Astronomers have detected X-rays from Uranus. Photo Courtesy: NASA


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Astronomers detect X-rays from Uranus

For the first time, astronomers have detected X-rays radiating from the Uranus, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

This may help scientists learn more about this enigmatic planet in our solar system.

The seventh planet in the solar system, the Uranus, is a giant icy planet, with two sets of rings around its equator.  It has four times the diameter of the Earth and rotates on its side, which makes it different from all other planets in the solar system.

Researchers used the Chandra observations taken in Uranus in 2002 and then again in 2017 to confirm the X-ray radition. There was a clear detection of X-rays from the first observation and a possible flare of X-rays in those obtained fifteen years later.

Researchers have previously observed that both the Jupiter and the Saturn radiate X-ray light that they receive from the Sun, similar to how the Earth’s atmosphere scatters the Sun’s light.

Although they believed that that most of the X-rays detected from Uranus would also be scattered light, there are hints that at least one other source of X-ray is present on the planet.

One possibility is that the rings of Uranus are producing X-rays themselves, which is the case for similar rings on the Saturn. Another possibility is that at least some of the X-rays come from auroras on Uranus, a phenomenon that has previously been observed on this planet at other wavelengths. Read more about it here

Low intensity exercise not enough to keep astronauts’ hearts from shrinking in space

Researchers have found that the astronauts’ hearts shrink in space, and low-intensity exercise was not enough to counteract the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the heart.

Each time a person sits or stands on earth, gravity draws blood into the legs. The work the heart does to keep blood flowing as it counters Earth’s gravity helps it maintain its size and function. Removing gravitational effects causes the heart to shrink.

Researchers examined data from retired astronaut Scott Kelly’s stint aboard the International Space Station between 2015 and 2016 and elite endurance swimmer Benoît Lecomte’s swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018.

Lecomte was included in the study because immersion in water is an excellent model for weightlessness, since water offsets gravitational effects. Both Kelly and Lecomte lost mass from their left ventricles over the course of the experiences, despite the fact that both of their bodies were performing low-intensity exercises.

The findings are of critical importance as scientists plan to send humans to Mars and create lunar outposts for future space missions. Read more here

New species of meat-eating dinosaur discovered

Scientists have discovered a new species of meat-eating dinosaur which flourished in the Southern continents around 80 million years ago – about the same time as tyrannosaurs ruled the Northern Hemisphere.

The species has been named Llukalkan aliocranianus.

Llukalkan was “likely among the top predators” throughout Patagonia, now in Argentina owing to its formidable size, extremely powerful bite, very sharp teeth, huge claws in their feet and their keen sense of smell.

It had a strange short skull with rough bones. The structure of its skull suggests that its hearing was similar to that of modern-day crocodiles.

Its full name comes from the native Mapuche word for the ‘one who causes fear’ – Llukalkan and the Latin word for ‘different skull’ – aliocranianus.

The fossiised remains of  the Llukalkan include a superbly preserved and uncrushed braincase. Get more details about this new species here

Lab-made hexagonal diamonds tougher than natural diamonds

Scientists have found that human-made hexagonal diamonds are tougher than the common cubic diamonds found in nature and often used in jewellery.

Naturally-occurring diamonds are the strongest material found on Earth. But researchers have been striving to create a material stronger than natural diamonds, which could have a variety of uses in across industries.

While both diamonds are made of four carbon molecules arranged in a tetrahedral structure, there is a difference in how the molecules are packed together to form the diamond.

Named for their six-sided crystal structure, hexagonal diamonds have been found at some meteorite impact sites. While they have been made briefly in labs in the past, these were either too small or had too short an existence to be measured for their toughness.

Now scientists at Washington State University have created hexagonal diamonds large enough to measure their strength using sound waves.

While many scientists had previously theorised that hexagonal diamonds would be stronger, this study provides the first experimental evidence that they are.

For this study, researchers used gunpowder and compressed gas to propel small graphite disks dime at a speed of around 15,000 miles per hour onto a transparent material. The impact produced shockwaves in the disks that very rapidly transformed them into hexagonal diamonds.

Immediately after impact the researchers produced a small sound wave and used lasers to measure its movement through the diamond. Sound moves faster through tougher materials. The experiment showed that hexagonal diamond are stronger.

Each process happened in several billionths of a second but the researchers were able to make the strength measurements before the high velocity impact destroyed the diamond. Read more here

New method can detect animal, human DNA from the air

Scientists have found that animal and human DNA shed within the environment can be collected from the air.

The study opens up potential for new ecological, health and forensic applications of environmental DNA (eDNA). Till now, eDNA has mainly been used to survey aquatic environments.

Living organisms such as plants and animals shed DNA in their surrounding environment as they interact with it. In recent years, eDNA has become an important tool to help scientists identify species found within different environments.

However, whilst a range of environmental samples, including soil and air, have been proposed as sources of eDNA, until now most studies have focused on the collection of eDNA from water.

In this study, the researchers took air samples from a room which had housed naked mole-rats. They showed that air-DNA sampling could successfully detect mole-rat DNA within the animal’s housing and from the room itself.

The scientists also found human DNA in the air samples suggesting a potential use of this sampling technique for forensic applications.

The team is now working with partners in the industry to bring some of the potential applications of this technology to life. Read more here

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: How NASA translated images of galaxies, blackholes into music


 

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