Aglietti said the mission is intended as a proof of concept. The hope is that the industrial partners can then carry the concept forward for their own operational missions that would remove real-life space debris. There's no expected launch date for future missions.
RemoveDEBRIS was delivered to the ISS aboard the SpaceX CRS-14 launch on April 2.
Airbus ]]>http://www.seeker.com/node/5014118?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Tue, 26 Jun 2018 15:07:03 -0500
New research suggests that LSD and similar drugs can help improve neural plasticity and potentially treat depression and email@example.com Glenn McDonaldGlenn McDonaldhttp://www.seeker.com/mind/brain-hugs-psychedelic-drugs-help-neurons-reach-out-to-each-other?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Credit: Larry Mulvehill/Getty Images
A new molecular medicine study from the University of California concludes that psychedelic drugs like LSD are â as you might have expected â mind-altering.
It may seem like the kind of study that would appear in the Journal of Obvious Science, but there's a twist. According to the new data, psychedelics can be literally mind-altering, triggering physical changes to neurons and changing the very shape of the brain.
The research, which was published in the journal Cell, reveals that psychedelics can cause measurable changes to brain cells on the molecular level, making neurons more elastic and flexible. As a result, these neurons are able to reach out and connect with other adjacent neurons.
Considered against other research on the brain and behavior, the new study supports the increasingly persuasive idea that psychedelic drugs could be used to help fight anxiety, addiction, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
RELATED: 75 Years After First LSD Trip, Psychedelic Science Is Making a Comeback
For several decades now, doctors have proceeded from the theory that many mood disorders â especially depression â stem from imbalanced brain chemistry. But more recent studies have uncovered evidence that depression is associated with certain kinds of physical atrophy in the brain's complex circuitry.
David E. Olson, the lead author of the new study, said in a statement that these brain changes also appear in cases of anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
âOne of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex â a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety â those neurites tend to shrivel up,â he said.
The new research shows that psychedelics have the ability to reverse this atrophy, opening new pathways and branching off new synapses. Psychedelics were also shown to increase both the density of dendritic spines and the density of synapses. Improved synaptic communication like this have been proven clinically effective in treating mood disorders.
RELATED: LSD Helps Explain How Our Brains Assign Meaning to Experience
So far, the UC-Davis team has only tested these effects of psychedelics on rats and flies. But previous experiments in both vertebrates and invertebrates show that psychedelics tend to produce similar effects across species. As such, research into psychedelic-induced brain changes could help future research identify future depression treatments.
The researchers said that they don't expect pure psychedelics to become a prescription option for depression or anxiety.
"But a compound inspired by psychedelics very well could,â Olsen noted.
]]>http://www.seeker.com/node/5014007?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Mon, 25 Jun 2018 13:21:38 -0500
A little-understood set of volcanic eruptions three billion years ago may have changed the face of Mars forever. firstname.lastname@example.org Elizabeth HowellElizabeth Howellhttp://www.seeker.com/planets/mysterious-volcanic-eruptions-formed-massive-martian-plain?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Credit: High Resolution Stereo Camera/European Space Agency
A little-understood set of volcanic eruptions three billion years ago may have changed the face of Mars forever. The eruptions threw gas into the atmosphere that changed the climate, and probably sent enough water aloft to cover Mars in an ocean more than four inches (nine centimeters) thick.
Today we can still see the remnants in Medusae Fossae, a huge deposit of soft rock that is about 20 percent the size of the United States. Before it eroded away over the eons, says a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, it could have been as large as 50 percent of the size of the U.S.
But determining what volcano â or volcanoes â caused all the disruption is poorly understood. The plain is near three sets of volcanoes, including the mighty Tharsis plain that hosts Olympus Mons, which is the largest volcano in the solar system. Could Mars erupt with such force again?
One way to find out is to dig deep into the Martian crust, which NASA is just about to do. The space agency's InSight mission is on the way to Mars and should land there on Nov. 26. It will be the first mission to probe several meters into the crust, seeking evidence of active volcanoes. The mission will also carry a seismometer that will lie against the ground, looking for marsquakes.
Credit: MazzyBor, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
"If the seismometer on InSight sees signatures of volcanic tremors or any seismic activity, the planet is still active," said study lead author Lujendra Ojha, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who also has worked on the InSight mission. "In terms of the Medusae Fossae formation, though, it was 3 billion years ago and we can't learn much. But if parts of other regions on Mars are volcanic, we can find out."
Ojha's team isn't the first to wonder how Medusae Fossae formed. The formation is so massive that radar observations from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico saw it from the ground in the 1960s, Ojha says. NASA's Mariner spacecraft was the first to see it from orbit.
The zone is the largest known volcanic deposit formed from explosions in the solar system. Ojha's team narrowed down the origins by studying the density of the region's rock using gravity data, and discovered that it is only two-thirds as dense compared to the rest of the Martian crust. Gravity data and radar observations also showed that there is no ice in the region that could be decreasing its densities.
Credit: High Resolution Stereo Camera/European Space Agency
Here's how the gravity data works: as a spacecraft orbits Mars, its orbit gets tugged from time to time by dense concentrations of mass below it. (A prominent example would be that Martian volcanic region, Tharsis, but smaller mass concentrations also exist.) As the spacecraft's orbit moves, its transmission time to Earth is ever-slightly affected. Scientists can then estimate mass concentrations by mapping the Doppler shift, or a change in the frequency of the radio waves sending the spacecraft's information to Earth.
Ojha's team did consider other ideas for the deposit. Some suggested that perhaps one volcanic eruption did all the work, but Ojha said it would have to a "diabolical volcano" because the eruption force would be at a magnitude of 11; the highest ever recorded on Earth is only an 8 or a 9.
Others thought the volcanic ash, which hardened into rock over the eons, was actually a dust deposit, but density and volume calculations show there would have to be enough dust deposited there to cover the entire surface of Mars in a layer of dust 10 meters (32 feet) deep. "There also would need to be a cementing agent so the dust particles are stuck to each other; you'd need water [deposit] after water after water to hold all this dust together," Ojha said.
Ojha's team has another paper coming out about the volcanic deposit that is currently under embargo. He also points out that studies of Medusae Fossae provide more information about an important transition time in Martian history, when the planet was losing its water and was undergoing massive volcanic eruptions. So expect to see more work here in the near future.
]]>http://www.seeker.com/node/5013933?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Thu, 21 Jun 2018 18:58:09 -0500
Seeker's Bad Science podcast probes the science behind the popular sci-fi email@example.com Glenn McDonaldGlenn McDonaldhttp://www.seeker.com/culture/dinosaurs-and-dna-the-science-behind-jurassic-park?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds In 1993, director Steven Spielberg released the original Jurassic Park, adapting author Michael Crichton's popular novel about genetically resurrected dinosaurs run amok on an island theme park. Rampaging predators! Kids in peril! Laura Dern! Good times.
Jurassic Park has since become one of the busiest science fiction franchises of the 21st century. The latest installment in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is slated for release this Friday. The films proceed from an area of scientific speculation that has long intrigued geneticists: Is it possible to resurrect extinct species by cloning their DNA?
In the latest episode of Bad Science, Seeker's podcast on science at the movies, host Ethan Edenburg explores the topic with this week's guests, comedian Scott Rogowsky of HQ Trivia and Dr. Alyssa Bell, paleontologist with Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.
In a funny, nostalgic and wide-ranging conversation, the three panelists cover both the science and the fiction of Jurassic Park â everything from genetic sequencing to dubious plot holes to the history of paleontology.
As Bell explains, the modern science of paleontology didn't start ramping up until the mid-1800s. But it turns out that we humans were into dinosaurs before that. Historical research from around the globe suggests that older civilizations were aware of dinosaurs through the fossil record.
âThere's archaeological evidence that older cultures recognized that these bones were something special,â Bell says.
In one recent study, archaeologists found evidence of a Native American dwelling where the entire abode was built up and around a fossil of a giant dinosaur footprint.
As to the core question in the Jurassic Park franchise â Will we ever be able to really resurrect dinosaurs? â Bell is reluctantly pessimistic.
âThe problem with dinosaur DNA is how old it is,â Bell says. âWe're talking a minimum of 66 million years.â
Like all organic material, DNA decays. And that's the biggest impediment to developing real Jurassic Park technologies, Bell says. For modern genetic techniques to even have a shot at dinosaur DNA, we would need to retrieve and reassemble viable genetic code.
âThe best we've done in terms of de-extinction is with the gastric-brooding frog,â he remarks, referring to an Australian animal that went extinct in the 1980s. In 2013, scientists were able to successfully clone embryos from tissue samples in an experiment called the Lazarus Project. While technically a success, the experiment didn't bode well for future cloning projects.
âThe embryos lasted a few days, then they died,â Bell notes. âThat's our greatest success story.â
Fans of the original Jurassic Park will remember that the dinosaur blood was preserved over the millions of years by mosquitoes encased in amber. Is that a possibility?
âEven in amber, it still decays,â Bell says. âSixty-six million years is an insane amount of time.â
Tune in for this week's episode for more details on fossil excavation, genetic sequencing and some curious conjecture on the matter of brachiosaurus eggs.
]]>http://www.seeker.com/node/5013926?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:12:46 -0500
New research provides further evidence that the human brain often just hears what it expects to firstname.lastname@example.org Glenn McDonaldGlenn McDonaldhttp://www.seeker.com/mind/the-science-of-aural-illusions-why-your-brain-mishears-lyrics?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Credit: Jonathan Kirn/Getty Images
If you participated in the recent Laurel vs.Yanny viral phenomenon, then you already know that you can't always trust your ears. What you hear, when a certain word or phrase is uttered, isn't necessarily what the next person hears â or what the original speaker said.
According to a new neuroscience study published this week, we finally have a culprit for all the confusion. As usual, you can blame your brain â or a very specific part of it, anyway. The next time you mess up a song lyric, blame your left superior temporal sulcus.
The research, published in the journal Jneurosci, concludes that misperception of speech often results from a difference between what is said and what we expect to hear.
That's because the brain tends to use past experience when deciphering an ambiguous chunk of spoken language. If what was said sounds pretty close to something you've heard before, the brain will default to the more familiar reading when it translates linguistic input coming up through the ear canal.
To use a famous example from the realm of misheard lyrics: Jimi Hendrix's line âExcuse me while I kiss the skyâ in his song âPurple Hazeâ is often misheard as âExcuse me while I kiss this guy.â That's because the brain is more familiar with the concept of kissing a guy rather than the sky.
This isn't just informed conjecture, either. The research team has hard data from brain scanning machines to back up the theory. Along with colleagues from the University of Cambridge and University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, lead researchers Helen Blank and Matt Davis deployed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of volunteer listeners.
RELATED: Cognitive Hearing Aid Can Isolate a Single Voice in a Crowded Room
The research team presented participants with pairs of written and degraded spoken words that were either identical, clearly different, or similar-sounding. Reading and hearing similar sounding words â like kick followed by pick â led to frequent misperception.
The fMRI imaging found that the misperception was associated with reduced activity in the left superior temporal sulcus, the region of the brain responsible for processing speech sounds. The results provide new evidence for the theory of predictive coding, which suggests that a good deal of speech perception involves comparing what we hear with what we expect.
RELATED: Exploding Head Syndrome: Hearing Crashes and Seeing Bursts of Light During Sleep
These new findings could be used to improve treatment for age-related hearing loss and to better understand auditory hallucinations in disorders such as schizophrenia.
And in the meanwhile, they serve as a helpful reminder to not believe everything that you hear.
]]>http://www.seeker.com/node/5013723?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Tue, 19 Jun 2018 16:03:11 -0500
Boeing's personal aircraft competition announces 10 prototype flying machines. email@example.com Glenn McDonaldGlenn McDonaldhttp://www.seeker.com/tech/airbikes-hexcopters-and-rotorcraft-the-future-of-personal-flying-machines?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Boeing and a cabal of major aircraft industry players announced June 14 the first-phase winners of the ambitious GoFly Prize. Designed to jump-start the development of personal flying vehicles, the GoFly program is an X-Prize style competition with millions of dollars in funding at stake.
Initially announced in September of 2017, the GoFly Prize is a two-year, international effort to promote the speedy development of flying machines that are safe, compact, and (relatively) quiet. The ultimate goal is to design a personal flying device that can carry a single person 20 miles without refueling or recharging. Prototypes must also be able to achieve vertical â or ânear verticalâ â takeoff and landing capabilities for use in city environments.
It's a tall order, but according to GoFly representatives, the competition has received hundreds of submissions for prototype vehicles since the program launch. The 10 Phase I winners announced today will each receive $20,000 in additional funding and move on to Phase II of the contest.
While details and tech specs on the winning entries are sparse â proprietary information, you see â GoFly has released a batch of images featuring the 10 winning concept designs. The Phase I competitors include university research teams and start-ups from five countries â Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Each of the proposed designs was evaluated by a panel of judges to determine the most likely to evolve into an actual flying machine. One interesting development: While science fiction visions of individual flying devices have usually pivoted on the old jetpack idea, none of the Phase I designs goes in that direction.
Instead, the prototype illustrations suggest the future is all about single-rider electric rotor-driven vehicles, sometimes called passenger drones. Click around online and you can find several flying machines of this variety already off the ground in labs and private airfields.
Here are the GoFly Prize Phase I winners, with descriptions provided by the design teams:
http://www.seeker.com/node/5013510?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:04:06 -0500
Archaeologists have long wondered how the hats atop Easter Islandâs iconic statues were put in place. firstname.lastname@example.org Glenn McDonaldGlenn McDonaldhttp://www.seeker.com/culture/hat-trick-researchers-solve-a-lingering-mystery-about-easter-islands-statues?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Credit: Jesse Kraft/EyeEm via Getty Images
Easter hats are nice. Easter Island hats, however, are a pain.
Carved from sharp volcanic rock and more than 700 years old, the stone formations can weigh upwards of 13 tons. Archaeologists have long wondered how these stone hats, which sit atop the heads of the famous Easter Island statues, were put into place with 13th-century technology.
Wonder no more. Using old-school archaeological techniques and cutting-edge 3D computer modeling, researchers have finally solved the mystery of the Easter Island hats. The short answer: Ropes and ramps. But the long answer has some interesting specifics.
Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, rises from the waves about 2,000 miles from Chile. The island's famous statues have been studied by various teams of archaeologists and geologists since the 18th century. Previous studies determined that the statues are made of from one quarry on the island, while the hats come from a different quarry, seven miles away on the other side of the island.
We know, more or less, how the statues were carved and transported. But those hats have been a matter of contention for several decades. Archaeological evidence shows that the hat structures were carved independently from the statues and somehow dropped into place atop the famous stone sentinels.
Previous theories suggested that the statues and the hats were fixed together before they were lifted in place, but later studies of other abandoned statues concluded this was not the case. Complicating the mystery, several unattached hats left around the island are much larger than those placed on statues.
Credit: Sean Hixon/Penn State
Using 3D modeling and hands-on analysis of the site materials, the new study concludes that the hat-donning technique was a multi-stage process.
"The best explanation for the transport of the pukao [hats] from the quarry is by rolling the raw material to the location of the moai [statues]," Carl P. Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, said in a statement. "Once at the moai, the pukao were rolled up large ramps to the top of a standing statue using a parbuckling technique."
Parbuckling is an ancient and efficient technique for rolling cylindrical objects. The center of a long rope is fixed to the top of a ramp and the two trailing ends are wrapped around the cylinder to be moved. Workers atop the ramp then pull on the ropes to slowly roll the cylinder up.
The Easter Island technique likely involved a couple of extra steps, according to the research team. Once on top of the ramp, which was built adjacent to the statue, the hat was slowly rotated and tipped into place using wooden levers. The hat was also most likely modified before, during, and after the tipping process.
Credit: Sean Hixon/Penn State
That's the proposed theory, anyway, as published in the latest issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
"Lots of people have come up with ideas, but we are the first to come up with an idea that uses archaeological evidence," said Sean W. Hixon, Penn State graduate student in anthropology, in supplementary materials issued with the new research. The study was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.
The mystery of the Easter Island hats has been solved. Keep this one in your pocket for a breezy anecdote at your next cocktail party.
http://www.seeker.com/node/5013528?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Fri, 15 Jun 2018 11:04:14 -0500
A dust storm on the Red Planet has blanketed the solar-powered rover in darkness. email@example.com Elizabeth HowellElizabeth Howellhttp://www.seeker.com/space/nasa-has-lost-contact-with-opportunity-its-long-running-martian-rover?utm_medium=RSS&utm_source=feeds Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
A rover operating on the surface Mars for 14 years is not talking to Earth due to a severe dust storm. NASA says the rover, called Opportunity, will likely pull through, though, as soon as the skies above it clear.
The agency spoke about Opportunityâs mission in a press conference on June 13, expressing both anxiety over losing contact with the rover and the expectation that it will ultimately survive. Officials said Opportunity is in a deep sleep in order to save energy, but it should wake up once there's enough power available to do so.
Still, it has been a tough few days for the rover team.
"This team has a very strong bond with the rover. We have a very tight emotional connection with it, and we're concerned about it, obviously," John Callas, the project manager for Opportunity, said during the press briefing.
"The analogy I would use right now â you have a loved one in a coma, in the hospital. The doctors are telling you you've just got to give it time, and she'll wake up. All the vital signs are good, but it's just waiting it out. But if it's your 97-year-old grandmother, you're going to be very concerned," Callas said.
"By no means we're out of the woods here," he added. "The storm is very threatening. We don't know how long it will last, or what the environment will be when it clears. So yeah, we are all concerned, and we can see it in the team members."
The first indications of the dust storm came on May 30, when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted increases in atmospheric opacity, or how much incoming light the dust storm is blocking. Opportunity could see changes in the atmosphere as well from its vantage point on the surface.
By June 4, the Opportunity team decided to cease science operations in order to save on power. By then, energy production had already dropped by half to 345 watt-hours. Last they heard from the rover, production fell to around 22 watt-hours.
As the dust storm thickened, the Opportunity team took measures to reduce its power needs, including less frequent status updates. The last time they heard from the rover was on June 10, when it was recording an atmospheric opacity of 10.8 â a record high for measurements on Mars. From the rover's perspective, the sky was completely dark, Callas said.
NASA hasn't heard from the rover since. They expect the rover has gone to sleep and is in a low-power mode. It will remain in that state until the skies clear and its solar panels receive enough energy to charge its batteries. Providing the rover is healthy enough, it "will autonomously wake up and communicate with us," Callas said.
Based on the warming temperatures the dust storm produced, Opportunity should survive since it will be above the minimal temperature it needs to survive. "We're concerned, but we're hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate with us," Callas added.
Well now that they updated the press release again, I can say I sat on console this morning and it was really hard not to cry when Opportunity didnât contact us. pic.twitter.com/a1jd78tgvb
— Keri Bean (@PlanetaryKeri) June 13, 2018
"Now that they updated the press release again, I can say I sat on console this morning and it was really hard not to cry when Opportunity didn't contact us," said Keri Bean, a science planner whose Twitter profile says she is in training to operate Mars rovers.
A former Mars rover driver, Scott Maxwell, listened to the press conference and had high praise for one of the engineers. "It should be said that one reason the batteries are doing so well is [Opportunity's] lead power engineer, Jennifer Herman," he said. "She, more than any other single person, is why we survived the 2007 storm, and she, more than any other single person, is why we're in such good shape for this storm."
The Opportunity rover was only designed to last 90 days when it landed on Mars in January 2004, so engineers remain impressed with its stamina. The batteries are still at 85 percent of their original strength and all of the instruments are working. In its years of operations, the rover has had some small mechanical issues, as well as difficulties with its flash memory, which lets the rover store information even when it is turned off.
The rover is already a veteran of one large dust storm in 2007, but it survived and continued crawling â covering more than the distance of a marathon since its landing. It has collected evidence of water on Mars and explored two large craters, called Victoria and Endeavour. It even escaped a dust trap, avoiding a fate that helped kill its twin rover, Spirit, in 2010.
NASA's thermal models for Opportunity suggest the rover will get no colder than minus 36 degrees Celsius (minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit), which is well above its allowable flight temperature of minus 40Â°C (minus 40Â°F)
"We think we can ride this out for a while," Callas said.
Another uncertainty is if Opportunity can maintain its mission clock, which lets the rover know what time it is and helps establish a regular communication schedule with a spacecraft that sends information back to Earth. If power levels fall too low to keep the clock, Opportunity will lose track of time and instead make periodic attempts to communicate while the sun is up.
NASA's other rover on the surface of Mars, Curiosity, is a plutonium-powered rover that shouldn't be affected by the dust storm. The dust is not nearly as thick in its region of Mars near Gale Crater. The agency expects the storm will clear before the InSight lander arrives in November, but even if the skies are dusty, the lander's instruments will allow it to touch down.