Exoplanet & Bee Venom | SciByte 86

Exoplanet & Bee Venom | SciByte 86

We take a look at an exoplanets atmosphere, HIV killing bee venom, ancient sundials, viewer feedback, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Exoplanet Atmosphere

  • A team led by an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, has found hints of ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and acetylene in an exo-planets’ atmosphere in the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet
  • Searching for Exoplanets
  • In the past, astronomers inferred the existence of exoplanets and their gases by looking for subtle changes in the light streaming from the planet’s star
  • Now, with improved instruments, a team has detected light coming directly from a planet light-years away
  • The data have high enough resolution to reveal not only the presence but the abundance of carbon monoxide and water in the planet’s atmosphere
  • Such information could shed light on how the planet formed
  • Studies could also reveal the presence of life on a distant planet, but this planet’s size and orbit have already ruled it out as a habitable world
  • The System
  • In 2008 the first image of a multi planet system outside the solar system, showing three gas giants orbiting the star HR 8799
  • The results suggest the HR 8799 system is like a scaled-up Solar System
  • HR 8799 is about 130 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus
  • The planets are scorching hot, making them bright enough for astronomers to detect directly
  • In 2010, the researchers imaged a fourth planet around HR 8799, a new study focused on one of these planets, HR 8799c.
  • HR 8799c
  • Five to 10 times as massive as Jupiter, HR 8799c sits about eight times farther away from its star than Jupiter does from the sun
  • Because of that great distance, the astronomers could block the star’s light and record infrared light
  • Even with water present on this world, it is incredibly hostile to life
  • Like Jupiter, it has no solid surface, and it has a temperature of more than a thousand degree
  • The Studies
  • Because different gases absorb and emit light in distinct ways, the team could identify carbon monoxide and water but found no methane, which scientists had thought might be present.
  • In another new study researchers simultaneously collected infrared light from the atmospheres of all four planets
  • The chemistry of each planet varies different from anything in our own solar system
  • Although the teams looked at different wavelengths of light, which pick up different types of molecules, the two studies appear consistent
  • By peering at just one planet, one team obtained more detailed data that allowed the researchers to get a sense of how much carbon and oxygen is in HR 8799c’s atmosphere
  • Knowing the ratio of carbon to oxygen in the atmosphere may reveal how the planet formed
  • Planetary Formation Theories
  • Astronomers have two competing theories of how planets arise from the disk of gas and dust encircling a young star
  • In the gravitational instability model, some of the gas and dust suddenly clumps and collapses, simultaneously creating a planet’s core and atmosphere
  • In this scenario, the chemical composition of a planet should match that of its star
  • In the other model, known as core accretion, planets are built in two-steps
  • First, material from the disk accumulates into a core, later the core captures gases swirling in the disk to form an atmosphere.
  • In this case, the carbon-to-oxygen ratio of the planet may differ from the star because the accretion of cores may deplete the disk of certain elements
  • What This Planet\’s Data Tells Us
  • Compared with its star, HR 8799c appears to have slightly more carbon relative to oxygen, suggesting the planet originated via core accretion
  • It is surmises that when the disk around HR 8799 formed, water froze into particles of ice, the bits of ice then collided to form the planet’s core, leaving behind little water vapor, and therefore less oxygen, when the planet accumulated its atmosphere later on
  • Other researchers are not convinced by this conclusion saying “We don’t really understand planetary formation enough to make a strong case either way,”
  • The Future
  • Either Way the data from both new studies may help astronomers refine their simulations of planetary formation
  • Not that astronomers have directly imaged planets around three distant stars researchers are poised to capture light from many more planets
  • Project 1640, is looking for Jupiter-sized planets around some 200 stars
  • “Ultimately, with better instruments, people will be able to use these methods on Earthlike planets.”
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Remote Reconnaissance of Another Solar System | AMNHorg
  • Video Clip Nearby Stars with planets| AMNHorg
  • Video Clip HR 8799 System| AMNHorg
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Exoplanet Atmospheres Provide Clues to Solar System Formation | UniverseToday.com
  • Distant planets\’ atmospheres revealed | Atom & Cosmos | ScienceNews.org


Bees Against HIV

  • Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed
  • What it Does
  • Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses
  • The new study shows that melittin loaded onto these nanoparticles does not harm normal cells, because added protective bumpers to the nanoparticle surface
  • When the nanoparticles come into contact with normal cells, which are much larger in size, the particles simply bounce off
  • HIV, on the other hand, is even smaller than the nanoparticle, so HIV fits between the bumpers and makes contact with the surface of the nanoparticle, where the bee toxin awaits
  • The advantage of this approach is that the nanoparticle attacks an essential part of the virus\’ structure. In contrast, most anti-HIV drugs inhibit the virus\’s ability to replicate.
  • Drawbacks
  • This anti-replication strategy does nothing to stop initial infection, and some strains of the virus have found ways around these drugs and reproduce anyway.
  • Where it does work, because it attacks the inherent physical property of HIV, theoretically, there isn\’t any way for the virus to adapt to this treatment
  • The potential for using nanoparticles with melittin as therapy for existing HIV infections, especially those that are drug-resistant
  • Other Uses
  • The hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection
  • Since melittin attacks double-layered membranes indiscriminately, this concept is not limited to HIV.
  • Many viruses, including hepatitis B and C, rely on the same kind of protective envelope and would be vulnerable to melittin-loaded nanoparticles
  • In addition to antiviral therapy, the paper\’s senior author has shown melittin-loaded nanoparticles to be effective in killing tumor cells.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Nanoparticles loaded with bee venom kill HIV | MedicalXPress.com


Worlds Oldest Egyptian Sundials

  • Telling Time in Ancient Egypt
  • During archaeological excavations in the Kings\’ Valley in Upper Egypt a team of researchers found one of the world\’s oldest ancient Egyptian sundials
  • During this year\’s excavations the researchers found a flattened piece of limestone (so-called Ostracon) on which a semicircle in black color had been drawn
  • The semicircle is divided into twelve sections of about 15 degrees each.
  • A dent in the middle of the approximately 16 centimeter long horizontal baseline served to insert a wooden or metal bolt that would cast a shadow to show the hours of the day
  • Small dots in the middle of each section were used for even more detailed time measuring
  • It was found in an area of stone huts that were used in the 13th century BC to house the men working at the construction of the graves, possibly used to measure their work hours
  • The division of the sun path into hours also played a crucial role in the so-called netherworld guides that were drawn onto the walls of the royal tombs
  • These guides are illustrated texts that chronologically describe the nightly progression of the sun-god through the underworld.
  • The sundial could also have served to further visualize this phenomenon.
  • Multimedia
  • Image Ancients Egyptian sun dial | Phys.org | Credit: University of Basel
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • One of the world\’s oldest sun dial dug up in Kings\’ Valley | Phys.org



  • Karl Sakrits
  • Estonia is sending up their first satellite, a CubeSat, made by University students to test the electric solar wind sail
  • CubeSat
  • The CubeSat standard for nanosatellites was followed during the engineering of ESTCube-1,
  • The CubeSat standard has three different sizes corresponding to size 1U, 2U and 3U. Base side lengths are the same but height is 2 to 3 times bigger than 1U CubeSats
  • Mass is also set in CubeSat standard, the highest possible mass for 1U CubeSat is 1300 grams, 2U CubeSat 2600 grams and 3U CubeSat 4000 grams
  • CubeSat base side length must be 100.0 +/- 0.1 millimeters and satellite height must be 113.5±0.1 mm
  • Purpose
  • Although its main purpose was to educate students, the satellite does have a scientific purpose.
  • On board of the satellite is an electric solar wind sail (e-sail) which was created by a Finnish scientist Pekka Janhunen, which will be the first real experimentation of the e-sail
  • Subsystems
  • ADCS – attitude determination and control system, determines and modifies satellite\’s alignment
  • CAM – onboard camera for taking pictures of the Earth and the unreeled tether
  • CDHS – command and data handling system, the satellite\’s main onboard computer
  • COM – communications system for up- and downlinks
  • EPS – electrical power system, provides electrical power for the satellite
  • PL – payload, the satellite\’s experiment module, that contains the tether and everything else related to the experiment
  • STR – satellite\’s structure
  • Solar Wind Sail
  • 10 meters of e-sail 50 to 20 micrometers thick wire of high-technology structure so-called Heytether will be deployed from the satellite.
  • The deployment of the Heytether can be detected by decrease of the satellite\’s speed of rotation or by a on-board camera
  • To control the loaded solar wind sail elements interaction with the plasma surrounding the earth and the effect it has on the spacecraft spinning speed the spacecraft has two on-board nanotechnologic electron emitters/gun
  • The electron emitters are connected to the e-sail element and by shooting out electrons it loads the e-sail element positively to 500 volts
  • The positive ions in the plasma push the e-sail element and have an influence on the satellites rotation speed
  • The effect of the e-sail is measured by the change in rotation speed
  • The camera is used to take a picture of Earth and the successfully deployed Heytether.
  • Mission
  • ESTCube-1 will be sent to orbit by the European Space Agency\’s rocket Vega in spring of 2013
  • Half an hour after the satellites deployment from the start capsule satellites antennas will be opened and radio transmitter and important subsystems will be switched on
  • The first days or weeks will be used to test the satellite and set it to work on full capacity
  • They will then orient the satellite so the on-board camera will be faced to earth so that they can try to take a picture of Estonia
  • They will rotate the satellite on an axis with a speed of 1 revolution per second
  • The E-sail element will deploy from the satellite by a centrifugal force and will confirm the deployment via the on-board camera
  • Then they will activate the electron emitter and loading the e-sail, measuring the e-sails and Lorentz force by satellites revolutions per second
  • If possible they will use the negatively charged e-sail to take the satellite off orbit and burn it in the earths atmosphere
  • Should everything go perfect the mission could be completed within a few weeks to a month
  • Communication
  • Communicating with the satellite will be held by two International Amateur Radio Unions three registered frequencies [437.250 MHz, 437.505 MHz]
  • The maximum possible connection speed is 19,200 bits per second, only to be used when the satellite has been given a specific order
  • Important satellite parameters will be transmitted every 3 to 5 minutes, and periodic but slow communication can be done on a telegraphic signal
  • A 9600 baud connection speed and AX.25 standard is used, a slower communication frequency which allow a maximum of 25 kiloherz bandwidth, fast connection will only be used when the satellite has been given a specific
  • Software
  • FreeRTOS on the satellite\’s Command and Data Handling System and camera module
    TinyOS on the satellite\’s communication module
  • Financing and costs
  • This option is the cheapest possibility to send a satellite into orbit is offered by European Space Agency
  • Estonia is an associated member of ESA most of the launch expenses (about 70,000 euros) will be covered from Estonian member fee for educational expenses
  • The total expense, with launch cost, for the project are approximately 100,000 euros
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube estcube dissection2 | taavi torim
  • YouTube Packing ESTCube-1 for shipping. Tallinn TV Tower 21.1.2013. | AjattaraQuad
  • ESTCube.eu | Video Library
  • Twitter
  • ESTCube @ESTCube
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • ESTCube.eu

— Updates —

Space Shuttle Atlantis


SpaceX’s Grasshopper Hops Higher

  • GrassHopper
  • Grasshopper stands 10 stories tall and consists of a Falcon 9 rocket first stage tank, Merlin 1D engine, four steel and aluminum landing legs with hydraulic dampers, and a steel support structure
  • The goal of Grasshopper is to eventually create a reusable first stage for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which would be able to land safely instead of falling back into the ocean and not being usable again
  • On March 7, 2013, the vertical and takeoff and landing (VTVL) vehicle, rose 24 stories, 263 ft / 80m, hovered for approximately 34 seconds and then landed safely, and more accurately than ever before
  • Previous Tests
  • This is Grasshopper’s fourth in a series of test flights, with each test demonstrating exponential increases in altitude
  • September 2012 | Flew to 8.2 ft / 2.5 meters
  • November 2012 | Flew to 17.7 ft / 5.4 meters
  • December 2012 | Flew to 131 ft / 40 meters
  • Multimedia
  • Ring of Fire | spacexchannel
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • SpaceX Grasshopper Takes a Leap Into a \’Ring of Fire\’ | UniverseToday.com


  • Analyzing the Drill Sample
  • Curiosity obtained her first drill sample and passed that sample on to her onboard analytical lab instruments, called CheMin and SAM
  • These powerful instruments can tell about what minerals are present in these rocks and whether they contain the ingredients necessary to sustain life as we know it.
  • When the rover science team combine the data from remote sensing and contact science instruments from CheMin and SAM, we get a picture of an ancient watery environment, which would have been habitable had life been present in it.
  • At that site of Opportunity rover, the sedimentary rocks record evidence of an environment that was only wet on a very intermittent basis, and when it was, the waters that were there were highly acidic, very salty, and not favorable for the survival of organic compounds.
  • CheMin instrument, tells us that the minerals that are present in this lakebed sedimentary rock at John Klein are very different from just about anything we\’ve ever analyzed before on Mars and was deposited in a freshwater environment
  • The SAM instrument is telling us that these rocks contained all of the ingredients necessary for a habitable environment
  • The science team found carbon, sulfur and oxygen, all present and a number of other elements in states that life could have taken advantage of.
  • Image Mosaic
  • The mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA\’s Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in raw color as recorded by the camera.
  • This mosaic was assembled from dozens of images from the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera mounted on the right side of the Mastcam instrument
  • Raw color shows the scene\’s colors as they would look in a typical smart-phone camera photo, before any adjustment.
  • White-balancing helps scientists recognize rock materials based on their experience looking at rocks on Earth
  • White balancing yields an overly blue hue in images that have very little blue information, such as Martian landscapes, because the white balancing tends to overcompensate for the low inherent blue content.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report (Mar. 15, 2013) | Rover Hits Paydirt | JPLnews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News


Looking back

  • March 23, 2001 : 12 years ago : Mir destroyed : The Russian space station, Mir, ended 15 years in orbit by burning up in Earth\’s atmosphere as the way chosen to end its life. Mir, launched in 1986, had far exceeded its original planned five year lifespan. The Russian government decided in Oct 2000 that its poor condition could no longer justify the expense to maintain its use. A docked Progress tanker had been remotely commanded by mission controllers to fire rockets and lower its orbit and cause re-entry into the atmosphere. The debris that did not burn up during reentry fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean at the planned target zone between New Zealand and Chile. For safety, airlines had rerouted Pacific flights in anticipation of the event, and ships had been warned earlier

Looking up this week

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