Habitable Planets & Plant Power | SciByte 32

Habitable Planets & Plant Power | SciByte 32

We take a look at a planet orbiting another star that could harbor water, a fungus that chows down on polyurethane, turning plants into solar cells, science of massage, tracking snow, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Habitable planet?

  • The low down
  • Scientists Used public data from the European Southern Observatory, new measurements from the W. M. Keck Observatory’s High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph and the new Carnegie Planet Finder Spectrograph at the Magellan II Telescope
  • They combined data from all three ground-based telescopes, dating back 10 years, and analyzed it with novel data-analysis methods to come up with a solid signal of a planet
  • The star in this case is a M-dwarf star much dimmer and redder than our own in a triple-star system with a different chemical makeup than our sun
  • Such stars can be rather unstable and any planets would tend to be tidally locked and could make it difficult for a planet to form
  • Even the interior of planets could be affected, as radioactive elements would determine whether a planet has a molten core or a solid one.
  • Significance
  • The planet discovered is about 4.5 times as massive as the Earth
  • It orbits once every 28 days or so; in our solar system, that would put it so scorchingly close to the sun that water would boil off.
  • But because most of its incoming light is in the infrared, a higher percentage of this incoming energy should be absorbed by the planet
  • The new planet receives 90 percent of the light that Earth receives.
  • The planet is expected to absorb about the same amount of energy from its star that the Earth absorbs from the Sun
  • This would allow surface temperatures similar to Earth and perhaps liquid water, but this extreme cannot be confirmed without further information on the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Astronomers aren’t sure what the planet’s composition is, because they have not been able to measure its size
  • It could be a either a rocky or a gas planet. I would need to have a radius between about 1.7 and 2.2 Earth radii to be a rocky world.
  • While the planet can’t be seen directly yet, it’s not impossible that we could glean additional details about the potentially habitable super-Earth such readings of its atmosphere with the next generation of ground or space telescopes
  • * Of Note*
  • Its parent star, is located a mere 22 light-years away from Earth, with only about 100 stars closer to us
  • The other stars in the system are pretty far away, but would be visible in the sky of the planet
  • The system has much lower abundances of heavy elements (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium), such as iron, carbon and silicon.
  • The detection of this planet, this nearby and this soon, implies that our galaxy must be teeming with billions of potentially habitable rocky planets
  • The unexpected is something planet hunters have learned to expect and in most cases, these surprises have tended to expand the possibilities for finding worlds
  • In addition planets coming out of Kepler are typically thousands of light-years away and we could never send a space probe out there,“ Vogt said. ”We’ve been explicitly focusing on very nearby stars, because with today’s technology, we could send a robotic probe out there, and within a few hundred years, it could be sending back pictures
  • Multimedia
  • IMAGE : Artist Rendition @ Space.com [Credit : Carnegie Institution for Science]]
  • IMAGE : Diagram of the planets orbiting the star @ Space.com [Credit : Carnegie Institution for Science]
  • IMAGE : GJ 667C triple system as seen from a telescope @ Physorg.com [Credit : Guillem Anglada-Escude]
  • IMAGE : The latest addition to a list of life-friendly exoplanets @ [Credit : Habitable Exoplanets Catalog/UPR Arecibo]
  • IMAGE : Artist depiction of the planet GJ667Cc and the three stars it orbits
    [Credit : Carnegie Institution / UCSC]
  • Social Media
  • Twitter Exoplanet App @ExoplanetApp
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • New Study Shows How Trace Elements Affect Stars’ Habitable Zones
  • Newfound Alien Planet is Best Candidate Yet to Support Life, Scientists Say
  • New super-earth detected within the habitable zone of a nearby star
  • New super-Earth detected within the habitable zone of a nearby cool star
  • Potential ‘Goldilocks’ Planet Found
  • Super-Earth spotted in life-friendly zone
  • ScienceShot: Double-Star System Hosts Ancient World
  • New Planet Found: Could a Super-Earth plus Triple Stars Equal Life?
  • Cool sun could host habitable planet

*— NEWS BYTE — *

Hungry Fungi

  • The low down
  • Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer developed in the 1940s
  • It is often used to replaces rubber, paint, wood, or metals and is found in a wide variety of applications, and has the advantages of strength, durability and elasticity
  • Some can be recycled into other products but the waste ends up in landfills as a non-biodegrade object because nothing we know of can metabolize and digest it
  • The chemical bond in it are so strong they do not degrade readily
  • Although it can be burned it releases harmful carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals
  • Significance
  • Each year Yale University operates a Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course, which includes an expedition to a tropical jungle in the spring recess and summer research on samples collected
  • The 2011 group discovered that the Pestalotiopsis microspora fungus found in Ecuador and will not only eat polyurethane, but can survive on a diet consisting solely of polyurethane
  • In addition it can do so in the oxygen starved regions inside landfills
  • Several other microorganisms have been found that can degrade solid and liquid polyurethane but only this newest discovery can entirely survive on it under both Oxygen rich and Oxygen starved environments
  • * Of Note*
  • It is suggested that similar fungi could be used to naturally degrade waste products, a process known as bioremediation.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Amazon fungi found that eat polyurethane, even without oxygen @ Physorg.com
  • Amazonian Rainforest Fungus Eats Polyurethane, Potentially Solving a Big Landfill Problem @ PopSci.com

Solar panels you water?

  • The low down
  • Tiny structures inside plant walls carryout photosynthesis are called photo-system-I (PS-I).
  • Scientists at MIT harvested those structures, stabilized them and formed a layer on glass, similar to a conventional photovoltaic cell
  • The process successfully produced a current when exposed to light
  • However, this system needed a sophisticated lab to create and it’s efficiency was several magnitudes to low to be of practical use
  • Significance
  • The process has been simplified so that any lab can replicate it, allowing for researchers around the world making further improvements
  • So far the newer version is 10,000 times more efficient that the original system, although it still only converts 0.1% of sunlight into electricity
  • Once the system reaches 1–2% it will become useful because of the low cost and ease of process
  • Any raw plant material, could be put into centrifuges to concentrate the PS-I molecules
  • There are also tests going on to see if the needed concentrations would be achiecable with filtration
  • * Of Note*
  • The hope is that one day, in a remote or off-the-grid location one might be able to take a bag, mix in something green, paint it on a roof, and produce power
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube VIDEO Harnessing nature’s solar cells
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Photovoltaic panels made from plant material could become a cheap alternative to traditional solar cells @ PhysOrg.com
  • MIT researcher creates solar cell from grass clippings @ RenewableEnergyMagazine.com

The science of massage

  • The low down
  • Strenuous exercises can actually tear muscle fibers, although it’s considered normal and generally heals fine
  • It has been said that massages can help release lactic acid from sore muscles, but that’s not entirely true
  • Muscles do like massages, but for another reason
  • A study on the cellular effects of massages post-exercise found that it actually chances the chemical signals that have to do with inflammation and muscle repair
  • Significance
  • Researchers had 11 healthy young men cycle to exhaustion, then one leg on each man was randomly selected for a massage.
  • Tissue samples were taken of each leg 10 minutes and 2.5 hours after the massage
  • What they saw was a 30% difference in the levels of two key proteins, one reduces inflammation and the other generates cell growth
  • * Of Note*
  • Before this study there was very little scientific research for why massage actually works
  • The traditional mainstream medical field have often dismissed massages and therapy, but these results seem likely to affect that
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • How Massage Helps Heal Muscles and Relieve Pain @ Healthland.Time
  • Massage Doesn’t Just Feel Good—It Changes Gene Expression and Reduces Inflammation @ DiscoverMagazome/com
  • Massage’s Mystery Mechanism Unmasked @ ScienceMag.org

Watching the snow fall from space

  • The low down
  • Rain tends to be spherical like drops, snow however comes in many different shapes when it comes to tracking and measuring amounts the shape differences make a great deal of difference
  • GPM Core set to be launched in 2014
  • The GPM Core will be one of the first times instruments will be in space specifically looking at falling snow
  • Significance
  • Satellites are being launched into orbit that will study global snowfall precipitation with much better detail then ever before
  • For the first time we will know when where and how much snow falls on the earth, letting us better understand and predict extreme weather
  • Once scientists calculate all the carious types of snowflake shapes the satellite will then be able to detect them from orbit.
  • * Of Note*
  • This satellite system will provide new insights into storm structures and large-scale atmospheric processes, precipitation micro physics
  • It will also provide advanced understanding of climate sensitivity and feedback processes
  • It will also extended capabilities in monitoring and predicting hurricanes and other extreme weather events, and improve forecasting abilities for natural hazards, including floods, droughts and landslides.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube VIDEO : NASA | Studying the Science of Falling Snow
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)
  • GPM Spacecraft and Instruments
  • Getting to the Core of Earth’s Falling Snow@ UniverseToday.com

Honorable Mentions

First video of the far side of the moon

Colbert PSA for NASA


Curiosity rover


Light speed travelling brothers : slepacus


Looking back

  • Feb 14, 1747: 265 years ago : Earth fails sobriety test : The Earth has a bit of a wobble to it’s gait British astronomer James Bradly published a paper on the Earths wobbling motion on its axis, coined as nutation (from Latin “nutare” to nod). Bradley first noticed the fluctuation during his studies of parallax at Molyneux’s observatory. Attributing it to the moon’s gravitational influence, he withheld any announcement until he had observed a full cycle of the motion of the moon’s nodes, taking about 18.6 years. During his career he also measured the diameter of Venus and was able to make calculations giving the speed of light.
  • Feb 12, 1941: 71 years ago : Sometimes mold is good? : The first injection of penicillin into a human test subject was conducted by Ernst Chain and Howard Walter Florey, who developed this antibiotic. The pair of scientist working on medical applications were made aware of a patient with septic scratches, blood poisoning and numerous abscesses. They were fearful of the side effects and chose a patient in terminal condition, within a day his temperature had dropped and his appetite returned. Alaxader Flemming, who discovered penicillin thought he had merely discovered an antiseptic and was convinced it could not last long enough in the human body to kill pathogenic bacteria and actually stopped studying it. Althought the use of bread with a blue mould (presumed to be Penicillium) as a means of treating suppurating wounds was a staple of folk medicine in Europe since the Middle Ages.
  • Feb 13, 1990 : 22 years ago : Time for the family photo’s : Voyager I , while heading out to the edge of the Solar System, began a four-hour series of photographs in a look backward which captured the Sun and six planets. An elongated large mozaic was later made by combining about 60 images. In this first “Family Portrait of the Planets”, the Sun appeared almost star-like and the planets were mere dots. Mercury was too close to the sun to photograph. Mars and Pluto, were too small to resolve. This first record of the Solar System from space may remain the only one for decades to follow. Voyager I had a unique lofty perspective, looking down on the plane in which the planets orbit. It had been steadily climbing since it passed Saturn in 1980, and reached an angle of 32 degrees high above the plane of the solar system.

Looking up this week

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