Science Scanner: Venus Mission Ends, Organic Chemistry on Mars, Hormone Changes in Expectant Dads, New High in CO2 Output

Posted December 17th, 2014 at 9:24 pm (UTC-5)
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Artist impression of ESA's Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

Artist impression of ESA’s Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

ESA’s Venus Express Mission Ends

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week that the space probe it sent to orbit Venus back in 2006 has reached the end of its life.

Called the Venus Express, the spacecraft ran out of its propellant after executing a number of thruster burns that returned the probe to a normal orbit, following a daring low altitude exploratory operation this past June and July.

During the last week of November, mission officials thought that the space probe still had some remaining propellant after completing the low altitude operation.  However, attempts to boost the spacecraft back up to its previous orbiting altitude failed.  ESA lost full contact with the probe on November 28.

Mission officials did manage to partially re-establish the telemetry and telecommand links for a short time afterward, but could only retrieve a limited amount of information.

Patrick Martin, ESA’s Venus Express mission manager said that the spacecraft probably ran out its remaining fuel about half way through the November efforts to raise its altitude.  He noted the probe had already exceeded its life expectancy.

 

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, "Cumberland." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, “Cumberland.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA/JPL’s Curiosity Rover Finds Signs of Organic Chemistry on Mars

Meanwhile, officials at NASA/JPL, say the Martian rover Curiosity has discovered signs of the building blocks of life on the red planet.

According to NASA, those conclusions are based on a tenfold jump in the levels of the organic chemical, methane, the rover detected in the Martian atmosphere.  Curiosity also found other organic molecules in samples of rock-powder that had been collected by its robotic drill.

NASA/JPL officials announced these new findings during a news briefing held Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco.  The news was published online this week in the journal Science.

 

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Study: Expectant Fathers Also Experience Hormonal Changes

Excited expectant couples often announce the upcoming birth of their child by saying “we’re pregnant”.  While we all know that only women can actually become pregnant, a number of men swept up in the excitement of becoming a father often talk and act as though they were pregnant as well.

It turns out that that “we’re pregnant” may be closer to the truth than thought after a new study conducted by the University of Michigan found that men may also go through actual hormonal changes as his mate’s pregnancy progresses.

It’s well known that pregnant women naturally go through a number of hormonal changes.

But what researchers at the University of Michigan didn’t expect to find was that while pregnant women had large increases in the levels of salivary testosterone, cortisol, estradiol and progesterone, their male mates showed substantial prenatal drops in their levels of testosterone and estradiol.  They found no noticeable changes in levels of cortisol or progesterone in the males.

 

Industrial pollution - one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

Industrial pollution – one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

European Report:  CO2 Levels Keep Getting Higher but Rate of Increase Slows

A new report out of Europe indicates while we continue to pour record levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere, the rate at which we are doing so is on the decline.

CO2, a bi-product of burning fossil fuels,is the primary culprit blamed for global warming.

The report released this week by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency says while global levels CO2 emissions reached a new all-time high in 2013, the growth rate was slower than the average over the past ten years.

The report indicates the atmospheric increase in CO2 levels over the last decade was mostly due to a steady rise in energy use in countries with emerging economies.

The European study said that the slowdown in the increase of global CO2 emissions started in 2012 and is mainly a reflection of China’s lower growth rate in emissions.

China, the US and the EU are still listed in the report as the world’s top-3 CO2 producers.

Despite previous years of declining carbon dioxide output in the United States, emission levels of the greenhouse gas actually grew by 2.5% in 2013, while emissions from European Union countries decreased 1.4% in 2013.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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