A new study shows bacteria could survive travel from Earth to Mars.
A new study from Japanese researchers confirms the possibility of panspermia, the possible spread of life throughout the universe via microbes that attach themselves to space bodies. The scientists showed that bacteria on the outside of the International Space Station can survive in space for years. The team also concluded that the Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria used in the experiment could even make the journey from Earth to Mars, hinting at the likelihood of our own extraterrestrial beginnings.
To understand how bacteria can withstand the harshness of space, scientists sent Deinococcal cell clumps to the International Space Station. Once there, the specimen, around 1mm in diameter, were attached to the outside of the station on aluminum plates. During the course of three years, bacteria samples were sent back from space to Earth for further study.
What the researchers found is that while the outer layer of the clumps was killed off by the strong UV radiation, layers on the inside survived. They were essentially protected by the dead bacteria in the outer layer. Once in a lab, they were able to fix damage to their DNA and even grow further.
The researchers estimate such bacteria could survive in space for up to 8 years.
Akihiko Yamagishi from Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences in Japan, who was involved in the study, shared that their work proves that bacteria can not only survive in space but may also be the way life spreads throughout the universe, through panspermia.
"If bacteria can survive in space, [they] may be transferred from one planet to another," explained Yamagishi to New Scientist. "We don't know where life emerged. If life emerged on Earth, it may [have been] transferred to Mars. Alternatively, if life emerged on Mars, it may [have been] transferred to Earth … meaning that we are the offspring of Martian life."
Did Life on Earth Come From Space?
In its early days, Earth was constantly bombarded by meteorites, and was also hit by a Mars-sized planet called Theia, which likely resulted in the formation of our moon. This happened about 4.5 billion years ago and life started to sprout about 4 billion years ago. Is there a connection between all the collisions and our existence? Considering the slow pace of evolution, the relatively fast appearance of life after the Earth cooled off point to panspermia being a possible explanation.
Another implication of panspermia – if we started out as microbes from another planet, why wouldn't there be more life throughout the universe, originated in a similar fashion? If you follow this logic, there's a good chance cosmic life is abundant.
Check out the new study, carried out in conjunction with Japanese national space agency JAXA, published in "The Frontiers in Microbiology."
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Astronomers spot periodic lights coming from near the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
- Astronomers in Japan observe periodic lights coming from the region near the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
- The twinkling may be produced by hot spots in the accretion disk around the black hole.
- The mysterious region studied features extreme gravity.
Astronomers peered into the heart of our galaxy to reveal surprising lights. Utilizing the ALMA telescope in Chile, a team of Japanese scientists found periodic flickering coming from near the center of the Milky Way, which contains the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). The twinkling is likely due to the rotating radio spots around the black hole, a mysterious region of extreme gravity.
The research team from ALMA, which stands for "Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array," was led Yuhei Iwata, a graduate student at Keio University, Japan. He explained that the gigantic Sgr A*, with the mass of 4 million suns, has been known to flare up in millimeter wavelengths, infrared light, and X-rays, but this time, the scientists got radio-wave intensity data for a period of 10 days (including 70 minutes per day), and found two specific trends – namely "quasi-periodic variations with a typical time scale of 30 minutes and hour-long slow variations."
Does the black hole itself produce these lights? As far as we know, the black hole doesn't actually make emissions of any sort. The culprits behind the lights are likely hot spots formed in the superhot gas disk surrounding the black hole. It rotates around it, creating an accretion disk.
The astronomers found that the 30-minute variation period of the flickering corresponded to the orbital period of the inner edge of the accretion disk. This discovery provides "compelling insight for the gas motion" around the black hole, stated professor Tomoharu Oka of Keio University, who was also involved in the study.
Michio Kaku: A Black Hole in Our Own Backyard
The research group's other members included Masato Tsuboi of the Japan Space Exploration Agency/The University of Tokyo, Makoto Miyoshi from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan/SOKENDAI, and Shunya Takekawa of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
Check out their new paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Japanese physicists devise technology to discover axion dark matter.
- Physicists from the University of Tokyo plan to use lasers to discover axions.
- Axions are theoretical particles that may be components of dark matter.
- Dark matter is a mysterious substance that may compose up to 27% of the universe.
Japanese physicists propose modifications to existing equipment that could allow them to pinpoint axions, hypothetical particles that may be components of dark matter. Dark matter, a mysterious theoretical substance that is thought to make up about 27% of all matter in the universe, is yet to be directly observed.
The scientists hope to track down the elusive axions using experiments with lasers.
The difficulty in finding dark matter is that it is made of, as many physicists think, weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPs, produced in the early Universe. While we haven't figured out how to spot these particles directly, interacting with regular matter, but we've been able to predict their existence by the gravitational effects they have throughout the universe.
The celebrated Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has been used to search for WIMPs, and now a new approach from Japan hopes to use the KAGRA Observatory to discover dark matter by tracking down axions.
KAGRA stands for the Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector. This first major gravitational wave observatory in Asia is located deep under a mountain of the Kamioka mine in Japan's Gifu Prefecture.
The Assistant Professor Yuta Michimura from the Department of Physics at the University of Tokyo, which runs the KAGRA project, explained that because axions are light and don't interact with normal matter, they are good candidates for dark matter.
Interestingly, he also quantified how much dark matter is there, saying the amount of it inside our planet would weigh as much as a squirrel —
"We don't know the mass of axions, but we usually think it has a mass less than that of electrons, " said Michimura. "Our universe is filled with dark matter and it's estimated there are 500 grams of dark matter within the Earth, about the mass of a squirrel."
The proposed instrument that would hunt for axion dark matter.
Credit: 2019 Nagano et al | University of Tokyo Institute for Cosmic Ray Research
As you can imagine, spotting such particles is no easy task. Physicists have to figure out ways that can make the particles reveal themselves through their signatures.
Koji Nagano, a graduate student at the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo, says that their models show that axions affect light polarization, which describes the geometrical orientation of oscillating electromagnetic waves.
Their method of finding axions relies on this finding.
"This polarization modulation can be enhanced if the light is reflected back and forth many times in an optical cavity composed of two parallel mirrors apart from each other, " further expounds their approach Nagano.
The best examples of such cavities, says the researcher, are the long tunnels of gravitational-wave observatories.
"There is overwhelming astrophysical and cosmological evidence that dark matter exists, but the question "What is dark matter?" is one of the biggest outstanding problems in modern physics," said Nagano. "If we can detect axions and say for sure they are dark matter, it would be a truly exciting event indeed. It's what physicists like us dream for."
The team proposes plans to inexpensively modify existing observatories like KAGRA or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. to search for the axions. The plan, according to Michimura, would be to add "polarization optics in front of photodiode sensors in gravitational-wave detectors."
The idea's additional benefit is that it doesn't require building entirely new facilities. Upgrading gravitational wave labs would not hamper their original missions — looking for gravitational waves. But the new functionality would open a new chapter in the search for dark matter.
The study involved Koji Nagano, Tomohiro Fujita, Yuta Michimura, and Ippei Obata.
Check out the their paper "Axion Dark Matter Search with Interferometric Gravitational Wave Detectors" in the journal Physical Review Letters.
During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.
- Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
- After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
- In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.
How did the camps get their start?
With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.
Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress
"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."
DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:
"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."
Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.
Life in the camps
Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.
Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.
Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.
As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.
The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.
Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --
"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."
Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."
When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.