пятница, 2 августа 2019 г.

Length or Health? On the left, a trio of old nematode worms…

Length or Health?

On the left, a trio of old nematode worms paralysed by a buildup of toxic protein clumps similar to those seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. On the right, worms that differ in only one respect: they’re missing a gene called TCER-1. Previous research suggested that TCER-1 helps to give worms a longer life and boosts their fertility, so the loss of this gene should be a bad thing. Curiously, the opposite seems to be true. When scientists removed TCER-1 from worms, the modified animals are better able to withstand the negative effects of infectious bacteria, DNA-damaging radiation, toxic protein buildup and harmful high temperatures as they get older. The researchers think that while TCER-1 is helpful when worms are young and fertile, it can be harmful once they’re past reproductive age. Now they want to find out whether the same is true in humans.

Written by Kat Arney

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Meteor Activity Outlook for August 3-9, 2019

Mostly cloudy skies couldn’t hide this fireball captured by Wade Earle on July 27, 2019, at 06:56 UT. He was located 14 miles southwest of Pilot Rock, Oregon, USA. © Wade Earle

Meteor activity kicks into high gear in August as seen from the northern hemisphere. The main reason for all this activity is the Perseid shower that peaks on August 13th. This shower is active most of the month and remains above the level of the sporadic background for a week centered on August 13th. The sporadic activity is also near maximum as seen from the northern hemisphere and is now more than double the rates from just three months ago. As seen from southern hemisphere, meteor rates are still decent but falling rapidly. The sporadic rates continue their downward slide and the Perseid radiant does not rise high into the sky as seen in the southern hemisphere. So rates for the Perseids are greatly reduced when compared to those seen from the northern hemisphere.

During this period the moon reaches its first quarter phase on Wednesday August 7th. On that date the moon is located 90 degrees east of the sun and will set near midnight local daylight saving time (LDST). This weekend the waxing crescent moon will set during the late evening hours and will not interfere with viewing meteor activity. The estimated total hourly meteor rates for evening observers this week is near 5 as seen from mid-northern latitudes and also 4 for those viewing from subtropical southern latitudes (25S). For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near 24 no matter your location. The actual rates will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Note that the hourly rates listed below are estimates as viewed from dark sky sites away from urban light sources. Observers viewing from urban areas will see less activity as only the brighter meteors will be visible from such locations.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning August 3/4. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period. Most star atlases (available at science stores and planetariums) will provide maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates so that you may find out exactly where these positions are located in the sky. A planisphere or computer planetarium program is also useful in showing the sky at any time of night on any date of the year. Activity from each radiant is best seen when it is positioned highest in the sky, either due north or south along the meridian, depending on your latitude. It must be remembered that meteor activity is rarely seen at the radiant position. Rather they shoot outwards from the radiant so it is best to center your field of view so that the radiant lies at the edge and not the center. Viewing there will allow you to easily trace the path of each meteor back to the radiant (if it is a shower member) or in another direction if it is a sporadic. Meteor activity is not seen from radiants that are located below the horizon. The positions below are listed in a west to east manner in order of right ascension (celestial longitude). The positions listed first are located further west therefore are accessible earlier in the night while those listed further down the list rise later in the night.


Radiant Positions at 22:00 LdST

Radiant Positions at 22:00 Local Daylight Saving Time

Radiant Positions at 01:00 LdST

Radiant Positions at 1:00 Local Daylight Saving Time

Radiant Positions at 03:00 LdST

Radiant Positions at 3:00 Local Daylight Saving Time

These sources of meteoric activity are expected to be active this week.


The first of the kappa Cygnids (KCG) should appear next week from a radiant located near 18:40 (280) +45. This area of the sky lies in northern Lyra, 6 degrees northeast of the brilliant zero magnitude star known as Vega (alpha Lyrae). This radiant is best laced near 2300 LDST, when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. The maximum still two weeks away so rates would be low for this source. With an entry velocity of 21 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of slow velocity.

The alpha Capricornids (CAP) are active from July 3 through August 11 with maximum activity occurring during the last week of July. The broad maximum occurs anywhere from July 25 to the 30th with visual rates usually around 3 per hour. The radiant is currently located at 20:38 (309) -08, which places it 2 degrees northwest of the 4th magnitude star known as epsilon Aquarii. This radiant is best placed near 01:00 (LDST), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Hourly rates at this time should be near 1 for observers in the northern hemisphere and 2 as seen south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 22 km/sec., the average alpha Cap meteor would be of slow velocity.

The center of the large Anthelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 21:36 (324) -14. This position lies in northeastern Capricornus, 3 degrees northeast of the 3rd magnitude star known as Deneb Algedi (delta Capricorni Aa). Due to the large size of this radiant, anthelion activity may also appear from western Aquarius as well as Capricornus. This radiant is best placed near 02:00 (LDST), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near 2 per hour as seen from mid-northern latitudes (45 N) and 3 per hour as seen from the southern tropics (S 25). With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average anthelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

The Northern delta Aquariids (NDA) are active from July 23 through August 27. The radiant is currently located at 22:33 (338) -02. This position is located in northern Aquarius, 2 degrees south of the 4th magnitude star known as eta Aquarii. Maximum activity is not expected until August 14, so hourly rates will be less than 1 per hour no matter your location. The radiant is best placed near 03:00 LDST, when it lies highest in the sky. With an entry velocity of 38 km/sec., these meteors would be of medium velocities. This shower seems to be a continuation of the Northern June Aquilids, which had been active since early June.

The Southern Delta Aquariids (SDA) are active from a radiant located at 23:01 (345) -15. This position is located in southwestern Aquarius, 1 degree northeast of the 3rd magnitude star known as Skat (delta Aquarii). Maximum activity was expected on July 30th. Current hourly rates will depend on your latitude. Rates seen from mid-northern latitudes will range from 2-3 per hour, depending on the haziness of your skies. Those viewing from the southern tropics will see the best rates of near 5 per hour. The radiant rises near 22:00 LDST for observers located in the mid-northern latitudes, but is best placed near 04:00 LDST, when it lies highest in the sky. With an entry velocity of 41 km/sec., most activity from this radiant would be of average velocities.

The Piscids Austrinids (PAU) are an obscure shower, not well seen from the northern hemisphere. Recent studies by the IMO Video Network shows little activity. Other studies have indicated that this shower is active later than previously thought. We will go along with that idea until more information is available. It is now thought that this radiant is active from July 31 through August 19, with maximum activity occurring on the 9th. Using these parameters, the current position of the radiant would be 23:10 (349) -22. This area of the sky is located in southwestern Aquarius, near the spot occupied by the faint star known as 88 Aquarii. The radiant is best placed near 04:00 LDST, when it lies highest in the sky. Current rates should be less than 1 for those viewing from mid-northern latitudes and near 1 per hour for observers in the southern hemisphere. With an entry velocity of 44km/sec., most activity from this radiant would be of average velocities.

The Perseids (PER) are active from a radiant located at 02:20 (035) +55. This position lies in northwestern Perseus, 4 degrees southwest of the 4th magnitude star known as Miram (eta Persei). This area of the sky is best placed for viewing during the last dark hour before dawn when it lies highest in the sky. Maximum is not until August 13 so current rates are expected to be near 5 per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and 2 as seen from south of the equator. Unfortunately these meteors are not well seen from the southern hemisphere. With an entry velocity of 59 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

The eta Eridanids (ERI) were discovered by Japanese observers back in 2001. Activity from this stream is seen from July 23 through September 17 with maximum activity occurring on August 11. The radiant currently lies at 02:32 (038) -14 which places it in eastern Cetus, 4 degrees west of the 4th magnitude star known as pi Ceti. This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Current rates are expected to be near 1 per hour during this period no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 65 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

The 49 Andromedids (FAN) were discovered by Željko Andreić and the Croatian Meteor Network team based on studying SonotaCo and CMN observations (SonotaCo 2007-2011, CMN 2007-2010). These meteors are active from July 6 through August 14 with maximum activity occurring on July 21. The current position of the radiant is 02:41 (040) +53. This position lies in northwestern Perseus, 1 degree west of the 4th magnitude star known as tau Persei. Hourly rates are currently expected to be less than 1 no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 60 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift speed.

The psi Cassiopeiids (PCA) were discovered by Zdenek Sekanina in his study of radio streams. These meteors are active from July 5 through August 7 with maximum activity occurring on July 22. The current position of the radiant is 03:47 (057) +78. This position lies in northeastern Cassiopeia, 8 degrees northeast of the faint star known as 50 Cassiopeiae. Hourly rates are currently expected to be near less than 1 as no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 42 km/sec., the average psi Cassiopeiid meteor would be of medium speed.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately 12 sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near 4 per hour. As seen from the tropical southern latitudes (25S), morning rates would be near 9 per hour as seen from rural observing sites and 3 per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures.

The list below offers the information from above in tabular form. Rates and positions are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning except where noted in the shower descriptions.

RA (RA in Deg.) DEC Km/Sec Local Daylight Saving Time North-South
kappa Cygnids (KCG) Aug 14 18:40 (280) +45 21 23:00 <1 – <1 II
alpha Capricornids (CAP) Jul 27 20:38 (309) -0822:07 (332) -04 22 01:00 1 – 2 II
Anthelion (ANT) 21:36 (324) -14 30 02:00 2 – 3 II
Northern delta Aquariids (NDA) Aug 14 22:33 (338) -02 38 03:00 <1 – <1 IV
Southern Delta Aquariids (SDA) Jul 30 23:01 (345) -15 41 04:00 2 – 5 I
Piscids Austrinids (PAU) Aug 09 23:10 (349) -22 44 04:00 <1 – 1 II
Perseids (PER) Aug 13 02:20 (035) +55 59 07:00 5 – 2 I
eta Eridanids (ERI) Aug 11 02:32 (038) -14 67 07:00 1 – 1 IV
49 Andromedids (FAN) Jul 21 02:41 (040) +53 60 07:00 <1 – <1 IV
psi Cassiopeiids (PCA) Jul 22 03:47 (057) +78 42 08:00 1 – <1 IV

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The PIE homeland controversy: August 2019 status report

Archeologist David Anthony has a new paper out on the Indo-European homeland debate titled Archaeology, Genetics, and Language in the Steppes: A Comment on Bomhard. It’s part of a series of articles dealing with Allan R. Bomhard’s «Caucasian substrate hypothesis» in the latest edition of The Journal of Indo-European Studies. It’s also available, without any restrictions, here.
Any thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments below. Admittedly, I found this part rather puzzling (emphasis is mine):

It was the faint trace of WHG, perhaps 3% of whole Yamnaya genomes, that identified this admixture as coming from Europe, not the Caucasus, according to Wang et al. (2018). Colleagues in David Reich’s lab commented that this small fraction of WHG ancestry could have come from many different geographic places and populations.

I think that’s rather optimistic. It really should be obvious by now thanks to archeological and ancient genomic data, including both uniparental and genome-wide variants, that the Yamnaya people were practically entirely derived from Eneolithic populations native to the Pontic-Caspian (PC) steppe. So, in all likelihood, this was also the source of their minor WHG ancestry.
Indeed, they clearly weren’t some mishmash of geographically, culturally and genetically disparate groups that had just arrived in Eastern Europe, but the direct descendants of closely related and already significantly Yamnaya-like peoples associated with long-standing PC steppe archeological cultures such as Khvalynsk and Sredny Stog. I discussed this earlier this year, soon after the Wang et al. paper was published:

On Maykop ancestry in Yamnaya

I hope I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that the scientists at the Reich Lab are finding this difficult to accept, because it doesn’t gel with their theory that archaic Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wasn’t spoken on the PC steppe, but rather south of the Caucasus, and that late or rather nuclear PIE was introduced into the PC steppe by migrants from the Maykop culture who were somehow involved in the formation of the Yamnaya horizon.
Inexplicably, after citing Wang et al. on multiple occasions and arguing against any significant gene flow between Maykop and Yamnaya groups, Anthony fails to mention Steppe Maykop. But the Steppe Maykop people are an awesome argument against the idea that there was anything more than occasional mating between the Maykop and Yamnaya populations, because they were wedged between them, and yet highly distinct from both, with a surprisingly high ratio of West Siberian forager-related ancestry (see here).
Despite all the talk lately about the potential cultural, linguistic and genetic ties between Maykop and Yamnaya, including claims that the latter possibly acquired its wagons from the former, my view is that the Steppe Maykop and Yamnaya wagon drivers may have competed with each other and eventually clashed in a big way. Indeed, take a look at what happens after Yamnaya burials rather suddenly replace those of Steppe Maykop just north of the Caucasus around 3,000 BCE.

RUS_Progress_En_PG2001 0.808±0.058
RUS_Steppe_Maykop 0.000
UKR_Sredny_Stog_II_En_I6561 0.192±0.058
chisq 13.859
tail prob 0.383882
Full output

Yep, total population replacement with no significant gene flow between the two groups. Apparently, as far as I can tell, there’s not even a hint that a few Steppe Maykop stragglers were incorporated into the ranks of the newcomers. Where did they go? Hard to say for now. Maybe they ran for the hills nearby?
Intriguingly, Anthony reveals a few details about new samples from three different Eneolithic steppe burial sites associated with the Khvalynsk culture:

The Reich lab now has whole-genome aDNA data from more than 30 individuals from three Eneolithic cemeteries in the Volga steppes between the cities of Saratov and Samara (Khlopkov Bugor, Khvalynsk, and Ekaterinovka), all dated around the middle of the fifth millennium BC.

Most of the males belonged to Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b1a, like almost all Yamnaya males, but Khvalynsk also had some minority Y-chromosome haplogroups (R1a, Q1a, J, I2a2) that do not appear or appear only rarely (I2a2) in Yamnaya graves.

As far as I can tell, he suggests that they’ll be published in the forthcoming Narasimhan et al. paper. If so, it sounds like the paper will have many more ancient samples than its early preprint that was posted at bioRxiv last year.
For me the really fascinating thing in regards to these new samples is how thinly spread and scarce Y-haplogroup R1a appears to have been everywhere before the expansions by the putative Indo-European-speaking steppe ancestors of the Corded Ware culture (CWC) people. It’s almost always outnumbered by other haplogroups wherever it’s found prior to about 3,000 BCE, even on the PC steppe. But then, suddenly, its R1a-M417 subclade goes BOOM! And that’s why I call it…

The beast among Y-haplogroups

At this stage, I’m not sure how to interpret the presence of Y-haplogroup J in the Khvalynsk population. It may or may not be important to the PIE homeland debate. Keep in mind that J is present in a forager from Karelia, northern Russia, dated to the Mesolithic period and with no obvious foreign ancestry. So it need not have arrived north of the Caspian as late as the Eneolithic with migrants rich in southern ancestry from the Caucasus or what is now Iran. In other words, for the time being, the steppe PIE homeland theory appears safe.
See also…
The PIE homeland controversy: January 2019 status report
Yamnaya isn’t from Iran just like R1a isn’t from India
Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but…


2019 August 2 Chamaeleon II Dark Cloud Image Credit &…

2019 August 2

Chamaeleon II Dark Cloud
Image Credit & Copyright: Don Goldman

Explanation: A small constellation hiding near the south celestial pole, The Chamaeleon boasts no bright stars. Stars are forming within its constellation boundaries though, in a complex of dark, dusty molecular clouds. Some 500 light-years distant, the Chamaeleon II dark nebula inhabits this view where the cosmic dust clouds standout mostly in silhouette against the starry southern sky. The telescopic frame is about the angular size of a Full Moon and so spans about 5 light-years at the dark cloud’s estimated distance. Scattered near center a telltale reddish glow from identified Herbig-Haro objects is seen in the sharp image, jets of shocked glowing gas emanating from recently formed stars.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190802.html

Presaddfed Prehistoric Burial Chamber, Anglesey, North Wales, 30.7.19.

Presaddfed Prehistoric Burial Chamber, Anglesey, North Wales, 30.7.19.

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Strap in for a Tour of the Milky Way


The night sky isn’t flat. If you traveled deep into this part of the sky at the speed of the radio waves leaving this tower, here are some places you could reach.

Jupiter: Travel time – 35 minutes, 49 seconds.


The closest object in this view is the planet Jupiter, brilliant now in the evening sky…and gorgeous when seen up close by our Juno spacecraft. Distance on the night this picture was taken: 400 million miles (644 million kilometers). 

Saturn: Travel time – one hour and 15 minutes.


The next closest is Saturn, another bright “star” in this summer’s sky. On the right, one of the Cassini spacecraft’s last looks. Distance: 843 million miles (1.3 billion kilometers).

Pluto: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – four hours, 33 minutes.


It’s not visible to the unaided eye, but Pluto is currently found roughly in this direction. Our New Horizons space mission was the first to show us what it looks like. Distance: more than 3 billion miles.

F-type star, HD 1698330: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 123 years.


Within this patch of sky, there’s an F-type star called HD 169830. At this speed, it would take you 123 years to get there. We now know it has at least two planets (one of which is imagined here) — just two of more than 4,000 we’ve found…so far.

The Lagoon Nebula: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 4,000 years.


If you look closely, you’ll see a fuzzy patch of light and color here. If you look *really* closely, as our Hubble Space Telescope did, you’ll see the Lagoon Nebula, churning with stellar winds from newborn stars.

Black hole, Sagittarius A*: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 26,000 years.


In 26,000 years, after passing millions of stars, you could reach the center of our galaxy. Hidden there behind clouds of dust is a massive black hole. It’s hidden, that is, unless you use our Chandra X-ray Observatory which captured the x-ray flare seen here.


The next time you’re under a deep, dark sky, don’t forget to look up…and wonder what else might be out there.

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

Prehnite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral Locality:…

Prehnite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Djouga-Kolon, Bendougou, Bafoulabé Circle, Kayes Region, Mali

Size: 3.3 × 2.9 × 2.3 cm

Largest Crystal: 2.50cm

Photo Copyright © GeoPeak Minerals /e-rocks. com

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Pyrite on Calcite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral Locality:…

Pyrite on Calcite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Zinc Corporation Mine, Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, Oceania

Dimensions: 8.0 × 6.5 × 3.0 cm

Photo Copyright © Crystal Classics

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Space Station Cell Study Seeks Causes of Major Diseases

ISS — International Space Station logo.

August 1, 2019

High above the Earth, researchers are conducting a first-of-its-kind study to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis on the planet below. The International Space Station experiment is looking for what triggers these diseases by studying how nerve and immune brain cells interact.

The experiment, carried to the space station aboard the SpaceX CRS-18 cargo flight, will look at what is causing damage to the nervous system that is common in both illnesses and reveal how living in space affects similar cells in healthy astronauts.

Image above: Dopaminergic neurons growing in a culture dish (20x magnification). A skin biopsy from a patient with Parkinson’s disease was reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells. The stem cells were then differentiated into dopaminergic neurons (green), the same cells that are lost in Parkinson’s disease patients. Work is under way to use these cells as a replacement for lost neurons as a treatment for the disease. Image courtesy of Aspen Neuroscience.

The study is led by stem cell expert Andres Bratt-Leal of Aspen Neuroscience in La Jolla, California, and Valentina Fossati, a multiple sclerosis researcher with the New York Stem Foundation Research Institute in New York.

“This is the first time anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on such cells,” said Bratt-Leal. “These cells are hard to study in a lab because of the way gravity influences them. The cool part is now we can do it in space!”

Neuron killers

Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis are neurodegenerative illnesses that damage the brain and central nervous system. The researchers suspect this damage may be the result of a glitch in the body’s immune system. NASA is interested in how spaceflight changes the immune system since some astronauts experience strange effects following missions, including temporary activation of dormant viruses.

To learn more, Bratt-Leal and Fossati are focusing on the types of cells in the brain that seem to play key roles in the onset of both diseases. The first types are neurons and the cells that create them, which go on to form the body’s nerve network and allow the brain to monitor and control it. The second are microglia: immune cells that patrol the brain and try to defend the neurons from threatening invaders.

“The microglia are found in every part of the brain, and it’s really starting to look like neurodegenerative illnesses develop because the cells begin behaving improperly or overreacting,” said Fossati. “Misbehaving microglia may contribute to killing the neurons.”

A new way to make old cells

To find out whether that is the case, the researchers need to study the growth of neurons and microglia from people with the diseases and compare them to healthy people of the same age. Since these cells are located within the brain, they cannot be extracted safely.

Bratt-Leal and Fossati found another way, harnessing a new stem cell technology called “induced pluripotent stem cells” to make neurons and microglia from the skin cells of patients and healthy people in laboratories.

Space for cells

Bratt-Leal and Fossati launched newly created diseased and healthy cells into space to observe them away from the heavy influence of Earth’s gravity.

“We know that forces can influence the behavior of cells by changing aspects such as their shape. So, what happens when you remove gravity?” said Bratt-Leal. “How the cells respond will tell us new things about how they function.”

The cells are now aboard the space station, living inside a CubeLab developed by Space Tango, a company that develops equipment for microgravity research. The CubeLab is approximately the size of a small shoebox.

Image above: Microglia cells growing in a culture dish (63x magnification). Microglia are the immune cells of the brain and play a role that is not fully understood in neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis. The cells shown here were differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells that were made from a patient’s skin biopsy. Image courtesy of New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Research Institute.

Inside the CubeLab is a camera to watch the experiment as well as a pair of 96-chamber containers holding the cells. One “well plate” holds the cells of a Parkinson’s patient and a healthy person of similar age. The second plate contains the cells of a multiple sclerosis patient and an age-matched healthy donor. A tubing and pump system automatically provides liquid food to the cells inside their chambers. 

Over the course of 30 days, Bratt-Leal and Fossati can watch remotely to see how the neuron cells organize into balls, called “organoids,” and how the microglia cells respond to and infiltrate them. After a month, the cells will be returned to Earth, where researchers plan to examine their shape and arrangement and test their DNA to see if microgravity and space radiation exposure altered their gene expression.

The results of the research ultimately could help scientists identify new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Also, discovering the way nerve cells are affected by microgravity and radiation may lead to improved methods for protecting astronauts in space, particularly on long-duration missions.

Related links:

Nerve and immune brain cells interact: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7976

Space Tango: https://spacetango.com/

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

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

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

Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link

Hubble Uncovers a ‘Heavy Metal’ Exoplanet Shaped Like a Football

NASA — Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug. 1, 2019

How can a planet be «hotter than hot?» The answer is when heavy metals are detected escaping from the planet’s atmosphere, instead of condensing into clouds.

Observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal magnesium and iron gas streaming from the strange world outside our solar system known as WASP-121b. The observations represent the first time that so-called «heavy metals»—elements heavier than hydrogen and helium—have been spotted escaping from a hot Jupiter, a large, gaseous exoplanet very close to its star.

Image above: This artist’s illustration shows an alien world that is losing magnesium and iron gas from its atmosphere. The observations represent the first time that so-called «heavy metals»—elements more massive than hydrogen and helium—have been detected escaping from a hot Jupiter, a large gaseous exoplanet orbiting very close to its star.The planet, known as WASP-121b, orbits a star brighter and hotter than the Sun. The planet is so dangerously close to its star that its upper atmosphere reaches a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 times greater than any known planetary atmosphere. A torrent of ultraviolet light from the host star is heating the planet’s upper atmosphere, which is causing the magnesium and iron gas to escape into space. Observations by Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph have detected the spectral signatures of magnesium and iron far away from the planet.The planet’s «hugging» distance from the star means that it is on the verge of being ripped apart by the star’s gravitational tidal forces. The powerful gravitational forces have altered the planet’s shape so that it appears more football shaped.The WASP-121 system is about 900 light-years from Earth. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Olmsted (STScI).

Normally, hot Jupiter-sized planets are still cool enough inside to condense heavier elements such as magnesium and iron into clouds.

But that’s not the case with WASP-121b, which is orbiting so dangerously close to its star that its upper atmosphere reaches a blazing 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in WASP-121b’s upper atmosphere is about 10 times greater than that of any known planetary atmosphere. The WASP-121 system resides about 900 light-years from Earth.

«Heavy metals have been seen in other hot Jupiters before, but only in the lower atmosphere,» explained lead researcher David Sing of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. «So you don’t know if they are escaping or not. With WASP-121b, we see magnesium and iron gas so far away from the planet that they’re not gravitationally bound.»

Ultraviolet light from the host star, which is brighter and hotter than the Sun, heats the upper atmosphere and helps lead to its escape. In addition, the escaping magnesium and iron gas may contribute to the temperature spike, Sing said. «These metals will make the atmosphere more opaque in the ultraviolet, which could be contributing to the heating of the upper atmosphere,» he explained.

The sizzling planet is so close to its star that it is on the cusp of being ripped apart by the star’s gravity. This hugging distance means that the planet is football shaped due to gravitational tidal forces.

«We picked this planet because it is so extreme,» Sing said. «We thought we had a chance of seeing heavier elements escaping. It’s so hot and so favorable to observe, it’s the best shot at finding the presence of heavy metals. We were mainly looking for magnesium, but there have been hints of iron in the atmospheres of other exoplanets. It was a surprise, though, to see it so clearly in the data and at such great altitudes so far away from the planet. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. This is a planet being actively stripped of its atmosphere.»

The researchers used the observatory’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to search in ultraviolet light for the spectral signatures of magnesium and iron imprinted on starlight filtering through WASP-121b’s atmosphere as the planet passed in front of, or transited, the face of its home star.

This exoplanet is also a perfect target for NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to search in infrared light for water and carbon dioxide, which can be detected at longer, redder wavelengths. The combination of Hubble and Webb observations would give astronomers a more complete inventory of the chemical elements that make up the planet’s atmosphere.

The WASP-121b study is part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanet Treasury (PanCET) survey, a Hubble program to look at 20 exoplanets, ranging in size from super-Earths (several times Earth’s mass) to Jupiters (which are over 100 times Earth’s mass), in the first large-scale ultraviolet, visible, and infrared comparative study of distant worlds.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

The observations of WASP-121b add to the developing story of how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. When planets form, they gather an atmosphere containing gas from the disk in which the planet and star formed. These atmospheres consist mostly of the primordial, lighter-weight gases hydrogen and helium, the most plentiful elements in the universe. This atmosphere dissipates as a planet moves closer to its star.

«The hot Jupiters are mostly made of hydrogen, and Hubble is very sensitive to hydrogen, so we know these planets can lose the gas relatively easily,» Sing said. «But in the case of WASP-121b, the hydrogen and helium gas is outflowing, almost like a river, and is dragging these metals with them. It’s a very efficient mechanism for mass loss.»

The results will appear online today in The Astronomical Journal: https://iopscience.iop.org/journal/1538-3881

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

For more information about Hubble, visit:




Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/STSI/Donna Weaver/Ray Villard/JHU/David Sing.

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August Brings More Spaceship Traffic and a Spacewalk

ISS — Expedition 60 Mission patch.

August 1, 2019

The International Space Station is hosting five spaceships today as August ramps up for more orbital traffic activity. Six Expedition 60 crewmembers are also unloading U.S. and Russian cargo, activating new science experiments and stocking the station’s galley.

Russia’s Progress 73 (73P) cargo craft completed a fast-track delivery mission early Wednesday docking to the Pirs Docking Compartment just three hours and nineteen minutes after launching from Kazakhstan. Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov opened the 73P hatch shortly afterward starting its four-month stay. He and station Commander Alexey Ovchinin then began unloading nearly three tons of new consumables, fuel and supplies.

Image above: July 31, 2019: International Space Station Configuration. Five spaceships are parked at the space station including the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter, and Russia’s Progress 73 resupply ship and Soyuz MS-12 and MS-13 crew ships. Image Credit: NASA.

Two U.S. space freighters occupy the station’s Earth-facing Harmony and Unity module ports. Harmony will open up Tuesday when Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply ship departs after 109 days in space. The Canadarm2 robotic arm installed the SpaceX Dragon to Unity on Saturday after its arrival and capture beginning a month of cargo operations.

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague are tending to mice today shipped aboard Dragon for ongoing biological research. The reusable vehicle will return the mice back to Earth at the end of the month, including other cargo, so scientists can analyze a variety of changes that only occur in microgravity.

 International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Dragon also delivered a new commercial crew vehicle port, the International Docking Adapter-3 (IDA-3), in its unpressurized trunk. Robotics controllers will soon extract the IDA-3 before two spacewalkers install it to Unity’s space-facing port a few days later.

A few days before Dragon departs, Russia will launch an unpiloted Soyuz MS-14 crew ship to the orbiting lab for a test of its upgraded 2.1a Soyuz booster. It will dock to the Poisk module for a two-week stay before parachuting back to Earth in the vast steppe of Kazakhstan.

Related article:

Russia’s Progress Cargo Craft Racing Toward Space Station & Progress Cargo Ship Reaches Station in Just Two Orbits

Related links:

Expedition 60: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition60/index.html

Progress 73 (73P): https://go.nasa.gov/2GDbLZA

Pirs Docking Compartment: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/pirs-docking-compartment

Harmony module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/harmony

Unity module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/unity

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

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