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Sun, 16 Dec 2018
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NASA's OSIRIS-REx has found signs of water on asteroid Bennu

Bennu water
© University of Arizona/Goddard/NASA
ROUGH TERRAIN The boulder-strewn asteroid Bennu, shown here in a mosaic of images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on December 2, is full of water-rich minerals.
The craft will spend 2019 scoping out the best spot to grab a handful of space rock dust.

As the asteroid Bennu comes into sharper focus, planetary scientists are seeing signs of water locked up in the asteroid's rocks, NASA team members announced December 10.

"It's one of the things we were hoping to find," team member Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a news conference at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C. "This is evidence of liquid water in Bennu's past. This is really big news."

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft just arrived at Bennu on December 3 (SN Online: 12/3/18). Over the next year, the team will search for the perfect spot on the asteroid to grab a handful of dust and return it to Earth. "Very early in the mission, we've found out Bennu is going to provide the type of material we want to return," said principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona in Tucson. "It definitely looks like we've gone to the right place."

OSIRIS-REx's onboard spectrometers measure the chemical signatures of various minerals based on the wavelengths of light they emit and absorb. The instruments were able to see signs of hydrated minerals on Bennu's surface about a month before the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid, and the signal has remained strong all over the asteroid's surface as the spacecraft approached, Simon said. Those minerals can form only in the presence of liquid water, and suggest that Bennu had a hydrothermal system in its past.

Comment: See also: NASA's Osiris-Rex arrives at asteroid Bennu after a two-year journey

Blue Planet

Life in Deep Earth holds 15-23B tons of carbon - hundreds of times more than humans

Deep earth life
© Gaetan Borgonie/Katrin Knittel-MPI Bremen/Greg Wanger, Gordon Southam/JAMSTEC
1) Nematode; 2) Archaea cell cluster; 3) Candidatus Desulforudis; 4) Methanobacterium. Descriptions below.
Deep Carbon Observatory collaborators, exploring the 'Galapagos of the deep,' add to what's known, unknown, and unknowable about Earth's most pristine ecosystem. Bacteria, archaea, and other microbes - some of them zombies -exist even in deepest known subsurface, and they're weirder than their surface counterparts. ~70% of Earth's bacteria and archaea live underground. Earth's deep life suggests microbes might inhabit the subsurface of other planets.

Barely living "zombie" bacteria and other forms of life constitute an immense amount of carbon deep within Earth's subsurface - 245 to 385 times greater than the carbon mass of all humans on the surface, according to scientists nearing the end of a 10-year international collaboration to reveal Earth's innermost secrets.

On the eve of the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting, scientists with the Deep Carbon Observatory today reported several transformational discoveries, including how much and what kinds of life exist in the deep subsurface under the greatest extremes of pressure, temperature, and low energy and nutrient availability.

Drilling 2.5 kilometers into the seafloor, and sampling microbes from continental mines and boreholes more than 5 km deep, the team has used the results to construct models of the ecosystem deep within the planet.

With insights from now hundreds of sites under the continents and seas, they have approximated the size of the deep biosphere - 2 to 2.3 billion cubic km (almost twice the volume of all oceans) - as well as the carbon mass of deep life: 15 to 23[1] billion tonnes (an average of at least 7.5 tonnes of carbon per cu km subsurface).

The work also helps determine types of extraterrestrial environments that could support life.

Among many key discoveries and insights:

Comment: This is pretty amazing, although it is not new. There are at least two important points to make in relation to it.

1) It's almost certain that this kind of life exists on many other planets, including those with temperatures too hot or too cold for life on the surface. Therefore, "alien life on other planets" is a 'nobrainer'.

2) These microbes occupying a vast area under our feet are, according to Cornell professor emeritus of astronomy Thomas Gold, the source of natural oil and gas.

Writes Gold:

"In my view, hydrocarbons are not biology reworked by geology (as the traditional view would hold) but rather geology reworked by biology. In other words, hydrocarbons are primordial, but as they upwell into Earth's outer crust microbial life invades."

Reviewing the book, Publishers Weekly noted that "if Gold is right, the planet's oil reserves are far larger than policy-makers expect... moreover, astronomers hoping for extraterrestrial contacts might want to stop seeking life on other planets and inquire about life in them."

The book was published in 1999 based on a theory from 20 years prior.



Findings rewrite the thalamus's role in consciousness

thalamus neurologist
© University of Iowa
University of Iowa neurologist Aaron Boes, MD, PhD.
With a finding that will "rewrite neuroanatomy textbooks," University of Iowa neurologist Aaron Boes, MD, PhD, and his colleagues show that the thalamus is not a critical part of the brain pathway involved in keeping humans awake and conscious.

The finding upends decades of medical dogma that placed the thalamus as a critical relay point for the signals originating in the brainstem and ending in the cortex that maintain consciousness (wakefulness). The new study, published online Nov. 12 as a preprint in the Annals of Neurology, provides the first systematic evidence from humans that questions the routing of this critical pathway. The study evaluates patients with strokes of the thalamus and shows that even extensive injury to the thalamus does not severely impair consciousness.

"Beyond just challenging a long-standing dogma that has persisted for decades, what's really exciting about this finding is that it has implications for clinical care for patients," says Boes, UI assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology and a member of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. "Based on the old understanding, people have tried to stimulate the thalamus for disorders of consciousness without much success. Our results suggest that was the wrong target to go after and that the hypothalamus or basal forebrain would be better targets."

Evil Rays

Russia to track future US missiles with upgraded over-the-horizon radar

© DARPA Falcon Project
Hypersonic Technology Vehicle HTV-2 reentry (artist's impression)
In response to US plans to pull out of the INF Treaty and the active development of its hypersonic technology, Russia is building a network of radar stations best suited to detect missile launches from afar.

Russia is seeking to install Container-type over-the-horizon (OTH) radar stations along its borders. The move will substantially boost Moscow's capabilities to monitor airspace and detect missile launches, particularly in case of hypersonic projectiles.

Looking beyond the horizon

An OTH radar employs completely different technology, compared with conventional radar installations that only provide "line-of-sight" coverage limited to a range of dozens or hundreds of kilometers at best. OTH systems rely on radio waves bouncing off the ionosphere, Earth's top layer that is heavily ionized by space rays. Radio beams of a specific frequency projected by an OTH transmitting antenna get bounced down high up in the sky and on their way back to the ground can be reflected back by aircraft, ships or missiles. The return signal then travels back to the receiving antennas, again, via the ionosphere. This technique extends coverage to thousands of kilometers.

Russian researchers had to develop new equipment and processing algorithms to compensate for the interference caused by Sun's radiation in the ionosphere. It takes sophisticated mathematical algorithms to isolate relevant targets and, and more so to determine their velocity and direction based on the Doppler shift.


'Faking lunar landing more complex & expensive than actually doing it': Russian scientist weighs in on US moon landing debate

US moon landing Buzz Aldren
© @ NASA
Iconic photo of astronaut Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission.
The head of the Russian space agency may joke about 'verifying' if the Americans landed on the moon, but there are no doubts for one Russian scientist, who weighed in on the decades-long conspiracy debate.

The claim that NASA never landed astronauts on the moon and that evidence to the contrary was fabricated is among the most pervasive in popular culture and has been a point of fierce debates.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's space chief, even recently joked that Russia's future lunar missions will give the country an opportunity to check whether Neil Armstrong's footprints are actually out there.

That aside, people who actually study the moon for a living believe there is no need to launch spaceships just to prove the success of the Apollo program. Fabricating a lunar landing would probably be technologically impossible and anyway economically unnecessary, told RIA Novosti Yury Kostitsyn.



To feed the world sustainably, repair the soil

soil plow field
© Getty Images

A reconceived farming system can rapidly improve fertility without chemical fertilizers, and without sacrificing crop yields

New technologies and genetically modified crops are usually invoked as the key to feeding the world's growing population. But a widely overlooked opportunity lies in reversing the soil degradation that has already taken something like a third of global farmland out of production. Simple changes in conventional farming practices offer opportunities to advance humanity's most neglected natural infrastructure project - returning health to the soil that grows our food.

It is critical we do so. In 2015, a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization report concluded that ongoing soil degradation reduces global harvests by a third of a percent each year under conventional farming practices. In some parts of the U.S. I've visited, the rich black topsoil that settlers once plowed is gone, eroded away leaving farmers tilling anemic subsoil.

Comment: The health of the soil is vitally important to our health, as well as the health of the planet in its ability to support life. Our shortsightedness in farming practices and our inability to overcome the inertia and implement solutions will mean the eventual demise of our civilization (if something else doesn't kill us first).

See also:


Emotions of workers in China are being data mined directly from their brains via sensory helmets

Chinese workers
China is deploying emotional surveillance technology that mines data from the minds of its citizens. Essentially, they're data mining by reading their brains.

The light-weight sensory helmets have been rolled out on an industrial scale. The mind data-mining and emotional surveillance programs are eerily similar to trends in the United States to monitor and probe the mental health of its citizens through facial recognition.

This past spring, Facebook landed in hot water over a data leak which felt like a major privacy violation to millions of its users.

But China was taking data mining to the next level

Around the same time, however, China quietly reported that its government is openly fishing data from workers' minds: making a Facebook leak pale in comparison.


NASA observational satellites provide new look at Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria

hurricane Maria thermal image
© NOAA/NASA Goddard Rapid Response Team
On Sept. 21, 2017, NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided this thermal image of Hurricane Maria after it moved off the coast of Puerto Rico.
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico head-on as a Category 4 storm with winds up to 155 miles per hour in September 2017, it damaged homes, flooded towns, devastated the island's forests and caused the longest electricity black-out in U.S. history.

Two new NASA research efforts delve into Hurricane Maria's far-reaching effects on the island's forests as seen in aerial surveys and on its residents' energy and electricity access as seen in data from space. The findings, presented Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, illustrate the staggering scope of Hurricane Maria's damage to both the natural environment and communities.

Microscope 2

Biological templating: Using a virus to speed up modern computers

bacterias generan electricidad
In a groundbreaking study, researchers have successfully developed a method that could lead to unprecedented advances in computer speed and efficiency.

Through this study, researchers Desmond Loke, Griffin Clausen, Jacqueline Ohmura, Tow-Chong Chong, and Angela Belcher have successfully developed a 'biological templating' method to engineer a better type of memory using a virus.

The researchers come from a collaboration of institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The study was published online in the ACS Applied Nano Materials peer-reviewed journal on November 20, 2018.

The study explains that a key way in which faster computers can be achieved is through the reduction of the millisecond time delays that usually come from the transfer and storage of information between a traditional random access memory (RAM) chip -- which is fast but expensive and volatile -- meaning it needs power supply to retain information -- and hard drive -- which is nonvolatile but relatively slow.

Comment: Evidently biology is much more sophisticated and efficient than any invention by man: Also check out: The Truth Perspective: Are Cells the Intelligent Designers? Why Creationists and Darwinists Are Both Wrong


China's Golem babies, the agenda behind it and its implications

The shocking news that a team of scientists working in China have managed to gene-edit the DNA of recently-born human twins to allegedly make them genetically immune to a HIV infection is more than bizarre and irresponsible. It suggests that certain researchers are making dangerous experiments to create ultimately the eugenics master dream-custom-designed humans. I call them Golem babies because when technology begins cutting and splicing the human DNA without certitude that the result will be stable or healthy to the human species it is not healthy.

In medieval and ancient Jewish folklore a Golem is a being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter such as mud. Golems have no soul. Similarly, the China experiment that claims the "first successful genetically modified humans," when we go behind the surface stories, is alarming in the extreme.

HIV Immune?

First of all the public story retailed by Chinese media and by the researcher, Chinese Professor He Jiankui, a Stanford University post-doctoral research graduate, doesn't ring honest. He, who is professor at Southern University of Science and Technology, claimed at a Human Genome Editing conference in Hong Kong on November 28, and on YouTube, that he had successfully modified two embryos produced from the sperm of an HIV-positive donor and implanted them in a healthy mother, who gave birth to twin girls earlier this month. He used the most common "gene-editing" tool, CRISPR-cas9, to deactivate a gene called CCR5 that acts as a 'doorway' to allow the HIV virus to enter a cell. He basically claimed to have created the world's first gene-edited humans, and announced that a second woman was pregnant with another of his gene-edited embryos.

Comment: Bingo. Most if not all of these scientists quite simply don't know what genies they're letting out of the lab bottle. And one thing's for certain, whatever we read about here is likely only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

See also: The CRISPR baby scandal gets worse by the day and The Health & Wellness Show: News of the Weird: Vaccinated Transgender GMO Babies Drink Glyphosate And Go To Jail For Scientific Discoveries