Large amounts of water found deposited on Moon

Large amounts of water have been found trapped in volcanic deposits across the surface of the moon, which means the lunar mantle is probably a far wetter place than anyone ever thought possible. The finding could call into question our theories about the moon’s formation, but it could also make future moon colonies more feasible, reports Phys.org.

The leading theory for how the moon formed is that it represents debris left behind after a catastrophic collusion between the young Earth and a Mars-sized planet very early in the solar system history. A collision like this should have burned off most of the moon’s hydrogen, an essential ingredient for making water, so scientists have long assumed that the moon was a dry place.

Clues to the moon’s hidden water were first revealed back in 2008, when a research team detected trace amounts of water in some of the volcanic glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions. Then, in 2011, the water in those glass beads was further analyzed, revealing that the samples contain similar amounts of water as some basalts on Earth.

Could the moon’s interior therefore contain similar amounts of water as found on Earth’s?

What we know from Apollo

“The key question is whether those Apollo samples represent the bulk conditions of the lunar interior or instead represent unusual or perhaps anomalous water-rich regions within an otherwise ‘dry’ mantle,” explained Ralph Milliken, lead author of the new research. “By looking at the orbital data, we can examine the large pyroclastic deposits on the moon that were never sampled by the Apollo or Luna missions. The fact that nearly all of them exhibit signatures of water suggests that the Apollo samples are not anomalous, so it may be that the bulk interior of the moon is wet.”

To reach their conclusions, Milliken and co-author Shuai Li used a new thermal correction method to analyze the temperature profile of the areas of interest on the moon’s surface. The source data came from the moon Mineralogy Mapper, an imaging spectrometer that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter. Temperature profiles can reveal which minerals and other compounds are present on the surface of the moon because wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by the surface differently depending on what it’s made up of.

Water was found in nearly all of the large pyroclastic deposits that were mapped. Because these regions were distributed across the lunar surface, it means the detection of water in the Apollo samples was no anomaly. It also indicates the high likelihood that a similar distribution can be found in the moon’s mantle.

If there is (or was) more water, how did it get there?

“The growing evidence for water inside the moon suggest that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the moon had completely solidified,” said Li. “The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question.”

It might mean that we need to re-formulate our theories about how the moon formed, or at least re-consider how hydrogen might survive under such extreme conditions. There’s also potentially more than enough water to make mining operations on the moon worthwhile. Future moon inhabitants might get enough water from the moon to survive on their own without supplies from Earth.

“Anything that helps save future lunar explorers from having to bring lots of water from home is a big step forward, and our results suggest a new alternative,” said Li.

credit: Bryan Nelson

How to make Coffee salt

 

When you add coffee to food, you add complexity to the flavor. Coffee complements sweet foods like chocolate cake or brownies, red meat like beef or lamb, and nuts. Coffee can be used as an ingredient in recipes, but a quick way to add the the complex, brightening flavor of coffee to foods is to sprinkle it on some coffee salt. You can buy coffee salt or espresso salt, or you can easily make it yourself for a lot less money.

DIY Coffee Salt:

2 tablespoons sea salt or other course salt
3 tablespoons course good ground coffee (You can grind the beans yourself or use already ground coffee)
Combine the salt and coffee thoroughly by mashing them together using a mortar and pestle or whirling them until just combined in a food processor or spice grinder.
Uses for coffee salt

Rub on steaks, roasts or burgers
Sprinkle it on popcorn
Sprinkle on ice cream (think vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce)
Sprinkle it on top of buttercream frosting on a cupcake
Add to vegetables before roasting
Use it as the salt on the rim of a cocktail that usually gets plain salt
When making biscotti with chocolate chips, add a little melted chocolate to the end of the biscotti after they’ve cooled, then sprinkle with the coffee salt and allow the chocolate to firm up.
Add a pinch to hot chocolate

 

Creidt: Robin Shreeves

Huge ball of gas could be cradle of life

Here’s a cloud of stinky gas that’s far too large to blame on the dog: Sagittarius B2, a molecular cloud that’s just 100 light-years from our galaxy’s center. It might just be the closest thing to a burp from the Milky Way.

The cloud is particularly curious because it contains a relatively high concentration of organic molecules. It’s a galactic chemistry lab of sorts, a feature that, if you had a nose that could sniff in space, might make it one of the stinkiest places in the Milky Way, reports New Scientist.

Among the noxious fumes are chemicals like ethylene glycol, the syrupy and toxic mainstay in antifreeze, and acetic acid, with a taste like vinegar. There’s also plenty of ethanol, which probably makes it smell a bit like an alcoholic’s breath. Worst of all, though, is the hydrogen sulfide, which has the unmistakable stink of rotten eggs.

Not all the smells are awful, though. Scientists have also detected ethyl formate, which has a fruity, lemony scent. Perhaps it’s the galaxy’s way of compensating, a sort of cosmic attempt at an air freshener.

You’d definitely want to plug your nose if you were traveling through Sagittarius B2, but scientists have also found amino acetonitrile, a close relative of the simplest amino acid, glycine. The first-ever detection of an interstellar molecule with a branching carbon backbone was also found here. Taken together, this seems to indicate that complex amino acids might be capable of growing in space.

“We have nearly 200 molecules detected in the interstellar medium,” said Arnaud Belloche at the Max Planck Institute in Bonn, Germany. “It’s amazing to see how complex the chemistry in space can go.”

It’s even possible that clouds like Sagittarius B2 could represent “cradles of life” in the galaxy, chemical factories that churn out some of life’s foundational building blocks.

If true, it unfortunately means that life probably didn’t start with a biological equivalent of that “new car” smell. No, apparently it’s more like dirty diapers.

Credit: Bryan Nelson

Your sixth sense may be related to a gene

Walking and dancing. Typing on a keyboard or climbing Mount Everest. You use your “sixth sense” — your body’s uncanny ability to sense where it is in space — to perform everything from normal activities to great feats of athleticism.

Scientists have known about this ability, called proprioception, for more than a century, but they weren’t sure how it worked. You might think dancers or athletes would hold the answer, but it was researchers studying a rare genetic disorder who have shined a light on it.

The researchers studied a young girl and a woman who completely lacked this sixth sense. Their unusual set of symptoms included an extreme lack of coordination, difficulty walking, and a lack of sensation when objects were pressed against their skin. They both also have an unusual curvature of the spine, as well as feet, hips and fingers that bend at unusual angles. The results of their study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers learned that both patients didn’t start walking until they were between 6-7 years old and they both had problems learning to feed and dress themselves. Neither patient was able to walk with their eyes closed; they could only take steps if they could see their limbs as they moved.

Genetic analysis revealed a genetic mutation in a gene called PIEZO2, which has been associated with the body’s sense of touch.

One of the researchers, study co-author Alexander Chesler from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, had been studying PIEZO2 in mice for years. But he’d never found a good way to study the gene in people — until now.

Trying to understand proprioception just by experimenting with mice was like trying to understand Beethoven by reading sheet music, Chesler told NPR. “But when I talked to the patients, it was like going to the symphony,” he said.

When researchers began studying these two patients, they were able to demonstrate that the PIEZO2 gene was responsible for proprioception, as well as sensations of touch. They learned much of what it was able to do by studying what the patients were not able to do.

In experiments, the patients were unable to walk blindfolded. They also weren’t able to move a finger from their nose to a targeted point if they were blindfolded. When researchers moved a particular limb for them, if they couldn’t see, they were unable to tell which way the limb was being moved. Once the blindfolds were removed, the patients were able to walk, touch the target and see the direction of their moving limbs.

There’s one other potentially interesting thing researchers may be able to learn from this new discovery: understanding if variations of the PIEZO2 gene contribute to whether a person is klutzy or coordinated.

“Could a finely tuned PIEZO2 gene contribute to superior athletic performance, or a poorly tuned one to clumsiness?” co-author pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann of the National institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke told Science. “I think it’s not impossible.”

Scientists have just teleported quantum information over a record 7 kilometers

 

Last year scientists managed to teleport photons over 100 kilometers, smashing previous records. While impressive, their method used lasers to control the entanglement of the particles involved. This allowed them to achieve successful teleportation over a vast distance, but it’s not a practical methodology for putting this technology to use.

But now scientists have achieved a new benchmark in teleportation. Two independent teams, one in Calgary, Canada, and another in Hefei, China, have used city optical fiber cables to teleport quantum information over 7 kilometers. That might not sound like much compared to previous feats, but because they used cables instead of lasers — city cables, no less — it means the technology is far more feasible, reports New Scientist.

If you’re a bit behind, still astonished by the fact that teleportation is possible in the first place, then buckle up. Quantum teleportation is a real thing thanks to an uncanny quantum property known as entanglement, something so anti-intuitive that Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” Basically, it’s possible to link two particles together in such a way that whatever happens to one also happens to the other instantly, no matter how far apart the two entangled particles are from each other. It seems like magic, but it’s a feature that’s been thoroughly tested.

There’s a catch, though. It doesn’t quite work like the teleportation devices from “Star Trek” that you might be accustomed to. This technology can’t transport people or large objects across distances instantaneously. It can only teleport information — but that’s still pretty incredible.

The potential benefit of teleportation technology like this is that the information being teleported is almost impossible to hack. When information can be transported instantaneously across a distance, then there’s no time to intercept it. The flipside is that the information is also difficult to keep intact. Keeping particles entangled is a delicate procedure, which is why successful teleportation across a distance measured in kilometers is so impressive.

That the experiments were successful using existing telecommunication infrastructure in modern cities means that quantum-encrypted information could become commonplace sooner rather than later.

“The two experiments can be seen as milestones on the path to a long-term goal, namely to build a fiber-based quantum internet connecting large cities,” explained Johannes Kofler from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics.

credit:Bryan Nelson

Solar plane finishes historic flight around entire world

After flying across four continents, three seas, two oceans and covering 26,098 miles, Solar Impulse 2 finished its trip around the world on July 26 in Abu Dhabi, the same city where the journey began on March 9, 2015. Bertrand Piccard, who has alternated piloting duties with Andre Borschberg, made the landing.

The Solar Impulse 2, as its name implies, is a solar-powered plane. Its wings, which stretch 236 feet tip to tip, are covered by 17,000 solar cells that provide energy for the plane’s four electric motors. The plane no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747, according to the BBC. The global flight was intended to highlight how clean energy can work as a power source for transportation needs, a goal largely proven by the nearly five-day flight across the Pacific Ocean from Nagoya, Japan, to Kalaeloa, Hawaii. That leg netted Borschberg the world record for the longest uninterrupted solo flight.

As for what’s next for Solar Impulse 2, Borschberg wrote that the plane was designed to travel 2,000 hours but has only flown for 700, so it still has plenty of time left in the air. To that end, Borschberg sees the plane contributing to more solar energy testing and to the development of unmanned solar-powered vehicles, including drones.

credit: Noel Kirkpatrick

Bees have trouble foraging when air pollution rises.

Bees have a laundry list of problems going against them these days. Among them is air pollution, and a new study shows just how air pollution is affecting bees’ ability to find food. By studying how changes in air chemistry affect foraging patterns of bees, researchers from Penn State illustrate that a rise in air pollution is a serious problem for pollinators.

According to PhysOrg:

Air pollutants interact with and break down plant-emitted scent molecules, which insect pollinators use to locate needed food, according to a team of researchers led by Penn State. The pollution-modified plant odors can confuse bees and, as a result, bees’ foraging time increases and pollination efficiency decreases. This happens because the chemical interactions decrease both the scent molecules’ life spans and the distances they travel.
The real kicker is that the breakdown process actually creates even more air pollutants which speeds up the breakdown.

Without bees able to find food and thus pollinate plants, not only do bee populations decline but so do many species of plants that rely on their pollination, including crops that humans rely on for food. Decreasing air pollution isn’t only for the best interest of pollinators and plants, but for our own survival as well.

Anti-aging pill could allow everyone to live over 120 years old

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León famously journeyed to the Americas in search of the Fountain of Youth. If he were still alive today, he might have been able to simply visit his pharmacist instead.

A potential anti-aging drug that is already commercially available for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, called metformin, is soon set to begin clinical trials to see if it can also expand the human life span, reports the Express.

Initial tests on some animals, such as one study of the drug’s effects on worms, suggest that humans could live healthily well into their 120s if the effects are shown to be similar. Metformin could literally be a miracle drug– the Fountain of Youth in pill form. It could change medicine in a way not seen since the discovery of antibiotics. That is, assuming the trials are a success.

Early optimism is high. Since metformin is commercially available for the treatment of diabetes, several extensive studies about its effects are already available; the hype is not merely based on a simple worm study. For instance, last year a study of more than 180,000 people showed that those being treated for diabetes with metformin lived longer than a healthy control sample. That is worth reiterating: Patients being treated for diabetes lived longer than otherwise healthy people.

Other research has shown that metformin could also help to directly treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and even cancer.

“I have been doing research into aging for 25 years and the idea that we would be talking about a clinical trial in humans for an anti-aging drug would have been thought inconceivable,” said Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California. “But there is every reason to believe it’s possible.”

The clinical trial is called Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), and it will be conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Researchers are looking for 3,000 people in their 70s and 80s who either have or are at risk of having major diseases, and the trial should last from 5 to 7 years.

The drug has already been in use for over 60 years for diabetes patients, so scientists have a pretty good idea of how exactly it works. For instance, metformin is known to make our cells better oxygenated, and its easy to imagine how better oxygenated cells can have a positive effect on the body.

“We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer. If we reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer’s disease. We are suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all by going after the biological process of aging,” said Stuart Jay Olshansky, one of the researchers involved in the project.

If all goes well, then age 70 could soon become the new 50. Age 100 could be the new 80, and so on. Better yet, we can age in a healthier fashion, free from many of the debilitating diseases that make living to older ages undesirable. It won’t be an immortality pill, but it might be the next closest thing.

credit: Bryan Nelson

Why can we sense when people are looking at us?

If you’ve ever felt like someone was watching you, you may have attributed that awareness to a sense of unease or a prickling on the back of your neck. But there’s nothing psychic about it; your brain was simply picking up on cues. In fact, your brain is wired to inform you that someone is looking at you — even when they’re not.

“Far from being ESP, the perception originates from a system in the brain that’s devoted to detecting where others are looking,” writes social psychologist Ilan Shrira. This concept may sound confusing, but it actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it as a survival instinct.

Many mammals can tell when another animal is looking at them, but the human “gaze-detection system” is particularly good at doing this from a distance. We’re able to easily discern where someone is looking.

This system is especially sensitive when someone is looking at you directly, and studies have found that particular cells fire when this happens.

“Gaze perception — the ability to tell what someone is looking at — is a social cue people often take for granted,” Colin Clifford, a psychologist at the University of Sydney’s Vision Center, told the Daily Mail. “Judging whether others are looking at us may come naturally, but it’s actually not that simple as our brains have to do a lot of work behind the scenes.”

When you catch someone looking at you, what is it that clued you in? Often, it’s as simple as the position of the person’s head or body.

If both the head and body are turned toward you, it’s clear where the person’s attention is focused. It’s even more obvious when the person’s body is pointed away from you but their head is facing you. When this happens, you immediately look to the person’s eyes to see where they’re looking.
Human eyes are different from those of other animals in this regard. Our pupils and irises are darker from the white part of the eyeball known as the sclera, and this contrast is why you can tell when someone’s looking at you or simply looking past you.

Other species have less visible sclera, which is advantageous for predators that don’t want their prey to know where they’re looking. However, human survival is more dependent on communication, which is why we evolved to have larger, white sclera, which help us make eye contact.

But when head and body positions don’t provide much information, research shows that we can still detect another person’s gaze extraordinarily well because of our peripheral vision.

We evolved to be this sensitive to gaze to survive. Why? Because every look someone throws your way is a potential threat.

Clifford tested this by asking study participants to indicate where various faces were looking. He found that when people couldn’t determine the direction of a gaze — because of dark conditions or the faces were wearing sunglasses — people typically thought they were being watched.

He concluded that in situations where we’re not certain where a person is looking, our brain informs us that we’re being watched — just in case there’s a potential interaction.

“A direct gaze can signal dominance or a threat, and if you perceive something as a threat, you would not want to miss it,” Clifford said. “So simply assuming another person is looking at you may be the safest strategy.”

credit: Laura Moss

Mysterious alignment of black holes in deep space hints at cosmic pattern

Researchers conducting a three-year deep radio imaging survey of a particular region of distant space known as ELAIS-N1 have discovered that the black holes there are doing something very, very peculiar: They’re all tilting with the same alignment and spitting out radio waves in the same direction, a finding that is far too improbable to be attributed to mere coincidence, reports Phys.org.

The discovery, made by South African researchers using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), hints at an unexplained cosmic pattern. It might mean that primordial mass fluctuations in the early universe caused this particular volume of space to spin as one, a profound possibility that could allow scientists to map out how the universe structured itself.

“Since these black holes don’t know about each other, or have any way of exchanging information or influencing each other directly over such vast scales, this spin alignment must have occurred during the formation of the galaxies in the early universe,” said professor Andrew Russ Taylor, principal author of the study.

Radio jets such as those measured in the study are produced by supermassive black holes that sit at the heart of ancient galaxies. Scientists are considering a number of different factors that could have forced so many of them into alignment, such as cosmic magnetic fields, or possibly fields associated with exotic, theoretical dark matter particles. Even cosmic “strings” could be the culprit, hypothetical 1-dimensional topological defects which may have formed in the early universe.

There are certainly a number of exciting hypotheticals to sift through. A large-scale alignment like this has never been predicted by current leading theories.

“[The alignments are] not obviously expected based on our current understanding of cosmology. It’s a bizarre finding,” said professor Romeel Dave, who leads a team developing plans for universe simulations.

Bizarre findings are healthy for science, however. They allow scientists to refine their theories to better account for a deeper pool of observations, and ultimately give us a grander and more precise understanding of the cosmos.

“We’re beginning to understand how the large-scale structure of the universe came about, starting from the Big Bang and growing as a result of disturbances in the early universe, to what we have today,” said Taylor, “and that helps us explore what the universe of tomorrow will be like.”

Credit: Bryan Nelson