Fake Foliage

Finally, people have started to take the environment seriously! With vast deforestation, global warming and depletion of the ozone layers, we need to start being extremely careful in the way we live our lives. However, the University of Illinois at Chicago has developed fake plants that can actually ‘recycle’ carbon dioxide. This is an effort to reduce the amounts of harmful gases found in the atmosphere and thus, produce clean fuel.

This ‘fuel’ is generated by the sun, meaning it actually mimics plants during photosynthesis. The researcher Salehi-Khojin stated, “Real leaves use the energy from the sun and convert carbon dioxide to sugar. In the artificial leaf, we use the sun and we convert CO2 to (synthetic gas), which can be converted to any hydrocarbon, like gasoline.”

Seems incomprehensible? Well, the process basically involves the sun’s energy rearranging the chemical bonds composing carbon dioxide. The energy from the sun gets stored as a chemical bond, generating the ability to be burned as fuel. The technology companies face a lot of issues trying to store batteries. Particularly where solar panels and wind turbines have been developed to generate sustainable energy, providing corporations with an energy source in the form of solar and wind farms. But the ability to store the generated energy has not yet been discovered. Until now.

The director of the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University, Professor Micheal R, Wasielewski, said “Whether you use solar or wind to generate electricity, you have a source that’s intermittent and not storable, so what you need to do is find a storage method. This fake foliage closes the carbon cycle so you don’t have any excess CO2, so it’s an environmentally friendly way of storing renewable energy.”

The Salehi-Khojin team at the UIC found a compound that had the ability to break down and rearrange the chemical bonds composing carbon dioxide better than the traditionally used gold and silver. Salehi-Khojin thinks that a prototype could be ready for use in the next 5 years with the help of a suitable manufacturing company. They believe it can be placed in solar farms alongside the power plants in order to recycle the carbon dioxide collected and convert it to be used as energy.

Professor Nathan Lewis of the California Institute of Technology, who has been researching artificial photosynthesis and solar fields for over 40 years, says that the development by Salehi-Khojin is just the starting piece of a product that will be widely executed in the near future. “There’s a lot of steps that need to occur to envision how these things would translate into a commercializable system, but it’s a step for building a piece of a full system that may be useful. It’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people to really push this over the goal line.”

Salehi-Khojin are yet to patent their technology and they were recipients of a $330,000 grant by the National Foundation last year to help further their research.

This is still a groundbreaking discovery by UIC which can really help to transform our environmental state if employed correctly.

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Chinese Moon Base

The idea of life in space is very intriguing; numerous movies and TV series fictionalized this concept and had a fair amount of success. Though this notion is not limited to fiction anymore; the possibility of life in space is actually being considered.

While you’re reading this very sentence, a Chinese rover is exploring the far side of the Moon. The fact that no other country has attempted to land on the far side of the moon makes it particularly interesting. Though this mission is full of technical challenges, China is ambitious to create history. As a matter of fact, there has been an official announcement made about the country’s space program stating that China is looking to launch three more lunar missions, which will serve as a ground for their Chinese Moon base.

The reason why no one has made an effort to land on the far side of the moon is mainly due to the multitude of challenges and difficulties in the communicational channels. However, achieving this feat will provide substantial payoffs in terms of scientific research, particularly due to the fact that it will block the stray radio signals from Earth. This will provide an unparalleled view of the radio universe.

Lunar Palace – Virtual base

China is resolute on the plan to set up a lunar base, which is evident with its persistent efforts to ensure the success of this project. To reduce the potential risk of failure and ensure that their astronauts are able to endure the rough condition on the moon, they have set up a Lunar Palace, a virtual base on Earth.

The Lunar Palace is equipped with two plant modules where astronauts grow and harvest food. It also contains a 42 square meter area living cabin with a common room, four sleeping cubicles, a bathroom, a waste management area, and believe it or not, a specific room for growing animals.

The primary objective of this experiment is to see and understand more about how Bio regenerative Life Support Systems (BLSS) function over an extended period of time, particularly in outer space. When considering sustainability of life in the lunar environment, it is crucial that humans, plants, animals, and microorganisms are able to co-exist together without creating obstacles.

Expected Timeline

It is not possible to predict a timeline for the Chinese Moon Base due to the involvement of several factors which could serve as a bottleneck to the entire project. However, there are systematic steps being laid down in order to expedite the process. Firstly, China’s space program will send the Chang’e-5 lander to the moon.  The readings and results collected from Chang’e-5, supplemented by three follow-up assignments will enable them to solidify plans to set up a base. Moreover, they are attempting to print 3D habitable structures using the lunar soil to increase their understanding of the lunar environment.

Another thing to consider is the Long March 9 rocket, which is under development and might be ready to fly by 2028 or 2030. It is bigger than the size of Apollo Lunar module, the rocket that carried astronauts to the moon half a century ago. With these developments, we cannot eliminate the possibility that China will have its own people on the moon by 2030s, which will put them well ahead in the competition from the likes of NASA and ESA.

Water on Asteroids

For decades, scientists have been trying to answer questions relating to outer space such as: ‘Is there any sign of life out there in the universe’ or ‘Is there water on other planets?’ Most scientists believe that presence of water on a planet signals life, which is true for Earth. Thus, the fact that NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex, which is 12 miles away from asteroid Bennu and millions of miles away from Earth, has found evidence of water on the asteroid is an exciting discovery. Here is the full story.

OSIRIS-REx’s

This spacecraft was sent out into space 2 years ago in order to study asteroid Bennu in more detail. Now it is getting closer and closer to the asteroid. NASA has stated that their estimates about Bennu’s rotation, size and orbit were correct. The only estimate they were not right about was the large boulder at the south side of Bennu. NASA’s observations had suggested that the boulder was only 10 meters (33 feet) in height, but OSIRIS-REx has confirmed that is it is about 50 meters (164 feet) in height.

How Has NASA Determined That There Is Water Present On The Asteroid?

The pair of spectrometers carried by the OSIRIS-REx has the ability to characterize molecules that are present on Bennu. The OSIRIS-Rex Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) helped NASA discover evidence that Bennu did previously contain water. The scans showed molecules called hydroxyls that are a composition on oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Thus NASA’s team working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, who are led by Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary science and Cosmo chemistry, have determined that the hydroxyls that are spread all over Bennu contain water-bearing clay minerals. Dante Lauretta stated that there is “strong, convincing evidence that the surface is dominated by these hydrated minerals,” which means it is water-rich, and this is a huge discovery.

What This Discovery Means

This does not by any means imply that Bennu is inhabitable, as it is extremely cold and that there is no current evidence of liquid water present on Bennu. There is probably no liquid water on the asteroid as it is too small of an area to be able to contain any sort of liquid. The likely explanation given for the water sources found on the asteroid is that Bennu probably interacted previously with water from a larger asteroid or host planet.

Future Plans

Of course, this discovery has led to excitement and anxiousness amongst the scientists working on the OSIRIS-REx mission, who want to be able to see the asteroid more closely and hopefully collect a sample as well. It is scheduled that the OSIRIS-REx will be as close as 1.4 kilometres (0.87 miles) from Bennu, orbiting around the surface, on the 31st of December this year. Also, in around 18 months, the OSIRIS-REx will start to approach the surface to attempt taking a sample of Bennu. The sample will be taken by the 10-foot robot arm the spacecraft will use to scoop up materials from the surface. OSIRIS-REx can collect up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of sampling material from the asteroid. If everything happens as planned, NASA’s team predicts that the sample will arrive at earth by September of 2023.

Discoveries like these makes one feel  grateful for innovative technologies, as they is being used for discovery and to gain knowledge about the world and universe at large.

Laser Cannon

The arms race may be escalating quite quickly and intensely, after the public acknowledgment that Russia has developed missiles and laser weapons that are ready for service, Russia posted a video in July 2018 which showcased a laser death weapon, and they have recently announced that it has officially entered service. Here is all you need to know about the Peresvet Combat Laser System, which is essentially a laser cannon, and how Russia plans on using it.

The Peresvet Combat Laser

Just recently, Russia announced that the Peresvet Combat Laser System has officially entered service and now has been permanently installed. The inspiration for the name Peresvet comes from the ancient Russian monk warrior named Alexander Peresvet. The video that Russia released back in July, which openly shows the unveiling of the laser, is said to be able to obliterate targets in a fraction of a second. Not much else is known about the laser cannon itself and thus, many people have speculated that it will not be used to kill people, but will actually be used for defence against enemy missiles and airplanes. It definitely looks like it is straight out of a movie though.

A Boastful Putin

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia has been boasting about this laser cannon/death ray by saying, “Russia’s capacities for defending itself have multiplied.” Putin also boasted about the fact that laser weaponry, “is not just a concept or a plan any more. It is not even in the early production stages. Since last year, our troops have been armed with laser weapons.” He also taunted those against Russia in the arms race that, “We are one step ahead of our rivals,”

Is This The Start Of A Whole New Arms Race?

The implications of this cannon are far more deadly than they might seem. The death machine of which we do not even know the full details of will probably be used for more than just defence. The US is now threatening to pull out of the INF treaty as they claim the development of this laser cannon violates the treaty. However, Russia is retaliating and saying they are following all the conditions specified in the treaty. Putin also showed his concern over the fact that the New START pact between the US and Russia will expire in 2021 and that the US is not keen on discussing the future of the pact.

Real or Fake?

Some have even speculated that this laser cannon is not all that it is hyped up to be. The speculations stem from the fact that the laser cannon was announced during a press conference that was also hosting the launch of many other overly-hyped weapons. People also claim that Russia has previously lied or not been completely honest about their new technologies and that there is no evidence whether the cannon actually works as it claims to (since the video never showed it firing).

All we can hope for is that Russia and America stay true to their agreement and talk it out before deciding to fire on each other.

Elephant Evolution

Leon C. Megginson once stated, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Animal poaching is a horrendous act which, in most cases, results in death, because it is done in order to take valuable assets of the animal, such as its horns or fur, to sell them off. Animals such as rhinos and elephants are at the brink of extinction due to this. However, poaching has not only decreased the population of different animal species, but has also changed the way they breed. Elephants are evolving and it is interesting and disconcerting all at the same time.

What Is The Phenomenon That Is Occurring?

New research shows that poaching has led to an intriguing phenomenon occurring within the elephant population. The stress of the activity is almost forcing elephants to evolve in order to survive. Female elephants are birthing elephants who are naturally tusk less. Historically speaking, only 2-4% of the female elephants in Africa were biologically tusk less. And now one-third of the entire African female elephant population is.

How Widely Is the Phenomenon Occurring?

However, it is important to take the disheartening statistics of how many elephants are now left into account. Just a few decades earlier there used to be over 4000 elephants residing in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Ever since the civil war, there are only 200 adult females left now as Joyce Poole’s research suggests. Joyce Poole is an expert in elephant behaviour who is bringing light to this astounding occurrence. Out of the 200 adult females in Mozambique, 51% of the elephants older than 25 are without tusks. 32% of the elephants that were born after the war are biologically tusk less. This phenomenon is not just occurring in Mozambique, as 98% of the 200 female African elephants found in Addo Elephant National Park are also without tusks. In Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, there was a heavy amount of poaching done during the 70s and 80s. Josephine Smit, an elephant behaviour researcher who has been tracking these female elephants has noticed that approximately 21% of females that are older than the age of five are born without tusks.

Adapting To Their Environment without Tusks

Of course, the decrease in tusks also means that how elephants fend for themselves has to change. Joyce Poole’s intensive research has proven that elephants are still surviving and healthy even without their tusks. Scientists have observed that with the handicap of tusklessness, elephants are adapting accordingly to their environment. Tusks are useful, besides just being overgrown teeth. They were used in the daily life of elephants in order to dig up water and minerals from the ground, debark trees to get some fibre-laden food and help males in their competition for females. Elephants have been observed to now use their trunks and teeth to strip off bark from trees for food.

Even with the dark history behind them, the evolutionary female African elephants are a reminder of the adaptability and perseverance of nature during the most stressful of times.

 

Microbes on Mars

Constant efforts are being made to find out whether there are signs of life on Mars, and a lot more is being uncovered about this intriguing planet. The reason astrobiologists and researchers are so interested in finding out more about whether there ever was or are life forms on Mars is due to the similarity between Mars and the Earth. Earth and Mars both have seasons, except Mars has seasons that last twice as long as seasons on Earth. Also, the conditions on Mars indicate that it is the most hospitable astronomical body after planet Earth. Thus, space missions have been and still are being sent in order to understand whether Mars may have extra-terrestrial inhabitants and whether human settlements can actually be established there.

Sign of Life on Mars

According to the most recent news, evidence has been found that shows signs of microbes and even fossils on Mars. However, only photographic evidence has been sent as yet; more cannot be found out until samples from Mars are brought back to earth for examination. However, this has made it certain that there is some presence of life, or at least the precursor of life in the form of microbes, on Mars.

Also, scientists have discovered that microbes even found a way to inhabit Atacama Desert in Chile, which is similar to Mars in terms of condition. Atacama Desert does not receive any rain or moisture, and is highly arid, which is quite similar to the Mars landscape. It is already proven that there is frozen water on Mars, and recent research also concluded that there are moisture events that take place near Mars’s surface, like nightly snowfall, which signals the potential for life.

Why There Should Be More In Depth Exploration

Before landing human missions or having samples brought to earth, scientists need to determine if there is extra-terrestrial life present on Mars or not. There is no telling what astronauts or robots may encounter there and bring back to Earth. Rather than worrying about contaminating Mars, as the strict planetary protection protocols state, it should be known whether samples could endanger our biosphere and humanity. These protocols are not considering the fact the human missions are set to go in merely a decade or two.

Why Contaminating Mars Should Not Be A Worry

Tersicoccus phoenicis is a bacteria that has only been found where space crafts are assembled and can be used as a key technique by explorers to differentiate between Mars and Earth organisms. The microbes present in the space crafts can be used in order to monitor contamination levels. If there is a sample from Mars that contains the same or similar microorganisms to the spacecraft assembly rooms, then it can indicate contamination rather than sign of life on Mars. Technology can also help distinguish between Alien matter and Earth matter, and even if both come out as similar, genomes sequencing can be done in order to confirm that it belongs to Mars.

Since it has been proven that there are microbes present on Earth, the organic microorganisms that have been found could turn into building blocks for potential Martian life in the future. The possibilities this research and future plans pose are limitless.