Thursday, 17 January 2019

First plants ever grown on moon have now died, says Chinese scientist

Plants reportedly died on Sunday when lunar night fell, before first reports of successful germination

Just 24 hours after releasing photographs of the first ever plants grown on the moon, China has revealed the tender green shoots are now all dead.

The cotton plants had been the only seeds to sprout inside their aluminium container, known as a “moon surface micro-ecological circle”, which cost more than 10 million yuan (£1.15m). But the probe is now in lunar night, and temperatures have fallen too low for life to survive.

The Chang’e-4 probe, which landed on the far-side of the moon on 3 January, apparently entered “sleep mode” on Sunday as the first lunar night after the probe’s landing fell, Professor Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, told China’s Xinhua state news agency.

“Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night,” Professor Xie said.

It is not clear why, if the Chinese space agency knew the falling of the lunar night would kill the plants on Sunday, their death was not announced along with the successful germination of the seeds on Tuesday.

Other reports have suggested the pod was supposed to last three months and create a self-sustaining environment for life away from our planet.

The South China Morning Post even said the China National Space Administration planned to broadcast such an experiment in “less than a hundred days’ time”.

The moon lander was carrying soil, cotton seeds, rock cress, rapeseed and potato seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs.

On Tuesday Professor Liu Hanlong of Chongqing University, who led the research, said the rapeseed and potato seeds had also germinated, but the cotton seeds were first to sprout, according to the South China Morning Post.

Cotton plants seen sprouting on the left hand side of the picture are the first
seeds to germinate on the Moon (AFP/Getty )
“We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base,” Mr Liu said.

The report gave no indication the plants had already all died.

It also said the 3kg aluminium container was designed to maintain a temperature of between 1 and 30 degrees, allow in natural light and feed the plants with water and a nutrient solution.

It did not add that when lunar night fell, its contents would all be killed.

The experiment was in part designed to provide an indication of how lengthier space voyages could maintain food sources for astronauts without them having to return to Earth for supplies.

(Source: The Independent)

Zimbabwe government blocks access to WhatsApp, Facebook

The government of Zimbabwe has blocked access to WhatsApp and Facebook across all the mobile and fixed telecoms networks in the country.

Several reports of tests by individuals show that they could not access WhatsApp and Facebook anymore since morning. Some networks like Econet, have reportedly blocked the entire internet.

(Source: Pindula News)

How one heatwave killed 'a third' of a bat species in Australia

Over two days in November, record-breaking heat in Australia's north wiped out almost one-third of the nation's spectacled flying foxes, according to researchers.

The animals, also known as spectacled fruit bats, were unable to survive in temperatures which exceeded 42C.

In the city of Cairns, locals saw bats toppling from trees into backyards, swimming pools and other locations.

Wildlife rescuers found surviving animals clumped together, usually on branches closer to the ground.

"It was totally depressing," one rescuer, David White, told the BBC.

'Biblical scale'
Last week, researchers from Western Sydney University finalised their conclusion that about 23,000 spectacled flying foxes died in the event on 26 and 27 November.

That tally was reached through counting by wildlife volunteers who visited seven flying fox camps following the heatwave.

A young bat rescued by volunteers during the heatwave
Lead researcher Dr Justin Welbergen, an ecologist, believes the "biblical scale" of deaths could be even higher - as many as 30,000 - because some settlements had not been counted.

Australia had only an estimated 75,000 spectacled flying foxes before November, according to government-backed statistics.

"This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since human settlement," says Dr Welbergen, who is also the president of the Australasian Bat Society, a not-for-profit conservation group.

The spectacled flying fox - so named for light-coloured fur around its eyes - can also be found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

In Australia, the species is only found in a small rainforest region of northern Queensland, where it helps to pollinate native trees.

Temperatures higher than 42C can kill flying foxes, scientists say
Dr Welbergen says about 10,000 bats of another species - black flying foxes - succumbed to the heat during the same two-day period.

Flying foxes often experience fatal heat stress when temperatures eclipse 42C, scientists say. During November's heatwave, Cairns recorded its highest-ever temperature of 42.6C.

'Canary in the mine'
Flying foxes are no more sensitive to extreme heat than some other species, experts say.

But because they often gather in urban areas in large numbers, their deaths can be more conspicuous, and easily documented.

"It raises concerns as to the fate of other creatures who have more secretive, secluded lifestyles," Dr Welbergen says.

He sees the bats as the "the canary in the coal mine for climate change".

"It is clear from the present data that these [heat] events are having a very serious impact on the species," Dr Welbergen says. "And it's clear from climate change projections that this is set to escalate in the future."
Many spectacled flying foxes were found dead around Cairns, a city in Queensland

Battle for protection
Experts have long been concerned about the survival of spectacled flying foxes.

Its population has more than halved in the past decade, says Dr David Westcott, who chairs the government's National Flying Fox Monitoring Programme.

In the past, mass deaths in the population were often associated with cyclones. But in recent years heatwaves have become a bigger risk, Dr Westcott says.

"We're very concerned. It's been a massive population decline for a species that isn't under a great deal of pressure outside of these weather events," he tells the BBC.

Even prior to November's heatwave, conservationists were lobbying the Australian government to upgrade its classification of the species from "vulnerable" to "endangered" - a move which would strengthen efforts to help it.

Globally, the species is listed as of "least concern" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Some experts worry that public antipathy to bats may hinder conservation efforts. This is usually related to fears about contracting diseases from bats, and their noise in urban areas.

This week, amid a heatwave in New South Wales, authorities warned people against approaching bats due to reports of aggression.

"They're seen as these rats in the sky, so any preservation effort is hard going," Dr Westcott says.

"You can bet there were some people glad to see so many bats go down in the heatwave."

(Source: BBC)

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Erratic motion of north magnetic pole forces experts to update model that aids global navigation.

Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet. Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change. In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.

By early 2018, the World Magnetic Model was in trouble. Researchers from NOAA and the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh had been doing their annual check of how well the model was capturing all the variations in Earth’s magnetic field. They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable limit for navigational errors.

Wandering pole
“That was an interesting situation we found ourselves in,” says Chulliat. “What’s happening?” The answer is twofold, he reported last month at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington DC.

First, that 2016 geomagnetic pulse beneath South America came at the worst possible time, just after the 2015 update to the World Magnetic Model. This meant that the magnetic field had lurched just after the latest update, in ways that planners had not anticipated.

Source: World Data Center for Geomagnetism/Kyoto Univ.
Second, the motion of the north magnetic pole made the problem worse. The pole wanders in unpredictable ways that have fascinated explorers and scientists since James Clark Ross first measured it in 1831 in the Canadian Arctic. In the mid-1990s it picked up speed, from around 15 kilometres per year to around 55 kilometres per year. By 2001, it had entered the Arctic Ocean — where, in 2007, a team including Chulliat landed an aeroplane on the sea ice in an attempt to locate the pole.

In 2018, the pole crossed the International Date Line into the Eastern Hemisphere. It is currently making a beeline for Siberia.

The geometry of Earth’s magnetic field magnifies the model’s errors in places where the field is changing quickly, such as the North Pole. “The fact that the pole is going fast makes this region more prone to large errors,” says Chulliat.

To fix the World Magnetic Model, he and his colleagues fed it three years of recent data, which included the 2016 geomagnetic pulse. The new version should remain accurate, he says, until the next regularly scheduled update in 2020.

Core questions
In the meantime, scientists are working to understand why the magnetic field is changing so dramatically. Geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, might be traced back to ‘hydromagnetic’ waves arising from deep in the core1. And the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada2.

The jet seems to be smearing out and weakening the magnetic field beneath Canada, Phil Livermore, a geomagnetist at the University of Leeds, UK, said at the American Geophysical Union meeting. And that means that Canada is essentially losing a magnetic tug-of-war with Siberia.

“The location of the north magnetic pole appears to be governed by two large-scale patches of magnetic field, one beneath Canada and one beneath Siberia,” Livermore says. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”

Which means that the world’s geomagnetists will have a lot to keep them busy for the foreseeable future.

(Source: Nature)

Comfort in the hands of halal nail polish

For cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, self-care is essential to help maintain self-esteem and mental well-being when suffering the side effects of treatment. A simple manicure can make a world of a difference. But it’s not always easy. Standard nail polish contains chemicals, including solvents, that can irritate patients’ sensitive fingernails, while its smell is often nauseating. The high concentration of acetone in nail polish remover can also make it painful, even hazardous, to remove.

“I lost my mother to stomach cancer back in 2010,” says Hitomi Goto, who gives manicures to patients at a Tokyo hospital on a voluntary basis. “Two years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But I was lucky. It was discovered early, so I didn’t need chemotherapy.”

Goto took this as a sign to find a way to help chemo patients through their ordeals. Recalling her mother’s discolored nails from the treatment and knowing how dispiriting that can be, she decided to become a cancer patient nail artist.

Finding alcohol-free varnish that did not require a toxic remover, however, proved problematic.

“I searched online (in Japanese) to find an alcohol-free polish, but there were no results,” she says. “So instead, I began searching in English, with the help of Google translations.”

Hands on: Nail artist Hitomi Goto (left) paints a Muslim visitor's nails with water permeable polish at an event in Tokyo. | COURTESY OF HALAL NAIL TOKYO

Her efforts led her to discovery of water permeable halal-certified nail polish. In Islam, traditional nail polish, which isn’t water permeable, is thought to hinder wudu, the ablution process that Muslims perform before prayer. Since the ritual requires that water reaches nails, wearing traditional polish would result in incomplete wudu and invalidate the prayer.

Though it was less the water permeability of nail polish that first interested Goto than the fact that it could be peeled off and removed without acetone, finding halal products, which are all alcohol free, opened the door to more options for her venture.

The permeability also allows nails to “breathe,” so natural oils in nails are not trapped, making it a much less damaging alternative to traditional varnish.

But there was one problem. After trying a Canadian brand of halal polish, she discovered that it wasn’t long lasting, sometimes beginning to peel off within a few hours. So Goto began searching for an alternative.

She didn’t need to look far. The hospital Goto volunteers at twice a month provided her with Bio Water Nail polish to use. And it turned out to be the solution she was looking for. Unlike the peelable kind she had tried, this new nail polish can last a week without chipping and can be removed easily with an ethanol wipe, which is far less damaging than most nail polish removers.

She also had the nail polish’s permeability examined by a medical institution and, although it is not halal certified, it passed the test, making it suitable for wudu.

For cancer patients, the polish has no strong chemical smell and is kinder to the nails and skin. For Muslim customers, who Goto now also caters for, it’s permeable to water and just as attractive as any other halal-certified nail polish.

“I realize some Muslim women are not comfortable using non certified products, but adding that official sticker really bumps up the price,” says Goto. “That’s why I offer them the two options: the halal-certified polish that isn’t so long lasting, and the non certified one that lasts, and is more affordable.”

Goto’s nail service has uncovered a demand for halal and less damaging nail polish in Japan. The Facebook page for her Halal Nail Tokyo, an at-home reservation-only nail-care service, currently has more than 41,000 likes and an average rating of five out of five stars. For many clients, having nails painted in the comfort of their own homes is the draw, while some of the Muslim customers have expressed delight at having their nails done for the first time ever.

For Goto, the introduction to halal has also sparked in her a new interest. After attending a Halal Expo to showcase her service, she met the staff of Saido, a halal vegan restaurant in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka neighborhood, and learned more about the halal diet. Now, when not painting nails, Goto spends her time as the manager for Saido.

“I believe what’s good for patients is good for everyone. That’s why I feel a connection with Muslims, because they are very cautious of what they put in their bodies due to their faith,” she says. “Seeing how much they care about the purity of wudu made me realize how important breathability in nail polish is. This is something I want more Japanese people to know.”

(Source: JT)