Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
The WashU electrolyzer<iframe src='https://mars.nasa.gov/layout/embed/model/?s=6' width='800' height='450' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe><p>The WashU electrolyzer—it has no snappy acronym yet—will not be the first device capable of extracting oxygen from Martian water. That honor goes to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/" target="_blank">MOXIE</a>, which is en route to Mars onboard NASA's <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/" target="_blank">Perseverance</a> rover. The rover was launched on July 30, 2020. It will arrive on February 18, 2021, and will perform high-temperature <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water" target="_blank">electrolysis</a> to extract pure oxygen, but no hydrogen.</p><p>In addition to being able to capture hydrogen, the WashU system can even do a better job with oxygen than MOXIE can, extracting 25 times as much from the same amount of water.</p><p>The new system has no problem with Mars' magnesium perchlorate-laced water. On the contrary, the researchers say it ultimately makes their system work better since such high concentrations of salt keep water from freezing on such a cold a planet by lowering the liquid's freezing temperature to -60 °C. He adds it may "also improve the performance of the electrolyzer system by lowering the electrical resistance."</p><p>Cold itself is no issue for the WashU system. It's been tested in a sub-zero (-33 ⁰F, or -36 ⁰C) environment that simulates Mars'.</p><p>"Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926337318311299" target="_blank">ruthenate pyrochlore</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anode" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anode</a> developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode" target="_blank">cathode</a>," explains Ramani. He adds, "These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance."</p>
Back home<p>"This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source," Ramani notes. His colleagues forsee potential applications such as producing oxygen in deep-sea habitats with ample water available, such as underwater research facilities and submarines.</p><p>The study's joint first author Pralay Gayen says that "having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis."</p>
A clever new design introduces a way to image the vast ocean floor.
- Neither light- nor sound-based imaging devices can penetrate the deep ocean from above.
- Stanford scientists have invented a new system that incorporates both light and sound to overcome the challenge of mapping the ocean floor.
- Deployed from a drone or helicopter, it may finally reveal what lies beneath our planet's seas.
The challenge<p>"Airborne and spaceborne radar and laser-based, or LIDAR, systems have been able to map Earth's landscapes for decades. Radar signals are even able to penetrate cloud coverage and canopy coverage. However, seawater is much too absorptive for imaging into the water," says lead study author and electrical engineer <a href="https://web.stanford.edu/~arbabian/Home/Welcome.html" target="_blank">Amin Arbabian</a> of Stanford's School of Engineering in <a href="https://news.stanford.edu/2020/11/30/combining-light-sound-see-underwater/" target="_blank">Stanford News</a>.</p><p>One of the most reliable ways to map a terrain is by using sonar, which deduces the features of a surface by analyzing sound waves that bounce off it. However, If one were to project sound waves from above into the sea, more than 99.9 percent of those sound waves would be lost as they passed into water. If they managed to reach the seabed and bounce upward out of the water, another 99.9 percent would be lost.</p><p>Electromagnetic devices—using light, microwaves, or radar signals—are also fairly useless for ocean-floor mapping from above. Says first author <a href="https://profiles.stanford.edu/aidan-fitzpatrick" target="_blank">Aidan Fitzpatrick</a>, "Light also loses some energy from reflection, but the bulk of the energy loss is due to absorption by the water." (Ever try to get phone service underwater? Not gonna happen.)</p>
PASS<p>The solution presented in the study is the Photoacoustic Airborne Sonar System (PASS). Its core idea is the combining of sound and light to get the job done. "If we can use light in the air, where light travels well, and sound in the water, where sound travels well, we can get the best of both worlds," says Fitzpatrick.</p><p>An imaging session begins with a laser fired down to the water from a craft above the area to be mapped. When it hits the ocean surface, it's absorbed and converted into fresh sound waves that travel down to the target. When these bounce back up to the surface and out into the air and back to PASS technicians, they do still suffer a loss. However, using light on the way in and sound only on the way out cuts that loss in half.</p><p>This means that the PASS transducers that ultimately retrieve the sound waves have plenty to work with. "We have developed a system," says Arbabian, "that is sensitive enough to compensate for a loss of this magnitude and still allow for signal detection and imaging." Form there, software assembles a 3D image of the submerged target from the acoustic signals.</p><p>PASS was initially designed to help scientists image underground plant roots.</p>
Next steps<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b7a24b9b2ea74672e8d70ff09abc754f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2YyAnxQkeuk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Although its developers are confident that PASS will be able to see down thousands of meters into the ocean, so far it's only been tested in an "ocean" about the size of a fish tank—tiny and obviously free of real-world ocean turbulence. </p><p>Fitzpatrick says that, "current experiments use static water but we are currently working toward dealing with water waves. This is a challenging, but we think feasible, problem."</p><p>Scaling up, Fitzpatrick adds, "Our vision for this technology is on-board a helicopter or drone. We expect the system to be able to fly at tens of meters above the water." </p>
Scientists discover that under certain conditions two kinds of water exist.
- Water can be in two liquid states under cold temperatures, shows new research.
- The scientists used x-ray lasers and computer simulations.
- The discovery has applications across a variety of fields due to water's ubiquity.
Kate the Chemist: Water is a freak substance. Here’s why. | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5b6861c57bc573974f89248fcfe651f1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2ZD7buLY0bI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
An ancient Martian meteorite carries with it some compelling implications.
- The meteorite behind the new research, Black Beauty, is 4.45 billion years old. This means it is from right around the time when Mars formed.
- It contained intact, ancient water-bearing minerals.
- The research indicates later asteroid-impact effects that could only have occurred if water was already present.
Black Beauty<p>The authors' research is based on a meteorite from Mars called "<a href="https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/resources/2258/black-beauty-mars-meteorite/" target="_blank">Black Beauty</a>" that was found in the Moroccan desert. Black Beauty is 4.45 billion years old and comes from the Martian crust, providing a rare window into the early days of <a href="https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/mars/in-depth/" target="_blank">Mars</a> and the solar system. "It is a gold mine of information. And extremely valuable," Bizzarro tells <a href="https://news.ku.dk/all_news/2020/11/researchers-present-wild-theory-water-may-be-naturally-occurring-on-all-rocky-planets/" target="_blank">University of Copenhagen News</a>. At $10,000 per gram, the researchers purchased 50 grams for $500,000. </p>
Early Water<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc3NDY1My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzMzNTQ2NX0.7WAs8y6IDCPkr65xT76wyabW0F6ecLXPDVUeG-8bVe8/img.jpg?width=980" id="b1557" width="1440" height="1051" data-rm-shortcode-id="6266ed943bb7b3b644a438a89fd3d6b6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lake-floor sedimentary deposits on Mars
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS<p>Black Beauty indicates that liquid water was present on Mars in the first 90 million years after it was formed. To deduce this, the researchers had to crush and dissolve 15 expensive grams of the meteorite for analysis. "It suggests that water emerged with the formation of Mars. And it tells us that water may be naturally occurring on planets and does not require an external source like water-rich asteroids," says Bizzarro.</p><p>Supporting this were signs of asteroid impacts that resulted in the release of a great deal of oxygen, something the scientists say could only have occurred if water was present. "We have developed a new technique that tells us that Mars in its infancy suffered one or more severe asteroid impacts" says Deng. "The impact, Black Beauty reveals, created kinetic energy that released a lot of oxygen. And the only mechanism that could likely have caused the release of such large amounts of oxygen is the presence of water."</p>
Mystery solution?<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc3NDc1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzk1MDY0MH0.eMw-JPwYcXTDa7dfYfjg2CUSFwwxpBaBK-0vlXTQEFI/img.jpg?width=980" id="02e74" width="1070" height="545" data-rm-shortcode-id="897433e909d4e2c35feb85ac841cd034" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>The analysis may also provide an answer to one of the lingering mysteries of Mars: How could such a cold planet have accommodated the water for the lake and river remnants we see there today, as shown above? Black Beauty bears indications that early asteroid impacts released a significant amount of greenhouse gases that warmed the now-chilly orb for a time. "This means," says Deng, "that the CO2-rich atmosphere may have caused temperatures to rise and thus allowed liquid water to exist at the surface of Mars."</p><p>The researchers are not yet finished with their expensive rock, and are currently engaged in further study of the microscope water-bearing minerals it contains. They appear to be present in their original, unchanged form. The authors of the paper believe Black Beauty was there at the long-ago moment when water first emerged on the red planet.</p>
A new study from NASA and the SETI Institute comes up with an exciting number of potentially life-supporting planets.
- A study analyzes data from the Kepler Space Telescope and the European Space Agency's GAIA survey to estimate the number of habitable planets.
- There may be 30 such planets in our own galactic neighborhood.
- The new estimate may help inform future research and missions.
What the study finds<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDY3NTYwNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3ODY0OTg1N30.8Ve8CEVdOQ_9qrZrkpjsFhbeAYbV4fPmFuxTTrICA-8/img.jpg?width=980" id="22627" width="1440" height="900" data-rm-shortcode-id="a21647ab5aba6af56946d37c70977025" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Illustration of Kepler-7
Credit: SETI<p>The team that produced the new report was led by Steve Bryson of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. The authors of the study looked for stars that are similar in size, age, and temperature to our Sun, between 4,527 to 6,027 °C. These stars are <a href="https://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/astronomy/stars/startypes.shtml" target="_blank">either</a> G dwarfs, or slightly smaller and more plentiful K dwarfs. Next, they looked for planets orbiting such stars that ranged in size from 0.5 to 1.5 times the size of Earth on the assumption that they were most likely to be rocky planets like ours.</p><p>A big factor affecting habitability is the ability to support surface water. Earlier estimates of habitable planets have focused primarily on an exoplanet's distance from its sun, the so-called "habitable zone." The new research also takes into consideration the amount of light the planet receives from its sun as a factor in the likelihood of water. The authors of the study supplemented the Kepler data with spectroscopic measurements from the European Space Agency's <a href="https://www.gaia-eso.eu" target="_blank">GAIA</a> survey of a billion stars in the Milky Way.</p><p>The stars can be dim enough that their habitable zones are close, causing any exoplanets there to be tidally locked, which means the same side always faces their sun. This makes the stripping off of their atmospheres more likely. One of the unknowns is the degree to which a planet's atmosphere impacts its ability to retain water, though, and for the current research, the authors presumed that atmosphere has a minimal effect on the likelihood of surface water.</p><p>Taking all this into consideration, the research "estimate with 95% confidence that, on average, the nearest HZ planet around G and K dwarfs is ∼6 pc away, and there are ∼ 4 HZ rocky planets around G and K dwarfs within 10 pc of the Sun." (pc is the abbreviation for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsec" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">parsec</a>.)</p><p>The study offers both a conservative estimate of the number of habitable exoplanets orbiting their stars — 0.37 to 0.60 planets per star — and a more optimistic one: 0.58 to 0.88 per star. More than half of galaxy's suitable stars may have habitable planets.</p>