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Earth has more moons than you might think
We aren't lunarly exclusive. Earth has a few minimoons whizzing around us, including one that comes back into our orbit every 20 years or so.
For nearly four billion years, Earth and the Moon have been inseparable as they’ve journeyed together through the cosmic void. It’s our only permanent satellite we’ll ever know. But new research has unearthed (...unmooned?) evidence that our planet occasionally captures “mini-moons” every once in a while. These tiny asteroids zoom around our planet as temporary natural satellites.
The implications for this carries with it scientific and even commercial opportunities for our new space-age renaissance. A cadre of astronomers and scientists reviewed the history, properties and future potential that these mini-moons will have in a number of fields, scientific disciplines, and markets. These natural objects are referred to as either temporarily captured objects (TCO) or temporarily captured flybys (TCF.) The researchers stated that their inspiration for the name came from Austin Powers:
"As an homage to the Moon and Austin Powers we usually refer to TCOs and TCFs as “mini-moons” though, to be more precise based on their relative diameters, they may more accurately be considered micro-moons."
How it was discovered
The existence of mini-moons was thought to be unlikely by a number of astronomers and even impossible because current data and asteroid surveys had shown no sign of natural geocentric objects in orbit. It’s possible that due to the incredibly small relative size of these objects, which are often moving too fast and are sometimes faulty labeled artificial – the discovery of mini-moons had continued to elude us.
Our Moon is roughly a quarter the size of our planet, which makes mini-moons infinitesimally small in comparison. These fast-moving and transient objects are difficult to detect, even though there may be loads of them floating around the planet. Mini-moons usually measure anywhere from 3 to 10 ft in diameter. Sometimes they’ll elope with our orbit for just a quick swing before going right back to revolving around the sun. There is still a lot to learn about these objects.
Twelve years ago, the first and only other mini-moon was detected by astronomers by the Catalina Sky Survey organization. It was named 2006 RH120 and measured to be 6 to 10 ft in length. It’s thought to enter Earth’s orbit around every 20 years. It remains our only known mini-moon for now.
There was some controversy over the nature of the object after discovery on whether or not it was another artificial object or really the first natural object known to be orbiting us besides the moon. From the white paper of the study:
“Several launch vehicle booster stages have achieved sufficient speed for them to escape the gravitational bonds of the EMS only to be subsequently recaptured in the system after a few decades. Subsequent astrometric observations of 2006 RH120 established its provenance as a natural object because the perturbations to its trajectory caused by solar radiation pressure were inconsistent with it being artificial.”
It’s expected that in the near future, advances in astronomical surveys will allow us to discover even greater quantities of mini-moons.
According to the researchers, there are a few more ways to detect these objects in the future:
Options for establishing a candidate as natural include obtaining spectra or colors, radar observations, or measuring its area-to-mass ratio (AMR) based on the magnitude of the effect of solar radiation pressure on its trajectory.
Obtaining sufficiently high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) spectra of small, faint, fast objects is notoriously difficult and even low-resolution color photometry could require large telescopes and a disproportionate amount of observing time.
Radar observations can quickly establish an object's nature as the radar albedo easily differentiates between a natural rocky surface and the highly reflective surface of an artificial object
Discovering a little teeny mini-moon might seem minuscule, but this research might help us better understand the nature of asteroids around the solar system, Earth-to-moon system relations and a whole host of other commercial and celestial data.
What are the implications of mini-moon research?
To say there’s a lot we still don’t know about the universe is an understatement, a phenomenon in our own extraterrestrial backyard is still shrouded in mystique. One thing we could learn from the study of mini-moons is the interior structure of meteoroids and asteroids. The range of different hypotheses on the insides of asteroids of any size varies significantly. The authors of the study state:
“There is essentially no data to constrain models that range from ‘sandcastles’ held together by cohesive forces to solid, monolithic structures.”
Meteorites that crash to Earth only give us a slight picture of what constitutes an asteroid. The Earth’s atmosphere strips away a lot of material contained within and on the objects. Mini-moons could become new quick destinations for space missions, where we could grab them and go back to earth without worrying about the effects of atmospheric forces.
Before we start studying and sourcing these mini-moons, we first have to have a way to detect and find them. Currently, there is a telescope being constructed in northern Chile called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) – this telescope is up to the task of mini-moon sighting.
The authors of the paper believe that mini-moons will lead us to a number of new places that will benefit research and commerce:
(1) The development and testing of planetary defense technologies (e.g., deflecting an asteroid)
(2) Validating and improving close-proximity guidance, navigation, and control algorithms
(3) Testing close-proximity procedures and protocols for safe operation of crewed missions around asteroids
(4) Establishing the feasibility of asteroid mining technologies for future commercial applications, all in an environment where the round-trip light-time delay is a few seconds. This short list illustrates that minimoons have far-reaching non-science implications for different stakeholders.
Once we begin discovering and tracking mini-moons at a greater rate, we can send out satellite missions for either retrieval or study. These cheaper missions will be a great way to help jumpstart a soon to be burgeoning space mining industry.
The many moons in our Solar System
As we one day begin to recognize more mini-moons and add them to the local neighborhood, we should be able to understand what constitutes the classification of a “moon.” Our planet is at the top of the list when it comes to the primary planet to satellite mass ratio. In general, the term moon denotes an object that is orbiting something other than the main star in the solar system. So in this regard, our moon is similar to the moons circling Mars, Jupiter or other planets. Moons are not determined by what they’re made out of, their size, or mass.
We determine what makes a moon by the way it moves throughout the solar system and what its relation is to other celestial bodies. For example, classification by motion allows us to determine the dynamics of our solar system by looking at the gestalt of movement, rather than categorizing by an arbitrary division.
Our moon’s composition is similar to the other four terrestrial planets in the inner circle of the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. All of these planets have rocky surfaces and geological layers. But this doesn’t mean that the Moon can be classified as a terrestrial planet – again this is determined by motion.
A planet can gather a number of natural satellites through the force of its gravity. Other planets in our solar system have a whole load of big moons. For example, Jupiter has 79 confirmed moons and Saturn has 62 confirmed moons.
Jupiter’s Ganymede is larger than both Mercury and Pluto and 2/3rds the size of Mars, but again it orbits Jupiter so it is considered a moon.
The moons of our solar system and mini-moons of Earth may one day prove to be the literal stepping stones for the rest of the galaxy.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.