New Delhi: A team of scientists have discovered nearly 15,000-year-old viruses in two ice samples taken from the Tibetan Plateau in China and most of them are unlike any viruses that have been catalogued to date.
For this study, the scientists also created a new method of analysing microbes and viruses in ice without contaminating it. The findings may help scientists understand how viruses evolved over centuries.
These glaciers were formed gradually, and along with dust and gases, many viruses were also deposited in the ice. Ice cores are like time capsules that scientists have used to understand more about climate change, microbes, viruses and gases throughout history.
The researchers analysed ice cores taken in 2015 from the summit of Guliya in western China, which were collected from a height of nearly 22,000 feet above sea level.
Researchers determined that the ice was nearly 15,000 years old, using a combination of traditional and new techniques to date the ice core.
The team found genetic codes for 33 viruses in the core. While four of them have already been identified by the scientific community, at least 28 of them are novel.
About half of them seemed to have survived because of the ice, not inspite of it. This implies that the viruses thrived in extreme environments.
The analysis also showed that the viruses likely originated from soil or plants, not animals or humans, based on both the environment and the databases of known viruses. Read more here.
3D scanning reveals sharks have spiral intestines
For the first time, researchers have produced a series of high-resolution, 3D scans of the intestines of nearly three dozen shark species. The images show that the sharks have unique spiral intestines.
The researchers developed a new method to digitally scan tissues and study them in detail without having to slice into them.
The researchers primarily used a computerised tomography (CT) scanner to create 3D images of shark intestines, which came from specimens preserved at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in the US.
The machine works like a standard CT scanner used in hospitals. A series of X-ray images are taken from different angles, which are combined using computer processing to create three-dimensional images.
This allows researchers to see the complexities of a shark intestine without having to dissect or disturb it.
The scans showed that these spiral-shaped organs slow down the movement of food and direct it downward through the gut, relying on gravity in addition to the rhythmic contraction of the gut’s smooth muscle.
Its function resembles the one-way valve designed more than a century ago by Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American inventor, that allows fluid to flow in one direction without backflow or assistance from any moving parts. Read more here.
Jets from supermassive blackhole discovered for the first time
An international team of scientists have managed to capture an image of the nearby radio galaxy, Centaurus A’s heart in unprecedented detail. Radio galaxies are very luminous at radio wavelengths.
The images revealed the location of the supermassive black hole, with a mass equal to 55 million suns, at the centre of the galaxy and a gigantic jet being ejected out by it.
Supermassive black holes residing in the centre of galaxies like Centaurus A feed off gas and dust that gets attracted by their enormous gravitational pull. This process releases massive amounts of energy, which is what makes the galaxy ‘active’ and most matter lying close to the edge of the black hole falls in.
However, some of the surrounding particles escape moments before capture and are blown far out into space. This is how jets — one of the most mysterious and energetic features of galaxies — are born.
The images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration, which captured the first image of a black hole in the galaxy Messier 87 in 2019, challenges the existing theories about the formation of these jets.
At radio wavelengths, Centaurus A emerges as one of the largest and brightest objects in the night sky. After it was identified as one of the first known extragalactic radio sources in 1949, Centaurus A has been studied extensively.
The new images allow scientists to study an extragalactic radio jet on scales smaller than the distance light travels in one day.
Compared to all previous high-resolution observations, the jet launched in Centaurus A is imaged at a tenfold higher frequency and at a resolution that is 16 times sharper. Read more here.
Russia’s multipurpose space lab module launched
Russia’s multipurpose laboratory module, the largest ever module from the country, has been successfully launched by the country’s space agency Roscosmos this week.
Called the Russian Multipurpose Research Module (MLM), also known as Nauka, the module was launched aboard the Proton-M rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 21 July.
The module will travel for eight days to arrive at the International Space Station docking port. The docking is scheduled for 29 July.
In 2004, Roscosmos had said that Nauka would be ready for launch in 2007, but its launch has since been repeatedly delayed.
The module is designated for implementing the programmes related to applied research and experiments. With this module, the Russian segment of the International Space Station will get additional space for equipping workplaces, storing cargo and accommodating water and oxygen regeneration equipment.
The Nauka module will provide a second toilet for Russian cosmonauts, and room for a third crew-member. It will also use the European Robotic Arm (ERA) that will help perform some operations without spacewalks. Read more here.
Scientists find finger-sized fossil of 308-million-year-old creature
Scientists have discovered a finger-sized fossil of ancient creatures known as microsaurs, dating back to over 308 million years ago, much before dinosaurs appeared on Earth.
Microsaurs lived during what is known as the Carboniferous period when amniotes — predecessors of modern mammals and reptiles — first appeared.
The fossil was found in the US and has a serpent-like body, which inspired the researchers to name the species after Jörmungandr, a giant sea serpent from Norse mythology who battled with Thor.
However, unlike Jörmungandr, who grew so large that it was able to surround the Earth and grasp its own tail, the microsaur was only about five centimetres long. The animal had four short, plump legs.
The fossil that researchers found also contained the animal’s skin, which is very rare for fossils.
Contrary to previous knowledge about microsaurs, who had been classed as amphibians, the team discovered that Jörmungandr had scales. The finding is expected to contribute to the theories revolving around the origin of life on Earth. Read more here.
(Edited by Rachel John)
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