TIME space

Astronauts on the International Space Station Can Now Enjoy Espresso

Espresso in Space
A prototype of Lavazza's and Argotec's "ISSpresso" machine. The final version of the coffee machine will be the first real Italian espresso machine on The International Space Station, and will coincide with a six-month mission by Italy’s first Italian female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. Lavazza/AP

The Italian engineered 'ISSpresso' can be sipped through a straw

If the only thing keeping you from joining the space program was a lack of decent coffee outside Earth’s orbit, you no longer have that excuse.

This week Italy sent astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to the International Space Station with a specially designed espresso machine that works in zero-gravity.

Designed by Turin-based Lavazzo and engineering firm Argotec, the ISSpresso, pumps water under high pressure through the machine into a pouch, where it can be sipped through a straw.

Part of an international crew that arrived on the Russian Soyuz craft, Cristoforetti, 37, also a captain in the Italian air force, “will be not only the first female astronaut from Italy to go into space, but also the very first astronaut in the history of the conquest of space to savor an authentic Italian espresso in orbit,” the companies said in a statement.
If slurping hot coffee through a straw sounds less than ideal, more innovations are on the horizon, thanks to researchers in Portland, where coffee obsession rivals that in Italy.

On Monday a team at Portland State University presented a paper, The Capillary Fluidics of Espresso, detailing a way to enjoy espresso in space in a manner similar to the one on Earth – which is to say in a cup – by replacing the role of gravity with the forces of surface tension.

Espresso, noted the team, which included a member of NASA and also a high school student, “is distinguished by a complex low density colloid of emulsified oils. Due to gravity, these oils rise to the surface forming a foam lid called the crema …. To some, the texture and aromatics of the crema play a critical role in the overall espresso experience. We show how in the low-g environment this may not be possible. We also suggest alternate methods for enjoying espresso aboard spacecraft.”

Of equal importance, these impressive innovations mean that, should the ISS ever encounter life on other planets, aliens’ first experience of coffee will not be adulterated with pumpkin spice.

This article originally appeared at PEOPLE.com

TIME India

Tigers Are Dying in Record Numbers in India

Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris)
A Bengal tiger at Ranthambore National Park, India, on March 3, 2014 De Agostini/Getty Images

Some 274 tigers have died over the past four years, most of them because of poaching

A record number of tigers died in India over the most recent census period, a total of 274 deceased in the past four years.

Only 82 of those tigers died because of natural causes, while more than 70% of tiger deaths were due to poaching or for undetermined reasons, Indian science-and-environment magazine Down to Earth reports.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar released the figures in response to a question in the Parliament on Nov. 26.

India had approximately 1,706 tigers, according to the 2010 census. The overall population of tigers may not suffer when India’s official tiger-population census for 2014 gets released next month.

“Here, we are not taking tiger births into account,” said S.P. Yadav, deputy inspector general with the National Tiger Conservation Authority. “An adult tigress can give birth to younger ones every 90 days. If, of four-five litters that a tigress gives birth to, even one-two survive, these numbers can be compensated.”

[Down to Earth]

TIME psychology

Reading Harry Potter Provides Clues to Brain Activity

Harry Potter
Warner Bros.

Researchers have identified the magic going on inside our brains while we read

Scientists have been using Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to work out what happens in different parts of the brain when people read and connect words with the ideas behind them.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pennsylvania performed scans on the brains of eight people as they read the ninth chapter of the first book in J.K. Rowling’s famous series.

Leila Wehbe, a graduate student who conducted much of the research, told CMU’s News site that the chapter is about Harry’s first flying lesson. “It turns out that movement of the characters — such as when they are flying their brooms — is associated with activation in the same brain region that we use to perceive other people’s motion,” she said.

Scientists said their research could eventually reveal what’s happening in the brains of people who struggle to read and people with dyslexia.

TIME India

New Delhi, the World’s Most Polluted City, Is Even More Polluted Than We Realized

INDIA-POLUTION
Smog envelops buildings on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi on November 25, 2014. ROBERTO SCHMIDT—AFP/Getty Images

Researchers have been measuring background pollution when they should have been doing roadside readings

New Delhi has already been ranked the world’s worst polluted city by the World Health Organization, but a new study by U.S. and Indian scientists shows that the city’s air quality is far worse than previously thought.

American scientist Joshua Apte, working with partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology, roamed the streets of the Indian capital in an autorickshaw laden with air pollution monitors. He found that average pollution levels were up to eight times higher on city roads, the Associated Press reports.

Apte compared the readings from his road trips to readings at urban background sites, which he says are already extremely high. The levels of PM 2.5, the particle known to be most harmful to human health, were found to be 50 percent higher on Delhi’s roads during rush hour than during ambient air quality readings. Black carbon, a major pollutant, was found to be three times higher.

“Official air quality monitors tend to be located away from roads, on top of buildings, and that’s not where most people spend most of their time,” Apte said. “In fact, most people spend a lot of time in traffic in India. Sometimes one, two, three hours a day.”

India is the third largest polluting country in the world, after the United States and China — who both signed a major bilateral climate deal in Beijing earlier this month.

Its rapidly growing vehicle numbers, expected to hit 400 million by 2030, are posing a major threat that the government is well aware of.

Several steps have been taken to reduce the number of Indian automobiles running on diesel, and the country’s National Green Tribunal also announced on Thursday that it would ban any vehicles older than 15 years from New Delhi’s roads.

But far more drastic measures will be required to make a meaningful dent in Delhi’s air pollution levels, which, according to the latest WHO Ambient Air Pollution Database, are at just under 300 micrograms per cubic meter. The world’s second most polluted city, Karachi, clocks in at a little over 250, while the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai, internationally notorious for their pollution, clock in a relatively fresh 120 and 80 respectively.

TIME Environment

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon Is Easing Up

An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso
An aerial view of a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers near the Brazilian city of Novo Progresso, Pará state, on Sept. 22, 2013 © Nacho Doce / Reuters—REUTERS

In fact, it just fell to its second lowest level in 25 years

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has fallen to its second lowest level in 25 years, according to the country’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Teixeira said 4,848 sq km of forest were cut down between August 2013 and July 2014, compared with 5,891 sq km during the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reports.

The drop is a surprise, since environmental groups have been warning of an increase following the adoption of a controversial 2012 bill that eases clearing restrictions for small landowners.

“The major message is O.K., is good: Brazil has been advancing,” says Marco Lentini, coordinator of the Amazon program for WWF’s Brazil branch, while cautioning: “It doesn’t mean that the deforestation issue is over.”

The Amazon rainforest, considered an essential natural defense against global warming, is gradually being razed to make way for cattle grazing, soy plantations and logging. Sixty percent of the forest is found in Brazil, which has pledged to reduce deforestation to 3,900 sq km per year by 2020.

[AP]

TIME space

You’ve Heard of Shooting Stars, but This is Ridiculous

Coming soon (sort of): The Andromeda Galaxy (above) will produce lots of free-range stars when it merges with the Milky Way—in two billion years.
Coming soon (sort of): The Andromeda Galaxy (above) will produce lots of free-range stars when it merges with the Milky Way—in two billion years. T Ware Jason; Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

A new theory predicts a new breed of cosmic wanderers

The idea that stars live in galaxies has been astronomy’s conventional wisdom since the 1920’s. It took a serious hit recently, though, when observers concluded that as many as half the stars in the universe might actually hover outside galaxies, flung off into the intergalactic void as collateral casualties when smaller galaxies merge to become large ones.

But while that discovery was startling, a new prediction posted online takes the finding to a whole new level. A significant number of stars, say Avi Loeb and James Guillochon, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, should not just be floating through intergalactic space: they should be screaming across the cosmos at absurdly high speeds. “We calculate that there should be more than a trillion stars in the observable universe moving at velocities of more than a tenth the speed of light,” says Loeb. That’s about 67 million m.p.h. (108 million k/h). And about ten million of those stars, he says, are moving at least five times faster than that.

High-velocity stars are not without precedent. Astronomers already knew of a handful of stars in the Milky Way that are moving at a million m.p.h (1.6 million k/h) or so, and which should eventually leave our galaxy. But this new class of speedsters—if they’re confirmed—would make those so-called hypervelocity stars look like garbage trucks lumbering along in the cosmic slow lane.

There’s reason to hope that the findings are validated, beyond the mere wow factor of the work. Astronomers currently study the origin and development of the universe by trapping particles in telescopes and detectors—photons of light, mostly, and also, more recently, the ghostly particles called neutrinos, which bear information about the stars, galaxies and quasars in which they originated. Superfast stars would be another sort of “particles,” albeit huge, shining ones, which could tell astronomers plenty about the conditions they’ve encountered since they escaped their galactic homes. “They give us the opportunity to do cosmology in an entirely new way,” he says, “with massive objects moving at near lightspeed across the universe.”

How they got moving so fast is the core of Loeb’s and Guillochon’s idea. Most galaxies harbor huge black holes in their cores, and when two galaxies merge to form one, those black holes end up circling each other in a tight do-si-do. Eventually, they too will merge into a single object, but as they approach each other, the complex gravitational interplay between them and the stars that orbit them exerts incredible force—and impart incredible speed. (Black hole interactions also give rise to hypervelocity stars within the Milky Way, but here there’s just a single black hole, and thus a lot less energy available.)

As the free-range, extra-galactic stars fly across the universe, their trajectories are bent by the gravity of galaxies they pass along the way. “It’s like a ball moving through a pinball machine,” says Loeb. “If we can reconstruct their trajectories back to their original host galaxies, we can test whether General Relativity [Einstein’s theory of gravity] acts the way we expect.”

You can do this only if you actually find the speeding stars—but Loeb is convinced it’s possible. “It’s challenging,” he admits, “but they could be detected with upcoming instruments.” Among them: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and more, all of which are expected to come online by the end of this decade.

“The most exciting aspect,” Loeb continues, is that these need not be single stars.” They could be double stars, or even stars with planets. “If these planets are habitable,” says Loeb, “these would be the most exhilarating roller-coaster rides in the universe.”

While none of this can happen in our own galaxy at the moment, that’s just a temporary situation. The giant spiral galaxy M31, also known as Andromeda, is slowly approaching the Milky Way. In two billion years or so, they’ll smash together. When they do, the new, gigantic galaxy that emerges will at last be equipped with the twin black holes you need to build a cosmic slingshot.

What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

 

 

TIME space

See What Astronauts Eat for Thanksgiving Dinner in Space

Smoked turkey with all the freeze-dried fixings

They may be in orbit 260 miles above Earth, but that doesn’t mean the astronauts aboard the International Space Station won’t enjoy some traditional Thanksgiving fare to celebrate on Thursday. Though their meal may look a little different than what your family has planned.

The smoked turkey, corn-bread dressing, green beans, and candied yams that these space explorers will eat have been irradiated, thermostabilized, or freeze-dried. Regardless, the six astronauts on board—Americans Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of Russia’s Roscosmos and Italian Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency— are looking forward to their holiday feast. In a video message, Commander Butch Wilmore also shared what he’s most thankful for this holiday: our troops.

“People around the globe that are doing things day in and day out that make a difference for freedom,” Wilmore said. “I’m thankful for those people. I’m thankful for their families.”

TIME animals

This Is Why Dogs Are Sloppier Drinkers Than Cats

New research analyzes the physics behind their tongue movements

New research points to the scientific reason why dogs seem to be messier drinkers than cats.

While cats gently dip their tongues into the water’s surface, dogs thrust their tongues into water at an acceleration five times gravity, according to a presentation called “How Dogs Drink Water” at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics Meeting this week.

To see it for yourself, here’s a slow-motion video of a cat drinking:

Compare that to a slow-motion video of a dog drinking:

While the researchers previously studied how cats drink, their latest presentation focused on dogs, using an underwater camera to map the surface area of their tongues that made contact while lapping up the liquid. In addition to finding that heavier dogs use more of their tongues to drink, they also discovered that dogs must open their mouths to capture the water they lift, further contributing to the splashes.

While it seems the research is just for fun, the scientists said their pet-centric work could in turn lead to deeper understandings of fluid dynamics.

[Discovery News]

TIME animals

Why Vultures Don’t Get Sick From Eating Rotten Meat

New study takes a closer look at how vultures can consume meat that other animals cannot

The rotten flesh of a vulture’s diet would sicken, if not kill, most animals of its size — so how do vultures manage to keep down meals of decaying meat?

Vultures have a digestive system that has evolved to destroy dangerous bacteria while tolerating other harmful toxins, according to a new study published Tuesday in Nature Communications. The research paints a clearer picture of how vultures’ strong stomach acid permits a diet of rotten carcasses, a fact that scientists have known for years.

Researchers specifically focused their study on the DNA of bacteria found in the vulture’s stomach, discovering that of the hundreds of bacteria present on the beak, only two dominated their guts, a “remarkably conserved low diversity of gut microbial flora,” the study said. Since the vultures’ gastrointestinal tracts are “extremely selective” in which bacteria they destroy, scientists believe their findings suggest that vultures evolved alongside their food sources.

“On one hand, vultures have developed an extremely tough digestive system, which simply acts to destroy the majority of the dangerous bacteria they ingest,” said University of Copenhagen microbiologist Michael Roggenbuck, one of the study’s authors, in a statement. “On the other hand, vultures also appear to have developed a tolerance toward some of the deadly bacteria — species that would kill other animals actively seem to flourish in the vulture lower intestine.”

TIME space

The First 3-D Printer in Space Prints Its First Object

3-D Printer Space First Object
International Space Station Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore holds up the first object made in space with 3-D printing. Wilmore installed the printer on Nov. 17, 2014, and helped crews on the ground with the first print on Nov. 25, 2014. NASA

The printer's goal is to make spare parts and tools for the International Space Station

The first 3-D printer in space has borne its first object, NASA said Tuesday, and it’s a bit self-fulfilling.

The object, a replacement faceplate for the printer’s casing that holds its internal wiring in place, is one of about 20 objects that will be printed aboard International Space Station (ISS) over the coming weeks, the space agency said. The objects will then be sent down to Earth for analysis, the final step in testing the 3-D printer before establishing a permanent 3-D printing facility aboard the space station.

“This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3-D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations,” said Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the ISS’s 3-D printer. Creating the faceplate demonstrated how the printer is able to make replacement parts for itself, the agency added. “As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing.”

Before its launch in June to the ISS, the 3-D printer had successfully completed a series of tests evaluating its ability to withstand take-off forces and to function properly in zero gravity. The goal is to create spare parts and tools to make the ISS less dependent on expensive resupply ships, in addition to improving crew safety.

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