NASA is confident that underneath Jupiter’s moon Europa there could be more water than in our oceans here on Earth. So naturally, Europa has attracted a lot of attention, encouraging the curious to ask, “Could there be life on Europa?”.
Currently, NASA is aiming to send a new mission to Europa by 2025. The White House’s 2015 federal budget allocates $15 million towards making this Europa mission a reality.
Europa has recently become one of NASA’s main focuses because, out of all the other planetary bodies in our solar system, it has arguably the greatest chance of harboring life.
“Every 10 years, the U.S. National Research Council, a nonprofit organization that advises the government, issues a report that recommends a planetary exploration strategy for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The current report (which covers 2013 to 2022) ranks an exploration of Europa among the highest priority missions. According to the report, the future mission should focus on taking a closer look at the ocean that scientists suspect lies below the surface; characterizing its icy crust and looking for any subsurface liquid water; determining the surface composition and chemistry; examining surface features and identifying landing areas for future missions; and understanding the purpose of its magnetosphere — the magnetic field surrounding the celestial body. NASA officials said the instrument proposals should focus on at least one of these exploration goals. The announcement calls for instruments designed for a spacecraft that will orbit Europa or complete several flybys, since astronomers do not yet have enough data to pinpoint safe landing sites on the icy moon.”
The video below describes Europa in more detail.
NASA hopes that by providing monetary incentives to private parties, they will encourage competition and innovation, leading to affordable development processes for the instruments necessary for new missions like the upcoming one to Europa.
Two of the main challenges for teams developing instruments are overcoming Jupiter’s high levels of radiation and making sure that no organic material from Earth (like microorganisms, for example) is introduced to Europa’s potentially habitable surface.
The competition ends in April 2015. NASA will select the top 20 proposals, rewarding $25 million to each of the selected teams to further advance their designs for their instruments. NASA will also select eight winners whose instruments will be developed and actually used in NASA’s mission to Europa.
This competition is included in NASA’s budget to get to Europa, according to Space.com…
“NASA is in the process of designing a mission that will cost less than $1 billion and will still meet as many of the exploration goals as possible.”
Check out NASA’s full guidelines for Europa mission science instrument ideas here.
You can also learn more about how Europa works in this infographic from Space.com (click to enlarge):
Two years ago, researchers at Rice University began working on an innovative, unique way to treat particularly aggressive forms of cancer (like head, neck or brain cancer), which are often resistant to both drugs and chemotherapy.
To make the problem worse, cancerous tissue is often interlaced with healthy tissue, making it difficult to remove all of the cancer through surgery.
So a team of researchers, led by Biochemistry and Cell Biology professor Dmitri Lapotko, designed an ingenious 3-step treatment that will allow doctors and oncologists to treat these difficult cancers in a new way.
The process is known as quadrapeutics because of its use of four components: encapsulated drugs, colloidal gold nanoparticles, short laser pulses and X-rays. The success of the new procedure’s first preclinical trials was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine.
In the first step, a proven cancer drug is encapsulated and then tagged with an antibody that specifically targets cancer cells. Because of this antibody, the drugs will cluster around the cancer cells.
The second step involves colloidal gold nano-particles. A colloidal is basically a liquid or gel which allows the microscopic gold particles to travel smoothly through the bloodstream.
These nano-particles are also tagged with cancer targeting antibodies, so when a cancerous cell is found, the antibody on the colloidal will latch onto the cell and inject the envelope of gold nano-particles into it, as is illustrated below.
In the third step, infrared laser pulses are delivered to the tumor. This laser pulse causes the colloidal gel that encases the gold nano-particles to rapidly evaporate and expand into a tiny bubble known as a plasmonic nanobubble. This bubble then bursts, creating a mini explosion inside the cancer cell.
The explosion blows an opening in the cell wall, allowing the drugs that accumulated around the cell in the first step to rush inside of it.
The final step is to aim a very low dose of X-ray radiation at the tumor. The gold nano-particles, which are still in the cancer cells, amplify the effect of the radiation within the cells, allowing the treatment to deliver high doses of radiation to the cancerous cells while exposing healthy cells to only very low doses of radiation.
The combination of all of these methods and technologies led to,
“…a 100-fold amplification of the therapeutic strength of standard chemoradiation in experiments on cancer cell cultures,”
according to Lapotko. The method was so effective that the treatment only required between 2-6% of the typical clinical doses of drugs and X-rays.
The video below explains the process more and also has awesome footage of the treatment at work. The second video delves a bit deeper into the technology of nanobubbles and gold nano-particles which allows chemotherapy to be brought into the actual cancer cells.
Supergiants are massive stars with huge amounts of energy, which causes them to expand rapidly. However, all stars eventually reach a limit, after which the gravity of the core is no longer able to hold the star together.
The explosion that follows is known as a supernova (or sometimes a hypernova, if it’s big enough). As the outer portions of the star explode off, the core collapses upon itself.
If a star is large enough, the extreme amount of energy produced by this inward collapse forces the star’s core to release high-energy gamma particles. These gamma bursts are the most powerful event so far discovered in the universe. But just how powerful is that?
Well, in just 10 seconds, these gamma ray bursts release more energy than our Earth’s sun will during the entire 10 billion years of its expected lifespan.
On April 19th, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the ROTSE-IIIb telescope (owned by Southern Methodist University in Dallas) detected the rare phenomenon in a corner of the sky.
The gamma ray burst, classified as GRB 140419A by NASA’s Gamma-ray Coordinates Network, came from a supernova that happened 12.1 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang (estimated to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago).
Gamma ray burst have only recently been observed. Not only are they at extremely high frequencies, but they also have the shortest wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, making them more difficult to detect. It wasn’t until the 90s that we created a telescope with the technology to detect gamma radiation.
The discovery was published in Science Daily earlier this month. You can read the full story here.
NOTE: The feature image is an artist rendering of a gamma burst. It is, however, based on detailed scientific study of the event.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi may very well have been both the luckiest and most unlucky man ever.
On August 6, 1945, he was riding a small trolley across the city of Hiroshima. Yamaguchi recalls hearing the roar of an aircraft engine in the skies above during the ride, but thought nothing of it, since warplanes were constantly flying overhead during that time.
What Yamaguchi didn’t know was that this was no Japanese plane- it was the U.S. Bomber the Enola Gay, preparing to drop a 13 kiloton uranium atom bomb on the city.
Yamaguchi stepped off the tram at approximately 8:15 a.m. He looked up and saw the Enola Gay passing overhead. Then he saw two small parachutes (these chutes were attached to the warhead, though he couldn’t see the bomb itself).
Seconds later, the scene turned to chaos. Here’s Yamaguchi describing the moment of impact:
“[There was] a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.”
Yamaguchi was less than three kilometers away from the bomb when it detonated. The shock waves from the explosion ruptured his eardrums and the bright flash of light left him temporarily blinded. The heat from the warhead also seriously burned on the left side of his upper body. The last thing he remembers before passing out is seeing the mushroom cloud rising skyward.
He eventually regained consciousness, and was able to crawl his way to an air raid shelter, where he spent the night. Upon arriving at the shelter, he found his three work colleagues who had also survived the blast. All four of them were engineers from Nagasaki who had just happened to be sent to Hiroshima for work that day.
The next morning, Yamaguchi and his three colleagues left the shelter, wanting desperately to return home to try to make sense of what had just happened. On their way to the train station they passed horrific scenes of destruction, including countless charred and dying bodies.
They finally reached the station, boarded the train, and made the 180 mile journey home to Nagasaki. Yamaguchi, who was in a pretty bad state upon returning home, had his wounds tended to and bandaged as soon as he arrived back in Nagasaki.
Despite the seriousness of his injuries, Yamaguchi decided he was well enough to return to work on August 9th, just three days after the Hiroshima explosion. Upon returning, Yamaguchi recounted the tale to his boss and co-workers, who were horrified yet amazed at the same time. When he described how the bomb had melted metal and totally evaporated parts of the city, Yamaguchi’s boss Sam simply couldn’t believe it. He asked Yamaguchi,
“You’re an engineer. Calculate it. How could one bomb…destroy a whole city?”
According to Yamaguchi, it was at the exact moment that Sam asked this question (11:02 a.m.) that another blinding flash of light penetrated the room they were in: the second bomb had just been detonated in Nagasaki.
Though many people are unaware of this, the second bomb’s original target was the city of Kokura, but since Kokura was obscured by clouds that morning, the U.S. military switched the target city to Nagasaki.
Miraculously, not only did Yamaguchi survive the second blast, but so did his wife and baby son. The family spent the next week or so in an air raid shelter not far from the ruins of their home.
Yamaguchi was one of about 160 people who survived both blasts, but is the only one who was officially recognized by the Japanese government as an eniijuu hibakusha (double bomb survivor) in 2009, a year before his death.
After the war, Yamaguchi spent the rest of his life speaking out against nuclear proliferation. Speaking about his experiences a few year before passing away, Yamaguchi decribed his life as a, “path planted by God,” and said,
“It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened.”
Yamaguchi finally succumbed to the radiation poisoning in his body in 2010, when he passed away from leukemia just two years after his wife died from liver and kidney cancer. He was 93 years old.
In a December 19th interview with the Japan Times, Akie Abe, wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said that the calamity at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is, “beyond people’s assumptions”.
She went on to say,
I think it is better not have nuclear power plants, as it would be catastrophic if we have similar accidents again. I would rather not have nuclear power plants fired up, even if their safety is fully confirmed.”
Then on Saturday, Kyodo News reported that TEPCO, the company who owns the Fukushima plant, has been making plans to start using employees 55 years and older to handle,
decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station”,
starting in April. If the radiation was under control, why would TEPCO be recruiting its oldest employees to work on the plant?
Later that day, Reuters reported that TEPCO had recorded beta-radiation at 1.9million becquerels/kg underneath Reactor #2, the highest single reading since the original disaster.
For perspective, children contaminated by Cesium-137 (the main component of Fukushima’s radiation) at a level of 50 Bq/kg has been shown to cause irreversible heart damage in a child, and,
even relatively small amounts of Cs-137 in children from 10-30 Bq/kg…leads to a doubling in the number of children with electrocardiographic disorders.”
Studies done in Belarus have shown that levels of 200 Bq/kg in a pregnant woman can result in fetal death, and the prescribed safe limit for Cs-137 in vegetables is set at 500 Bq/kg.