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Passing The Torch From Space – On Science

November 11, 2013

The Expedition 37 crew passes on the torch.

One mission runs out of fuel.

Did we come from the clay?

And where did the man in the moon get his looks? Coming up today On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

The torch has returned. A Soyuz spacecraft safely carried home the crewmembers of Expedition 37 from the International Space Station along with the Olympic Torch. The crew had spent 166 days in space and had taken the torch where it had never gone before—on a spacewalk. And there was another first during the mission. Italian crewmember, Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency became the first Italian to ever do a spacewalk. But the mission wasn’t just about spacewalking; the crew also performed research into how plants grow and collected data samples that will be used to help understand ocular health issues of space station crew members. Every time I hear the word spacewalk it actually makes me want to do the moonwalk.

And one space mission has run out of steam—or more literally fuel. ESA’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer—or GOCE—completed its fatal decent from space after running out of fuel and burning up in the atmosphere over Antarctica. GOCE provided the most accurate map of the global ocean, which is being used to understand ocean circulation, sea level, ice dynamics and Earth’s interior. GOCE also provided new insight into air density and wind speeds in the upper atmosphere. It took the satellite about three weeks to meet its ultimate end and about 25% of the craft survived the heat and reached Earth. Way to go GOCE.

And there’s something else that’s on its way out in America. The FDA is looking to trim some fat. The Food and Drug Administration announced the preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. PHOs are the main source of trans-fats in processed food and cause the body to produce more low-densitylipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol,” which increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The stigma of trans-fat over the past few years has already prompted manufactures and retailers to significantly decrease levels in many foods. But what you think is trans-fat free, may not necessarily be. A loophole allows such labeling if the product contains .5 grams or less of trans-fat. The FDA isn’t the first to wage war on PHOs. Policies enacted in Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Brazil, Denmark and South Korea have been important in decreasing trans-fat consumption.

Aren’t we humans just the most amazing sculptures, as if we were formed from the potter’s clay? Actually perhaps we did come from the clay. A new study from biological engineers at Cornell University suggests that life on Earth may have originated in clay. They simulated ancient seawater to see how it affected clay under those conditions. They found clay can form a substance known as hydrogel—a mass of microscopic pores capable of absorbing liquids like a sponge. They said over several billion years, chemicals confined in those spaces could have undergone complex reactions that led to the formation of protein, DNA, and other essential components of living cells.

NASA’s giving the moon a little face time. The GRAIL mission is providing new insight into how the moon’s surface got its looks. The so-called “man in the moon” can attribute his looks to asteroid impacts leaving lava-filled impact basins. But what we now know is that both the far and nearside have been impacted but reacted in much different ways. GRAIL maps show that the nearside of the moon has more large impact basins than the far side. Scientists say this is probably because temperatures on the nearside are much hotter with an abundance of heat-producing elements and impacts that occur in hot, think crusts produce basins twice the diameter of similar impacts into a cooler crust. So…. The man in the moon is hot because, well, he’s hot.

And that’s what’s happening today On Science. See you tomorrow!