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Astronomy

Is there life on Venus? MIT’s recent discovery of amino acid stability has been described as “absolutely surprising”

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It appears that the clouds of Venus may provide a suitable environment for certain types of organisms.

There could potentially be life in the solar system beyond Earth, specifically in the clouds of Venus. Unlike the harsh conditions on the planet’s surface, the cloud layer of Venus, located 30 to 40 miles above, experiences more moderate temperatures that may be conducive to the survival of certain extreme life forms.

Scientists have speculated that if there are any inhabitants in the clouds of Venus, they would likely have distinct characteristics compared to life forms on Earth. That’s because the clouds are composed of extremely harmful sulfuric acid droplets, a corrosive chemical that can dissolve metals and break down biological molecules.

However, a recent study by MIT researchers may offer a different viewpoint. The study, published on March 18 in the journal Astrobiology, reveals that certain essential components of life can remain stable in highly concentrated sulfuric acid solutions.

According to the study’s findings, it has been discovered that 19 crucial amino acids for sustaining life on our planet can remain stable for a duration of four weeks when exposed to vials of sulfuric acid at concentrations comparable to those found in the clouds of Venus. It was discovered that the molecular structure of all 19 amino acids remained unchanged when exposed to sulfuric acid solutions with concentrations ranging from 81 to 98 percent.

According to Janusz Petkowski, a research affiliate in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), it is quite astonishing that concentrated sulfuric acid does not universally harm organic chemistry as a solvent.

According to study author Sara Seager, a professor at MIT, the stability of the building blocks of life in sulfuric acid is quite fascinating. This discovery raises interesting questions about the potential for life on Venus. “Life in that place may not be identical to life in this location.” Clearly, it is impossible. However, this research suggests that the clouds on Venus may have the necessary conditions to sustain complex chemicals essential for life.

A group of researchers, including William Bains, a scientist at Cardiff University and a research affiliate at MIT, and Maxwell Seager, an undergraduate in the Department of Chemistry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Seager’s son, conducted the study.

Foundations in Acid
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the search for life in Venus’ clouds. The discovery of phosphine, a molecule frequently linked to the existence of life, in the planet’s atmosphere has sparked interest. While the detection is still a topic of debate, the recent news has sparked renewed interest in the possibility of life on Earth’s sister planet.

Scientists are currently planning multiple missions to Venus, including an upcoming mission that is being largely privately funded. California-based launch company Rocket Lab is supporting this mission. Seager leads the scientific investigation of a mission that intends to send a spacecraft into the planet’s clouds to study their chemical composition and search for organic molecules.

Similar to an information security analyst, Seager and her colleagues have been conducting tests on different molecules in concentrated sulfuric acid. Their goal is to identify which fragments of life on Earth could potentially survive in the highly acidic clouds of Venus, which are significantly more acidic than any known places on our planet. These experiments are crucial in preparing for the mission’s launch in January 2025.

According to Petkowski, there is a common misconception about concentrated sulfuric acid being an incredibly potent solvent that can dissolve anything. “However, it appears that our findings contradict this assumption.”

Interestingly, the team has previously demonstrated the remarkable stability of complex organic molecules, such as certain fatty acids and nucleic acids, in sulfuric acid. It is crucial to remember that while complex organic chemistry is not the same as life, it is necessary for life to exist, as the scientists emphasize in their most recent paper.

Put simply, if specific molecules can endure in sulfuric acid, it’s possible that the extremely acidic clouds of Venus could support life, even if it’s not currently inhabited.

In their latest study, the team shifted their attention towards amino acids, which are crucial molecules that come together to form vital proteins, each serving a distinct purpose. Every organism on our planet relies on amino acids to produce proteins, which are essential for various vital processes such as digestion, energy production, muscle development, and tissue repair.

Based on our findings, it has been shown that certain fatty acids can create micelles and vesicles in sulfuric acid, while the nucleic acid bases remain stable in this environment. These observations contribute to our understanding of the four fundamental components of life. According to Maxwell Seager, there is evidence of carbohydrates being extremely reactive in sulfuric acid. After examining all the other major building blocks, we were left with amino acids to study.

A Reliable Foundation
During the pandemic, the scientists conducted their studies on sulfuric acid in a home laboratory. Since that time, Seager and her son continued their research on chemistry in concentrated sulfuric acid. In early 2023, a request was made for powder samples of 20 amino acids that are crucial for sustaining life on Earth. They mixed different types of amino acids with a solution of sulfuric acid and water, using concentrations that mimic those found in Venus’ clouds.

After incubating the vials for a day, the team proceeded to transport them to MIT’s Department of Chemistry Instrumentation Facility (DCIF). This facility is a shared laboratory that provides MIT scientists with access to a range of automated and manual instruments, available 24/7. Seager and her team utilized the lab’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer to examine the composition of amino acids in sulfuric acid.

Upon thorough examination over a span of four weeks, the scientists made an unexpected discovery. They found that the fundamental molecular structure, specifically the “backbone,” of 19 out of the 20 amino acids remained remarkably stable and unaltered, even when exposed to highly acidic conditions.

“Merely demonstrating the stability of this backbone in sulfuric acid does not imply the existence of life on Venus,” remarks Maxwell Seager. “However, demonstrating the compromise of this crucial infrastructure would have dire consequences for our way of life.”

According to Sanjay Limaye, a planetary scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has extensively researched Venus, the idea of life existing in sulfuric acid is not as implausible as it may seem. This is due to the recent finding that certain amino acids and nucleic acids can remain stable in 98 percent sulfuric acid. Undoubtedly, there are numerous challenges to overcome, but it would be unwise to underestimate the resilience of life that has thrived in water and successfully adapted to sulfuric acid.

The team recognizes that the chemistry of Venus’ clouds is probably more complex than the controlled conditions of the study. As an information security analyst, it is important to note that scientists have conducted measurements on a range of trace gases found in the planet’s clouds, along with sulfuric acid. Incorporating certain trace gases in future experiments is part of the team’s plan.

“According to Sara Seager, there are only a few groups in the world currently focused on chemistry in sulfuric acid, and they all acknowledge the lack of intuition in this field.” It is quite satisfying to see that this recent discovery further supports the potential existence of life on Venus.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

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Astronomy

Prepare an ample supply of food, water, and fuel in anticipation of the upcoming total solar eclipse

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The Lorain County Emergency Management (EMA) in Ohio has advised individuals observing the eclipse and residents within the path of totality to ensure they have an ample supply of food, water, and fuel in preparation for the total eclipse on April 8. This recommendation is due to the anticipated increase in visits to the area.

According to those who saw it, the most recent total solar eclipse across the United States was remarkably impressive. It is challenging to imagine any improvements to the scene by the time Monday arrived after looking at the photographs.

However, if we are fortunate and the weather conditions are favorable, we may see something extraordinary since the eclipse aligns with the period of maximum solar activity, and there is a possibility of observing Baily’s beads.

“During the year 2017, the Sun was approaching a period of solar minimum.” Observers of the complete solar eclipse were able to witness the awe-inspiring corona. However, due to the Sun’s lack of activity, the streamers that extended into the solar atmosphere were limited to only the equatorial regions of the star. NASA states that during solar minimum, the Sun exhibits greater magnetic symmetry, resulting in a simpler look.

“During the 2024 eclipse, the Sun will be in or close to solar maximum, a period characterized by a magnetic field that resembles a complex and chaotic structure, similar to a tangled hairball.” It is probable that streamers will be observable throughout the corona. Furthermore, spectators will have an enhanced opportunity to observe prominences, which manifest as vivid, pink spirals or arcs emanating from the Sun.

The eclipse will be visible throughout the whole stretch of land from Mexico to Canada. The path of totality, where a total solar eclipse is visible, is broader in comparison to 2017. This is because the Moon is in closer proximity to Earth as a result of its position in its orbit. Consequently, a larger number of individuals will have the opportunity to observe the Sun’s corona.

NASA stated that there is a possibility of observing a coronal mass ejection, which is a significant release of solar material, if the timing is fortunate during the eclipse.

However, safety considerations usually arise with eclipses. Following the recent eclipse, there was a notable increase in Google queries pertaining to the consequences of directly gazing at the Sun.

Additionally, there are logistical challenges arising from a significant surge in travelers seeking to witness the celestial phenomenon. As a result, the regions situated along the path of totality are presently making preparations to accommodate this rush. Last month, Lorain County officials issued a warning about the potential consequences of the upcoming eclipse. They cautioned that there may be a surge in traffic, longer wait times for facilities like hospitals and gas stations, and challenges in obtaining food and other essential supplies.

According to USA Today, Dave Freeman, the director of Lorain County EMA, “We may experience an influx of unfamiliar crowds.” “Our current infrastructure lacks the necessary road network to support that.”

“Many of the roads in this area consist of two lanes,” Freeman stated, according to Yahoo News. “Unlike cities such as Chicago and Cleveland, our city does not have a large number of wide roads with multiple lanes. As a result, if we experience larger crowds than anticipated, the traffic situation here could become quite severe.”

The EMA is cautioning that the surge of cell phone use in the vicinity may lead to signal loss when the system becomes overwhelmed. The team advises homeowners to proactively fill their vehicles with gasoline, ensure an ample supply of food, and minimize unnecessary travel throughout the next weekend preceding the eclipse.

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It is crucial that you direct your attention towards the eclipse and derive pleasure from it. However, it is imperative that you take precautions to protect your eyes from harm. To do so, please refer to our informative manual on how to properly observe eclipses. If the weather remains unclouded, you may also utilize this guide on how to capture the approaching eclipse in the most optimal manner.

 

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Astronomy

The construction of the world’s largest digital camera has been finished

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The construction of the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Camera has been finished. In the near future, it will be transported to the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, where it will serve as a remarkable new tool for observing the southern sky. Its purpose is to assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of the fundamental properties of dark matter and dark energy.

The LSST camera is an impressive technological achievement. The device has a resolution of 3,200 megapixels and a weight of 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds). The camera produces images of such immense size that it would require a grid of 378 4K ultra-high-definition televisions to display them accurately. What an extraordinary device!

“The LSST Camera at SLAC has been completed and will soon be integrated with the rest of the Rubin Observatory systems in Chile. This will enable us to produce the most remarkable movie and the most comprehensive map of the night sky ever created,” stated Željko Ivezić, Director of Rubin Observatory Construction and professor at the University of Washington.

There are two lenses on the camera itself. It is the largest lens ever made for this reason. The first one is 1.5 meters (5 feet) across. The second one is also pretty big. It’s 90 centimeters (3 feet) wide. Both were made just for you, and the second one is used to keep the focal plane of the lens vacuum-sealed.

The focus plane is what makes the camera work. It’s made up of 201 CCD sensors, which are like the ones in a regular digital camera but are not the same. The focus plane is so flat that its surface doesn’t change more than a tenth of the width of a human hair. Each pixel is 10 microns wide.

All together, you have a new idea.

“Its pictures are so clear that it could see a golf ball from about 15 miles away or 25 kilometers away, and they cover an area seven times bigger than the full moon.” “These pictures of billions of galaxies and stars will help us figure out what the universe is all about,” said Aaron Roodman, a professor at SLAC and the deputy director and camera program lead at the Rubin Observatory.

The Rubin Observatory will look into how galaxies and groups of galaxies have changed over billions of years. This will help us understand how galaxies change over time and where dark matter is distributed. It will measure supernovae, which will help us understand how the universe is expanding and why it is expanding: dark energy. We will learn more about the solar system by finding rocks that have never been seen before.

In January 2025, the telescope should see its first light.

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Astronomy

What’s the Difference Between FDA Cleared and FDA Approved?

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays one of the most important roles in public health in the United States. It oversees many everyday items that people use. You might hear the terms “cleared” or “approved” used to describe these goods, but what do they really mean? Is one different from the other?

There are a lot of different things that the FDA can clear or approve, from certain foods and cosmetics (though they don’t actually accept cosmetics) to drugs and biologics like vaccines. It might not seem like a big deal if a product is cleared or accepted, but they are actually two different things.

Which method is needed also depends on the product. For example, all new drugs and biologics for humans need to be approved. The process that medical devices go through is based on how dangerous they might be. There are three groups of medical devices based on their level of risk: category 3 devices usually need approval, category 2 devices usually need clearance, and category 1 devices usually don’t need either.

FDA okayed
Getting FDA clearance normally takes the least amount of time—within 90 days of submission, at the very least—because it doesn’t require as many tests as getting approval. Companies don’t have to prove that their product is safe and effective; instead, they have to show that it is “substantially equivalent” to a product that has already been cleared or passed.

The act of clearance
Imagine that you are the inventor of a brand-new medical gadget. You can come up with anything crazy or dull. If it’s not too risky, you won’t need permission. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Fill out an application called a 510(k), also known as a premarket notification. The different parts of this application “must compare their device to one or more similar legally marketed devices and make and support their substantial equivalence claims.”
  2. The FDA looks over the application and tries to make a choice within 90 days.
  3. The product is cleared to be sold in the US if it is found to be as safe and useful as the device it is being compared to.

Approved by FDA
Manufacturers must get “premarket approval” for high-risk (Class III) medical equipment, new drugs and biologics for humans, and other products. This is a much longer and stricter process.

“A company must demonstrate that its drug or biological product is safe and effective for the intended use and that it can manufacture the product to federal quality standards,” says the FDA.

When a product is approved, it means that the FDA is happy with its safety and effectiveness (how well it does what it’s supposed to do).

The process of approval
Let’s say you’ve come up with a new drug this time (of the pharmaceutical kind, of course). At this point, you should have done a lot of testing in the lab and on animals over the past few years, though the animal testing might not last much longer.

Then it’s time to get the first FDA approval through the Investigational New Drug process. This means sending in the results of your studies so far, along with information about any side effects seen in animals and how you plan to run the human trials.

If it’s okay, you can go straight to clinical studies. Following the data showing that the drug is safe and successful for its intended use, the next step is to submit a New Drug Application (NDA).

  1. Send in the application. The FDA says that this must include all the information about a drug, from proof that it is safe and effective in all testing steps to how it should be labeled.
  2. The FDA looks at the proof; if the entry is missing something, it won’t be sent in. The agency checks to see if the drug is safe and effective for its intended use, if the benefits are greater than the risks, and if the labeling and production process are correct.
  3. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes a choice after 6 to 10 months. If there is enough evidence, the drug can be sold in the US.
  4. The FDA will keep an eye on the drug after it’s on the market because there’s only so much safety information that can be gathered before it’s approved.

That’s a pretty long process, but there are times when it can be sped up. For example, the Accelerated Approval and Fast Track programs can speed up the process for products that can treat dangerous or life-threatening diseases.

Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) can be given when “among other criteria, there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives” based on the best evidence that is currently available. This was the case for some COVID-19 vaccines, and it is not the same as getting FDA clearance. The FDA says that these can be taken away or changed based on further review of the existing data.

What makes them different?
It’s helpful to know more about the clearance and approval processes in order to understand how regulated goods get to the market, but here are the three most important differences:

  • Sometimes it takes a lot longer to get approval than to get clearance.
  • Based on the type of product, some items need to be approved, while others can be cleared right away.
  • Level of scrutiny: For clearance, a product must be similar to one that already exists, but for acceptance, it must have evidence to back it up for years.

 

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