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Coverage of “wooden satellites” misses the point – Ars Technica

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Enlarge / An experimental satellite, not made of wood, that was used to test ideas for orbital junk removal.

We here at Ars were somewhat surprised to stumble across a BBC headline indicating that a university-industry partnership in Japan was working on developing wooden satellites. The plan is less insane than it sounds—wood is a remarkable material that’s largely unappreciated because of its ubiquity. But most of the reasons to shift to wood give in the coverage of the plan completely misses the mark.

To the degree that there is a plan, at least. According to the BBC and other coverage, the partnership is between Kyoto University and a company called Sumitomo Forestry. But neither the university nor the company has any information on the project available on the English-language versions of their websites. The BBC article gets all its quotes from Takao Doi, who’s currently faculty at Kyoto University. According to Doi, the collaboration is on track to be manufacturing flight models of wooden satellites by 2023.

While wood may seem like a horrific fit for the harsh environment of space, the idea may seem less insane if you think of wood in terms of its structural composition: a mix of two robust polymers, cellulose and lignin. The strength and durability of wood depends heavily on the ratio of these polymers and what’s also present in the mix with them. But it’s also possible to physically and chemically treat wood to alter its properties further. One version of wood was as strong as aluminum by some measures, and had some interesting additional properties. And a forestry company can be expected to have extensive knowledge of how to process wood.

The question is whether wood has any material properties that make it a better fit for satellites than any alternative material. Nikkei Asia indicates that one potential advantage is that wood is transparent to many wavelengths that satellites use to communicate, potentially eliminating the need for external antennae. If said antennae would otherwise need to unfurl after a satellite reaches orbit, this could eliminate one potential source of hardware failure.

But the coverage by the BBC and others focuses on space junk. This is a real problem, as the amount of defunct satellites and random debris in low Earth orbit has created hazards for the functional stuff we’d like to keep there. Everything from scientific observatories to the International Space Station have had to be maneuvered around passing bits of junk.

Unfortunately, making satellite housings out of wood won’t help with this, for many, many reasons. To start with, a lot of the junk isn’t ex-satellites; it’s often the boosters and other hardware that got them to orbit in the first place. Housings are also only a fraction of the material in a satellite, leaving lots of additional junk untouched by the change, and any wood that’s robust enough to function as an effective satellite housing will be extremely dangerous if it impacts anything at orbital speeds.

Most of the coverage seems to present wooden satellites as helping with the space junk problem because of the fact that wood would burn up when it de-orbits. But this stuff is space junk precisely because it doesn’t de-orbit. All of our plans for handling the existing abundance of space junk involve finding a way to induce it to leave orbit. Wood won’t make any difference here.

The one point that wood might have in its favor, noted in some of the coverage and by Doi himself, is that it won’t leave much in the atmosphere if it does de-orbit and burn up. Most other hardware will vaporize into a gas of aluminum and various other metals, perhaps oxidized. Again, having a wood housing won’t eliminate these metals, given that many of them come from the satellites components and the rocket that put them in place. And, at least for the foreseeable future, this material won’t be present in the atmosphere at high enough levels to be meaningful.

Given all this, it’s completely unclear what problem wooden satellites are meant to solve. Still, the idea of figuring out how to process wood so that it would function in this context is an intriguing materials science problem, and might have some very down-to-earth applications. So, here’s to hoping that the project goes ahead regardless.

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Dinosaur fossils found in Argentina could belong to the worlds largest creature – Republic World

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Paleontologists in Argentina recently unearthed the remains of a gigantic dinosaur and have now touted that it could be the largest creature to have ever walked the earth. The fossils were discovered in a sedimentary deposit in Patagonia region are of a titanosaur, which possibly walked the earth 98 million years ago. Patagonia region, located at the Southernmost tip of South America, has been home to walking giants.

The fossil 

The unearthed fossil includes 24 vertebrate which is believed to the part of the giant’s tail. In addendum, elements for its pelvic and pectoral girdle were also discovered. In the aftermath, the researchers have concluded that the discovered fossils could be that of titanosaur, diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs classified by their long neck and tail,  large size amongst others.  

Read: US: Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants To Name Official State Dinosaur

Read: Certain Dinosaur Species Were Cannibals; Bite Marks On Fossils Suggest

Credits: Natural History Museum

In the study, that was published by journal Cretaceous Research, experts opinionated that the creature could be “one of the largest sauropods ever found” and could exceed the size of a Patagotitan, a species which lived 100 million to 95 million years ago and measured up to a staggering 37.2 meters (122 feet) long. However, they have not commented on the dinosaur’s weight as of yet. 

Image Credits:  Cretaceous Research Journal 

Meanwhile, a recent study has found that Allosaurus were carnivores. Dinosaurs were gigantic creatures and have fascinated scientists and palaeontologists since ages. Scientists have tried to use the fossilized remains of dinosaur to find more details about these creatures of a bygone era. They were either carnivorous, herbivorous or omnivores. A newly published research study on the PLOS ONE offered another revelation about Allosaurus, a giant Species of Dinosaur.

As per the published article, the Allosaurus was probably a cannibal. A team of scientists experimented on the fossil bones which were discovered in 1981. These fossil bones were unearthed from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry area in Colorado. Strikingly, nearly 29 percent of the 2368 bones had bite marks. As per the study, this number is almost six times more than the fossils found in other Jurassic dinosaur sites. 

Read: Certain Dinosaur Species Were Cannibals; Bite Marks On Fossils Suggest

Read: Massachusetts Rep Wants To Name ‘State Dinosaur’ To Teach Kids About Legislative Process

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Temperature problems given as reason behind COVID-19 vaccine problems in central Newfoundland – The Journal Pioneer

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A cold chain break is the reason Central Health is giving as the reason behind a rapid vaccination delivery in Grand Falls-Windsor earlier this month.

On Jan. 7, the shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine meant for the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre dropped to a temperature below what is permitted for longer storage.

The temperature requirement for that vaccine is between –60 C and –80 C.

The shipment’s temperature monitor had fallen outside the recommended temperature. That meant 160 doses of Central Health’s supply had to be administered within six hours.

Due to this, those doses were slotted for the following day’s COVID-19 clinic.

“As a result of the cold chain break, we quickly organized an impromptu clinic with priority health-care workers, along with any employees, who were available to attend at such a short notice,” Central Health said in a statement.

Of those 160 doses administered, none went to waste and another shipment of the vaccine arrived the next day, the health authority said.

In the days immediately following that first issue, there were no further issues with transportation, and vaccines were successfully given to priority health-care workers, along with the residents and staff of long-term care homes in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, Central Health said.

“This was an excellent example of the robust planning in the region to allow staff to adapt quickly to any situation,” read the statement.

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100-million-year old beetle fossil sheds light on family of ancient bugs – CNET

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A close-up view of the well-preserved Cretophengodes azari, a fossil light-producing beetle encased in amber.


Chenyang Cai

A beetle trapped in amber for over 100 million years is offering scientists clues to why the bioluminescent insects may have glowed way back during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 66 million years ago. 

In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists reveal that a Cretophengodes beetle found “preserved with life-like fidelity in amber” has a direct connection to its firefly cousins. 

It’s been a bit of a mystery to scientists why ancient beetles could glow. But based on their distant relatives like fireflies, scientists believe the function could likely have been used as a defense against predators, as well as a way to attract mates — much like the modern-day beetle larvae in the same family have used light.

“The discovery of a new extinct Elateroid beetle family is significant,” study co-author Erik Tihelka from the School of Earth Sciences said in a statement, “because it helps shed light on the evolution of these fascinating beetles.” 

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Here’s an artistic reconstruction of a Cretophengodes azari male and female in the undergrowth of a Cretaceous rainforest.


Dinghua Yang

Because this particular beetle fossil was well-preserved in amber, scientists were able to see the light organ on the abdomen of the male beetle. That provides proof adult Cretophengodes were able to produce light, some 100 million years ago.

The majority of light-producing beetles belong to the Elateroidea family, which has over 24,000 known species. The discovery of this beetle provides the missing fossil link between living families, and in doing so helps scientists understand how these beetles evolved and how they should be classified.

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