saturn

Astronomers Uncover Secret Ocean On One Of Saturn’s Smallest Moons 

Astronomers have uncovered increasing evidence that one of Saturn’s smallest moons, named Mimas, has a global ocean beneath its icy surface. This is a significant revelation in the overall search for water on other planets, as water is an essential building block for all life, further fueling the potential for discovering habitable worlds in deep space. 

Scientists used to think Mimas was just a big ice chunk before NASA went on their Cassini mission orbiting Saturn, and its 146 moons, from 2004 to 2017. 

Mimas was first discovered in 1789 by English astronomer William Herschel, and was first photographed in 1980 using the Voyager probes. Mimas is covered in craters, with the largest one being 80 miles across. 

Through the Cassini mission, astronomers found that the moon takes around 22 hours to orbit Saturn, and is about 115,000 miles from Saturn. Data also showed that Mimas’ rotation and orbital motion is triggered by the moon’s interior. 

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According to reports, in 2014 European researchers determined that the core of Mimas is either rigid, elongated, rocky, or has a subsurface ocean causing its rotation and motion. Observatoire de Paris astronomer Dr. Valéry Lainey and his colleagues analyzed the orbital motion data to get a clearer conclusion, and their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature

Through this study, the team was able to determine that the moon’s spin and orbital motion didn’t match up with the theory that Mimas had a rocky core, and instead, the evolution of its orbit suggests an internal ocean that shaped its motion, Lainey explained. 

“This discovery adds Mimas to an exclusive club of moons with internal oceans, including Enceladus and Europa, but with a unique difference: its ocean is remarkably young, estimated to be only 5 (million) to 15 million years old,” said study co author Dr. Nick Cooper.

The team was able to determine the origin and age of Mimas’ ocean by analyzing how the moon responded to Saturn’s gravitational forces. 

“Internal heating must come from the tides raised by Saturn on Mimas. These tidal effects have induced friction inside the satellite, providing heat,” Lainey said. 

The study stated that they suspect the ocean is around 12 to 19 miles below the moon’s ice exterior. Astronomically speaking the ocean is very young, which means there wouldn’t be any outward signs of activity on the surface.

This discovery is a huge moment for science in general, as it could shift the ways in which astronomers think about moons in our solar system. 

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“If Mimas hides a global ocean, this means that liquid water could lie almost anywhere. We already have serious candidates for global oceans (on moons such as) Callisto, Dione and Triton,” Lainey said. 

“The existence of a recently formed liquid water ocean makes Mimas a prime candidate for study, for researchers investigating the origin of life,” Cooper said.

“It may be time to observe other seemingly quiet moons across the solar system that could be hiding conditions that can support life,” the study authors said.

“Lainey and colleagues’ findings will motivate a thorough examination of mid-sized icy moons throughout the Solar System,” wrote Drs. Matija Ćuk and Alyssa Rose Rhoden in an article that accompanied the study.

Rhoden has also written research about a “stealth” ocean on Mimas.

“Basically, the difference between our 2022 paper and this new paper is that we found an ocean could not be ruled out by Mimas’ geology, whereas they are actually detecting the signature of the ocean within Mimas’ orbit. It is the strongest evidence we have, so far, that Mimas really does have an ocean today,” Rhoden said.

“Mimas certainly demonstrates that moons with old surfaces can be hiding young oceans, which is pretty exciting. I do think we can speculate as to moons having developed oceans much more recently than we often assume,” Rhoden said.

hubble

Astronomers Detect Water Vapor On Small Exoplanet In “Landmark Discovery”

Astronomers have utilized the Hubble Space Telescope to make a “landmark discovery” of water molecules on a small exoplanet located 97 light-years away from Earth, according to reports from CNN

The planet is scientifically named GJ 9827d, and is about twice Earth’s diameter, and according to a new report published last week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, is the smallest exoplanet that has been found to have water vapor in its atmosphere. 

While the presence of water on any planet could be a sign of life, the astronomers involved in this research said it was unlikely that this planet has life on it due to its hot temperature that likely turns the water in the atmosphere to steam. 

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“Water on a planet this small is a landmark discovery. It pushes closer than ever to characterizing truly Earth-like worlds,”  said study coauthor Laura Kreidberg, managing director of the atmospheric physics of exoplanets department at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, in a statement.

The planet itself is reported to reach temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), hence the conclusion that it’s inhospitable. 

“This would be the first time that we can directly show through an atmospheric detection, that these planets with water-rich atmospheres can actually exist around other stars. This is an important step toward determining the prevalence and diversity of atmospheres on rocky planets,” said study coauthor Björn Benneke, professor at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets, in a statement

“Our observing program, led by principal investigator Ian Crossfield of (the University of Kansas) in Lawrence, Kansas, was designed specifically with the goal to not only detect the molecules in the planet’s atmosphere, but to actually look specifically for water vapor. Either result would be exciting, whether water vapor is dominant or just a tiny species in a hydrogen-dominant atmosphere,” said lead study author Pierre-Alexis Roy, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute, in a statement

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According to the study, astronomers have observed GJ 9827d during 11 transits within the past three years. 

“Until now, we had not been able to directly detect the atmosphere of such a small planet. And we’re slowly getting into this regime now. At some point, as we study smaller planets, there must be a transition where there’s no more hydrogen on these small worlds, and they have atmospheres more like Venus (which is dominated by carbon dioxide),” Benneke said. 

“Observing water is a gateway to finding other things. This Hubble discovery opens the door to future study of these types of planets by the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST can see much more with additional infrared observations, including carbon-bearing molecules like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane. Once we get a total inventory of a planet’s elements, we can compare those to the star it orbits and understand how it was formed,” said study coauthor Thomas Greene, astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. 

“We can hardly wait to see what those data reveal. Hopefully, we can now settle the question of water worlds once and for all,” Kreidberg stated.

scientist

Scientists Develop New Antibiotic to Kill Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Scientists have developed a novel antibiotic to combat bacteria resistant to existing antibiotics. The bacteria, Acinetobacter baumannii, causes infections in the lungs, urinary tract and blood and has a high mortality rate.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that it is resistant to a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics known as carbapenems, and it kills a significant number of people via invasive infection.

In 2017, the World Health Organization released a list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens,” listing Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (CRAB) in its critical category. The organization describes pathogens of this designation as “ multidrug-resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters.”

Data from the CDC shows that the bacteria caused 700 fatalities and 8,500 infections in hospitalized patients in the US that year. Being a Gram-negative bacteria, protected by inner and outer membranes, makes CRAB incredibly difficult to treat. The US Food and Drug Administration has not authorized a new class of antibiotics to treat it in over 50 years.

However, Acinetobacter baumannii can be effectively killed with the new antibiotic Zosurabalpin, according to researchers from Harvard University and the Swiss healthcare company Hoffmann-La Roche.

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Dr. Kenneth Bradley, one of the researchers and global head of infectious disease discovery with Roche Pharma Research and Early Development, stated that the drug is in its own chemical class and has a unique method of action.

The study’s primary objective was to discover and optimize a molecule capable of penetrating bacterial double membranes and killing them. “These two membranes create a very formidable barrier for entry of molecules like antibiotics,” he said.

“This is a novel approach, both in terms of the compound itself but as well as the mechanism by which it kills bacteria.”

The research found that Zosurabalpin was effective against over 100 CRAB clinical samples. To develop the drug, the scientists researched 45,000 small antibiotic molecules known as tethered macrocyclic peptides to find those that could inhibit bacterial growth. Researchers spent years honing the effectiveness and safety of a select few compounds before settling on a single modified molecule.

By blocking the transport of lipopolysaccharides, which are big molecules essential for maintaining the integrity of the outer membrane and ultimately leading to cell death, Zolofalacpin inhibits the growth of Acinetobacter baumannii.

According to the study, the antibiotic significantly decreased bacterial levels in mice with CRAB-induced pneumonia. Additionally, it prevented the death of mice infected with bacterial sepsis.

“Drug discovery that targets harmful Gram-negative bacteria is a long-standing challenge owing to difficulties in getting molecules to cross the bacterial membranes to reach targets in the cytoplasm. Compounds typically must possess a certain combination of chemical characteristics.”

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Dr. Michael Lobritz, the global head of infectious diseases at Roche Pharma Research and Early Development and an associate participant in the study, stated that the continued absence of effective treatments for antibiotic resistance means that the public health risk of this phenomenon is still a major one on a global scale, regardless of the new finding.

According to CNN, an analysis published in the Lancet in 2022 estimated that antimicrobial resistance was directly responsible for the deaths of about 1.3 million people worldwide in 2019. When put side by side, that year, 860,000 people died from HIV/AIDS and 640,000 from malaria.

The CDC stated in its 2019 Antibiotic Resistance Threats Report that more than 2.8 million cases of infections resistant to antibiotics are reported annually in the United States. Over 35,000 of those individuals lose their lives.

More antibiotics have been developed to treat Gram-positive infections in the last few decades, according to Lobritz. Gram-negative bacteria are more resistant to antibiotics and generally more dangerous. “These  Gram-negative bacteria, they’ve been accumulating resistance to many of our preferred first-line antibiotics for a long time.”

“Innovations are hard to come by. It’s taken us ten years of effort on this project to get it to where it is now, and there’s still more clinical trials to go before it can be determined whether or not it’s a medicine.”

According to the researchers, the method that was used to limit the growth of Acinetobacter, blocking the creation or formation of the outer membrane, could be useful for other difficult-to-treat bacteria such as E. coli. The drug is now in phase 1 clinical trials to assess for safety in humans.

scientist

Animal Testing Could Come To An End With 3D-Printed Chip That Shows Body’s Reaction To Drugs 

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have designed a new “body-on-chip” that perfectly mimics how medicine travels through the body, which could eliminate the need for animal testing when it comes to drug and medication development. 

Typically thousands of animals are used every year around the world during the early stages of developing medicines, however, many of these drugs don’t end up showing any clinical benefit. 

According to reports from The Guardian, the device is the first of its kind, and was made using a 3D printer. The chip itself has five compartments that replicate the human heart, liver, lungs, kidney, and brain. Each compartment is connected by little channels that are meant to replicate the human circulatory system. 

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Liam Carr is the inventor of this device, and he explained that the plastic chip uses positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to produce 3D images showing what is going on inside the replicated “organs.”

“The PET imagery is what allows us to ensure the flow of new drugs being tested is even,” Carr explained

“This device is the first to be designed specifically for measuring drug distribution, with an even flow paired with organ compartments that are large enough to sample drug uptake for mathematical modeling. Essentially, allowing us to see where a new drug goes in the body and how long it stays there, without having to use a human or animal to test it.”

“The platform is completely flexible and can be a valuable tool to investigate various human diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and immune diseases. Because of this flexibility, the uses are bound only by the availability of these cell models, and the scientific questions we can think of,” Carr stated.

“For example, we could have a fatty liver disease model in the device and use this to see how having a diseased liver affects other organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, etc, and could even combine multiple diseased cell models to see how diseases can interfere with each other.”

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Dr. Adriana Tavares of Edinburgh’s Center for Cardiovascular Science is Carr’s supervisor, and she explained that by linking the five organs together in this device, scientists can effectively study how new drugs may impact a patient’s entire body. 

“This is a really important area of medical research, as we continuously learn about how diseases traditionally perceived to be restricted to an organ or system can have diverse effects across other distant organs or different interconnected systems.”

“Devices such as the body-on-chip platform are essential to unravel the mechanisms underlying systemic effects of local diseases as well as investigate off-target effects of drugs, which might be therapeutically useful or detrimental,” she added

“This device shows really strong potential to reduce the large number of animals that are used worldwide for testing drugs and other compounds, particularly in the early stages, where only 2% of compounds progress through the discovery pipeline.”

“This non-animal approach could significantly reduce cost of drug discovery, accelerate translation of drugs into the clinic, and improve our understanding of systemic effects of human diseases, by using models that are more representative to human biology than animal models,” she concluded. 

sphinx

Scientists Reveal Evidence That Supports A Possible Origin Story For The Great Sphinx

Space scientist and geologist Farouk El-Baz initially theorized that wind played a major role in shaping the famous Great Sphinx of Giza 40 years ago. Now, a new study has revealed evidence that suggests El-Baz’s theory might be correct. The theory states that wind played a major role in shaping the initial structure of the Great Sphinx before ancient Egyptians added the surface details. 

The theory is being supported based on a team of scientists in New York University’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory who worked to replicate the conditions the ancient Egyptians faced 4,500 years ago; which is when scientists believe the statue was likely built.

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“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion. Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows,” said senior study author Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, in a news release

The team of researchers created clay-model landforms of compact sand which typically naturally occurs from the wind in exposed desert regions. They also washed the formations with a fast stream of water to represent the wind. 

According to CNN’s Taylor Nicioli, “based on the composition of the Great Sphinx, the team used harder, non-erodible inclusions within the featureless soft-clay mound, and with the flow from the water tunnel, the researchers found a lion form had begun to take shape.”

“Within the desert, there are yardangs that exist that naturally look like seated or lying animals with raised heads. Some of them look so much like a seated lion, or a seated cat, that they’re sometimes called Mud Lions. … Our experiments could add to the understanding of how these yardangs form,” Ristroph told CNN.

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It is believed that the Great Sphinx of Giza was carved from a single piece of limestone. The theory emphasizing the wind’s role in creating the 66-foot formation was initially featured in a 1981 Smithsonian Magazine article by El-Baz. 

“The premise was based on leading work by the late planetary geologist Ronald Greeley, who had simulated wind tunnels to explore how wind erosion can shape structures in the desert,” El-Baz told CNN

Salima Ikram, distinguished university professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, questioned the theory: “Once the Great Sphinx was carved, nature played a part in its further formation, but it is unlikely that the original form was based on a yardang (which are generally of mud — this is limestone) as there are significant quarry marks and working marks surrounding it.” 

“There is too much evidence of human intervention in the construction of the Great Sphinx to make the yardang theory feasible,” Ikram said.

The New York University researchers said their results “suggest that Sphinx-like structures can form under fairly commonplace conditions, but the findings don’t resolve the mysteries behind yardangs and the Great Sphinx.

“t’s not so black and white. … No one says this is an entirely human carved thing and no one says it’s entirely nature carved. The question is how much was naturally existing and then further modified. What our (study) would do is tell you that much of the head base, the neck and the paws, much of that is possible to carve by nature, by erosion,” Ristroph told CNN.

saturn

Saturn’s Rings Will ‘Disappear’ From Earth’s View In 2025

Saturn is one of the most well-known planets in our solar system based on their wondrous rings. People can often view the planet using simple telescopes throughout the year when it’s visible, however, scientists are now saying in 2025, the famous rings around Saturn will no longer be visible from our views on Earth. 

Saturn’s rings are thought to be made up of pieces of comets, asteroids, chunks of ice and shattered moons that drifted towards the planet and were shredded by its powerful gravitational force. 

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According to a study published by Metro, scientists don’t know exactly how old the rings are, however, it is estimated that they formed 400 million years ago, which is very young in terms of cosmic bodies. 

Metro also has reported that scientists know the rings are disappearing, with pieces falling off as icy rain in Saturn’s atmosphere. 

Scientists predict that it will take at least 100 million years for the rings to completely disappear, however, for us on Earth, an optical illusion will make it seem as though they already disappeared in the coming years. 

According to Katherine Fidler of Metro: “The rings may be massive in one dimension, but in another, they’re miniscule – measuring just ten meters thick. 

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This isn’t a problem right now, because Saturn isn’t in perfect alignment with Earth – it’s tilted at about a 9 degree angle. Next year, that will have decreased to about 3.7 degrees.”

Starting in 2025, the way Saturn will be tilted will be directly horizontal from Earth’s view, meaning its rings will look too thin to actually see. 

Fidler described the view as like trying to look at a piece of paper turned to its side from across a football field. 

Since the planet is constantly inclining, however, the optical illusion won’t last that long, as Saturn will continue to move during its 29.5 year cycle.

asteroid

NASA Launching Spacecraft On Six-Year Journey To Research Asteroid Made Of Metal 

NASA is gearing up to launch a spacecraft on a six-year journey to research a very unique asteroid that seems to be mainly made up of metal. 

The principal investigator for the mission, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, stated that“this will be our first time visiting a world that has a metal surface,” explaining how previous NASA missions mainly looked at “worlds made of rock or ice or gas,” according to NPR.

The asteroid itself in this specific mission is named “Psyche,” and could help scientists understand exactly how violent collisions and space events in our solar system’s initial years of creation led to the formation of our planets. Many planets in our solar system, including Earth, have metal-rich cores, so the asteroid could provide some further insight into that history. 

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Psyche was discovered in 1852, and according to Elkins-Tanton, it’s likely the size of the state of Massachusetts and shaped like a potato. Researchers believe that the asteroid is about 30 to 60 percent metal. 

Once the spacecraft arrives at the asteroid in August 2029, it will be able to send images back to NASA so they can see what Psyche looks like, because as of right now, “we do not know what Psyche looks like,” according to Elkins-Tanton. 

The probe will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a SpaceX rocket and will have its initial opportunity to launch on Thursday morning. 

“Researchers believe the asteroid might have craters that are ringed with iron spikes, because an impact might send up streams of molten metal that then solidify. The asteroid might also have huge metal cliffs, and the remnants of greenish-yellow lava flows,” says Elkins-Tanton.

Psyche is reported to be over 150 million miles away at its closest approach to Earth, and for now all scientists are able to see of it is just a point of light due to its distance. It’s also in the outer part of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, according to reports

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“Since asteroids are leftovers from when the planets formed, Psyche is like an exposed version of what lurks at the center of rocky planets,” said Elkins-Tanton.

“We’re trying to understand the metal core of the Earth. We are never, ever going to go to those cores — way too hot, way too deep — so this is our one way to see a core.”

“There are other metallic asteroids that represent this kind of planetary building block, but Psyche is by far the largest, and the one that is most likely to tell us the most about cores,” Elkins-Tanton stated

“The planet Mercury has an unusually high amount of iron beneath a rocky shell, and there are some planets outside the solar system, around distant stars, that also seem to mostly be made of metal,” says Ben Weiss, the deputy principal investigator for the mission.

“So even though Psyche’s metal-rich nature makes it an unusual asteroid, it’s also kind of representative of a diverse range of bodies that we think are maybe metal worlds,”  he says. 

“Because we don’t know what its surface looks like, we’re not ready to land. We’re not ready to sample. We have to have some sense of what this object is like before we can take that next step,” says Elkins-Tanton.

nasa

NASA Report States There Is No Evidence That Confirms UFOs Are Extraterrestrial 

An independent study team from NASA has released a report on UFOs in which they stated that there is no evidence that reported UFO sightings are extraterrestrial. The US Government also now categorizes UFOs as UAPs, or unidentified anomalous phenomena. 

During a press conference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson discussed how NASA has scientific programs to search for signs of life on Mars and imprints of biology in our atmosphere. He discussed how he hopes the mainstream conversation regarding UAPs and UFOs is centered around science in the future. 

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Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy who has a history of reporting on astrobiology, wrote about the recent report for the publication, The Conversation

Impey wrote about how the NASA study team’s report suggests that there’s “little to no evidence to suggest that UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin,” according to astronomer David Spergel. 

Only “a small handful cannot be immediately identified as known human-made or natural phenomena,” out of more than 800 unclassified sightings that have been collected by the Department of Defense. according to the report.

“Many of the recent sightings can be attributed to weather balloons and airborne clutter. Historically, most UFOs are astronomical objects such as meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus. Some sightings represent surveillance operations by foreign powers, which is why the U.S. military considers this a national security issue.”

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“The report does offer recommendations to NASA on how to move these investigations forward,” Impey wrote

Data analysis from the report is“hampered by poor sensor calibration, the lack of multiple measurements, the lack of sensor metadata, and the lack of baseline data.” 

Officials described the analysis process like “looking for a needle in a haystack, or separating the wheat from the chaff. [We] needed a consistent and rigorous methodology for characterizing sightings, as a way of homing in on something truly anomalous.”

Spergel said the study team’s goal was “to characterize the hay – or the mundane phenomena – and subtract it to find the needle, or the potentially exciting discovery.

Artificial intelligence can help researchers comb through massive datasets to find rare, anomalous phenomena. AI is already being used this way in many areas of astronomy research,” according to Impey.

moon

Defense Of Advanced Research Projects Agency Exploring Technology For Moon-Based Economy 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is embarking on a seven-month study to analyze the infrastructure and baseline technology that would be needed to develop a moon-based economy within the next 10 years. 

Through their lunar architecture study, called LunA-10, DARPA is attempting to establish the framework needed for “rapid scientific and commercial activity on and around the moon,” between 2025 and 2015, according to an Agency statement.

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“A large paradigm shift is coming in the next 10 years for the lunar economy. To get to a turning point faster, LunA-10 uniquely aims to identify solutions that can enable multi-mission lunar systems,” said Michael Nayak, the program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. 

The “multi-mission systems” that Nayak is referring to could include dual use military and commercial technology, such as a wireless power station that would offer communication and navigation capabilities. Nayak compared DARPA’s role in building the lunar economy to it’s contributions to the creation of the internet. 

“Just like DARPA’s foundational node of ARPANET grew into the sprawling web of the internet, LunA-10 is looking for those connective nodes to support a thriving commercial economy on the moon,” Nayak stated. 

The US and other nations, as well as commercial companies, have been planning missions as a part of their vision for a future economy on the moon. DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory have begun a slew of programs in recent years meant to explore satellite sensing and logistics in a lunar environment. 

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The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency announced in May that they’re developing a Lunar Reference Frame that will show a mapping infrastructure to support a GPS-like capability for the moon. 

According to reports, “the DARPA effort is focused on fusing various infrastructure sectors that have technological overlap into hubs that could be built up in the future, as economic activity on and around the moon increases. Those sectors include: transit and mobility; energy; communications; and other revolutionary orbital or surface infrastructure concepts.”

DARPA is not planning on funding any new technology development, transportation, or integration with space vehicles, and instead is forming teams that are made up of companies with expertise in lunar technology. 

The teams will be responsible for identifying enabling capabilities, developing analytical frameworks, and considering logistical and technical challenges for future moon operations. 

DARPA is projecting their study will officially begin in November and go until June 2024. They’re also coordinating with NASA to create a blueprint for scientific exploration on the moon and Mars.

horsehair worm

‘Mind-Controlling’ Parasitic Worms Are Missing 30% of Genes Found in All Other Animals

Parasitic worms known for their “mind controlling” abilities are missing 30% of genes that are found in all other animals, scientists say. The thread-like worms are notorious for compelling their insect hosts to jump into water and drown.

Horsehair worms, of which there are hundreds of species, hatch in water where small water-dwelling predators eventually eat their larvae. Land-dwelling predators, such as crickets and beetles that consume these smaller predators, make the ideal host for the parasite.

After spending months as larvae inside these larger predators, the adult parasites force their hosts to actively seek out and enter bodies of water. Once the insect has drowned, the horsehair worms swim out of the host’s rear orifices to begin their next generation.

The worms resemble spaghetti strings, are only a few inches long, and are found all around the world. Spending most of their lives inside other animals, they have no excretory, respiratory or circulatory systems.

According to a study published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology, horsehair worms, which belong to the phylum Nematomorpha, lost about a third of the genes found in other animals somewhere along their evolutionary history. Genome sequencing of two nematomorph species—the freshwater hairworm Acutogordius australiensis and the marine species Nectonema munidae—led researchers to find the missing genes. Beyond their unique reproductive behavior, very little was known about the worms’ genetics until now.

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Tauana Cunha, a postdoctoral research scientist at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study, says, “One of the coolest things, maybe the thing that they are most known for, is that they can affect the behavior of their hosts and make them do things that they wouldn’t do otherwise.”

Cunha told CNN that compared with other animals, the worms seemed to be missing a group of around 200 genes.

“There’s a given set of genes that are expected to be found across animal groups. It’s used as a metric for the quality of your genome.”

The genes are known to control the development of cilia—short hairlike structures found at the cellular level, which aid in cellular movement, perform sensing functions, and remove debris and microbes.

The “tail” of a sperm cell is actually just a single, highly specialized cilium. Many microscopic organisms use cilia to swim and catch food. These structures also line our respiratory tract, retinal cells, and the surface of our lungs.

“We set out to sequence their genomes because nothing like them has ever been sequenced before at that level. The goal was to produce those genomes and eventually use them to understand the evolutionary relationships between hairworms and other kinds of animals.”

Horsehair worms seem to be thriving without cilia. “The large majority of the missing genes were exactly the same between the two species; this was just implausible by chance,” says Cunha about the marine and freshwater horsehair worm species studied.

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Biologist Keiichi Kakui, a lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences at Hokkaido University in Japan, told CNN that the promising new research combines “genome-scale molecular data and detailed morphological observation.”

Kakui was the lead author of a separate study that identified juvenile marine horsehair worms in isopods, a type of deep-sea crustacean. It is unclear how these parasites are able to navigate the ocean without the sensory structures available to most other animals.

“It is hard for me to imagine how this species finds and enters their host in the vast deep sea.”

Scientists had previously identified five species of marine horsehair worms, joining the hundreds of species found in freshwater. Marine horsehair worms, in contrast to their freshwater counterparts, live their entire lives underwater and are not known to manipulate their hosts’ behavior. However, it appears that all species are missing the same genes, which may indicate that both lineages share a common ancestor from which the genetic deficiency was inherited.

Cunha says the new genetic information could also be used to learn about other parasitic organisms known to influence the behaviors of their hosts.

“By doing this comparative analysis across organisms in the future, we might be able to look for similarities. Or maybe these organisms evolved similar behaviors in completely different ways from each other.”