Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Curiosity Detects Methane

News flash! NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a 10X spike in methane, an organic chemical in the atmosphere and detected other organic molecules in a rock sample gathered by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

So since it is probably not coming from belching cows like here on Earth, where is the methane coming from?



"This temporary increase in methane -- sharply up and then back down -- tells us there must be some relatively localized source," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock."

Organic molecules, often loaded with carbon and hydrogen, are thought of as chemical building blocks of life (but they can exist without the presence of life). Curiosity's findings from atmospheric and rock samples don't tell us whether Mars has living microorganisms (or has ever had them), but the data shows that Mars is chemically active and may have favorable conditions for life.
Go science!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Complex Chemistry in Ocean Spray

 


Have you ever wondered why the ocean is so refreshing? Researchers in San Diego, California at the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment have some of the answers and are working on finding more. It turns out that ocean spray is quite complex and filled with all kinds of interesting things.

Chemists and co-directors of the UCSD Center, Kimberly Prather, Ph.D. (UCSD) and Vicki Grassian, Ph.D. at the Univ. of Iowa are recreating the ocean-atmosphere environment in the laboratory to study how chemical changes in seawater affect the composition and cloud forming ability of sea spray aerosols. The intent of the researchers' experiments is to obtain a more accurate example of aerosol chemistry in computer climate models. 

Ocean research in San Diego? My kind of science!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

CIBER Spots Outcast Stars

Data from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, provided support that background infrared light in the universe (seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope), comes from distant stars ejected from parent galaxies. 

"We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions," said Michael Zemcov, Ph.D., experimental astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Using smaller suborbital NASA rockets, CIBER spotted two cosmic infrared (IR) wavelengths shorter than those measured by Spitzer. The light appears to come from a previously undetected population of stars between galaxies and CIBER measurements suggest the IR glow between distant galaxies is caused by orphan stars.

To test whether stray stars have been spun off from parent galaxies, future CIBER experiments will check to see if the stars are still located in roughly the same neighborhood. Go science!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Neuroprosthetics or Making Stuff Work with Your Mind

Recently I came across an article in New Scientist online about progress being made in the advancing area of neuroprosthetics

Put simply, a neuroprosthetic is a device that boosts the input/output of the nervous system (electrical brain signals). These initiated and/or amplified signals help replace signals that have been short-circuited by disease or trauma. Researchers are also designing bidirectional brain-computer interfaces that link a device (e.g., robotic arm) to sensory nerves and muscles.

Surgical implants are being tested that restore functionality in patients with severe sensory or motor disabilities. External non-invasive brain simulators are even being sold that improve attention span while gaming. I might buy one to boost my attention when I have to gather all the information to do my taxes every year. A major snooze fest activity.

Some devices collect external stimuli/input and convert it to a signal the nervous system recognizes (e.g., cochlear implant or retinal prosthesis). This would give many folks with loss of sensory function or disabilities much more independence. Go science!