A Year in Space – A Human Research ProjectRead More
As you may have recently seen in the news, astronauts Scott Kelly (USA) and Mikhail Kornienko (Russia) safely arrived back on planet Earth after spending a year in space… well 340 days, but that’s still pretty impressive right? It is the longest single amount of time any astronauts have spent in space and Scott Kelly has now cumulatively been in space for longer than anyone else (522 days, in case you wanted to know). The aim of them both staying in space for one year, twice as long as the standard mission, was to study the effect of extended space travel on the human body.
The research of the ‘One-Year Mission’ focuses on seven different project areas:
Monitoring changes in the performance of functional tasks after 12 months spent in low-gravity conditions.
· Behavioural Health
Looking at the psychological effects of long-duration space flight through cognitive studies, neuromapping, sleep monitoring and analysis of journals.
· Visual Impairment
Examining the ocular health of the astronauts. Looking at whether fluid shifts and changes to cranial pressure due to the low-gravity conditions affect sight.
Understanding the processes that convert food into energy and how they change in space.
· Physical Performance
Focusing on the performance of bone, muscular and cardiovascular systems whilst exercising in a weightless environment.
Looking at the micro-biome of the astronauts in the study.
· Human Factors
How the astronauts interact with the environment on the space station.
Results from the study will be fed into the Human Research Program at NASA. However, we will have to wait a little while to see the results from all of these different research areas.
This study is considered incredibly important as part of the planning process for the missions to Mars. Scheduled to launch sometime in the 2030s, the missions to Mars will involve journeys (to and from) that could total to over 500 days spent in zero gravity conditions aboard a cramped spacecraft. Data collected from the study will go a long way in telling us what problems the human body could encounter during extended periods of spaceflight, however they will not provide the full picture. Astronauts that travel to Mars are likely to be subjected to even tougher conditions than those experienced by Scott and Mikhail on the ISS. Interplanetary travel will not only be longer, but will also be subjected to higher levels of radiation.
One other very interesting aspect of the mission is that Scott Kelly has an identical twin, Mark Kelly (also a former astronaut), who is being used as a control. NASA has spent the past year monitoring both Mark and Scott on Earth and in space respectively. The twin study has focused on four areas in particular:
· Human PhysiologyFunctional
Looking at any changes in muscles and organs such as the heart and brain, brought on by spaceflight conditions.
· Behavioural Health
The effect of spaceflight on decision making, perception, alertness and reasoning.
Exploring the dietary differences between the twins and how this affects their gut biomes.
Looking at how factors like microgravity and radiation switch genes on and off and how this affects proteins and metabolites in blood, saliva, stool and urine samples.
Again, the results from these investigations will feed into the Human Research Program at NASA. All results from the research carried out on the twins and on Mikhail will be shared internationally, allowing other space agencies to factor the research into future advances in space travel.
Whilst being monitored in space Scott and Mikhail both carried out standard engineering and maintenance tasks essential to keep the space station up and running. However, they also carried out lots of other experiments whilst on the station. This included growing the first vegetables and flowers in space, something that could be very important when it comes to long duration space travel.
Whilst Scott was away he took hundreds of photos of earth from the ISS and posted them on Twitter (@StationCDRKelly) under the hashtag #YearInSpace. Dave Mclean from Nova Scotia’s Centre of Geographic Sciences has made an interactive map of every photo Scott posted whilst on the ISS; if you have a bit of spare time there are some amazing photos to look at.
Just one of the many pictures that Scott Kelly took during his year in space. Taken from: http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/scott-kelly-becomes-us-astronaut-to-spend-the-most-time-in-space.
This blog has just summarised some of the research that Scott and Mikhail have managed or been involved in on their ‘One-Year Mission’. I, for one, can’t wait to see what results come from the research and how this will impact on the future Mars missions.
Tweet me your thoughts on the ‘One-Year Mission’ and the future Mars Missions@JordanAtNotch.
100 years in … Astronomy and PhysicsRead More
This year marks 100 years of IHS Chemical Week. To commemorate the anniversary, we would like to dedicate this series of blog posts to Chemical Week and their contribution to the field, by taking a look back at the last century in science.
This week we are taking a look back at the last 100 years in Astronomy and Physics.
Astronomy and physics have both been studied for millennia, however in just the last century there have been some achievements that have changed our understanding of the subject completely.
The achievements and discoveries that we thought deserved special mention in this post are the work of Albert Einstein, the Hubble Space Telescope, the first moon landing and the construction of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.
Albert Einstein is probably one of the most well known physicists both in and outside the field. In 1916 he published his theory of general relativity that changed our understanding of gravitation to being a geometric property of space-time. Even though the theory of general relativity is almost 100 years old, ever since its publication, it has remained the basis for all models of an expanding universe.
Einstein’s theory also describes several phenomena in space that are otherwise difficult to explain. One of these phenomena is black holes; a possible end state of massive stars where space and time are so distorted that nothing can escape the gravitational pull. Also predicted by Einstein’s theory, and detected for the first time earlier this year, are gravitational waves that exist as remnants of the Big Bang throughout the universe.
Einstein’s works fundamentally changed the way that physicists understand fundamental forces of the universe. As well as his theory of general relativity Einstein changed our conception of space and time with his theory of special relativity in 1905 and discovered “the law of the photoelectric effect”, for which he won his Nobel Prize in 1921.
Arguably, even outside of science, one of the most important moments for mankind in the last 100 years is the first moon landing.
On 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed in Apollo 11 and took mankind’s first steps on the moon. Over 500 million people, a fifth of the world’s population, tuned in and listened to the now famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Since 1969 only another 10 people have set foot on the moon, however several manned and shuttle missions have been sent into space. Most of the manned missions to space have been to the International Space Station that was first manned in 2000 and is currently habiting the crew of Expedition 42.
Future unmanned exploration missions from NASA include the Solar Probe Plus in 2018, that will be the first mission into the Sun’s corona and BARREL, that will study the Van Allen radiation belts around the sun.
Whilst it was indeed a small step for a man, the Apollo 11 mission undoubtedly set the way for the future of space exploration.
A more recent achievement in the field of astronomy was the completion and launch of the Hubble Space Telescope on 24th April 1990. The Hubble Telescope is a vital research tool that takes high-resolution images from 559km above the Earth avoiding the interference of the atmosphere.
The Hubble Space Telescope, as a research tool, has spent most of its time gathering the data for two NASA projects: CANDELS, that studies galactic evolution and Frontier Fields that looks at early galaxy formation. Several important discoveries have been attributed to Hubble including identifying the prevalence of black holes at the centre of galaxies, observing the expansion of the universe and discovering proto-planetary disks in the Orion Nebula.
Overall the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope has been huge and has enabled the collection of images that have never been seen before. The image above is one of the most famous ever taken by the telescope; it is a view of the Eagle Nebula commonly titled the “Pillars of Creation”.
The most recent achievement in our list, in just the last few years, is the construction of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the largest particle collider in the world at over 27 kilometres in diameter and is linked to the LHC Computing Grid with over 170 facilities in 36 countries.
The most famous breakthrough at the LHC happened on 4 July 2012 when, after 800 trillion collision experiments amassing over 200 petabytes of information, the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’ was detected for the first time. The Higgs boson was theoretical for over 40 years and was first predicted in three different papers published in 1964 authored by Rober Brout and Francois Englert; Peter Higgs; and Gerald Guralnik, C. Richard Hagen and Tom Kibble.
The prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson confirmed the existence of the Higgs field and could therefore validate the Standard Model of particle physics. The significance of the discovery led to the Nobel Prize for physics being awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert in 2013.
From discovery of the smallest elementary particles to gathering images of some of the largest structures in our universe, so many breakthroughs have been made in the last 100 years that it is difficult to name just a few. In short, the last 100 years in astronomy and physics have seen some amazing breakthroughs and achievements that have contributed immeasurably to science as a whole.
To see when the next post is live follow us on Twitter @NotchCom
Make sure to Tweet me @GabyAtNotch to let me know which subject you think has had the most amazing achievements in the last 100 years!
A Roundup of New Events in SpaceRead More
Space has featured several times in the headlines recently. With the asteroid that crashed in Russia and the news from Mars, we thought it might be time for a recap.
Last week’s meteoroid
Through the use of amateur videos, astronomers have been able to retrace the trajectory of the meteoroid that caused mayhem in Russia last week. Its orbit has identified that it came from the Apollo family of near-Earth asteroids. This family of asteroids is known to have an orbit that can cross the Earth’s. Theoretically, being able to trace meteoride orbits means forewarning of possible collisions. However, in practice this is not so simple.
An orbital overlap such as that seen last week is a rare event and is rarely cause for concern. Additionally, prediciting meteoroid orbits is not a simple task. Frequent sightings are required to plot an orbit; telescopes do not necessarily spot asteroids and other potential threats.
Another part of space has also been interesting scientists recently. On Mars, Curiosity may have detected perchlorate. The presence of life on Mars has been a matter of a debate since the Viking mission. In the 1970s, two probes, Viking 1 and 2 may have detected life while on Mars. However, the scientists who worked on these projects have disagreed on whether this is true or not ever since. The official version of the events states that life was not detected. The discovery of perchlorate by Curiosity may be able to put an end to this disagreement. Due to the longstanding disagreement, a sample would likely need to be brought back to Earth to settle things definitively. If Curiosity really has found perchlorate, a chemical that destroys organic matter, then a new review of the Viking mission’s data may be required. It is ironic that a malfunction in Curiosity’s equipment may resolve such a longstanding debate.
Continuing on the topic of Mars, there is a press conference scheduled for 6pm GMT this evening. A former NASA employee and other high profile businessmen will be taking to the press. The information available so far leads to speculation that a human mission to Mars may be on the cards. While we will need to wait until tonight to know if this is the case or not, whether or not such a mission is valuable will remain hotly debated. Do we need to send humans on a mission that will take over one year to complete when we can send robots. An answer of sorts is expected tonight.
An update on yesterday’s press conference
Notch Watchlist: 5 Things to Look Out for in 2013Read More
With 2012 but a fond reminiscence we at Notch have been feverishly drawing up our list of expectations and hopes for science, technology and tourism in 2013. We’ve called it a Watchlist, and here it is:
Aviation / Travel:
Only days into the new year Sunrun CEO, Lynn Jurich, summed up what could be the cultural zeitgeist of the year 2013 – “The new status symbol isn’t what you own, it’s what you’re smart enough not to own”. If ever there was a year to squeeze the last drop of value out of your time away it’s 2013, ushering in nicely the era of the “adventure holiday”. With social networks providing great access and insight to ever more unique holidays people are increasingly abandoning the pools and beachfronts for volunteer projects, extreme sports and cultural exchanges. Even the newlywed won’t be missing out thanks to the latest craze of the adventure honeymoon. Experts predicts destinations featured in the biggest blockbuster movies will see an influx of tourists or you can combine the danger, excitement and unusual into one “ghetto holiday” usually involving iconic destinations such as Detroit’s, and Eminem’s, 8 Mile Road, LA’s Crenshaw Boulevard, the favelas of Rio or the back streets of Naples.
While adventure beckons in far-flung lands the personal medical environment could be about to witness its biggest shift in hundreds of years. The field of personal genomics promises to open up the secrets of your genome for your own review. Finally, as the flesh-covered binders of information we are, we can browse through our own genetic tale and discover so much about our existence. Personal Genomics opens the door to highlighting illness risks, possible descent lines and the expected characteristics of our descendants. It offers a chance to know ourselves even better, beyond a psychological or emotional level and finally into our own natural hard-coding.
Death to the transistor? It could be just that and perhaps finally an end to the unerring correctness of Moore’s law. Moore wouldn’t have seen this coming (probably, I couldn’t say for sure, which given the nature of quantum physics seems apt). While quantum physics isn’t likely to make for a 10 minute coffee table read any time soon the fact a theoretical quantum computer could process much greater amounts of information far quicker than before makes more than an adequate headline. The simple bit, in its off or on glory, has seen a technological change to human life quite incomparable to any other shift over the course of history. The quantum bit, the qubit, is not just a two-trick pony however, it can still be off or on but crucially it can be in a superposition of different states simultaneously as opposed to the bit. which can only exist in one state at any one time. It adds to being a cute feature of the qubit that completely destroys the limitations faced by a traditional computer as well as a guaranteed and impossible-to-hack communication.
It’s not often that the driest of scientifically-worded objectives will rouse deep-seated ambition and excitement, but maybe this is the one that proves the exception to the rule – “To create the largest and most precise three dimensional chart of our Galaxy by providing unprecedented positional and radial velocity measurements for about one billion stars in our Galaxy and throughout the Local Group”. It ticks all the boxes, from promising mapping on an unimaginable scale to the tantalizing possibility of a digital galaxy map, a Google Earth for the Milky Way. The ESA is even teasing us with an October launch date, the mythologically named satellite primed to be this year’s CERN for excitement levels.
Let’s finish with something speculative but wholly revolutionary. It’s something of a leap of flawed logic to say this but seeing as we first saw Touche back in May 2012perhaps we can hope for an evolution of the concept in 2013. It may just be wishful thinking to expect it as soon as that but with the revolutionary core concept of Touche it’s an almost irresistible ambitiousness. This deceptively simple technology can turn any object, or even a liquid, into a fully responsive acoustic sensor, meaning a phone could distinguish between even a nail tap and a knuckle tap, or offering the possibility of pinching actions across the front and back of the phone.