Scientific News (April 2017)

Re-cycled Rockets

Californian based SpaceX have recently had success after they reused a segment from one of its Falcon 9 rockets and returned it to space. The first stage booster, had been used on a mission 11 months prior when it was used to send a telecommunications satellite into space. This is a massive achievement for SpaceX in its pursuit of reusable space vehicles.

Traditionally rockets have been expendable; this is due to the various launch segments being destroyed during their ascent. The ongoing work of the Californian outfit has been to recover the first stages of the Falcon and then use them multiple times in order to reduce its operating costs. The booster that was sent up on Thursday was brought back under control, successfully landing upright on a barge in the Atlantic.

Elon Musk, Chief Executive of SpaceX proudly announced, “I think it’s an amazing day for space”.

“It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, hopefully, a huge revolution in spaceflight”.

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Food trade and drained global water sources

Water is being used quicker than it can be naturally replaced in many parts of the world. This is due to the amount of water being used to water crops. The irrigation of crops such as rice, wheat and cotton is increasing the pressure on non-renewable ground water.

Countries such as Pakistan, India and the US export the most food that is grown with unsustainable water. Research suggests that unless action is taken soon, food supplies may be under threat.  Underground aquifers supply approximately 43% of the water that is used to irrigate crops around the world,  instead of using water that can be drawn from rivers and lakes. There is a reliance on natural rainfall to refill these sources, however usage is higher than replenishment.

Global irrigation from non-renewable sources increased by 20% between 2000 and 2010 – that’s an increase of more than a fifth.  Scientists have known about the depletion of groundwater for a long time.  The booming international trade in food crops is responsible for this. The majority of the world’s population live in countries that import staple crops from countries that are depleting their own groundwater in order to produce these crops. Researchers have found the percentage of non-renewable ground water that is used for irrigation of crops is approximately 11%.  From this 11%, two thirds of it is used in Pakistan, India and the US.

Dr Carole Dalin from University College London explains. “The depletion rate is alarming – we have these clusters of countries that are at risk both from domestic production and imports.  If the reserve of water runs out the price of food will be affected and it will affect almost all the world’s population.”

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Is all research reliable?

The BBC have carried out an investigation in the reliability of research that is being carried out in academia at present.  It would appear from their investigations that the actual amount of research that is faked is actually larger than first expected.

Between the years of 2012 and 2015 there have been approximately 30 allegations of research misconduct. The BBC has however obtained information that suggests hundreds of allegations at more than 23 different universities.  This is causing great concern over the reliability of research from around the world.  Following the outcome of these findings, The House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee have started their own investigation in order to reassure the public about reliability of research in the United Kingdom.

books-441866_1920The Committee’s Chairman, Stephen Metcalfe has reported how vital it is to have the support and confidence from the general public.  Without their trust and confidence, funding would be affected. In a report, Mr Metcalfe said, “Where research has been found to be fraudulent at a later point it has a big impact on the public – it leads to mistrust. What we want to do is to investigate how robust the mechanisms are for ensuring that research is ethical, it is accurate…it is, to a degree, reproducible.”

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Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order

President Trump has introduced the new “Energy Independence Executive Order”, suggesting major changes to the US narrative on climate change.  The new order suggests that creating prosperity is the best way to tackle global warming. It suggests that environmental regulations need to be more about the condition of air and water. Supporters of the order are of the belief that by cutting back on Obama’s climate regulations, it will create thousands of jobs, especially in the now bolstered oil and gas industries.

A new ruling in the US Supreme Court in 2007 classed carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant under the “Clean Air Act”. In response to this, a ruling made by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 concluded that CO2 and other gases had been also responsible towards the depletion of the climate threatening the public health and well being of present-day and future generations.

President Trump has wanted to overturn the ruling, even prior to being elected to office. The new order is intended to become the best means to fight global warming and create affluence.  President Trump classes ‘CO2′ as a friend, and that friend needs to be looked after…

Basically, in simple terms, President Trump is trying to reverse the philosophy that CO2 is the enemy and the main reason and cause for climate change, and he wants the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that CO2 is a pollutant.

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Effects of Gravitational Waves

Gravitational waves maybe responsible for putting the brakes on a spinning neutron star.  The neutron star in question spins nearly 600 times per second.  According to astronomers however, this particular star is actually slowing down by 76 rotations per second every one billion years.  The slowdown in magnetic spin is normal, however sometimes it occurs at a faster rate than expected. As a rule, neutron stars ‘switch’ between states – in one state they emit radio waves and in the other they emit massive X-ray bursts. There is no explanation why neutron stars act in this way. When the star is emitting X-Rays it slows down by approximately 30 percent.

Researchers believe that J1023 (the official reference of the star) is taking materials and gases from a small star that frequently intersects J1023’s orbit. They believe that the gases and materials have stuck to the surface and built a minute mountain like mound – although possibly only a few millimetres in height, the change is still significant enough to push atoms below deeper into the surface of the neutron star.   With this taking place, the high pressure then fuses the atoms together, forming heavier elements.

Brynmor Haskell from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw reported that “The extra surface bump and the heavier atoms below it together result in the mountain creating an asymmetry in J1023’s gravity.”

“Neutron stars are very compact, roughly the mass of the sun compressed in a 1- kilometre radius.  This means that even very small deformations can lead to large changes in the gravitational field.”

In 2016 it was reported by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at Caltech had witnessed gravitational waves causes by black holes colliding, but it has yet to be seen whether they would be caused by continual events or catastrophic ones.  Research is continuing, and the search for future gravitational wave events to see if this effect is commonplace.

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Zika Virus Studies

Sharon Isern, a Molecular Virologist from Gulf Coast University in Florida is the first to have studied mice infected with the Zika virus. The graph below shows the effects the virus had on a range of mice when presented with varied antibodies in their systems. The studies showed that the mice were given both blood plasma with no Dengue or West Nile antibodies before being exposed to the Zika virus.  Mice presented with Dengue antibodies survived – however, less than half of the mice exposed to West Nile antibodies died. Plasma is the fluid component of blood, which contains antibodies but lacks cells.

Studies are currently being undertaken to seek a better understanding of the Zika virus. The experiments have shown that the Zika viral infection in cases is worse following previous exposure to both Dengue and West Nile virus strains.  Virologist Jean K. Lim explains. “Antibodies you generate from the first infection can facilitate entry of the Zika virus into susceptible cells, exacerbating the disease outcome”.

Zika belongs to a large viral family know as ‘the flaviviruses’ sharing approximately 60% of their genetic make up with Dengue Fever and West Nile Virus. Dengue outbreaks are common in South and Central America, where Dengue and West Nile are prevalent, even in the United States.

Lim has expressed the importance of these studies. “This is important because in places where the Zika virus is causing outbreaks such as South America, there are currently other circulating viruses, such as Dengue, which is highly prevalent”.

It is estimated that 3 million residents have already contracted West Nile antibodies and continue to be at risk from the Zika virus. The next step is to continue with clinical studies on patients that have been exposed to both Dengue or West Nile strains.  This will then define the severity of the virus in humans.

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Scientific News (March 2017)

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