Cristina Koch is the first female astronaut to spend 328 days in space! Here’s a little about her mission.

Cristine Koch on the ISS, studying the effects of microgravity on leafy greens.
Credit: NASA, space.com

American astronaut Cristina Koch is the first woman to have spent 328 days in space! She blasted off to the International Space Station on March 14, 2019, and just returned on February 5, 2020. This is the longest spaceflight undertaken by a woman. The previous record for a woman being in space is held by Peggy Whitson and was 288 days. Koch was also part of the first all women’s spacewalk on October 18, 2019.

What did she do up there for so long? Well, she did six spacewalks, and spent some time fixing the International Space Station. She also conducted different experiments on the ISS. She studied plant growth on the ISS, and set up instrumentation to facilitate 3D printing of human tissues (!) in space, amongst other things. Some of these such high tech experiments are helped by the lack of gravity in space.

Effects of micro (very little) or zero gravity on the human body: The amount of time she spent up there will also be very useful to scientists, as they will see the effects that being so long in space has on the female body. We already know that it causes bone and muscle loss in humans, and is also hard on the kidneys.

What did she miss while away? In her words, “Oh, how I miss the wind on my face, the feeling of raindrops, sand on my feet and the sound of the surf crashing on the Galveston beach… I cannot wait to feel and hear Earth again.”


This article was adapted from articles on CNN and space.com by Sunaina Murthy

 

 


How long does it take for chocolate chip cookies to bake in space?

Luca Parmitano and Cristina Koch with the cookies! Credit: Cristina Koch, Twitter

Does it take longer to bake cookies in space in zero gravity or here on earth with normal gravity? Well, astronauts at the International Space Station wanted to experiment with cooking on board the ISS. The first thing they tried is chocolate chip cookies. On earth, these particular cookies bake in 16-18 min at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. These same cookies were sent to the ISS and the astronauts conducted an experiment where they baked different cookies for different amounts of time and temperatures to see how long they would take to bake under zero gravity conditions.

This is what they found: The cookies took between 120 and 130 min to bake in zero gravity, one at 300 degrees Fahrenheit and one at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cookies have come back to earth where they will be tested and then tasted.

Why did the cookies take so long to bake? The scientists are going to figure that out.

How will this experiment help? The scientists on the ISS basically eat food that has been freeze-dried. If they are able to cook on board, that will greatly improve their experience!


Written by: Sunaina Murthy


The European Space agency and NASA are ready to launch another mission to the Sun but this time to study its poles!

ESA Solar Orbiter
ESA BR-345 Solar Orbiter: Facing the Sun – CopyrightESA – European Space Agency-

Recently, there has been a lot of news around the Sun. NASA’s Solar Parker Probe is getting closer to the sun and sending unexpected data about it. A large Solar telescope in Hawai took a first ever close-up of the surface of the Sun that has intrigued most space lovers.

Today another Solar Orbiter will launch from Florida and start its mission to the source of all light on Earth, the Sun. The mission is a collaboration between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA and is scheduled to begin Feb. 9, 2020.

What is this mission all about?

The Orbiter is seeking close-up views of the Sun’s north and south poles. It is equipped with 6 instruments that can directly image the sun.

It also has another 4 instruments that operate like a mobile laboratory. They will measure the magnetic fields and solar eruptions in the polar regions. They will also track the progression of eruptions on the sun from the surface out into space, and all the way down to Earth.

Animation of a portion of Solar Orbiter’s highly inclined orbit. (Credits: ESA/ATG medialab)

How long will it take to get to the Sun?

It will take a period of 3 years to get to the Sun. First, it will sling past Earth and then repeatedly around Venus before it draws near the Sun. It will use gravitational assist maneuvers to plunge closer and closer to the Sun.

What is interesting is that it will travel out of the ecliptic plane – a belt of space, roughly aligned with the Sun’s equator, containing the Earth’s orbit around the sun. It will climb higher above the ecliptic plane until it has a bird’s eye view of the star’s poles. It will be circling the sun at an angle 24 degrees above its equator.

Unlike the Solar Parker Probe, it will keep its distance from the Sun and hang around Mercury’s Orbit.

What does it hope to answer?

What drives the solar wind, the gust of charged particles constantly blowing from the Sun? Or, what churning deep inside the Sun generates its magnetic field?

The data from this mission will expand Parker’s data. We can’t wait to here learn more about our star. Stay tuned for updates.


Jumping Jellyfish!

Imagine a bionic jellyfish that can swim three times faster than a normal jelly fish and can explore the deep ocean and send back recorded data to be studied and analyzed. Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, right? WRONG!

Scientists at CALTECH and Stanford University have developed a micro-electronic (teeny-tiny) device that sends electric pulses into the tentacles of a jellyfish making it swim almost three times faster.

These bionic ‘super’ jellyfish are not only able to swim faster with the help of the electric pulses, but they also use less energy to swim, making them more efficient swimmers. So, imagine, if a bionic jellyfish and a normal jellyfish had a race, the bionic jellyfish would win, but it would also not be tired or breathless at the finish line!

Why Jellyfish? Jellyfish are super strong creatures and they can travel really far and really really deep in the ocean. They are one of the only creatures that can live in water pretty much anywhere in the world from the freezing North and South Poles to the warmer water near the equator and they can also survive close to the surface as well as miles underwater.

This makes them particularly useful to scientists. Even though the research is a long way off, scientists hope that by using this device, they can control the movements of the jellyfish and can use them to study parts of the ocean that human beings and other research machines cannot reach.

Right now the electronic device can tell the jellyfish to start moving and control its speed. The next step in the research is to try and control the direction in which the jellyfish moves and even to respond in a specific way to specific signals from the sensors.

If this is successful, the jellyfish can be used to find monitor signs of climate change or observe natural phenomena deep within the ocean.


Is this an image of tiny gold nuggets or popcorn kernels?

newest solar telescope produces first high res images of the solar surface
NSF

Neither!  A new solar telescope in Hawaii has taken the most detailed footage of the Sun’s surface to date. This high-resolution footage reveals the Sun’s intense gas surface.  

The footage shows the surface covered with a pattern of bright cell-like areas.

Each “cell” in the video is about the size of France.

The “popping” cells are *plasma rising up from inside the core of the Sun, cooling off, and then escaping back downwards like bubbling water in a boiling pot. (*Plasma is the 4th state of matter beyond solids, liquids, and gases. Stars are mostly made of plasma. At the core of the Sun, individual hydrogen nuclei smash together and create helium, and the material or plasma they produce then travels up to the surface over the course of ten thousand years)

The video is so high in resolution that when one zooms in on the images it can reveal details and figures on the Sun’s surface as small as about 18 miles in size. Look at the image below to understand the scale.

Where is the solar telescope?

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is located on the Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The telescope is run by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). It is recognized as the largest and most powerful solar telescope in the world.

When it’s fully completed this summer, the telescope will continue to study the Sun’s activity. Scientists hope they will learn what causes the Sun to release powerful flares out into space. This solar activity causes space weather and impacts us on earth. Images of the sun will better prepare us on Earth for future space weather events. Space weather affects air travel, satellite communications and can bring down power grids, causing long-lasting blackouts and disabling technologies such as GPS.


An Update on Coronavirus 2020

(Photo by – / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

The News: The World Health Organisation has just declared that coronavirus is a global emergency. Ever since the news of deaths in China from the new coronavirus, [more here] World Health authorities have been working overtime to think of solutions on how to tackle it. Here’s a quick update on what’s happening. 

In China:

  • China has over 57 million people in ‘lockdown’ in the Hubei region, especially in Wuhan, which is at the heart of the outbreaks. That means no one can get in or out. The authorities have taken this measure to contain the virus spreading as it spreads quickly from person to person. 
  • There were 7,711 cases in China, as reported on the BBC website on 30 January. 
  • China built a 1000 bed hospital for coronavirus patients in 48 hours! Over 500 construction workers, electricians and engineers worked around the clock to get it up and running. 
  • China is allowing foreign nationals to be evacuated out of the region by their governments. These citizens will be quarantined in their countries (kept in isolation until they show no signs of the virus) before being allowed to go back home.  

International Cases

  • There have been about 115 cases of the virus in many countries outside of China.
  • India has also reported its first case. A student who has returned to Kerala from Wuhan has tested positive, and has been kept in isolation to inhibit contact with others.
  • Some of the people infected have not been to China, confirming that the virus is spreading from person to person.   

Fallout

  • The Indoor World Athletics Championships in Nanjing, China, which has been postponed till next year. 
  • Many qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics this year have also been postponed.
  • British Airways and Air Canada have cancelled all flights to and from China. Other airlines have cut back on flights and may also stop completely. 
  • Russia has totally closed its eastern border with China. 
  • Global companies like Google, Starbucks, Ikea, Tesla and Disney have stopped working and shut all shops in China.  
  • Schools were on holiday for the Chinese New Year, and those holidays have been extended.

Possible Solutions:

  • The WHO is recommending strong ‘containment’ efforts. These are efforts made to stop the virus from spreading. This means measures like more travel restrictions, land and airport screenings, and isolation of people with suspected infections. These kinds of strict restrictions helped to stop similar outbreaks in the past. 
  • Money is being made available to come up with medical cures and a vaccine.
  • Chinese scientists have very quickly analysed the virus and shared its DNA sequence with the world, and researchers are racing to develop a vaccine against the virus.
  • Scientists are also collecting samples from infected people to grow the virus in laboratories. They can then check which medicines can be used to develop treat the disease and develop a vaccine against it.  

While everyone must take proper precautions against the virus, we must also remain calm. The actual mortality rate – the number of people who have died out of every 100 infected – is around 2%. Let’s hope that all the fantastic scientists out there are able to come up with a vaccine super quick!

In the meantime, you should definitely be washing your hands regularly. Do cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, and avoid contact with people who have a cold and cough. Simple preventive measures can go a long way!


Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.


Back to Life…Fernandina Giant Tortoise that was thought to be extinct might still be around

An ‘extinct’ tortoise was rediscovered
The Fernandina giant tortoise was last confirmed alive in 1906.

News: The Fernandina Giant Tortoise, native to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean and believed possibly extinct may still be alive.

In February 2019, a group of scientists hiked to the top of an active volcano and spotted a female tortoise from the species on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos. The last confirmed sighting of a living Fernandina tortoise was 112 years ago in 1906 so this sighting has inspired hope!

The female tortoise, thought to be roughly 100 years old, was taken by the team to a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island. The team felt that she had been living in an area that had few food sources and finding her again would have been difficult. The team also plan to take DNA samples from the female tortoise and send them to Yale University to confirm that she belongs to the Fernandina Giant Tortoise family.

There are 15 known species of giant tortoises belonging to the Galápagos Islands, four of which are now extinct. The only other place giant tortoises exist are in the Seychelles.

Hollywood superstar and prominent wildlife conservation spokesperson and supporter Leonardo DiCaprio posted details of this discovery and the expedition on his Instagram page as well which will hopefully build more awareness and inform more people about what is going on.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

It had been more than 100 years since anyone saw a giant tortoise on the Galapagos’ Fernandina Island, until last February. This week the @parquegalapagos @galapagosconservancy will brave the elements—including a geologically active volcano, scorching sunlight, and razor-sharp lava—to see if they can find additional animals. In the meantime, they await the results of a genetic test that will reveal whether the female found in February is, in fact, the Fernandina Galapagos Tortoise, one of @global_wildlife_conservation’s most wanted lost species, or if she is a different species from another island. 🐢 Photo courtesy of @forrest.galante

A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on

During their search of Fernandina, they came across more tortoise tracks in the soil. The team is planning another expedition to the island later this year in hope of finding others. They hope to be able to revive the population’s numbers and restore them to their natural environment. We look forward to positive news!


Scientists discover four new species of sharks that use their fins as feet to walk along the sea bed

News: Scientists recently discovered four new species of sharks that use their fins as feet to walk along the sea bed in the waters around Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.

What? One imagines sharks swimming in the depths of the ocean looking for prey but there are groups of sharks that use their fins to move over rocks and sand on the sea bed and even coral at low tide.

How do they look? They are less than a metre long (3 feet) and have military-like patterns on them. They prey on small crustaceans such as crab and shrimp and mollusks in shallow waters. They are very resilient to warm water and can withstand low oxygen environments.

Why is this discovery important? This isn’t the first time scientists have discovered walking sharks. During this 12 year-long study, scientists were sampling DNA of the only known walking shark species to estimate when they evolved. They found four new species while they were at it bringing the total number of known walking shark species to 9.

To give this discovery some context it is important to know that, sharks are very old creatures. Some form of this fish has existed on our planet for 450 million years (older than dinosaurs). In addition, they are very slow to evolve, slow to reproduce, and long-lived.

But the study of their DNA reveals that walking sharks only evolved their unique capability 9 million years ago making them the ‘youngest’ sharks on our planet. Of the 4 new species that diverged (changed) from the other walking sharks, the youngest species may have evolved less than 2 million years ago.

This is exciting for scientists as this may be the one place in the world where they can study the evolutionary process by which walking sharks evolve to become distinct species.

 

 


What is a coronavirus anyway?

The news: There is a new type of coronavirus virus that has originated in the Wuhan province in China. It is suspected that it originated in bats or snakes, and has now gained the ability to jump into humans. A number of people have been hospitalised, and some have died.

What is a virus? Viruses are  teeny tiny agents that infect cells in plants and animals. They are parasites, so need to infect another cell in order to multiply and stay alive. They really, really want to stay alive, and so will go to any lengths to ensure that they trick unsuspecting organisms to take them in and then can wreak havoc in those cells. When they have killed most of what they can in one organism, they try to find another host to infect, in order to stay alive. If they don’t, after some period of time, they will die in the infected host. Why? Well, deadly as they are, they actually do not themselves have the machinery that allows them to multiply. They need to find that in the host they infect, and they will do whatever they can to survive.

What do they look like? All viruses are microscopic, or very very small, and consist of DNA or RNA, and an outer shell.

Some viruses we know very well: You have definitely been infected by rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. Or sometimes, you will have a high fever with no other symptoms and the doctor will visit and say that it looks like a virus, and tell you to rest and you will be better in 3 to 5 days. This is because unless it jumps from your body to someone else’s, it will die out in your body. That’s why you need to cover your mouth when sneezing, and wash your hands before touching other things – to prevent the virus from leaping from you to whoever else is around you! And your body has seen similar viruses before so it will call on its immune army to fight this variant.

Got it! What’s this in the news about a coronavirus? In general, there are different viruses that are active in plants and in animals. Even within animals, it is rare for viruses to gain the ability to jump across species. When they do, they can be pretty deadly as the species of the new host will never have seen this virus or anything like it before, so it might not be able to launch a quick and efficient immune attack on it.

A coronavirus

A coronavirus is one that is common in animals and birds, but rare in humans. In humans, it generally affects the human respiratory system. Its symptoms are like that of the common cold, with different levels of severity, depending on the immunity of the person it has infected.

Why are we talking about this one from China now? It is a virus that originated in bats or snakes and has now adapted to infecting humans. It can spread from human to human now.

What are the symptoms? People are getting symptoms like those with a very bad flu.

Sounds crazy! How are we going to deal with it? Well, the people who are suspected of being infected with this coronavirus are being ‘quarantined’, or being kept separate from other people until it is certain that they are alright, or until their body fluids are tested and it is ensured that they do not have the coronavirus. In addition, people are spreading the word, and telling others to be vigilant, to go visit the doctor if they are not feeling good, and to definitely avoid travelling when they aren’t well. There aren’t that many people who have a confirmed infection by this coronavirus.

Should you panic? No! We don’t yet know how strong it is. Entire cities in China have been placed under ‘lockdown’, with public areas such as cinemas and malls being closed, and transportation facilities such as airplanes and trains being shut down. Authorities in other countries are monitoring the potential development of symptoms in those who have recently travelled to China.


Written by: Sunaina Murthy. Sunaina is a biotechnologist, greedy reader, and amateur photographer.


Protect Machu Picchu

Forbes

Machu Picchu is an ancient city in Peru, South America. The Incas, an ancient South American civilization built it more than hundreds of years ago. The Inca were a powerful empire known for their architectural and engineering prowess.

This special stone city is located 7000 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Andes mountains in Peru. The Ancient city was built on different levels and with a farming district, a residential area, a royal district, and a religious area. There are 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels.

Did you know?

Machu Picchu is very difficult to get to because it is so high in the mountains. It has only one way in and a stone wall to protect it. Most people on Earth did not know it was there until a Yale graduate named Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911.

Today, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited attraction. Millions of people visit every year to see the architectural ruins. The development of nearby towns and damage to the environment continue to take their toll on the site. In 2017, the Peruvian government laid down some rules of how many people can visit Machu Picchu every day and even closed some sections to the public in order to preserve the site.

Peru is taking its protection of Machu Picchu one step further by launching a campaign to plant 1 million trees all around the protective zone that surrounds the city and which stretched for 135 square miles (350 sq. km).

What will the trees do?

Apart from being a really great environmentally friendly idea, the trees around Machu Picchu will help to protect the historical landmark in many other ways. The trees would help prevent mudslides which can be dangerous and can destroy the site as well. It will also protect the area’s unique fauna and flora.

Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra is a big supporter of this initiative. “We’re here to begin the planting of a million trees,” he told reporters this month. The plan is to put the tall, leafy plants all across the zone around the famous city. Vizcarra called this a promise from “all the citizens who want to protect this world wonder.”

Together with the protections already in place, this planting of trees can help ensure that the ruins of Machu Picchu can be visited and enjoyed by tourists for many years to come!


Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness enthusiast and amateur aerialist with her own fitness photo-blog as well.