Since it started orbiting Saturn last June, the Cassini mission has returned incredible images of the gas giant, its dazzling rings and its enigmatic moons. But its most dramatic chapter will come this January, when a European lander probe (Huygens) that has been piggybacking on Cassini for the last seven years is sent on a fiery plunge into the murky atmosphere of Saturns largest and most mysterious moon, Titan--a chapter that would have ended in disaster, save for an engineer called Boris Smeds.
Titan is completely covered by a thick orange smog of hydrocarbons, and scientists have speculated that oily oceans of methane and ethane may roil beneath the cloaking clouds. After slamming into the moons atmosphere at 21,000 km/hour, Huygens will take two-and-a-half hours to descend through the atmosphere, slowed by parachutes. On its way down its expected to transmit a scientific bonanza from its cameras and instruments, a bonanza that will be picked up by special radio receivers onboard Cassini and then relayed back to Earth.
But unbeknownst to anyone, a lurking flaw in Cassinis receivers meant that the data received by Cassini were going to be hopelessly scrambled. Along with his allies, ESA engineer Boris Smeds developed and championed a rigorous test that revealed the flaw and its cause in time for corrective action to be taken. Doing this required Smeds to battle bureaucracy, travel from his desk in Darmstadt, Germany, to an antenna farm deep in Californias Mojave Desert, and use all his engineering insight and creativity to expose the flaw before time ran out.
Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy