SciTech Briefs

India becomes first Asian nation to reach Mars

Although it is not the first nation in the world to do so, India has managed to launch an orbiter to Mars, a task that only the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Space Agency have accomplished thus far.

But unlike these entities, India has done so with a relatively small budget of $74 million. NASA, for example, spent $671 million in order for the Maven mission to succeed. In addition, the mission succeeded on the first try, a feat unmatched by the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The project was part of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in the Indian Space Research Organisation. Named Mangalyaan (or “Mars Craft” in Hindi), it will stay in elliptical orbit of Mars in order to map its surface and study its atmosphere. It was first announced in Aug. 12, and a little over two years later, the Mangalyaan had begun to orbit the red planet.

Source: The New York Times

Scientists discover origin of water in our solar system

The origin of water has always been a mystery, but scientists have recently discovered that most of the water in the solar system probably existed as ice that was formed in space. In order to learn where the water came from, scientists focused their study on the water molecules themselves. By looking at the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen with about double the mass of hydrogen, they were able to determine under which conditions the water molecules formed.

In the study, the researchers produced models with no external ice and tried to determine the amount of deuterium in ice that would be created over a million years. However, the models could not produce the same ratios of hydrogen to deuterium, which led scientists to conclude that a significant portion of the solar system’s water had come from outside the solar system, making it older than the sun.

Source: Science World Report

Telomerase can be controlled to turn cells on and off

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, in La Jolla, Calif., have found a switch in cells that may contain the secret to aging in cells. This switch could possibly turn a cell’s aging on and off at any time. This could promote healthy aging and cause healthy cells to keep dividing indefinitely.

Most cells contain telomeres, a sequence of repeated nucleotides that protect the ends of chromosomes and act as a timekeeper of cells that shortens every time the cell splits. The telomere can be rebuilt by telomerase, which some cells possess. In the study, telomerase was found to be controllable — it could be turned off at any time. While the duplication of a cell goes on, telomerase disassembles, then reassembles in the off state. This switch can help regulate cell growth, which has applications in cancer research.

Source: Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Facebook to start testing Wi-Fi drones next year

As the tech giants are starting to consider bringing Internet to locations all over the world, Facebook is backing a drone-based project that could put Internet drones in the sky. The drone would beam Internet access to people through a variety of methods.

One method involves satellite or free-space optical communication (FSO) technology, which allows data to be transmitted via invisible, infrared laser beams.
The drones would be able to stay afloat for months on end, even with the large design. The drones are currently as large as a Boeing 747, but much lighter. According to Facebook, the drones would have the weight of around four tires while being as long as five cars.

The solar powered drones would operate between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. In addition, the drones can be either unmanned or have an operator.

Source: NBC News

Nanothreads made from benzene are thin, yet strong

Scientists have recently discovered how to create extremely thin wires made of diamond that are stronger and stiffer than any other existing nanotube or polymer.

To create the diamond nanothreads, extremely high pressures were applied to benzene, a chemical compound which consists of six carbon atoms in a ring with a hydrogen bonded to each carbon. Using a slow decrease in pressure over time, a six millimeter-wide mass of benzene can be compressed into carbon tetrahedrons, which form the diamond nanothreads. The problem with this method, however, is the high pressures that are required for the reaction to occur. Currently, such pressures are only limited to a few cubic millimeters, so these nanothreads are unfeasible for mass production. Even so, these incredibly thin yet strong nanothreads would make the space elevator a possibility.

Source: Science World Report

U.S. carbon emissions continue to increase

Although the Obama administration has been attempting to curb the growth of global warming, emissions of carbon dioxide have increased six percent over the last two years. This increase is a problem for President Obama, who touted the United States’ progress in reducing emissions earlier this year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, proposed a 30-percent national cut on carbon emissions. Solar and wind energy are also used. However, coal use has fallen in favor of natural gas, which also traps heat and could contribute to global warming. Crude oil production has also increased 31 percent, causing many greenhouse gases to be formed. At this rate, scientists estimate that temperatures could increase 5.8 to 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Source: USA Today