Daddy, Are We There Yet?
On February 22, 2017, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA announced the discovery of a planetary system orbiting a ultra-cool dwarf star about 39 light years away from Earth. The star, called Trappist-1, has at least seven terrestrial planets, of which at least three are deemed in the habitable zone of the star.
The star and its planets were discovered over a period of time by the Belgian run Trappist Telescope in La Silla, Chile, and NASA’s space based infrared Spitzer Telescope (as well as other telescopes).
The planetary system is very small, with the star about the size of Jupiter, and all seven planets having orbital radii less than that of our own Mercury.
Additional chemical information about the atmospheres of these planets (like the presence of water vapor, methane and oxygen), is to be determined by the space based James Webb Telescope, due to launch in late 2018.
Using current rocket based propulsion technology, it would take a minimum of 159,000 years to get to Trappist-1 and its planets.
Scientists Revive Ancient Microbes
Deep in a now abandoned and flooded mine called Naica in the Mexican state of Chihuahua lies a spectacular cave called Giant Crystal filled with massive, perfectly formed gypsum crystals, some as long as 39 feet.
Inside the crystals are little pockets of water that have not been exposed to fresh air for tens of thousands of years. Penelope Boston of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute has extracted that ancient fluid only to discover equally ancient microbes and viruses never observed before in any laboratory.
The microbes are at least 10% different by DNA from their closest relatives, and have yet to be classified by genus or species. This DNA difference is equivalent to the genetic disparity between mushrooms and humans. The microbes were dormant, but Boston was able to revive them with the proper chemical nutrients (iron, manganese, sulfur, etc.)
Before the mine was abandoned and reflooded, scientists explored this cave (and others). The mine went down about 2600 feet, and temperatures therein ran about 140 F, making it impossible to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes there without specialized cooling suits.
To get an idea of how massive and beautiful these crystals are, click here.
Killer Cone Snails
We are all familiar with the opioid crisis now afflicting our country, so it a surprising and welcome development that there may be another naturally derived and non-addictive pain killer derived from the venom of cone snails.
To my utter amazement, these snails “harpoon” nearby fish with disposable venom-filled “teeth”. Scientists at the University of Utah have determined that the venom in these “teeth”, when used in small amounts, can eliminate chronic pain for an extended period of time without any apparent side effects.
Slippery Ketchup Bottle
Call it ketchup or catsup, but one of life’s enduring frustrations is getting that last bit of ketchup out of the bottle.
The product is now commercially available, and is called LiquiGlide.