ATV-5 encased by rocket fairing

ATV-5 encased by rocket fairing in the BAF (Final Assembly Building), on 11 July 2014. 

ESA’s fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle, Georges Lemaître, will deliver more than 2600 kg of dry cargo to the International Space Station; its launch is set for summer 2014 on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. 

Credits: ESA–M. Pedoussaut, 2014

ATV-5 encased by rocket fairing

ATV-5 encased by rocket fairing in the BAF (Final Assembly Building), on 11 July 2014.

ESA’s fifth and last Automated Transfer Vehicle, Georges Lemaître, will deliver more than 2600 kg of dry cargo to the International Space Station; its launch is set for summer 2014 on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Credits: ESA–M. Pedoussaut, 2014

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Texcoco

This week’s satellite image was acquired over the eastern part of Mexico City.

The area pictured lies within central Mexico’s highlands plateau called the Valley of Mexico. This valley was originally covered by the waters of Lake Texcoco but over the centuries the water has been drained. The area that has not been built up is today used for hydraulic management and is made up of reservoirs and ponds such as the large, dark Nabor Carrillo lake pictured here.

The area receives more than 100 000 migratory birds each year that travel through the Central Migratory Flyway, and is a key resting, feeding and breeding ground for several species of shorebirds.

In contrast to the open space of the former Lake Texcoco, Mexico City is a densely populated metropolitan area (left and bottom).

We can see the runways of the international airport on the far left. South of the airport is the Alameda Oriente recreational park with its somewhat spiral artificial lake. North of the airport, El bosque de San Juan de Aragón is another park and important green area.

City parks play a large role in the city’s effort to alleviate air pollution. In the early 1990s, pollution was believed to cause hundreds of deaths each year. Air quality has improved in recent decades through a series of government efforts to cut emissions.

Texcoco

This week’s satellite image was acquired over the eastern part of Mexico City.

The area pictured lies within central Mexico’s highlands plateau called the Valley of Mexico. This valley was originally covered by the waters of Lake Texcoco but over the centuries the water has been drained. The area that has not been built up is today used for hydraulic management and is made up of reservoirs and ponds such as the large, dark Nabor Carrillo lake pictured here.

The area receives more than 100 000 migratory birds each year that travel through the Central Migratory Flyway, and is a key resting, feeding and breeding ground for several species of shorebirds.

In contrast to the open space of the former Lake Texcoco, Mexico City is a densely populated metropolitan area (left and bottom).

We can see the runways of the international airport on the far left. South of the airport is the Alameda Oriente recreational park with its somewhat spiral artificial lake. North of the airport, El bosque de San Juan de Aragón is another park and important green area.

City parks play a large role in the city’s effort to alleviate air pollution. In the early 1990s, pollution was believed to cause hundreds of deaths each year. Air quality has improved in recent decades through a series of government efforts to cut emissions.

1 note

Eye movements reveal difference between love and lust
Soul singer Betty Everett once proclaimed, “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.” But a new study by University of Chicago researchers suggests the difference between love and lust might be in the eyes after all.

Specifically, where your date looks at you could indicate whether love or lust is in the cards. The new study found that eye patterns concentrate on a stranger’s face if the viewer sees that person as a potential partner in romantic love, but the viewer gazes more at the other person’s body if he or she is feeling sexual desire. That automatic judgment can occur in as little as half a second, producing different gaze patterns.

"Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatic attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers," noted lead author Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the UChicago High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging Laboratory. Cacioppo co-authored the report, now published online in the journal Psychological Science, with colleagues from UChicago’s Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, and the University of Geneva.

Previous research by Cacioppo has shown that different networks of brain regions are activated by love and sexual desire. In this study, the team performed two experiments to test visual patterns in an effort to assess two different emotional and cognitive states that are often difficult to disentangle from one another—romantic love and sexual desire (lust).

Male and female students from the University of Geneva viewed a series of black-and-white photographs of persons they had never met. In part one of the study, participants viewed photos of young, adult heterosexual couples who were looking at or interacting with each other. In part two, participants viewed photographs of attractive individuals of the opposite sex who were looking directly at the camera/viewer. None of the photos contained nudity or erotic images.

In both experiments, participants were placed before a computer and asked to look at different blocks of photographs and decide as rapidly and precisely as possible whether they perceived each photograph or the persons in the photograph as eliciting feelings of sexual desire or romantic love. The study found no significant difference in the time it took subjects to identify romantic love versus sexual desire, which shows how quickly the brain can process both emotions, the researchers believe.

But analysis of the eye-tracking data from the two studies revealed marked differences in eye movement patterns, depending on whether the subjects reported feeling sexual desire or romantic love. People tended to visually fixate on the face, especially when they said an image elicited a feeling of romantic love. However, with images that evoked sexual desire, the subjects’ eyes moved from the face to fixate on the rest of the body. The effect was found for male and female participants.

"By identifying eye patterns that are specific to love-related stimuli, the study may contribute to the development of a biomarker that differentiates feelings of romantic love versus sexual desire," said co-author John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. "An eye-tracking paradigm may eventually offer a new avenue of diagnosis in clinicians’ daily practice or for routine clinical exams in psychiatry and/or couple therapy."



IMAGE…UChicago researchers analyzed eye movements and found patterns in how subjects experienced feelings of romantic love or sexual desire. In this image, a viewer’s eyes fixate mostly on the faces of a couple that evokes feelings of romantic love. Credit: Image courtesy Stephanie Cacioppo

Eye movements reveal difference between love and lust

Soul singer Betty Everett once proclaimed, “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.” But a new study by University of Chicago researchers suggests the difference between love and lust might be in the eyes after all.

Specifically, where your date looks at you could indicate whether love or lust is in the cards. The new study found that eye patterns concentrate on a stranger’s face if the viewer sees that person as a potential partner in romantic love, but the viewer gazes more at the other person’s body if he or she is feeling sexual desire. That automatic judgment can occur in as little as half a second, producing different gaze patterns.

"Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatic attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers," noted lead author Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the UChicago High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging Laboratory. Cacioppo co-authored the report, now published online in the journal Psychological Science, with colleagues from UChicago’s Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, and the University of Geneva.

Previous research by Cacioppo has shown that different networks of brain regions are activated by love and sexual desire. In this study, the team performed two experiments to test visual patterns in an effort to assess two different emotional and cognitive states that are often difficult to disentangle from one another—romantic love and sexual desire (lust).

Male and female students from the University of Geneva viewed a series of black-and-white photographs of persons they had never met. In part one of the study, participants viewed photos of young, adult heterosexual couples who were looking at or interacting with each other. In part two, participants viewed photographs of attractive individuals of the opposite sex who were looking directly at the camera/viewer. None of the photos contained nudity or erotic images.

In both experiments, participants were placed before a computer and asked to look at different blocks of photographs and decide as rapidly and precisely as possible whether they perceived each photograph or the persons in the photograph as eliciting feelings of sexual desire or romantic love. The study found no significant difference in the time it took subjects to identify romantic love versus sexual desire, which shows how quickly the brain can process both emotions, the researchers believe.

But analysis of the eye-tracking data from the two studies revealed marked differences in eye movement patterns, depending on whether the subjects reported feeling sexual desire or romantic love. People tended to visually fixate on the face, especially when they said an image elicited a feeling of romantic love. However, with images that evoked sexual desire, the subjects’ eyes moved from the face to fixate on the rest of the body. The effect was found for male and female participants.

"By identifying eye patterns that are specific to love-related stimuli, the study may contribute to the development of a biomarker that differentiates feelings of romantic love versus sexual desire," said co-author John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. "An eye-tracking paradigm may eventually offer a new avenue of diagnosis in clinicians’ daily practice or for routine clinical exams in psychiatry and/or couple therapy."

IMAGE…UChicago researchers analyzed eye movements and found patterns in how subjects experienced feelings of romantic love or sexual desire. In this image, a viewer’s eyes fixate mostly on the faces of a couple that evokes feelings of romantic love. Credit: Image courtesy Stephanie Cacioppo

4 notes

Lunar pits could shelter astronauts, reveal details of how ‘man in the moon’ formed 

While the moon’s surface is battered by millions of craters, it also has over 200 holes – steep-walled pits that in some cases might lead to caves that future astronauts could explore and use for shelter, according to new observations from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

The pits range in size from about 5 meters (~5 yards) across to more than 900 meters (~984 yards) in diameter, and three of them were first identified using images from the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft. Hundreds more were found using a new computer algorithm that automatically scanned thousands of high-resolution images of the lunar surface from LRO’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC).

"Pits would be useful in a support role for human activity on the lunar surface," said Robert Wagner of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. "A habitat placed in a pit — ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang — would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings." Wagner developed the computer algorithm, and is lead author of a paper on this research now available online in the journal Icarus.

Most pits were found either in large craters with impact melt ponds – areas of lava that formed from the heat of the impact and later solidified, or in the lunar maria – dark areas on the moon that are extensive solidified lava flows hundreds of miles across. In ancient times, the maria were thought to be oceans; “maria” is the Latin word for “seas.” Various cultures have interpreted the patterns formed by the maria features in different ways; for example, some saw the face of a man, while others saw a rabbit or a boy carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.

The pits could form when the roof of a void or cave collapses, perhaps from the vibrations generated by a nearby meteorite impact, according to Wagner. However, he noted that from their appearance in the LRO photos alone, there is little evidence to point to any particular cause. The voids could be created when molten rock flowed under the lunar surface; on Earth, lava tubes form when magma flows beneath a solidified crust and later drains away. The same process could happen on the moon, especially in a large impact crater, the interior of which can take hundreds of thousands of years to cool, according to Wagner. After an impact crater forms, the sides slump under lunar gravity, pushing up the crater’s floor and perhaps causing magma to flow under the surface, forming voids in places where it drains away.

Exploring impact melt pits would pin down the nature of the voids in which they form. “They are likely due to melt flow within the pond from uplift after the surface has solidified, but before the interior has cooled,” said Wagner. “Exploring impact melt pits would help determine the magnitude of this uplift, and the amount of melt flow after the pond is in place.”
Exploring the pits could also reveal how oceans of lava formed the lunar maria. “The mare pits in particular would be very useful for understanding how the lunar maria formed. We’ve taken images from orbit looking at the walls of these pits, which show that they cut through dozens of layers, confirming that the maria formed from lots of thin flows, rather than a few big ones. Ground-level exploration could determine the ages of these layers, and might even find solar wind particles that were trapped in the lunar surface billions of years ago,” said Wagner.

To date, the team has found over 200 pits spread across the melt ponds of 29 craters, which are considered geologically young “Copernican” craters at less than a billion years old; eight pits in the lunar maria, three of which were previously known from images from the Japanese Kaguya orbiter; and two pits in highlands terrain.

The general age sequence matches well with the pit distributions, according to Wagner. “Impact melt ponds of Copernican craters are some of the younger terrains on the moon, and while the maria are much older at around three billion years old, they are still younger and less battered than the highlands. It’s possible that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ age for pits, where enough impacts have occurred to create a lot of pits, but not enough to destroy them,” said Wagner.

There are almost certainly more pits out there, given that LRO has only imaged about 40 percent of the moon with appropriate lighting for the automated pit searching program, according to Wagner. He expects there may be at least two to three more mare pits and several dozen to over a hundred more impact melt pits, not including any pits that likely exist in already-imaged areas, but are too small to conclusively identify even with the NAC’s resolution.

"We’ll continue scanning NAC images for pits as they come down from the spacecraft, but for about 25 percent of the moon’s surface area (near the poles) the sun never rises high enough for our algorithm to work," said Wagner. "These areas will require an improved search algorithm, and even that may not work at very high latitudes, where even a human has trouble telling a pit from an impact crater."

The next step would be to tie together more datasets such as composition maps, thermal measurements, gravity measurements, etc., to gain a better understanding of the environments in which these pits form, both at and below the surface, according to Wagner.

"The ideal follow-up, of course, would be to drop probes into one or two of these pits, and get a really good look at what’s down there," adds Wagner. "Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit — the lower walls and any floor-level caves simply cannot be seen from a good angle. Even a few pictures from ground-level would answer a lot of the outstanding questions about the nature of the voids that the pits collapsed into. We’re currently in the very early design phases of a mission concept to do exactly this, exploring one of the largest mare pits."


IMAGE…These images from NASA’s LRO spacecraft show all of the known mare pits and highland pits. Each image is 222 meters (about 728 feet) wide.  Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Lunar pits could shelter astronauts, reveal details of how ‘man in the moon’ formed

While the moon’s surface is battered by millions of craters, it also has over 200 holes – steep-walled pits that in some cases might lead to caves that future astronauts could explore and use for shelter, according to new observations from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

The pits range in size from about 5 meters (~5 yards) across to more than 900 meters (~984 yards) in diameter, and three of them were first identified using images from the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft. Hundreds more were found using a new computer algorithm that automatically scanned thousands of high-resolution images of the lunar surface from LRO’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC).

"Pits would be useful in a support role for human activity on the lunar surface," said Robert Wagner of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. "A habitat placed in a pit — ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang — would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings." Wagner developed the computer algorithm, and is lead author of a paper on this research now available online in the journal Icarus.

Most pits were found either in large craters with impact melt ponds – areas of lava that formed from the heat of the impact and later solidified, or in the lunar maria – dark areas on the moon that are extensive solidified lava flows hundreds of miles across. In ancient times, the maria were thought to be oceans; “maria” is the Latin word for “seas.” Various cultures have interpreted the patterns formed by the maria features in different ways; for example, some saw the face of a man, while others saw a rabbit or a boy carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.

The pits could form when the roof of a void or cave collapses, perhaps from the vibrations generated by a nearby meteorite impact, according to Wagner. However, he noted that from their appearance in the LRO photos alone, there is little evidence to point to any particular cause. The voids could be created when molten rock flowed under the lunar surface; on Earth, lava tubes form when magma flows beneath a solidified crust and later drains away. The same process could happen on the moon, especially in a large impact crater, the interior of which can take hundreds of thousands of years to cool, according to Wagner. After an impact crater forms, the sides slump under lunar gravity, pushing up the crater’s floor and perhaps causing magma to flow under the surface, forming voids in places where it drains away.

Exploring impact melt pits would pin down the nature of the voids in which they form. “They are likely due to melt flow within the pond from uplift after the surface has solidified, but before the interior has cooled,” said Wagner. “Exploring impact melt pits would help determine the magnitude of this uplift, and the amount of melt flow after the pond is in place.”

Exploring the pits could also reveal how oceans of lava formed the lunar maria. “The mare pits in particular would be very useful for understanding how the lunar maria formed. We’ve taken images from orbit looking at the walls of these pits, which show that they cut through dozens of layers, confirming that the maria formed from lots of thin flows, rather than a few big ones. Ground-level exploration could determine the ages of these layers, and might even find solar wind particles that were trapped in the lunar surface billions of years ago,” said Wagner.

To date, the team has found over 200 pits spread across the melt ponds of 29 craters, which are considered geologically young “Copernican” craters at less than a billion years old; eight pits in the lunar maria, three of which were previously known from images from the Japanese Kaguya orbiter; and two pits in highlands terrain.

The general age sequence matches well with the pit distributions, according to Wagner. “Impact melt ponds of Copernican craters are some of the younger terrains on the moon, and while the maria are much older at around three billion years old, they are still younger and less battered than the highlands. It’s possible that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ age for pits, where enough impacts have occurred to create a lot of pits, but not enough to destroy them,” said Wagner.

There are almost certainly more pits out there, given that LRO has only imaged about 40 percent of the moon with appropriate lighting for the automated pit searching program, according to Wagner. He expects there may be at least two to three more mare pits and several dozen to over a hundred more impact melt pits, not including any pits that likely exist in already-imaged areas, but are too small to conclusively identify even with the NAC’s resolution.

"We’ll continue scanning NAC images for pits as they come down from the spacecraft, but for about 25 percent of the moon’s surface area (near the poles) the sun never rises high enough for our algorithm to work," said Wagner. "These areas will require an improved search algorithm, and even that may not work at very high latitudes, where even a human has trouble telling a pit from an impact crater."

The next step would be to tie together more datasets such as composition maps, thermal measurements, gravity measurements, etc., to gain a better understanding of the environments in which these pits form, both at and below the surface, according to Wagner.

"The ideal follow-up, of course, would be to drop probes into one or two of these pits, and get a really good look at what’s down there," adds Wagner. "Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit — the lower walls and any floor-level caves simply cannot be seen from a good angle. Even a few pictures from ground-level would answer a lot of the outstanding questions about the nature of the voids that the pits collapsed into. We’re currently in the very early design phases of a mission concept to do exactly this, exploring one of the largest mare pits."


IMAGE…These images from NASA’s LRO spacecraft show all of the known mare pits and highland pits. Each image is 222 meters (about 728 feet) wide. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

1 note

Peering into giant planets from in and out of this world


Lawrence Livermore scientists for the first time have experimentally re-created the conditions that exist deep inside giant planets, such as Jupiter, Uranus and many of the planets recently discovered outside our solar system. 

Researchers can now re-create and accurately measure material properties that control how these planets evolve over time, information essential for understanding how these massive objects form. This study focused on carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the cosmos (after hydrogen, helium and oxygen), which has an important role in many types of planets within and outside our solar system. The research appears in the June 17 edition of the journal, Nature.

Using the largest laser in the world, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, teams from the Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University squeezed samples to 50 million times Earth’s atmospheric pressure, which is comparable to the pressures at the center of Jupiter and Saturn. Of the 192 lasers at NIF, the team used 176 with exquisitely shaped energy versus time to produce a pressure wave that compressed the material for a short period of time. The sample – diamond – is vaporized in less than 10 billionths of a second. 

Though diamond is the least compressible material known, the researchers were able to compress it to an unprecedented density greater than lead at ambient conditions.

"The experimental techniques developed here provide a new capability to experimentally reproduce pressure–temperature conditions deep in planetary interiors," said Ray Smith, LLNL physicist and lead author of the paper.

Such pressures have been reached before, but only with shock waves that also create high temperatures – hundreds of thousands of degrees or more – that are not realistic for planetary interiors. The technical challenge was keeping temperatures low enough to be relevant to planets. The problem is similar to moving a plow slowly enough to push sand forward without building it up in height. This was accomplished by carefully tuning the rate at which the laser intensity changes with time.

"This new ability to explore matter at atomic scale pressures, where extrapolations of earlier shock and static data become unreliable, provides new constraints for dense matter theories and planet evolution models," said Rip Collins, another Lawrence Livermore physicist on the team.

The data described in this work are among the first tests for predictions made in the early days of quantum mechanics, more than 80 years ago, which are routinely used to describe matter at the center of planets and stars. While agreement between these new data and theory are good, there are important differences discovered, suggesting potential hidden treasures in the properties of diamond compressed to such extremes. Future experiments on NIF are focused on further unlocking these mysteries.

Peering into giant planets from in and out of this world


Lawrence Livermore scientists for the first time have experimentally re-created the conditions that exist deep inside giant planets, such as Jupiter, Uranus and many of the planets recently discovered outside our solar system.

Researchers can now re-create and accurately measure material properties that control how these planets evolve over time, information essential for understanding how these massive objects form. This study focused on carbon, the fourth most abundant element in the cosmos (after hydrogen, helium and oxygen), which has an important role in many types of planets within and outside our solar system. The research appears in the June 17 edition of the journal, Nature.

Using the largest laser in the world, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, teams from the Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University squeezed samples to 50 million times Earth’s atmospheric pressure, which is comparable to the pressures at the center of Jupiter and Saturn. Of the 192 lasers at NIF, the team used 176 with exquisitely shaped energy versus time to produce a pressure wave that compressed the material for a short period of time. The sample – diamond – is vaporized in less than 10 billionths of a second.

Though diamond is the least compressible material known, the researchers were able to compress it to an unprecedented density greater than lead at ambient conditions.

"The experimental techniques developed here provide a new capability to experimentally reproduce pressure–temperature conditions deep in planetary interiors," said Ray Smith, LLNL physicist and lead author of the paper.

Such pressures have been reached before, but only with shock waves that also create high temperatures – hundreds of thousands of degrees or more – that are not realistic for planetary interiors. The technical challenge was keeping temperatures low enough to be relevant to planets. The problem is similar to moving a plow slowly enough to push sand forward without building it up in height. This was accomplished by carefully tuning the rate at which the laser intensity changes with time.

"This new ability to explore matter at atomic scale pressures, where extrapolations of earlier shock and static data become unreliable, provides new constraints for dense matter theories and planet evolution models," said Rip Collins, another Lawrence Livermore physicist on the team.

The data described in this work are among the first tests for predictions made in the early days of quantum mechanics, more than 80 years ago, which are routinely used to describe matter at the center of planets and stars. While agreement between these new data and theory are good, there are important differences discovered, suggesting potential hidden treasures in the properties of diamond compressed to such extremes. Future experiments on NIF are focused on further unlocking these mysteries.

1 note

Oregon geologist says Curiosity’s images show Earth-like soils on Mars

Ancient fossilized soils potentially found in deep inside an impact crater suggest microbial life

Soil deep in a crater dating to some 3.7 billion years ago contains evidence that Mars was once much warmer and wetter, says University of Oregon geologist Gregory Retallack, based on images and data captured by the rover Curiosity.

NASA rovers have shown Martian landscapes littered with loose rocks from impacts or layered by catastrophic floods, rather than the smooth contours of soils that soften landscapes on Earth. However, recent images from Curiosity from the impact Gale Crater, Retallack said, reveal Earth-like soil profiles with cracked surfaces lined with sulfate, ellipsoidal hollows and concentrations of sulfate comparable with soils in Antarctic Dry Valleys and Chile’s Atacama Desert. 

His analyses appear in a paper placed online this week by the journal Geology in advance of print in the September issue. Retallack, the paper’s lone author, studied mineral and chemical data published by researchers closely tied with the Curiosity mission. Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontology research at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is an internationally known expert on the recognition of paleosols — ancient fossilized soils contained in rocks.

"The pictures were the first clue, but then all the data really nailed it," Retallack said. "The key to this discovery has been the superb chemical and mineral analytical capability of the Curiosity Rover, which is an order of magnitude improvement over earlier generations of rovers. The new data show clear chemical weathering trends, and clay accumulation at the expense of the mineral olivine, as expected in soils on Earth. Phosphorus depletion within the profiles is especially tantalizing, because it attributed to microbial activity on Earth."

The ancient soils, he said, do not prove that Mars once contained life, but they do add to growing evidence that an early wetter and warmer Mars was more habitable than the planet has been in the past 3 billion years. 

Curiosity rover is now exploring topographically higher and geologically younger layers within the crater, where the soils appear less conducive to life. For a record of older life and soils on Mars, Retallack said, new missions will be needed to explore older and more clayey terrains. 

Surface cracks in the deeply buried soils suggest typical soil clods. Vesicular hollows, or rounded holes, and sulfate concentrations, he said, are both features of desert soils on Earth.

"None of these features is seen in younger surface soils of Mars," Retallack said. "The exploration of Mars, like that of other planetary bodies, commonly turns up unexpected discoveries, but it is equally unexpected to discover such familiar ground."

The newly discovered soils provide more benign and habitable soil conditions than known before on Mars. Their dating to 3.7 billion years ago, he noted, puts them into a time of transition from “an early benign water cycle on Mars to the acidic and arid Mars of today.” Life on Earth is believed to have emerged and began diversifying about 3.5 million years ago, but some scientists have theorized that potential evidence that might take life on Earth farther back was destroyed by plate tectonics, which did not occur on Mars.

In an email, Malcolm Walter of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, who was not involved in the research, said the potential discovery of these fossilized soils in the Gale Crater dramatically increases the possibility that Mars has microbes. “There is a real possibility that there is or was life on Mars,” he wrote.

Retallack noted that Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Florida has speculated that life is more likely to have originated on a soil planet like Mars than a water planet like Earth. In an email, Benner wrote that Retallack’s paper “shows not only soils that might be direct products of an early Martian life, but also the wet-dry cycles that many models require for the emergence of life.”

Oregon geologist says Curiosity’s images show Earth-like soils on Mars

Ancient fossilized soils potentially found in deep inside an impact crater suggest microbial life

Soil deep in a crater dating to some 3.7 billion years ago contains evidence that Mars was once much warmer and wetter, says University of Oregon geologist Gregory Retallack, based on images and data captured by the rover Curiosity.

NASA rovers have shown Martian landscapes littered with loose rocks from impacts or layered by catastrophic floods, rather than the smooth contours of soils that soften landscapes on Earth. However, recent images from Curiosity from the impact Gale Crater, Retallack said, reveal Earth-like soil profiles with cracked surfaces lined with sulfate, ellipsoidal hollows and concentrations of sulfate comparable with soils in Antarctic Dry Valleys and Chile’s Atacama Desert.

His analyses appear in a paper placed online this week by the journal Geology in advance of print in the September issue. Retallack, the paper’s lone author, studied mineral and chemical data published by researchers closely tied with the Curiosity mission. Retallack, professor of geological sciences and co-director of paleontology research at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is an internationally known expert on the recognition of paleosols — ancient fossilized soils contained in rocks.

"The pictures were the first clue, but then all the data really nailed it," Retallack said. "The key to this discovery has been the superb chemical and mineral analytical capability of the Curiosity Rover, which is an order of magnitude improvement over earlier generations of rovers. The new data show clear chemical weathering trends, and clay accumulation at the expense of the mineral olivine, as expected in soils on Earth. Phosphorus depletion within the profiles is especially tantalizing, because it attributed to microbial activity on Earth."

The ancient soils, he said, do not prove that Mars once contained life, but they do add to growing evidence that an early wetter and warmer Mars was more habitable than the planet has been in the past 3 billion years.

Curiosity rover is now exploring topographically higher and geologically younger layers within the crater, where the soils appear less conducive to life. For a record of older life and soils on Mars, Retallack said, new missions will be needed to explore older and more clayey terrains.

Surface cracks in the deeply buried soils suggest typical soil clods. Vesicular hollows, or rounded holes, and sulfate concentrations, he said, are both features of desert soils on Earth.

"None of these features is seen in younger surface soils of Mars," Retallack said. "The exploration of Mars, like that of other planetary bodies, commonly turns up unexpected discoveries, but it is equally unexpected to discover such familiar ground."

The newly discovered soils provide more benign and habitable soil conditions than known before on Mars. Their dating to 3.7 billion years ago, he noted, puts them into a time of transition from “an early benign water cycle on Mars to the acidic and arid Mars of today.” Life on Earth is believed to have emerged and began diversifying about 3.5 million years ago, but some scientists have theorized that potential evidence that might take life on Earth farther back was destroyed by plate tectonics, which did not occur on Mars.

In an email, Malcolm Walter of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, who was not involved in the research, said the potential discovery of these fossilized soils in the Gale Crater dramatically increases the possibility that Mars has microbes. “There is a real possibility that there is or was life on Mars,” he wrote.

Retallack noted that Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Florida has speculated that life is more likely to have originated on a soil planet like Mars than a water planet like Earth. In an email, Benner wrote that Retallack’s paper “shows not only soils that might be direct products of an early Martian life, but also the wet-dry cycles that many models require for the emergence of life.”

3 notes

Ultrafast X-ray laser sheds new light on fundamental ultrafast dynamics

Ultrafast X-ray laser research led by Kansas State University has provided scientists with a snapshot of a fundamental molecular phenomenon. The finding sheds new light on microscopic electron motion in molecules.

Artem Rudenko, assistant professor of physics and a member of the university’s James R. Macdonald Laboratory; Daniel Rolles, currently a junior research group leader at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany, who will be joining the university’s physics department in January 2015; and an international group of collaborators studied how an electron moves between different atoms in an exploding molecule.

Researchers measured at which distances between the two atoms the electron transfer can occur. Charge transfer processes — particularly electron transfer — are important for photosynthesis in solar cells, and drive many other important reactions in physics, chemistry and biology.

Their observation, “Imaging charge transfer in iodomethane upon x-ray photoabsorption,” appears in the journal Science.

"There is a very fundamental question about how far an electron can go to reach the nearby atom in a molecule, and how probable that transition is," Rudenko said. "It has been difficult to capture images of this motion because of the very short times and very small distances that need to be measured."

To find the answer, scientists shot an ultrafast optical laser at iodomethane molecules — molecules made of an iodine atom and a methyl group — to break the bond of these two partners.

The molecules were hit with an intense, ultrashort X-ray pulse to strip the electrons from the inner shells of the iodine atom as well as to study the charge transfer between the fragments. The experiment was performed using the Linac Coherent Light Source, the world’s most powerful X-ray laser. The laser is at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and delivers femtosecond X-ray pulses. One femtosecond is one-millionth of a billionth of a second.

Researchers were able to see electrons jumping over surprisingly long distances — up to 10 times the length of the original, intact molecule.

"Conceptually the study was pretty simple," Rudenko said. "We break up the molecule with the optical laser, use the X-rays to knock a few electrons from the iodine atom, and control the distance to the neighboring methyl group by tuning the timing between the laser and the X-rays. Then we watch how many electrons move from the methyl side to the iodine side to fill the created holes."

The study recently became possible because of the unique combination of ultrafast optical and X-ray pulses, and researchers’ expertise in particle detection.

"In the near future we will be able to perform similar experiments with improved time resolution using ultrafast lasers and tabletop soft X-ray sources at the J.R. Macdonald Lab at Kansas State University," Rudenko said.


IMAGE…An artistic view of the electron transfer inside an iodomethane molecule. After the interaction with an ultrafast X-ray laser, the electrons from the methyl group, on the right, jump to the iodine atom, on the left.
Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Ultrafast X-ray laser sheds new light on fundamental ultrafast dynamics

Ultrafast X-ray laser research led by Kansas State University has provided scientists with a snapshot of a fundamental molecular phenomenon. The finding sheds new light on microscopic electron motion in molecules.

Artem Rudenko, assistant professor of physics and a member of the university’s James R. Macdonald Laboratory; Daniel Rolles, currently a junior research group leader at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany, who will be joining the university’s physics department in January 2015; and an international group of collaborators studied how an electron moves between different atoms in an exploding molecule.

Researchers measured at which distances between the two atoms the electron transfer can occur. Charge transfer processes — particularly electron transfer — are important for photosynthesis in solar cells, and drive many other important reactions in physics, chemistry and biology.

Their observation, “Imaging charge transfer in iodomethane upon x-ray photoabsorption,” appears in the journal Science.

"There is a very fundamental question about how far an electron can go to reach the nearby atom in a molecule, and how probable that transition is," Rudenko said. "It has been difficult to capture images of this motion because of the very short times and very small distances that need to be measured."

To find the answer, scientists shot an ultrafast optical laser at iodomethane molecules — molecules made of an iodine atom and a methyl group — to break the bond of these two partners.

The molecules were hit with an intense, ultrashort X-ray pulse to strip the electrons from the inner shells of the iodine atom as well as to study the charge transfer between the fragments. The experiment was performed using the Linac Coherent Light Source, the world’s most powerful X-ray laser. The laser is at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and delivers femtosecond X-ray pulses. One femtosecond is one-millionth of a billionth of a second.

Researchers were able to see electrons jumping over surprisingly long distances — up to 10 times the length of the original, intact molecule.

"Conceptually the study was pretty simple," Rudenko said. "We break up the molecule with the optical laser, use the X-rays to knock a few electrons from the iodine atom, and control the distance to the neighboring methyl group by tuning the timing between the laser and the X-rays. Then we watch how many electrons move from the methyl side to the iodine side to fill the created holes."

The study recently became possible because of the unique combination of ultrafast optical and X-ray pulses, and researchers’ expertise in particle detection.

"In the near future we will be able to perform similar experiments with improved time resolution using ultrafast lasers and tabletop soft X-ray sources at the J.R. Macdonald Lab at Kansas State University," Rudenko said.


IMAGE…An artistic view of the electron transfer inside an iodomethane molecule. After the interaction with an ultrafast X-ray laser, the electrons from the methyl group, on the right, jump to the iodine atom, on the left.
Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

2 notes

Is the universe a bubble? Let’s check
Never mind the big bang; in the beginning was the vacuum. The vacuum simmered with energy (variously called dark energy, vacuum energy, the inflation field, or the Higgs field). Like water in a pot, this high energy began to evaporate – bubbles formed.

Each bubble contained another vacuum, whose energy was lower, but still not nothing. This energy drove the bubbles to expand. Inevitably, some bubbles bumped into each other. It’s possible some produced secondary bubbles. Maybe the bubbles were rare and far apart; maybe they were packed close as foam.

But here’s the thing: each of these bubbles was a universe. In this picture, our universe is one bubble in a frothy sea of bubble universes.

That’s the multiverse hypothesis in a bubbly nutshell.

It’s not a bad story. It is, as scientists say, physically motivated – not just made up, but rather arising from what we think we know about cosmic inflation.

Cosmic inflation isn’t universally accepted – most cyclical models of the universe reject the idea. Nevertheless, inflation is a leading theory of the universe’s very early development, and there is some observational evidence to support it.

Inflation holds that in the instant after the big bang, the universe expanded rapidly – so rapidly that an area of space once a nanometer square ended up more than a quarter-billion light years across in just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. It’s an amazing idea, but it would explain some otherwise puzzling astrophysical observations.

Inflation is thought to have been driven by an inflation field – which is vacuum energy by another name. Once you postulate that the inflation field exists, it’s hard to avoid an “in the beginning was the vacuum” kind of story. This is where the theory of inflation becomes controversial – when it starts to postulate multiple universes.

Proponents of the multiverse theory argue that it’s the next logical step in the inflation story. Detractors argue that it is not physics, but metaphysics – that it is not science because it cannot be tested. After all, physics lives or dies by data that can be gathered and predictions that can be checked.

That’s where Perimeter Associate Faculty member Matthew Johnson comes in. Working with a small team that also includes Perimeter Faculty member Luis Lehner, Johnson is working to bring the multiverse hypothesis firmly into the realm of testable science.

"That’s what this research program is all about," he says. "We’re trying to find out what the testable predictions of this picture would be, and then going out and looking for them."

Specifically, Johnson has been considering the rare cases in which our bubble universe might collide with another bubble universe. He lays out the steps: “We simulate the whole universe. We start with a multiverse that has two bubbles in it, we collide the bubbles on a computer to figure out what happens, and then we stick a virtual observer in various places and ask what that observer would see from there.”

Simulating the whole universe – or more than one – seems like a tall order, but apparently that’s not so.

"Simulating the universe is easy," says Johnson. Simulations, he explains, are not accounting for every atom, every star, or every galaxy – in fact, they account for none of them.

"We’re simulating things only on the largest scales," he says. "All I need is gravity and the stuff that makes these bubbles up. We’re now at the point where if you have a favourite model of the multiverse, I can stick it on a computer and tell you what you should see."

That’s a small step for a computer simulation program, but a giant leap for the field of multiverse cosmology. By producing testable predictions, the multiverse model has crossed the line between appealing story and real science.

In fact, Johnson says, the program has reached the point where it can rule out certain models of the multiverse: “We’re now able to say that some models predict something that we should be able to see, and since we don’t in fact see it, we can rule those models out.”

For instance, collisions of one bubble universe with another would leave what Johnson calls “a disk on the sky” – a circular bruise in the cosmic microwave background. That the search for such a disk has so far come up empty makes certain collision-filled models less likely.

Meanwhile, the team is at work figuring out what other kinds of evidence a bubble collision might leave behind. It’s the first time, the team writes in their paper, that anyone has produced a direct quantitative set of predictions for the observable signatures of bubble collisions. And though none of those signatures has so far been found, some of them are possible to look for.

The real significance of this work is as a proof of principle: it shows that the multiverse can be testable. In other words, if we are living in a bubble universe, we might actually be able to tell. 


IMAGE…. This is a screenshot from a video of Matthew Johnson explaining the related concepts of inflation, eternal inflation, and the multiverse. Credit: Perimeter Institute

Is the universe a bubble? Let’s check

Never mind the big bang; in the beginning was the vacuum. The vacuum simmered with energy (variously called dark energy, vacuum energy, the inflation field, or the Higgs field). Like water in a pot, this high energy began to evaporate – bubbles formed.

Each bubble contained another vacuum, whose energy was lower, but still not nothing. This energy drove the bubbles to expand. Inevitably, some bubbles bumped into each other. It’s possible some produced secondary bubbles. Maybe the bubbles were rare and far apart; maybe they were packed close as foam.

But here’s the thing: each of these bubbles was a universe. In this picture, our universe is one bubble in a frothy sea of bubble universes.

That’s the multiverse hypothesis in a bubbly nutshell.

It’s not a bad story. It is, as scientists say, physically motivated – not just made up, but rather arising from what we think we know about cosmic inflation.

Cosmic inflation isn’t universally accepted – most cyclical models of the universe reject the idea. Nevertheless, inflation is a leading theory of the universe’s very early development, and there is some observational evidence to support it.

Inflation holds that in the instant after the big bang, the universe expanded rapidly – so rapidly that an area of space once a nanometer square ended up more than a quarter-billion light years across in just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. It’s an amazing idea, but it would explain some otherwise puzzling astrophysical observations.

Inflation is thought to have been driven by an inflation field – which is vacuum energy by another name. Once you postulate that the inflation field exists, it’s hard to avoid an “in the beginning was the vacuum” kind of story. This is where the theory of inflation becomes controversial – when it starts to postulate multiple universes.

Proponents of the multiverse theory argue that it’s the next logical step in the inflation story. Detractors argue that it is not physics, but metaphysics – that it is not science because it cannot be tested. After all, physics lives or dies by data that can be gathered and predictions that can be checked.

That’s where Perimeter Associate Faculty member Matthew Johnson comes in. Working with a small team that also includes Perimeter Faculty member Luis Lehner, Johnson is working to bring the multiverse hypothesis firmly into the realm of testable science.

"That’s what this research program is all about," he says. "We’re trying to find out what the testable predictions of this picture would be, and then going out and looking for them."

Specifically, Johnson has been considering the rare cases in which our bubble universe might collide with another bubble universe. He lays out the steps: “We simulate the whole universe. We start with a multiverse that has two bubbles in it, we collide the bubbles on a computer to figure out what happens, and then we stick a virtual observer in various places and ask what that observer would see from there.”

Simulating the whole universe – or more than one – seems like a tall order, but apparently that’s not so.

"Simulating the universe is easy," says Johnson. Simulations, he explains, are not accounting for every atom, every star, or every galaxy – in fact, they account for none of them.

"We’re simulating things only on the largest scales," he says. "All I need is gravity and the stuff that makes these bubbles up. We’re now at the point where if you have a favourite model of the multiverse, I can stick it on a computer and tell you what you should see."

That’s a small step for a computer simulation program, but a giant leap for the field of multiverse cosmology. By producing testable predictions, the multiverse model has crossed the line between appealing story and real science.

In fact, Johnson says, the program has reached the point where it can rule out certain models of the multiverse: “We’re now able to say that some models predict something that we should be able to see, and since we don’t in fact see it, we can rule those models out.”

For instance, collisions of one bubble universe with another would leave what Johnson calls “a disk on the sky” – a circular bruise in the cosmic microwave background. That the search for such a disk has so far come up empty makes certain collision-filled models less likely.

Meanwhile, the team is at work figuring out what other kinds of evidence a bubble collision might leave behind. It’s the first time, the team writes in their paper, that anyone has produced a direct quantitative set of predictions for the observable signatures of bubble collisions. And though none of those signatures has so far been found, some of them are possible to look for.

The real significance of this work is as a proof of principle: it shows that the multiverse can be testable. In other words, if we are living in a bubble universe, we might actually be able to tell.


IMAGE…. This is a screenshot from a video of Matthew Johnson explaining the related concepts of inflation, eternal inflation, and the multiverse. Credit: Perimeter Institute

2 notes

spaceexp:

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle splashing down at 50 mph into a pool at NASA Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. August 2, 2011

spaceexp:

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle splashing down at 50 mph into a pool at NASA Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility. August 2, 2011

168 notes

astronomicalwonders:

The Trifid Nebula - M20
The massive star factory known as the Trifid Nebula was captured in all its glory with the Wide-Field Imager camera attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. The nebula is named after the dark dust bands that trisect its glowing heart, the Trifid Nebula is a rare combination of three nebulae types that reveal the fury of freshly formed stars and point to more star birth in the future.
Credit: ESO/MPG

astronomicalwonders:

The Trifid Nebula - M20

The massive star factory known as the Trifid Nebula was captured in all its glory with the Wide-Field Imager camera attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. The nebula is named after the dark dust bands that trisect its glowing heart, the Trifid Nebula is a rare combination of three nebulae types that reveal the fury of freshly formed stars and point to more star birth in the future.

Credit: ESO/MPG

1,144 notes

spaceexp:

Sunrise on the ISS at 12:58 GMT. Space is such a beautiful place, isn’t it?

spaceexp:

Sunrise on the ISS at 12:58 GMT. Space is such a beautiful place, isn’t it?

397 notes

conrailbrian:

Sinsheim - Technikmuseum Sinsheim - Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde 101-102 Air France F-BVFB 01 by Daniel Mennerich on Flickr.Sinsheim - Technikmuseum Sinsheim - Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde 101-102 Air France F-BVFB 01

conrailbrian:

Sinsheim - Technikmuseum Sinsheim - Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde 101-102 Air France F-BVFB 01 by Daniel Mennerich on Flickr.

Sinsheim - Technikmuseum Sinsheim - Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde 101-102 Air France F-BVFB 01

17 notes

conrailbrian:

Speyer - Technikmuseum Speyer - OK-GLI BTS-02 Buran by Daniel Mennerich on Flickr.Speyer - Technikmuseum Speyer - OK-GLI BTS-02 Buran

conrailbrian:

Speyer - Technikmuseum Speyer - OK-GLI BTS-02 Buran by Daniel Mennerich on Flickr.

Speyer - Technikmuseum Speyer - OK-GLI BTS-02 Buran

4 notes