Exoplanet Image & Autism Spectrum | SciByte 131

Exoplanet Image & Autism Spectrum | SciByte 131

Hello everyone and welcome back to SciByte!

We take a look at an exoplanet picture, Autism Spectrum and sensory stimuli, a giant dinosaur in Argentina, 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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Show Notes:

Direct Image of Exoplanet

  • This week, an international team of researchers announced the discovery and direct image of an exoplanet 155 light years away
  • The few planets for which we have an actual image are interesting because we can analyze their light directly, and thus learn much more about them
  • The Exoplanet GU Psc B
  • The primary star, GU Psc A, is an M3 red dwarf weighing in at 35% the mass of our Sun and is just 100 million years old
  • It orbits its host star 2,000x farther than the distance from Earth to the Sun once every 80,000 Earth years
  • It is also one of the “coolest” planets that have been directly imaged, showing methane absorption
  • It is certainly the most distant exo-planet to a main-sequence star that has been found so far
  • A Exo-Planet?
  • The exoplanet is estimated to be 11 times the mass of Jupiter, just under the lower mass limit for brown dwarf status
  • This distance makes GU Psc b very interesting from a theoretical point of view, because it’s hard to imagine how it could have formed in the protoplanetary disk of its star
  • The current working definition of an exoplanet is based solely on mass (<13 Jupiter masses), so GU Psc b probably formed in a way that is more similar to how stars formed
  • How Do We Know That They Are \’Together\’?
  • The host star, GU Psc is relatively nearby; it displays a significant apparent proper motion relative to distant background stars and galaxies.
  • On images taken one year apart with WIRCam on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, they observed that the companion displays the same big proper motion, i.e. they move together in the plane of the sky, while the rest of the stars in the field don’t
  • The Technique
  • Researchers targeted GU Psc after it was determined to be a member of the AB Doradus moving group of relatively young stars, which are prime candidates for exoplanet detection
  • The fact that GU Psc B was captured by direct imaging at 155 light years distant is amazing
  • Most planet hunting techniques using direct imaging involve state-of-the-art adaptive optics systems, but we the researchers ‘standard’ imaging without any exotic techniques
  • The team was able to view the exoplanet by utilizing observations from the W.M. Keck observatory, the joint Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, the Gemini Observatory and the Observatoire Mont-Mégantic in Québec.
  • To find this planet, they used very sensitive ‘standard’ imaging, and carefully chose the wavelengths where planets display colors that are unlike most other astrophysical objects such as stars and galaxies
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Direct Image of an Exoplanet 155 Light Years Away | UniverseToday.com


Autism Spectrum and Sensory Stimuli

  • A new small study shows certain areas in the brains of children diagnosed with autism spectrum overreact to sensory stimuli [i.e. touch of a scratchy sweater or loud traffic noises]
  • The finding helps to explain why autistic kids are five times more likely than other children to be overwhelmed by everyday sensations
  • The Low Down
  • The finding helps to explain why kids with autism spectrum are five times more likely than other children to be overwhelmed by everyday sensations
  • It\’s a condition called sensory over-responsivity, and it was recognized as one of the core features of autism spectrum disorder
  • The Study
  • Researchers recruited 32 children and teens. Half the group had been diagnosed as autism spectrum. The others were typically developing kids who were matched in age
  • Scientists had them rest in a fMRI machine, a kind of scanner that can see brain activity in real time
  • They touched the kids with a scratchy wool sweater, played loud traffic noises or did both at the same time. Each condition was repeated four times for 15 seconds
  • Results
  • The brains of children with autism spectrum reacted much more strongly to the sensory stimulation than did the brains of typically developing kids
  • The two areas that seemed to be the most hyperactive were the primary sensory cortex, which is responsible for initially processing sensory information, and the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation.
  • \”Typical kids, have an initial response almost immediately, then by the second time around, that response goes way down\” | Shula Green, Ph.D. candidate
  • \”In kids with autism, that response really stays high throughout the scan. They\’re not getting used to it\” | Shula Green, Ph.D. candidate
  • The hyperactivity the researchers saw on the brain scans became most intense when kids with autism spectrum experienced the two sensations at the same time
  • \”I think if anybody ever had a doubt that this was just some sort of odd pickiness or something like that in people with autism spectrum,this shows, no, there really is a brain basis for this,\” | Dr. Paul Wang
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Study probes why kids with autism are oversensitive to touch, noise | MedicalXPres


New Sauropod Dinosaur in Argentina

  • Leinkupal Laticauda
  • Scientists have identified a new diplodocid sauropod from the early Cretaceous period in Patagonia, Argentina — the first diplodocid sauropod discovered in South America
  • Diplodocids are part of a group of sauropod dinosaurs known for their large bodies, as well as extremely long necks and tails
  • Though the bones are fragmentary, scientists found differences between this species and other diplodocid species from North America and Africa in the vertebrae where the tail connects to the body
  • These differences suggest to the authors that it may warrant a new species name, Leinkupal laticauda, and that it apparently lived much later than its North American and African cousins
  • This existence suggests that the supposed extinction of the Diplodocidae around the end of the Jurassic or beginning of the Cretaceous period didn\’t occur globally and that they survived in South America at least during part of the Early Cretaceous.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube | World\’s heaviest dinosaur bones discovered in Argentina, BBC News | MOSTNEWS©
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • First diplodocid sauropod from South America found -| ScienceDaily


Greenhouses for Mars

  • Contact form | Mark
  • Mars Plant Experiment (MPX) Contribution to Mars 2020 Rover
  • Mars Plant Experiment (MPX)
  • Researchers have proposed putting a plant-growth experiment on NASA\’s next Mars rover scheduled to launch in mid-2020 and land on the Red Planet in early 2021, known as the Mars Plant Experiment (MPX),
  • The designers of the MPX team say the project could help lay the foundation for the colonization of Mars,
  • They aren\’t suggesting that the 2020 Mars rover should digging a hole with its robotic arm and planting seeds in the Red Planet\’s dirt.
  • The experiment would be entirely self-contained, eliminating the chance that Earth life could escape and perhaps get a foothold on Mars.
    • MPX would employ a clear \”CubeSat\” box which would be affixed to the exterior of the 2020 rover
  • This box would hold Earth air and about 200 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant that\’s commonly used in scientific research
  • The seeds would receive water when the rover touched down on Mars, and would then be allowed to grow for two weeks or so.
  • MPX would provide an organism-level test of how Earth life deals with the Red Planet\’s relatively high radiation levels and low gravity, which is about 40 percent as strong as that of Earth,
  • It also would be the first multicellular organism to grow, live and die on another planet
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA May Put Tiny Greenhouse on Mars in 2021 | Space.com


New Horizons Message

  • At the Smithsonian Future Is Here Festival in Washington, D.C., that NASA has agreed to upload a digital crowd-sourced message to the New Horizons spacecraft, New Horizons Message Initiative
  • Last Time on SciByte …
  • SciByte 104 | Fear & Lunar Formation | October 1, 2013
  • SciByte 30 | Solar Storms & Private Space Flight | Jan 24, 2012
  • Messages to Interstellar Space
  • If all goes according to plan, New Horizons will become the fifth man-made object to travel beyond the solar system-after Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2, it\’s the only one of the five not to launch with a message
  • The Pioneer spacecrafts bore plaques on their sides, and the Voyagers each carried golden records (and the means to play them).
  • When New Horizons\’ journey was being planned other missions had been scrapped and the budget was extremely tight and they didn\’t have the bandwidth for a message
  • Now it doesn\’t cost massive amounts because there\’s no hardware, just uplinking ones and zeroes
  • Jon Lomberg, who worked closely with Carl Sagan on the Voyager golden record in 1977, had an epiphany last year about sending the message digitally
  • Lomberg approached Allan Stern, Principle investigator of New Horizons, who advised him that NASA would need evidence of public support
  • In September 2013, Lomberg launched a website with a petition to NASA. By February 2014, 10,000 people from over 140 countries had signed it.
  • Not a Prefect System
  • \”As long as the spacecraft is healthy and the radio is working,\” \”there\’s no particular rush to send it\” but \”The spacecraft is so far away,\” \”that download times are like dial-up Internet.\”| Jon Lomberg,
  • The New Horizons message won\’t last nearly as long as the metal missives attached to Pioneer and Voyager as cosmic radiation may eventually corrupt the spacecraft\’s electronic memory
  • The Actual Message
  • The project will officially launch August 25, 2014
  • This message will be very different from the one Lomberg designed with Sagan almost 40 years ago, the 21st-century version will be a global self-portrait, pieced together by many willing hands
  • Anyone on Earth will be able to upload potential content (images, sounds, software-the formats haven\’t been finalized) then everyone will be able to vote on what to include
  • \”Our team is going to provide the overall architecture of the message,\” \”but we\’ll try to keep ourselves open to what we will send.\” | Jon Lomberg
  • A National Geographic emerging explorer will have to figure out how to compress a planet\’s worth of opinions into the roughly 100 MB of memory New Horizons will have available on its computer.
  • When Will It Be Sent?
  • The message itself will be transmitted sometime after New Horizons does a flyby of Pluto in 2015 and sends back the scientific data that it collects
  • The computer won\’t have any room in its memory until the data from Pluto are transmitted back to Earth, which could take more than a year
  • There are also hopes that the spacecraft will have a shot at a flyby of another object in the Kuiper Belt of the solar system, if that happens, the message upload will be delayed
  • Multimedia
  • Twitter | NewHorizonsMsg: WE DID IT! – GLOBAL \”SELFIE\” | @NewHorizonsMsg
  • Twitter | NewHorizonsMsg: .@NASA approved our petition! | @NewHorizonsMsg
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • New Horizons Web Site
  • One Earth: New Horizons Message
  • Global \”Selfie\” to Be Beamed to Outer Space | news.NationalGeographic.com
  • Want to Phone Aliens? Help Get Your Messages On NASA\’s Pluto-Bound Spacecraft | Space.com


  • Analyzing the Drilled Hole
  • NASA\’s Curiosity Mars rover used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on its robotic arm to illuminate and record a nighttime view of the sandstone rock target \”Windjana.\”
  • The rover had previously drilled a hole to collect sample material from the interior of the rock and then zapped a series of target points inside the hole with the laser of the rover\’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument
  • That instrument provides information about the target\’s composition by analysis of the sparks of plasma generated by the energy of the laser beam striking the target
  • This view combines eight separate MAHLI exposures, taken at different focus settings to show the entire scene in focus
  • The exposures were taken after dark on the 628th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity\’s work on Mars (May 13, 2014)
  • Using MAHLI light-emitting diodes as well as a color camera yields an image of the hole\’s interior with less shadowing than would be seen in a sunlit image
  • The camera\’s inspection of the interior of the hole provides documentation about what the drill bit passed through as it penetrated the rock — for example, to see if it cut through any mineral veins or visible layering
  • Multimedia
  • Preparing for drilling, Navcam Left B | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Preparing for drilling, Front Hazcam: Right B | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Nighttime Image of Laser Sharpshooting on Mars | mars.jpl.nasa.gov
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News


Looking back

  • May 26, 1676 : 338 years ago : Leeuwenhoek\’s Animalcules : Antonie van Leeuwenhoek applied his hobby of making microscopes from his own handmade lenses to observe some water running off a roof during a heavy rainstorm. He finds that it contains, in his words, “very little animalcules.” The life he has found in the runoff water is not present in pure rainwater. This was a fundamental discovery, for it showed that the bacteria and one-celled animals did not fall from the sky. When a ball of molten glass is inflated like a balloon, a small droplet of the hot fluid collects at the very bottom the bubble. Leeuwenhoek used these droplets as microscope lenses to view the animalcules. Despite their crude nature, those early lenses enabled Leeuwenhoek to describe an amazing world of microscopic life | Antonie van Leeuwenhoek | Wikipedia

Looking up this week

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