(Ruhr-University Bochum) Researchers have developed a new mechanism to protect enzymes from oxygen as biocatalysts in fuel cells. The enzymes, known as hydrogenases, are just as efficient as precious metal catalysts, but unstable when they come into contact with oxygen. They are therefore not yet suitable for technological applications. The new protective mechanism is based on oxygen-consuming enzymes that draw their energy from sugar.
September 17, 2018
The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope is the centerpiece of the Sunspot Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. (National Science Foundation Photo) After days of fighting rumors about alien visitations, the managers of the Sunspot Solar Observatory in New Mexico say they’re reopening the facility — and have shed more light on the reason for its 10-day security-related closure. The 71-year-old, 9,200-foot-elevation observatory on Sacramento Peak is America’s national center for ground-based solar physics. It’s managed by the , or AURA, under an agreement with the . It’s also not far from Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. That was just one reason for tongues to wag when AURA and NSF decided on Sept. 6 to evacuate the facility and surrounding homes due to a security issue. The FBI was called in to investigate, but local law enforcement officials complained that they were being kept in the dark about what exactly was going on. “I’ve got ideas, but I don’t want to put them out there,” . “That’s how bad press or rumors get started, and it’ll cause paranoia, or I might satisfy everybody’s mind and I might be totally off base.” A mystery in New Mexico naturally makes some folks think of aliens, in part due to the fame (or the infamy) surrounding the . In that case, the initial headlines about a flying-saucer crash in the desert near Roswell sparked decades of speculation that were never totally quelled by the official explanations, which started with a weather balloon and . Similarly, , issued today, sticks to strictly earthly affairs: “AURA has been cooperating with an ongoing law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. “The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. “In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.” AURA officials said they recognized that the lack of information during the evacuation “was concerning and frustrating for some.” “However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation,” AURA said. “That was a risk we could not take.” The observatory’s staff of about nine employees should be back at work this week. It shouldn’t take long for nearby residents to be back in their homes, for researchers to be back at the Dunn Solar Telescope, and for tourists to be back at the Sunspot Visitors Center. But a full resolution of the mystery will have to wait until criminal charges are filed, assuming that the investigation bore fruit. And if the mystery hangs on with no criminal charges, with no further disclosures, don’t be surprised if Agents Mulder and Scully tackle the Sunspot Incident in a future “X-Files” episode.
September 17, 2018
A United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket rises from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying NASA’s ICESAT-2 satellite into orbit. (NASA via YouTube) NASA kicked off its to monitor our planet’s ice sheets from space using a laser-scanning satellite this morning, with a launch that marked the end of a nearly 30-year run for United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket. Liftoff came at 6:02 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, after a slight delay in the countdown due to concerns about the chilldown of the rocket’s helium bottles. The two-stage rocket made a trouble-free ascent to orbit. ICESat-2 follows up on an that used laser-ranging data to measure ice sheet balance and sea level. This time around, the laser-scanning instrument will be capable of measuring Earth’s elevation every 30 inches (70 centimeters) across a 30-foot-wide track as it circles the planet. The data will help scientists determine how climate change is affecting global ice levels, and how changes in the ice affect the height of Earth’s oceans. “ICESat–2 is designed to answer a simple glaciology question very, very well: It will tell us where, and how fast, the ice sheets are thickening and thinning,” , a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory who’s a member of the mission’s science definition team, . “When these data start coming in, we will immediately get a big-picture map of how Antarctica and Greenland have changed over the past decade.” As a side benefit, the satellite will measure the height of the planet’s forests and deserts as well. The mission’s tortured acronym stands for “Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellte.” ICESat-2 deputy project scientist Tom Neumann said the satellite measurements would serve as a reality check for the computer models that predict future impacts of climate change. “When they’re predicting out 100 years, or 200 years, if you’re getting the modern changes right, it gives you confidence looking ahead,” he explained. After ICESat-2’s deployment, four student-built satellites were released into orbit from the rocket’s second stage. CalPoly’s satellite will try out a technology to dampen vibrations on spacecraft, two built at UCLA will study space weather, and the University of Central Florida’s will test materials designed to protect spacecraft from electrical discharges. Today’s launch served as a swan song for the Delta 2, a class of rockets that made its debut in 1989 and has been launched 155 times. It’s been built over the years by McDonnell Douglas, Boeing and United Launch Alliance, which is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture. Thanks to ICESat-2, the rocket went out with a streak of 100 successful launches in a row. The more advanced Delta 4 is still in use. Just last month, a Delta 4 Heavy rocket to a blazingly close orbit around the sun. United Launch Alliance also offers the Atlas 5 rocket, the heir of a rocket family that goes back to the 1950s. The last Delta 2 launch sparked a wave of tributes on Twitter. Here’s a selection, starting with a thank-you note from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine: The mission was the final launch of the ULA Delta II rocket, which has launched 53 missions for including the Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers. Thank you and ! — Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) .’s rocket has been a reliable workhorse for America, flying more than 150 missions over 29 years. Saturday morning’s planned launch of ‘s mission will be the final launch of the rocket. Watch live at 8:46 am ET: — Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) One of my favorite sounds in the world… !! — Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) ULA chief executive Tory Bruno has announced parts in inventory for a final Delta 2 rocket will be assembled and put on display at the rocket garden at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. — Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) Good by Delta II. Our last bird will live at the Visitor Complex. — Tory Bruno (@torybruno) We are excited to welcome the ULA rocket to our Rocket Garden! Welcome Delta II and thank you and ! — Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (@ExploreSpaceKSC) Final Delta II launch to mark end of first pioneering era of US rockets: — collectSPACE (@collectSPACE)
September 15, 2018
News Brief: A year and a half after saying it, SpaceX says it will reveal the first passenger’s identity on Monday. SpaceX said the mission would be “an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space.” The launch vehicle would be SpaceX’s yet-to-be-built BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), which is expected to be ready by the early 2020s, rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously planned. So let the guessing game begin: Will the first named passenger be Google co-founder Sergey Brin? Would-be moon traveler (and billionaire) ? Register your pick in the comment section. I’m willing to mail a free pair of 3-D glasses to the first commenter with the right guess.
September 14, 2018
(The Oceanography Society) The Oceanography Society congratulates Dr. Annick Bricaud on being selected as the 2018 recipient of the Jerlov Award. The citation for Dr. Bricaud recognizes her groundbreaking contributions to ocean optics, which cover experimental and theoretical studies on seawater optical properties, fieldwork-based bio-optical relationships, and algorithms for deriving biogeochemical products from satellite ocean color. She is a senior research scientist at the Laboratoire d'Océanographie de Villefranche, CNRS - Sorbonne Université, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, which she joined in 1976.
September 13, 2018
Space station crew members work to patch up a small hole in the inner hull of a Soyuz spacecraft on Aug. 30. (NASA / Roscosmos via @NASASpaceflight / Twitter) NASA and Russia’s space agency t today aimed at quashing viral claims that someone on the International Space Station’s crew sabotaged a Soyuz capsule by drilling a hole in orbit and creating an air leak. The statement came two weeks after the crew — and 10 days after Roscosmos chief . Rogozin’s mention of sabotage, supplemented by comments from unnamed Russian sources, boosted a conspiracy theory claiming that NASA spacefliers may have intentionally drilled the hole. Those rumblings drew a sharp rebuke this week from NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, who’s currently serving as the station’s commander. “I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt,” Feustel told ABC News in a space-to-ground interview. “And I think it’s actually a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting any time talking about something that the crew was involved in.” Today’s statement from the space agencies wasn’t as direct, but clearly stated that the crew members — three NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts and a German astronaut representing the European Space Agency — were not suspects. The statement said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had his first-ever teleconference with Rogozin on Tuesday, at Roscosmos’ request, to discuss the space station’s status. “They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success,” the statement said. Bridenstine and Rogozine agreed to have their first face-to-face meeting next month when NASA’s chief travels to Russia and Kazakhstan in connection with the launch of two new space station crew members. Meanwhile, Russian officials will be in charge of a new commission tasked with investigating the Soyuz leak and its cause. The unsubstantiated rumors about in-space sabotage threatened to cast a pall over the U.S.-Russian relationship in space station operations, which has been far more cordial than the relationship in other policy spheres. The Russian newspaper as saying Roscosmos was considering the possibility that NASA astronauts might have drilled the hole as a ruse to get a sick crewmate sent back to Earth. Today as saying on his Facebook page that such rumors “hinder the work of Roscosmos experts and are designed to subvert the friendly relations among the crew members of the space station.” Here’s today’s: “NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin met for the first time yesterday via teleconference to discuss the status of International Space Station (ISS) operations in response to a request from Roscosmos. “As part of their discussion, Dmitry Rogozin informed his American counterpart about Roscosmos’ decision to establish a Roscosmos-led Commission to investigate the cause of the leak in the Soyuz (MS-09/55S) spacecraft currently docked to the station. “The Administrator and the General Director noted speculations circulating in the media regarding the possible cause of the incident and agreed on deferring any preliminary conclusions and providing any explanations until the final investigation has been completed. “They affirmed the necessity of further close interaction between NASA and Roscosmos technical teams in identifying and eliminating the cause of the leak, as well as continuation of normal ISS operations and NASA’s ongoing support of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz investigation. They acknowledged the entire crew is dedicated to the safe operation of the station and all docked spacecraft to ensure mission success. “The Administrator and the Roscosmos General Director agreed to conduct their first face-to-face meeting at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on or about Oct. 10 when the NASA Administrator will visit Russia and Kazakhstan in conjunction with the upcoming Soyuz crew spacecraft launch of American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexy Ovchinin.”
September 13, 2018