Cassini Achieved A Successful First Dive Part Of Its “Grand Finale”

cassini first dive saturn

Cassini, NASA’s Saturn exploring mission, prepared and took the first dive of its “Grand Finale”.

NASA has been all abuzz this week as Cassini, its Saturn exploring mission, prepared and took the first dive of its “Grand Finale”. This is set to end on September 15th, as the spacecraft will take its final plunge.

Cassini’s Grand Finale will involve 22 planned plunges through Saturn’s rings. This is a first time ever, as no man-controlled craft has ever entered this region. The first dive was carried out this week. It took almost a full day before Cassini reported back to the mission center. This much-expected communication came late on Wednesday night and early on Thursday morning.

Cassini Completed Its First Dive Out Of 22

Joan Stupik, who is a guidance and control engineer for the Cassini mission at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave an interview prior to this confirmation. To achieve its goal, the spacecraft has to pass through a 1,200-mile gap in Saturn’s rings. As it does so, it also turns its antenna into a shield, which also puts a stop to the constant communication.

According to Stupik, scientists have been studying the gas giant’s rings for over a decade. However, they have little data on the small gap they detected. This is on the inside of the innermost ring and the atmosphere from the ring’s end. And this is where Cassini comes in. As part of its dives, it will gather information on both these elements.

Stupik said: “We think that it’s clear of debris, but there’s a small possibility that there could be small bits of debris particles, flecks of dust in there… going up to 45 times the speed of a bullet”

She also stated that these dives would offer more than just one fantastic opportunity. They will also help scientists take a closer look at the rings themselves. This way, they may be able to establish which are the oldest one. And they can do so as they analyze each ring independently.

By determining their age, research could also possibly determine their composition and how they formed. Also, Cassini could help science by taking a peek inside Saturn’s interior. This could show how big it is, what it is made of, and also how its magnetic field works.

If all goes according to plan, and Cassini manages to complete its mission, its final plunge is scheduled to take place on September 15th. That is if it doesn’t come into contact with debris during one of its following plunges.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Wax Worm To Help Humanity Get Rid Of The Packaging Plastics?

wax worm

Thanks to a chance discovery, science now knows that the wax worm is capable of digesting plastic.

Research scientist, Federica Bertocchini, accidentally discovered that wax worms have the ability to digest plastic. This new discovery could be the fix for the worldwide concern over plastic pollution.

How the Wax Worm May Offer a Plastic Pollution Solution

The problem of global pollution from plastic, a material that takes between 100 and 400 years to degrade, is quite overwhelming. More than 5 trillion plastic materials currently pollute the oceans. This impacts entire ecosystems and the human health by extension. Biologist Bertocchini’s surprise finding about the wax worm happened as she noticed this species had infested her beehives.

When Bertocchini found the infestation, she collected the wax worms into plastic bags. Not more than an hour had passed when she came back to the bags. In doing so, she found that the worms had chewed through the plastic and escaped. It was the beginning of a project that would assess the wax worm’s effectiveness in digesting packaging plastics.

How can a wax worm possibly digest plastic? It turns out the wax worm has a unique metabolism that can break down matter that is typically thought of as non-edible. Wax happens to contain a chemical bond that is also found in packaging plastic. Bertocchini notes that this may play a significant role in their ability to digest plastic.

In Bertocchini’s study, 100 worms were able to consume 92 milligrams of plastic. Research also found that a wax worm chrysalis had a similar impact on degrading packaging plastics. Experts now speculate on whether it is the worm’s own digestive enzyme product or bacteria that live in its stomach.

This new finding may guide the scientists’ attention to other organisms capable of digesting similar polluting materials. The mealworm, for instance, is another worm that may have the ability to metabolize plastic. Similar studies in Japan have examined the ability of certain microbes to digest such a mass.

While the findings are not yet solidified, scientists are working hard to isolate the particular enzyme or bacteria that enables wax worms to degrade plastic. Thanks to Bertocchini’s chance observation, there may be a promising remedy for plastic pollution on the horizon.

Image Source: Flickr

Meet Steve, A Recently Discovered Atmospheric Phenomenon

steve aurora

Steve is an atmospheric phenomenon recently spotted by aurora watchers.


The group of Borealis enthusiasts, known as the Alberta Aurora Chasers, were recently combing through old photos of their favorite light phenomenon when they came across a few images of something they had not noticed before. Several of their photos had a bright purple streak that had not yet been identified. They have chosen to call this new phenomenon “Steve”.

What is Steve?

The AAC is a Facebook page that attracts membership interested in the night sky, especially the Aurora Borealis. They take photographs of an atmospheric phenomenon and share them on the page. Many of the photos are viewed by experts in the field, who also share the amateur’s passion. One of those experts is Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary.

While looking through the photos one evening, Donovan discovered the strange arc of purple light. He had not noticed it before in pictures. It reappeared in several other photographs taken by the group. The AAC had been referring to the atmospheric phenomenon as a “Proton Arc”. Donovan was not so sure, and in order to confirm his suspicions, he was able to use the European Space Agency’s Swarm satellites. This is a trio of devices in orbit that examine Earth’s magnetic field.

He discovered that the event is due to a sudden change in temperature far above the Earth’s surface, almost 3000 degrees Centigrade. This causes the gasses in the air beneath it to travel at speeds close to six kilometers per second, as opposed to the ten meters per second of the surrounding gasses. It also creates the purple streak, which Swarm has recorded several times since then.

“It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn’t noticed it before.”
This is according to Professor Donovan, who stated that, together with his team, he would continue studying Steve and even try to release a paper on it.
The name of the phenomenon was chosen by the Facebook group, mostly as a joke. They would refer to “Hey, there’s Steve.” whenever they saw the event in a photo. This is a reference to the movie “Over the Hedge”. One even went so far as to develop an acronym, “Sudden Thermal Emission from Velocity Enhancements”.
Image Source: Wikimedia

The Naked Mole Rat Has Some Amazing Properties

naked mole rat

The naked mole rat may have some remarkable abilities, according to a new study.


The naked mole rat is one of the least appealing mammals on the planet in terms of appearance, but a new study shows that they have some surprising abilities.

Already known for their ability to fight off cancer and their extraordinary sense for vibrations in the Earth, the creatures may just have some ground-breaking secrets hiding underneath their wrinkly skin. This recent study has shown that they can survive for extended periods in extremely low oxygen surroundings. They also seem to have a special trick for when the air gets stale.

Naked Mole Rat Survives Without Oxygen By Switching Metabolism

Generally, most mammals convert glucose into energy within their cells by using oxygen. Only in a few rare cases and within certain organs can they use fructose, a different type of sugar molecule. But now, a study by the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine published in the journal Science shows that naked mole rats can switch their entire metabolism over to a fructose-based one. That means that it does not require oxygen.The study showed that the naked mole rat could survive up to eighteen minutes in a zero oxygen environment with no damage. It also showed that they could last for hours in an extremely low oxygen environment with a limited change to their functionality. The scientists part of the study believe that this is an adaptation to their underground colony life, where oxygen levels can be deadly to most vertebrates.

In the zero oxygen environment, Gary Lewin, the lead author of the study, says:

“The animals quickly went to sleep. They entered a state of suspended animation, a kind of coma, and survived like that for 18 minutes.”
If this method could be further studied, the possibilities for medicine could be tremendous. Particularly in the treatment of trauma and drowning victims where low oxygen causes severe organ and brain damage.
Image Source: Flickr

An Immense Mass Of Plastic Is Floating In The Arctic Ocean

immense mass of ice in the ocean

Surveys have shown that the Arctic Ocean has an immense mass of plastic bits floating around.


Many have heard of the Pacific Gyre, the central spot in the Pacific Ocean where a garbage patch of floating plastic the size of Texas has gathered. Accumulations have been found in other oceans around the world. Now, it looks like the Arctic has one as well.

An Immense Mass Of Some 300 Billion Bits of Plastic Is Floating In The Arctic Ocean

Right now, this immense mass is floating east of Greenland and north of Scandinavia. However, as the ice caps continue to diminish, it is expected to expand. Some scientists fear there may be even more of it. Some of this immense mass may have sunk to the ocean floor. As it passes through the water column, an enormous amount of this debris is making its way into the food chain. That is where it’s most devastating consequences may occur.This plastic does not dissolve. It can also not be digested by animals. Tiny bits and giant chunks are being found, not just entangled around wildlife, but within their digestive tract. The results are painful and often deadly.

The dual effect of warming due to climate change and this immense mass of trash is wreaking havoc on the Arctic and its fragile ecosystem. Many animal species already on edge due to receding ice and melting permafrost, are now being hit by this human-created mess. The particles are showing up in seals and walruses, who eat the fish that consumed them in the first place.
“The problem with plastic specifically being in the Arctic is that it’s going to get into the food chain of animals that are very much under threat already, that are struggling to survive in a changing climate.”
This is according to Erik van Sebille. He is the author of this new study, which was published in the Science Advances journal.
Reportedly, most of the immense mass of plastic could be prevented with more aggressive recycling and reclamation programs. Right now, allegedly only about 22% of our waste is recycled.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Titan Will Receive One Last FlyBy Visit From Cassini

titan and cassini

Saturday, Cassini will be making one more flyby of the moon Titan before the end of its mission.


NASA’s highly successful Saturn-exploring spacecraft, Cassini, will be making one more flyby of the moon Titan before the end of its mission. This Saturday, Cassini will make one last pass over the moon, coming within almost 600 miles of its surface. As it does so, it will be taking photos and readings with its various instruments the entire time.

Scientists also plan on using Titan’s gravity to assist Cassini as it prepares for its Grand Finale. This will be a series of dives between Saturn’s upper atmosphere and rings.

Cassini to Take One More Look At Titan Before It Says Its Final Farewell

With this last flyby, there will be a flurry of tests and experiments for Cassini, even as its directors prepare for a final trajectory change. Scientists hope to take measurements of the depth of Titan’s methane lakes and seas.

The experiments could also shed light on the moon’s so-called “magic islands”. These latter are now believed to be the result of static electricity building up on tiny particles of sand.

Cassini’s INMS or the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer will also be closely examining the upper atmosphere of Titan. It will do so in an attempt to discover how it changes over time. The magnetometer on board the spacecraft will be used to measure Titan’s northern magnetic tail.

This is unique because the moon has no magnetic field of itself. Instead, it has a tail created by the interaction between its ionosphere and Saturn. Once the last measurement is taken, scientists will shift Cassini’s trajectory one final time.
Using Titan’s gravity to give it an extra push, Cassini will end its almost twenty-year mission with a series of dips. These will have it bouncing back and forth between Saturn’s upper atmosphere and its rings.
The spacecraft will make twenty-two of these dives over several weeks, taking measurements and sending back readings the entire time. It will end with a fiery burnout as Cassini finally collides with the planet it was launched to examine in October of 1997.
Image Source: JPL/NASA

Researchers Spotted A New Rift In The Petermann Glacier

new rifft petermann glacier

There is a new rift in the Petermann Glacier ice shelf, one of Greenland’s largest such formations.

According to observations carried out as part of Operation IceBridge, there is a new rift in the Petermann Glacier, one of Greenland’s largest such formations.

The New Rift Was Detected During An Operation IceBridge Satellite Image Survey

NASA also released the first images of this new rift in the ice shelf. They are part of the Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey of the polar ice which is being carried out by NASA. Just recently, the research team completed a land-ice mission which targeted northwest Greenland.

As part of the mission, the team flew over and captured images of the new rift. This was detected near the center of the Petermann Glacier ice shelf or the glacier’s floating end. These new photos seem to indicate that this new rift is quite close to a larger, already known crack. This latter was established to be spreading towards the center of the Petermann ice shelf.

Operation IceBridge researchers offered some details on the new crack via a Facebook post. Through it, they stated that the “medial flowline” might help keep the new rift from increasing and advancing. The “medial flowline” is the ice flow when in the ice shelf’s middle region.


It could also stop the ice shelf from breaking. If the two rifts intersected, a part of the Petermann Glacier ice shelf could have faced the prospect of breaking off. This would not be such an uncommon event, as previous rifts have led to icebergs breaking away from this glacier. Over the last few years, Petermann’s has also been shrinking.

Stef Lhermitte is the one that found the new rift. He is an Earth Sciences Professor part of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and also part of Operation IceBridge. He stated that:

“From these images alone, it is difficult to already say anything about what exactly caused the crack on this unusual spot.”

As it is, this new crack could have allegedly been caused by the warming ocean waters currently circulating beneath the shelf. However, this is only a theory and more studies on the matter will still be needed.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Scientists Created A Map Of The Dark Matter In The Universe

dark matter images

Canadian scientists have managed to develop a map of the elusive dark matter.

Dark matter is an element as elusive as implied by its name. However, a team of Canadian scientists has managed to develop a map of this mysterious mass which was achieved thanks to a “composite” image.

According to generally withheld theories, dark matters makes up about 85 percent of all the mass in the Universe. Despite this fact, science has been unable to take a closer look, analyze, or capture its images.

This is because such matter is ‘invisible.’ More precisely, it neither absorbs, emits, or reflects any light sources. For quite some time, researchers have reportedly considered it to to be the “bridge” connecting galaxies to one another. At the same time, dark matter may also account for quite a large part of a galaxy’s mass.

Scientists Have Been Able To Create The First Ever Composite Image Of Dark Matter

A Canadian study team was able to create an image of the matter as they combined pictures of the outer space. These captured some 23,000 galaxy pairs, all of them located some 4.5 billion light-years away.

The researchers that achieved this feat are part of the University of Waterloo. They published a study paper on the matter in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal. The team also released a statement on the matter earlier this week. Mike Hudson, an astronomy professor part of the University and study author, stated the following.

Research has long since predicted the existence of this type of matter. This is believed to act like a “web-like superstructure” which can connect galaxies in between themselves.

“This image moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure.”

The image, as well as further observations on the matter, could help better understand this elusive component. It may help establish the dark matter’s composition as this has not yet been determined.

Image Source: Wikimedia

What Was The First Animal, The Sponge Or The Comb Jelly?

comb jelly

Scientists have been wondering what came first, the sea sponge or the comb jelly?

For almost a decade, scientists have been debating as to what was the first animal to evolve on Earth. The main competitors are the simple sea sponge versus the comb jelly, an ocean predator species. Now, a new research claims that this latter deserves the title and that it also has proof to support it.

This latest research was carried out by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee researchers led by Antonis Rokas. They published their results in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal.

The Comb Jelly May Quite Possibly Be The First Animal To Have Evolved On Earth

For most of a century, research considered the sea sponge as being the earliest life form. It achieved this title mostly thanks to its structural simplicity. However, over the recent decades, new studies based on genetic sequencing claimed that comb jellies are a better candidate for this place.

As such, Rokas and his team set out to determine both the earliest form of animal life, and determine the reason behind this controversy. In most cases, genetic sequencing offers exact answers while this time around, it raised more questions.

For this study, the researchers took a closer look at the details of some of the genes shared across the investigated species. More exactly:

“The trick is to examine the gene sequences from different organisms to figure out who they identify as their closest relatives.”

In doing so, the team found that the comb jelly is more likely to have diverged first. The team determined this as the jelly shared more genes with the other species when compared to the sea sponge.

Also, the team determined found that some “strongly opinionated genes” can also lead to confusing results in the statistical analysis used for phylogenetic data. As such, a correction of their influence should help lead to quicker, easier fixes for any potential future controversies.

Image Source: Flickr

NASA Is Offering Parts Of Earth Up For Adoption

offering parts of the world map

NASA will be offering parts of Earth up for virtual adoption as part of its newest campaign.

NASA will be offering parts of Earth up for virtual adoption as part of its newest campaign. This will be held as part of the Earth Day 2017 celebration, which will occur on April 22nd. The aerospace agency’s specially set website states that there are 64,000 pieces of land that will be waiting to be adopted.

Virtually Offering Parts Of The Earth May Help People Gain More Information On The Planet

NASA stated that each virtual parcel would correspond to a real one averaging around 55 miles wide. Also, according to the aerospace agency, after they are all “adopted”, the space administration will be looking to offer them up for adoption yet again.

According to NASA, its purpose will be to offer people to chance to learn more about the planet. They will do so as they will be offered access to the same information and resources presently available to scientists. More exactly, after “adopting” the piece of land, the respective user will have access to data layers.

These will represent a wide variety of climate variables, for example, carbon monoxide levels or relative humidity ones. They may also offer information on sea ice or chlorophyll, among others.

As it is offering parts of the Earth, the agency also pointed out that not all of them will come with such additional information. It also offered an explanation for these possible absences.

“It may be a data gap. […] Another reason for no data is that some satellites only take measurements at specific atmospheric heights or a given scene may not include what they’re looking for, […]”

Yet another offered explanation points out the fact that some satellites do not cover areas situated in the far polar regions. Also, not all the data from such transmissions come at the same time or date. This is because the various Earth parts are covered by different satellites.

Besides offering parts of Earth up for adoption, NASA also lets users share this fact, which may show their support for Earth Day 2017.

Image Source: Pixabay