Heart Surgery & Robot Snakes | SciByte 87

Heart Surgery & Robot Snakes | SciByte 87

We take a look at new heart surgery techniques, the age of the universe, a pint-sized paleontologist, a robot snake, new Google Map locations, spacecraft and story updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:

Heart Surgical Tech

  • The Tech
  • Many problems that once required sawing through the breastbone and opening up the chest for open heart surgery now can be treated through a tube
  • These minimal procedures used to be done just to unclog arteries and correct less common heart rhythm problems
  • Now some patients are getting such repairs for valves, irregular heartbeats, holes in the heart and other defects-without major surgery, Doctors even are testing ways to treat high blood pressure with some of these new approaches
  • Heart valves
  • Millions of people have leaky heart valves. Each year, more than 100,000 people in the United States alone have surgery for them
  • Without a valve replacement operation, half of these patients die within two years, yet many are too weak to have one.
  • Just over a year ago, Edwards Lifesciences Corp. won approval to sell an artificial aortic valve flexible and small enough to fit into a catheter and be wedged inside the bad one
  • At first it was just for inoperable patients. Last fall, use was expanded to include people able to have surgery but at high risk of complications.
  • Catheter-based treatments for other valves also are in testing. One for the mitral valve
  • It has had mixed review by federal Food and Drug Administration advisers this week; whether it will win FDA approval is unclear. It is already sold in Europe
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Catheters can contain tools to vaporize or \”ablate\” bits of heart tissue that cause abnormal signals that control the heartbeat
  • Now catheter ablation is being used for the most common rhythm problem-atrial fibrillation, which plagues about 3 million Americans and 15 million people worldwide.
  • The upper chambers of the heart quiver or beat too fast or too slow. That lets blood pool in a small pouch off one of these chambers, clots can form in the pouch and travel to the brain, causing a stroke
  • Ablation addresses the underlying rhythm problem. To address the stroke risk from pooled blood, several novel devices aim to plug or seal off the pouch
  • A tiny lasso to cinch the pouch shut. It uses two catheters that act like chopsticks. One goes through a blood vessel and into the pouch to help guide placement of the device, which is contained in a second catheter poked under the ribs to the outside of the heart, then a loop is released to circle the top of the pouch where it meets the heart, sealing off the pouch.
  • A different kind of device sold in Europe and parts of Asia, but is pending before the FDA in the U.S is like a tiny umbrella pushed through a vein and then opened inside the heart to plug the troublesome pouch.
  • Early results from a pivotal study released by the company suggested it would miss a key goal, making its future in the U.S. uncertain.
  • Heart defects
  • St. Jude Medical Inc.\’s Amplatzer is a fabric-mesh patch threaded through catheters to plug the hole
  • In two new studies, the device did not meet the main goal of lowering the risk of repeat strokes in people who had already suffered one, but some doctors were encouraged by other results
  • Сlogged arteries
  • The original catheter-based treatment-balloon angioplasty-is still used hundreds of thousands of times each year in the U.S. alone
  • A Japanese company, Terumo Corp., is one of the leaders of a new way to do it that is easier on patients-through a catheter in the arm rather than the groin
  • Newer stents that prop arteries open and then dissolve over time, aimed at reducing the risk of blood clots, also are in late-stage testing
  • High blood pressure
  • About 1 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks
  • Researchers are testing a possible long-term fix for dangerously high pressure that can\’t be controlled with multiple medications.
  • The new technology uses a catheter and radio waves to zap nerves, located near the kidneys, which fuel high blood pressure
  • At least one device is approved in Europe and several companies are testing devices in the United States
  • Pro\’s / Con\’s
  • Not everyone can have catheter treatment, and some promising devices have hit snags in testing
  • Others on the market now are so new that it will take several years to see if their results last as long as the benefits from surgery do.
  • This technology may also lead to cheaper treatment, although the initial cost of the novel devices often offsets the savings from shorter hospital stays
  • They also offer an option for people who cannot tolerate long-term use of blood thinners or other drugs to manage their conditions
  • These procedures have also allowed many people too old or frail for an operation to get help for problems that otherwise would likely kill them
  • Multimedia
  • Replacement Valve YouTube Clip | Healthy Valve vs with calcium | riHealth Cincinnati
  • Replacement Valve YouTube Clip | The Valve| riHealth Cincinnati
  • Replacement Valve YouTube Clip | The Valve Inflates| riHealth Cincinnati
  • \’Leaky\’ Valve YouTube Clip | Procedure Animation | EmoryUniversity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Heart repair breakthroughs replace surgeon\’s knife | MedicalXPress.com


New Age Estimate for the Universe

  • Launched by the European Space Agency in 2009, the Planck satellite scans the sky for the cosmic microwave background, radiation that dates back to about 380,000 years after the Big Bang
  • Now it has released the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background, echoes of the radiation from the Big Bang, was released revealing the existence of features that challenge the foundations of our current understanding of the Universe
  • New Detailed Map of the Cosmic Microwave Background
  • The image is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck and is the mission\’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when it was just 380 000 years old.
  • The red spots in the map are about 1 part in 100,000 hotter than the average temperature, while the blue spots are slightly colder which corresponds to regions of slightly different densities at very early times, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today
  • According to the standard model of cosmology, the fluctuations arose immediately after the Big Bang and were stretched to cosmologically large scales during a brief period of accelerated expansion known as inflation.
  • The theory of inflation says that around 10-30 seconds after the Big Bang, the universe briefly expanded faster than the speed of light.
  • At that time, the young Universe was filled with a hot dense soup of interacting protons, electrons and photons at about 2700ºC and protons and electrons joined to form hydrogen atoms, the light was set free
  • As the Universe has expanded, this light today has been stretched out to microwave wavelengths, equivalent to a temperature of just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.
  • Planck is essentially a super sensitive thermometer that can probe the temperature of this radiation to millionths of a degree across the whole sky with greater resolution and sensitivity than ever before
  • By analysing the nature and distribution of the seeds in Planck\’s CMB image, we can determine the composition and evolution of the Universe from its birth to the present day
  • Because precision of Planck\’s map is so high, it also made it possible to reveal some peculiar unexplained features that may well require new physics to be understood
  • Since the release of Planck\’s first all-sky image in 2010, scientists have been carefully extracting and analysing all of the foreground emissions that lie between us and the Universe\’s first light revealing the cosmic microwave background in the greatest detail yet
  • New Findings
  • One of the most surprising findings is that the fluctuations in the CMB temperatures at large angular scales do not match those predicted by the standard model although their signals are not as strong as expected from the smaller scale structure
  • Another is an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky, which runs counter to the prediction made by the standard model that the Universe should be broadly similar in any direction we look
  • For example a cold spot extends over a patch of sky that is much larger than expected.
  • The asymmetry and the cold spot had already been hinted at with Planck\’s predecessor NASA\’s WMAP mission, but were largely ignored because of lingering doubts about their cosmic origin
  • One way to explain the anomalies is to propose that the Universe is in fact not the same in all directions on a larger scale than we can observe
  • In this scenario, the light rays from the CMB may have taken a more complicated route through the Universe than previously understood, resulting in some of the unusual patterns observed today.
  • This data is an almost perfect fit of the standard model of cosmology, but with features that force us to rethink some of our basic assumptions
  • The ultimate goal of the project would be to construct a new model that predicts the anomalies and links them together, although scientists don\’t know whether this is possible and what type of new physics might be needed
  • Makeup of the Universe
  • The Planck data conform spectacularly well to the expectations of a rather simple model of the Universe, allowing scientists to extract the most refined values yet for its ingredients
  • Normal matter that makes up stars and galaxies contributes just 4.9% of the mass/energy density of the Universe
  • Dark matter, which has thus far only been detected indirectly by its gravitational influence, makes up 26.8%, nearly a fifth more than the previous estimate.
  • Dark energy, a mysterious force thought to be responsible for accelerating the expansion of the Universe, accounts for less than previously thought.
  • Expansion and Age of the Universe
  • Planck data also set a new value for the rate at which the Universe is expanding today, known as the Hubble constant at 67.15 kilometres per second per megaparsec, this is significantly less than the current standard value in astronomy
  • This data imply that the age of the Universe is 13.82 billion years, or 80 million years older than previously thought
  • The telescope is still making observations, and in about a year researchers will add more data
  • Multimedia
  • This graphic shows the same 10-square-degree patch of sky as seen by NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE, NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, and Planck.
  • Planck has a resolution about 2.5 times greater than WMAP | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA
  • YouTube Planck reveals an almost perfect Universe | ESA
  • YouTube Clip | New Data
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Planck\’s Cosmic Map Reveals Universe Older, Expanding More Slowly | UniverseToday.com
  • Universe is a teeny bit older than thought | Matter & Energy | Science News
  • Planck\’s most detailed map ever reveals an almost perfect Universe | Phys.org


Pint-Sized Paleontologist

  • A new species of crow-size pterosaur has been named Vectidraco daisymorrisae in honor of the nine-year-old fossil hunter who discovered it
  • The Discovery
  • While exploring the U.K.\’s Isle of Wight (off the S shore of the U.K.) in 2008, the then-five-year-old Morris came across blackened \”bones sticking out of the sand
  • The Morris family brought the fossil to paleontologist Martin Simpson at the University of Southampton, who, with the help of colleagues, identified it as a new species
  • Vectidraco daisymorrisae
  • In pterosaurs, certain parts of the skeleton, especially the skull and the pelvis, are really distinct between different species
  • The group of pterosaurs that it belonged to, ashdarchoids, were all are toothless, and many-perhaps all-were especially well adapted for life in terrestrial environments like woodlands, tropical forests, and floodplains
  • From the size of the pelvis the researchers estimate it had a wingspan of about 2.5 feet [75 cm] and was just over a foot [35 cm] long, or about the size of a gull or large crow.
  • This pterosaur lived around 145 to 165 million years ago
  • It probably had a head crest, was a reasonably good walker and runner on the ground, and could expertly fly through dense forests.
  • Of Note
  • This discovery has also inspired study co-author Simpson to write a children\’s book entitled Daisy and the Isle of Wight Dragon.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | BBC News Prehistoric beast named after Isle of Wight girl who found fossil | annapurna b
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Crow-Size Pterosaur Named After 9-Year-Old Fossil Hunter | National Geographic

Robotic Snake

  • ”Robot Snakes”
  • Robot snakes have been developed in recent years to mimic the actions of their real life counterparts, able to travel over terrain in ways very similar to a real snake, and even to climb up objects such as a person\’s arm.
  • Now they have extended the capability of a robot snake to include wrapping and holding on to an object when thrown at it
  • Capabilities
  • Researchers were able to give the snake such an ability by making use of accelerometers embedded in its body
  • It\’s able to detect the sudden stop that occurs when it strikes an object, then takes advantage of programming that had already been done by the team to get it to wrap itself around the object that it had struck
  • There is a difference between wrapping and constricting, this robot \’wraps\’, it doesn\’t squeeze the target, it simply wraps itself around it to allow it to hold on
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Snake Robot Perching | CMUBiorobotics
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Robot snake automatically wraps around an object when thrown (w/ Video) | Phys.org

— Updates —

Exploring the World with Google

The Search for Apollo 11 Engines

  • Previously on SciByte
  • SciByte 40 | Apollo 11 and James Cameron – Apollo 11 Engines found at the bottom of the ocean | April 3, 2012
  • Apollo Engine Recovery Update
  • Last year, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced that he had located some of the Apollo F-1 rocket engines and planned to recover them
  • Now his Bezos Expedition team has been successful in recovering engines that helped power Apollo astronauts to the Moon and have now brought “a couple of your F-1s home”
  • Apollo Yes, but Apollo 11?
  • Last year he said they had found the engines from Apollo 11, but it may be been difficult to determine exactly which flight the ones found were from
  • NASA launched 65 F-1 engines, five per flight, on 13 Saturn V boosters between 1967 and 1973
  • Supposedly there would be serial numbers to make the identification of which flight these engines were from and the plaques are still on the ship, so perhaps the identification will come later
  • The Recovery
  • The team spend three weeks at sea working with remotely Operated Vehicles worked at a depth of more than 14,000 feet
  • These vehicles were tethered to a ship with fiber optics for data and electric cables transmitting power at more than 4,000 volts
  • Five F-1 engines were used in the 138-foot-tall S-IC, or first stage, of each Saturn V and each of the engines stands 19 feet tall by 12 feet wide and weigh over 18,000 pounds.
  • Bezos also revealed that his expedition had successfully raised enough parts for two engines
  • Where Might They Live?
  • All of the parts, recovered or still on the bottom of the ocean, still belong to NASA but NASA has agreed to work with the team to exhibit and restore the engines.
  • Bezos previously proposed displays at Smithsonian\’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and at The Museum of Flight in Seattle
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Remote Operated Vehicles recovering Apollo F-1 engines 3 miles beneath Atlantic (Bezos Expeditions) | boingboingvideo
  • YouTube Clip | Lifing to the Surface
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Administrator Congratulates Apollo Engine Recovery Team | NASA.gov
  • F-1 Engine Recovery | Bezos Expeditions
  • Apollo Rocket Engines Recovered from Atlantic Ocean Floor | UniverseToday


GRAIL’s Resting Place

  • GRAIL Lunar probes
  • The probes\’ measurements have allowed scientists to create the best-ever gravity map of any celestial body and that map is getting better all the time, as researchers continue to analyze the data
  • The twin probes, which were each about the size of a washing machine, zipped around the moon at an average altitude of just 7 miles (11 km) in their final days
  • The two Grail spacecraft – known as Ebb and Flow – slammed into a mountain near the lunar north pole at 3,771 mph (6,070 km/h), striking the surface about 20 seconds apart
  • Update Announcement
  • NASA\’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) snapped a series of photographs of the two 16.5-foot-wide (5 meters) craters, which mark where the space agency\’s twin Grail probes ended their gravity-mapping mission, and their operational lives, on Dec. 17
  • Imaging
  • The craters themselves are small, nondescript features on a body riddled with impact scars and the LROC team found it surprise that they were able to find the craters at all
  • The Grail craters first showed up in LROC photos from January, but images taken on Feb. 28 show them in much greater detail
  • The team used these later photos to produce a topographic map of the impact zone
  • This map revealed that the two craters are separated by about 7,250 feet (2,210 m) in straight-line distance and 985 feet (300 m) in altitude
  • Ejecta
  • The crashes ejected material that appears darker than the surrounding lunar dirt, these may be dark due to spacecraft material being mixed with the ejecta
  • The darker material may also be residual fuel left in the probes\’ lines, or bits of their carbon-fiber bodies
  • Of Note
  • Although LRO didn\’t get any images of the actual crashes, which occurred in the dark ultraviolet imaging spectrograph did see emissions from mercury and atomic hydrogen in the ejected plumes when they rose high enough to reach sunlight and the analysis is ongoing
  • Multimedia
  • IMAGE | Impact sites before and after comparison animated GIF | NASA
  • YouTube | Doomed GRAIL Probes Impact Observed By Lunar Orbiter | VideoFromSpace
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA Moon Probes\’ Impact Craters Spotted from Space | Grail Mission | Space.com
  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter sees GRAIL\’s explosive farewell | Phys.org


  • New Technique for Searching for Water
  • The science team guiding NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) rover has now demonstrated a new capability that significantly enhances the robots capability to scan the surroundings for signs of life giving water from a distance
  • The Mastcam cameras can now also be used as a mineral-detecting and hydration-detecting tool to search 360 degrees around every spot it explores for the ingredients required for habitability and precursors to life mapping targets related to water that correspond to hydrated minerals
  • Scientists used the filter wheels on the Mastcam cameras to run an experiment by taking measurements in different wavelengths, thus serves as an early detective for water without having to drive up to every spot of interest, saving precious time and effort
  • The first use of the Mastcam 34 mm camera to find water was at the rock target called “Knorr\” it also saw elevated hydration signals in the narrow veins that cut many of the rocks in this area
  • These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix
  • The rover appears to have found that evidence for water at the Gale Crater landing site is also more widespread than prior indications.
  • But Mastcam has some limits it is not sensitive to the hydrated phyllosilicates found in the drilling sample
  • It is not sensitive to the hydrated phyllosilicates found in the drilling sample at John Klein
  • Curiosity\’s current location, Yellowknife Bay basin, possesses a significant amount of phyllosilicate clay minerals; indicating an environment where Martian microbes could once have thrived in the distant past.
  • April, the Month of Rest
  • Thanks also to Joshua C Wilder [@JWilder47] on Twitter for bringing this up as well
  • The positions of the planets in April will mean diminished communications between Earth and NASA\’s spacecraft at Mars as Mars will be passing almost directly behind the sun, from Earth\’s perspective. The sun can easily disrupt radio transmissions between the two planets during that near-alignment
  • To prevent an impaired command from reaching an orbiter or rover, mission controllers at NASA\’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are preparing to suspend sending any commands to spacecraft at Mars for weeks in April
  • The travels of Earth and Mars around the sun set up this arrangement, called a Mars solar conjunction, about once every 26 months, Mars solar conjunctions are not identical to each other. They can differ in exactly how close to directly behind the sun Mars gets, and they can differ in how active the sun is
  • Both orbiters will continue science observations on a reduced basis compared to usual operations. Both will receive and record data from the rovers.
  • Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is approaching its fifth solar conjunction. Its team will send no commands between April 9 and April 26, although engineers anticipate some data dropouts the rover will continue science activities using a long-term set of commands to be sent beforehand, and the recorded data will be retransmitted later
  • Curiosity can also continue making science observations from the location where it will spend the conjunction period. Curiosity\’s controllers plan to suspend commanding from April 4 to May 1.
  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will go into a record-only mode on April 4.
  • NASA anticipates that the orbiter could have about 40 gigabits of data from its own science instruments and about 12 gigabits of data from Curiosity accumulated for sending to Earth around May 1.
  • Raw / Calibrated / White-Balance Image Comparison
  • The left image is the raw, unprocessed color, as it is received directly from Mars
  • The center rendering was produced after calibration of the image to show an estimate of \”natural\” color, or approximately what the colors would look like if we were to view the scene ourselves on Mars
  • The right image shows the result of then applying a processing method called white-balancing, which shows an estimate of the colors of the terrain as if illuminated under Earth-like, rather than Martian, lighting
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Mars in a Minute: What Happens When the Sun Blocks our Signal? | JPLnews
  • Raw / Calibrated / White-Balance Image Comparison | \’Raw,\’ \’Natural\’ and \’White-Balanced\’ Views of Martian Terrain | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Science Laboratory: Sun in the Way Will Affect Mars Missions in April | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Curiosity Demonstrates New Capability to Scan 360 Degrees for Life Giving Water – and is Widespread | UniverseToday
  • \’Raw,\’ \’Natural\’ and \’White-Balanced\’ Views of Martian Terrain | mars.jpl.nasa.gov


Looking back

  • April 2, 1845 : 168 years ago : First photo of sun : The first surviving daguerrotype photograph showing details of the sun was taken by French physicists Armand Fizeau and Léon Foucault. The 5-inch (12 cm) image had an exposure of 1/60 second, [your eye takes ~1/3 sec to blink] and showed the umbra/penumbra structure of several sunspots, as well as limb darkening. The photographic process was new: Daguerre perfected the daguerrotype only a few years earlier, in 1838. Fizeau and Foucault had been collaborating with their own experiments on the process since 1839. Fizeau had much improved the durability of a daguerrotype image with a treatment, published in Aug 1840, using a solution of chloride of gold mixed with hypo-sulphite of soda, then heated over a spirit-lamp
  • Daguerreotype | Wikipedia

Looking up this week

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