A space cocktail of science, bubbles and sounds

ISS — International Space Station logo.

20 August 2019

The International Space Station was again the stage for novel European science and routine operations during the first half of August. Plenty of action in the form of bubbles and sounds added to the mix in the run-up to a spacewalk and the comings and goings of visiting vehicles.

Day and night

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano installed the Multiscale Boiling experiment, known affectionately as Rubi, in its new home in Europe’s Columbus laboratory. It took Luca a few hours to fit the container, the size of a large shoebox, inside the Fluid Science Laboratory.

A lot of science will take place in there – Rubi will generate bubbles under controlled conditions using a special heater to expand our knowledge of the boiling process. Larger bubbles in slow motion will allow scientists to observe and measure effects that are too fast and too small on Earth.

With this insight and more accurate calculations of the boiling process, products such as laptops can be improved and made more compact.

Bubbles in altered states of gravity

Can you hear me?

The Space Station is a labyrinth of modules running 24/7, and many astronauts have remarked upon the incessant hum that comes from living in a large spacecraft. Scientists worry that this non-stop buzz might affect the hearing of the astronauts.

Luca and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan lent their ears to the first session of the Acoustic Diagnostics experiment. Once a month, with headphones on, the astronauts will listen to sounds as a device records the response of their inner ears.  

Detecting hearing loss in space will both help take care of astronauts’ health during long missions and improve a device for testing hearing more accurately on Earth in noisy environments.

Human, all too human — in space

As we get older, the way protein accumulates in our brain is thought to cling together in larger threads, depriving us of memories and a sharp brain. The possibility that astronauts have a higher propensity to develop neurodegenerative diseases is the focus of the Amyloid Aggregation experiment.

Protein aggregation in space

Amyloids are protein aggregations associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Luca carefully manipulated a set of tiny tubes with different incubation times. Upon completion of the experiment, the whole kit will remain frozen at –80°C until it is shipped back to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon vehicle on 27 August.

Disrupted time perception, altered eye-hand coordination and loss of body mass are some of the effects that life in space has on the human body. Both Luca and Andrew ran sessions of the Time, Grip and Grasp experiments to help scientists understand how our brain copes with microgravity.

Dexterity in space

A new experiment for Space Station research is NutrISS. During five consecutive days, Luca logged his nutritional intake and assessed any changes in his body weight, fat mass and fat-free mass in an app called Everywear. Medical teams on Earth will use it to limit bone and muscle loss in space.

Little creatures

Keeping germs at bay on the International Space Station is the focus of the Matiss-2 experiment. For nearly a year, sample holders have been exposed in the Columbus module, letting the air flow through and collect any bacteria floating past.

Luca removed one of the holders and prepared it for download to Earth, where scientists will assess the antibacterial properties of five advanced materials that could stop bacteria from settling and growing on the surface. Which one will work best?

Unwanted bacteria

Elsewhere inside the Columbus module bacteria will continue to grow but for our benefit. The International Space Station is hosting some of the smallest miners in the universe: microbes. Luca unleashed biofilm-forming microbes for incubation in the Kubik experiment container. The BioRock experiment grows different species on basalt slides for 21 days under microgravity, Earth’s gravity and martian gravity.

Bacteria were sent to the Space Station in a desiccated, dormant state and rehydrated on board. Scientists want to learn how altered states of gravity affect the interaction of microbes with rock, and how the little miners could help astronauts on future missions to the Moon and Mars.

Related links:

Multiscale Boiling experiment: https://orbiterchspacenews.blogspot.com/2019/08/bubbles-in-space.html

Time: https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/06/Lost_in_time

Grip: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/06/A_dexterous_laboratory_in_space

Grasp: http://blogs.esa.int/alexander-gerst/2018/06/29/grasp-experiment/

Everywear: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2017/09/Paolo_using_EveryWear_app

Kubik: https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/02/Kubik_on_Space_Station

BioRock: https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/03/BioRock

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA-L.Parmitano/A. Morgan/Technical University Darmstadt.

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Laying Down Roots The bigger the tree above ground, the more…

Laying Down Roots

The bigger the tree above ground, the more extensive its roots below ground. Swap trees for teeth and it’s the same story. Larger teeth, namely molars, need more tooth roots to keep them securely anchored in your jaw and to provide them with adequate nutrients through blood vessels that run through the roots. Researchers investigate how the correct number of roots develop, focusing on the protein Ezh2, which is known to help bones of the face develop. In mice lacking Ezh2 in a specific tissue type called mesenchyme, which contributes to tooth development, the molars developed fewer roots as captured using micro-CT (pictured, bottom) when compared to normal mouse molars (top). Piecing together the puzzle of tooth root development contributes towards continued efforts to regenerate human teeth to treat tooth loss.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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A second planet around the star Beta Pictoris

Astrophysics — Astrobiology logo.

 August 20, 2019

After the giant planet Beta Pictoris B, discovered in 2009, a «little sister» was spotted around the star.

A new giant planet has been discovered around the young star Beta Pictoris, which shines 63.4 light years from Earth, according to a study published Monday in the journal «Nature Astronomy».

Artist’s impression of the planet Beta Pictoris b

«This is a giant planet of about 3000 times the mass of the Earth, located 2.7 times farther from its star than the Earth of the Sun,» said Anne-Marie Lagrange, CNRS researcher at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble, lead author of the study.

Visible to the naked eye and long known for its rapid rotation, the star Beta Pictoris became famous in the 1980s, when it allowed astronomers to obtain the first image of a disk of dust and gas surrounding a star, vestige of the primitive cloud that gave birth to it.

 Map of the sky Beta Pictoris

In addition, the global system of which it is a part, about 20 million years old — very little compared to the 4.6 billion years of the solar system — could look like what our world should be right after its formation. «This planetary system is probably the best to understand their formation and early evolution,» says the astrophysicist who studied for 35 years.

Planets in formation

After the giant planet Beta Pictoris B, discovered by a team of Anne-Marie Lagrange in 2009, a second was spotted around the star. This «little sister, almost twin», logically takes the name of Beta Pictoris C. According to scientists, the two planets are still being formed.

«Giant planets play a crucial role in planetary systems,» says the astrophysicist. «We can also study the interactions between the planets and the dust disk».

Dust and gas disc around a solar system in formation

Beta Pictoris C was indirectly detected by the HARPS spectrograph, a planet hunter from the Southern European Observatory (ESO) in Chile. The researchers used the so-called «radial velocity» method, which consists in detecting in the spectrum of a star the disturbances caused by the presence around it of a celestial body.

They also determined that Beta Pictoris C, housed between her star and her older sister, orbits relatively close to Beta Pictoris which she tours in about 1200 days. But according to the study «more data will be needed to obtain more accurate estimates». Other planets could be discovered around Beta Pictoris, but «maybe much less massive,» concludes Anne-Marie Lagrange.

Related articles:

Infant exoplanet weighed by Hipparcos and Gaia

Two Families of Comets Found Around Nearby Star

Crashing Comets Explain Surprise Gas Clump Around Young Star

Length of Exoplanet Day Measured for First Time

European Southern Observatory (ESO): https://www.eso.org/public/

Images, Text, Credits: ATS/ESO/IAU Sky & Telescope/NASA/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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