Roughly 25 percent (23.4 percent to be exact) of the Earth’s sea floor has been mapped, thanks to an international initiative known as Seabed 2030. Relying largely on voluntary contributions of bathymetric data (or ocean topography) by governments, companies and research institutions, the project is part of a larger UN-led initiative called The Ocean Decade. Seabed 2030 hopes to map 100 percent of the ocean floor by 2030, which researchers say will be possible thanks to advances in technology and corralling already available data. Over the past year alone, Seabed 2030 has added measurements for around 3.8 million square miles (roughly the size of Europe) primarily through newly opened archives, rather than active mapping efforts.
Scientists believe collecting more bathymetric data will help further our understanding of climate change and ocean preservation efforts. Ocean floor mapping also helps in the detection of tsunamis and other natural disasters. “A complete map of the ocean floor is the missing tool that will enable us to tackle some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, including climate change and marine pollution. It will enable us to safeguard the planet’s future,” said Mitsuyuki Unno, executive director of The Nippon Foundation in a press release.
As the BBC notes, much of the data used in Seabed 2030 already existed. The group largely relies on contributions from governments and companies, though some of these entities are still reluctant to completely open up their archives for fear of spilling national or trade secrets.
All the data that Seabed 2030 is collecting will be available to the public online on the GEBCO (General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans) global grid. Prior to Seabed 2030, very little directly measured ocean floor data was available for public use. Most bathymetric measurements are estimated using satellite altimeter readings, which give a very rough idea of the shape of the sea floor surface. Some scientists believe a global effort to locate the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 would have been better informed by newer, more precise methods to chart the ocean floor.
Rocket Lab has successfully launched NASA's 55-pound CAPSTONE cubesat that will eventually orbit the moon if all goes to plan. It's a small but important step in NASA's Artemis mission that aims to send humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.
The launch proceeded nominally according to NASA's broadcast, reaching low-Earth orbit at about 'T' plus 10 minutes. An Electron launch is much like any other, except that it's the first rocket to be electrically powered by batteries rather than a gas turbine. As such, there's a phase called "battery ejection" which happens near the end of the launch cycle.
Rocket Lab used an Electron rocket with a special addition called the Lunar Photon upper stage with enough power to send it into deep space. It's one of the smallest rockets to attempt to launch a payload to lunar orbit, the company said. It launched from Rocket Lab's site on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, and is "the highest mass and the highest performance Electron has ever had to fly by quite some margin," the company told TechCrunch earlier.
CAPSTONE will orbit Earth for nine days to build up enough speed for a trans lunar injection (TLI) that will allow it to eventually orbit the moon. The primary objective is to verify a type of highly elliptical lunar orbit called "near rectilinear halo" that's planned for the Gateway space station. Gateway will eventually be delivered to lunar orbit by SpaceX with a science lab and living quarters for astronauts, along with ports for future spacecraft.
Rocket Lab was supposed to launch CAPSTONE yesterday but delayed it until today "to perform final system checks," NASA tweeted. Regardless of the launch date, it's scheduled to arrive at the moon on November 13th. To see a replay of the livecast, check here.
Think the computers at your office are overdue for an update? They probably don't compare to one of the European Space Agency's best-known spacecraft. The ESA is upgrading its Mars Express orbiter's MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ioniospheric Sounding) software 19 years after its June 2003 launch. For context, the original code was created using a toolset built for Windows 98 — there are computers in museums that are newer than Microsoft's OS.
The update promises to dramatically improve the Mars Express craft's efficiency. The initial approach gathered large amounts of high-resolution data that quickly swamped memory. With the new software, scientists can toss out unnecessary data. This lets MARSIS run for five times longer than before, and cover much wider swaths of Mars and Phobos in a given pass.
The improvement should help explore the subsurface levels of Mars and Phobos in much greater detail. Researchers hope the extra resolution will let them quickly confirm signals hinting at liquid water near Mars' south pole. In effect, the MARSIS revamp will make sure Mars Express can continue its mission.
Mars Express is most famous for discovering previous signs of liquid water on the Red Planet, but it's also known for capturing dramatic visuals of the martian landscape. While it won't necessarily make similar headlines as a result of the update, it should remain relevant where it might have become obsolete.
There are , whether it’s from or , or . And is death by radiation.
Those same energetic emissions from our local star that give you a tan can if it doesn’t . While today’s low Earth orbit crew and cargo capsules may not come equipped with miniature magnetospheres of their own, tomorrow’s might — or maybe we’ll just protect humanity’s first deep space explorers from interstellar radiation by .
Types of Radiation and what to do about them
Like strokes and folks, there are different types and sources of radiation both terrestrial and in space. Non-ionizing radiation, meaning the atom doesn’t have enough energy to fully remove an electron from its orbit, can be found in microwaves, light bulbs, and Solar Energetic Particles (SEP) like . While these forms of radiation can damage materials and biological systems, their effects can typically be blocked (hence sunscreen and microwaves that don't irradiate entire kitchens) or screened by the Ozone layer or .
Earth’s radiation belts are filled with energetic particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field that can wreak havoc with electronics we send to space. Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman
Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, is energetic to shed an electron and there isn’t much that can slow their positively-charged momentum. Alpha and beta particles, Gamma rays, X-rays and Galactic Cosmic Rays, “heavy, high-energy ions of elements that have had all their electrons stripped away as they journeyed through the galaxy at nearly the speed of light,” . “GCR are a dominant source of radiation that must be dealt with aboard current spacecraft and future space missions within our solar system.” GCR intensity is inversely proportional to the relative strength of the Sun’s magnetic field, meaning that they are strongest when the Sun’s field is at its weakest and least able to deflect them.
Despite their dissimilar natures, both GCR and SEP along with our biological bodies themselves. Their continued bombardment has a cumulative negative effect on human physiology resulting not just in cancer but cataracts, neurological damage, germline mutations, and acute radiation sickness if the dose is high enough. For materials, high-energy particles and photons can cause “temporary damage or permanent failure of spacecraft materials or devices,” Zicai Shen of the Beijing Institute of Spacecraft Environment Engineering notes in 2019’s .
“Charged particles gradually lose energy as they pass through the material, and finally, capture a sufficient number of electrons to stop,” they added. “When the thickness of the shielding material is greater than the range of a charged particle in the material, the incident particles will be blocked in the material.”
How NASA currently protects its astronauts
To ensure that tomorrow’s astronauts arrive at Mars with all of their teeth and fingernails intact, NASA has spent nearly four decades collecting data and studying the effects radiation has on the human body. The agency’s (SRAG) at Johnson Space Center is, according to its website, “responsible for ensuring that the radiation exposure received by astronauts remains below .”
, “the typical average dose for a person is about 360 mrems per year, or 3.6 mSv, which is a small dose. However, International Standards allow exposure to as much as 5,000 mrems (50 mSv) a year for those who work with and around radioactive material. For spaceflight, the limit is higher. The NASA limit for radiation exposure in low-Earth orbit is 50 mSv/year, or 50 rem/year.”
SRAG’s Space Environment Officers (SEOs) are tasked with ensuring that the astronauts can successfully complete their mission without absorbing too many RADs. They take into account the various environmental and situational factors present during a spaceflight — whether the astronauts are in LEO or on the lunar surface, whether they stay in the spacecraft or take a spacewalk, or — combine and model that information with data collected from as well as , to make their decisions.
The at Goddard Space Flight Center, serves much the same purpose as SRAG but for mechanical systems, working to develop more effective shielding and more robust materials for use in orbit.
“We will be able to ensure that humans, electronics, spacecraft and instruments — anything we are actually sending into space — will survive in the environment we are putting it in,” Megan Casey, an aerospace engineer in the REAG said in a . “Based on where they’re going, we tell mission designers what their space environment will be like, and they come back to us with their instrument plans and ask, ‘Are these parts going to survive there?’ The answer is always yes, no, or I don’t know. If we don’t know, that’s when we do additional testing. That’s the vast majority of our job.”
NASA’s research will continue and expand throughout the upcoming Artemis mission era. , both the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft will be outfitted with sensors measuring radiation levels in deep space beyond the moon — specifically looking at the differences in relative levels beyond the Earth’s Van Allen Belts. Data collected and lessons learned from these initial uncrewed flights will help NASA engineers build better, more protective spacecraft in the future.
And once it does eventually get built, crews aboard will maintain an expansive radiation sensor suite, including the , designed to carefully and continually measure levels within the station as it makes its week-long oblong orbit around the moon.
“Understanding the effects of the radiation environment is not only critical for awareness of the environment where astronauts will live in the vicinity of the Moon, but it will also provide important data that can be used as NASA prepares for even greater endeavors, like sending the first humans to Mars,” Dina Contella, manager for Gateway Mission Integration and Utilization, said in .
NASA might use magnetic bubbles in the future
Tomorrow’s treks into interplanetary space, where GCR and SEP are more prevalent, are going to require more comprehensive protection than the current state of the art passive shielding materials and space weather forecasting predictions can deliver. And since the Earth’s own magnetosphere has proven so handy, researchers with the European Commission's (CORDIS) have researched creating one small enough to fit on a spaceship, dubbed the Space Radiation Superconducting Shield (SR2S).
The €2.7 million SR2S program, which ran from 2013 to 2015, expanded on the idea of using superconducting magnets to generate a radiation-stopping magnetic force field first devised by ex-Nazi aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun in 1969. The magnetic field produced would be more than 3,000 times more concentrated than the one encircling the Earth and would extend out in a 10-meter sphere.
“In the framework of the project, we will test, in the coming months, a racetrack coil wound with an MgB2 superconducting tape,” Bernardo Bordini, coordinator of CERN activity in the framework of the SR2S project, . “The prototype coil is designed to quantify the effectiveness of the superconducting magnetic shielding technology.”
It wouldn’t block all incoming radiation, but would efficiently screen out the most damaging types, like GCR, which flows through passive shielding like water through a colander. By lowering the rate at which astronauts are exposed to radiation, they’ll be able to serve on more and longer duration missions before hitting NASA’s lifetime exposure limit.
“As the magnetosphere deflects cosmic rays directed toward the earth, the magnetic field generated by a superconducting magnet surrounding the spacecraft would protect the crew,” Dr Riccardo Musenich, scientific and technical manager for the project, told in 2014. “SR2S is the first project which not only investigates the principles and the scientific problems (of magnetic shielding), but it also faces the complex issues in engineering.”
Two superconducting coils have already been constructed and tested, to build lightweight magnets but this is very preliminary research, mind you. The CORDIS team doesn’t anticipate this tech making it into space for another couple decades.
Researchers from University of Wisconsin–Madison's Department of Astronomy have recently set about developing their own version of CORDIS’ idea. Their (CREW HaT) project, which received prototyping funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program in February, uses “new superconductive tape technology, a deployable design, and a new configuration for a magnetic field that hasn't been explored before," according to UWM associate professor and researches lead author, Dr. Elena D'Onghia told in May.
“The HaT geometry has never been explored before in this context or studied in combination with modern superconductive tapes,” she said in . “It diverts over 50 percent of the biology-damaging cosmic rays (protons below 1 GeV) and higher energy high-Z ions. This is sufficient to reduce the radiation dose absorbed by astronauts to a level that is less than 5 percent of the lifetime excess risk of cancer mortality levels established by NASA.”
Or astronauts might wear leaden vests to protect their privates
But why go through the effort of magnetically encapsulating an entire spaceship when really it’s just a handful of torsos and heads that actually need the protection? That’s the idea behind the (MARE).
Developed in partnership with both the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), two of the MARE vests will be strapped aboard identical mannequins and launched into space aboard the Orion uncrewed moon mission. On their three-week flight, the mannequins, named Helga and Zohar, will travel some 280,000 miles from Earth and thousands of miles past the moon. Their innards are designed to mimic human bones and soft tissue, enabling researchers to measure the specific radiation doses they receive.
Its sibling study aboard the ISS, the (CHARGE), focuses less on the vest’s anti-rad effectiveness and more on the ergonomics, fit and feel of it as astronauts go about their daily duties. The European Space Agency is also investigating garment-based radiation shielding with the , an “emergency device that aims to protect astronauts from intense solar radiation when traveling out of the magnetosphere on future Deep Space missions.”
Or we’ll line the ship hulls with water and poo!
One happy medium between the close-in discomfort of wearing a leaded apron in microgravity and the existential worry of potentially having your synapses scrambled by a powerful electromagnet is known as .
“Nature uses no compressors, evaporators, lithium hydroxide canisters, oxygen candles, or urine processors,” Marc M. Cohen Arch.D, argued in the 2013 paper . “For very long-term operation — as in an interplanetary spacecraft, space station, or lunar/planetary base — these active electro-mechanical systems tend to be failure-prone because the continuous duty cycles make maintenance difficult.”
So, rather than rely on heavy and complicated mechanizations to process the waste materials that astronauts emit during a mission, this system utilizes osmosis bags that mimic nature’s own passive means of purifying water. In addition to treating gray and black water, these bags could also be adapted to scrub CO2 from the air, grow algae for food and fuel, and can be lined against the inner hull of a spacecraft to provide superior passive shielding against high energy particles.
“Water is better than metals for [radiation] protection,” Marco Durante of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, told . This is because the three-atom nucleus of a water molecule contains more mass than a metal atom and therefore is more effective at blocking GCR and other high energy rays, he continued.
The crew aboard the proposed Inspiration Mars mission, which would have slingshot a pair of private astronauts around Mars in a spectacular flyby while the two planets were at their orbital closest in 2018. You haven’t heard anything about that because quietly went under in 2015. But had they somehow pulled off that feat, the plan was to have the astronauts poop into bags, sophon out the liquid for reuse and then pile the vacuum-sealed shitbricks against the walls of the spacecraft — alongside their boxes of food — to act as radiation insulation.
“It’s a little queasy sounding, but there’s no place for that material to go, and it makes great radiation shielding,” Taber MacCallum, a member of the nonprofit funded by Dennis Tito, told New Scientist. “Food is going to be stored all around the walls of the spacecraft, because food is good radiation shielding.” It’s just a quick jaunt to the next planet over, who needs plumbing and sustenance?
When you hear the word "bacteria," you probably picture organisms that couldn't be seen unless they're placed under a microscope. A bacterium that has now been classified as the largest in the world ever discovered, however, needs no special tools to be visible to the naked eye. Thiomargarita magnifica, as it's called, takes on a filament-like appearance and can be as long as a human eyelash. As the BBC notes, that makes it bigger than some more complex organisms, such as tiny flies, mites and worms. It was first discovered by marine biologist Olivier Gros living on sunken mangrove tree leaves in the French Caribbean back in 2009.
Due to the organism's size, Gros first thought he was looking at a eukaryote rather than simpler prokaryotic organisms like bacteria. It wasn't until he got back to his laboratory that he found out that it wasn't the case at all. Years later, Jean-Marie Volland and his team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California took a closer look at the bacterium using various techniques, such as transmission electron microscopy, to confirm that it is indeed a single-cell organism. They've recently published a paper describing the centimeter-long bacterium in Science.
Volland said T. magnifica is "5,000 times bigger than most bacteria" and is comparable to an average person "encountering another human as tall as Mount Everest." One other information Volland's team has discovered is that the bacterium keeps its DNA organized within a structure that has a membrane. In most bacteria, DNA materials just float freely in their cytoplasm. Further, it has around 6,000 billion bases of DNA. "For comparison, a diploid human genome is approximately six giga (billion) bases in size. So this means that our Thiomargarita stores several orders of magnitude more DNA in itself as compared to a human cell," said team member Tanja Woyke.
While the scientists know that T. magnifica grows on top of mangrove sediments in the Caribbean and that it creates energy to live using chemosynthesis, which is similar to photosynthesis in plants, there's still a lot about it that remains a mystery. And it'll likely take some time before the scientists can discover its secrets: They have yet to figure out how to grow the organism in the lab, so Gros has to gather samples every time they want to run an experiment. It doesn't help that the organism has an unpredictable life cycle. Gros told The New York Times that he couldn't even find any over the past two months.
Volland and his team now aim to find a way to grow T. magnifica in the lab. As for Gros, he now expects other teams to go off in search of even bigger bacteria, which like T. magnifica, may also be hiding in plain sight.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a camera system that can seemingly detect sound vibrations with a level of precision that makes it possible to recreate the audio without inference or a microphone. A team from CMU's School of Computer Science's Robotics Institute (RI) built the system, which has two cameras and a laser. It can detect "high-speed, low-amplitude surface vibrations" that the human eye can't see, the university said in a press release.
The system features regular cameras rather than high-speed ones used in previous research, which should lower the cost. "We've made the optical microphone much more practical and usable," Srinivasa Narasimhan, an RI professor and head of the Illumination and Imaging Laboratory, said. "We've made the quality better while bringing the cost down."
An algorithm compares speckle patterns captured by a rolling shutter and a global shutter. It uses the differences between the patterns to calculate the vibrations and recreate the audio. A speckle pattern (which is created by the laser in this case) refers to the behavior of coherent light in space after it's reflected off of a rough surface. That behavior changes as the surface vibrates. The rolling shutter rapidly scans an image from one end to the other, while a global shutter captures an entire image at the same time.
"This system pushes the boundary of what can be done with computer vision," assistant professor Matthew O'Toole, a co-author of on the system, said. "This is a new mechanism to capture high speed and tiny vibrations, and presents a new area of research."
The researchers say they were able to isolate the audio of guitars that were being played simultaneously. They claim that the system was able to observe a bag of chips, and use vibrations from that to reconstruct audio being emitted by a nearby speaker with higher fidelity than previous optical microphone approaches.
There are a lot of potential applications for this tech. The researchers suggest, for instance, that the system could monitor vibrations from machines in a factory to look for signs of problems. Sound engineers could also isolate the sound from an instrument to improve the mix. In essence, it could help eliminate ambient noise from audio recordings.
Astronomers, astronauts and other near-Earth object experts from around the world are gathering next week in Luxembourg to talk about asteroids. If you tune in to the Asteroid Foundation’s live event on International Asteroid Day (which is June 30), you can hear about the latest in space rock research. The four hour event will consist of panel discussions on future missions, advances in technology, how scientists track and discover asteroids and what resources might be gleaned from asteroids. It will be moderated by Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project, the astronomer Phil Plait, Asteroid Day’s editorial director Stuart Clark and Patrick Michel, director of research at CNRS of the Côte d’Azur Observatory.
“Asteroid Day reminds the world of just how important these celestial objects are. They hold the keys to understanding the formation of the Solar System, provide stepping stones we will utilize to explore our solar system, and occasionally they hit our planet,” said Dr Dorin Prunariu, Vice-Chair of the Asteroid Foundation in a press release. The Asteroid Day event will also feature pre-recorded interviews from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which is currently on its to Earth after collecting samples from the asteroid Bennu.
Detecting asteroids is a tricky science, and scientists still manage to that are potentially dangerous. NASA has detected nearly 16,000 near-Earth objects, which are objects within approximately 45 million kilometers of our planet's orbit. As notes, while extinction-level asteroids are very rare, smaller space rocks such as the one that hit Tunguska, Siberia in 1908 or the 10,000-ton space rock that hit the Russian city of Chelyabinsk are also capable of doing damage. And there have been plenty of near misses. Scientists that in 2029, a 1,120 feet asteroid known as Apophis will miss Earth by a mere 19,000 miles.
You can stream Asteroid Day’s program on June 30 at 11 am CET (or 5 am EDT) on Asteroid Day’s , TwitchTV or YouTube.
and the Department of Energy have awarded contracts to three companies that are designing concepts to . The agencies will award Lockheed Martin, Westinghouse and IX around $5 million each to fund the design of a fission surface power system, an idea that NASA has been working on for .
The three companies are being tasked with developing a 40-kilowatt class fission power system that can run for at least 10 years on the lunar surface. NASA hopes to test the system on the Moon as soon as the end of this decade. If the demonstration proves successful, it could lead to nuclear energy powering long-term missions on the Moon as part of the Artemis program. "Developing these early designs will help us lay the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds," Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, .
Under the 12-month contracts, Lockheed Martin will partner with BWXT and Creare. Westinghouse will team up with Aerojet Rocketdyne, while IX (a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy) will work with Maxar and Boeing on a proposal.
Lockheed Martin was one of three companies by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last year to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft. The Defense Department has also nuclear propulsion systems for spacecraft.
Early in the pandemic, scientists tried training dogs to infections in humans. The results were predictable. Man’s best friend proved adept at sniffing out the disease, but the question researchers kept asking themselves was how they would scale that approach. After all, training a dog is expensive, and taking care of one can be a handful.
Still, the idea of using animals to spot sick humans is a good one and one that a team of researchers from Michigan State University approached in a novel way. In a recent study published in the journal , they detailed a locust-based cancer screening system. Per , the tech involves surgically-altered locusts with electrodes implanted into the lobes of their brains by Professor Debajit Saha and his colleagues. Those electrodes were there to capture signals from each insect’s antennae, which they use to sense smells.
Additionally, the team grew three different types of cancerous human mouth cells – in addition to a separate set of healthy ones – and built a device for capturing the gases emitted by those tissues. They then used that device to give the insects a whiff of the gases. They found that the locusts' brains responded to each type of tissue differently and that they could correctly identify sick cells with only the recording of the gasses.
It’s hard to say if you’ll ever see your local clinic uses insects for cancer screenings. The study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, and it’s difficult to know if regulators like the Food and Drug Administration would ever approve such a procedure. People could also find the treatment of the locusts questionable. “The insect is dead in terms of its body function,” Saha told MIT Technology Review. “We are just keeping its brain alive.”
Saha and his team plan to continue work on the project. Their current system requires between six and 10 locust brains to function. He hopes new electrodes will allow his team to record more neurons, thereby making a single locust brain sufficient for an individual screening. He also wants to make the device holding the brain and antennae portable, which would allow the team to use the system outside of a lab.
South Korea just took an important step toward becoming a spacefaring nation. The New York Timesreports the country successfully launched a satellite payload into orbit using a domestically-made rocket for the first time. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute's 200-ton Nuri vehicle (aka Korea Space Launch Vehicle-II) ferried both a working satellite (for performance verification) and a dummy into orbit at an altitude of 435 miles.
The accomplishment was a long time in coming. South Korea first launched a satellite into orbit in 2013, but it co-developed the mission's Naro rocket with Russia. Nuri also didn't have the smoothest path. An initial test launch in October 2021 lifted a dummy satellite into space, but an oxidizer tank failure led to a premature burnout that prevented the satellite from staying in orbit.
The successful flight is just the first step in a major expansion of South Korea's spaceflight efforts. Officials plan four more Nuri test launches between 2023 and 2027, and the verification payload will help test components for more satellite missions, including surveillance satellites to monitor North Korea. Long-term plans include a more powerful rocket as well as an uncrewed Moon lander that would arrive by the early 2030s.
The flight helps South Korea join just a handful of countries with similar spaceflight capabilities, including the US, Russia, China, France, India and Japan. There's also large degree of national pride involved. This helps South Korea reduce its dependence on American satellites and rockets, including SpaceX's Falcon 9 — it won't have to worry as much about differing priorities and launch schedules.