NASA’s GEDI Mission Will Track Carbon Emissions in Earth’s Forests

By Amber Jorgenson | December 14, 2018 5:36 pm
forest canopy

(Credit: Shutterstock)

The Jedi in Star Wars is all about the force, but NASA’s GEDI is all about the forest.

On December 5, the space agency launched their tree-tracking Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) instrument to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will use laser light to create 3D maps of Earth’s forests and estimate their carbon emissions. Unlike most mappers, GEDI is able to peer below tree canopies and see the vegetation that lies beneath — giving insight into carbon cycling, habitat quality and how human activity impacts forest health. The mission, which was chosen as NASA’s Earth Venture-Instrument in 2014, will be powered on today aboard the Japanese Experiment Module.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

With Fruit Flies, Researchers are Gaining New Insights Into Autism

By Megan Schmidt | December 14, 2018 5:00 pm
Child Watching TV

Sensory overload triggered by everyday stimuli is a common issue experienced by people with autism. Researchers say that sensory issues in autism can be modeled in fruit flies, providing a pathway for future research and treatment development. (Credit: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com)

A telephone ringing. A car horn blaring. Fluorescent lighting overhead. These are everyday sights and sounds that most people don’t give a second thought to. But for a person with autism, being around ordinary sensory stimuli can be uncomfortable or even unbearable.

Autism, typically thought of as a disorder affecting social functioning, can also have a profound effect on sensory processing. Although no two cases of autism are alike, it’s estimated that up to 90 percent of children and adults with autism experience some form of sensory difficulty. Some individuals with autism are overly sensitive to light, sound, touch or scent, while others might appear to be numb to them.

It’s difficult for doctors to treat the strong reactions to light and sound reported by so many people with autism because there hasn’t been much research exploring sensory processing in those with the disorder. However, a team of researchers has shown that the sensory issues in autism can be modeled in fruit flies, marking a significant step toward understanding this complex condition and possibly leading to new therapies.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Juno’s Mission to Jupiter Just Hit Its Halfway Point: What We’ve Learned So Far

By Chelsea Gohd | December 14, 2018 4:38 pm
Jupiter Juno

A multitude of magnificent, swirling clouds in Jupiter’s dynamic North North Temperate Belt is captured in this image from NASA’s Juno spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

Juno’s Flight

NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft is about to fly past Jupiter yet again to gather more data on the gas giant.

On Dec. 21, at 11:49:48 a.m. EST, Juno will pass just 3,140 miles (5,053 km) from Jupiter’s cloud tops at 128,802 miles per hour. This will be the spacecraft’s 16th science pass of the planet, meaning that Juno’s prime mission will be halfway complete.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Scientists Find What Makes Our Bones Strong When We Exercise

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 13, 2018 3:07 pm
people exercising

(Credit: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock)

Exercise is good for us in a lot of ways. It helps cut the pounds, increases cardiovascular health, adds muscle mass and can boost our mood. What it also does, though, is help keep our bones strong.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: aging, personal health

A Nearby Supernova May Have Caused a Mass Extinction 2.6 Million Years Ago

By Alison Klesman | December 13, 2018 2:51 pm
a supernova like this one may have caused a mass extinction

This composite image shows supernova remnant 1E 0102.2-7219, which lies 190,000 light-years away. The supernova that may have caused a mass extinction on Earth was much closer, only about 150 light-years distant.
X-ray (NASA/CXC/MIT/D.Dewey et al. & NASA/CXC/SAO/J.DePasquale); Optical (NASA/STScI)

Supernovae are the explosive end stages of massive stars. About 2.6 million years ago, one such supernova lit up Earth’s sky from about 150 light-years away. A few hundred years later, after the new star had long since faded from the sky, cosmic rays from the event finally reached Earth, slamming into our planet. Now, a group of researchers led by Adrian Melott at the University of Kansas believes this cosmic onslaught is linked to a mass extinction of ocean animals roaming Earth’s waters at the time — including the Megalodon. Their work was published November 27 in Astrobiology.

“Supernovae should have affected Earth at some time or another,” Melott said in a press release. However, in the past, it’s been hard to determine exactly how or when such events would have had an effect. But, according to the group’s paper, “a newly documented marine megafaunal extinction” lines up with the arrival of a potentially lethal influx of radiation, indicating they might be able to pin a particular supernova on a particular event.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Researchers Discover 1.5 Million Hidden Penguins by Looking at their Poop From Space

By Jake Parks | December 13, 2018 2:37 pm
adelie penguins

Adélie penguins in Antarctica. (Credit: vladsilver/Shutterstock)

Monitoring the well-being of Antarctica’s delicate ecosystem just got a little bit easier thanks to a very unlikely source: penguin poop.

By analyzing over 40 years of Antarctic images gathered by seven satellites as part of the Landsat program, a NASA-funded team of researchers recently uncovered new details about the lives of Antarctica’s Adélie penguins — a species that may help reveal past and future threats to one of the most unspoiled regions in the world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

Ancient DNA Reveals The Surprisingly Complex Origin Story of Corn

By Barbara Fraser | December 13, 2018 2:00 pm
corn maize and teosinte

Teosinte and maize look like very different plants, but it only took a few changes to teosinte’s genes to get maize. (Credit: Ándrea Elyse Messer/Penn State)

In Mexico, corn tortillas rule the kitchen. After all, maize began evolving there from a grass called teosinte some 9,000 years ago, eventually becoming a staple consumed around the world.

But that spread presents a puzzle. In 5,300-year-old remains of maize from Mexico, genes from the wild relative show that the plant was still only partly domesticated. Yet archaeological evidence shows that a fully domesticated variety was being grown in South America more than 1,000 years before that.

“How can you have maize as part of a crop complex in South America when domestication isn’t even finished in Mexico?” asks Logan Kistler, curator of archaeobotany and archaeogenomics at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

He and his colleagues now believe they have found the answer in the southwestern Amazon basin, where people apparently continued domesticating an early “proto-maize” from Mexico, as well as other key crops such as manioc, squash and sweet potatoes.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

HGH Treatment Tragedy Suggests Alzheimer’s Might be Transmissible

By Roni Dengler | December 13, 2018 1:32 pm
brain scan alzheimer's

(Credit: Atthapon Raksthaput/Shutterstock)

A medical procedure transferred a key component of Alzheimer’s disease from one person to another, finds a new study published today in the journal Nature. The discovery suggests the seeds of the devastating neurodegenerative disease are transmissible.

“It is a new way of thinking about the condition,” John Collinge, a neurologist at the University of College London in the United Kingdom, who led the new research, told reporters during a media briefing.

Odd Autopsy

Three years ago, Collinge and colleagues found a disturbing collection of clumps in the brains of eight patients who had died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD, a fatal brain disorder. The majority of the patients had sizable aggregates of amyloid-β (Aβ), the key protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, in their brain tissue as well as in the brain’s blood vessels. As children, the patients had received human growth hormone isolated from cadavers to treat various growth deficiencies.

“This was unexpected and completely out of proportion what you’d expect to see in that age group,” Collinge said. The patients were in their 30s and 40s when they died. The researchers could not identify any genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s in the patients. They did not expect to see such extensive Aβ pathology in the patients’ brains.

Collinge and team suspected the patients developed the pathology because the growth hormone they received for treatment as children was contaminated with seeds of Aβ as well as the factors that cause CJD.

Amyloid Seeds

The researchers obtained the vials of growth hormone the patients had received as children and analyzed their biochemical contents. The examination revealed the containers had amyloid-β peptides in them.

The team then injected the growth hormone the patients had received into mice genetically modified to model Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers compared the development of Aβ plaques in these mice to mice that had received a synthetic form of the hormone. They also assessed the development of the plaques in mice that had been injected with material from patients who had died from Alzheimer’s disease.

Injection of the cadaver growth hormone produced the same pathology as the mice injected with the Alzheimer’s tissue, the team found.

“We saw both plaques of the amyloid-β deposits in the brain tissue [and] … around the blood vessels, just as we’d seen [before],” Collinge said. “It reproduced the pathology and formally confirmed that there was seeding activity in these vials.”

The results mean that a key component of Alzheimer’s disease is transmissible. But Collinge cautions transmission occurred as part of particular medical procedures. Alzheimer’s is not contagious.

“You can’t catch any of these diseases through the intimate contact or care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Virgin Galactic Has Launched its SpaceShipTwo Into Space

By Chelsea Gohd | December 13, 2018 1:03 pm
spaceshiptwo

The SpaceShipTwo after flying to space. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Launching Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has followed through with their ambitious goal to launch their SpaceShipTwo vehicle into space before Christmas. Today, the aerospace company successfully launched four NASA-supported technologies and two brave test pilots aboard the suborbital space plane into space and then landed safely back on Earth.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Scientists Create Tiny Nanomaterials By Shrinking Them

By Bill Andrews | December 13, 2018 1:00 pm
shrinking nanomaterials

A set of shapes the researchers created and shrunk, shown before the shrinking process. (Credit: Oran et. al/Science)

The idea of shrinking things down to a more convenient size seems so enticing. It’s a superpower for Ant-Man, kicks off the adventures in Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and, of course, the Simpsons had fun with the idea too. (Shrinkage has come up in other contexts, as well.)

Now, in real life, a team of MIT and Harvard scientists has gotten in on the fun by devising a new way of constructing nanomaterials — tiny machines or structures on the order of just a billionth of a meter. They call it Implosion Fabrication (ImpFab) and they do it by building the materials they want and then literally shrinking them down to the nanoscale. The findings appear today in the journal Science, and may pave the way for next-gen materials, sensors and devices.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
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