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Apr 29: Apples for a warmer world, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, birds’ belly canteen and more…




Quirks and Quarks54:02Apples for a warmer world, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, birds’ belly canteen, moustranaut microbiome and Brian Cox on black holes


On this episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:


How do you like them apples? A researcher breeds climate-change tolerant fruit


Quirks and Quarks8:16How do you like them apples? A researcher breeds climate-change tolerant fruit


Through a combination of crossbreeding and selection over more than 30 years, Christopher Walsh, professor emeritus in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland, has come up with two perfect apples for a warmer world. The two new varieties are heat-tolerant, blight-resistant, and are easy to harvest. His research is part of the Maryland Tree Architecture Program.

Christopher Walsh beside a yet-to-be-named new variety of heat resistant apple. The trees are also bred to be shorter to make then easier to harvest and resistant to a common disease aggravated by warmer temperatures. (Kathleen Hunt)

New documents retell the story of Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to DNA science


Quirks and Quarks9:46New documents retell the story of Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to DNA science


This week marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of the groundbreaking paper in the journal Nature that described the discovery of the structure of DNA. That work led to the 1962 Nobel Prize for three scientists. But not recognized was the scientist whose data and x-ray image of DNA provided the eureka moment for the discovery. That was Rosalind Franklin, a chemist and x-ray crystallographer from Kings College, London. But today, new evidence, uncovered by Matthew Cobb, a zoologist from The University of Manchester, supports Franklin’s role as an equal collaborator in the discovery. His research was published in Nature.

Black and white photo of woman looking through a microscope
Rosalind Franklin ( Henry Grant Collection/Mol/Shutterstock)

Desert birds have special belly feathers for carrying water for their chicks


Quirks and Quarks8:14Desert birds have special belly feathers for carrying water for their chicks


The African sandgrouse are uniquely adapted to the dry environments in which they live. Unlike other birds, the sandgrouse are really good at collecting water — they can soak up to 15 per cent of their weight in water with their abdominal feathers and then carry it for many kilometres back to their chicks. Lorna Gibson, Matoula S. Salapatas professor of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teamed up with Johns Hopkins University’s Jochen Mueller to learn more about the unique structure of the sandgrouse feathers by studying them using powerful microscopes and micro CT scans. Their findings about the unique water-retaining structures in the feathers are published in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface.

An extremely magnified view of a bird feather.
The abdominal feathers of sandgrouse have unique structures that allow them to absorb and retain water. (Johns Hopkins University)

Space mice give insight into how our microbiome could protect us from bone loss


Quirks and Quarks8:12Space mice give insight into how our microbiome could protect us from bone loss


Mice who travelled to the International Space Station lost bone mass, as astronauts also do, but a new study published in Cell Reports suggests their gut bacteria might have worked to slow the process down. Joseph Bedree, then a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Forsyth Institute, was part of the team that studied the moustranauts after they returned from their space journeys. The researchers found changes in the microbial communities that live inside the mice, which seemed to be linked to bone growth. This small step for the mouse may take scientists closer to a leap in fighting bone loss in microgravity.

A gloved hand keeps hatches open on a medium-sized blue box
Mice that spent over two months in microgravity on the International Space Station returned with more diverse gut microbiomes than their earthling counterparts, with particular bacteria associated with bone growth. On the ISS, the mice lived in special rodent housing shown here. (NASA/Dominic Hart)



Quirks and Quarks16:47UK science star Brian Cox’s new book explores how we might live in a black hole


Physicist Brian Cox has become a globally famous science communicator because of his gifts for making complex subjects approachable. In his latest book, Black Holes: The Key to Understanding the Universe, Cox tackles the enormous challenge of reconciling the fundamental clash of principles between gravity on a large scale and quantum theory. The professor of particle physics from the University of Manchester and the Royal Society told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald how advances in his field are forcing us to consider a deeper view of reality.

A close up image of Brian Cox shows him looking off into the distance in front of a rugged dark landscape with a futuristic flying machine and a vision of space in the sky.
Particle physicist Brian Cox explores the mind bending new physics of black holes where general relativity and quantum theory collide. (Mark Harrison)



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How to watch the Axiom-2 mission depart from the ISS on Tuesday



This Tuesday, the crew of the second-ever all-private mission to the International Space Station will be returning to Earth. The Axiom 2 or Ax-2 mission launched last week and saw private astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi traveling to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Axiom Mission 2 Undocks From the International Space Station (Official NASA Broadcast)

Now, the crew of four will be traveling back to Earth in the same Crew Dragon, and NASA will be livestreaming the departure of the spacecraft from the station. A separate stream will also be available showing the Crew Dragon splashing down off the coast of Florida. We’ve got the details on how to watch both below.

How to watch the mission departure

The Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members pose for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station. NASA

Coverage of the departure of the Crew Dragon from the ISS will begin at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 30. NASA will show a short introduction before the closing of the hatch of the station’s Harmony module at 9:10 a.m. ET (6:10 a.m. PT). There will then be a short break in coverage, which will resume at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT) to show the undocking of the Dragon at 11:05 a.m. ET (8:05 a.m. PT), with coverage ending 30 minutes after undocking.

You can watch the livestream of the hatch closing and the undocking on NASA’s YouTube channel, or by using the video embedded near the top of this page.


The crew will then travel back to Earth throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, May 31. When the Crew Dragon is approaching Earth for splashdown, you’ll be able to tune into a livestream from Axiom Space. That will be available on Axiom’s website, but the company has not yet confirmed the exact time that coverage is expected to begin on Wednesday. You can find the latest updates on Axiom Twitter.

What to expect from the mission departure

The Ax-2 crew will have spent 10 days in space before heading home, and they will be bringing around 300 pounds of cargo back with them. The mission is notable for including the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as famous American astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more days in space than any other American or any other woman.

Axiom Space launched its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with a third mission planned for November this year and a fourth planned for 2024.



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NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Captures ''Heart-Shaped'' Glacier On Pluto's Surface – NDTV





Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system

Space agency NASA routinely captures stunning images of our universe, leaving space lovers mesmerized. On Sunday, NASA shared a stunning image on Instagram taken by its New Horizons spacecraft showing a heart-shaped glacier on Pluto’s surface. The heart-shaped region is known unofficially as Tombaugh Regio and is made of nitrogen and methane.


The image was captioned as ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our New Horizons spacecraft captured this heart-shaped glacier. It lies on Pluto’s surface, which also features mountains, cliffs, valleys, craters, and plains, thought to be made of methane and nitrogen ice ”

See the image here:

It described the image as ”Pluto’s surface is marked with cracks and craters in shades of brown. The partially visible heart appears in the lower right of the small world, which is surrounded by black space.⁣”

New Horizons launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, flying within 7,800 miles of its surface, and becoming the first probe to fly by Pluto and its moons. The far-traveling spacecraft also visited a distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in January 2019. 

Instagram users loved the picture and shared a variety of comments.  One user wrote, ”Wouahh what a great capture, thanks to New Horizon spacecraft.” Another commented, ”For me, Pluto will always be a planet.” 

A third said, ”Why is Pluto, not a plane? it literally has a heart!” A fourth added, ”Being afar doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”

Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, however, it was demoted in 2006 and reclassified as a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet.

Pluto is slightly over 1,400 miles (2250 km) wide or about half the breadth of the United States or two-thirds the width of the Moon. With its average temperature of -387F (-232C) – Pluto’s surface is coated in ice made of water, methane, and nitrogen and is believed to have a rocky core and possibly a deep ocean. 

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This Week @NASA: Private Astronaut Mission, Autonomous Snake-Like Robot Explorer, TROPICS Launch – SciTechDaily



Illustration of the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) concept. Credit NASA/JPL-CalTech

The second all-private astronaut mission to the space station …


Completing the set of tiny severe weather trackers …

And a robotic explorer – with a twist …

A few of the stories to tell you about – This Week at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot; NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA!

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Second Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station

On May 21, a <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Commonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Axiom Mission 2, the second all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.

The four-person crew, commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, is scheduled to spend several days conducting research, outreach, and commercial activities on the space station.

Rocket Lab TROPICS CubeSats

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 1 at Māhia, New Zealand at 11:46 a.m, on May 25, 2023, carrying two TROPICS CubeSats for NASA. Credit: Rocket Lab

Final Pair of Storm-Observing CubeSats Launched

The final two CubeSats for NASA’s TROPICS mission launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on May 26. The small satellites will join two other identical spacecraft that launched to orbit earlier this month.

All four will fly, as a constellation, in a unique low Earth orbit that will allow them to observe tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, more often than what is possible with
current weather satellites.

Snake Robot EELS at Ski Resort

Team members from JPL test a snake robot called EELS at a ski resort in the Southern California mountains in February. Designed to sense its environment, calculate risk, travel, and gather data without real-time human input, EELS could eventually explore destinations throughout the solar system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Autonomous Snake-Like Robotic Explorer

A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS, short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. The self-propelled, autonomous robot is
being developed to go where other robots can’t go.

Although it was inspired by a desire to look for signs of life in the sub-surface ocean on <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and has the second-largest mass in the Solar System. It has a much lower density than Earth but has a much greater volume. Saturn's name comes from the Roman god of wealth and agriculture.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, EELS is not currently part of any NASA mission.

Hot Fire RS-25 Certification Engine

NASA completed a crucial hot fire test of the RS-25 engine, part of a 12-test certification series for future Artemis missions. This achievement brings NASA one step closer to landing the first woman and person of color on the Moon, as well as establishing a long-term lunar presence. Credit: NASA / Stennis

Artemis Rocket Engine Test Series Continues

On May 23, NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a hot fire test of an RS-25 rocket engine. It was the eighth hot fire of the current 12-test series to certify production of new RS-25s.

Four of the engines will help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon.

That’s what’s up this week @NASA.

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