The most interesting scientific discoveries in March

According to Slashgear

In these challenging times, good news is needed more than ever. A small selection of news from the world of science and technology is the best proof that the whole world has not gone crazy yet. Someone continues to help sick people, to study the universe and to extract centuries-old secrets to the surface. And British scientists … British scientists as usual.

Underwater robots have discovered traces of a 100-year-old shipwreck

In 1915, the ship Endurance, which participated in the Transantarctic expedition, sank in the dark waters of the Weddell Sea. Fortunately, the crew, which consisted of 28 people and fought for three days for life on the ship, was evacuated, torn in the ice, and survived. And the Endurance itself, despite the fact that the place of its flood was roughly known, remained unfounded for more than 100 years.

It was incredibly difficult to find the ship, especially because of the far from ideal conditions in Antarctic waters. Sea ice covers large areas of the cold sea, making it impossible to use traditional research methods. And the case of Endurance is just where we had to wait for the technology to develop enough to handle this task.

The expedition, called Endurance22, traveled to the alleged sinking site and sent out autonomous underwater robots called Sabertooths (“Sabertoothed Tigers”), which roamed the seabed using a laser scanner and sonar, and which were also equipped with cameras to document everything. was found.

Once the wreck site was located, the tigers used their scanners to create a 3D model of the ship and nearby wreckage (according to information from Endurance22).

Mercury’s surface is covered with diamond dust

Once upon a time, Mercury was a much less hospitable place, and even now the conditions on the planet are far from comfortable due to the sharp temperature difference between day and night. It is unlikely that anyone would want to live there, but the planet seems to be able to attract treasure hunters.

As Kevin Cannon explained at the 53rd Moon and Planetary Science Conference, recent modeling of the effects of various impacts on Mercury’s surface over the last four billion years has shown that the planet’s surface can be covered by microscopic diamonds.

At the beginning of Mercury’s formation, it was covered by a magma sea. The graphite formed in the magma and eventually rose to the surface, creating a liquid graphite crust believed to be hundreds of meters thick. In the first billions of years after the formation of the solar system, collisions occurred with asteroids, each of which could immediately turn this graphite into diamond.

Unlike earth-cut diamonds, these are not the large pure gemstones we are used to seeing in jewelry. This microscopic diamond dust is probably scattered over the planet’s surface. Future expeditions to the planet could tell more about the composition of the surface, but if the assumptions turn out to be correct, Mercury can hold sixteen times the Earth’s diamond reserves.

The asteroid was discovered two hours before the fall

To continue the theme of asteroids, one of them collided with Earth on March 11, 2022. Fortunately for all of us, he could not kill the planet, like the brothers shown in movies, or the one on whose conscience the death of the dinosaurs. 2020 EB5 was only about 2 meters in diameter and burned up in the atmosphere off the coast of Greenland.

The case of 2020 EB5 is only the fifth time that astronomers have discovered an asteroid before it hit the planet. Objects of this size are not uncommon in the solar system, and they collide with the earth quite regularly. Due to their small size, they are extremely difficult to detect in advance, both because the search area extends endlessly in all directions and because they are relatively small.

Larger asteroids can cause serious consequences for humanity and the rest of life on Earth if they hit the planet, so NASA takes the mission to detect and track them very seriously. The Near-Earth Object Center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is tasked with monitoring the sky for possible threats from space, and has been involved in tracking EB5 2020 since its first discovery by astronomers at the Piskestetö Observatory in Hungary.

If something major ever threatens the earth, let’s hope we get a warning in less than two hours.

Worms recognize cancer

Cancer survival improves dramatically if the disease is detected early, so doctors and researchers are constantly looking for the most effective research methods. And now the ideal set of diagnostic tools has been filled with another one – this is a small container filled with worms, namely C. elegans nematodes.

Medical technology, diagnostics and treatment have improved dramatically in recent decades, but as with most things, everything we can do, nature does better than us. Nematodes are relatively simple creatures, so simple that they are the preferred model for all kinds of research (according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information), but they have a highly developed sense of smell, which they use to navigate. It seems to be quite accurate to detect certain types of cancer.

Researchers working in collaboration with the National Research Foundation of Korea have used the worms to detect cultured lung cancer cells. Their device, which they call a “mask-on-a-chip”, consists of a small, rectangular piece of elastomer with a chamber cut into it. Worms are located in the middle and have the ability to travel in one of two ways. Healthy cells at one end, cancer cells at the other. The researchers found that the worms advanced toward the cancer test about 70% of the time.

More research is needed, but in the future, a worm-on-a-chip can provide a quick and accurate pre-diagnosis.

An ALS patient spoke using a brain-computer interface

Recently, researchers used a brain-computer interface to restore minimal communication with a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis who, as a result of the disease, lost the ability to control their muscles.

Researchers work on a range of devices designed to use the patient’s remaining mental or physical abilities and transform them into communication; they restore the voice of people who have lost their own. Physicist Stephen Hawking, who had ALS, retained the ability to move his cheek muscle slightly and used it to control a computer, form sentences, and even write books. However, many patients with ALS do not retain the ability to use the muscles, so the researchers had to find another solution.

According to an article published in the magazine Nature communicationarrays of electrodes were implanted in the patient’s brain and the system was trained to recognize the activity of nearby nerves. The patient controlled the computer by activating these nerves, trying to move his eyes to answer yes or no questions and gradually forming sentences.

The process was slow, on the order of one character per minute, but the patient was able to formulate simple requests and express affection for his family. It is a long way to go before such interfaces become publicly available, but being able to express love for one’s family again is a clear win.

Today’s astronaut waste is tomorrow’s fuel on Mars

Delivering everything in space is technically difficult and insanely expensive. Even with the latest advances like reusable rocket launchers, every pound sent away from the planet costs thousands of dollars.

That’s why astronauts on their way to the space station do not take much water with them. The station is designed to recycle almost all water on board, filter it and reuse it. This idea was abandoned in the next phase of human space exploration. A mission to Mars can take about two years (according to NASA), and every pound of water or fuel you have to take with you makes it harder to complete. For this reason, the European Space Agency (ESA) is collaborating with the technology company Tekniker to develop a new reactor for converting astronaut waste into fuel. The system will collect carbon dioxide from Mars’ atmosphere and combine it with gray water – wastewater produced by astronauts – to synthesize methane and other hydrocarbons.

Crucially, the system will also purify water and return it to astronauts, so future astronauts will receive a double return on their biological investment. With any team on their way to the red planet, less water can be sent, and they will get additional fuel for their “investment”.

About the dangers of doomscrolling (with greetings from British researchers)

Many of us have experienced the feeling that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy we feel. Now science confirms this.

A recent study by the Oxford Internet Institute examined the emotional health of 80,000 volunteers of different ages and genders to understand how social media use affected their levels of happiness.

Unsurprisingly, longer periods of time spent scrolling through social media have been shown to correlate with lower levels of happiness. As the University of Oxford explained, the age ranges where different demographics experienced the strongest negative effects varied, but the overall effect was clear. The use of social media, especially excessive use, shows a clear connection with negative emotional reactions.

It is not yet clear what mechanism is behind the emotional response. What it is, a comparison of one’s own life with staged bright videos, or just the longing that comes from endless rolling and from the negativity that fills social networks, is not exactly known. In any case, the result is the same. If you feel unwell, click on the cross in the upper right corner.

Hubble looks further into the past than ever before

The oldest star ever seen by the Hubble Space Telescope burned in the night sky about four billion years after the birth of the universe. At least that was the case until March 2022, when this record was broken thanks to a combination of Hubble’s incredible capacity and happiness sent by the universe.

As NASA explained, Hubble turned its “eye” on a large galaxy cluster known as WHL0137-08, and received more than expected. The cluster is so huge and has such a large mass that it distorts space and time around it, which makes the light bend as if it passed through a magnifying glass.

This phenomenon, well known to astronomers, is called gravitational lensing. Essentially, this lens effect allowed us to capture a star that is said to be out of Hubble’s visible range and draw it billions of light-years closer. To be clear, the star that the astronomers have nicknamed Earendil has not really moved and is in all probability dead and gone, but its light is still rushing towards us, and thanks to a happy cosmic coincidence we could see it.

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched on Christmas Day 2021, is nearing completion at L2 Lagrange Point, and astronomers plan to target it to the star to learn more about it.

Leave a Comment