Category Archives: Science

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Scientist says ‘very good chance’ of finding alien life on Mars as Nasa’s InSight lander scours Red Planet

Category : Science , Tech

SCIENTISTS are one step closer to finding alien life on Mars as Nasa’s InSight lander continues to explore the Red Planet.
The million-dollar question is if any evidence of life is similar to Earth or if it is an entirely different make up, an astrobiologist told The Sun Online.
An astrobiologist said there is a ‘very good chance’ that signs of life will be found on MarsNASA
Dr Lewis Dartnell, who designed part of a rover that will used to find signs of life on Mars, said there is “very good chance” that it will happen.
The  professor and researcher at the University of Westminster said: “What we don’t know right now is if there is life on Mars and if there is – how similar is it to Earth?
“Is it really alien? Is it fundamentally different? Or does it just completely function in a different way?”
“The sort of life we expect to find are single-cells or hardy bacteria. That first kind of life is a microbial kind of life.
The ExoMars rover will be hunting for signs of life on the Red Planet in 2021ESA/ATG medialab
“What would excite me is to find something that had survived on Mars and bring it back to Earth to study and see how it works.”
Nasa’s InSight lander made it to the Red Planet on November 26 and transmitted incredible images of the planet’s rocky terrain.
By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.
In 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian space agency will be sending the ExoMars rover to find life on Mars.
Dr Dartnell designed the rover’s Raman Spectrometer, an instrument capable of finding organic compounds, which will be sent to space for the first time.

What is the Nasa InSight lander?

The Nasa InSight langder launched on May 5, 2018 and landed on the Red Planet on November 26, 2018.
It is Nasa’s first in-depth investigation which will be focusing solely on the Red Planet.
The rocket will spend another two years in space.
The lander will take samples and carry out tests to find out how the planet is formed.

He explained: “It is used on Earth to test the purity of drugs and explosives. It is really good at finding trace amount of organic compounds, or signs of life.”
The rover is described as a miniaturised laboratory that will drill two metres in the ground to search for bacteria, single-sell organisms and alien microbes.
Dr Dartnell said: “We hope that by drilling two metres underground we hope the soil has been protected from the harsh conditions on Mars and we will find bacteria that can break down molecules.
“We will study the soil samples using different science experiments and they will hopefully tell us a story.
This type of bacteria can survive in the harshest of conditions and it is what researchers are hoping to find on MarsLewis Dartnell
Dr Lewis Dartnell designed part of the ExoMars roverShortlist/Paul Stuart
“We are looking for the building blocks of life and to see if life on Mars has been there before.
“We want to look to see how warm and how wet it has been. It would be more great evidence that Mars was a warmer and wetter world and it was once like Earth.”
Recently, a massive lake of liquid was discovered underneath the planet’s southern ice sheets.
The ESA’s Mars Express orbiter used ground-penetrating radar waves on the Red Planet between May 2012 to December 2015 and the incredible evidence of water was found after analysing the data.
The Mars InSight is already on the Red Planet mapping out the landscape for scientistsReuters
The first picture of the Red Planet from this groundbreaking missionAFP or licensors
The images are the most clearest-to-date of what the surface of Mars looks likeHandout – Getty

What is the ExoMars rover?

The ExoMars rover is part of the international ExoMars programme led by the European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation.
It is scheduled to launch in July 2020 and expected to land on the Red Planet in March 2021.
The rover will begin a seven month mission to look for life on Mars.
It weights 680 pounds (318 kilos).
One of the biggest features to the rover is the ground-penetrating drill that will be able to drill two metres into the planet’s surface.
The other big feature is the Raman Spectrometer, which can identify organic compounds.

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Evidence of water gives scientists a more accurate idea of where to focus their alien-hunting mission.
Dr Dartnell added: “We will be adding to that understanding of what the ancient Martial climate was like.
“We are trying to detect signs of cells or their chemical fossils and we should be able to find traces.
“The more we learn about the range of condition that life can survive the more confidence we have that we can find signs of life on Mars.”

Dr Dartnell’s newest book Origins: How the Earth Made Us comes out at the end of January and you can pre-order it here

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Greenland could warm by 15 DEGREES ‘within a decade’ as experts warn over ‘abrupt and massive’ climate shift

Category : Environment , Science , Tech

GREENLAND’S temperature could skyrocket by 15 degrees over the course of just 10 years, scientists have warned.
The change would be “abrupt and massive” – and has already happened several times during Earth’s history.
Greenland’s temperature is at risk of massively shifting in a very short space of timeGetty – Contributor
This infographic shows how Antarctica can take a long time to respond to changes in the Atlantic’s current – but are felt almost immediately in GreenlandOliver Day, Oregon State University
It’s the latest piece of research documenting the threat of significant climate change on Earth.
The study, published in Nature, details “extremely abrupt” climate change events that have taken place within the last 60,000 years.
This rapid warming of Greenland is believed to have been caused by the “strengthening and weakening” of AMOC – Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.
AMOC is an oceanic current that heats up Greenland and Europe, moving warm water from the tropics into the North Atlantic Ocean.
New research links Greenland to Antarctica, mapping how changes in the northern nation affect its icy southern sisterGetty – Contributor
Here’s a freshly drilled segment of ice core that’s just been brought to the surfaceTommy Cox
The research shows how the North Atlantic ocean “communicates” these extreme events to Antarctica – which is on the opposite side of the world.
It turns out that Greenland’s very sudden temperature changes are communicated extremely slowly to Antarctica.
This abrupt warming of Greenland eventually causes Antarctica to cool down, but it takes about 200 years to take effect.
“The North Atlantic is sending messages to Antarctica on two different time scales,” said Christo Buizert, a climate change specialist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.
“The atmospheric connection is like a text message that arrives right away, while the oceanic one is more like a postcard that takes its time getting there.
“In this case, 200 years, which makes the postal service look pretty good by comparison.”
He said that when the North Atlantic warms up because of a stronger AMOC, the whole of Antarctica “eventually will cool because of oceanic changes”.
“It begins with the winds, but the ocean delivers a much bigger impact two centuries later,” Buizert explained.
This effect means that when Greenland’s temperature suddenly spikes, it causes Antarctica’s climate to change – twice.
The first is a more immediate effect, where winds blowing around Antarctica moved away from land, causing warming.
But then there’s a later cooling effect that takes two centuries to appear.
It explains why the climate in Greenland and Antarctica haven’t always been aligned over time.
“This is the first time that you can so clearly see the nuts and bolts of how the climate works on time scales much longer than our meteorological observations,” said Justin Wettstein, a co-author and an Oregon State atmospheric scientist.
“It allows us to see how Greenland and Antarctica have been connected – spatially and temporally – long before people were running around with thermometers to measure the temperature.”
You can clearly see a layer of volcanic ash in this ice core – this can be used as a marker to help users “sync up” other ice cores from around AntarcticaHeidi Roop
The ice cores were collected at five locations across AntarcticaGetty – Contributor
Researchers documented the change by examining ice cores from across Antarctica.
By analysing water isotopes in the cores, scientists are able to work out changes in temperature.
This was then matched to dates of major climate events in Greenland, allowing links to be made.
These “abrupt” events have happened around 25 times during the last ice age, according to experts.
“When the Gulf Stream switches on to full strength, Greenland can warm as much as 10 to 15 degrees Celcius within a decade,” said Buizert.
“The change is abrupt and massive. As the ocean transfers heat to the north, the rest of the global ocean starts to cool down. Antarctica eventually ‘notices’ the oceans getting colder, but only after 200 years have passed.”
He continued: “What is really neat is that by looking at modern-day observational data we can find an analogue for what happened in the past.
“Like forensic detectives, we can compare the temperature fingerprint in the ice cores to the fingerprints of modern-day wind patterns.
“This is how we identified the culprit – the southern hemisphere westerly winds.”

Can this research help us predict the FUTURE?

Here's what you need to know…

Scientists can use this past as a guide for what will happen in the future.
Right now, the AMOC is weakening, which is expected to reduce rainfall across Asia – potentially damaging the local economy.
But changing wind patterns in the southern hemisphere also mean the ocean could struggle to collect carbon dioxide.
This means more carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere, strengthening the greenhouse effect, and warming the planet as a result.
“We know that our world is now arming on average, but the regional changes depend also on how the atmospheric and oceanic circulations respond,” said Wettstein.
“And that is something that climate models still disagree on.
“This study gives us a real-world example of past circulation change that we can use to test and improve our models.”
It’s not just the AMOC that affects our climate, however.
Rising temperatures from greenhouse gases make a huge difference, and Antarctica’s climate is significantly affected by wind patterns and changes to the ozone layer.

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Buizert said this latest research is “really exciting for climate geeks like us to figure out how the pieces of our climate are connected”.
“The findings also may have implications for the future,” he explained.
“The AMOC is weakening now because of global warming and meltwater from Greenland.
“The ‘text message’ is being sent and atmospheric conditions are changing. The ‘postcard’ is on the way.”
Do you think humanity will win out over climate change, or are we doomed? Let us know in the comments!

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NASA in space race with Elon Musk as they vow to put humans on Mars in 25 years

Category : Science , Space , Tech

NASA is locked in a race to Mars with Elon Musk after vowing to put humans on the Red Plant in 25 years.

The US space agency is researching how to help mankind survive in a martian mission that will subject space explorers to deadly radiation, vision loss and cause bones to crumble.
Getty – Contributor NASA and Elon Musk are going head to head to walk on the red planet[/caption]
Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones said: “The cost of solving those means that under current budgets, or slightly expanded budgets, it’s going to take about 25 years to solve those.”
The current date set by governments for man’s first steps on Mars is in the late 2030s.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk has his eyes on a Mars mission, with supporters – including Brit astronaut Tim Peake – saying he could get us there within 20 years.
He also has pledged to send humans to Mars by 2024 in bold plan to make humanity an ‘interplanetary species’.
Space X founder Elon Musk has promised to put humans on Mars within 20 yearsGetty Images
Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy successfully launched on February 6, 2018, headed for Mars orbitReuters
In February, his Space X program launched a demonstration flight to the Mars orbit – and even sent a Tesla car hurtling towards the Red Planet.
At an average distance of about 140 million miles, Mars poses greater scientific problems than anything encountered by the Apollo moon missions.

It would take an astronaut up to nine months to reach Mars and the physical toll of floating that long in zero gravity would be huge, AFP reports.
Scientists think prolonged weightlessness can cause irreversible changes to blood vessels in the eye.
The skeleton starts to lose calcium and bone mass.

How long does it take to get to Mars?

It's not that short of a trip…

There’s an immense distance between Earth and Mars, which means any trip to the red planet will take a very long time.
It’s also made more complicated by the fact that the distance is constantly changing as the two planets rotate around the sun.
The closest that the Earth and Mars would ever be is a distance of 33.9million miles – that’s 9,800 times the distance between London and New York.
That’s really rare though: the more useful distance is the average, which is 140million miles.
Scientists on Earth have already launched a whole bunch of spacecraft to (or near) Mars, so we have a rough idea of how long it takes with current technology.
Historically, the trip has taken anywhere from 128 to 333 days – admittedly a huge length of time for humans to be on board a cramped spacecraft.

An image snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the planet’s northern-most sand dunes beginning to emerge from their winter cover of seasonal carbon dioxide (dry) iceAFP

With gravity only one-third of Earth’s, scientists don’t yet know the effects of a presumed one-year mission to the surface of Mars.
Jim Garvin, chief scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said InSight would fill in “critical unknowns” and help build a key understanding of Mars.

Jones added: “If we start now, in 25 years we might have these technologies available to help us and protect us from these long transit times.
“We don’t have the solution yet in terms of shielding, in terms of protecting you from cosmic rays and solar flares that you experience during this transit time.”
NASA currently has a new robotic lander called InSight zooming towards Mars, due to land on November 26 after taking off from California on May 5.
The £763 million project aims to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.

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In 2020, another mission will see NASA send a rover to Mars that aims to determine the habitability of the Martian environment, search for signs of ancient life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX and a host of other nations are building technologies that could be used on future Mars missions.
The closest the Earth and Mars would ever be is a distance of 33.9million miles – that’s 9,800 times the distance between London and New York.

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Brit companies ‘plan to microchip staff to boost security and restrict them accessing sensitive areas’

Category : Science , Tech

BRITISH companies are reportedly planning to microchip staff so they can boost security and restrict employees accessing sensitive areas.
A Swedish firm, which makes the hi-tech implants, claims it’s in talks with a number of UK legal and financial businesses, including one with “hundreds of thousands of employees”.
An implantable radiofrequency identification microchip designed for human use
Jowan Österlund, the founder of Biohax, told the Telegraph: “These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with.
“[The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever.”
The chips, which cost £150 each, are the size of a grain rice and installed with a syringe into the fleshy area between the thumb and the forefinger.
Mr Österlund claims the implant surgery takes “about two seconds”, is relatively painless and is safer than getting your ears pierced.

He added: “In a company with 200,000 employees, you can offer this as an opt-in. If you have a 15pc uptake that is still a huge number of people that won’t require a physical ID pass.”
The body piercer also believes the chips – which use the same technology as contactless bank cards – are less likely to be hacked because they sit beneath the skin.
Mr Österlund said that they can be used to help staff speed up their daily routines, including entering buildings or accessing printers – and even buying food in the canteen.
He added: “There’s no losing it, there’s no dropping it, there’s no forgetting it. There’s always going to be an ultimate backup.”
The chips use the same technology as contactless bank cardsGetty – Contributor
Mr Österlund claims interest from British firms has been so significant that he is now planning to open an office in London next year.
Biohax has already microchipped 800 customers of Swedish rail firm, Statens Järnvägar, so they can travel without using a train ticket.
In Sweden, the devices have already taken off among young people who host “implant parties” while 4,000 citizens are chipped, including 85 employees at travel operator Tui.
Last year, Three Square Market, which designs computer software, teamed up with Biohax to become the first US company to microchip its staff.
Three Square Market The microchip will be implanted under the skin between the thumb and forefinger[/caption]
Three Square Market It will allow workers to buy food and drink in the company’s break room[/caption]
It offered to microchip workers for free and more than 50 people signed up to the initial trial.
Company chief executive Todd Westby said the chips would also be used to unlock phones, share business cards and store medical and health information.
He added: “Eventually, this technology will become standardised allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.”

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Westby said the data is both encrypted and secure and for those wondering, “there’s no GPS tracking at all.”
Another Swedish firm, Epicenter, last year had 150 workers voluntarily chipped so they could can monitor toilet breaks and how long they work.
Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and chief executive, said: “You can do airline fares with it, you can also go to your local gym … so it basically replaces a lot of things you have other communication devices for, whether it be credit cards, or keys, or things like that.”

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Orionids meteor shower 2018 – what time it peaks and how to watch it

Category : Explainers , Science , Space , Tech

THE Orionids meteor showers are one of the most spectacular astral show of the year.
But as always your location and the time you start to stargaze are critical. Here’s the important info.
Every year, the meteors fall from the sky in a beautiful displayMoment Editorial
What is the Orionid shower and when will it occur?
The Orionid shower can best be seen on the night between October 21 and 22.
But they are active throughout the whole of October until November 7.
The scientific phenomenon gets its name from the Orion, a constellation which lies in the sky above the equator.
The meteors, associated with Halley’s Comet, occur every year in October.
When the conditions of the night are right, dozens of shooting stars can be seen falling from the sky.
How many meteors will there be?
The word “shower” suggests many meteors will fall frequently, almost resembling rain.
Despite this, the actual rate that the celestial matter falls from the sky is a lot less regular.
With the Orionids, about 10 to 20 meteors fall from the sky per hour.
They will peak on the night between October 21 and 22.
Observers were able to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower earlier this yearGEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
How can you watch it?
Eagle-eyed space geeks can observe the shower with the naked eye, without the need for a telescope.
With all meteor showers however, clear skies is key so people are advised to check with the Met Office for the latest weather reports and find out the best times.
It may be difficult to catch a glimpse of the fragments, as they usually fall fast and appear quite faint in the sky.
Occasionally, a particularly bright meteor may fall, which could potentially be visible even on a moonlit night.
The Draconids meteor shower peaked on October 8-9.

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Where can you watch it?
The darker location you visit, the brighter the meteors will appear in the sky.
It’s advisable to take a trip out of your city to find somewhere more remote.
This will prevent the experience from being ruined by artificial lights.
With meteor showers you must be prepared to wait, so star gazers are advised to bring something to sit or lie down on.
If the Orionid has got you hooked, here’s when the next meteor showers are due to fall this year.
Happy stargazing.

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British-built BepiColombo spacecraft blasts off on five BILLION mile journey to Mercury – and it’ll take seven years

Category : Science , Tech

A BRITISH-built spacecraft has blasted off from Earth to begin five billion mile journey to Mercury – the planet closest to the sun – and it’ll take seven years.
BepiColombo was launched into space by an Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket from the European space port at Kourou, French Guiana, at around 2.45am today.
The Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo waiting on its launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, South AmericaPA:Press Association
The £1.4 billion mission will send two orbiters, one European and the other Japanese, to circle the planet while mapping and probing its surface and enveloping magnetic field.
Scientists hope to unravel some of Mercury’s mysteries, such as the reason for its over-large iron core, its spectacular volcanic vents, and why the planet’s dark side emits X-rays.
The answers they get will shed new light on the origin and evolution of the solar system.
BepiColumbo is the first interplanetary spacecraft to be fitted with a futuristic electric ion drive.
The launch pad control room at the European space port, Kourou in French Guiana for the BepiColombo spacecraftPA:Press Association
The spacecraft is on a five billion mile journey to Mercury, pictured, to uncover some of its secretsEPA
Its four T6 engines, supplied by UK defence tech company QinetiQ, produce thrust using electrostatic forces to eject beams of positively charged, or “ionised”, xenon gas.
Two thrusters firing at a time generate a force of 290 millinewtons, the equivalent of about an ounce – but unlike traditional chemical rockets they can be kept operating for long periods.
BepiColumbo’s ion thrusters will be firing for 4.5 years, more than half the journey time.
They will be used not to accelerate the craft but as a brake to help slow it down as it falls into the sun’s gravitational “well”.
Life-size model of the Ariane 5 rocket at the European space port at Kourou, French Guiana, similar to the rocket which will blast BepiColombo onto an ‘escape trajectory’ that will free it from the shackles of Earth’s gravity immediatelyPA:Press Association
Engineers working on the BepiColombo Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) as part of launch preparationsEPA
The BepiColombo is a joint mission between European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)EPA
The ion drive is highly efficient, needing just 581 kilograms of propellant with a fuel economy equivalent to 17.8 million miles to the gallon.
A complex series of fly-bys past Earth, Venus and Mercury will further reduce the spacecraft’s velocity and prevent it being caught by the sun’s enormous gravity.
Another major challenge for mission planners was ensuring the spacecraft could withstand the searing temperatures of more than 350C so close to the sun.
Protective measures include a heat shield, novel ceramic and titanium insulation, ammonia-filled “heat pipes” and in the case of the Japanese orbiter, spinning.
Launch control centre at the European space port, Kourou in French Guiana for the BepiColombo spacecraftPA:Press Association
The radio dish at Kourou in French Guiana, used to track BepiColombo spacecraft after launchPA:Press Association
The BepiColombo Stack configuration standing in position at a test facility in SpijkenisseAFP
The European Space Agency’s Mercury Planet Orbiter (MPO) and Japanese space agency Jaxa’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) will study Mercury for up to two years.
MPO will make global maps of the planet’s surface chemistry and geological features, while MMO investigates its internal structure and magnetic field.
One of MPO’s 11 instruments, the Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (Mixs), was designed and built at the University of Leicester.
Only two spacecraft have previously visited Mercury. Nasa’s Mariner 10 flew past the planet three times in 1974-75, and the American space agency’s Messenger probe orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015, taking photos of the surface.
An artist’s impression of the two BepiColombo orbiters, which will use a host of instruments to unravel Mercury’s mysteries on Europe’s first mission to the planetPA:Press Association
Dr Jerry Bolter, project manager at satellite company Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, where both the ion drive power unit, the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM), and MPO were built, said: “The only other spacecraft to go in orbit around Mercury was Nasa’s Messenger.
“That was a very, very light spacecraft and nowhere near as capable as Bepi will be. The scientists describe Messenger as the hors d’oeuvre and Bepi as the main course.”

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Mixs scientist geologist Professor David Rothery, from The Open University, said: “We really need to understand Mercury better.
“So much about it seems wrong for a planet that close to the sun, so maybe it originated further out.
“A collision with the proto-Earth or proto-Venus could be what robbed it of so much of its original rock.”
BepiColombo was named after the late Guiseppe “Bepi” Colombo, an Italian scientist and engineer who played a leading role in the 1974 Mariner 10 mission to Mercury.

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