Monday, 27 June, 2022
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Scientists find world’s oldest flower bud fossil, and China makes ‘artificial moon’ on Earth

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

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New Delhi: Scientists in China have discovered the world’s oldest fossil record of flower buds, dating back to over 164 million years ago. Usually, flowers and their parts are too frail and do not get fossilised.

As a result, there is very little fossil evidence of identified angiosperms or flowering plants. This makes the origin of angiosperms and their flowers the focus of intense scientific debate and controversy in botany.

A team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with scientists from South China Agricultural University, have now documented a fossil flower bud, Florigerminis jurassica, from Inner Mongolia in China.

The fossil not only includes a leafy branch, but also a physically connected fruit and flower bud. The findings show that angiosperms were present in the Jurassic period. Read more.

Scientists create long-lasting bubbles

A team from the University of Lille, France, has created bubbles that maintain their structure over 200,000 times longer than usual. One of the bubbles they created lasted for 465 days.

The long-lived bubbles, which have a layered shell structure made from plastic particles, glycerol, and water, could be used to create stable foams.

The team studied a type of bubble known as a gas marble. Such bubbles are typically made from a liquid solution that contains plastic beads. The beads pack together on the bubble’s shell, making the bubble strong enough to be held in hand or rolled along a surface.

Researchers have explored the mechanical properties of gas marbles, but until now, their lifetimes had not been studied. For its experiments, the team studied three different types of bubbles — traditional soap bubbles, water-based gas marbles, and water-glycerol-based gas marbles.

They monitored the bubbles using a balance and a camera. As expected, the soap bubbles lived for around a minute before bursting, while the water-based gas marbles lasted a little longer, taking between six to 60 minutes before collapsing.

With a high enough glycerol concentration, water-glycerol marbles remained intact for significantly longer, with the longest-lasting one surviving for 465 days after it was made.

The increased longevity of the water-glycerol marbles comes from the stabilising effects of the glycerol. Glycerol has a strong affinity with water and is known to absorb water from air. This compensates for evaporation, which would otherwise dry out a soap bubble, while the presence of the particles prevents drainage of water from the shell, both of which are known causes of bubble rupture. Read more.


Also read: Volcanic eruption on tiny Tonga shook the world: What we know about the causes and impact so far


Hubble spots black hole that is creating stars

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a black hole at the heart of a dwarf galaxy 30 million light-years away that is creating stars rather than destroying them. According to researchers the black hole is contributing to the firestorm of new star formation taking place in the galaxy.

A decade ago, this small galaxy, called Henize 2-10, had set off debate among astronomers as to whether dwarf galaxies were home to black holes proportional to the supermassive ones found in the hearts of larger galaxies. With this discovery, Henize 2-10, which contains only one-tenth the number of stars found in our Milky Way, will play a big part in solving the mystery of where supermassive black holes came from in the first place.

An image of the central region of dwarf starburst galaxy shows an outflow or bridge of hot gas 230 light-years long, connecting the galaxy’s massive black hole and a star-forming region.

This is the opposite of what’s seen in larger galaxies, where material falling toward the black hole is whisked away by surrounding magnetic fields, forming blazing jets of plasma moving at close to the speed of light.

Gas clouds caught in the jets’ path would be heated far beyond their ability to cool back down and form stars. But with the less-massive black hole in Henize 2-10, and its gentler outflow, gas was compressed just enough to precipitate new star formation. Read more.

Did Antarctica iceberg dump 152 bn tonnes of freshwater in sea?

Researchers suggest that a giant iceberg named A-68, snapped off from Antarctica, may have dumped 152 billion tonnes of freshwater into the sea.

In July 2017, A-68 snapped off Antarctica’s Larsen-C ice shelf and began a journey across the Southern Ocean. Three and a half years later, the main part of the iceberg drifted worryingly close to South Georgia Island, which lies east of South America and the Falkland Islands. Concerns were that the berg would run aground in the shallow waters offshore. This would not only cause damage to the seafloor ecosystem but also make it difficult for island wildlife, such as penguins, to make their way to the sea to feed.

Using measurements from satellites, scientists have charted how A-68 shrunk towards the end of its voyage, which fortunately prevented it from getting stuck. However, the downside is that it released a colossal 152 billion tonnes of freshwater close to the island, potentially having a profound effect on the island’s marine life.

When A-68 was spawned, it had a surface area of more than twice the size of Luxemburg — one of the largest icebergs on record.

When icebergs detach from ice shelves, they drift with the ocean currents and wind, releasing cold fresh meltwater and nutrients as they melt. This process influences the local ocean circulation and fosters biological production around the iceberg.

The research team will now study what impact this huge amount of meltwater had on the ecosystem around South Georgia. Read more.

China builds ‘artificial moon’ on Earth

Researchers from the China University of Mining and Technology have built a facility that mimics the low-gravity environments of the Moon, using magnetism.

The Chinese are calling this an “artificial moon”. The facility will use powerful magnetic fields inside a two-foot-diameter vacuum chamber to counteract the earth’s gravitational pull.

According to the researchers, the inspiration for the chamber came from Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in the UK, who won the satirical Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 for devising an experiment that made a frog float with a magnet.

Researchers told the Chinese media that this chamber will be filled with rocks and dust to imitate the lunar surface. Scientists plan to use the facility to test the technology in prolonged low-gravity environments before it is sent to the Moon, where gravity is just one-sixth of its strength on Earth.

The tests completed in the chamber will be used to inform China’s lunar exploration program Chang’e. China has also declared that it will establish a lunar research station on the Moon’s south pole by 2029. Read more.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: ‘Major barriers’ broken as pig kidneys transplanted in brain-dead man produce urine for 74 hrs


 

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