Kepler & Ancient Water | SciByte 94

Kepler & Ancient Water | SciByte 94

We take a look at sad news for the Kepler space telescope, wireless brain imaging, remote ancient water, cancer genes, sound imaging, 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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Kepler\’s Last Dance?

  • NASA’s Kepler telescope lost its ability to precisely point toward stars when one of the reaction wheels –devices which enable the spacecraft to aim in different directions without firing thrusters – has failed
  • Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission completed its 3.5-year planned run last monitors some 150,000 sunlike stars in search of transiting planets
  • Reaction Wheels
  • Reaction wheels try to balance the forces from the solar pressure, that’s what forces a wheel to run
  • Last year reaction wheel #2 failed, and now #4 has failed
  • In July 2012 reaction wheel #2 failed, then earlier this year elevated friction was detected in reaction wheel #4, they saw some movement on the wheel but it went back quickly
  • Extending Fuel Supplies
  • They are currently using thrusters to stabilize the spacecraft, and in its current mode, the onboard fuel will last for several months
  • They could extend the fuel to last a period of several years in a “Point Rest State,” where we can park the vehicle
  • Point Rest State is a loosely-pointed, thruster-controlled state that minimizes fuels usage while providing a continuous X-band communication downlink
  • The software to execute that state was loaded to the spacecraft last week
  • There is the possibility of the wheel running in the opposite direction, but running the wheel backward would mean they would need to use more thruster fuel
  • What Lies Ahead
  • The spacecraft needs at least three reaction wheels to be able to point precisely enough to hunt for planets orbiting distant stars, but it might be possible to use the telescope for another purpose that does not require such precise pointing abilities
  • They will continue to analyze the situation to try and get the telescope back online
  • Even if the Kepler spacecraft is unable to make more observations, there are still terabytes of data to pore over with two years of data that has yet to be searched through
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Kepler Update on This Week @NASA | NASATelevision
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Kepler mission may be over | Atom & Cosmos | Science News
  • Planet-Hunting Kepler Spacecraft Suffers Major Failure, NASA Says |
  • Kepler spacecraft\’s planet-hunting days may be over |
  • Malfunction Could Mark the End of NASA\’s Kepler Mission – ScienceInsider |
  • Kepler Planet-Hunting Mission in Jeopardy |


Wireless Brain Imaging

  • A new technology is using wireless signals to provide real-time, non-invasive diagnosis of brain swelling or bleeding.
  • The device analyzes data from low energy, electromagnetic waves, similar to the kind used to transmit radio and mobile signals
  • It could potentially become a cost-effective tool for medical diagnostics and to triage injuries in areas where access to medical care, especially medical imaging, is limited
  • The Prototype
  • Engineers fashioned two coils into a helmet-like device, fitted over the heads of the study participants
  • One coil acts as a radio emitter and the other serves as the receiver. Electromagnetic signals are broadcast through the brain from the emitter to the receiver
  • The waves are extremely weak, and are comparable to standing in a room with the radio or television turned on
  • The device\’s diagnoses for the brain trauma patients in the study matched the results obtained from conventional computerized tomography (CT) scans
  • Researchers take advantage of the characteristic changes in tissue composition and structure in brain injuries
  • For brain edema, swelling results from an increase in fluid in the tissue and for brain hematomas, internal bleeding causes the buildup of blood in certain regions of the brain.
  • Because fluid conducts electricity differently than brain tissue, it is possible to measure changes in electromagnetic properties.
  • Then computer algorithms interpret the changes to determine the likelihood of injury.
  • Prototype Testing
  • The researchers tested a prototype in a small-scale pilot study of healthy adults and brain trauma patients admitted to a military hospital for the Mexican Army
  • The study involved 46 healthy adults, ages 18 to 48, and eight patients with brain damage, ages 27 to 70.
  • The results from the healthy patients were clearly distinguishable from those with brain damage, and data for bleeding was distinct from those for swelling
  • Why is it Important?
  • Symptoms of serious head injuries and brain damage are not always immediately obvious, and for treatment, time is of the essence.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Wireless signals could transform brain trauma diagnostics |


Ancient Water Story

  • A UK-Canadian team of scientists has discovered ancient pockets of water, which have been isolated deep underground for billions of years and contain abundant chemicals known to support life
  • Before this finding, the only water of this age was found trapped in tiny bubbles in rock and is incapable of supporting life
  • The Water
  • The crystalline rocks surrounding the water are thought to be around 2.7 billion years old. But no-one thought the water could be the same age, until now
  • Using ground-breaking techniques researchers show that the fluid is at least 1.5 billion years old, but could be significantly older.
  • The interconnected fluid system in the deep Canadian crystalline basement that is billions of years old, and capable of supporting life
  • Scientists say the water found in the Canadian mine pours from the rock at a rate of nearly two litres per minute yet don\’t yet know if the underground system in Canada sustains life
  • Hydrogen, Methane, and Life
  • Researchers have analysed water pouring out of boreholes from a mine 2.4 kilometres beneath Ontario, Canada
  • They have found that the water is rich in dissolved gases like hydrogen, methane and different forms – called isotopes – of noble gases such as helium, neon, argon and xenon
  • The amount of hydrogen in the water is similar to that around hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean, where microbial life has been found
  • The hydrogen and methane come from the interaction between the rock and water, as well as natural radioactive elements in the rock reacting with the water
  • These gases could provide energy for microbes that may not have been exposed to the sun for billions of years.
  • What This Means On a Larger Scale
  • The similarity between the rocks that trapped it and those on Mars raises the hope that comparable life-sustaining water could lie buried beneath the red planet\’s surface
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Billion-year-old water could hold clues to life on Earth and Mars |

Flipping Genes for Cancer

  • Researchers at Johns Hopkins have identified a gene that, when repressed in tumor cells, puts a halt to cell growth and a range of processes needed for tumors to enlarge and spread to distant sites
  • The work shows for the first time that switching this gene off in aggressive cancer cells dramatically changes their appearance and behavior
  • The team applied the same techniques to several strains of human breast cancer cells in the laboratory, including the so-called triple negative cells
  • Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
  • Triple-negative breast cancer cells tend to behave aggressively and do not respond to many of our most effective breast cancer therapies
  • Cells with suppressed HMGA1 grow very slowly and fail to migrate or invade new territory
  • The team then implanted tumor cells into mice, the tumors with HMGA1 grew and spread to other areas, such as the lungs, while those with blocked HMGA1 did not grow well in the breast tissue or spread to distant sites.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Making cancer less cancerous: Blocking a single gene renders tumors less aggressive |

Sound Pictures of Your Car

  • Researchers have created a camera that creates a heat map-like view of machinery, or anything else
  • 30 digital microphones and a high-res camera pick up on what\’s making noise, and an image shows the different levels of noise, organized by a color gradient with blue meaning a little noise, and red is the most extreme level.
  • While this is not the first sound camera, at about 4 pounds it is one of the most portable
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • This Sound Camera Could Help You Fix Your Car | Popular Science


Space Station Patch

  • Peter Daintree / \”Korlus\” – Check This Out!
  • Space Station ammonia Leak and Fix
  • Answer
  • Expedition 35 Flight Engineers inspected and replaced a pump controller box on the International Space Station’s far port truss (P6) leaking ammonia coolant
  • Coolant Pump
  • The device contains the mechanical systems that drive the cooling functions for the port truss.
  • The ammonia cools the 2B power channel, one of eight power channels that control the all the various power-using systems at the ISS
  • While the coolant is vital to the operation of the ISS for the electricity-supplying systems, the crew was not in any danger
  • The Fix
  • The spacewalk is the 168th in support of the assembly and maintenance of the space
  • While astronauts on the station prepared in space, Astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center used the Neutral Buoyancy lab – a 12- meter (40 ft.) deep swimming pool with mockups of the space station that simulates the zero-gravity conditions in space – going through the entire expected EVA
  • A little more than 2 1/2 hours into the spacewalk removed the 260-pound pump controller box from the P6 truss and replaced it with a spare that had been stowed nearby
  • What Happened in the \”Down Time\”
  • All the systems that use power from the 2B channel, the problem area, were transferred throughout the day to another channel
  • The 2B channel will eventually shut down when the coolant is depleted, and the power is being diverted in order to keep everything up and running on the station
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Station Ammonia Leak Prompts Spacewalk Preps | ReelNASA
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA – Astronauts Complete Spacewalk to Repair Ammonia Leak, Station Changes Command |
  • Emergency Spacewalk Likely for ‘Serious’ ISS Coolant Leak |


Opportunity’s Driving Marathon


  • Second Drilling Location
  • The first drilling location was at a target called \”John Klein\” three months ago
  • The new target Cumberland resembles John Klein and lies about nine feet (2.75 meters) farther west
  • On May 19th Curiosity drilled a hole into Cumberland about an 0.6 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and about 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) deep
  • Preliminary findings from analysis of the first site, \”John Klein,\” indicate that the location long ago had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life
  • The science team expects to use analysis of the new material from Cumberland to check against those results
  • ”Blinking Image”
  • Before-and-After Blink of \’Cumberland\’ Drilling | NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
  • This pair of images from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on NASA\’s Mars rover Curiosity shows the rock target \”Cumberland\” before and after Curiosity drilled into it to collect a sample for analysis
  • The \”before\” image was taken during the 275th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity\’s work on Mars (May 15, 2013).
  • Curiosity drilled into Cumberland on Sol 279 (May 19, 2013) and took the second image later that same sol.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | Curiosity Rover Report (May 16, 2013): Rover Readies for Second Drilling | JPLNews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Science Laboratory: NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Drills Second Rock Target |


Looking back

  • May 27, 1931 : 82 years ago : Balloon Record : In 1931, Auguste Piccard and Charles Knipfer took man\’s first trip into the stratosphere when they rode their balloon to an altitude of 51,800 feet (nearly 10 miles above the earth). This required the use of a pressurized cabin, which Piccard had designed. On-board experiments included the use of an electroscope to investigate cosmic rays

Looking up this week

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