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Beer on Mars: Students Find Red Planet Could Grow Hops

Here’s an interplanetary botany discovery that took college students and not NASA scientists to find: Hops — the flowers used to add a pleasant bitterness to beer — grow well in Martian soil.

“I don’t know if it’s a practical plant, but it’s doing fairly well,” said Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University.

Last semester, 25 students took Dr. Guinan’s class on astrobiology, about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

For the laboratory part of the course, the students became farmers, experimenting to see which crops might grow in Martian soil and feed future travelers there.

“I was trying to come with a project for the students to do, a catchy project that would be fairly easy,” Dr. Guinan said. “I kept telling them, ‘You’re on Mars, there’s a colony there, and it’s your job to feed them. They’re all depending on you.’”

Dr. Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University, with two of his students in the “Mars Garden.”CreditVillanova University

Dr. Guinan presented the findings on Friday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

But let’s back up: soil from Mars?

Of course, no one has yet brought back anything from the red planet, but spacecraft like NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander have analyzed Martian soil in great detail. Based on those measurements, scientists have come up with a reasonably good reproduction on Earth — crushed basalt from an ancient volcano in the Mojave Desert. It’s available for purchase, and Dr. Guinan bought 100 pounds.

Martian soil is very dense and dries out quickly — perhaps better for making bricks than growing plants, which have trouble pushing their roots through. That includes potatoes, the savior food for the fictional Mark Watney in “The Martian,” the book by Andy Weir and later a movie starring Matt Damon about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars.

For the most part, the students chose practical, nutritious plants like soy beans and kale in addition to potatoes. Some added herbs like basil and mint so that astronauts could enjoy more flavorful food on thesolar system’s fourth world.

And one group chose hops.

“Because they’re students,” Dr. Guinan said. “Martian beer.” (He vetoed marijuana.)

For the experiments, the students had a small patch of a greenhouse, with a mesh screen reducing the sunlight to mimic Mars’ greater distance from the sun.

What did “fabulous” in pure Martian soil was mesclun, a mix of small salad greens, even without fertilizer, Dr. Guinan said.

When vermiculite, a mineral often mixed in with heavy and sticky Earth soils, was added to the Martian stuff, almost all of the plants thrived. Because astronauts would likely not be hauling vermiculite from Earth but might have cardboard boxes, Dr. Guinan also tried mixing cutup cardboard into the Martian soil. That worked too.

One group of students hypothesized that coffee grinds could similarly be used as a filler to loosen up the soil. They figured the astronauts would be drinking coffee anyway, and coffee would also be a natural fertilizer. “Also, it may help acidify Martian soil,” said Elizabeth Johnson, a Villanova senior who took the class. Mars soil is alkaline, with a pH of 8 to 9, she said, compared to 6 to 7 on Earth.

“We think the coffee has a lot of potential,” Ms. Johnson said.

Her team’s carrots, spinach and scallions sprouted quickly in the mix of coffee grounds and Martian soil, initially growing faster than even plants in a control planter full of Earth potting mix.

Dr. Guinan is not the first to try growing plants in Martian soil. Five years ago, Wieger Wamelink, a scientist at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands had the same idea, a way to combine his work — ecology research — with his interest in science fiction.

The first round of experiments grew 14 types of plants including rye, tomatoes and carrots in Martian soil, simulated lunar soil and Earth soil. Almost all of the plants germinated, Dr. Wamelink and his colleagues reported.

Like Dr. Guinan, Dr. Wamelink found that mixing organic material into Martian soil greatly improved plant growth. They verified that crops grown in Martian soil were equally nutritious and safe to eat. In 2016, the researchers hosted meals cooked from their research crops for more than 50 people who had supported the work with crowdfunding donations.

Last year, they showed earthworms could live, even reproduce, in Martian soil.

Earthworms crawling around in a simulated Mars soil in a pot with arugula plants. Worms help break down organic material, providing nutrients to plants. Their burrows provide better distribution of water and wair to the roots.Credit Wageningen University & Research

Future experiments might grow bamboo, which could also be useful on Mars. “Not because we want panda bears over there,” Dr. Wamelink said. The shoots are edible, and “It’s also a good building material,” he said.

One aspect that Dr. Guinan and Dr. Wamelink have not tackled yet is the presence on Mars of perchlorates, a poisonous chemical that causes thyroid problems in people. (For safety, the simulated Mars soil leaves that out.)

It might be possible to rinse out the perchlorates, which are soluble in water. Bacteria that eat perchlorates might also be used to cleanse the soil.

This semester, two Villanova astronomy students will perform follow-up experiments. That includes attempting to grow barley, the other essential ingredient for future Martian beer.

Source www.nytimes.com

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Space

Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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