How a 2nd-Grade Class Sent a Science Experiment to Space

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Back in 2015, students in Maggie Samudio’s second-grade class at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, Ind., were contemplating an offbeat science question: If a firefly went to space, would it still be able to light up as it floated in zero gravity?

Ms. Samudio said she would ask a friend of hers, Steven Collicott, an aerospace professor at nearby Purdue University, for the answer.

“He teaches a class on zero gravity, and he would be the perfect person to answer the question,” Ms. Samudio recalled in an email.

A day later, Dr. Collicott replied, and Ms. Samudio was surprised by his answer: Instead of guessing, why not actually build the experiment and send it to space?

Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, was planning to offer the ability for schools to fly small experiments on its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft for as little as $8,000.

“That is a game changer,” said Erika Wagner, the payload sales director at Blue Origin. “Kids as young as elementary school are flying things to space.”

Dr. Collicott, who had sent several fluid flow experiments on New Shepard launches, pointed Ms. Samudio and her second-graders to Blue Origin.

Credit…Steven Collicott

“For the small payload 4 inches square by 8 inches tall, we’re able to fly that for half the cost of high school football uniforms,” Dr. Collicott said. “So really any school district now that affords football can afford spaceflight.”

Cumberland Elementary has not been the only school to see the value of paying for an experiment aboard the New Shepard rocket. A Montessori middle school in Colorado sent up a sensor package designed


Asteroid Bennu Could Shed Light on How Ingredients for Life Reached Earth | Smart News

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A series of studies published last week in the journals Science and Science Advances offer a new, detailed look at the makeup of a small asteroid called Bennu. The studies come just before NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft plans to pick up a sample from the asteroid’s surface on October 20 and return with it to Earth in 2023.

Before the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached the asteroid in 2018, astronomers could only study it with telescopes that couldn’t make out details smaller than cities or states, Michael Greshko reports for National Geographic. OSIRIS-REx allows astronomers to map details the size of basketball courts, sheets of paper and postage stamps, depending on the imaging tool they used.

“The reason there’s so much interest in asteroids is a lot of them are very primitive, from when the Solar System formed, and they didn’t change with wind and water, or weather like on Earth,” planetary scientist Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center tells Passant Rabie at Inverse. “They’re still more pristine than anything you could find in the universe.”

Researchers chose Bennu for close study and a sample-return mission because it is a relatively rare type of asteroid that’s rich in carbon-containing molecules, or organics, and because it formed early in the history of our solar system, Neel Patel reports for the MIT Technology Review. It’s also relatively close to Earth.

Bennu is about a third of a mile wide, made of a pile of rubble that is loosely held together by its own gravity, per National Geographic. The rubble resulted from a collision with a 60-mile-wide object in the asteroid belt that destroyed Bennu’s parent body, a larger asteroid. Bennu probably formed between 700 million and two billion years ago somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, and has drifted closer to Earth


Record-Breaking Bird Just Flew Nonstop From Alaska to New Zealand

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A bar-tailed godwit in Australia.

A bar-tailed godwit in Australia.
Image: JJ Harrison/Wikimedia

A conservation group has tracked a migration for the ages, in which a male bar-tailed godwit flew from Alaska to New Zealand without taking a single break.

As the Guardian reports, the bar-tailed godwit departed southwestern Alaska on September 16 and arrived 11 days later at a bay near Auckland, New Zealand. The bird, designated 4BBRW (for the blue, blue, red, and white identification rings attached to its legs), was tracked by Global Flyway Network, a conservation group that studies long-distance migrating shorebirds.

Bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) are exceptional birds, featuring some mind-bogglingly long migratory routes. The wading birds spend their summers in the arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere (where they breed) and then fly south for the winter, in some cases as far as Australia and New Zealand. Bar-tailed godwits are fast and lightweight, with wingspans around 28 to 31 inches (70 to 80 cm) long.

Bar-tailed godwits looking to relocate from Alaska to New Zealand must make an epic flight over the Pacific Ocean. For 4BBRW, this resulted in a record-breaking nonstop flight, in which the bird flew 7,987 miles (12,854 km), reports the Guardian. The bird was equipped with a 5gm satellite tag, which allowed for GPS tracking. The scientists said the total length of the journey is probably closer to 7,581 miles (12,200 km) after accounting for rounding errors.

The previous nonstop flight record belongs to a female bar-tailed godwit, who flew 7,257 miles (11,680 km) during a similar journey in 2007. Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) travel more than 50,000 miles (80,000 km) each year, so they deserve mention as having the longest migratory routes of any bird (or any animal for that matter), though they make lots of stops


Study Suggests A Supernova Exploded Near Earth About 2.5 Million Years Ago, Possibly Causing An Extinction Event

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Supernovas are amazingly bright explosions of massive stars at the end of their lives. During the gravitational collapse, the outer layers of the star are pushed away, and chemical elements formed inside the dying star are released into space. This cosmic dust rains down onto the Earth continuously, eventually becoming part of sediments deposited in the sea.

Research published in the journal Physical Review Letters used the concentrations of elements formed in an exploding star and preserved in oceanic sediments to hypothesize that a supernova exploded near Earth just 2.5 million years ago.

The authors, led by Dr. Gunther Korschinek from the Technical University of Munich, focused their study on ferromanganese crusts collected in the Pacific Ocean. Ferromanganese crusts form on the bottom of the ocean by layers of iron- and manganese-oxides precipitating out of seawater. The studied samples started to grow some 20 million years ago at depths ranging from 5,200 feet to 3.18 miles (approximately 1.600 to 5.120 meters). The researchers measured the concentrations of iron-60 and manganese-53 isotopes in the hardened crust. They differ from Earth’s most common form of the elements by their varying number of neutrons in the atomic nucleus. Both isotopes are synthesized in large stars shortly before supernova explosions and are unstable, decaying completely after 4 to 15 million years. Their presence in sediment samples is evidence for Earth passing through a cloud of cosmic dust generated by an exploding star in – geologically speaking – recent times.


NASA prototype rover can split in two, could climb down deep Mars craters

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NASA JPL took the DuAxel out for a test run in the Mojave Desert.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/J.D. Gammell

NASA’s car-size Mars rovers are awesome, versatile machines capable of traversing rugged terrain. But they’re not made to descend down the sides of craters. For that, NASA would need something like its DuAxel prototype rover, a wild concept that is two rovers in one.

When all together, DuAxel is a four-wheeled rover. The rear can anchor itself to the ground while the front goes free on two wheels. A tether holds the pieces together while the front section rappels down a steep slope. This could work well for exploring currently inaccessible crater walls on Mars.

NASA put a DuAxel prototype through its paces in the Mojave Desert in California. “DuAxel performed extremely well in the field, successfully demonstrating its ability to approach a challenging terrain, anchor, and then undock its tethered Axel rover,” robotics technologist Issa Nesnas said in a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Tuesday.

A video shows the clever rover in action and how it can use onboard instruments to get a close look at what’s under its wheels.

One of the motivations for developing DuAxel is to one day get a closer look at enigmatic dark streaks called recurring slope lineae that appear on the side of some martian craters. Scientists are trying to figure out if these have a watery origin.

The craters are too steep for a rover like Curiosity or Perseverance (which is currently on its way to Mars), but a transforming rappelling machine like DuAxel could handle the challenge.

It’s not just Mars science that could

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