Electronic Skin Technology

Merging biology and electronics gives access to a new and upcoming technology. This has led to the development of a super thin and highly flexible material like a tattoo, embedded with a wireless electronic chip to be stuck on human skin.

Its applications are many, from monitoring health to even sending commands to human-machine interfaces like video games. The newly developed material/ device is easily removable, as easily it’s stuck on the skin surface.

Saturn's Titan is Capable of Creating the Molecules that Make Up DNA

Saturn's moon Titan has many of the components for life without liquid water. But the orange hydrocarbon haze that shrouds the planet's largest moon could be creating the molecules that make up DNA without the help of water – an ingredient widely thought to be necessary for the molecules formation according to a 2011 international study.

Paul Davies, a leading authority in astrobiology, director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and co-director of the ASU Cosmology Initiative, says: "To the best of our knowledge, the original chemicals chosen by known life on Earth do not constitute a unique set; other choices could have been made, and maybe were made if life started elsewhere many times."
Researchers warn however that although Titan's atmosphere is creating these molecules, that doesn't mean that the molecules are combining to form life, But the finding could entice astrobiologists to consider a wider range of extrasolar planets as potential hosts for at least simple forms of organic life, the team of scientists from the US and France suggests.

The findings also suggest that billions of years ago Earth's upper atmosphere – not just the so-called primordial soup on the surface – may have been the sources for these "prebiotic" molecules, amino acids and the so-called nucleotide bases that make up DNA.

"We're really starting to get a sense for what kind of chemistry an atmosphere is capable of" performing, says Sarah Hörst, a graduate student in planetary science at the University of Arizona, who led the research effort.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has detected large molecules at altitudes of some 600 miles above Titan's surface. But the molecules are so far unidentified because of limitations to the craft's instruments. The Cassini research team replicated Titan's atmosphere in a large chamber at the temperatures present in the moon's upper atmosphere. To play the role of the sun's ultraviolet light hitting Titan's atmosphere, they used radio energy at a power level comparable to a modestly bright light bulb. The UV light is critical because it breaks up molecules such as molecular nitrogen or carbon monoxide in Titan's atmosphere, leaving the individual atoms to choose up different partners, forming new molecules.

The experiment yielded tiny aerosol particles. The team ran the particles through a sensitive mass spectrometer, which showed the chemical formulas for the molecules that made up the aerosols.Hörst then ran the formulas past a roster of molecules biologically important for life on Earth. She got 18 hits, including the four nucleotides whose combinations form an organism's genetic information encoded in DNA. It appears to be less important that water is present to form these molecules than it is for some form of oxygen to be present in the mix of ingredients, she concluded.

On Earth, oxygen early in the planet's pre-life history would come in the form of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from volcanic activity, as well as from water released by volcanism and through meteor and comet impacts. On Titan, the oxygen appears to be coming from Enceladus, an ice-bound moon of Saturn in its own right because of icy geysers spewing into space from near its south pole. Some researchers think the geysers hint at a possible global subsurface sea and a potential habitat for life.

In 2011, researchers showed how water molecules ejected as part of Enceladus's geysers can be carried great distances through the Saturn system, with some oxygen-bearing molecules finding their way to Titan.

The Pillars of Creation - A Celestial Star Factory

 These massive clouds of interstellar dust and gas call the Eagle Nebula home. The pillars were composed of cool molecular hydrogen and dust that were being eroded away by photoevaporation from the ultraviolet light of relatively close and hot stars. The leftmost pillar was about four light years in length. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the clouds were larger than our solar system, and were made visible by the shadows of Evaporating Gaseous Globules (EGGs), which shielded the gas behind them from intense UV flux. EGGs are themselves incubators of new stars.

Parts of the clouds, particularly the finger-like projections you can see at various points along the pillars, are dense enough to collapse under their own weight, forming young stars. These embryonic stars continue growing as long as they can draw mass from the surrounding clouds.

Unfortunately the pillars were destroyed about 6000 years ago by a nearby supernova's shock wave; due to the time it takes for light to travel from the Eagle Nebula to Earth this won't be visible for another 1000 years.



As described in a paper published August 26 in Nature Materials, a multi-institutional research team led by Charles M. Lieber, the Mark Hyman, Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Harvard and Daniel Kohane, a Harvard Medical School professor in the Department of Anesthesia at Children's Hospital Boston developed a system for creating nanoscale "scaffolds" which could be seeded with cells which later grew into tissue.
Also contributing to the work were Robert Langer, from the Koch Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Zhigang Suo, the Allen E. and Marilyn M. Puckett Professor of Mechanics and Materials at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
"The current methods we have for monitoring or interacting with living systems are limited," said Lieber. "We can use electrodes to measure activity in cells or tissue, but that damages them. With this technology, for the first time, we can work at the same scale as the unit of biological system without interrupting it. Ultimately, this is about merging tissue with electronics in a way that it becomes difficult to determine where the tissue ends and the electronics begin."
The research addresses a concern that has long been associated with work on bioengineered tissue -- how to create systems capable of sensing chemical or electrical changes in the tissue after it has been grown and implanted. The system might also represent a solution to researchers' struggles in developing methods to directly stimulate engineered tissues and measure cellular reactions.
"In the body, the autonomic nervous system keeps track of pH, chemistry, oxygen and other factors, and triggers responses as needed," Kohane explained. "We need to be able to mimic the kind of intrinsic feedback loops the body has evolved in order to maintain fine control at the cellular and tissue level."
Using the autonomic nervous system as inspiration, Bozhi Tian, a former doctoral student under Lieber and former postdoctoral fellow in the Kohane and Langer labs, and collaborator Jia Liu worked in Lieber's lab at Harvard to build mesh-like networks of nanoscale silicon wires -- about 30 -- 80 nm in diameter -- shaped like flat planes or in a reticular conformation.
The process of building the networks, Lieber said, is similar to that used to etch microchips.
Beginning with a two-dimensional substrate, researchers laid out a mesh of organic polymer around nanoscale wires, which serve as the critical nanoscale sensing elements. Nanoscale electrodes, which connect the nanowire elements, were then built within the mesh to enable nanowire transistors to measure the activity in cells without damaging them. Once complete, the substrate was dissolved, leaving researchers with a net-like sponge or a mesh that can be folded or rolled into a host of three dimensional shapes.
Once complete, the networks were porous enough to allow the team to seed them with cells and encourage those cells to grow in 3D cultures.
"Previous efforts to create bioengineered sensing networks have focused on two-dimensional layouts, where culture cells grow on top of electronic components, or on conformal layouts where probes are placed on tissue surfaces," said Tian. "It is desirable to have an accurate picture of cellular behavior within the 3D structure of a tissue, and it is also important to have nanoscale probes to avoid disruption of either cellular or tissue architecture."
Using heart and nerve cells, the team successfully engineered tissues containing embedded nanoscale networks without affecting the cells' viability or activity. Using the embedded devices, they were able to detect electrical signals generated by cells deep within the tissue, and to measure changes in those signals in response to cardio- or neuro-stimulating drugs.
Researchers were also able to construct bioengineered blood vessels, and used the embedded technology to measure pH changes -- as would be seen in response to inflammation, ischemia and other biochemical or cellular environments -- both inside and outside the vessels.
Though a number of potential applications exist for the technology, the most near-term use, Lieber said, may come from the pharmaceutical industry, where researchers could use the technology to more precisely study how newly-developed drugs act in three dimensional tissues, rather than thin layers of cultured cells. The system might also one day be used to monitor changes inside the body and react accordingly, whether through electrical stimulation or the release of a drug.

JWST Telescope

Webb often gets called the replacement for Hubble, but we prefer to call it a successor. After all, Webb is the scientific successor to Hubble; its science goals were motivated by results from Hubble. Hubble's science pushed us to look to longer wavelengths to "go beyond" what Hubble has already done. In particular, more distant objects are more highly redshifted, and their light is pushed from the UV and optical into the near-infrared. Thus observations of these distant objects (like the first galaxies formed in the Universe, for example) requires an infrared telescope.

This is the other reason that Webb is not a replacement for Hubble is that its capabilities are not identical. Webb will primarily look at the Universe in the infrared, while Hubble studies it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths (though it has some infrared capability). Webb also has a much bigger mirror than Hubble. This larger light collecting area means that Webb can peer farther back into time than Hubble is capable of doing. Hubble is in a very close orbit around the earth, while Webb will be 1.5 million kilometers (km) away at the second Lagrange (L2) point.

How Far Will Webb see?

Because of the time it takes light to travel, the further away an object is, the further back in time we are looking.

This illustration compares various telescopes and how far back they are able to see. Essentially, Hubble can see the equivalent of "toddler galaxies" and Webb Telescope will be able see "baby galaxies". One reason Webb will be able to see the first galaxies is because it is an infrared telescope. The Big Bang caused the universe (and thus the galaxies in it) to expand, so most galaxies are moving away from each other. The most distant (and thus youngest) galaxies are moving away so quickly that the light they emit gets shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. This is very similar to listening to a train whistle shifting from higher to lower frequency as it passes by. Because visible light from faraway, quickly moving, “high redshift” galaxies is shifted to the infrared, infrared telescopes, like Webb, are ideal for observing these early galaxies.

The Sombrero Galaxy

This ring is part of the Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104; one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The galaxy spans about 50,000 light years across and is 28 million light years away. This image is in infrared light; in this light the dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Galaxy glows brightly.

This image, digitally sharpened, was recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-colour on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light.

NASA astronaut

This spectacular shot of NASA astronaut Sunita Williams was recently snapped from space, as the flight engineer made routine repairs to the International Space Station. 
Earlier this week two astronauts on board the ISS had a MacGyver moment when they made repairs using a $3 toothbrush and saved around $100 billion.

The Milky Way, seen from the Port Hills

Taken near Christchurch, New Zealand, the Milky Way is shown clearly over the Port Hills and the Sugar Loaf communications tower. The image was shot by Aaron Campbell on Thursday 9th Aug 2012, about 11.30pm; there was a new moon and the light pollution was at a relatively low level. Campbell used a 14-24mm @ 15mm/ f2.8, iso2000, 30secs. 

Hadley Crater, Mars

ESA’s Mars Express has returned to its primary mission of studying the geology and atmosphere of Mars from orbit, after providing support to the Curiosity rover.

This image was created combining High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) nadir and colour channel data taken by Mars Express. The spacecraft imaged the 120 km wide Hadley Crater during revolution 10572 on 9 April 2012. The image has a ground resolution of about 19 m per pixel, and is centred at around 19°S and 157°E. The crater lays to the west of the Al-Qahira Vallis; it is in the transition zone between the old southern highlands and the younger northern lowlands. 

The image shows the main 120 km wide crater, with multiple impacts at later epochs within it. The impacts reached depths of up to 2,600 m below the surrounding surface. These impacts were from large asteroids and/or comets and occurred early in the crater’s formation after infilling with lava and sediments. There is evidence that some of these later impacts were partly buried as there are wrinkle ridges to the north of the crater floor and hints of more crater rims to the west.

There is also evidence of mass wasting, which is where surface material moves down a slope due to gravity. This evidence presents as the southern left side of the crater appearing shallower than the opposite side. It is hard to determine what caused this mass wasting or when it occurred; it can be started by earthquakes (Marsquakes), ice splitting the rocks through a process called freeze-thaw, or water being introduced into the slope material.

The ejecta of the smaller craters within Hadley are particularly interesting. There is evidence for volatiles within two of them, which suggests possible water ice beneath the surface. Upon impact, the ice would mix with surrounding materials to form a kind of ‘mud’ which is then ejected over the surface. The ice could be present to a depth of hundreds of metres. 

Hadley crater is named after British lawyer and meteorologist George Hadley (1685-1768). The ‘Hadley Cell’, which is a circulation system in Earth’s atmosphere, is also named after him.

Human spacecrafts

Now that the US government has halted all funding to the U.S. space shuttle program, NASA have begun to look to the private sector for new reusable manned spacecraft. Five private-spacecraft proposals have won U.S. $50 million in federal grants under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including the Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser (a concept drawing of which is illustrated above).

Whichever proposal is successful will have the task of transporting cargo and up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station as well as safely returning crews. The overall aim of the new program is to bridge the gap left by the shuttles dismantling and to allow focus to land on longer trips such as sending rovers to mars.

After the extra caution shown by NASA since the Challenger blew up in 1986, the risk taking in the name of progress taken by the private companies has been heralded as a step in the right direction that could lead to a rush in progress similar to the boom in progress seen with aircrafts in the 1920s.


Curiosity’s Tracks And Latest Sampling

Curiosity has now measured Mars’ atmospheric conditions. It sucked Martian air into its Sample Analysis at Mars (Sam) instrument to investigate the concentration of different gases. This analysis is ongoing however no big surprises are expected; carbon dioxide will most likely be the dominant gas. The Viking probes examined the chemistry of the atmosphere in the 1970’s and carbon dioxide was found to be the chief component. Scientists are more interested as to whether methane is detected, as this gas has been observed on Mars by satellite and by Earth telescopes. The presence of methane would indicate there could be a replenishing source of some kind, either biological or geochemical; methane should be short-lived. It is hoped the results from the first test could be available next week, though it will take a long time before conclusions can be made about the status of methane on Mars.

This image was captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing tracks from NASA's Curiosity rover after a few short drives. Since Aug. 5 PDT, Curiosity has driven a total of 109 metres. There are two marks near the site where the rover landed; these scour marks formed when the reddish surface dust was blown away by the rover’s descent, exposing the darker basaltic rock beneath. This is also why the tracks appear darker, as the rover’s wheels have disturbed the surface dust layer. Studying these track marks over time will give scientists more information about how the surface of Mars changes due to erosive forces.

NASA's SDO Sees Massive Filament Erupt On Sun

On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT.

What is a solar prominence?

A solar prominence (also known as a filament when viewed against the solar disk) is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun's surface. Prominences are anchored to the Sun's surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun's hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. A prominence forms over timescales of about a day, and stable prominences may persist in the corona for several months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles into space. Scientists are still researching how and why prominences are formed.
The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas composed of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun's internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.

What is a coronal mass ejection or CME?

The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently.
For more information, visit NASA's Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page 

M2-9: The Twin Jet Nebula

M2-9 is 2100 light years away and over one light year across. It is in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus and is known as a butterfly planetary nebula. It is a low mass star like our Sun, but is in the final throes of its life. While dying, stars like this transform from normal stars to white dwarfs, casting off their outer gaseous layers. This expended gas th
en can form a planetary nebula that fades over thousands of years. In the centre of this planetary nebula are two stars orbiting inside a gaseous disk which is 10 times the orbit of Pluto. The gas expelled from the dying star escapes the disk and creates the bipolar appearance; the measured velocity of this gas is approximately 322 kilometres per second. Ground-based studies show that the nebula's size increases with time, which suggests that the stellar outburst that formed the 'wings' occurred just 1,200 years ago.