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Lunar Samples from Chinese Mission Suggest Moon Cooled Down Later Than Thought

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Remnants of solidified lava brought back by a Chinese mission were 1 billion years younger than material acquired by other missions decades ago, according to an article in the journal Science, suggesting the moon cooled down later than thought.

Samples brought back from US and Soviet missions were more than 2.9 billion years old. The samples acquired on China’s Chang’e-5 mission late last year — around 1.96 billion years old — suggests volcanic activity persisted longer than previously expected.

Last December, the uncrewed Chinese probe touched down on a previously unvisited part of a massive lava plain, the Oceanus Procellarum or “Oceans of Storms”. About 1,731 grammes of lunar samples were later retrieved and brought back to Earth.

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One of the main objectives of Chang’e-5, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, was to find out how long the moon remained volcanically active.

“The Oceanus Procellarum region of the Moon is characterised by high concentrations of potassium, thorium, and uranium, elements that generate heat through long-lived radioactive decay and may have sustained prolonged magmatic activity on the near side of the Moon,” wrote the article’s authors, including Chinese researchers.

The article said the heat source for the magmatic activity might also be due to so-called “tidal heating”, or heat generated by the gravitational tug and pull of the Earth.

The Chang’e-5 mission made China the third country to have ever retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union, which 45 years ago launched the last successful mission to acquire material from the moon.

China plans to launch the Chang’e-6 and Chang’e-7 lunar missions, also uncrewed, in the next five years to explore the south pole of the moon.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Scientists Synthesise Next-Generation Wonder Material Graphyne, an Allotrope of Carbon, for the First Time

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Scientists have long tried to create new allotropes (forms) of carbon because of their versatility and usefulness for the industry. But only limited success was achieved so far. That is set to change now. In a major breakthrough, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, US, have successfully synthesised the long-hypothesised “next-generation wonder material” graphyne. An allotrope of carbon, graphyne is similar to graphene, which is highly valued by industry. In fact, the research on graphene was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. However, scientists were able to create only a few fragments before now, despite decades of work and theorising.

Carbon allotropes like graphene and fullerene were created using traditional chemistry methods. But these methods don’t allow synthesis of different forms of carbon in large capacity, like what’s required for graphyne. Wei Zhang, a professor of chemistry at CU Boulder, then decided to give it a try. Zhang studies reversible chemistry which allows bonds to self-correct, allowing for the creation of novel ordered structures.

Using a process called alkyne metathesis as well as thermodynamics and kinetic control, the researchers were able to successfully create a material that could rival the conductivity of graphene but with control. “There’s a pretty big difference (between graphene and graphyne) but in a good way,” said Zhang. “This could be the next generation of a wonder material. That’s why people are very excited.”

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Scientists believe the breakthrough research would open new possibilities for electronics, optics and semiconducting material research. The researchers have published their findings in the journal Nature Synthesis.

“The whole audience, the whole field, is really excited that this long-standing problem, or this imaginary material, is finally getting realized,” Yiming Hu, lead author on the paper and a PhD student in Zhang’s lab group, said in a statement issued by the university. The researchers now want to study this material in detail, including how to create it on a large scale.


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NASA Plans to Conduct Artemis 1 SLS Launch's Final Wet Dress Rehearsal in June

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NASA is planning to make another attempt at testing the Artemis 1 SLS rocket in early June for the last time before launching it into space. The space agency said it will bring the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in early June for the next wet dress rehearsal attempt. A wet dress rehearsal involves following all the launch-day procedures, including loading the propellant, without actually launching the mission. This activity is aimed at finding any issues with the system and rectifying them in time for the actual launch.

With June as the target for the next test attempt, the launch of the Artemis 1 unnamed mission is expected to be pushed back again. The ambitious mission to send humans to the moon has faced several delays in its timeline. On the first flight, NASA will not send astronauts but the Orion spacecraft will fly around our closest celestial neighbour to study it.

NASA, in a blog post, said that its engineers have successfully addressed issues identified during previous rehearsal attempts of SLS, including the liquid hydrogen system leak. “Plans call for the next wet dress rehearsal to take place about 14 days after the rocket arrives at the pad,” it added. NASA officials said they are aiming for a launch window in August.

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Previous attempts at conducting the wet dress rehearsal had to be either halted mid-way or delayed because of technical issues. The agency first delayed the final tests scheduled for April 4 after identifying issues with the helium check valve. A second attempt, on April 14, was prevented after a leak was discovered during liquid hydrogen loading operations. The rocket had to be rolled back to the vehicle assembly building for troubleshooting.

The SLS is designed to be the most powerful rocket ever built and it can carry more payload to deep space than any other vehicle. NASA plans to use it for human exploration of the moon and Mars, and send robotic missions to Saturn and Jupiter.


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NASA, ESA, JAXA to Soon Scale Up Documentation of Changes in Environment, Society on Earth

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NASA will soon be scaling up its documentation of environmental and societal changes on Earth. The space agency will achieve this by working in collaboration with its partners in Europe and Japan, namely ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The collaboration will include utilising all the Earth-observing satellite data available so far. This will be used to document and expand resources and understand a wider range of changes that are taking place in the environment and human society around the globe. The dashboard will include six areas of focus — atmosphere, agriculture, biomass, water and ocean, cryosphere, and economy.

The expanded documentation will widen the scope of online resources available to us. This will in turn help in the making of more data-driven stories. The information can also be used to explore relevant datasets.

Karen St. Germain, NASA Earth Science Division director, said in a statement, “With our partners at ESA and JAXA, this is another important step to get the latest information to the public about our changing planet, in an accessible and convenient way, which can inform decisions and planning for communities around the world.”

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The dashboard aims to provide an accessible and objective resource to people like public scientists and decision-makers who may not yet be familiar with satellite data. Here’s what NASA’s website has to say about this project, “It offers a precise, objective, and comprehensive view of our planet. Using accurate remote sensing observations, the dashboard shows the changes occurring in Earth‘s air, land, and water and their effects on human activities. Users can explore countries and regions around the world to see how the indicators in specific locations change over time.”

For this purpose, the collaborators need to find satellite data streams that can be rendered to simplified and objective resources. Current computing infrastructure has to be updated to share the information across the agencies. The six focus areas will deal with different aspects of life on Earth.

The atmosphere focus area looks into air pollution and climate change, while the agriculture will seek more insights into agricultural production, crop conditions, and food supply. How do trees and plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? We’ll know that through the biomass focus area. Cryosphere will deal with the impact of global warming on sea ice. The water and ocean area will explore the richness of this natural resource. The economy focus area will connect Earth’s social and economic systems to the environment.


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