SciTech Briefs

NASA cancels only moon rover

Scientists working on NASA's only lunar rover in development, the Resource Prospector, have been told to end the project in May. The move has come as a shock to the research community.

The Resource Prospector was intended to excavate materials from the lunar surface, such as water and oxygen. This work was viewed as a possible foundation for building permanent human colonies on the moon and Mars.

“This action is viewed with both incredulity and dismay by our community,” wrote the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (a scientific analysis organization) in a statement.

NASA has not released any official statement on the decision. However, NASA's new administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Friday, "We’re committed to lunar exploration @NASA. Resource Prospector instruments will go forward in an expanded lunar surface campaign. More landers. More science. More exploration. More prospectors. More commercial partners. Ad astra!"

Source: The Washington Post

Brain shape, not size, may have helped early humans

About 40,000 years ago, modern humans emigrated from Africa into Europe, replacing the Neanderthals that had lived there for 200,000 years. A new reconstructive study suggests that humans replaced Neanderthals so rapidly not because their brains were bigger, but because they were differently shaped.

An interdisciplinary team including anthropologists, engineers, and neuroscientists created digital reconstructions of Neanderthal brains using a method previously tested on ape brains.

First, they carefully measured the dimensions of Neanderthal skulls. Then, they manipulated a digital model of a human brain to fit the shape of the Neanderthal skulls.

The team found that Neanderthal brains likely had the same overall volume as human brains, but the shapes were markedly different. The variation in overall shape allowed human brains to have a larger cerebellum (which deals with speech, memory, and cognitive flexibility) and Neanderthal brains to have a larger occipital lobe (visual processing center) than humans.

This method of digitally reconstructing brains is very new and could likely be improved in the future. "We would like to further elaborate our methodology by exchanging thoughts and ideas with researchers in the related fields working on human brain evolution," said Naomichi Ogihara, a mechanical engineer at Keio University in Yokohama, Japan, and a study contributor.

The research was published Thursday in Scientific Reports.


Geothermal power plant caused 2017 earthquake

A 5.5 magnitude earthquake that struck South Korea in 2017 was likely caused by the Pohang geothermal power plant, according to two new analyses published this week in Science.

The Pohang plant used enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) technology. With this system, cold water is injected into the ground under extremely high pressure, making tiny cracks underground. The cracks allow the water to circulate underground and be heated by hot rocks. The heat from the water is converted into power by the power plant.

The researchers behind the recent analyses both came to the conclusion that the 2017 earthquake was induced by the Pohang plant's water injections.

The first analysis was conducted by geologist Kwang-Hee Kim's team at Pusan National University in South Korea and relied on local seismic data. The second was led by Francesco Grigoli of ETH Zurich in Switzerland and used regional and international data. The government of South Korea is currently undertaking its own separate investigation of the earthquake's cause.

The 5.5 magnitude earthquake is the largest to be triggered by EGS.

Source: Science News