Titan is one of the most fascinating destinations in the Solar System — and scientists just recreated its atmosphere here on Earth. Of all destinations in space that have captured astronomers’ interest, Titan is one of the most fascinating. It’s Saturn’s largest moon, the second-largest natural satellite in the Solar System, and the only known moon with a dense atmosphere. While places such as Mars and Europa often dominate space conversation these days, Titan is every bit as interesting (if not more so).
Another critical element of Titan is that — outside of Earth — it’s the only known moon/planet with bodies of liquid. Evidence shows Titan is filled with oceans, rivers, and even rain-filled clouds. They largely consist of methane and ethane, whereas Titan’s subsurface houses a more familiar water ocean. This fascinating environment has led many to believe Titan could house possible signs of life, and to better understand that, scientists need a clearer understanding of Titan’s atmosphere.
That’s exactly what a group of researchers recently set out to do. As part of an experiment showcased during a meeting for the American Chemical Society (ACS), Titan’s unique atmosphere was effectively recreated in small glass cylinders. Liquid water was placed in the cylinders, the researchers turned the temperature down to around -290°F (the known temperature on Titan), and then studied what happened. As expected, the results were nothing short of amazing.
What Researchers Discovered From This Titan Experiment
Two molecules appeared in the cylinders during the experiment — including acetonitrile and propionitrile. As researcher Tomče Runčevski describes, these molecules “occur predominantly in one crystalline form that creates highly polar nano surfaces, which could serve as templates for the self-assembly of other molecules of prebiotic interest.” Acetonitrile and propionitrile are two molecules found during the Cassini mission that explored Saturn and its moons for 13 years, confirming this experiment successfully created Titan’s atmosphere on Earth.
Additionally, this experiment also revealed new information about the two molecules that was previously unknown. Earth-like properties for acetonitrile and propionitrile are well understood, but how these things exist on Titan remained unclear. As Runčevski goes on to explain, “For example, we found that one crystalline form of PCN [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.”
Runčevski’s next steps are to take the acetonitrile and propionitrile crystals created during the experiment and compare them to the ‘spectral library’ obtained during the Cassini mission. In doing so, scientists may develop a better understanding of Titan’s surface and its exact mineral makeup. There’s plenty left to learn about Titan’s many mysteries, but this is a notable step in uncovering them.
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This Canadian 'Dark Sky Highway' is a stargazer dream – The Weather Network
E.C. Manning Provincial Park is one of the most popular provincial parks in British Columbia.
Located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, its climate and geography have combined to make this park a go-to destination for stargazers across the country.
The park is within a three-hour drive from either the Lower Mainland or the Okanagan, with the closest city being about 45 minutes away. Road trippers can get there using BC Highway 3, also known as the Crowsnest Highway, located along what has become known as the Dark Sky Highway, due to the limited light pollution.
Photo of the night sky captured along B.C.’s Dark Sky Highway. The five bright stars stretched out through the right-hand side of the image are part of the constellation Ursa Major, aka the Big Dipper. (Mia Gordon)
Every year, photographers from around the country come out here to get a good glimpse of the Milky Way and other incredible constellations, and now the Manning Resort and the park are working towards becoming a dark sky designation.
“That means it is a continued commitment to preserve and protect the night and the environment but more specifically the organisms that live in the park that rely on the night to hunt and navigate,” explained Manning Park Communications Manager Emma Schram.
Every year, the resort partners with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada for an Astronomy Weekend, where visitors can speak with experts, learn how to use a telescope, and even participate in yoga under the stars. This year’s event is taking place October 15-17, and while it is sold out, any time of year is the perfect time to go stargazing in the park.
Learn more about this stargazer’s dream destination in the video above.
Thumbnail image courtesy: Getty Images
Faces of 3 Egyptian mummies revealed for the first time – Editorials 99
New DNA sequencing technology is giving us a first glimpse at what ancient men looked like — before they were mummies.
Genetic researchers have revealed highly detailed three-dimensional renderings of the faces of three Egyptian men who lived more than 2,000 years ago, using DNA pulled from their mummified remains.
The digital reconstructions show the men at age 25, who were unearthed in the vicinity of the ancient Egyptian city of Abusir el-Meleq, in the south of Cairo. Scientists estimate the men were each buried sometime between 1380 B.C. and A.D. 425, Live Science has reported. Their DNA was previously sequenced in 2017 at the Max Planck institute in Germany — at the time, the first successful reconstruction of an Egyptian mummy’s genome in history.
Since then, researchers at Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia have used forensic DNA phenotyping to create 3D models of the men’s faces, a process by which genetic data is used to predict facial features and other physical characteristics of the sampled mummy.
“This is the first time comprehensive DNA phenotyping has been performed on human DNA of this age,” Parabon said in a statement.
The lab used a combination of efforts to reconstruct the faces. Some features, including skin and eye color, can be predicted via genetic markers in the individual’s genome, while others are measured through what’s left of their physical remains.
Parabon’s methods revealed that the men had light brown skin with dark eyes and hair, and that the men were more genetically similar to modern-day Mediterranean populations than that of Egypt today.
Their process had to account for the fact that human DNA degrades over time, and is likely to be contaminated by bacterial DNA. In this case, researchers use genetic commonalities between human populations to fill in the gaps of their mummy genome.
Researchers see that this process could eventually be used in contemporary forensics, in order to identify more recent remains of unknown individuals.
Parabon’s work in genetics has already been used to crack 175 cold cases, including nine solved using the methods described in the current study, they told Live Science.
Some animal species can survive successfully without sexual reproduction: study – CTV News
An international team of researchers have found that some animals can survive over very long periods of time — possibly millions of years — without sexual reproduction.
By studying a tiny beetle mite species, just one-fifth of a millimetre in size, scientists found that asexual reproduction can be successful in the long term.
The study authors note that until now, the survival of an animal species over a geologically long period of time without sexual reproduction was considered very unlikely, if not impossible.
Asexual reproduction involves one parent and produces offspring that are genetically identical to each other and the parent, while sexual reproduction involves two parents and produces offspring that are genetically unique.
Using the Oppiella nova beetle mite, an all-female species, researchers from the Universities of Cologne and Göttingen, the University in Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Montpellier in France, demonstrated for the first time the so-called Meselson effect in animals.
According to the study, the Meselson effect is a characteristic trace in the genome of an organism that suggests “purely asexual reproduction.”
In the study, researchers looked at different populations of the Oppiella nova and the closely related, but sexually reproducing species, Oppiella subpectinata in Germany and sequenced their genomes. The study found that the sequencing of the Oppiella nova genomes showed the Meselson effect.
The findings were published Tuesday in peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS.
Scientists had previously considered the Oppiella nova species an “ancient asexual scandal” as they couldn’t determine how the beetles were managing to reproduce without having sexual intercourse.
Initially, the study notes that biologists thought these beetles were hiding their acts of reproduction.
“There could be, for example, some kind of ‘cryptic’ sexual exchange that is not known. Or not yet known,” first author of the study Alexander Brandt of the University of Lausanne said in a press release.
“For example, very rarely a reproductive male could be produced after all — possibly even ‘by accident’,” he added.
However, the Oppiella nova beetle mite clones itself rather than reproducing, according to the study.
Researchers say the existence of ancient asexual animal species can be difficult to explain as asexual reproduction can seem “very disadvantageous” in the long term due to a lack of genetic diversity.
Biologists say there is typically an “evolutionary advantage” to having two different genomes that only a pair of parents can supply. Through sexual reproduction, this ensures a “constant ‘mixing’ of the two copies” of the genome in each of their cells.
This means that the two sets of genetic information remain very similar, but there are differences that allow organisms on earth to adapt over time, evolving characteristics that best suit the changing environment.
Researchers also found that it is possible for asexually reproducing species to introduce genetic variance into their genomes and thus adapt to their environment during evolution, despite producing genetic clones of themselves.
Scientists say that lack of “genome mixing” compared to sexual species causes the two genome copies of asexual animals to accumulate separate mutations and evolve independently over time.
While the survival rate of a species without sexual reproduction is quite rare, scientists conclude that it is not impossible.
“Our results clearly show that O. nova reproduces exclusively asexually. When it comes to understanding how evolution works without sex, these beetle mites could still provide a surprise or two,” Jens Bast, junior research group leader at the University of Cologne, said in the press release.
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