Tiny Exo-planet & Medical Glue | SciByte 83

Tiny Exo-planet & Medical Glue | SciByte 83

We take a look at a tiny exoplanet, new medical glue, dogs, private Mars mission, updates on bionic eyes and the Russian meteorite, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:

Tiny Exo-planet

  • Scientists have discovered a new planet orbiting a Sun-like star, and the exoplanet is the smallest yet found in data from the Kepler mission
  • This discovery came from a collaboration between Kepler scientists and a consortium of international researchers who employ asteroseismology
  • Asteroseismology\”
  • Sound waves travel into the star and bring information back up to the surface, these waves cause oscillations that Kepler observes as a rapid flickering of the star’s brightness
  • Asteroseismology is when scientists measure those oscillations in the star’s brightness caused by continuous star-quakes, and turn those tiny variations in the star’s light into sounds
  • It is similar to how geologists use seismic waves generated by earthquakes to probe the interior structure of Earth
  • Barely discernible, high-frequency oscillations in the brightness of small stars are the most difficult to measure, the bigger the star, the lower the frequency, or ‘pitch’ of its song
  • Kepler-37b
  • The measurements made by the astroseismologists allowed the Kepler research team to more accurately measure the tiny Kepler-37b
  • Kepler-37b, is smaller than Mercury, but slightly larger than Earth’s Moon
  • Orbits every 13 days at less than one-third Mercury’s distance from the Sun
  • Very likely a rocky planet with no atmosphere or water, similar to Mercury
  • Estimated surface temperature of this smoldering planet, at more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Kelvin, hot enough to melt the zinc in a penny
  • The rest of the Kepler-37 system
  • Kepler-37 has a radius just three-quarters of the Sun, and is about 210 light-years from Earth.
  • The size is known to 3 percent accuracy, which translates to exceptional accuracy in the planet’s size.
  • Measurements also revealed two other planets in the same planetary system: one slightly smaller than Earth and one twice as large
  • All three planets orbit the star at less than the distance Mercury is to the Sun Kepler-37c and Kepler-37d, orbit every 21 days and 40 days, respectively
  • What this means
  • This discovery took a long time to verify, as the signature of this very small exoplanet was hard to confirm
  • Uncovering a planet smaller than any in our solar system orbiting one of the few stars that is both bright and quiet, where signal detection was possible
  • “The detection of such a small planet shows for the first time that stellar systems host planets much smaller as well as much larger than anything we see in our own Solar System.” [Published paper in Nature]
  • Multimedia
  • Image | NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found | Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
  • Image | Where in the sky Kepler is looking | Credit: Carter Roberts / Eastbay Astronomical Society
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Tiny exoplanet smaller than Mercury: Smallest planet yet found outside solar system (Update) | phys.org
  • Smallest Exoplanet Yet Discovered by \’Listening\’ to a Sun-like Star
  • Moon-Size Alien Planet Is the Smallest Exoplanet | Space.com
  • How Does Tiny Kepler-37b Measure Up? | news.discovery.com


Medical \”Super Glue\” for Wet Surfaces

  • The Problem\”
  • Not even Super Glue will stick in a wet environment because a layer of water forms that keeps the two surfaces from bonding
  • Mussels somehow elbow the water aside and bind themselves to rocks anyway by secreting liquid proteins that harden into a solid, water-resistant glue
  • A Possible New Solution
  • One researcher now says he has used the mollusk’s tricks to develop medical applications
  • This biocompatible glue that could one day seal fetal membranes, allowing prenatal surgeons to repair birth defects without triggering dangerous premature labor
  • The research team has now created a synthetic, thread-like polymer called polyethylene glycol that mimics the mussel protein
  • Basis of a Mussels Sticking Ability
  • Parts of the proteins that face out toward the hard surface
  • This enables liquid holdfast proteins to solidify rapidly and stick flawlessly to wet and salty surfaces
  • Initial Testing
  • To see if the compound worked in live animals, a veterinary surgeon made a 2.5-centimeter incision in the carotid artery of a dog and placed four stitches along the length of that incision to hold it in place
  • With stitches alone were used, the incision bled when the surgeon pressed it.
  • After just 20 seconds after the mussel-based glue was applied, the artery was sealed and didn’t bleed.
  • Recently the team began testing its glue on fetal membranes
  • Possible Prenatal Use
  • For the past few decades, surgeons have begun surgically repairing birth defects like spina bifida while a fetus is still in utero
  • The process is risky because the surgery risks rupturing the fetal membrane prematurely, sending the mother into premature labor.
  • There are no good adhesives on the market for surgeons to repair such fetal-membrane tears
  • In recent, unpublished experiments in rabbits, the team has found that after a veterinary surgeon poked a 3.5-mm hole in the animal’s fetal membrane, the new, mussel-inspired glue readily sealed up the puncture
  • Without the glue, only 40% of the fetal rabbits survived the surgery, but with the glue, 60% did.
  • Fetal surgeons are now working with the research team to test whether the glue can help reseal the tissue surrounding the spinal cord to repair a serious birth defect known spina bifida in rabbits
  • Recent Alterations
  • In another recent result researchers chemically altered the polyethylene glycol polymer so that the glue would shrink when it hardened
  • This could counter tissue swelling during surgery
  • Multimedia
  • Mytilus mussel withb yssus showing, on a rock atOcean Beach, San Francisco,California,USA | Brocken Inaglory
  • Adding a glue modeled on the biochemistry of mussel attachment quickly sealed a punctured fetal membrane in rabbits, protecting the fetal bunnies inside | news.ScienceMag.org | Credit: Martin Ehrbar from University Hospital Zurich
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mussel Glue Could Help Repair Birth Defects – ScienceNOW | News.ScienceMag.org
  • Translation of Mussel Adhesion to Beneficial New Concepts and Materials | AAAS.Confex.com

Food Ninja Dogs

  • A new study suggests dogs might understand people even better than we thought
  • The research shows that domestic dogs, when told not to snatch a piece of food, are more likely to disobey the command in a dark room than in a lit room
  • Dogs have specialized skills in reading human communication, specific in dogs
  • The Test
  • A research team recruited 84 dogs, all of which were more than a year old, motivated by food, and comfortable with both strangers and dark rooms
  • The team then set up experiments in which a person commanded a dog not to take a piece of food on the floor
  • They then repeated the commands in a room with different lighting scenarios ranging from fully lit to fully dark
  • What the team found was that the dogs were four times as likely to steal the food-and steal it more quickly—when the room was dark
  • It was thought that whether the dogs saw the human would would affect the results, but weather the dogs saw the human or not didn\’t affect the behavior
  • The dog\’s behavior depended on whether the food was in the light or not, suggesting that the dog made its decision based on whether the human could see them approaching the food
  • Results and Future
  • The study of dog cognition suddenly began about 15 years ago
  • Many of the new dog studies are variations on research done with chimpanzees, bonobos, and even young children
  • Dogs are better at reading human cues than even our closest mammalian relatives
  • Researchers are now interested in whether the dog has a theory of mind, \”an understanding that others have different perspective, knowledge, feelings than we do\”
  • While research reveals more and more insight into the minds we still don\’t know just how smart they are
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Siberian Husky – Kiba The Pizza Thief | SeberHusky
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Confirmed: Dogs Sneak Food When People Aren\’t Looking | news.NationalGeographic.com


Dennis Tito, Space Tourist, Now Mars Mission Planner

  • ”The Plan\”
  • Dennis Tito, the first-ever space tourist, is planning send a human mission to Mars in January 2018 on a round-trip journey lasting 501 days
  • Reportedly, Tito has created a new nonprofit company called the Inspiration Mars Foundation to facilitate the mission
  • Presentation
  • Tito, along with several other notable people from the space community will provide more information in a press conference set for Wednesday, February 27th
  • The paper Tito plans to present at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March, will discuss a crewed free-return Mars mission that would fly by Mars, not going into orbit or landing
  • Initial Mission Breakdown
  • The 501-day mission would launch in January 2018, “using a modified SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket,”
  • Existing environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) technologies would allow such a spacecraft to support two people for the mission,
  • The paper outlines how NASA would also have a role in this mission in terms of supporting key life support and thermal protection systems, even though this is a private-sector effort
  • Crew comfort would be limited to survival needs only, sponge baths are acceptable, with no need for showers
  • Of Note
  • No estimates of what such a mission would cost are included in the paper, but it does say it would be financed privately
  • The paper adds that if they miss this favorable 2018 opportunity, the next chance to take advantage of this lower energy trajectory would be in 2031.
  • Multimedia
  • Image Dennis Tito, the first private citizen to visit the International Space Station | NASA via Wikipedia
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Dennis Tito Wants to Send Human Mission to Mars in 2018 | UniverseToday.com

— Updates —

Another Step for Bionic Eyes

  • Clinical Trials
  • As part of the first module of second human clinical trials in Germany research found that, during the course of a three to nine month observation period, functional vision was restored in the majority of nine patients implanted with a subretinal microchip
  • Patients were implanted with Retina Implant AG\’s subretinal wireless 3×3 mm2, 1500 pixel Alpha IMS microchip and are able to adjust the level of stimulation received to view objects at varied distances
  • Test Data
  • Visual acuity for two of the nine patients surpassed the visual resolution of patients from the Company\’s first human clinical trial
  • Of the nine patients observed in the study, three patients were able to read letters spontaneously during observation in and outside the laboratory patients
  • They also reported the ability to recognize faces, distinguish objects such as telephones and read signs on doors
  • Results
  • Results from the first trial concluded that the implantation of Retina Implant\’s microchip was successful in restoring useful vision in patients previously blind due to retinitis pigmentosa
  • second clinical trial with a wireless device that allows patients to use the implant outdoors and at home and has since expanded into the multicentre phase
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Scientists help blind man see again | Channel4News
  • YouTube | Blind man given bionic eye describes seeing again | Frank Swain
  • YouTube | Animation of Retina Implant | jonmillsswns
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Retina Implant AG
  • Retinal implants with wireless microchip restore functional vision in retinitis pigmentosa patients, research finds | MedicalXpress.com

Russian Meteorite Orbital Calculations

  • Initial Calculations
  • Just a week after a huge fireball streaked across the skies of the Chelyabinsk region of Russia, astronomers published a paper that reconstructs the orbit and determines the origins of the space rock
  • Scientists at the University of Antioquia in Colombia used a resource not always available in meteorite falls: the numerous dashboard and security cameras that captured the huge fireball
  • Using the trajectories shown in videos posted on YouTube, the researchers were able to calculate the trajectory of the meteorite as it fell to Earth and use it to reconstruct the orbit in space of the meteoroid before its violent encounter with our planet.
  • Although the results are preliminary and they are already working on getting more precise results, through their calculations, the team determined the rock originated from the Apollo class of asteroids
  • In addition to the video data they Google Earth to reconstruct the path of the rock as it entered the atmosphere and showed that it matched an image of the trajectory taken by the geostationary Meteosat-9 weather satellite.
  • Even with the plethora of video\’s due to variations in time and date stamps on several of the videos, some which differed by several minutes, they decided to choose two videos from different locations that seemed to be the most reliable
  • From triangulation, they were able to determine height, speed and position of the meteorite as it fell to Earth
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Preliminary Orbit of the Chelyabinsk Meteoroid.mp4 | Jorge Zuluaga
  • YouTube | The video from Revolutionary Square in Chelyabinsk
  • YouTube | Video recorded in Korkino
  • YouTube Meteor Over Russia seen by Meteosat-9 [HD] | TheMarsUnderground
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Astronomers Calculate Orbit and Origins of Russian Fireball | universetoday.com


Dragon resupply

  • On March 1 at 10:10 AM EST, the Dragon CRS-2 is slated to blast off on a Dragon cargo vehicle on what will be only the 2nd commercial resupply mission ever to the ISS
  • The mission will carrying about 1,200 pounds of vital supplies and science experiments for the six man international crew living aboard the million pound orbiting outpost
  • The Dragon will remain docked to the ISS for about three weeks while the crew unloads all manner of supplies including food, water, clothing, spare parts and gear and new science experiments
  • The astronauts will replace all that cargo load with numerous critical experiment samples they have stored during ongoing research activities, as well as no longer needed equipment and trash totaling about 2300 pounds, for the return trip to Earth and a Pacific Ocean splashdown set for March 25
  • ‏@Tubsta pointed this story out on Twitter as well
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Commercial Resupply Launch | NASA.gov



Remembering David McKay [September 25, 1936 – February 20, 2013]

  • As a graduate student, McKay was in the audience when President John F. Kennedy gave his legendary \”We choose to go to the moon\” speech
  • McKay joined NASA in June of 1965 and participated extensively in astronaut training leading up to 1969\’s historic Apollo 11 mission
  • He also served as chief scientist for astrobiology at NASA\’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
  • McKay was lead author of a 1996 paper in the journal Science that suggested ALH84001 may contain evidence of past life on Mars.
  • While the claim still spurs controversy, it also sparked a shift in perspectives that is alive and well within NASA today and prompted the establishment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute
  • McKay developed innovative new technology for both life detection and the use of lunar regolith as feedstock, radiation protection, fuel, nutrient source for microbial bioreactors and long-term lunar habitation.
  • Publications
  • David published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers on lunar samples, space resource utilization, cosmic dust, meteorites, astrobiology and Mars topics, as well as about twice that many published abstracts, and this body of work includes many contributions to our understanding of the development and evolution of the lunar regolith and space weathering processes
  • Professional Positions
  • Chief Scientist for Astrobiology and Planetary Science and Exploration, 1996 – 2013
  • Assistant for Exploration and Technology – NASA Johnson Space Center, 1994 – 96
  • Chief, Planetary Programs Office – NASA Johnson Space Center, 1991 – 94
  • Chief, Mission Science and Technology Office – NASA Johnson Space Center, 1990 – 91
  • Chief, Space Resources Utilization Office – NASA Johnson Space Center, 1987 – 90
  • Staff Scientist – NASA Johnson Space Center, 1965 – 87
  • Exploration Geophysicist, Exxon and Marine Geophysical, 1960 – 61
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • David S. McKay, Chief Scientist for Astrobiology | ares.jsc.nasa.gov
  • Pioneering Moon, Mars Scientist David McKay Dies at 76 | Space.com

Looking back

  • March 05, 1223 BC : 3236 years ago : Oldest Eclipse Record : The oldest recorded eclipse occurred, according to one plausible interpretation of a date inscribed on a clay tablet retrieved from the ancient city of Ugarit, Syria (as it is now). This date is favoured by recent authors on the subject, although alternatively 3 May 1375 BC has also been proposed as plausible. Certainly by the 8th century BC, the Babylonians were keeping a systematic record of solar eclipses, and possibly by this time they may have been able to apply numerological rules to make fairly accurate predictions of the occurrence of solar eclipses. The first total solar eclipse reliably recorded by the Chinese occurred on 4 Jun 180 BC.

Looking up this week

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