August 29, 2013

Saturn’s Moon Titan Shows Its Roots – The Daily Orbit

What’s weird about Titan?

Could there soon be a new member of the periodic table?

Maybe it’s not just men who are from Mars.

And mixing up a little brain batter on the Daily Orbit!

Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.

Well, we just had our one-year anniversary here at the Daily Orbit and today we celebrate our 250th episode. So I wore my Orbit Girl tee in honor of the event. So let’s get started!

The Cassini spacecraft is revealing an unexpected feature of Saturn’s moon Titan. They found that when you fly over a mountain on Titan, gravity decreases. The opposite happens on Earth, where gravity increases due to the extra mass of the mountain. Researchers say the best explanation is that mountains on Titan actually have very large roots extending below a thick ice sheet into an underlying ocean. This deep “root” offsets the gravitational effect of the surface mountain. Researchers likened it to an iceberg, where most of the body’s mass lies below the water. Woah….that’s deep!

And another reason I am wearing my Orbit Girl tee is in honor of the possible new addition to the periodic table—“unupentium.” A team of Russian and American scientists claims to have made the synthesized element back in 2004 and a Swedish research team recently confirmed its existence. The element is made up of 95 americum protons and 20 calcium protons, and can exist for only a moment. But before we can add #115 to the table, unupentium must be approved by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Good luck unupentium! I’m rooting for you!

Here’s some not so good science news. The radioactive ocean plume created as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster is expected to reach North America by next year. But thankfully it should be harmless by the time is reaches US shores. And we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The Fukushima disaster was a result of the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011, and was the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. West Coasters will see noticeable increases in radioactive material early next year, but levels should be well in the safe zone. Researchers say a pair of energetic currents off the Japanese coast has played a key role in diluting the radioactive material.

This story makes me think of that cartoon Pinky and the Brain. Scientists have grown a miniature brain in a laboratory in order to gain an understanding of neurological disorders. The mini-brain is the size of a pea and reached the same level of development as a 9-week-old fetus brain, so it wasn’t yet capable of thought. They grew it using embryonic stem cells and put it into a spinning bioreactor. The cells then grew and organized themselves into separate regions of the brain—the cerebral cortex, retina, and an early hippocampus. The brain reached its maximum growth after two months, likely due to the lack of a circulatory system, which brings nutrients and oxygen to tissues. Researchers hope studying these mini-brains will help with disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Talk about some brainiacs!

So a new study says we all may be Martian Men! How exciting is that? New evidence says that life on Earth may have actually originated on Mars. One scientist says that at the time when life was forming, the element molybdenum—which is crucial to the origin of life—could only have been available on the Martian surface and not Earth. The element needed to be highly oxidized to influence how early life formed, and at that time, Earth didn’t have enough oxygen, but Mars did! The theory is that biology started on Mars and traveled to Earth on meteors blasted off of Mars from impacts or volcanic eruptions. Well, I always knew men were from Mars, but I didn’t expect we females could be Martians too!

And that’s it for the Daily Orbit.

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