomspace company.

APEX is being designed for ESA by a Swedish-Finnish-German-Czech consortium, representing a coming together of two CubeSat designs originally chosen to accompany Hera’s predecessor, the Asteroid Impact Mission.

“We’re a prospecting mission because we are focused on revealing the composition and structure of the Didymos asteroids,” explains Tomas Kohout of Helsinki University in Finland and The Czech Academy of Sciences.


“Our Asteroid Spectral Imager will perform detailed spectral measurements of both asteroids on a global basis. It will record the sunlight reflected by Didymos and break down its various colours to look for distinctive absorption ‘fingerprints’, to help map the surface makeup. We’ll obtain a full spectrum for each pixel we see, to make comparisons with terrestrial meteorite samples.”

Another instrument, the Secondary Ion Mass Analyser, will gather data from the constant interaction of the asteroid surfaces with the solar wind from the Sun.

“Incoming ions from the solar wind trigger a sputtering of ions of various elements such as silica, iron and magnesium,” comments Jan-Erik Wahlund of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics. “With this data we can gather the elemental composition of the asteroids.

Lagrange points in Didymos system

“Between these two instruments we also hope to see how these asteroids have interacted with the space environment, pinpointing any differences in composition between the two. And we will closely image the impact crater left by the US DART’s spacecraft’s asteroid deflection test and the ejecta deposited across both surfaces.”

The first stage of its approximately two-month long mission will involve global surveys of the two asteroids from around 4 km away.

After a couple of weeks APEX would then close in on the smaller of the two asteroids, to close in within 500 m of ‘Didymoon’. At this point the CubeSat will make use of localised Lagrange points, gravitationally stable points within the Didymos system. During this ‘inner system science operations phase’ a third instrument would come into play: a magnetometer mounted on a boom away from the main CubeSat body, to maximise its sensitivity.

“At close proximity to Didymoon the magnetometer can separate the interplanetary solar wind from the magnetisation of the asteroid itself,” adds Jan-Erik.

Magnetometer measurements

“This will tell us if there are magnetic minerals within it. By extension it will also give us an idea of the asteroid’s internal structure: if there is a single magnetic dipole resembling Earth’s, then the asteroid is a single monolith. If we find multiple magnetic fields then it is probable the asteroid was broken apart at some point in its past.”

A dedicated navigation camera would help enable the precision flying required by these various mission phases, culminating in an asteroid touchdown.

“Like terrestrial drones, CubeSats have the potential to operate autonomously, in a highly manoeuvrable way,” concludes Tomas. “We will only be checking back with the main Hera spacecraft every one or two days, otherwise we will take advantage of the latest autonomy technology to take care of ourselves.”

Hera mission

The Hera mission, including its twin CubeSats, will be presented to ESA’s Space19+ meeting this November, where Europe’s space ministers will take a final decision on flying the mission.

Space Safety at ESA

Solar activity, asteroids and artificial space debris all pose threats to our planet and our use of space.

ESA’s Space Safety activities aim to safeguard society and the critical satellites on which we depend, identifying and mitigating threats from space through projects such as the Flyeye telescopes, the Lagrange space weather mission and the Hera asteroid mission.

As asteroid experts meet for the international Planetary Defense Conference, ESA is focusing on the threat we face from space rocks. How likely is an asteroid impact? What is ESA doing to mitigate impact risks? Follow the hashtag #PlanetaryDefense to find out more.

Related links:

Asteroid Impact Mission: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Safety/Hera/The_story_so_far

Asteroid deflection test: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/Space_Safety_Security/Hera/DART

ESA’s Space19+: https://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2019/01/What_is_Space19

ESA’s Space Safety: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Safety

Planetary Defense Conference: http://pdc.iaaweb.org/

Helsinki University: https://www.helsinki.fi/en

The Czech Academy of Sciences: https://www.avcr.cz/en/

Swedish Institute of Space Physics: https://www2.irf.se/

Hera Mission: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Hera

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Tomi Kärkkäinen / Reaktor Space Lab/Science Office/DLR.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Hubble Assembles Wide View of the Distant Universe

ESA — Hubble Space Telescope logo.

3 May 2019

Hubble’s Spectacular Wide View of the Universe

Astronomers developed a mosaic of the distant Universe that documents 16 years of observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image, called the Hubble Legacy Field, contains roughly 265,000 galaxies that stretch back to just 500 million years after the Big Bang.

The wavelength range of this image stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time. The faintest and farthest galaxies in the image are just one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can observe.

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field

“Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, leader of the team that assembled the image. “No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched.»

The Hubble Legacy Field combines observations taken by several Hubble deep-field surveys. In 1995, the Hubble Deep Field captured several thousand previously unseen galaxies. The subsequent Hubble Ultra Deep Field from 2004 revealed nearly 10,000 galaxies in a single image. The 2012 Hubble eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, was assembled by combining ten years of NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations taken of a patch of sky within the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

The new set of Hubble images, created from nearly 7,500 individual exposures, is the first in a series of Hubble Legacy Field images. The image comprises the collective work of 31 Hubble programs by different teams of astronomers [1]. Hubble has spent more time on this small area than on any other region of the sky, totaling more than 250 days. The team is working on a second set of images, totaling more than 5,200 Hubble exposures.

«One exciting aspect of these new images is the large number of sensitive colour channels now available to view distant galaxies, especially in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum,» explained team member Rychard Bouwens of Leiden University in the Netherlands. «With images at so many frequencies, we can dissect the light from galaxies into the contributions from old and young stars, as well as active galactic nuclei.»

 The Hubble Deep Field

Before Hubble was launched in 1990, astronomers were able to see galaxies up to about seven billion light-years away, half way back to the Big Bang. Observations with ground-based telescopes were not able to establish how galaxies formed and evolved in the early Universe. Like watching individual frames of a motion picture, the Hubble deep surveys reveal the emergence of structure in the infant Universe and the subsequent dynamic stages of galaxy evolution. Deep-field views of galaxies such as this help astronomers to trace the expansion of the universe to develop our understanding of the underlying physics of the cosmos. Galaxies also show when the chemical elements originated and enable the conditions that eventually led to the emergence of life.

Zooming in on the Hubble Legacy Field

The imae yields a huge catalog of distant galaxies. «Such exquisite high-resolution measurements of the numerous galaxies in thie catalog enable a wide swath of extragalactic study,» said catalog lead researcher Katherine Whitaker of the University of Connecticut.

Pan across the Hubble Legacy Field

The upcoming NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope will allow astronomers to push much deeper into the legacy field to reveal how the infant galaxies developed over time.


[1] The image, along with the individual exposures that make up the new view, is available to the worldwide astronomical community through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The international team involved in the Hubble Legacy Field consists of G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team.


Images of Hubble: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/category/spacecraft/

Hubblesite release: http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2019-17

Hubble deep-field surveys: https://www.spacetelescope.org/science/deep_fields/

Hubble Ultra Deep Field: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0611b/

Hubble eXtreme Deep Field: https://spacetelescope.org/images/heic1214a/

Hubble Space Telescope (HST): https://www.spacetelescope.org/

NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope: http://sci.esa.int/jwst/

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/Bethany Downer/G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Conneticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field Team/Videos: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth and D. Magee (University of California, Santa Cruz), K. Whitaker (University of Connecticut), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and the Hubble Legacy Field team/Music: James Creasey — creaseyproductions.com.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

Inferring the linguistic affinity of long dead and illiterate peoples: a...

Ancient DNA has treated us to many surprises in recent years. But it has also uncannily corroborated some well established hypotheses that were formulated decades ago from historical linguistics and archeological data. One such hypothesis is that the population associated with the Late Neolithic Corded Ware culture (CWC), and its myriad offshoots, spoke early Indo-European languages and spread them across much of Europe and into the Indian subcontinent.
Below is a series of figures in which I explain why the CWC and its likely close relative, the Sintashta culture, are widely regarded as early Indo-European-speaking cultures, even though their languages aren’t attested. To view the images at their maximum size, right click on the thumbs and choose «open link in a new tab».

It’s a damn shame that we still don’t know where the modern domesticated horse lineage ultimately came from. I’m pretty sure that it came from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, but I was hoping this would be confimred in the latest paper on horse genomics published today at Cell: Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series. Nope, the topic wasn’t even covered, and no wonder, because the sampling strategy in the paper didn’t allow it to be. What we desperately need are samples associated with such archeological cultures as Khvalynsk, Repin, Sredny Stog and Yamnaya. Maybe next time, eh?
See also…
The mystery of the Sintashta people
Of horses and men
Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but…


Gold | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral Locality: Eagle’s…

Gold | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Eagle’s Nest Mine, Placer Co., California, USA

Size: 6.4 x 3.6 x 2 cm

Photo Copyright © Anton Watzl Minerals

Geology Page



Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, New Zealand | #Geology #GeologyPage…

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, New Zealand | #Geology #GeologyPage #NewZealand

The Pancake Rocks are a very popular tourist destination at Dolomite Point south of the main village. The Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes during high tides. Together with the ‘pancake’-layering of the limestone (created by immense pressure on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments), these form the main attraction of the area.

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2019 May 3 Clouds of the Large Magellanic Cloud Image Credit…

2019 May 3

Clouds of the Large Magellanic Cloud
Image Credit & Copyright: Team Ciel Austral
J. C. Canonne, N. Outters, P. Bernhard, D. Chaplain, L. Bourgon

Explanation: The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is an alluring sight in southern skies. But this deep and detailed telescopic view, over 10 months in the making, goes beyond what is visible to most circumnavigators of planet Earth. Spanning over 5 degrees or 10 full moons, the 4×4 panel mosaic was constructed from 3900 frames with a total of 1,060 hours of exposure time in both broadband and narrowband filters. The narrowband filters are designed to transmit only light emitted by sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Ionized by energetic starlight, the atoms emit their characteristic light as electrons are recaptured and the atoms transition to a lower energy state. As a result, in this image the LMC seems covered with its own clouds of ionized gas surrounding its massive, young stars. Sculpted by the strong stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation, the glowing clouds, dominated by emission from hydrogen, are known as H II (ionized hydrogen) regions. Itself composed of many overlapping H II regions, the Tarantula Nebula is the large star forming region at the left. The largest satellite of our Milky Way Galaxy, the LMC is about 15,000 light-years across and lies a mere 160,000 light-years away toward the constellation Dorado.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190503.html

Flowering plants, new teeth and no dinosaurs: New study sheds…

Flowering plants, new teeth and no dinosaurs: New study sheds light on the rise of mammals http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/flowering-plants-new-teeth-and-no-dinosaurs-new-study-sheds-light-on-the-rise-of-mammals.html

Chewing versus sex in duck-billed dinosaurs…

Chewing versus sex in duck-billed dinosaurs http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/chewing-versus-sex-in-duck-billed-dinosaurs.html

Magma is the key to the moon’s makeup…

Magma is the key to the moon’s makeup http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/magma-is-the-key-to-the-moons-makeup.html

Running may have made dinosaurs’ wings flap before they evolved…

Running may have made dinosaurs’ wings flap before they evolved to fly http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/running-may-have-made-dinosaurs-wings-flap-before-they-evolved-to-fly.html

99-million-year-old millipede discovered in Burmese amber…

99-million-year-old millipede discovered in Burmese amber http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/99-million-year-old-millipede-discovered-in-burmese-amber.html

Resolving the ‘invisible’ gold puzzle…

Resolving the ‘invisible’ gold puzzle http://www.geologypage.com/2019/05/resolving-the-invisible-gold-puzzle.html

Pinpointing Gaia to Map the Milky Way

Pinpointing Gaia to Map the Milky Way

Pinpointing Gaia to Map the Milky Way (Annotated)

Surveying the skies

The Gaia Spacecraft

Gaia’s View of the Milky Way


ESOcast 200 Light: ESO helps map the Galaxy

ESOcast 200 Light: ESO helps map the Galaxy

Animation of Gaia's Orbit

Animation of Gaia’s Orbit

ESO’s VST helps determine the spacecraft’s orbit to enable the most accurate map ever of more than a billion stars

This image, a composite of several observations captured by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), shows the ESA spacecraft Gaia as a faint trail of dots across the lower half of the star-filled field of view. These observations were taken as part of an ongoing collaborative effort to measure Gaia’s orbit and improve the accuracy of its unprecedented star map.

Gaia, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), surveys the sky from orbit to create the largest, most precise, three-dimensional map of our Galaxy. One year ago, the Gaia mission produced its much-awaited second data release, which included high-precision measurements — positions, distance and proper motions — of more than one billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. This catalogue has enabled transformational studies in many fields of astronomy, addressing the structure, origin and evolution the Milky Way and generating more than 1700 scientific publications since its launch in 2013.

In order to reach the accuracy necessary for Gaia’s sky maps, it is crucial to pinpoint the position of the spacecraft from Earth. Therefore, while Gaia scans the sky, gathering data for its stellar census, astronomers regularly monitor its position using a global network of optical telescopes, including the VST at ESO’s Paranal Observatory [1]. The VST is currently the largest survey telescope observing the sky in visible light, and records Gaia’s position in the sky every second night throughout the year.

Gaia observations require a special observing procedure,” explained Monika Petr-Gotzens, who has coordinated the execution of ESO’s observations of Gaia since 2013. “The spacecraft is what we call a ‘moving target’, as it is moving quickly relative to background stars — tracking Gaia is quite the challenge!

The VST is the perfect tool for picking out the motion of Gaia,” elaborated Ferdinando Patat, head of the ESO’s Observing Programmes Office. “Using one of ESO’s first-rate ground-based facilities to bolster cutting-edge space observations is a fine example of scientific cooperation.

This is an exciting ground-space collaboration, using one of ESO’s world-class telescopes to anchor the trailblazing observations of ESA’s billion star surveyor,” commented Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA.

The VST observations are used by ESA’s flight dynamics experts to track Gaia and refine the knowledge of the spacecraft’s orbit. Painstaking calibration is required to transform the observations, in which Gaia is just a speck of light among the bright stars, into meaningful orbital information. Data from Gaia’s second release was used to identify each of the stars in the field of view, and allowed the position of the spacecraft to be calculated with astonishing precision — up to 20 milliarcseconds.

This is a challenging process: we are using Gaia’s measurements of the stars to calibrate the position of the Gaia spacecraft and ultimately improve its measurements of the stars,” explains Timo Prusti

After careful and lengthy data processing, we have now achieved the accuracy required for the ground-based observations of Gaia to be implemented as part of the orbit determination,” says Martin Altmann, lead of the Ground Based Optical Tracking (GBOT) campaign at the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University, Germany.

The GBOT information will be used to improve our knowledge of Gaia’s orbit not only in observations to come, but also for all the data that have been gathered from Earth in the previous years, leading to improvements in the data products that will be included in future releases.


[1] This collaboration between ESO and ESA is just one of several cooperative projects which have benefitted from the expertise of both organisations in progressing astronomy and astrophysics. On 20 August 2015, the ESA and ESO Directors General signed a cooperation agreement to facilitate synergy through projects such as these.

More Information

In order to foster exchanges between astrophysics-related spaceborne missions and ground-based facilities, as well as between their respective communities, ESA and ESO are joining forces to organise a series of international astronomy meetings. The first ESA-ESO joint workshop will take place in November 2019 at ESO and a call for proposals for the second workshop, to take place in 2020 at ESA, is currently open.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, 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. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory.

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”.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA is an international organisation with 22 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

ESA’s Gaia satellite was launched in 2013 to create the most precise three-dimensional map of more than one billion stars in the Milky Way. The mission has released two lots of data thus far: Gaia Data Release 1 in 2016 and Gaia Data Release 2 in 2018. More releases will follow in the coming years.



Calum Turner
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670

Source: ESO/News

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Researchers find ice feature on Saturn’s giant moon

Rain, seas and a surface of eroding organic material can be found both on Earth and on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. However, on Titan it is methane, not water, that fills the lakes with slushy raindrops.

Researchers find ice feature on Saturn's giant moon
Three orientations of Titan’s globe. Mapped in blue is the icy corridor
[Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute]

While trying to find the source of Titan’s methane, University of Arizona researcher Caitlin Griffith and her team discovered something unexoldpected — a long ice feature that wraps nearly half way around Titan.

Griffith, a professor in the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is the lead author on the paper published in Nature Astronomy.

On Titan, atmospheric methane molecules are continuously broken apart by sunlight. The resulting atmospheric haze settles to the surface and accumulates as organic sediments, rapidly depleting the atmospheric methane. This organic veneer is made up of the material of past atmospheres.

There is no obvious source of methane, except from the evaporation of methane from the polar lakes. But Titan’s lakes contain only one-third of the methane in Titan’s atmosphere and will be exhausted soon by geological time scales.

One theory is that the methane could be supplied by subsurface reservoirs that vent methane into the atmosphere. Prior studies of Titan indicate the presence of a singular region called Sotra, which looks like cryo-volcano, with icy flow features.

Griffith’s team set out to study the composition of Titan’s surface, partly hoping to find subtle small cryo-volcanos candidates. They analyzed half of Titan’s surface and none were detected, but Sotra was found to be exceptional in that it exhibits the strongest ice features.

Yet the major ice feature the researchers found was completely unexpected. It consists of a linear ice corridor that wraps around 40 percent of Titan’s circumference.

«This icy corridor is puzzling, because it doesn’t correlate with any surface features nor measurements of the subsurface,» Griffith said. «Given that our study and past work indicate that Titan is currently not volcanically active, the trace of the corridor is likely a vestige of the past. We detect this feature on steep slopes, but not on all slopes. This suggests that the icy corridor is currently eroding, potentially unveiling presence of ice and organic strata.»

The team’s analysis also indicates a diversity of organic material in certain regions. These surface deposits are of interest because laboratory simulations of Titan’s atmosphere produce biologically interesting compounds such as amino acids.

Griffith analyzed tens of thousands of spectral images taken of the topmost layer of the surface by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, using a method that enabled the detection of weak surface features.

This feat was accomplished by Griffith’s application of the principal components analysis, or PCA. It allowed her to tease out subtle features caused by ice and organic sediments on Titan’s surface from the ubiquitous haze and more obvious surface features. Instead of measuring the surface features individually for each pixel in an image, the PCA uses all of the pixels to recognize the main and more subtle signatures.

Griffith’s team compared their results with past studies including the Huygens probe, which landed on Titan in 2005. The comparison validated both the technique and the results. Plans are underway to use the technique to explore the poles where methane seas reside.

«Both Titan and Earth followed different evolutionary paths, and both ended up with unique organic-rich atmospheres and surfaces,» Griffth said. «But it is not clear whether Titan and Earth are common blueprints of the organic-rich of bodies or two among many possible organic-rich worlds.»

Source: University of Arizona [April 29, 2019]



2,000-year-old remnant of a nova first described by ancient Chinese astronomers...

For the first time, a European research team involving the University of Göttingen has discovered the remains of a nova in a galactic globular cluster. A nova is an explosion of hydrogen on the surface of a star which makes it much brighter. The remains have formed a glowing nebula. The remnant is located near the centre of the globular cluster Messier 22 and has recently been observed using modern instruments. The results will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

2,000-year-old remnant of a nova first described by ancient Chinese astronomers discovered
Near the centre of the globular cluster Messier 22, the team of scientists discovered the remains of a nova
[Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, F Göttgens (IAG)]

«The position and brightness of the remains match an entry from 48 BC in an ancient collection of observations by Chinese astronomers,» says first author Fabian Göttgens of the Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Göttingen. This is research carried out for his PhD in the Stellar Astrophysics research group lead by Professor Dreizler. «They probably saw the original nova in the same place.» This means modern measurements confirm one of the oldest observations of an event outside the solar system.
Globular clusters are large, spherical clusters of several hundreds of thousands of very old stars that orbit together around their home galaxy. There are 150 known globular clusters orbiting our galaxy, the Milky Way. Messier 22 is one of these star clusters, it lies in the constellation Sagittarius in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way.

2,000-year-old remnant of a nova first described by ancient Chinese astronomers discovered
This Chinese text (marked in orange) from an ancient collection of observations describes
a sighting of the original Nova by Chinese astronomers from the year 48 BC
[Credit: The Chinese Text Project]

It was observed together with two dozen other globular clusters with the instrument MUSE at the Very Large Telescope of the ESO in Chile. The MUSE instrument was developed with the participation of the Institute for Astrophysics, which was funded by the BMBF. It does not only produce images, it also simultaneously splits starlight by colour, measuring the brightness of stars as a function of colour. This makes it particularly suitable for finding nebulae that often only glow in a certain colour — usually red.

The newly discovered remains of the nova form a red shining nebula of hydrogen gas and other gases, which has a diameter of about 8,000 times the distance between Earth and Sun. Despite its size, the nebula is relatively light, with a mass about 30 times that of Earth, because the gas was dispersed by the explosion.

Source: University of Göttingen [April 29, 2019]



Spotted owls bred to save them from extinction in British Columbia

Spotted owls live in trees 150 to 200 years old but there has been so much logging in the western province of British Columbia, such a loss of habitat, that there may be fewer than 10 individuals in the wild. So, researchers started breeding the birds in 2007 in hopes of eventually raising enough birds to be able to release 200 into the wild. But it is a slow and painstaking process.

Spotted owls bred to save them from extinction in British Columbia
Parents Scud and Shania with their six-week-old chick, Dante between them
[Credit: Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program]

So far, the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program in Langley, B.C. has five breeding pairs and the goal is to have 10. Researchers begin by monitoring the owls with the use of remote cameras. When an egg is laid, they take it away and replace it with  a robotic egg which can relay information about humidity, temperature and when the eggs are turned.
They take the real egg, put it in an incubator and incubate it for 32 days. The owl will lay another egg which will be left there for 10 days. Then all the eggs are removed to the incubator.

“So, she has an empty nest. She’ll look into her nest and think something has predated on her eggs like in the wild and…she’ll then lay two more eggs, hopefully,” says Jasmine McCulligh, a biologist and the program’s co-ordinator. “Then we can hopefully produce twice as many chicks than they naturally would in the wild.”

Spotted owls bred to save them from extinction in British Columbia
At first, the chicks are fed small amounts of rat meat by hand through the day
[Credit: Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program]

After the chicks hatch, they are fed for a few days and breeders are on 24/7 watch. At first, the chicks have no feathers and their eyes and ears are closed. But once the eyes open they are reintroduced into the nest, where they are accepted by the adult owls.
“It’s a pretty instinctual behaviour to take care of something,” says McCulligh. “What we find is that owls that have never seen a chick in their lives, pretty much what I say is, if something is screaming ‘feed me,’ the owls will likely feed it.”

The chicks will stay in the sanctuary for a year because survival rates in the wild are not very good for that first period of their lives. The goal is to release 10 to 20 birds a year into suitable habitats. But whether that is possible will depend on the health, genetics and sex ratio of the birds. Says McCulligh, “it’s really important work and it’s something I’m happy and grateful to be doing every day.”

Spotted owls bred to save them from extinction in British Columbia
Sally, right, perches with six-week-old Bella. Chicks fledge the nest at about four weeks of age
but can only fly short distances [Credit: Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program]

There are cameras trained on the incubator and researchers plan to relay video from the next hatching to the internet site so people can watch the new chicks.

The Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program is funded by the government of British Columbia and the non-profit B.C. Conservation Foundation.

Author: Lynn Desjardins | Source: Radio Canada International [April 29, 2019]



Almost half of World Heritage sites could lose their glaciers by 2100

Glaciers are set to disappear completely from almost half of World Heritage sites if business-as-usual emissions continue, according to the first-ever global study of World Heritage glaciers.

Almost half of World Heritage sites could lose their glaciers by 2100
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch natural World Heritage site
[Credit: IUCN/Martin Price]

The sites are home to some of the world’s most iconic glaciers, such as the Grosser Aletschgletscher in the Swiss Alps, Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas and Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae.

The study in the AGU journal Earth’s Future and co-authored by scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) combines data from a global glacier inventory, a review of existing literature and sophisticated computer modeling to analyze the current state of World Heritage glaciers, their recent evolution, and their projected mass change over the 21st century.

The authors predict glacier extinction by 2100 under a high emission scenario in 21 of the 46 natural World Heritage sites where glaciers are currently found. Even under a low emission scenario, eight of the 46 World Heritage sites will be ice-free by 2100. The study also expects that 33 percent to 60 percent of the total ice volume present in 2017 will be lost by 2100, depending on the emission scenario.

«Losing these iconic glaciers would be a tragedy and have major consequences for the availability of water resources, sea level rise and weather patterns,» said Peter Shadie, Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Heritage Programme. «This unprecedented decline could also jeopardize the listing of the sites in question on the World Heritage list. States must reinforce their commitments to combat climate change and step up efforts to preserve these glaciers for future generations.»

Almost half of World Heritage sites could lose their glaciers by 2100
Huascarán National Park natural World Heritage site in Peru
[Credit: IUCN/Elena Osipova]

Several iconic landscapes found in World Heritage sites will be impacted by rising temperatures.

— Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina contains some of the largest glaciers on Earth and a very large ice loss — about 60 percent of the current volume — is predicted by 2100 within this site.

— In North America, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and Olympic National Park could also lose more than 70 percent of their current glacier ice by 2100, even under drastically lowered carbon dioxide emissions.

— In Europe, the disappearance of small glaciers is projected in the Pyrénées — Mont Perdu World Heritage site before 2040.

— Te Wahipounamu — South West New Zealand, which contains three quarters of New Zealand’s glaciers, is projected to lose 25 percent to 80 percent of the current ice volume over the course of this century.

Almost half of World Heritage sites could lose their glaciers by 2100
Xinjiang Tianshan natural World Heritage site in China
[Credit: IUCN/Pierre Galland]

Beyond these alarming results, the authors emphasize the key role that glaciers play for ecosystems and societies at a global scale. Glacier conservation could thus serve as a trigger to tackle the unprecedented issue of climate change.
«To preserve these iconic glaciers found in World Heritage sites, we urgently need to see significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the only way of avoiding long-lasting and irreversible glacier decline and the related major natural, social, economic and migratory cascading consequences,» says Jean-Baptiste Bosson, scientific advisor for the IUCN’s World Heritage programme and lead author of the new study. «The study on glacier decline further emphasizes the need for individual and collective actions to achieve the mitigation and adaptation aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change.»

Climate change is the fastest growing threat to natural World Heritage sites, according to the IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2 report, with the number of sites threatened by climate change doubling between 2014 and 2017.

The authors of the study also developed the first ever inventory of glaciers on the UNESCO World Heritage list, documenting about 19,000 glaciers present in 46 out of the 247 natural World Heritage sites.

Source: American Geophysical Union [April 30, 2019]



New giant virus may help scientists better understand the emergence of complex life

The discovery of the Medusavirus holds clues to the evolution of more complex life. The paper published in the Journal of Virology earlier this year has been creating waves because of the ability of the Medusavirus to turn amoeba into «stone.» However, the bigger discovery is the possible relationship between the Medusavirus and the evolution of complex life. Tokyo University of Science has released a video, and an infographic, to explain this phenomenon.

New giant virus may help scientists better understand the emergence of complex life
A new giant virus may help scientists better understand the emergence of complex life
[Credit: Tokyo University of Science]

A team of scientists led by virologist Masaharu Takemura at Tokyo University of Science and Hiroyuki Ogata at Kyoto University in Japan have discovered a giant virus that, much like the mythical monster Medusa, can turn almost amoeba to a stone-like cyst. Isolated from a hot spring in Japan and eponymously dubbed Medusavirus, this virus infects a species of amoeba known as Acanthamoeba castellanii and causes it to develop a hard, stony shell.

With the Medusavirus, scientists discovered that DNA replication occurred in the nucleus of the host amoeba and observed evidence of exchange of genetic information between the host and the virus as they coevolved. They also found that the giant virus harbors in its ancient genome some of the complex proteins that make up the building blocks of eukaryotic organisms such as animals, plants, and humans.

Understanding the presence of these proteins in the virus’ genome may help scientists tackle some of the hardest questions about our origins. In fact, «genomics research of the giant virus indicates that there is likely a relationship between the Medusavirus and the origin of eukaryotic life,» says Professor Takemura from Tokyo University of Science.

A virus does not have the necessary «machinery» to replicate. It does this inside its host cell, by releasing its genome and «hijacking» the cell’s machinery. When a virus invades an organism, it uses some of the host genes in order to replicate itself. This can leave a mark, like a fingerprint, on the host’s DNA, which is then passed on for generations. The host also interacts with the virus, and the virus adopts new sequences that are preserved through time. The host and virus coevolve, and it is this «coevolution» that is at the forefront of this insightful study.

Credit: Tokyo University of Science    

Viruses are classified based on their genetic characteristics, that is, by how they generate mRNA to produce proteins and genetic material. The Medusavirus is a nucleocytoplasmic large DNA virus, which belongs to a group of recently discovered eukaryotic viruses with large and complex double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) genomes. It is interesting because, unlike most viruses, it contains genes that encode for proteins involved in DNA packaging.

The Medusavirus has a full set of histones, which are proteins that have evolved to keep the DNA folded inside the nucleus and regulate gene expression. This is particularly strange when you consider that viruses have no nucleus; this could mean that during the coevolution, the virus might have acquired the genes that encode these histones. With these findings, this study also makes a claim that the Medusavirus is a completely different family of viruses.

When the Medusavirus petrifies the amoeba, it does so by hijacking the cell directly from its nucleus. The virus transfers its DNA to initiate replication and uses its own DNA polymerase (enzyme that synthesizes DNA) and histones, but overall, it relies on the host to complete the process.

The results of an evolutionary analysis done by the authors suggest that in the evolution tree, the Medusavirus DNA polymerase lies at the origin of the DNA polymerase found in eukaryotes. As one of the authors, Dr Genki Yoshikwa from Kyoto University, puts it, this could mean that our DNA polymerase «probably originated from Medusavirus or one of its relatives.»

Luckily, the Medusavirus won’t be turning us into stone anytime soon.

Source: Tokyo University of Science [April 30, 2019]



The year is 1965, and thanks to telecommunication engineers at…


The year is 1965, and thanks to telecommunication engineers at our Jet Propulsions Laboratory, the first color version of one of our first Martian images had been created. Brought to life by hand coloring numbered strips, this image is a true blast to the past.

Fast forward to the 21st century and our Mars InSight mission now enables us to gawk at the Martian horizon as if we were there. InSight captured this panorama of its landing site on Dec. 9, 2018, the 14th Martian day, or sol, of its mission. The 290-degree perspective surveys the rim of the degraded crater InSight landed in and was made up of 30 photos stitched together.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Lindow Man, The British Museum, London, 20.4.19.

Lindow Man, The British Museum, London, 20.4.19.

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