New Milky Way map reveals a wave of stars in our galaxy’s outer reaches
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map highlighting the outermost region of the Milky Way.

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

A new map reveals the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy, including a wave of stars disturbed by a small galaxy on a collision course with our own.

Data collected from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission and NASA’s Near Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer has been used by astronomers to map the galactic halo and this group of stars. Their findings appear in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Our Milky Way is a galaxy with multiple spiral arms emanating from a central disk. The empty-looking halo lies outside of these swirling arms. But there may be more to the halo than meets the eye.

The halo, which hosts a small population of stars, is also thought to contain a lot of dark matter. This mysterious substance, which is invisible and has eluded scientists for decades, is thought to comprise most of the mass in the universe.

A small neighboring galaxy, known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, orbits the Milky Way. The data used to create the map revealed that, like a ship, the Large Magellanic Cloud has cut through the Milky Way’s outer halo. This disturbance has left a rippling wave of stars behind the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is in the halo.

A collision of galaxies
Currently, the Large Magellanic Cloud is 160,000 light-years from Earth, and it only has about a quarter of the mass of our giant galaxy.

Research from 2019 suggests it will catastrophically collide with our own galaxy in 2 billion years.

The impact has a chance of sending our solar system hurtling through space.

The wake created by the Large Magellanic Cloud is about 200,000 light-years to 325,000 light-years from the galactic center.

While previous research suggested its existence, this new data provides confirmation, as well as the most detailed and accurate map of the galaxy’s outskirts.

In the image, the strip in the middle represents a 360-degree view of our galaxy overlaying a map of the galactic halo. A bright wave in the bottom left of the image is the wake of stars, and to the right is the Large Magellanic Cloud and the path it is taking.

A large, light blue feature in the top right shows a high concentration of stars in our galaxy’s northern hemisphere.

Understanding dark matter
The ripple left by the dwarf galaxy’s movement is also an opportunity to study dark matter. Even though dark matter is invisible, it provides structure throughout the universe — including the foundation for galaxies.

So if the Large Magellanic Cloud can cut through the Milky Way’s halo and leave a wave of stars, the same ripple should essentially act as an outline of the dark matter.

Dark matter is essentially pulling on the Large Magellanic Cloud to slow it down, shrinking the dwarf galaxy’s orbit around the Milky Way and causing the eventual collision.

Click here to read the full article on MSN.

Debris from Chinese rocket re-enters Earth’s atmosphere over Indian Ocean
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A Long March-5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, blasts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on April 29, 2021, in Wenchang, Hainan Province of China.

BY SOPHIE LEWIS, CBS News.

A huge piece of space junk made an uncontrolled re-entry back into Earth’s atmosphere Saturday night. The remnants of a Chinese rocket re-entered the atmosphere and crashed into the Indian Ocean north of Maldives, according to the 18th Space Control Squadron.

According to the U.S. Space Force, the remnants re-entered the atmosphere at 10:15 p.m. ET over the Arabian Peninsula. It was unknown if the debris impacted land or water.

China’s space agency said the rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 p.m. ET, but also pinpointed the landing area just north of the Maldives. The Chinese space agency said most of the rocket was destroyed during re-entry.

After the incident, NASA slammed China for “failing to meet responsible standards” for the re-entry of space debris.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement Saturday night. “It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.”

The remnants were left over from China’s first module for its new Tianhe space station. The 23-ton Chinese rocket Long March-5B recently launched the first module for the country’s new space station into orbit. After the core separated from the rest of the rocket, it should have followed a predetermined flight path into the ocean.

Click here to read the full article on CBS News.

The oldest human burial in Africa was a toddler laid to rest with a pillow
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An artist's interpretation of the child, who was laid to rest in a cave in eastern Kenya 78,000 years ago. It is believed to be the oldest human burial ever found in Africa.

By Katie Hunt, CNN

A toddler laid to rest with their head on a pillow in a cave in eastern Kenya is thought to be the oldest human burial ever found in Africa.

The remains of the child, who was between 2 ½ and 3 years old, date back 78,000 years and were found buried at the mouth of the Panga ya Saidi cave, according to new research published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Analysis of the cave sediment and the bones suggested that the burial was intentional and perhaps involved the child’s wider community in funeral rites, the authors of the study said, demonstrating that humans at that time were capable of symbolic thought and complex social behavior.
The arrangement of the surviving bone fragments showed that the child was placed lying gently on their right side, with their legs folded and drawn up toward their chest. The researchers also believe that the tiny body was tightly wrapped in a shroud — perhaps leaves or animal skins — and the head was supported by something made from a perishable material, possibly a pillow.

“This type of movement of the head is usually found in those burials where the head is resting over a pillow or perishable support — the moment that support disappears, disintegrates, decays, it creates a space below the head and because of gravity the head tilts,” said study author María Martinón-Torres, director at the National Research Center on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, Spain.
“We could infer this child… was really put there in a specific position with a pillow under his head. This respect, this care, this tenderness — putting a child lying in an almost a sleeping position: I really think it’s one of most important — the earliest evidence in Africa — of humans living in the physical and the symbolic world,” Martinón-Torres said in a news briefing.

The importance of the find
While older burials by Neanderthals, archaic humans who disappeared around 40,000 years ago, and early Homo sapiens have been found in Europe and the Middle East dating back 120,000 years, the child’s skeleton represents the earliest evidence of intentional burial in Africa.

It’s not known why fewer burials have been found on the continent. It could be due to lack of fieldwork or differences in early mortuary practices, which can be hard to detect.
“Archaeologists have been very busy in the Near East and Europe for 150 years, with continuous excavations. If the same amount of work happened in Africa, we might find more and older burials,” said Michael Petraglia, coauthor of the study and a professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Some of child’s bones were first found during excavations at Panga ya Saidi in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the skeleton of the child, who was later nicknamed “Mtoto,” meaning “child” in Swahili, was fully exposed.
“At this point, we weren’t sure what we had found. The bones were just too delicate to study in the field,” said study co-author Emmanuel Ndiema of the National Museums of Kenya. “We had a find that we were pretty excited about — but it would be a while before we understood its importance.”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

NASA solar probe becomes fastest object ever built as it ‘touches the sun’
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NASA's solar probe flying high speed in space surrounded by yellow light beams

By  , C|Net

Nothing built by human hands has ever traveled faster than NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, a diminutive, scorch-proof spacecraft about the size of a small car is practically “touching the sun.” In late April, it smashed two wild space records, dethroning the previous champion — which also happened to be NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — and its journey is really just beginning.

The probe, which launched in August 2018 on a mission to study the sun, has been flying ever closer to our solar system’s furnace using the planet Venus as a slingshot. On April 29, during its closest approach to the sun (known as “perihelion”), Parker was traveling at an almost unfathomable speed — enough to circle the Earth 13 times in a single hour.

Parker set two new records back in February 2020:

  • Fastest human-made object: 244,255 mph (393,044 km/h).
  • Closest spacecraft to the sun: 11.6 million miles (18.6 million kilometers).

But those records have now been surpassed. The new records stand at:

  • Fastest human-made object: 330,000 mph (532,000 km/h).
  • Closest spacecraft to the sun: 6.5 million miles (10.4 million kilometers).

Click here to read the full article on C|Net.

NASA and SpaceX still pushing for a Moon landing in 2024
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Image of the moon in space hovering over the atmosphere

By Miriam Kramer, Yahoo! News

NASA and SpaceX still appear to be pushing to meet the 2024 deadline to land astronauts back on the Moon first set by the Trump administration.

The big picture: In its first 100 days, the Biden administration undid many of the Trump administration’s policies but President Biden has largely hewed closely to Trump-era space policies.

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Catch up quick: Many in the space industry expected the 2024 deadline for the first Artemis landing would be quickly amended by the Biden administration, but NASA still appears to be working toward that ambitious goal.

“I think we all have to recognize that space is hard, and it’s an ambitious timetable, but that is what has been stated,” Bill Nelson, Biden’s nominee for NASA administrator said during his confirmation hearing last week.

NASA also just awarded SpaceX a contract to build a landing system that will take people to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

“We’re going to build a lot of rockets and probably smash a bunch of them, but I think it will happen,” SpaceX’s Elon Musk said last week. “I think 2024 — it seems likely. We’re going to aim for sooner than that, but I think this is actually doable.”

Yes, but: While NASA and SpaceX are optimistic, there is plenty of reason to doubt the current timeline.

The space agency’s Space Launch System rocket — designed to bring astronauts to orbit around the Moon — has already been delayed by technical problems, and it’s not yet clear it if will fly for the first time before next year, possibly pushing the current timeline.

NASA’s acting administrator Steve Jurczyk has also said 2024 no longer appears to be possible.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.

NASA, SpaceX Crew-2 prepare for another historic flight
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Four astronauts prepare for their flight. Standing side by side while wearing modern, all white, space suits.

By Julia Musto, Fox News

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is set to launch for the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday morning.

In a prelaunch press conference on Tuesday, representatives from the agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that they were set for a 6:11 a.m. ET liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Crew Dragon Endeavour, marking the second crew rotation on a commercial spacecraft mission and the first with two international partner astronauts.

NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will embark on a six-month trip aboard the ISS.

Once there, International Space Station manager Joel Montalbano said they will conduct more than 260 scientific experiments and that the fourth crew member will help to increase the research and development for both the highly anticipated Artemis program and the low Earth orbit commercialization efforts.

“With the crew-2 launch, we welcome the European Space Agency’s flying an astronaut for the first time on Dragon. We also welcome back the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency flying on Dragon for a second time,” he added. “So, truly an international program and this is our future where we’ll have international partners on our vehicles for the future. That’s a goal and that’s where we’re planning to be.”
Speaking before Montalbano, Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stitch said that the NASA-SpaceX team had its first “Readiness Review” and dress rehearsal on Tuesday morning, leading to the conclusion that it was “on track” for Thursday and that — assuming there are no changes — docking would be scheduled for Friday at around 4:30 a.m. ET.

“The main thing we’re watching over the next few days is the weather. You know we have to have the launch weather be ‘go’ and also ‘abort’ weather all along the abort ground track to protect the crew in the vehicle. So, we’re looking at both Thursday and Friday and looking at the weather over the next few days,” he said.

Launch Weather Officer Brian Cizek, from U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, explained that there is currently an 80% chance of favorable weather on Thursday and a 90% chance of favorable weather on Friday.

Click here to read the full article on Fox News.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins returns safely to Earth after six months in space
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NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is helped out of the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft

BY TORI B. POWELL,

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, 42, safely returned to Earth on Saturday after living aboard the International Space Station for six months, according to NASA. Rubins, along with Russian cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov, arrived southeast of the town Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, in a parachute landing at 10:55 a.m. local time.

The crew served as Expedition 63-64 and began their mission on October 14 last year.

Rubins became the first person to ever sequence DNA in outer space on her first spaceflight, Expedition 48/49 in 2016. During her latest 185-day mission, Rubins conducted “hundreds of hours” of International Space Station research, including work on the Cardinal Heart experiment which studies the effects of gravity and cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue levels and could further knowledge of heart problems on Earth, NASA reported. Her research also included studying DNA sequencing and microbiology studies.

Click here to read the full article on CBS News.

Why Mars? The fascination with exploring the red planet
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A rendering of the planet Mars

By Ashley Strickland of CNN

The mystique of Mars is one that humans can’t seem to resist. The red planet has easily captured our interest for centuries, heavily featured in science fiction books and films and the subject of robotic exploration since the 1960s.

In February, three spacecraft arrived at Mars after departing from different launch points on Earth in July. These myriad missions seek to understand our planetary neighbor and unlock the secrets of its past to prepare for future exploration.
The three missions — China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe and NASA’s Perseverance rover — took advantage of an alignment between Mars and Earth that occurs every 26 months, allowing for quicker and more efficient trips when the two planets are on the same side of the sun.
The Hope Probe will stay in orbit for a Martian year — equivalent to 687 days on Earth — to gather data about Mars’ atmosphere.
Tianwen-1, whose name means “Quest for Heavenly Truth,” is orbiting the planet before landing a rover on the surface, with the hope that it can gather important information about the Martian soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere and signs of water.
The Perseverance rover is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars and will collect samples to be returned to Earth by future missions.
Perseverance also carries the names of nearly 11 million people etched on three silicon chips. She is a robotic scientist exploring Mars on behalf of humanity and is able to share what she sees and hears through 23 cameras, including video, and two microphones.
If three missions arriving at Mars within days of each other seems excessive, imagine explorers seeing Earth for the first time and wanting to understand all aspects of its past, climate, water, geology and life systems. It takes time and different capabilities to explore aspects of an entire planet to know the real story.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock
The genetic mistakes that could shape our species
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a genetic strand

By Zaria Gorvett

He Jiankui seemed nervous.

At the time, he was an obscure researcher working at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China. But he had been working on a top-secret project for the last two years – and he was about to take to the podium at the International Summit on Human Genome Editing to announce the results. There was a general buzz of excitement in the air. The audience looked on anxiously. People started filming on their phones.

He had made the first genetically modified babies in the history of humankind. After 3.7 billion years of continuous, undisturbed evolution by natural selection, a life form had taken its innate biology into its own hands. The result was twin baby girls who were born with altered copies of a gene known as CCR5, which the scientist hoped would make them immune to HIV.

But things were not as they seemed.

“I was kind of drawn to him for the first five or six minutes, he seemed very candid,” says Hank Greely, a professor of law at Stanford University and expert in medical ethics, who watched the conference live over the internet in November 2018. “And then as he went on, I got more and more suspicious.”

A genetic invention

In the years since, it’s become clear that He’s project was not quite as innocent as it might sound. He had broken laws, forged documents, misled the babies’ parents about any risks and failed to do adequate safety testing. The whole endeavour left many experts aghast – it was described as “monstrous”, “amateurish” and “profoundly disturbing” – and the culprit is now in prison.

However, arguably the biggest twist were the mistakes. It turns out that the babies involved, Lulu and Nana, have not been gifted with neatly edited genes after all. Not only are they not necessarily immune to HIV, they have been accidentally endowed with versions of CCR5 that are entirely made up – they likely do not exist in any other human genome on the planet. And yet, such changes are heritable – they could be passed on to their children, and children’s children, and so on.

In fact, there have been no shortage of surprises in the field. From the rabbits altered to be leaner that inexplicably ended up with much longer tongues to the cattle tweaked to lack horns that were inadvertently endowed with a long stretch of bacterial DNA in their genomes (including some genes that confer antibiotic resistance, no less) – its past is riddled with errors and misunderstandings.

More recently, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London warned that editing the genetics of human embryos can lead to unintended consequences. By analysing data from previous experiments, they found that approximately 16% had accidental mutations that would not have been picked up via standard tests.

Why are these mistakes so common? Can they be overcome? And how could they affect future generations?

Read the full article at BBC.com

‘Monkeydactyl’: Scientists discover Jurassic era flying reptile with oldest opposed thumbs
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A reconstruction of how the K. antipollicatus used the opposite pollex. She animals are seen with bat-like wings

By Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY

Mammals will have to take a seat in history books after a group of international scientists discovered a flying reptile with the oldest recorded opposing pollex – commonly known as a thumb.

In a report released Monday, scientists announced the finding of the ‘Monkeydactyl’ that lived 160 million years ago in a forest ecosystem in China during the Jurassic era.

Nicknamed the ‘Monkeydactyl’ by a friend of one of the report’s authors, the species is a pterosaur and scientifically known as Kunpengopterus antipollicatus. Pterosaurs were the first known vertebrates to evolve powered flight, according to the report.

The fossil was found in China in September 2019, with both hands having thumbs preserved in an opposed way, according to report co-author Fion Waisum Ma.

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Ma, a doctoral student at the University of Birmingham, said researchers used CT scans to enlarge the hands and look at anatomical features on the computer because of the small size of the fossil.

“The finding of the opposed thumbs isn’t something that happened after its death,” Ma said. “This discovery means opposed thumbs first appeared on Earth 160 million years in a flying reptile.”

Click here to read the full article on USA Today.

Earliest Homo Populations in Africa Had Primitive Ape-Like Brains – Just Half the Size of Today’s Humans
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Skulls of early Homo from Georgia with an ape-like brain (left) and from Indonesia with a human-like brain (right).

By UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH, Sci-Tech Daily

Modern humans are fundamentally different from our closest living relatives, the great apes: We live on the ground, walk on two legs and have much larger brains. The first populations of the genus Homo emerged in Africa about 2.5 million years ago. They already walked upright, but their brains were only about half the size of today’s humans.

 

These earliest Homo populations in Africa had primitive ape-like brains – just like their extinct ancestors, the australopithecines. So when and where did the typical human brain evolve?

CT comparisons of skulls reveal modern brain structures
An international team led by Christoph Zollikofer and Marcia Ponce de León from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Zurich (UZH) has now succeeded in answering these questions. “Our analyses suggest that modern human brain structures emerged only 1.5 to 1.7 million years ago in African Homo populations,” Zollikofer says. The researchers used computed tomography to examine the skulls of Homo fossils that lived in Africa and Asia 1 to 2 million years ago. They then compared the fossil data with reference data from great apes and humans.

Skull of early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia showing internal structure of the brain case, and inferred brain morphology.

Apart from the size, the human brain differs from that of the great apes particularly in the location and organization of individual brain regions. “The features typical to humans are primarily those regions in the frontal lobe that are responsible for planning and executing complex patterns of thought and action, and ultimately also for language,” notes first author Marcia Ponce de León. Since these areas are significantly larger in the human brain, the adjacent brain regions shifted further back.

Typical human brain spread rapidly from Africa to Asia
The first Homo populations outside Africa – in Dmanisi in what is now Georgia – had brains that were just as primitive as their African relatives. It follows, therefore, that the brains of early humans did not become particularly large or particularly modern until around 1.7 million years ago. However, these early humans were quite capable of making numerous tools, adapting to the new environmental conditions of Eurasia, developing animal food sources, and caring for group members in need of help.

Click here to read the full article on Sci-Tech Daily.

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Upcoming Events

  1. Commercial UAV Expo Americas, Las Vegas
    September 7, 2021 - September 9, 2021
  2. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
  3. Wonder Women Tech
    October 26, 2021 - October 29, 2021
  4. HACU’s 35th Annual Conference
    October 30, 2021 - November 1, 2021
  5. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022