Habitable Exoplanets & Diabetes | SciByte 92

Habitable Exoplanets & Diabetes | SciByte 92

We take a look at habitable zone exoplanets, diabetes treatment advances, water in Jupiter, living on Mars, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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More Habitable Zone Exoplanets

  • Astronomers have announced that they have found three new, potentially rocky, planets in the habitable zone of their stars by analyzing nearly three years’ worth of data
  • Kepler Space Telescope
  • As of April 2013, Kepler data has uncovered more than 2,700 potential planets, with about 120 of them having been confirmed to date
  • Mission scientists expect that more than 90 percent of the planets detected are real and not illusions in the data
  • Until now planets in the habitable zone were discovered by what is known as the radial velocity method, which gives a lower limit for the planet’s mass, but no information about its radius
  • While a small radius (less than 2 Earth radii) is a strong indicator that a planet around is indeed rocky it is difficult to assess whether or not a planet is rocky, like the Earth.
  • Finding planets in the habitable zones of larger stars is harder because those planets have relatively long orbits and barely cast a shadow as they pass across the faces of their suns
  • Kepler-62
  • Kepler62 is a red dwarf star, about two-thirds the size of the sun and several hundred degrees Celsius cooler
  • It is only 20 percent as bright as the sun and is about 1,200 light years away and contains five planets currently identified
  • Two of the worlds, Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are the smallest exoplanets yet found in a habitable zone, and they might both be covered in water or ice, depending on what kind of atmosphere they might have
  • Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy
  • The biggest uncertainty right now is about both planets composition, early evidence suggests that at least 62f is rocky
  • Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f would exhibit distinctly different colors and make our search for signatures of life easier on such planets in the near future
  • Kepler-62e
  • Orbit is 122 days
  • 1.6 times the diameter of Earth
  • Kepler-62e would have a bit more clouds than Earth according to computer models to sustain an ocean
  • An astronomer at the University of Washington not involved in the research says that Kepler-62e may be too close to its star – and therefore too hot – to sustain life
  • If 62e is a rocky planet, it’s almost certainly tidally locked with its star, half of its surface always facing the star, and the other always facing away
  • Kepler62-f
  • Orbit is 267 days
  • 1.4 times the diameter of Earth
  • Kepler-62f would need the greenhouse effect from plenty of carbon dioxide to warm it enough to host an ocean
  • Kepler-69 System
  • Kepler-36 is a sun-like star located 2,700 light-years away,
  • The Kepler-69 system contains one known planet in that star\’s habitable zone
  • Kepler-69c
  • 1.7 times bigger than Earth, sits on the inner edge of the habitable zone and is almost certainly a super-Venus rather than a super-Earth
  • Habitable Zone Types
  • The \”empirical habitable zone\” is where liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet if that planet has sufficient cloud cover
  • The \”narrow habitable zone\” is where liquid water can exist on the surface even without the presence of a cloud cover
  • Of Note
  • According to the Planetary Habitability Laboratory, there are now nine potential habitable worlds outside of our solar system, with 18 more potentially habitable planetary candidates found by Kepler waiting to be confirmed
  • Astronomers predict there are 25 potentially habitable exomoons
  • Kepler cannot search for signs of life on worlds like Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Kepler-69c, but the telescope is paving the way for future missions that should do just that
  • Next-generation missions like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which NASA approved earlier this month for launch in 2017, will take on the task of finding nearer planets that astronomers can study in depth
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Animation of the Kepler 62 Planetary System | UniverseTodayVideos
  • YouTube | NASA\’s Kepler Discovers Its Smallest \’Habitable Zone\’ Planets to Date | NASASolarSystem
  • Infographic | 3 Potentially Habitable Super-Earth Planets Explained | Space.com
  • IMAGE | Diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-69 | Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech
  • IMAGE | Diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-62 | Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech
  • IMAGE | Current known potentially habitable exoplanets | Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory/University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo.
  • IMAGE | The habitable zone for different types of stars | Image: L. Kaltenegger (MPIA)
  • YouTube | Full Anouncement | Kepler Makes Discoveries Inside the Habitable Zone | NASAtelevision
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Discovered! Most Earth-Like Alien Planet & 2 Other Possibly Habitable Worlds | Space.com
  • Most Earthlike planets yet seen bring Kepler closer to its holy grail | Atom & Cosmos | Science News
  • Habitable Worlds? New Kepler Planetary Systems in Images | UniverseToday.com
  • Kepler Team Finds System with Two Potentially Habitable Planets | UniverseToday.com


New Possible Diabetes Treatment Option

  • Researchers have discovered a hormone that holds promise for a dramatically more effective treatment of type 2 diabetes and believe that the hormone might also have a role in treating type 1, or juvenile, diabetes
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • While betatrophin primarily as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, it is believed it might play a role in the treatment of type 1 diabetes as well
  • Perhaps boosting the number of beta cells and slowing the progression of that autoimmune disease when it\’s first diagnosed
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by a combination of excess weight and lack of exercise and causes patients to slowly lose beta cells and the ability to produce adequate insulin
  • Provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes
  • Betatrophin
  • The hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells at up to 30 times the normal rate
  • In addition the new beta cells only produce insulin when called for by the body, offering the potential for the natural regulation of insulin
  • The researchers know that the hormone exists in human plasma; betatrophin definitely exists in humans
  • The Research
  • The team wasn\’t just looking at what happens when an animal doesn\’t have enough insulin, they were able to find this a gene that had largely gone unnoticed before
  • Another hint came from studying what happens during pregnancy, when there are more beta cells needed, and it turns out that this hormone goes up
  • When a woman gets pregnant, her carbohydrate load, her call for insulin, can increase an enormous amount because of the weight and nutrition needs of the fetus
  • The Future
  • Betatrophin could be in human clinical trials within three to five years, an extremely short time in the normal course of drug discovery and development
  • If it works as they hope it will it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or month, or even year
  • The researchers who discovered betatrophin caution that much work remains to be done before it could be used as a treatment in humans
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Potential Diabetes Breakthrough | Harvard
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Potential diabetes breakthrough: Researchers discover new hormone spurring beta cell production | MedicalXPress.com

Soaking up Venom in Blood

  • A tiny sponge camouflaged as a red blood cell could soak up toxins ranging from anthrax to snake venom, new research suggests
  • Bacteria and Poisons
  • One of the mainstay strategies of bacteria and poison is to poke holes in cells, disrupting their internal chemical balance and causing them to burst
  • So far, researchers haven\’t had much success creating all-purpose treatments to exploit this vulnerability
  • Nanosponges
  • Researchers created a tiny spherical core of a lactic acid byproduct, which forms naturally during metabolism in the human body
  • To get the outer skin of red blood cells, they used a difference in particle concentration inside and outside the cells to cause them to burst, and then collected their outer membranes
  • They then wrapped the cores in the outer surface of the red blood cell
  • The nanoparticles, also called nanosponges, act as decoys that lure and inactivate the deadly compounds
  • The entire ensemble became a tiny nanosponge, which was about 85 nanometers in diameter, or 100 times smaller than a human hair
  • The sponges\’ tiny size means a small amount of blood, for camouflage, can be used to make an effective dose
  • In cell cultures, the camouflaged sponges act as decoys, luring the toxins from the bacteria that causes strep throat and bee venom
  • The toxins then bind to the structure the \”poisons\” normally use to poke through cells
  • When they stick onto the nanosponge, that particular damaging structure gets preoccupied, since the sponges are so small they can circulate freely through blood vessels, and then the body can digest the entire particle
  • Experiment
  • The team injected 18 mice with a lethal dose of a MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, toxin. Half the mice then got a dose of the nanosponges
  • Whereas all the mice in the control group died, all but one that received the treatment survived
  • When injected into mice, the tiny decoys protect mice against lethal doses of a toxin produced by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
  • The Future
  • The researchers want to see whether the method works in human blood, and against other toxic chemicals, such as scorpion venom and anthrax, which use similar attack strategies
  • Because so many bacteria use the same pore-forming strategy, the nanosponges could be used as a universal treatment option when doctors don\’t know exactly what is causing an illness
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Tiny Sponge Soaks Up Venom in Blood | Scientific American


Water in Jupiter\’s Clouds

  • How Did It Get There?
  • In July 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 plowed into Jupiter leaving behind millions of gallons of water.
  • Water from the impact still makes up at least 95 percent of the water in the planet’s upper atmosphere
  • Telescopes had previously spotted water in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, some 100 kilometers above the planet’s ammonia cloud tops, but those surveys could not determine where the water came from
  • Now astronomers have created a high-resolution map of water vapor distribution throughout Jupiter’s atmosphere
  • They found that the concentration of water peaked in the planet’s southern hemisphere, right in the region where the comet struck
  • More water also appeared at higher altitudes around the planet, which supports the comet as its origin.
  • Water from other sources such as Jupiter’s icy moons would likely spread out more evenly around the planet and would gradually filter down to lower altitudes
  • Multimedia
  • Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 – How The Universe Works | DiscoveryTV
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • News in Brief: Comet\’s water still hanging around on Jupiter | Atom & Cosmos | Science News

MarsOne and Life on Mars and Science

  • Mars colony project will do its best to avoid disturbing potential Red Planet life rather than aggressively hunt it down
  • Science and Life
  • The Netherlands-based nonprofit Mars One opened its astronaut-selection process on April 22
  • They plan to land four people on the Red Planet in 2023 to make a permanent human colony on the Red Planet, with new crews arriving every two years thereafter
  • Human explorers will doubtless contaminate whatever site is chosen for the settlement, so the organization will try to pick a place unlikely to host indigenous life to localize the pollution
  • Mars One is working with experts to minimize the risks its colonization effort may pose to potential Red Planet lifeforms
  • While Mars One hasn\’t picked a precise location for its settlement yet, the organization is targeting a swath of the Red Planet between 40 and 45 degrees north latitude
  • Mars One astronauts will not necessarily be scientists
  • Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to apply, with the selection committee prizing traits such as intelligence, resourcefulness, determination and psychological stability over academic background
  • Science is not the main focus of what we are doing; although, crewmembers will take some scientific gear with them
  • Mars One officials won\’t dictate what the experiments should be, but there will be a budget for equipment that they want to take for scientific research
  • Multimedia
  • Mars 2023 – Inhabitants wanted | MarsOneProject
  • YouTube Channel | Mars One – Human Settlement of Mars
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars One
  • Private Mars Colony Won\’t Seek Martian Life | Mars One | Space.com


Peter, AKA \”Korlus\” | Check This Out!

  • On April 4, 2012 he Fermi spacecraft almost ended it\’s mission to map the highest-energy light in the universe because of a collision with a dead Cold-War spy satellite
  • What Happened?
  • An automatically generated report arrived from NASA\’s Robotic Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis (CARA) team based at NASA\’s Goddard Space Flight Center was sent to the FERMI team just one week away from an unusually close encounter with Cosmos 1805, a defunct spy satellite dating back to the Cold War.
  • The two objects, speeding around Earth at thousands of miles an hour in nearly perpendicular orbits, were expected to miss each other by a mere 700 feet
  • An update days later indicated the satellites would occupy the same point in space within 30 milliseconds of each other
  • Using thrusters for use at the end of Fermi\’s operating life designed to take it out of orbit and allow it burn up in the atmosphere they were able to adjust the orbit just slightly enough to evade a collision
  • The U.S. Space Surveillance Network continues to keep tabs on every artificial object larger than 4 inches across in Earth orbit. Of the 17,000 objects currently tracked, only about 7 percent are active satellites
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Near Miss – Dead Russian Spy Satellite Forces NASA Probe Move | VideoFromSpace
  • YouTube | Animation of Earth with Near-Earth Orbital Debris [HD] | TheMarsUnderground
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars One
  • Private Mars Colony Won\’t Seek Martian Life | Mars One | Space.com


New Atlantis Exhibit Prep

  • The Space shuttle Atlantis is set to go on public display June 29 at NASA\’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida
  • Shuttle Reveal
  • It was revealed Friday, April 26 after workers spent two days peeling off its protective shrink-wrap cover of the past five months.
  • Workers began carefully cutting back the 16,000 square feet (1,486 square meters) of shrink wrap that protected Atlantis as its $100 million exhibition building was completed around it
  • By the end of the first day, the shuttle\’s nose, tail, aft engines and left wing were exposed, the workers completed the process the next day, revealing Atlantis\’ right wing and its 60-foot-long (18 meter) payload bay
  • Opening the payload bay is set to begin in May, will take about two weeks, as the doors are very slowly hoisted open, one by one.
  • Atlantis has been mounted. Thirty feet (9 meters) in the air, the space shuttle has been tilted 43.21 degrees, such that its left wing extends toward the ground.
  • Atlantis will appear to be back in space – an effect that will be enhanced by lighting and a mural-size digital screen that will project the Earth\’s horizon behind the shuttle
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Clip | Uncovering the Nose
  • YouTube Clip | Uncovering a Wing
  • YouTube Clip | Peeling Back the Layers
  • YouTube | Shuttle Atlantis Unwrapped & Revealed at Kennedy Visitor Center | SpaceVidsNet
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Atlantis Exposed: Space Shuttle Fully Unwrapped for NASA Exhibit | Kennedy Space Center | Space.com


Opportunity Rover Back Fron Glitch

  • Mars rover Opportunity has overcome a glitch that put the robot into standby mode late last month
  • What Happened?
  • Opportunity apparently put itself into standby auto mode, in which it maintains power balance but waits for instructions from the ground, on April 22, after sensing a problem during a routine camera check, mission officials said.
  • The rover\’s handlers didn\’t notice the problem until April 27, when Opportunity got back in touch after a nearly three-week communications moratorium
  • They then prepared a new set of commands on April 29 designed to get things back to normal, and the fix has apparently worked
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Rover Opportunity Back in Action After Glitch | Mars Solar Conjunction | Space.com



Looking back

  • May 01, 1958 : 55 years ago : Van Allen radiation belts : The discovery of the powerful Van Allen radiation belts that surround Earth was published in the Washington Evening Star. The article covered the report made by their discoverer James. A. Van Allen to the joint symposium of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society in Washington DC. He used data from the Explorer I and Pioneer III space probes of the earth\’s magnetosphere region to reveal the existence of the radiation belts – concentrations of electrically charged particles. Van Allen (born 7 Sep 1914) was also featured on the cover of the 4 May 1959 Time magazine for this discovery. He was the principal investigator on 23 other space probes

Looking up this week

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