NASA reveals new spacesuit for human mission to Moon & traces of glacier found near Mars’s equator

NASA reveals new spacesuit for human mission to Moon & traces of glacier found near Mars’s equator

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

The prototype of the spacesuit NASA has selected | Twitter: @NASA

The prototype of the spacesuit NASA has selected | Twitter: @NASA

New Delhi: NASA has unveiled new spacesuits for its first human mission to the moon in over 50 years. The first prototype was revealed last week during an event at the Space Center Houston in Texas.

NASA’s planned mission to the moon, Artemis III, will land astronauts, including the first woman, on the moon to advance long-term lunar exploration and scientific discovery.

NASA selected a company called Axiom Space to deliver the moonwalking system, including the spacesuit, for the mission. Called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, the spacesuit builds on NASA’s spacesuit prototype developments and incorporates the latest technology, enhanced mobility, and added protection from hazards at the moon.

Axion Space will be building these suits according to NASA-defined technical and safety standards. The AxEMU features the range of motion and flexibility needed to explore more of the lunar landscape, and the suit will fit a broad range of crew members.

Axiom Space will continue to apply modern technological innovations in life support systems, pressure garments, and avionics as development continues. Read more

Also read: Unusual circular sand dunes spotted on Mars & how a Jurassic-era insect made its way to Walmart

Relict glacier found on Mars

Scientists have discovered a relict glacier near Mars’s equator, a finding that implies the presence of surface water ice on the planet in recent times.

This discovery raises the possibility that ice may still exist at shallow depths in the area, which could have significant implications for future human exploration.

The surface feature identified as a “relict glacier” is one of many light-toned deposits (LTDs) found in the region. Typically, LTDs consist mainly of light-coloured sulfate salts, but this deposit also shows many of the features of a glacier, including crevasse fields and moraine bands. A crevasse is a deep, wedge-shaped opening in a glacier, while a moraine is material left behind by the moving mass of ice.

The glacier is estimated to be 6 kilometres long and up to 4 kilometres wide, with a surface elevation ranging from +1.3 to +1.7 kilometres. This discovery suggests that Mars’s recent history may have been more watery than previously thought, which could have implications for understanding the planet’s habitability.

The presence of volcanic material blanketing the region hints at how the sulfate salts might have formed and preserved a glacier’s imprint underneath, believe scientists. When freshly erupted pyroclastic materials (mixtures of volcanic ash, pumice, and hot lava blocks) come in contact with water ice, sulfate salts like the ones commonly making up Mars’s light-toned deposits may form and build up into a hardened, crusty salt layer.

Over time, with erosion removing the blanketing volcanic materials, a crusty layer of sulfates mirroring the glacier ice underneath became exposed, which would explain how a salt deposit is now visible, presenting features unique to glaciers.

It remains to be seen whether water ice might still be preserved underneath the light-toned deposit or if it has disappeared entirely. Read more

How to generate new neurons in the brain

Scientists from the Universities of Geneva (UNIGE) and Lausanne (UNIL) have discovered how to wake up neural stem cells and reactivate them. The team succeeded in increasing the number of new neurons in the brain of adult and even elderly mice.

These results, published in the Scientific Advances journal, may pave the way for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

Stem cells have the unique ability to continuously produce copies of themselves and give rise to differentiated cells with more specialised functions. Neural stem cells (NSCs) are responsible for building the brain during embryonic development, generating all the cells of the central nervous system, including neurons.

NSCs persist in certain brain regions even after the brain is fully formed and can make new neurons throughout life. This biological phenomenon, called adult neurogenesis, is important for specific functions such as learning and memory processes.

However, in the adult brain, these stem cells become more silent or ”dormant” and reduce their capacity for renewal and differentiation. As a result, neurogenesis decreases significantly with age. Now, the team has uncovered a metabolic mechanism by which adult NSCs can emerge from their dormant state and become active. Read more

3D molecular images of odour receptors

Scientists at UC San Francisco (UCSF) have created the first molecular-level, 3D picture of how an odour molecule activates a human odorant receptor, that can help decipher the sense of smell.

The findings, published in the Nature journal, can advance the interest in the science of fragrances, food science, and beyond.

Odorant receptors — proteins that bind odour molecules on the surface of olfactory cells—make up half of the largest, most diverse family of receptors in our bodies. A deeper understanding of them paves the way for new insights about a range of biological processes.

Smell involves about 400 unique receptors. Each of the scents we can detect is made of a mixture of different odour molecules. Each type of molecule may be detected by an array of receptors, creating a puzzle for the brain to solve each time the nose catches a whiff of something new. Read more

Also read: Scientists ‘read’ octopus minds for the first time, discover distinct brain activity patterns

Scientists map marine heatwaves 

Scientists have managed to map marine heatwaves under water.

Marine heatwaves dramatically impact the health of ocean ecosystems around the globe, disrupting the productivity and distribution of organisms as small as plankton and as large as whales. As a result, there has been a considerable effort to study, track and predict the timing, intensity, duration, and physical drivers of these events.

Most of that research has focused on temperature extremes at the ocean’s surface, for which there are many more high-quality observations taken by satellites, ships, and buoys. Sea surface temperatures can also be indicators for many physical and biochemical ocean characteristics of sensitive marine ecosystems, making analyses more straightforward.

About 90 per cent of the excess heat from global warming has been absorbed by the ocean, which has warmed by about 1.5 degree Celsius over the past century. Marine heatwaves have become about 50 per cent more frequent over the past decade.

In recent years, scientists have increased efforts to investigate marine heatwaves throughout the water column using the limited data available. But earlier research didn’t target temperature extremes on the ocean bottom along continental shelves, which provide critical habitat for important commercial species like lobsters, scallops, crabs, flounder, cod and other groundfish.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists used a data product called “reanalysis” to conduct the assessment, which starts with available observations and employs computer models that simulate ocean currents and the influence of the atmosphere to “fill in the blanks”.

Using a similar technique, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists have been able to reconstruct global weather back to the early 19th century.

While ocean reanalyses have been around for a long time, they have only recently become skillful enough and have high enough resolution to examine ocean features, including bottom temperatures, near the coast. Read more

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

Also read: A room-temperature superconductor that works in low pressure, and losing Spock’s Vulcan