Thursday News Flash: Sci, Space, Tech


90-Year-Old Space Molecule Mystery Has New Clues

Odd molecules in space that absorb light from distant stars have been detected in the center of our galaxy, giving scientists new hope of solving a nearly century-old mystery of what the molecules are made of. That discovery, in turn, could help reveal how these enigmatic compounds were created, knowledge that researchers say could unlock secrets regarding interstellar chemistry and possibly the origins of life.

Shenzhou-VehiclesChinese spacecraft dock in orbit

China has joined two space vehicles together in orbit for the first time.The unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft, launched earlier this week, made contact with the Tiangong-1 space lab at 1729 GMT. The union occurred over China itself. Being able to dock two space vehicles together is a necessary capability for China if it wants to start building a space station towards the decade's end. Although no astronauts were in the Shenzhou craft this time, future missions will carry people.
Tuesday's procedure (Beijing time 0029, Thursday) took place at an altitude of about 340km. It was automated but overseen on the ground at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Centre.

Spacepress-102111-004bCave Astronauts Explore Deep Inside Earth to Simulate Spaceflight

'Astronauts' to emerge from 520-day mock Mars mission

Six men will emerge from a simulated spaceship on 4 November, ending a 520-day journey without ever really leaving home. The Mars 500 experiment kept them confined in a 72-square-metre "spaceship" in Moscow, Russia, for the most realistic mock mission to the Red Planet ever attempted. Doctors have been monitoring the crew's immune systems, sleep cycles, hormone levels and other vital signs that might suffer after a year and a half in a hamster cage. One intriguing study monitors salt levels in the astronauts' urine to see if men's hormones go through phases akin to women's menstrual cycles.

BacteriaMassive Global Bacteria Network Discovered

MIT researchers have found evidence of a massive network connecting bacteria from around the world: 10,000 unique genes flowing via horizontal gene transfer (HGT) among 2,235 bacterial genomes. HGT is an ancient method for bacteria from different lineages to acquire and share useful genetic information they didn’t inherit from their parents. The MIT team’s work illustrates the vast scale and rapid speed with which genes can proliferate across bacterial lineages.

ModernManModern humans raced across Europe

Forty-thousand-year-old teeth found in England and Italy have been re-analysed and the findings suggest they may both predate the oldest modern human remains found in Europe. The implication is that our species spread across Europe from the south-east far more rapidly than previously thought. Hominins had arrived in Europe by 1.2 million years ago, and by about 130,000 years ago Neanderthals had reached the continent. The new studies slightly nudge back the fossil record of our own species – Homo sapiens – in Europe, but they fit with evidence from stone tools that modern humans had reached Europe earlier than the Romanian fossils suggest.

Military-limbs-bgLasers Power Pentagon’s Next-Gen Artificial Limbs

The Pentagon’s already got brain-controlled prosthetics, and they are a major improvement over old-school artificial limbs. The devices are far from perfect, however. They rely on metal implants, which aren’t compatible with the body’s tissues, and they can only transmit a few signals at a time — turning what should be a simple movement into a Herculean task. Now, Darpa-funded researchers are convinced they’ve found a way to make prosthetics truly life-like: laser beams. A team led by experts at Southern Methodist University is making swift progress towards prosthetic devices that rely on fiber-optics, and would offer a wearer the kind of seamless movement and sensation experienced with a flesh-and-blood limb.


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