Galaxy ‘Fossils’ Reveal the Formation, Evolution of Massive Galaxies

An international team has observed massive “dead” galaxies in the universe four billion years after the Big Bang which can reveal the formation and evolution of huge galaxies today.

Furthermore, they identified progenitors of these dead galaxies when they were forming stars at an earlier cosmic epoch.

This study establishes a consistent picture of the history of massive galaxies over 11 billion years of cosmic time.

“We would like to explore galaxy evolution in more detail by carrying out an object-by-object study and by extending the method to an even earlier epoch,” said Dr. Masato Onodera from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.

In the local universe, massive galaxies hosting more than about 100 billion stars are predominantly dead elliptical galaxies, without any signs of star-formation activity.

The team used Subaru Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to observe multiple objects simultaneously, efficiently observing a sample of 24 faint galaxies.

They created a composite spectrum that would have taken 200 hours of Subaru Telescope’s time for a single spectrum of comparable quality.

They discovered that the stellar content of these galaxies is strikingly similar to that of massive elliptical galaxies seen locally.

The analysis shows that the age of the galaxies is already one billion years old when observed four billion years after the Big Bang.

They host 1.7 times more heavy elements relative to the amount of hydrogen.

The results reveal that these massive dead galaxies have evolved without further star formation.

The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Brain-Computer Link Enables Paralysed California Man to Walk

A brain-to-computer technology that can translate thoughts into leg movements has enabled a man paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal cord injury to become the first such patient to walk without the use of robotics, doctors in Southern California reported on Wednesday.

The slow, halting first steps of the 28-year-old paraplegic were documented in a preliminary study published in the British-based Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, along with a YouTube video.

The feat was accomplished using a system allowing the brain to bypass the injured spinal cord and instead send messages through a computer algorithm to electrodes placed around the patient’s knees to trigger controlled leg muscle movements.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, say the outcome marks a promising but incremental achievement in the development of brain-computer interfaces that may one day help stroke and spinal injury victims regain some mobility.

Dr. An Do, a study co-author, said clinical applications were many years away. Results of the UC Irvineresearch still need to be replicated in other patients and greatly refined.

Nevertheless, the study proved it possible “to restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury,” said biomedical engineer Zoran Nenadic, who led the research.

The steps taken a year ago by the experiment’s subject, former graduate student Adam Fritz, who injured his back in a motorcycle accident, appear modest as seen in the video.

Fritz propelled himself over a distance of 3.6 metres (11.8 feet) across the floor of UC Irvine’s iMove Lab, though his weight was partially supported by an overhead suspension harness and a walker he grasped to keep his body upright, researchers said.

The weight support was necessary because the patient lacked any sensation in his legs or feet, Do explained.

Still, the experiment built on earlier UC Irvine studies in which brain signals were transmitted to a robotic prosthesis attached to the patient’s legs to produce movement, Do said.

In previous research by other scientists, a brain-computer interface has been used to allow paralysed patients to grasp a cup of coffee with a robotic arm and raise the beverage to their mouths.

The latest study, which began about five years after Fritz became paralysed, involved months of mental training in which he practised thinking about walking to produce necessary leg-moving brain waves.

Those signals were then picked up by an electroencephalogram (EEG) he wore as a cap and were transmitted to a computer for processing by a special algorithm that could isolate the messages related only to leg motion and convert them to signals that would stimulate the patient’s muscles to walk.

The scientists and patient first practiced with a virtual-reality-like video game in which Fritz was trained to control a walking avatar. He also underwent extensive physical rehab to strengthen his muscles.

Fritz next practiced walking in the actual lab while suspended slightly above the floor. On his 20th outing, he finally took his first real steps on the ground.

Researchers hope to refine the technology by miniaturizing the EEG component enough to be implanted inside the patient’s skull or brain, allowing for clearer reception of the neural messages and perhaps the delivery of pressure sensation from sensors in the foot back to the brain.

New Nasa Missions to Venus and Near-Earth Objects as Early as 2020

In its quest to explore Venus, near-earth objects and bizarre metal asteroids, the US space agency has zeroed on five key science investigations among 27 proposals through its ambitious Discovery programme.

Once selected after refinement, one or two missions can get the green signal for flying to their destinations as early as 2020, the US space agency announced on Wednesday.

Each investigation team will receive $3 million (roughly Rs. 19.7 crores) to conduct concept design studies and analyses.

After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, Nasa will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch.

Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million (roughly Rs. 3,276 crores), not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations.

“The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.

“Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and Nasa is leading the way,” he said in a statement.

The “Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI): programme will study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent.

The “Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)” mission will produce global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface and produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition.

Another project named “Psyche” will explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the bizarre metallic asteroid “Psyche”.

“Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)” will discover 10 times more near-Earth objects than all missions discovered to date. It would also begin to characterise them.

The final mission called “Lucy” would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system.

Created in 1992, the Discovery programme sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals.

The program has funded and developed 12 missions to date, including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL, and is currently completing development of InSight.

Mushrooms Could Help Power Future Smartphones

Researchers have created a new type of lithium-ion battery anode using portabella mushrooms, which are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and easy to produce.

Nanocarbon architectures derived from biological materials such as mushrooms can be considered a green and sustainable alternative to graphite-based anodes, said Cengiz Ozkan, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at University of California, Riverside, US.

The current industry standard for rechargeable lithium-ion battery anodes is synthetic graphite, which comes with a high cost of manufacturing because it requires tedious purification and preparation processes that are also harmful to the environment.

Using biomass, a biological material from living or recently living organisms, as a replacement for graphite, has drawn recent attention because of its high carbon content, low cost and environmental friendliness.

The researchers were drawn to using mushrooms as a form of biomass because past research has established they are highly porous, meaning they have a lot of small spaces for liquid or air to pass through.

“With battery materials like this, future cell phones may see an increase in run time after many uses, rather than a decrease, due to apparent activation of blind pores within the carbon architectures as the cell charges and discharges over time,” Brennan Campbell from University of California, Riversideexplained.

That porosity is important for batteries because it creates more space for the storage and transfer of energy, a critical component to improving battery performance.

In addition, the high potassium salt concentration in mushrooms allows for increased electrolyte-active material over time by activating more pores, gradually increasing its capacity.

A conventional anode allows lithium to fully access most of the material during the first few cycles and capacity fades from electrode damage occurs from that point on.

The mushroom carbon anode technology could, with optimisation, replace graphite anodes, the researchers said.

The Moon’s Water Reserves Are From Asteroids, Study Claims

Water reserves found on the moon are the result of asteroids acting as “delivery vehicles” and not of falling comets as was previously thought, new research has found.

Using computer simulation, the scientists discovered that a large asteroid can deliver more water to the lunar surface than the cumulative fall of comets over a billion year period.

At the beginning of the space age, during the days of the Apollo programme, scientists believed the moon to be completely dry.

However, in the1990s, obtaining data from Nasa’s Lunar Prospector probe, scientists found signs of the presence of water on the moon.

In recent years, lunar missions (the Indian Chandrayan probe, the American LRO, data from the Cassiniprobe and Deep Impact) have brought scientists new information that there are indeed considerate quantities of water and hydroxyl groups in the near-surface soil on the moon.

“We came to the conclusion that only a very small amount of water that arrives with a comet stays on the moon, and from this decided to explore the possibility of an asteroid origin of lunar water,” saidone of the researchers VV Shuvalov from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in Russia.

The scientists decided to take a closer look at asteroids and found that they consist of initially non-differentiated construction materials of the solar system and contain a rather considerable proportion of water.

One-third of all asteroids that fall on the moon have a velocity of less than 14 km per second just before impact. When this happens, the major part of the fallen body remains in the crater: 30-40 percent is left after an oblique impact, and 60-70 percent after a vertical one.

“We have concluded that the fall of asteroids containing water could generate “deposits” of chemically bounded water inside some lunar craters,” Shuvalov said.

“The fall of one two-kilometre size asteroid with a rather high proportion of hydrated minerals could bring to the moon more water than all of the comets that have fallen over billions of years,” he noted.

The research was discussed in an article recently published in the journal Planetary and Space Science.

Nasa Working to Help Astronauts Readapt to Gravity After Journey to Mars

As Nasa is planning to send humans on Mars by 2030, its researchers back on the Earth are experimenting with astronauts for whom readapting to gravity and walking through the obstacle course after a deep space travel will not be an easy task.

Jacob Bloomberg, senior research scientist at Nasa, and his team are analysing the balance control disturbances caused by gravity transitions.

They recently evaluated participants who had undergone body unloading, or not carrying one’s own weight, after returning from space shuttle missions, space station expeditions or from bed rest studies of up to 70 days.

To test just how much body unloading affects balance and stability, Bloomberg has developed theFunctional Task Test (FTT).

It identifies mission critical tasks that may impact astronauts’ movement and performance immediately after gravity transitions. The FTT consists of seven functional and physiological tests.

“These tests are very operation-oriented and are related to different aspects of the mission and activities an astronaut would need to do after landing on the surface of Mars,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

With balance control impairment comes hand-eye coordination problems, loss of postural stability or steadiness, and vision and perception issues.

Motion sickness is often a problem as well.

After landing, these impairments can make it difficult for crew members to begin necessary operations, such as walking from their landing craft to their habitat.

At the conclusion of the bed rest study, subjects were asked to perform the FTT.

Researchers found FTT functions that involved postural stability were the most difficult for participants.

“These results help us understand that astronauts, without countermeasures or balance training, may have difficulty maintaining balance control when landing on Mars, which has 62 percent lower gravity than Earth,” Bloomberg noted.

The team is studying a countermeasure approach for balance control problems after landing.

The counter-measures are done pre-flight and during flight, and the goal of this training is to help “train the brain to become more adaptable,” Bloomberg pointed out.

Astronauts returning to the Earth after living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have exhibited balance control problems, muscle weakness and cardiovascular deconditioning.

FTT also has benefits on the Earth. These tests can benefit the elderly who often have challenges standing or walking after being in bed for a few days, by improving their balance control and stability.

As Nasa unlocks the key to balance training, astronauts will be able to land on Mars and stand and walk through their obstacle course with greater ease, the scientists noted.