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Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launches 53 Starlink Satellites From California



A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday. David J. Phillip/AP
By Associated Press | Updated: 14 May 2022

A SpaceX rocket carried 53 satellites for the Starlink internet constellation into orbit Friday after blasting off from California.

The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 3:07pm., and minutes later the first stage landed on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean while the second stage continued toward low Earth orbit.

SpaceX later tweeted that the satellites were successfully deployed.

Starlink is a space-based system that SpaceX has been building for years to bring internet access to underserved areas of the world.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has hundreds of Starlink satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 340 miles (550 kilometers).

SpaceX recently announced that its Starlink Internet service will now be available in 32 new countries. It shared an availability map for the service, which showed countries marked under different segments such as Available, Waitlist, and Coming Soon. Most countries in Europe and North America are listed under Available, while some regions in South America are under waitlist, which means that the Starlink service is read to ship in these regions. Most of the newly added countries fall under the coming soon category, including all of Africa, South America, and South and Southeast Asia.

The Starlink Internet service will expand to more countries, including India. However, in India, the service still hasn’t received commercial licences. SpaceX had originally planned to launch the service in India and provide full coverage by the end of 2021. The new availability map does not reveal any timelines for the countries where the Internet service is said to launch.


New Technique for Imaging mRNA Molecules Allows Study of RNA Synthesis in Brains of Live Mice



By ANI | Updated: 7 July 2022

Scientists have developed a new technique for imaging mRNA molecules in the brains of living mice. The research reveals new insights into how memories are formed and stored in the brain and could allow scientists to learn more about diseases such as Alzheimer’s in the future.
The paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the process of how memory is physically created and stored in the brain. It is well known that mRNA a type of RNA involved in the creation of proteins is produced during the process of forming and storing memories, but the technology for studying this process on the cellular level has been limited. Previous studies have often involved dissecting mice in order to examine their brains.

A team of researchers led by a University of Minnesota Twin Cities faculty member has developed a new technique that gives scientists a window into RNA synthesis in the brain of a mouse while it is still alive.

“We still know very little about memories in the brain,” explained Hye Yoon Park, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the study’s lead author. “It’s well known that mRNA synthesis is important for memory, but it was never possible to image this in a live brain. Our work is an important contribution to this field. We now have this new technology that neurobiologists can use for various different experiments and memory tests in the future.”

The University of Minnesota-led team’s process involved genetic engineering, two-photon excitation microscopy, and optimised image processing software. By genetically modifying a mouse so that it produced mRNA labeled with green fluorescent proteins (proteins derived from a jellyfish), the researchers were able to see when and where the mouse’s brain generated Arc mRNA, the specific type of molecule they were looking for.

Since the mouse is alive, the researchers could study it for longer periods of time. Using this new process, the researchers performed two experiments on the mouse in which they were able to see in real time over a month what the neurons – or nerve cells – were doing as the mouse was forming and storing memories.

Historically, neuroscientists have theorised that certain groups of neurons in the brain fire when a memory is formed, and that those same cells fire again when that moment or event is remembered. However, in both experiments, the researchers found that different groups of neurons fired each day they triggered the memory in the mouse.

Over the course of several days after the mouse created this memory, they were able to locate a small group of cells that overlapped, or consistently generated the Arc mRNA each day, in the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) region of the brain, a group which they believe is responsible for the long-term storage of that memory.

“Our research is about memory generation and retrieval,” Park said. “If we can understand how this happens, it will be very helpful for us in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related diseases. Maybe people with Alzheimer’s disease still store the memories somewhere – they just can’t retrieve them. So in the very long-term, perhaps this research can help us overcome these diseases.”

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Freeze-Dried Mice Successfully Cloned by Researchers, Could Help Conserve Disappearing Species



By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 6 July 2022

Japanese scientists have successfully produced cloned mice using freeze-dried cells in a technique they believe could one day help conserve species and overcome challenges with current biobanking methods.

The United Nations has warned that extinctions are accelerating worldwide and at least a million species could disappear because of human-induced impacts like climate change.

Facilities have sprung up globally to preserve samples from endangered species with the goal of preventing their extinction by future cloning.

These samples are generally cryopreserved using liquid nitrogen or kept at extremely low temperatures, which can be costly and vulnerable to power outages.

They also usually involve sperm and egg cells, which can be difficult or impossible to harvest from old or infertile animals.

Scientists at Japan’s University of Yamanashi wanted to see whether they could solve those problems by freeze-drying somatic cells — any cell that isn’t a sperm or egg cell — and attempting to produce clones.

They experimented with two types of mice cells, and found that, while freeze-drying killed them and caused significant DNA damage, they could still produce cloned blastocysts — a ball of cells that develops into an embryo.

From these, the scientists extracted stem cell lines that they used to create 75 cloned mice.

One of the mice survived a year and nine months, and the team also successfully mated female and male cloned mice with natural-born partners and produced normal pups.

The cloned mice produced fewer offspring than would have been expected from natural-born mice, and one of the stem cell lines developed from male cells produced only female mice clones.

“Improvement should not be difficult,” said Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor at the University of Yamanashi’s Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, who helped lead the study published in the journal Nature Communications this month.

“We believe that in the future we will be able to reduce abnormalities and increase the birth rate by searching for freeze-drying protectant agents and improving drying methods,” he told AFP.

‘Very exciting advance’

There are some other drawbacks — the success rate of cloning mice from cells stored in liquid nitrogen or at ultra-low temperatures is between two and five percent, while the freeze-dried method is just 0.02 percent.

But Wakayama says the technique is still in its early stages, comparing it to the study that produced “Dolly” the famous sheep clone — a single success after more than 200 tries.

“We believe the most important thing is that cloned mice have been produced from freeze-dried somatic cells, and that we have achieved a breakthrough in this field,” he said.

While the method is unlikely to entirely replace cryopreservation, it represents a “very exciting advance for scientists interested in biobanking threatened global biodiversity”, said Simon Clulow, senior research fellow at the University of Canberra’s Centre for Conservation Ecology and Genomics.

“It can be difficult and costly to work up cryopreservation protocols and so alternatives, especially those that are cheaper and robust, are extremely welcome,” added Clulow, who was not involved in the research.

The study stored the freeze-dried cells at minus 30 degrees Celsius, but the team has previously showed freeze-dried mouse sperm can survive at least a year at room temperature and believes somatic cells would do too.

The technique could eventually “allow genetic resources from around the world to be stored cheaply and safely”, Wakayama said.

The work is an extension of years of research on cloning and freeze-drying techniques by Wakayama and his partners.

One of their recent projects involved freeze-drying mouse sperm that was sent to the International Space Station. Even after six years in space the cells were successfully rehydrated back on Earth and produced healthy mice pups.

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Newly Discovered Star Travels Around the Milky Way’s Central Black Hole in Four Years, Study Says



By ANI | Updated: 6 July 2022

A newly discovered star takes only four years to travel around the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. In the vicinity of the black hole at the centre of our galaxy is a densely packed cluster of stars. This cluster, called the S cluster, is home to well over a hundred stars that differ in their brightness and mass. S stars move particularly fast.

‘One prominent member, S2, behaves like a large person sitting in front of you in a movie theatre: it blocks your view of what’s important,’ said Dr Florian Peissker, lead author of the new study. ‘The view into the centre of our galaxy is therefore often obscured by S2. However, in brief moments we can observe the surroundings of the central black hole.’

By means of continuously refining methods of analysis, together with observations covering almost twenty years, the scientist now identified without a doubt a star that travels around the central supermassive black hole in just four years. A total of five telescopes observed the star, with four of these five being combined into one large telescope to allow even more accurate and detailed observations. ‘For a star to be in a stable orbit so close and fast in the vicinity of a supermassive black hole was completely unexpected and marks the limit that can be observed with traditional telescopes,’ said Peissker.

Moreover, the discovery sheds new light on the origin and evolution of the orbit of fast-moving stars in the heart of the Milky Way. ‘The short-period, compact orbit of S4716 is quite puzzling,’ Michael Zajacek, an astrophysicist at Masaryk University in Brno who was involved in the study, said. ‘Stars cannot form so easily near the black hole. S4716 had to move inwards, for example by approaching other stars and objects in the S cluster, which caused its orbit to shrink significantly,’ he added.

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Scientists Discover Year-Round Ozone Hole Over Tropics, May Lead to Increased Ground-Level UV Radiation



By ANI | Updated: 6 July 2022

Scientists revealed a large, all-season ozone hole in the lower stratosphere over the tropics comparable in depth to that of the well-known springtime Antarctic hole, but roughly seven times greater in area. The observed data agree well with the cosmic-ray-driven electron reaction (CRE) model and strongly indicate the identical physical mechanism working for both Antarctic and tropical ozone holes.

In AIP Advances, by AIP Publishing, Qing-Bin Lu, a scientist from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, reveals a large, all-season ozone hole — defined as an area of ozone loss larger than 25 percent compared with the undisturbed atmosphere — in the lower stratosphere over the tropics comparable in depth to that of the well-known springtime Antarctic hole, but its area is roughly seven times greater.

“The tropics constitute half the planet’s surface area and are home to about half the world’s population,” said Lu. “The existence of the tropical ozone hole may cause great global concern.

“The depletion of the ozone layer can lead to increased ground-level UV radiation, which can increase risk of skin cancer and cataracts in humans, as well as weaken human immune systems, decrease agricultural productivity, and negatively affect sensitive aquatic organisms and ecosystems.”

Lu’s observation of the ozone hole comes as a surprise to his peers in the scientific community, since it was not predicted by conventional photochemical models. His observed data agree well with the cosmic-ray-driven electron reaction (CRE) model and strongly indicate the identical physical mechanism working for both Antarctic and tropical ozone holes.

As with the polar ozone hole, approximately 80 percent of the normal ozone value is found to be depleted at the centre of the tropical ozone hole. Preliminary reports show ozone depletion levels over equatorial regions are already endangering large populations and the associated UV radiation reaching these regions is far greater than expected.

In the mid-1970s, atmospheric research suggested the ozone layer, which absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, might be depleted because of industrial chemicals, primarily chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The 1985 discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole confirmed CFC-caused ozone depletion. Although bans on such chemicals have helped slow ozone depletion, evidence suggests ozone depletion persisted.

Lu said the tropical and polar ozone holes play a major role in cooling and regulating stratospheric temperatures, mirroring the formation of three “temperature holes” in the global stratosphere. He said this finding may prove crucial to better understanding global climate change.

Lu’s discovery builds on previous studies of the CRE-initiated ozone-depleting mechanism that he and his colleagues originally proposed about two decades ago.

“The present discovery calls for further careful studies of ozone depletion, UV radiation change, increased cancer risks, and other negative effects on health and ecosystems in the tropical regions,” said Lu.

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Improved Lithium-Ion Battery Technology Could Help EVs in Cold Climates to Travel Further on a Single Charge



By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 July 2022

Researchers have developed new lithium-ion batteries that perform well at both freezing cold and scorching hot temperatures while packing a lot of energy. The batteries, described in the journal PNAS, could allow electric vehicles in cold climates to travel farther on a single charge. They could also reduce the need for cooling systems to keep the vehicles’ battery packs from overheating in hot climates.

The researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego in the US developed an electrolyte that is not only versatile and robust throughout a wide temperature range, but also compatible with a high-energy anode and cathode.

The anode is the electrode where electricity moves into. The cathode is the electrode where electricity flows out.

“You need high temperature operation in areas where the ambient temperature can reach the triple digits and the roads get even hotter. In electric vehicles, the battery packs are typically under the floor, close to these hot roads,” said Zheng Chen, a professor at the UC San Diego, and senior author of the study.

“Also, batteries warm up just from having a current run through during operation. If the batteries cannot tolerate this warmup at high temperature, their performance will quickly degrade,” Chen said.

In tests, the batteries retained 87.5 per cent and 115.9 per cent of their energy capacity at minus 40 and 50 degrees Celsius, respectively.

They also had high Coulombic efficiencies of 98.2 percent and 98.7 percent at these temperatures, respectively, which means the batteries can undergo more charge and discharge cycles before they stop working.

The batteries are both cold and heat tolerant thanks to their electrolyte, which is made of a liquid solution of dibutyl ether mixed with a lithium salt.

A special feature of dibutyl ether is that its molecules bind weakly to lithium ions. In other words, the electrolyte molecules can easily let go of lithium ions as the battery runs.

This weak molecular interaction, the researchers had discovered in a previous study, improves battery performance at sub-zero temperatures.

Dibutyl ether can easily take the heat because it stays liquid at high temperatures, the researchers said.

What is also special about this electrolyte is that it is compatible with a lithium-sulfur battery, which is a type of rechargeable battery that has an anode made of lithium metal and a cathode made of sulfur.

Lithium-sulfur batteries are an essential part of next-generation battery technologies because they promise higher energy densities and lower costs, according to researchers.

They can store up to two times more energy per kilogram than today’s lithium-ion batteries — which could double the range of electric vehicles without any increase in the weight of the battery pack.

Sulfur is also more abundant and less problematic to source than the cobalt used in traditional lithium-ion battery cathodes, the researchers added.

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NASA’s Capstone Satellite Breaks From Earth’s Orbit, Heads Towards Moon Ahead of Upcoming Artemis Program



By Associated Press | Updated: 5 July 2022

A satellite the size of a microwave oven successfully broke free from its orbit around Earth on Monday and is headed toward the moon, the latest step in NASA’s plan to land astronauts on the lunar surface again.

It’s been an unusual journey already for the Capstone satellite. It was launched six days ago from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula by the company Rocket Lab in one of their small Electron rockets. It will take another four months for the satellite to reach the moon, as it cruises along using minimal energy.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press it was hard to put his excitement into words.

A satellite the size of a microwave oven successfully broke free from its orbit around Earth on Monday and is headed toward the moon, the latest step in NASA’s plan to land astronauts on the lunar surface again.

It’s been an unusual journey already for the Capstone satellite. It was launched six days ago from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula by the company Rocket Lab in one of their small Electron rockets. It will take another four months for the satellite to reach the moon, as it cruises along using minimal energy.

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press it was hard to put his excitement into words.

If the rest of the mission is successful, the Capstone satellite will send back vital information for months as the first to take a new orbit around the moon called a near-rectilinear halo orbit: a stretched-out egg shape with one end of the orbit passing close to the moon and the other far from it.

Eventually, NASA plans to put a space station called Gateway into the orbital path, from which astronauts can descend to the moon’s surface as part of its Artemis program.

Beck said the advantage of the new orbit is that it minimises fuel use and allows the satellite — or a space station — to stay in constant contact with Earth.

The Electron rocket that launched on June 28 from New Zealand was carrying a second spacecraft called Photon, which separated after nine minutes. The satellite was carried for six days in Photon, with the spacecraft’s engines firing periodically to raise its orbit farther and farther from Earth.

A final engine burst on Monday allowed Photon to break from Earth’s gravitational pull and send the satellite on its way. The plan now is for the 25kg satellite to far overshoot the moon before falling back into the new lunar orbit on November 13. The satellite will use tiny amounts of fuel to make a few planned trajectory course corrections along the way.

Beck said they would decide over the coming days what to do with Photon, which had completed its tasks and still had a bit of fuel left in the tank.

“There’s a number of really cool missions that we can actually do with it,” Beck said.

For the mission, NASA teamed up with two commercial companies: California-based Rocket Lab and Colorado-based Advanced Space, which owns and operates the Capstone satellite.

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