NASA can now say what a dust devil sounds like on Mars. A NASA rover had its microphone on by chance when a whirling tower of red dust passed directly overhead, recording the racket.
It is about 10 seconds of not only rumbling gusts of up to 40kph (25mph), but the pinging of hundreds of dust particles against the rover Perseverance. Scientists released the first-of-its-kind audio Tuesday.
“We hit the jackpot” when the rover’s microphone picked up the noise made by the dust devil overhead, the study’s lead author Naomi Murdoch of the University of Toulouse, told AFP.
It sounded strikingly similar to dust devils on Earth, although quieter since the thin atmosphere on Mars makes for more muted sounds and less forceful wind, according to the researchers.
The dust devil came and went quickly last year, hence the short length of the audio, said Murdoch. At the same time, the navigation camera on the parked rover captured images, while its weather-monitoring instrument collected data.
“It was fully caught red-handed by Persy,” said co-author German Martinez of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
Photographed for decades on Mars, but never heard, until now, dust devils are common on the red planet – especially in the Jezero crater, where the Perseverance rover has been operational since February 2021. But it had never before managed to record audio of them.
By chance on September 27, 2021, a dust devil 118 metres (390 feet) high and 25 metres wide passed directly over the rove, travelling at five metres (16 feet) per second.
The microphone picked up 308 dust pings as the dust devil whipped by, said Murdoch.
Given that the rover’s SuperCam microphone was turned on for less than three minutes every few days, Murdoch said it was “definitely luck” that the dust devil appeared when it did. She estimated there was just a 1-in-200 chance of capturing dust-devil audio.
Of the 84 minutes collected in its first year, there’s “only one dust devil recording”, she told the AP in an email from France.
“We hear the wind associated with the dust devil, the moment it arrives, then nothing because we are in the eye of the vortex,” said Murdoch, a planetary researcher at France’s ISAE-SUPAERO space research institute, where the SuperCam’s microphone was designed.
Then the sound returns “when the microphone passes through the second wall” of the dust devil, she added.
The impact of the dust made “tac tac tac” sounds, which will let researchers count the number of particles to study the whirlwind’s structure and behaviour, she said.
It could also help solve a mystery that has puzzled scientists. On some parts of Mars, “whirlwinds pass by sucking up dust, cleaning the solar panels of rovers along the way,” Murdoch said.
But in other areas, the whirlwinds move by without kicking up much dust. “They’re just moving air,” Murdoch said, adding that “we don’t know why.”
For example, the solar panels of NASA’s InSight lander are “covered in dust” because it is located at a spot where it cannot take advantage of these natural vacuum cleaners, she said.
Understanding why this happens could help scientists build a model of dust devils that could predict where the whirlwinds might strike next.
The same microphone on Perseverance’s mast provided the first sounds from Mars, namely the Martian wind, soon after the rover landed in February 2021. It followed up with audio of the rover driving around and its companion helicopter, little Ingenuity, flying nearby, as well as the crackle of the rover’s rock-zapping lasers, the main reason for the microphone.
These recordings allow scientists to study the Martian wind, atmospheric turbulence and now dust movement as never before, Murdoch said. The results “demonstrate just how valuable acoustic data can be in space exploration”.
Sylvestre Maurice, planetary scientist and co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications, said that analysing Martian dust makes it possible to “explore the interactions” between the ground and the extremely thin atmosphere.
The atmosphere was much thicker billions of years ago, which allowed for the presence of life-sustaining liquid water, said Maurice, who also works on the SuperCam.
“You might think that studying the Martian climate today is unrelated to the search for traces of life from billions of years ago,” he said.
“But it is all part of a whole, because the history of Mars is one of extreme climate change from a humid, hot planet to a completely arid and cold planet.”
On the prowl for rocks that might contain signs of ancient microbial life, Perseverance has collected 18 samples so far at Jezero Crater, once the scene of a river delta. NASA plans to return these samples to Earth a decade from now. The helicopter Ingenuity has logged 36 flights, the longest lasting almost three minutes.
Rare ‘big fuzzy green ball’ comet visible in B.C. skies, a 50000-year sight
In the night sky, a comet is flying by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.
Steve Coleopy, of the South Cariboo Astronomy Club, is offering some tips on how to see it before it disappears.
The green-coloured comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), is not readily visible to the naked eye, although someone with good eyesight in really dark skies might be able to see it, he said. The only problem is it’s getting less visible by the day.
“Right now the comet is the closest to earth and is travelling rapidly away,” Coleopy said, noting it is easily seen through binoculars and small telescopes. “I have not been very successful in taking a picture of it yet, because it’s so faint, but will keep trying, weather permitting.”
At the moment, the comet is located between the bowl of the Big Dipper and the North Star but will be moving toward the Planet Mars – a steady orange-coloured point of light- in the night sky over the next couple of weeks, according to Coleopy.
“I have found it best to view the comet after 3:30 in the morning, after the moon sets,” he said. “It is still visible in binoculars even with the moon still up, but the view is more washed out because of the moonlight.”
He noted the comet looks like a “big fuzzy green ball,” as opposed to the bright pinpoint light of the stars.
“There’s not much of a tail, but if you can look through the binoculars for a short period of time, enough for your eyes to acclimatize to the image, it’s quite spectacular.”
To know its more precise location on a particular evening, an internet search will produce drawings and pictures of the comet with dates of where and when the comet will be in each daily location.
Coleopy notes the comet will only be visible for a few more weeks, and then it won’t return for about 50,000 years.
Extreme species deficit of nitrogen-converting microbes in European lakes
Sampling of Lake Constance water from 85 m depth, in which ammonia-oxidizing archaea make up as much as 40% of all microorganisms
An international team of researchers led by microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH in Braunschweig, Germany, shows that in the depths of European lakes, the detoxification of ammonium is ensured by an extremely low biodiversity of archaea. The researchers recently published their findings in the prestigious international journal Science Advances. The team led by environmental microbiologists from the Leibniz Institute DSMZ has now shown that the species diversity of these archaea in lakes around the world ranges from 1 to 15 species. This is of particularly concern in the context of global biodiversity loss and the UN Biodiversity Conference held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022. Lakes play an important role in providing freshwater for drinking, inland fisheries, and recreation. These ecosystem services would be at danger from ammonium enrichment. Ammonium is an essential component of agricultural fertilizers and contributes to its remarkable increase in environmental concentrations and the overall im-balance of the global nitrogen cycle. Nutrient-poor lakes with large water masses (such as Lake Constance and many other pre-alpine lakes) harbor enormously large populations of archaea, a unique class of microorganisms. In sediments and other low-oxygen environments, these archaea convert ammonium to nitrate, which is then converted to inert dinitrogen gas, an essential component of the air. In this way, they contribute to the detoxification of ammonium in the aquatic environment. In fact, the species predominant in European lakes is even clonal and shows low genetic microdiversity between different lakes. This low species diversity contrasts with marine ecosystems where this group of microorganisms predominates with much greater species richness, making the stability of ecosystem function provided by these nitrogen-converting archaea potentially vulnerable to environmental change.
Maintenance of drinking water quality
Although there is a lot of water on our planet, only 2.5% of it is fresh water. Since much of this fresh water is stored in glaciers and polar ice caps, only about 80% of it is even accessible to us humans. About 36% of drinking water in the European Union is obtained from surface waters. It is therefore crucial to understand how environmental processes such as microbial nitrification maintain this ecosystem service. The rate-determining phase of nitrification is the oxidation of ammonia, which prevents the accumulation of ammonium and converts it to nitrate via nitrite. In this way, ammonium is prevented from contaminating water sources and is necessary for its final conversion to the harmless dinitrogen gas. In this study, deep lakes on five different continents were investigated to assess the richness and evolutionary history of ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Organisms from marine habitats have traditionally colonized freshwater ecosystems. However, these archaea have had to make significant changes in their cell composition, possible only a few times during evolution, when they moved from marine habitats to freshwaters with much lower salt concentrations. The researchers identified this selection pressure as the major barrier to greater diversity of ammonia-oxidizing archaea colonizing freshwaters. The researchers were also able to determine when the few freshwater archaea first appeared. Ac-cording to the study, the dominant archaeal species in European lakes emerged only about 13 million years ago, which is quite consistent with the evolutionary history of the European lakes studied.
Slowed evolution of freshwater archaea
The major freshwater species in Europe changed relatively little over the 13 million years and spread almost clonally across Europe and Asia, which puzzled the researchers. Currently, there are not many examples of such an evolutionary break over such long time periods and over large intercontinental ranges. The authors suggest that the main factor slowing the rapid growth rates and associated evolutionary changes is the low temperatures (4 °C) at the bottom of the lakes studied. As a result, these archaea are restricted to a state of low genetic diversity. It is unclear how the extremely species-poor and evolutionarily static freshwater archaea will respond to changes induced by global climate warming and eutrophication of nearby agricultur-al lands, as the effects of climate change are more pronounced in freshwater than in marine habitats, which is associated with a loss of biodiversity.
Publication: Ngugi DK, Salcher MM, Andre A-S, Ghai R., Klotz F, Chiriac M-C, Ionescu D, Büsing P, Grossart H-S, Xing P, Priscu JC, Alymkulov S, Pester M. 2022. Postglacial adaptations enabled coloniza-tion and quasi-clonal dispersal of ammonia oxidizing archaea in modern European large lakes. Science Advances: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adc9392
PhDr. Sven-David Müller, Head of Public Relations, Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH
Phone: ++49 (0)531/2616-300
About the Leibniz Institute DSMZ
The Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures is the world’s most diverse collection of biological resources (bacteria, archaea, protists, yeasts, fungi, bacteriophages, plant viruses, genomic bacterial DNA as well as human and animal cell lines). Microorganisms and cell cultures are collected, investigated and archived at the DSMZ. As an institution of the Leibniz Association, the DSMZ with its extensive scientific services and biological resources has been a global partner for research, science and industry since 1969. The DSMZ was the first registered collection in Europe (Regulation (EU) No. 511/2014) and is certified according to the quality standard ISO 9001:2015. As a patent depository, it offers the only possibility in Germany to deposit biological material in accordance with the requirements of the Budapest Treaty. In addition to scientific services, research is the second pillar of the DSMZ. The institute, located on the Science Campus Braunschweig-Süd, accommodates more than 82,000 cultures and biomaterials and has around 200 employees. www.dsmz.de
Scientists are closing in on why the universe exists
Particle astrophysicist Benjamin Tam hopes his work will help us understand a question. A very big one.
“The big question that we are trying to answer with this research is how the universe was formed,” said Tam, who is finishing his PhD at Queen’s University.
“What is the origin of the universe?”
And to answer that question, he and dozens of fellow scientists and engineers are conducting a multi-million dollar experiment two kilometres below the surface of the Canadian Shield in a repurposed mine near Sudbury, Ontario.
The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB) is already famous for an earlier experiment that revealed how neutrinos ‘oscillate’ between different versions of themselves as they travel here from the sun.
This finding proved a vital point: the mass of a neutrino cannot be zero. The experiment’s lead scientist, Arthur McDonald, shared the Nobel Prize in 2015 for this discovery.
The neutrino is commonly known as the ‘ghost particle.’ Trillions upon trillions of them emanate from the sun every second. To humans, they are imperceptible except through highly specialized detection technology that alerts us to their presence.
Neutrinos were first hypothesized in the early 20th century to explain why certain important physics equations consistently produced what looked like the wrong answers. In 1956, they were proven to exist.
Tam and his fellow researchers are now homing in on the biggest remaining mystery about these tiny particles.
Nobody knows what happens when two neutrinos collide. If it can be shown that they sometimes zap each other out of existence, scientists could conclude that a neutrino acts as its own ‘antiparticle’.
Such a conclusion would explain how an imbalance arose between matter and anti-matter, thus clarifying the current existence of all the matter in the universe.
It would also offer some relief to those hoping to describe the physical world using a model that does not imply none of us should be here.
Guests in this episode (in order of appearance):
Benjamin Tam is a PhD student in Particle Astrophysics at Queen’s University.
Eve Vavagiakis is a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow in the Physics Department at Cornell University. She’s the author of a children’s book, I’m A Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe.
Erica Caden is a research scientist at SNOLAB. Among her duties she is the detector manager for SNO+, responsible for keeping things running day to day.
*This episode was produced by Nicola Luksic and Tom Howell. It is part of an on-going series, IDEAS from the Trenches, some stories are below.
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