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Updates from NASA, Jeff Bezos, and more!

SCIAPHILA SUGIMOTOI, MALE FLOWER
PHOTO CREDIT: TAKAOMI SUGIMOTO

There are certain things in this universe that are just too amazing to be true. Like this beautiful species of a plant you see on the cover picture of this article or like a planet where it rains diamonds, or the tiniest of particles and their properties. Like the Origin of life, or the mysteries of the human brain. The list goes on, and today let us see some amazing stuff to add to it. Here is another edition adding to the “Latest in Research” series, where I take my pick of top 5 developments in science in recent times as I keep track of interesting news from across the globe and beyond!

Last 7 to 10 days or so have seen some interested updates from key people in the tech industry. Here is a wholesome article, celebrating scientific discoveries ranging from Astronomy to Biology and remembering all that’s important.

Cold, Colder, and Coldest; NASA set to break a record of Nature!

The Boomerang Nebula (Source: Wikipedia)

What is the coldest place on Earth? You might have guessed it may be somewhere in Antarctica. Of-course, it is freezing out there with temperatures of the East Antarctica Plateau dropping to less than -133 degree Fahrenheit. That would be a whopping -92 degree Celsius.

If you think it’s not quite cold enough to be amazed, let us go beyond the limit. My next question, What is the coldest place in the entire Universe? Not so easy to guess without prior knowledge. At a temperature range of 1 Kelvin (-272.15 degree Celsius), there is an object about 5000 light years away, called the Boomerang Nebula making it the coldest natural place in the known universe. Next logical thought would be, what about free space or vacuum? Shouldn’t that be more colder? Not quite. It is indeed cold at about 2.7 Kelvin and that’s the minimum temperature of vacuum far from any star of other heat sources. That temperature is attributed to the uniform cosmic microwave background radiation present everywhere in Space.

In an interesting Man vs Nature scenario, Nature’s record is set at 1 kelvin, but humans have achieved temperatures much below that! Technically 0 kelvin is impossible to achieve but we can get really close to it using modern techniques like laser cooling, and when that happens, weird things can be observed. I mean, really weird things but that’s a topic for another day.

Guess what? NASA is now taking these numbers to a next level to create the coldest spot ever at about a billion times colder than free space. The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) developed by scientists is set to achieve this. This payload was on board the recent launch to the International Space Station.

An official press release from NASA gives us an update about what they are planning to do as follows;

“ In the microgravity environment of the space station, CAL can observe these ultra-cold atoms for much longer than possible on Earth. Results of this research could lead to a number of improved technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation.”

-NASA press release

Your Amazon package has been delivered to Moon!

Image Credit: GeekWire

We are clearly the generation that will lay the foundations to interplanetary colonization and space tourism on a massive scale. With Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos’s space venture “Blue Origin”, he joins the space race along with Elon Musk and SpaceX. While Elon musk wants to colonize mars, Jeff Bezos envisions to create a lunar settlement and promote space tourism. The International Space Development Conference was held from May 24th-27th this year and we get some update of Bezos’s plan for the future where he was one of the key speakers.

He was open to partnership with NASA or ESA for this project but was determined to do it alone if he had to. With him around, surely Blue Origin wouldn’t have to worry about the funding.

May be his vision of establishing a base on moon before mars is more practical. These developments only hint towards the inevitable expansion of mankind into the outer space. If a Moon base was indeed successfully established within out life times, you can be sure that we will definitely get an Amazon office on Moon. May be, in time, that day would come when humans on moon would probably be ordering a fidget spinner from the Earth on Amazon. Of course, it might be quite difficult to offer a free delivery though!

What lies beneath the depths of ice in Antarctica?

Antarctica (Image Source: WikiTravels)

Outer space is sure fun to explore but there are still places right here on Earth no man has ever reached, like the depths of the oceans and Antarctica. For a very long time, Antarctica remained the land of mystery.

It might appear to be the most lifeless continent on the world map or even when you look at it from outer space but it wasn’t always that way. Recently we have an interesting update as scientists continue to explore this land of the unknown.

The ice on Antarctica can go up to 2 long kilometers in depth! It was natural for scientists to be curious about what lies beneath it. Scientists have recently discovered the same. Before I “break the ice” for you, let me tell about the PolarGAP project, the data of which was used for this research. In simple terms, it was a project to fill in the missing data in the region around south pole that could help scientists to map the geological structure of that area.

A rendering of the mountains and canyons below the ice.Image: Tom Jordan/Northumbria University

Without going too technical, here is the news! There are mountain ranges and three huge valleys hiding beneath the ice! This place has been isolated and untouched for more than 100,000 years and these structures may clearly indicate and remnants of an ancient ecosystem. What will we find there? Fossils of unknown species or Rare forms of life? The Artifacts left behind from the ancient era, irrespective of what they turn out to be, will be valuable and help us in someway solving the puzzles of the past.

The more concerning part to think now is the future. Understanding the structure of Antarctica can help us predict the changes that may occur due to climate change and global warming. How will Antarctica influence in the rising of global sea levels?

Perhaps the most exciting part of this research is finding out about an Antarctica before it became the ice continent as we know it today? How did those mountains form? What was it like before the ice sheets were created? This is the first step towards that direction and more analysis and research is sure to lead to some interesting discoveries.

Most interesting species discovered in the last one year

Life on Earth is one more thing that mankind is yet to completely explore. Many species get extinct even before they are discovered or documented. It was estimated that as many as 18000 new species are documented every year but over 20,000 species go extinct at the same time.

The International Institute of Species Exploration is an organization dedicated to documenting newly discovered species, promoting and conserving bio-diversity. Every year on the 23rd of May in memory of the birth anniversary of Carolus Linnaeus, the Father of Taxonomy, they release a list of “Top 10 new species discovered” from the previous year.

This year’s list has some really intriguing creatures. As much speculative as Space science is, evolution of life is equally enthralling. I’m sure you’ll agree after seeing that list. (I have included the link at the end) Now I’ll tell about my two best picks from those 10 new species.

LATERAL VIEW OF NYMPHISTER KRONAUERI ATTACHED TO AN ECITON MEXICANUM ARMY ANT WORKER
PHOTO CREDIT: © D. KRONAUER

Nymphister kronaueri:

If you just look at the image on the left, you will see this camouflaged creature. It is a beetle that lives on an army ant. How fancy is that? It gets more interesting on exploring further. Look at evolution in action. The color of the beetle is same as the skin of the ant. The beetle is also able to hide it’s presence and not become a prey itself for the ants. It attaches to the abdomen and lets the ant do the walking for it.

SCIAPHILA SUGIMOTOI, FEMALE FLOWER
PHOTO CREDIT: TAKAOMI SUGIMOTO

Sciaphila sugimotoi:

This one is absolutely stunning to look at and immediately grasped my attention. The color and texture look as if taken right out from a fantasy novel. This new species “Sciaphila sugimotoi” is an exotic plant discovered in Japan. This was also my choice for the cover picture of this article as you may have noticed.

What’s so special about it? As you can see, it doesn’t have chlorophyll and hence there is no Photosynthesis. This critically endangered plant lives on a symbiotic relationship with a fungus for it’s sustenance.

How is knowing any of this useful? Nature is often a source of unparalleled inspiration and creativity. The wondrous living creatures we see around are a culmination of millions of years of evolution. May be, the Nymphister could inspire a video game artist to create a new character based on that. The design of Sciaphila could very well be used in movies and other media as a prop or terrain material of alien planets. Nature is storehouse of ideas if you look at it with a different perspective.

Who was the fourth man to walk on Moon?

Bean on Moon during Apollo 12 mission

In most aspects of human life and achievements, first time is always special and is widely remembered. Most people wouldn’t recollect about the 2nd time itself but today let us remember someone who was a fourth!

The final pick of this article is dedicated to the fourth man who walked on Moon. He was none other than Astronaut Alan bean. Aged 86, he passed away on May 26th, 2018 leaving behind him a lesser known legacy as compared to his counterparts but an equally meritorious one. He was part of Apollo 12, the second manned mission to moon. After resigning as an Astronaut, he devoted his time to painting, something he loved doing.

Rest in Peace, Alan Bean. You will be remembered, not just as the fourth man on Moon, but also as a painter who painted the skies and beyond and has actually been there too!

To end with, there is something common to all these discoveries if you think carefully.

“It exists because we observe it”

What do you think? It’s all in the human mind, our understanding and ability to comprehend nature is in itself incomprehensible! New inventions and discoveries are made everyday with most of them in the field of Astronomy and Biology at this moment. Who knows what will be found next?

Link to 2018 Top 10 New Species

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