Science: Massive Hidden water reserves discovered on Mars

A joint European Union and Russian mission has discovered “significant amounts of water” lying just below the surface of Mars – and scientists say it could be “easily exploitable” by future explorers.

Hidden water reserves discovered on Mars

Valles Marineris, seen at an angle of 45 degrees in near-true colour and with four times vertical exaggeration © ESA

The largest canyon in our Solar System, Valles Marineris sits just south of Mars’ equator and is some 10 times longer and five times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon. It’s also hiding a body of water the size of the Netherlands, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday.

The water was detected by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a joint project of the ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. The satellite detected a large amount of hydrogen less than a meter below the canyon’s surface, and, as hydrogen molecules bind into water molecules, the discovery indicates the soil in that location is rich in moisture, which probably exists as ice.

Breaking news: I’ve spotted hidden #water – either ice or water-rich minerals 🤔 – in #Mars’ Grand Canyon! ❄️💧🔴The reservoir is large, not too deep below ground, & could be easily exploitable for future explorers 🤩Read on: https://t.co/lIAEuz2tNW#ExploreFarther#ExoMarspic.twitter.com/j1jwSCJebq
— ExoMars orbiter (@ESA_TGO) December 15, 2021

“We found a central part of Valles Marineris to be packed full of water – far more water than we expected,” Alexey Malakhov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote. “This is very much like Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures.”

The ESA press release noted that water ice usually evaporates in this region of Mars due to the temperature and pressure conditions near the planet’s equator. The fact that this Netherlands-sized body of water hasn’t suggests either a previously unknown mix of atmospheric conditions or that the water is somehow being replenished.

The discovery isn’t the first sign of water on Mars. Ice caps cover its polar regions, and previous ESA missions have found potential water stores several kilometers beneath its surface. However, the latest find reveals water the ESA says is much more “exploitable,” and makes “Valles Marineris an even more promising target for future human exploration missions to the planet.”

The Trace Gas Orbiter launched in 2016 and began orbiting Mars two years later. The project was originally planned as a collaboration between the ESA and NASA, but the Europeans partnered with Roscosmos in 2012, after US President Barack Obama slashed NASA’s budget. The orbiter will be joined in 2022 by a European rover and a Russian surface platform, as the hunt for past life on the Red Planet continues.

Source: https://www.rt.com/russia/543319-water-mars-discovered-roscosmos-esa/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_

Science: Physicists create new state of matter from quantum soup of magnetically weird particles

Scientists have spotted a long hypothesized, never-seen-before state of matter in the laboratory for the first time.

By firing lasers at an ultracold lattice of rubidium atoms, scientists have prodded the atoms into a messy soup of quantum uncertainty known as a quantum spin liquid.

The atoms in this quantum magnetic soup quickly became connected, linking up their states across the entire material in a process called quantum entanglement. This means that any change to one atom causes immediate changes in all of the others in the material; this breakthrough could pave the way for the development of even better quantum computers, the researchers said in a paper describing their findings Dec. 3 in the journal Science.

Related: 12 stunning quantum physics experiments

"It is a very special moment in the field," senior author Mikhail Lukin, a professor of physics at Harvard University and the co-director of the Harvard Quantum Initiative, said in a statement. "You can really touch, poke, and prod at this exotic state and manipulate it to understand its properties. It’s a new state of matter that people have never been able to observe."

First theorized in 1973 by the physicist Philip Anderson, quantum spin liquids emerge when materials are cajoled into disobeying the usual rules that govern their magnetic behaviour.

Electrons have a property called spin, a type of quantum angular momentum, that can point either up or down. In normal magnets (like the ones people put on the fridge), the spins of neighboring electrons orient themselves until they all point in the same direction, generating a magnetic field. In non-magnetic materials, the spins of two neighboring electrons can flip to oppose each other. But in either case, the tiny magnetic poles form a regular pattern.

In quantum spin liquids, however, the electrons refuse to choose. Instead of sitting next to each other, the electrons are arranged into a triangular lattice, so that any given electron has two immediate neighbors. Two electrons can align their spins, but a third will always be the odd one out, destroying the delicate balance and creating a constantly switching jumble of agitated electrons.

This jumbled state is what the researchers call a "frustrated" magnet. As the spin states no longer know which way to point, the electrons and their atoms are instead thrown into a weird combination of quantum states called a quantum superposition. The ever-fluctuating spins now exist simultaneously as both spin up and spin down, and the constant switching causes atoms all the way across the material to entangle with each other in a complex quantum state.

The researchers couldn’t directly study the ideal quantum spin liquid, so they created a near perfect facsimile in another experimental system. They chilled an array of 219 trapped rubidium atoms — which can be used to minutely design and simulate various quantum processes — to temperatures of roughly 10 microkelvins (close to absolute zero or minus – 273.15 degrees Celsius° Celsius).

Occasionally one of the electrons in an atom is in a much higher energy level than the others, putting the atom in what is known as a Rydberg state. Much like with spin states, the spooky rules of quantum mechanics ensure that an atom does not want to be in a Rydberg state if its neighbor is. By firing lasers at certain atoms within the array, the researchers mimicked the three-way tug-of-war seen in a traditional quantum spin liquid.

Following the creation of their quantum Rydberg soup, the researchers conducted tests on the array and confirmed that its atoms had become entangled across the entire material. They had created a quantum spin liquid.

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The scientists then turned their attention to a proof of concept test for its potential application: designing the qubits, or quantum bits, of a quantum computer. While ordinary computers use bits, or 0s and 1s to form the basis of all calculations, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at once. Qubits, however, are incredibly fragile; any interaction with the outside world can easily destroy the information they carry.

But the special nature of the quantum spin liquid’s material-wide entanglement, however, could allow for far more robust information storage. That’s because instead of encoding quantum information into just one qubit, it could allow for information to be contained in the shape — or the topology — that the entangled spin states make throughout the material itself; creating a "topological qubit." By encoding information in the shape formed by multiple parts rather than one part alone, the topological qubit is much less likely to lose all of its information.

The researchers’ proof of concept created only a tiny topological qubit, just a few tens of atoms long, but in the future, they hope to create much larger, more practical ones.

"Learning how to create and use such topological qubits would represent a major step toward the realization of reliable quantum computers," co-author Giulia Semeghini, a quantum physicist at Harvard University, said in the statement. "We show the very first steps on how to create this topological qubit, but we still need to demonstrate how you can actually encode it and manipulate it. There’s now a lot more to explore."

Source: https://www.livescience.com/quantum-spin-liquid-created?utm_source=SmartBrief&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=368B3745-DDE0-4A69-A2E8-62503D85375D&utm_c

INSANELY AWESOME SCIENCE: Mars Helicopter Just Keeps on Going – The Robot that won’t quit

The original mission of the Mars Helicopter (named Ingenuity) was to successfully complete a single 30-second long flight on Mars. That happened back in April. After several more successful flights, Ingenuity’s 30-day mission came to an end, but the helicopter was doing so well that NASA decided to keep it flying. Several months later, JPL promised that Ingenuity would “complete flight operations no later than the end of August,” but as of late November, the little helicopter has completed 17 flights with no sign of slowing down.

NASA has kept the helicopter operational, in part, because it’s transitioned from a pure technology demonstration to an operations demonstration. In fact, Ingenuity has turned out to be quite useful to both the science team as well as the roboticists who operate the Perseverance rover. While NASA never planned to have Ingenuity make occasional scouting flights, its having that capability seems to have paid off. To understand just how much of a difference the helicopter is making to Perseverance’s mission, we talked to one of the Mars rover drivers at JPL, Olivier Toupet.

Toupet has been at JPL for nine years, and he’s the supervisor of JPL’s Robotic Aerial Mobility group (which includes key members of the Mars Helicopter team). He’s also the deputy lead of the rover planner team for Perseverance, meaning that he’s one of the folks who tells the rover where to go and how to get there. In his role as a Perseverance rover driver, Toupet specializes in strategic route planning, which means listening to where the scientists want the rover to go and thinking about how to best reach all of those targets while considering things like safety and longer term goals. “We design routes to visit the targets that scientists are interested in, or we tell them that it’s too dangerous,” Toupet tells us.

“Initially there was a lot of pushback, even from the science team, because they thought it was going to be a distraction. But in the end, we’re all very happy with the helicopter, including the science team.”
—Olivier Toupet, NASA JPL

Toupet was also one of the rover drivers on the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) programs, and over the years, he and his team have developed a solid intuition about how to drive Mars rovers over different types of terrain—how to do it efficiently, but also minimizing the chances that the rover could get damaged or stuck. Obviously, the stakes are very high, so the rover team takes no chances, and sometimes having even a single picture from Ingenuity of a potential route can completely change things, says Toupet.

IEEE Spectrum: How much of a difference has it made for you to have Ingenuity scouting for Perseverance on Mars?

Olivier Toupet: My team designs the routes for the rover to drive, and typically we have orbital imagery [from Hi-RISE], which is as you can imagine very low resolution, and then we have imagery from the rover on the surface, but it can only see a few hundred meters. With the orbital imagery, we can’t see rocks that are smaller than typically about a meter. But a rock that is taller than 35 centimeters is an obstacle for the rover—it can’t put its wheel over a rock that size. So it’s been really helpful to have that helicopter imagery to refine our strategic route and plan to avoid challenging terrain well before the rover can see it."

Animated gif cycling between blurry orbital imagery, less blurry rover imagery, and high resolution helicopter images This animation shows the different kinds of imagery that the rover planners are able to use for route planning, including imagery from the rover’s own cameras, images taken from orbit, and helicopter images.NASA/JPL

What about planning for day-to-day rover operations?

We do look at the helicopter images when planning our daily drives, but we can’t fully trust the 3D mesh obtained from pairs of overlapping images because we don’t know the exact distance the helicopter flew in between each one. We use the images in a qualitative way, but we can’t tell where obstacles are with the precision that we’d need for drive planning—we can’t entrust the life of the rover to those images.

You and your team must be highly skilled at understanding Martian terrain from the relatively low-resolution orbital images, since JPL has been planning for rovers on Mars based entirely on orbital images for decades now. With that in mind, how actually useful is high-resolution imagery like the helicopter provides?

I was actually a rover planner on Opportunity, Curiosity, and now Perseverance, so I’ve been doing this for a long time! But it’s a fair question. You are correct that we’re very experienced with interpreting orbital imagery, but there are still some cases where higher resolution imagery can be very important. With Curiosity, there’s a place called Logan Pass, where of course we had relied on orbital imagery for our strategic route planning.

Panoramic image of the Mars surface showing a sandy depression with hills and mountains in the background View southeastward towards Logan Pass from Curiosity’s Mast Camera, taken in May of 2015.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

We thought there was a shortcut to get there that we could squeeze through. We drove all the way there to the start of a slope that we were going to have to drive on with a large field of sand dunes beneath it. We’d thought that the slope was likely to be compacted sand, which would have been fine, but what we couldn’t see on the orbital imagery was that the slope was actually a thin layer of sand on top of pebbles, and when the rover tried driving on it, it began to slip substantially down towards the sand trap. We tried to get across the slope a couple of times, but we ended up deciding that it wasn’t safe at all, so we had to take a pretty substantial detour because that strategic route wasn’t feasible.

Curiosity’s path shown as a white line which goes into a dead end and out again Orbital imagery of Curiosity’s route showing attempt to traverse Logan Pass, followed by detour through Marias Pass.NASA

So overall, it’s true that typically orbital imagery is good enough, especially on terrain that’s pretty benign. But there are times where having higher resolution imagery ahead of time is very valuable for route planning.

What about for Perseverance? Are there any examples of specific ways in which detailed imagery from Ingenuity caused you to change your mind about a route?

We landed right next to an area called Séítah, which is actually very hard to drive through because it’s full of large sand dunes. And getting stuck in sand is the nightmare of every rover planner, because it could be mission-ending. Right after landing, the scientists were saying, “let’s cross over Séítah and get to the delta!” I said, that’s not going to happen, we have to drive around it.

Orbital image showing Perseverance’s route as a white line traveling around an area of hills and sand dunes View of Perseverance’s route around Séítah and current position of the rover and helicopter on the south side of Séítah.NASA

While we were driving around, the helicopter just flew right over to the west side of Séítah on Flight 9. That was really interesting, because it gave us excellent images and we realized that while there were some places we wouldn’t want to drive in, there were other places that actually looked traversable.

Image of the sandy, rocky surface of Mars, with the shadow of the Mars helicopter in flight at the bottom Image taken by Ingenuity showing bedrock poking through sand, suggesting that some areas might be traversable by the Perseverance rover.NASA/JPL-Caltech

And so it was really helpful to have that helicopter imagery over Séítah to refine our strategic route. Thanks to the helicopter, we ended up modifying our route—we were initially going to drive over a kind of hill, but the helicopter flew right above that hill, and I was able to see that the hill looked much more challenging than I thought from the orbital imagery. In the end, we decided to drive around it.

Aerial image of a hill on Mars showing a red line labeled "Initial Route" going over the hill and a green line labeled "Refined Route" going around the hill Image taken by Ingenuity of the hill Perseverance had planned to climb, which helped the rover planning team decide to drive around the hill instead.NASA/JPL-Caltech

If we hadn’t had the helicopter imagery, I think we would still have made it work and found the same route. But having the helicopter, we were able to plan the route ahead of time, and make a much better estimate of how long it would take, which helps the whole Perseverance rover team to plan more efficiently. That’s pretty valuable.

What has the reaction been to having the Mars Helicopter stick around as a scout?

The whole team, we all love it! We didn’t know we were going to love it—it’s really interesting, I think initially there was a lot of pushback, even from the science team, because they thought it was going to be a distraction. But in the end, we’re all very happy with the helicopter, including the science team. The more information we have the better—for the science team, for example, the helicopter can save us a lot of time by quickly investigating potentially interesting areas.

“We’ve found a way to do both rover and helicopter activities in parallel, in a way that’s very low impact and very high value.”
—Olivier Toupet, NASA JPL

For example, when we flew the helicopter over Séítah, over the area where the scientists wanted the rover to go, the pictures that the helicopter took enabled the scientists to decide whether it was even worth trying to drive the rover that far—it would have taken us two or three weeks to even get there. But the images from the helicopter led the scientists to say, “hey, yeah, this area is actually really interesting, and we see valuable rocks that we’d like to go and sample. And so it enabled us to make that decision early on rather than potentially wasting two to three weeks driving over there for nothing.

At one point, JPL said that even if everything with the helicopter was working great, flight operations would cease “no later than the end of August.” Obviously, the helicopter is still flying—how much of a surprise has that been?

Frankly, it’s been a big surprise, but we should have known better! Opportunity was supposed to be a 90-day mission, and it was still going 14 years later. Some of us suspected that the helicopter mission would continue to be extended, but the helicopter team played their cards pretty close to their chest. Obviously, they were very focused on accomplishing the tech demo, and that was always a top priority. So whenever we’d ask, “what happens next,” they’d tell us not to get distracted because a successful tech demo was why the helicopter was funded to go to Mars.

But I remember being in a meeting with someone from NASA HQ, who said something that is very true, which was that the tech demo is great, but the long-term goal is to show the potential of flying on Mars. I really hope that Ingenuity being such a success means that in the future there will be another helicopter mission to Mars. You can imagine a helicopter flying into Vallis Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system. It would be amazing.

The official story was always that there were going to be five flights and that was probably going to be the end, and so I’m glad that we’re now at flight 17, and the helicopter has been extremely successful. I can’t wait to see all the things we’ll be able to do in the months to come, including when we reach the delta—there are many steep slopes, and lots of dunes, so having the helicopter there is going to be especially valuable.

Black and white image taken from orbit giving a 3D effect of an ancient river delta Oblique view of the Jezero crater delta looking west.NASA/MSSS/USGS

Do you think that part of the reason that the mission keeps getting extended is because NASA is realizing just how valuable having a helicopter scout can be for a rover like Perseverance?

Yes, I think maybe we didn’t initially realize just how useful the helicopter would be in supporting our scientific mission. I would also say that another reason the helicopter mission keeps getting extended is because it’s turned out to have a fairly minimal impact on the rover team, in the sense that the helicopter team has been pretty independent and they are only flying once every two to three weeks. We’ve found a way to do both rover and helicopter activities in parallel, in a way that’s very low impact and very high value.

It sounds like having a helicopter scout would make an especially big difference once Perseverance reaches the delta. Are you hoping Ingenuity will survive that long, and that it’ll be able to scout for the rover indefinitely?

I definitely hope so! Initially, there were some concerns about whether the helicopter’s electronics will be able to survive the winter [through March of next year]. There are still some questions about this, but things are looking promising. There are also communications challenges—so far, the helicopter has been staying pretty close to the rover, within about 300 meters. But once we’re done with this area to the southwest of Séítah, the rover will be driving very quickly back around Séítah to the foot of the delta. Specifically, we’ll be using multi-sol autonav, which is where we tell the rover to keep on driving itself autonomously as quickly as it can to its destination over multiple Martian days. Put the pedal to the metal! And so there is a little bit of concern whether the helicopter can keep up with us. It’s funny, I love the helicopter, but I also work on the autonav software, so I hope the rover goes fast.

Orbital image of Jezero crater with a dotted yellow line taking a winding kilometers-long route around craters to a location called Three Forks. Perseverance’s planned route from Séítah to Jezero’s river deltaNASA

But I think it’s going to be fine. The helicopter team is working on improved capabilities, including the capability to pop up in the sky and talk to the rover, and that could substantially improve the communications range, perhaps even to kilometers. So while they’re going to do their best to try and keep up with the rover, in parallel they’re working on improving the capability of the helicopter to stay in communications even from farther away. So I’m very hopeful that Ingenuity will be around for a long time!

As someone who’s been working on several generations of Mars rovers, what would you like to see from the next-generation Mars helicopter?

The big advantage of a helicopter is of course that it can fly, and the Mars Science Helicopter will be able to fly tens of kilometers in a single day. To give you a sense of perspective, we’re hoping that Perseverance will be able to drive a few hundred meters in a day. So the helicopter would have several orders of magnitude more range, which is amazing—you could imagine going not just to one site on Mars, but to multiple sites.

A rendering showing on right the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, 0.5m across, next to the Mars Science Helicopter concept, which has six rotors and is six times the size. Mars Science Helicopter concept compared to Ingenuity.

But the big disadvantage of the helicopter, unfortunately, is the payload. A rover can carry a lot of science instruments, while the helicopter, because the air density is so low on Mars, has a much lower maximum payload, which restricts how much science you can do. That being said, you could imagine being able to swap instruments—what if you could carry just the instrument that was necessary for the specific site you’re visiting that day? Of course there are technical challenges with that, but yeah, personally I do think that the next mission should be a helicopter just by itself. It would be great to see that in the future.

And when we send another rover to Mars, should it have its own helicopter scout?

That’s a great question, and a controversial one, because the next mission to Mars is about sample return, and the European Space Agency is making the rover, not NASA. And so, I don’t know who gets to make such decisions, but I personally do think that a helicopter would be extremely valuable—not just as a scout, but potentially also as a backup, that could retrieve the samples if the rover had some issues. That would be great to have for sure.

Source: https://spectrum.ieee.org/mars-perseverance

Science: Europeans and Russians discover enormous Hidden water reserves discovered on Mars

A joint European Union and Russian mission has discovered “significant amounts of water” lying just below the surface of Mars – and scientists say it could be “easily exploitable” by future explorers.

The largest canyon in our Solar System, Valles Marineris sits just south of Mars’ equator and is some 10 times longer and five times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon. It’s also hiding a body of water the size of the Netherlands, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday.

The water was detected by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a joint project of the ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. The satellite detected a large amount of hydrogen less than a meter below the canyon’s surface, and, as hydrogen molecules bind into water molecules, the discovery indicates the soil in that location is rich in moisture, which probably exists as ice.

Breaking news: I’ve spotted hidden #water – either ice or water-rich minerals 🤔 – in #Mars’ Grand Canyon! ❄️💧🔴The reservoir is large, not too deep below ground, & could be easily exploitable for future explorers 🤩Read on: https://t.co/lIAEuz2tNW#ExploreFarther#ExoMarspic.twitter.com/j1jwSCJebq
— ExoMars orbiter (@ESA_TGO) December 15, 2021

“We found a central part of Valles Marineris to be packed full of water – far more water than we expected,” Alexey Malakhov of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote. “This is very much like Earth’s permafrost regions, where water ice permanently persists under dry soil because of the constant low temperatures.”

The ESA press release noted that water ice usually evaporates in this region of Mars due to the temperature and pressure conditions near the planet’s equator. The fact that this Netherlands-sized body of water hasn’t suggests either a previously unknown mix of atmospheric conditions or that the water is somehow being replenished.

The discovery isn’t the first sign of water on Mars. Ice caps cover its polar regions, and previous ESA missions have found potential water stores several kilometers beneath its surface. However, the latest find reveals water the ESA says is much more “exploitable,” and makes “Valles Marineris an even more promising target for future human exploration missions to the planet.”

The Trace Gas Orbiter launched in 2016 and began orbiting Mars two years later. The project was originally planned as a collaboration between the ESA and NASA, but the Europeans partnered with Roscosmos in 2012, after US President Barack Obama slashed NASA’s budget. The orbiter will be joined in 2022 by a European rover and a Russian surface platform, as the hunt for past life on the Red Planet continues.

Source: https://www.rt.com/russia/543319-water-mars-discovered-roscosmos-esa/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Email

White Science: HUGE SUCCESS: The Little Martian helicopter keeps going and going and going

[The first ever flying vehicle on another planet, the little Martian helicopter, is a huge success. The Martian atmosphere is getting thinner due to a seasonal change, but NASA was testing higher rotor spinning speeds to see if they can still keep the helicopter going! Jan]

NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has soared through alien skies yet again.

"The #MarsHelicopter keeps going, going, going! Ingenuity successfully completed its 18th flight, adding 124.3 seconds to its overall time aloft on the Red Planet," officials with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages Ingenuity’s pioneering mission, said via Twitter today (Dec. 17).

Ingenuity covered 754 feet (230 meters) of ground while cruising at 5.6 mph (9.0 kph) during the flight, which took place on Wednesday (Dec. 15), JPL officials added.

The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity landed last February with NASA’s Perseverance rover on the floor of the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which hosted a big lake and a river delta billions of years ago.

Ingenuity’s main goal was to show that powered flight is possible in the thin air of Mars. The little chopper checked off that box over the course of five initial flights, then shifted into an extended mission during which it has been pushing its limits and serving as a scout for the life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance.

The rotorcraft has performed extremely well, racking up an impressive set of off-Earth accomplishments. Ingenuity has now spent nearly 33 minutes aloft in the Martian air, for example, and visited 10 different Red Planet airfields.

"Few thought we would make it to flight one, fewer still to five. And no one thought we would make it this far," Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos of JPL said in a statement earlier this week. "The aircraft’s continued operations speaks to the robustness [of] the design and the diligence and passion of our small operations team."

That’s not to suggest that it has all been perfectly smooth sailing for the little chopper. For example, during its sixth flight, which took place on May 23, Ingenuity suffered a glitch that interrupted the flow of navigation images to its onboard computer.

And the communications link between Ingenuity and Perseverance was disrupted during the chopper’s descent on flight 17, which occurred on Dec. 5. This complication delayed the mission team’s assessment of the sortie, which was eventually determined to be a complete success. (All of the helicopter’s data and imagery reach Earth via Perseverance and Mars orbiters.)

Some people have speculated that the Dec. 5 communications dropout may be linked to log4j, a widely used programming code developed by the nonprofit Apache Software Foundation that was recently revealed to have a flaw that can leave it vulnerable to hackers. But this is not the case, JPL officials said, pointing instead to a much more prosaic cause.

"NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter does not run Apache or log4j, nor is it susceptible to the log4j vulnerability. NASA takes cybersecurity very seriously and, for this reason, we do not discuss specifics regarding the cybersecurity of agency assets," JPL officials wrote in an update Thursday (Dec. 16).

"The interruption in data communications between the Ingenuity helicopter and the base station on the Perseverance rover during flight 17 occurred when the signal was blocked by elevated terrain between the two as Ingenuity descended at the end of the flight," they added. "Effectively, Ingenuity ‘flew behind a hill’ or out of the rover’s line of sight, briefly interrupting high-speed communications between the two spacecraft."

Source: https://www.space.com/mars-helicopter-ingenuity-flight-18?utm_source=SmartBrief&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=58E4DE65-C57F-4CD3-9A5A-609994E2C5A9&utm_content=4B830476-8D6E-4252-8008-4C8A9FFA216B&utm_term=af536f6d-055d-443a-91f7-fd448d0cca73

Science: VERY IMPORTANT: Without the Earth’s Moon THERE WOULD BE NO LIFE ON EARTH

Here’s something I’ve known about for long and I see lots of scientists talking about it. A rotating ball is unstable and would kill the very life that lives on it. If it wasn’t for the moon we wouldn’t exist.

My own view is that the "Rare Earth" hypothesis is the correct one. That we are an aberration. The religious types will take this as proof that God created us.

Combine this with our DNA lineage and achievements and you’ll grasp that our existence itself has always been on a knife-edge.

If we don’t take our existence seriously … nothing like us might crop up ever again. The universe is an extremely dangerous place for life actually.

We won’t be finding aliens any time soon, and, I would argue, if we did, you wouldn’t want to talk to them. Either they would kill us, or we would kill them.

But I think we have the edge.

[This is a very important fact that scientists have known about for a long time. This is a very bizarre twist in understanding life on Earth AND finding life on other planets. The moon is a really weird object with a really weird effect. This is a fact that crops up again and again. It is a very well established fact. A planet, by itself, is too unstable for life to exist. The Moon, which is a very weird object, allows this. It's something I've known about for a long time. See the short quote from the article below. Lots of scientists have pointed this out. Jan]

Here it is:-

Moons may be essential to life

In a press release, study co-author Siegfried Eggl of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explained further applications of the method in determining the habitability of exoplanets:

“If we can use this method to show there are other moons out there, then there are probably other systems similar to ours. The moon is also likely critical for the evolution of life on our planet, because without the moon the axis tilt of the Earth wouldn’t be as stable, the results of which would be detrimental to climate stability. Other peer-reviewed studies have shown the relationship between moons and the possibility of complex life.”

Maybe the discovery of exomoons is the first step to finding life elsewhere in the cosmos. Understanding the similarities and dissimilarities with our solar system is a great place to start.

Source: https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/exomoon-life/

Science & Evolution: Sleep Evolved Before Brains. Hydras Are Living Proof.

Studies of sleep are usually neurological. But some of nature’s simplest animals suggest that sleep evolved for metabolic reasons, long before brains even existed.

he hydra is a simple creature. Less than half an inch long, its tubular body has a foot at one end and a mouth at the other. The foot clings to a surface underwater — a plant or a rock, perhaps — and the mouth, ringed with tentacles, ensnares passing water fleas. It does not have a brain, or even much of a nervous system.

And yet, new research shows, it sleeps. Studies by a team in South Korea and Japan showed that the hydra periodically drops into a rest state that meets the essential criteria for sleep.

On the face of it, that might seem improbable. For more than a century, researchers who study sleep have looked for its purpose and structure in the brain. They have explored sleep’s connections to memory and learning. They have numbered the neural circuits that push us down into oblivious slumber and pull us back out of it. They have recorded the telltale changes in brain waves that mark our passage through different stages of sleep and tried to understand what drives them. Mountains of research and people’s daily experience attest to human sleep’s connection to the brain.

But a counterpoint to this brain-centric view of sleep has emerged. Researchers have noticed that molecules produced by muscles and some other tissues outside the nervous system can regulate sleep. Sleep affects metabolism pervasively in the body, suggesting that its influence is not exclusively neurological. And a body of work that’s been growing quietly but consistently for decades has shown that simple organisms with less and less brain spend significant time doing something that looks a lot like sleep. Sometimes their behavior has been pigeonholed as only “sleeplike,” but as more details are uncovered, it has become less and less clear why that distinction is necessary.

It appears that simple creatures — including, now, the brainless hydra — can sleep. And the intriguing implication of that finding is that sleep’s original role, buried billions of years back in life’s history, may have been very different from the standard human conception of it. If sleep does not require a brain, then it may be a profoundly broader phenomenon than we supposed.

Recognizing Sleep

Sleep is not the same as hibernation, or coma, or inebriation, or any other quiescent state, wrote the French sleep scientist Henri Piéron in 1913. Though all involved a superficially similar absence of movement, each had distinctive qualities, and that daily interruption of our conscious experience was particularly mysterious. Going without it made one foggy, confused, incapable of clear thought. For researchers who wanted to learn more about sleep, it seemed essential to understand what it did to the brain.

And so, in the mid-20th century, if you wanted to study sleep, you became an expert reader of electroencephalograms, or EEGs. Putting electrodes on humans, cats or rats allowed researchers to say with apparent precision whether a subject was sleeping and what stage of sleep they were in. That approach produced many insights, but it left a bias in the science: Almost everything we learned about sleep came from animals that could be fitted with electrodes, and the characteristics of sleep were increasingly defined in terms of the brain activity associated with them.

This frustrated Irene Tobler, a sleep physiologist working at the University of Zurich in the late 1970s, who had begun to study the behavior of cockroaches, curious whether invertebrates like insects sleep as mammals do. Having read Piéron and others, Tobler knew that sleep could be defined behaviorally too.

She distilled a set of behavioral criteria to identify sleep without the EEG. A sleeping animal does not move around. It is harder to rouse than one that’s simply resting. It may take on a different pose than when awake, or it may seek out a specific location for sleep. Once awakened it behaves normally rather than sluggishly. And Tobler added a criterion of her own, drawn from her work with rats: A sleeping animal that has been disturbed will later sleep longer or more deeply than usual, a phenomenon called sleep homeostasis.

A figure showing some of the body postures of cockroaches, which the researcher Irene Tobler used as diagnostics for sleep in the insects.

Courtesy of Irene Tobler

Tobler soon laid out her case that cockroaches were either sleeping or doing something very like it. The response from her colleagues, most of whom studied higher-order mammals, was immediate. “It was heresy to even consider this,” Tobler said. “They really made fun of me in my early years. It wasn’t very pleasant. But I sort of felt time would tell.” She studied scorpions, giraffes, hamsters, cats — 22 species in all. She was convinced that science would eventually confirm that sleep was widespread, and in later studies of sleep, her behavioral criteria would prove critical.

Those criteria were on the minds of Amita Sehgal at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Paul Shaw (now at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis) and their colleagues in the late 1990s. They were part of two independent groups that had begun to look closely at the quiescence of fruit flies. Sleep was still largely the domain of psychologists, Sehgal says, rather than scientists who studied genetics or cell biology. With respect to mechanisms, from a molecular biologist’s perspective, “the sleep field was sleeping,” she said.

However, the neighboring field of circadian clock biology was exploding with activity, following the discovery of genes that regulate the body’s 24-hour clock. If molecular mechanisms behind sleep could be uncovered — if a well-understood model organism like the fruit fly could be used to study them — then there was the potential for a revolution in sleep science as well. Flies, like Tobler’s cockroaches and scorpions, could not be easily hooked up to an EEG machine. But they could be observed minutely, and their responses to deprivation could be recorded.

With Less and Less Brain

In January 2000, Sehgal and her colleagues published their paper asserting that flies were sleeping. That March, Shaw and colleagues published their parallel work confirming the claim. The field was still reluctant to admit that true sleep existed in invertebrates, and that human sleep could be usefully studied using flies, Shaw says. But the flies proved their worth. Today more than 50 labs use flies to study sleep, generating findings that suggest that sleep has a set of core features present across the animal kingdom. And biologists did not stop with flies. “Once we showed that flies slept,” Shaw said, “then it became possible to say that anything slept.”

The sleep that researchers studied in other species was not always similar to the standard human variety. Dolphins and migrating birds can send half their brain to sleep while appearing awake, researchers realized. Elephants spend almost every hour awake, while little brown bats spend almost every hour asleep.

In 2008, David Raizen and his colleagues even reported sleep in Caenorhabditis elegans, the roundworm widely used as a model organism in biology laboratories. They have only 959 body cells (apart from their gonads), with 302 neurons that are mostly gathered in several clusters in the head. Unlike many other creatures, C. elegans does not sleep for a portion of every day of its life. Instead, it sleeps for short bouts during its development. It also sleeps after periods of stress as an adult.

The evidence for sleep in creatures with minimal nervous systems seemed to reach a new high about five years ago with studies of jellyfish. The Cassiopea jellies, about four inches long, spend most of their time upside down, tentacles reaching toward the ocean surface, and pulsating to push seawater through their bodies. When Michael Abrams, now a fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and two other graduate students at the California Institute of Technology asked if Cassiopea might sleep, they were continuing the line of inquiry that Tobler had followed when she studied cockroaches, investigating whether sleep exists in ever simpler organisms. If jellyfish sleep, that suggests sleep may have evolved more than 1 billion years ago and could be a fundamental function of almost all organisms in the animal kingdom, many of which do not have brains.

The “upside down” Cassiopea jellyfish does not have a centralized nervous system but it sleeps. The animals never stop moving completely, but at night their rate of pulsations slows, and they show other behaviors associated with sleep.

Jacopo Werther

That’s because, among animals, jellyfish are evolutionarily about as far away as you can get from mammals. Their neighbors in the tree of life include the sponges, which spend their lives attached to rocks in the ocean, and placozoans, tiny clusters of cells first seen by scientists on the walls of seawater aquariums. Unlike other creatures observed sleeping, Cassiopea have no brain, no centralized nervous system. But they can move, and they have periods of rest. It should be possible, the Cal Tech students reasoned, to apply the criteria for behavioral sleep to them.

The first few boxes were relatively easy to check. Although the jellyfish pulsed night and day, Abrams and his collaborators showed that the rate of pulsing slowed in a characteristic way at night, and that animals could be roused from this state with some effort. (There were also indications that the jellyfish favored a particular posture on a platform in the tank during these quieter periods, but Abrams considers that evidence to still be anecdotal.) Testing whether the jellyfish had sleep homeostasis was much harder and required finding ways to gently disturb them without distressing them. In the end, Abrams and his collaborators settled on dropping the platform out from underneath them; when that happened, the Cassiopea would sink and rise again, pulsing at their daytime rate.

The pulsation of a Cassiopea jellyfish can be observed in this series of photos, taken from above. The outer rim of the animal is relaxed at left. It contracts over the next two images, and then relaxes again. The rate of this pulsation helps to indicate sleep in the jellyfish.

Courtesy of Michael Abrams

Later, the telltale signs of homeostatic regulation were there: The more the jellyfish were disturbed, the less the creatures moved the next day. “We weren’t sold on it until we saw the homeostatic regulation,” Abrams said. The team’s results were published in 2017, and Abrams has continued to probe the jellyfish’s genetics and neuroscience since then.

Sleeping in Context

The new revelations about sleep in hydras push the sleep discoveries to a new extreme. The hydra’s body and nervous system are even more rudimentary than Cassiopea’s. Yet as the researchers from Kyushu University in Japan and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea demonstrated, once a hydra entered a rest state, a pulse of light would rouse it, and it too slept longer after repeated deprivation, among other findings.

Hydra sleep has its peculiarities: Dopamine, which usually makes animals sleep less, caused the hydra to go still. The hydra does not seem to sleep on a 24-hour cycle, instead spending part of every four hours asleep. Something about the hydra’s way of life may have made these traits advantageous, Tobler suggests.

When it is active, a hydra uses its tentacles to ensnare passing prey. The hydra then pulls its victim into its mouth.

Tom Branch/Science Source

But despite those differences, hydra sleep may overlap with other animals’ sleep at the genomic level. When the researchers looked for gene activity altered by sleep deprivation in hydras, they saw a few familiar ones. “At least some genes conserved in other animals are involved in sleep regulation in hydra,” wrote Taichi Itoh, an assistant professor at Kyushu University and a leader of the new study, in an email to Quanta. That finding suggests that the Cnidaria phylum of animals, which includes hydras and jellyfish, already had some genetic components of sleep regulation before it diverged from the ancestors of other groups of animals. As those animals gradually evolved centralized nervous systems, sleep may have taken on new functions for maintaining them.

What, then, does sleep do in the absence of a brain? Raizen suspects that at least for some animals, sleep has a primarily metabolic function, allowing certain biochemical reactions to take place that can’t happen during waking hours. It may divert the energy that would be used by alertness and movement into other processes, ones that are too costly to take place while the animal is awake. For example, C. elegans seems to use sleep to enable the growth of its body and support the repair of its tissues. In sleep-deprived hydras, the cell divisions that are part of everyday life are paused. Something similar has been seen in the brains of sleep-deprived rats and in fruit flies. Managing the flow of energy may be a central role for sleep.

All this research on very simple sleepers raises questions about the very first organism that slept. This first sleeper, whatever it was, probably vanished more than 1 billion years ago. If it was the common ancestor between hydras and humans, it likely had neurons and something like muscle that enabled it to move — and the absence of that movement was characteristic of its version of sleep, fulfilling its special needs.

“If that animal slept, sleep was for whatever that context was,” Abrams said. Sleep might have helped to maintain the first sleeper’s rudimentary nervous system, but it could just as easily have been for the benefits of its metabolism or digestion. “Before we had a brain, we had a gut,” he said.

Even deeper questions are now being asked. In a 2019 opinion paper, Raizen and his co-authors wondered: If sleep happens in neurons, then what is the minimum number of neurons that can sleep? Can the need for sleep be driven by other kinds of cells, as work implicating liver and muscle cells suggests?

“If you really want to push the envelope, do animals that do not have neurons at all sleep?” Raizen asked.

In fact, there are a few organisms whose behavior might someday reveal the answer. Placozoans, the microscopic multicellular creatures that seem to be among the simplest in the animal kingdom, move and react to their surroundings. They have no neurons and no muscles. Neither do sponges, which are anchored in place but still respond to their environment.

“I’m often asked, ‘Do sponges sleep?’” said Abrams. “That’s a whole new world. There might be ways to test that.”

Source: https://www.quantamagazine.org/sleep-evolved-before-brains-hydras-are-living-proof-20210518/