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Astronauts need to eat, and they need to breathe. That means, for long-duration missions, they are going to need to bring plants with them. But not all plants are created equal, and not all can survive the harsh conditions of space. One that might thrive on long spacefaring voyages also happens to be the smallest flowering plant on Earth.

It’s called watermeal.

Measuring less than 1mm across, watermeal is an aquatic plant that floats atop bodies of water throughout Asia, including Thailand, where a research team at Mahidol University is putting the tiny plant through its paces.

Their goal is to test watermeal’s durability in harsh conditions, particularly with respect to extreme gravity.

“We wanted to model how plants respond to changing gravity levels,” says lead researcher Tatpong Tulyananda. “Because watermeal doesn’t have any roots, stems or leaves, it is basically just a sphere floating on a body of water. That means we can focus directly on the effects that gravity shifts will have on its growth and development.”

Each watermeal plant is less than 1 mm across 1024x768 2
Watermeal on human fingers. By Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=398351

If it proves able to handle harsh conditions, watermeal might find a place as a staple for future astronauts. It pumps out plenty of oxygen through photosynthesis, and it has substantial nutritional value: the plant is high in protein and is commonly served on Earth in soups and salads.

To run their zero g experiments, the team has been using clinostats: devices that take advantage of rotation to cancel out the force of gravity and therefore simulate microgravity.

The early results were promising: watermeal seems to grow as well in microgravity as it does at 1g.

But the team also wanted to see how watermeal fares in strong gravity, so they brought their samples to ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) in the Netherlands. The LDC can spin up to 67 revolutions per minute and features six compartments that can hold up to 80kg each.

ESA ESTEC Large Diameter Centrifuge.

In the centrifuge, the watermeal plants were spun up until they reached 20g, at which point they were left to grow under simulated sunlight.

Because watermeal goes through its entire lifecycle in 5-10 days, just a few weeks of experimentation gave the researchers data across multiple generations of the plant.

“What we do next is examine the plants directly, then render extracts into a solid pellet form that we will take home to study. Then we can put these samples through detailed chemical analysis to gain insights into the broad spectrum of watermeal’s hypergravity response,” says Tatpong.

The team is optimistic about watermeal’s suitability for future space missions.

“You consume 100% of the plant when you eat it, so it holds promise in terms of space-based agriculture,” says Tatpong.

Learm More:

Hypergravity odyssey of Earth’s tiniest plant. ESA.

The post Earth’s Smallest Flowering Plant Can Handle 20X Earth’s Gravity appeared first on Universe Today.

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Moon Dust Could Contaminate Lunar Explorers’ Water Supply

Aldrin bootprint C second impression

Water purification is a big business on Earth. Companies offer everything from desalination to providing just the right pH level for drinking water. But on the Moon, there won’t be a similar technical infrastructure to support the astronauts attempting to make a permanent base there. And there’s one particular material that will make water purification even harder – Moon dust. 

We’ve reported plenty of times about the health problems caused by the lunar regolith, so it seems apparent that you don’t want to drink it. Even more so, the abrasive dust can cause issues with seals, such as those used in electrolyzers to create rocket fuel out of in-situ water resources. It can even adversely affect water purification equipment itself. 

Unfortunately, this contamination is inevitable. Lunar dust is far too adhesive and electrostatically charged to be kept completely separate from the machinery that would recycle or purify the water. So, a group of researchers from DLR in Germany decided to test what would happen if you intentionally dissolved lunar regolith.

Fraser interviews Dr. Kevin Cannon, an expert in lunar dust mitigation.

The short answer is, unsurprisingly, nothing good. Dissolved lunar regolith causes pH, turbidity, and aluminum concentrations all exceed World Health Organization benchmarks for safe drinking water. This happened even with short exposure times (2 minutes) and static pH values, as they used a 5.5 pH buffer in part of the experiments. 

They didn’t use actual lunar dust for these experiments, but a simulant modeled on the regolith returned during the Apollo 16 mission. It mimics the regolith that is thought to be most similar to the Artemis landing sites. In addition to the pH changes and the amount of exposure time (which went up to 72 hours), the authors also varied the amount of dissolved oxygen in the system and the particle size of the simulant.

Those negative results occurred for every test variation, no matter what combination of the four control variables was used. Ultimately, that means engineers will have to devise a system to filter the water from these deposits before it can be recycled into the overall water system.

Aldrin bootprint C second impression 1
After taking the first boot print photo, astronaut Buzz Aldrin moved closer to the little rock and took this second shot. His boot was already completely covered in adhesive dust.
Credit: NASA

The paper explored some potential solutions for that water purification system. Each of the limits that were violated requires its purification methodology. In the author’s estimation, lowering the turbidity is the first requirement. To do so, they suggest doing standard filtration or allowing the dust particles to settle. 

Removing aluminum is next in importance, with another experiment showing that plants that grew in lunar soil showed signs of aluminum toxicity. Additional ions, including calcium, iron, and manganese, also need to be removed, as they were above acceptable levels in some test batches but not all. Removing these ions would require a reverse osmosis process or ion exchange. Ion removal is vital to a fully functional electrolyzer system as well. 

The authors seemed to be ultimately going after a platform to test and validate water purification processes for future lunar exploration missions. Given the results from their experimentation, there will undoubtedly be future rounds of testing and plenty of technology development to work on solving these technical challenges. Ultimately, astronauts will have to drink water on the Moon – and it won’t be coming just from bottles from Earth.

Learn More:
Freer, Pesch, & Zabel – Experimental study to characterize water contaminated by lunar dust
UT – The Moon Is Toxic
UT – Astronauts Will Be Tracking Dust Into the Lunar Gateway. Is This a Problem?
UT – Lunar Dust is Still One of The Biggest Challenges Facing Moon Exploration

Lead Image:
Turbidity samples of some of the dissolved regolith.
Credit – Freer, Pesch, & Zabel

The post Moon Dust Could Contaminate Lunar Explorers’ Water Supply appeared first on Universe Today.

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Gaia Hit by a Micrometeoroid AND Caught in a Solar Storm

ESA Gaia DR2 AllSky Brightness Colour black bg 8k 1024x645 1

For over ten years, the ESA’s Gaia Observatory has monitored the proper motion, luminosity, temperature, and composition of over a billion stars throughout our Milky Way galaxy and beyond. This data will be used to construct the largest and most precise 3D map of the cosmos ever made and provide insight into the origins, structure, and evolutionary history of our galaxy. Unfortunately, this sophisticated astrometry telescope is positioned at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange Point, far beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.

As a result, Gaia has experienced two major hazards in recent months that could endanger the mission. These included a micrometeoroid impact in April that disrupted some of Gaia‘s very sensitive sensors. This was followed by a solar storm in May—the strongest in 20 years—that caused electrical problems for the mission. These two incidents could threaten Gaia‘s ability to continue mapping stars, planets, comets, asteroids, quasars, and other objects in the Universe until its planned completion date of 2025.

Micrometeroids are a common problem at the L2 Lagrange Point, roughly 1.5 million km (932,057 mi) from Earth, so engineers designed Gaia with a protective cover. Unfortunately, the particle was traveling at a very high velocity and struck the cover at precisely the wrong angle, causing a breach. This has allowed stray sunlight to interfere with Gaia’s ability to simultaneously collect light from so many distant stars. Gaia‘s engineering team was addressing this issue the moment the solar storm hit, adding electrical issues to their list of problems.

ESA Gaia DR2 AllSky Brightness Colour black bg 8k 1024x645 2
Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way Galaxy and neighboring galaxies, based on measurements of nearly 1.7 billion stars. Credit: ESA

Mission controllers first noticed signs of disruption in May when Gaia began registering thousands of false detections. They soon realized that this may have been due to the solar storm that began on May 11th, which could have caused one of the spacecraft’s charge-coupled devices (CCDs) to fail, which converts light gathered by Gaia’s billion-pixel camera into electronic signals. The observatory relies on 106 CCDs, each playing a different role. The affected sensor was vital for Gaia’s ability to confirm the detection of stars and validate its observations.

While the spacecraft was built to withstand radiation, it has been operating in space for almost twice as long as originally planned (6 years) and may have been pushed to its limits. As Edmund Serpell, Gaia spacecraft operations engineer at ESOC, explained in an ESA press release:

“Gaia typically sends over 25 gigabytes of data to Earth every day, but this amount would be much, much higher if the spacecraft’s onboard software didn’t eliminate false star detections first. Both recent incidents disrupted this process. As a result, the spacecraft began generating a huge number of false detections that overwhelmed our systems. We cannot physically repair the spacecraft from 1.5 million km away. However, by carefully modifying the threshold at which Gaia’s software identifies a faint point of light as a star, we have been able to dramatically reduce the number of false detections generated by both the straylight and CCD issues.”

Meanwhile, the Gaia teams at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), and the European Space Astronomy Center (ESAC) have spent the past few months investigating these problems. They have also worked closely with engineers from Airbus Defence and Space (the spacecraft’s manufacturer) and payload experts at the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium. Thanks to their efforts, the GaiaObservatory recently returned to regular operations.

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Mountain Lakes of the Wind River Range—A Photo Gallery

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 40

By Michael Lanza

We followed the Doubletop Mountain Trail as it rolled over open plateau country above 10,000 feet in the Wind River Range, crossing one gorgeous lake basin after another where wildflowers still carpeted the ground in the week before Labor Day. In the distance, peaks along the Continental Divide soared to over 13,000 feet, jabbing at the underbellies of clouds. Turning onto the Highline Trail, we reached an unnamed tarn in late afternoon and walked beyond it to a flat, broad bench overlooking a meadow and lake below a pair of huge towers, 12,119-foot Sky Pilot Peak and 12,224-foot Mount Oeneis. It was a serendipitous find to make our home for the night.

But the real magic arrived the next morning, when nature served up a perfect stew of conditions—calm air, dappled light, still water, and a stunning backdrop—to create a scene that validates carrying all the weight on your back for days (and makes for a pretty good photo, above).

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 41
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Washakie Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming.
” data-image-caption=”Sunset light over Washakie Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ tabindex=”0″ role=”button” src=”https://i0.wp.com/tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY-1024×683.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”Washakie Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming.” class=”wp-image-63052″ srcset=”https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg 1024w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg 300w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg 768w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg 150w, https://tbo-media.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/01072631/Wind9-45-Washakie-Lake-in-the-Wind-River-Range-WY.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Sunset light over Washakie Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming.

I first began exploring Wyoming’s Wind River Range about 30 years ago and have returned many times since, drawn back again and again by its almost bottomless well of adventure potential. In that time, I’ve learned about the many reasons to walk for days through the Winds, which exist in the deep shadow of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks just a couple of hours to the north—a state of relative anonymity that many backpackers celebrate. Its lack of national park status and sheer vastness enable a high degree of solitude for backpackers willing to make the considerable effort (and take the time) to explore more deeply into the range, which extends for nearly 100 miles north to south.

And few mountain ranges match the grandiosity of the Wind River Range. The Colorado Rockies and High Sierra reach greater heights and I would include both among the handful of
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