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NASA launches robotic rover to seek signs of past Martian life – watch – The Jerusalem Post

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NASA‘s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $2.4 billion mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth’s planetary neighbor.The next-generation robotic rover – a car-sized six-wheeled vehicle carrying seven scientific instruments – also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and try out equipment for future human treks to the fourth planet from the sun. Its arrival at Mars is planned for Feb. 18 at the site of an ancient river delta.It soared into the sky from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) under clear, sunny and warm conditions, carried by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The launch took place after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) facility in Pasadena, California where its mission engineers were located was rattled by an earthquake.”The spacecraft is in good health and on its way to Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter.[embedded content]  The launch was not without a minor glitch. In the first few hours after liftoff, retrieving precise location and positioning data from the spacecraft was hampered in a brief “communications issue,” NASA officials said, involving the agency’s global network of antennas used to communicate with its most distant probes. The issue was quickly resolved.This marks NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface.”It’s really kind of a key of a whole bunch of new research that we’re doing that is focused on the question … is there life out there?” the space agency’s science division chief Thomas Zurbuchen said on a NASA live stream after the launch.Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Mike Watkins quipped about the California quake: “It was just the Earth being excited about going to Mars. It was a very minor event. Everything’s fine, and we’re on our way to Mars.”Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, site of a former lake and water system from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life.Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harbored life. Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.This was the third launch from Earth to Mars this month, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.US Vice President Mike Pence wrote on Twitter: “Today is a great day for American leadership in space!”HELICOPTER INGENUITYAboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity due to test powered flight on Mars. The thin Martian atmosphere – 99% less dense than Earth’s – poses a challenge to Ingenuity, which was designed to be light, with rotor blades that are larger and spin more quickly than needed for a helicopter of its mass on Earth.Since the first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, NASA has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – that have explored the geology of Martian plains and detected signs of past water formations. NASA also has successfully sent three landers: Pathfinder, Phoenix and InSight.The United States plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under a program that envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the more ambitious crewed Martian voyage.Perseverance will conduct an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into propellant for future rockets launching off the Martian surface, or to produce breathable oxygen for future astronauts. Perseverance also will collect and store rock and soil samples intended to be returned to Earth in the future.

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Penguin Poo Is a Clue: Discovering New Penguin Colonies From Space – SciTechDaily

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Emperor penguins live in Antarctica, which is not only remote and inaccessible, but temperatures can drop to –50°C. Studying penguin colonies is therefore extremely difficult. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been able to search for new emperor penguin colonies using satellite imagery. Credit: BAS

Satellite images have revealed that there are nearly 20% more emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than previously thought. Scientists, at the British Antarctic Survey, have used satellite data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission to track penguin guano, or penguin poo, to monitor the presence of thousands of penguins.

The findings, published on August 4, 2020, in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, reveal 11 new colonies, three of which were previously identified but never confirmed. This discovery takes the global census to 61 colonies around the entire continent.

Locations of Penguin Colonies

This map shows the locations of known, re-discovered and newly discovered penguin colonies in Antarctica. Credit: BAS/ESA

Emperor penguins live in Antarctica, which is not only remote and inaccessible, but temperatures can drop to –50°C. Studying penguin colonies is therefore extremely difficult. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been able to search for new emperor penguin colonies using satellite imagery.

Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify at the 10 m pixel resolution that the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission offers.

Ninnis Bank Antarctica

A penguin colony near Ninnis Bank was spotted by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on August 26, 2019.Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify. These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent.

Peter Fretwell, lead author and geographer at BAS, comments, “This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of the Antarctica coastline have enabled us to find these new colonies. And whilst this is good news, the colonies are small and so only take the overall population count up by 5–10%, to just over half a million penguins or around 265 500 – 278 500 breeding pairs.”

The results, thanks to satellite images from Copernicus Sentinel-2, are an important milestone for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of emperor penguins.

Yule Bay Antarctica

A penguin colony near Yule Bay was captured in this image by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 23 November 2016. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA

The flightless birds are known to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, as warming ocean waters are melting the sea ice where they live and breed. Following the current projections of climate change, their habitat is likely to decline. The results from the study show that the majority of the newly found colonies are at the margins of the emperors’ breeding range – locations that could be lost as the climate continues to warm.

Philip Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at BAS, has been studying penguins for the last three decades. He says, “Whilst it is good news that we’ve found these new colonies, the breeding sites are all in locations where recent model projections suggest emperors will decline. Birds in these sites are therefore probably the ‘canaries in the coalmine’ – we need to watch these sites carefully as climate change will affect this region.”

Cape Gates Antarctica

A penguin colony near Cape Gates was captured in this image by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 7 November 2016. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The study found a number of colonies 180 km offshore, situated on sea ice that has formed around icebergs that had grounded in shallow water. These colonies are a surprising new finding in the behavior of this increasingly well-known species.

Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission designed specifically to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Commission’s Copernicus programme. Satellites, such as the Sentinel-2 mission, provide us with a global coverage, revisiting the same region every few days. The data provide a good understanding of the health and behavior of our planet – and how it is continuously affected by climate change.

Reference: “Discovery of new colonies by Sentinel2 reveals good and bad news for emperor penguins” by Peter T. Fretwell and Philip N. Trathan, 4 August 2020, Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
DOI: 10.1002/rse2.176

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NASA’s SpaceX Capsule scheduled to return on Sunday with 2 Astronauts, if Weather allows!!! – Gizmo Posts 24

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The first private company to send humans to orbit is Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The same was done in May when astronauts Behnken and Hurley was launched. Upon returning, the astronauts will have spent on the space station for more than two months. In 2011 NASA’s shuttle program retired and since that time the missions marks the first that they have launched humans from U.S. soil.

NASA's SpaceX Capsule is scheduled for returning on Sunday with two astronauts
The return of the astronauts from the International Space Station

The NASA astronauts are returning from International Space Station after a nearly four-month voyage on Sunday. The two NASA astronauts boarding SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon rode to the International Space Station. In nine years, this marks the first crewed mission of NASA from home soil. The name of the U.S. astronauts is Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. They were launched in May to the space station. It is reported that they will splash down at about 2:48 p.m. ET on Sunday in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean through one of seven landing sites and board Crew Dragon around 5:30 p.m. ET.

A farewell ceremony was held for the astronauts earlier today aboard the space station. Behnken said, “The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part in bringing us home.”


Location of Splash Down

The coast of Panama City, Florida is chosen by the officials of NASA and SpaceX for the “prime” splashdown location on Sunday for Crew Dragon. The selection may also change as due to the approaching of a path of Hurricane Isaias, a category 1 cyclone on the east coast of Florida as monitored by the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing. If the Isaias forces a delay, the return opportunity opens on Monday.

NASA’s commercial crew manager Steve Stich said, “We have plenty of opportunities here in August and we’re in no hurry to come home.”

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In space, bacteria is even more deadly and resilient to antibiotics – The Next Web

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China recently launched its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. A rocket holding an orbiter, lander and rover took flight from the country’s Hainan province, with hopes to deploy the rover on Mars’s surface by early next year.

Similarly, the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission marked the Arab world’s foray into interplanetary space travel. And on July 30, we saw NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover finally take off from Florida.

For many nations and their people, space is becoming the ultimate frontier. But although we’re gaining the ability to travel smarter and faster into space, much remains unknown about its effects on biological substances, including us.

While the possibilities of space exploration seem endless, so are its dangers. And one particular danger comes from the smallest life forms on Earth: bacteria.

Bacteria live within us and all around us. So whether we like it or not, these microscopic organisms tag along wherever we go – including into space. Just as space’s unique environment has an impact on us, so too does it impact bacteria.

[Read: Why are scientists trying to manufacture organs in space?]

We don’t yet know the gravity of the problem

All life on Earth evolved with gravity as an ever-present force. Thus, Earth’s life has not adapted to spend time in space. When gravity is removed or greatly reduced, processes influenced by gravity behave differently as well.

In space, where there is minimal gravity, sedimentation (when solids in a liquid settle to the bottom), convection (the transfer of heat energy), and buoyancy (the force that makes certain objects float) are minimized.

Similarly, forces such as liquid surface tension and capillary forces (when a liquid flows to fill a narrow space) become more intense.

It’s not yet fully understood how such changes impact lifeforms.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will be launched later this month. Among other tasks, it will seek out past microscopic life and collect samples of Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) to later be returned to Earth. NASA/Cover Images

How bacteria become more deadly in space

Worryingly, research from space flight missions has shown bacteria become more deadly and resilient when exposed to microgravity (when only tiny gravitational forces are present).

In space, bacteria seem to become more resistant to antibiotics and more lethal. They also stay this way for a short time after returning to Earth, compared with bacteria that never left Earth.

Adding to that, bacteria also seem to mutate quicker in space. However, these mutations are predominately for the bacteria to adapt to the new environment – not to become super deadly.

More research is needed to examine whether such adaptations do, in fact, allow the bacteria to cause more disease.

Bacterial teamwork is bad news for space stations

Research has shown space’s microgravity promotes biofilm formation of bacteria.

Biofilms are densely-packed cell colonies that produce a matrix of polymeric substances allowing bacteria to stick to each other, and to stationary surfaces.

Biofilms increase bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, promote their survival, and improve their ability to cause infection. We have seen biofilms grow and attach to equipment on space stations, causing it to biodegrade.

For example, biofilms have affected the Mir space station’s navigation window, air conditioning, oxygen electrolysis block, water recycling unit, and thermal control system. The prolonged exposure of such equipment to biofilms can lead to malfunction, which can have devastating effects.

Another effect of microgravity on bacteria involves their structural distortion. Certain bacteria have shown reductions in cell size and increases in cell numbers when grown in microgravity.

In the case of the former, bacterial cells with the smaller surface areas have fewer molecule-cell interactions, and this reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics against them.

Moreover, the absence of effects produced by gravity, such as sedimentation and buoyancy, could alter the way bacteria take in nutrients or drugs intended to attack them. This could result in the increased drug resistance and infectiousness of bacteria in space.

All of this has serious implications, especially when it comes to long-haul space flights where gravity would not be present. Experiencing a bacterial infection that cannot be treated in these circumstances would be catastrophic.

The benefits of performing research in space

On the other hand, the effects of space also result in a unique environment that can be positive for life on Earth.

For example, molecular crystals in space’s microgravity grow much larger and more symmetrically than on Earth. Having more uniform crystals allows the formulation of more effective drugs and treatments to combat various diseases including cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

Also, the crystallization of molecules helps determine their precise structures. Many molecules that cannot be crystallized on Earth can be in space.

So, the structure of such molecules could be determined with the help of space research. This, too, would aid the development of higher-quality drugs.

Optical fiber cables can also be made to a much better standard in space, due to the optimal formation of crystals. This greatly increases data transmission capacity, making networking and telecommunications faster.

As humans spend more time in space, an environment riddled with known and unknown dangers, further research will help us thoroughly examine the risks – and the potential benefits – of space’s unique environment.

This article is republished from The Conversation by Vikrant Minhas, PhD candidate, University of Adelaide under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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