Titan, Saturn’s icy moon, is an ideal planetary body to study prebiotic chemistry, origins of life, and the potential habitability of an extraterrestrial environment. It has a nitrogen-based atmosphere, complex organic chemistry fueled by radiation from the Sun and Saturn’s magnetosphere, hydrocarbon lakes, organic dunes on the equator, and seasonal evaporation and precipitation of hydrocarbons in a process notably similar to Earth’s hydrological cycle. In new research, planetary scientists recreated the Titan’s conditions in small glass cylinders, revealing fundamental properties of two simple nitrile molecules — acetonitrile and propionitrile — that are believed to exist as minerals on the surface of the icy moon.
Most of what we know now about Titan is thanks to the NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons.
From that mission, planetary researchers know that Titan is a compelling place to study how life came about.
Fueled by the Sun’s energy, Saturn’s magnetic field and cosmic rays, hydrocarbons react on Titan to produce organic molecules of various sizes and complexities.
Acetonitrile and propionitrile are believed to be present in the moon’s characteristic yellow haze as aerosols, and they rain down on the surface, settling as solid chunks of minerals.
The properties of these molecules on Earth are well known, but their characteristics under Titan-like conditions have not been studied until now.
“Simple organic molecules that are liquid on Earth are typically solid icy mineral crystals on Titan because of its extremely low temperatures, down to minus 180 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit),” said Dr. Tomče Runčevski, a researcher at Southern Methodist University.
“In the lab, we recreated conditions on Titan in tiny glass cylinders.”
“We found that acetonitrile and propionitrile occur predominantly in one crystalline form that creates highly polar nanosurfaces, which could serve as templates for the self-assembly of other molecules of prebiotic interest.”
“Our research revealed a lot about the structures of planetary ices that was previously unknown,” he added.
“We found that one crystalline form of propionitrile does not expand uniformly along its three dimensions.”
“Titan goes through temperature swings, and if the thermal expansion of the crystals is not uniform in all directions, it may cause the moon’s surface to crack.”
Dr. Runčevski and colleagues presented their results this week at the ACS Fall 2021 meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Tomče Runčevski et al. Simple nitriles as putative cryominerals on Titan, Saturn’s moon. ACS Fall 2021
A 900-year-old cosmic mystery has been solved by astronomers – CTV News
The mystery behind the origins of a supernova first spotted by 12th-century Chinese and Japanese astronomers has been solved, according to an international team of 21st-century astronomers.
New research, published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal, has linked astronomical reports from more than 800 years ago with a faint, fast-expanding nebula surrounding Parker’s Star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The nebula, dubbed Pa30, fits the profile, location and age of the supernova, which was originally documented in 1181 AD.
“The historical reports place the guest star between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai,” Albert Zijlstra, astrophysics professor at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. “Parker’s Star fits the position well. That means both the age and location fit with the events of 1181.”
The first astronomers to lay eyes on the supernova, referred to as SN 1181, described it being as bright as the planet Saturn and remaining visible for six months, the authors of the study said.
Previous research has suggested Parker’s Star and the Pa30 nebula may be the result of the merging of two white dwarf stars. Such events are thought to lead to a rare and faint type of supernova called a “Type Iax” supernova.
“Only around 10 per cent of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN 1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Zijlstra said. “It is the only such event where we can study both the remnant nebula and the merged star, and also have a description of the explosion itself.”
The key to unlocking the mystery of this historical supernova was the discovery that the Pa30 nebula is expanding at a velocity of more than 1,100 kilometres per second. From this, researchers were able to calculate the nebula’s age to be around 1,000 years old, which coincides with the events of 1181 AD.
“Combining all this information such as the age, location, event brightness and historically recorded 185-day duration, indicates that Parker’s Star and Pa30 are the counterparts of SN 1181,” Zijlstra said. “This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible.”
There have been five supernovae in the Milky Way in past millennium, and up until now, SN 1181 was the only one whose origins remained unknown.
“It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery,” Zijlstra said.
The team of astronomers who made the discovery hail from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France.
SpaceX launches amateur crew on private Earth-circling trip – Al Jazeera English
SpaceX’s first private flight has been launched into orbit with two contest winners, a healthcare worker and their rich sponsor on board, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism.
The launch on Wednesday night was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no professional astronauts.
“Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight’s billionaire leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff.
The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days circling the planet from an unusually high orbit – 160km (100 miles) higher than the International Space Station – before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.
It is SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competition for space tourism dollars.
Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Only 38, Isaacman made his fortune from a payment-processing company he started in his teens.
Joining Isaacman on the trip dubbed Inspiration4 is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood bone cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated – St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Isaacman has pledged $100m out of his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100m in donations.
Arceneaux became the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis, a titanium rod in her left leg.
Also along for the ride are sweepstakes winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona.
Once opposed to space tourism, NASA is now a supporter.
“Low-Earth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space,” tweeted NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who was a congressman when he hitched a ride on a space shuttle decades ago.
Researchers create a novel method of bioprinting neuron cells – Medical Xpress
A group of researchers including a Concordia Ph.D. student have developed a new method of bioprinting adult neuron cells. They’re using a new laser-assisted technology that maintains high levels of cell viability and functionality.
Ph.D. candidate and 2020-21 Public Scholar Hamid Orimi and his co-authors present the feasibility of a new bioprinting technology they developed in a recent paper published in the journal Micromachines. They demonstrate how the methodology they created, called Laser-Induced Side Transfer (LIST), improves on existing bioprinting techniques by using bioinks of differing viscosities, allowing for better 3D printing. Orimi, his Concordia co-supervisor Sivakumar Narayanswamy in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, CRHMR co-supervisor Christos Boutopoulos and co-authors at the Université de Montréal first presented the method in the Nature journal Scientific Reports in 2020.
Orimi co-wrote the newer paper with lead author Katiane Roversi, Sebastien Talbot and Boutopoulos at UdeM and Marcelo Falchetti and Edroaldo da Rocha at Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. In it, the researchers demonstrate that the technology can be used to successfully print sensory neurons, a vital component of the peripheral nervous system. This, they say, is promising for the long-term development of bioprinting’s potential, including disease modeling, drug testing and implant fabrication.
Viable and functional
The researchers used dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons from the peripheral nervous system of mice to test their technology. The neurons were suspended in a bioink solution and loaded into a square capillary above a biocompatible substrate. Low-energy nanosecond laser pulses were focused on the middle of the capillary, generating microbubbles that expanded and ejected a cell-laden microjet onto the substrate below it. The samples were briefly incubated, then washed and re-incubated for 48 hours.
The team then ran several tests to measure the printed cells’ capacities. A viability assay found that 86 percent of the cells remained alive two days after printing. The researchers note that viability rates improved when the laser used lower energy. The thermomechanics associated with higher laser energy use was more likely to damage the cells.
Other tests measured neurite outgrowth (in which developing neurons produce new projections as they grow in response to guidance cues), neuropeptide release, calcium imaging and RNA sequencing. Overall, the results were generally encouraging, suggesting that the technique could be an important contribution to the field of bioprinting.
Good for people and animals
“In general, people often leap to conclusions when we talk about bioprinting,” Orimi says. “They think that we can now print things like human organs for transplants. While this is a long-term objective, we are very far from that point. But there are still many ways to use this technology.”
Nearest at hand is drug discovery. The team hopes to get approval to continue their research into cell grafting, which can assist greatly in drug discovery, such as for nerve recovery medicines.
Another advantage to using this technology, Orimi says, is a decrease in animal testing. This not only has a humanitarian aspect—fewer animals will be euthanized to carry out experiments meant to benefit humans—but it will also produce more accurate results, since testing will be carried out on human, not animal, tissue.
Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi et al, Drop-on-demand cell bioprinting via Laser Induced Side Transfer (LIST), Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-66565-x
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