Science Scanner: MAVEN Finds Surprises, Iron Rain, Exercise Boosts Cancer Treatment

Posted March 18th, 2015 at 8:18 pm (UTC-4)
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Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora" on Mars. (University of Colorado)

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. (University of Colorado)

NASA’S MAVEN Gives Scientists Double Surprise

Scientists studying data transmitted by NASA’s ‘Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution’ or MAVEN spacecraft were surprised when they spotted unforeseen dust clouds that formed in an area about 150-300 kilometers above the surface of Mars and an aurora that glowed across the planet’s northern hemisphere.

“If the dust originates from the atmosphere, this suggests we are missing some fundamental process in the Martian atmosphere,” said Laila Andersson of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospherics and Space Physics (CU LASP) in Boulder in a university release.

Scientists reviewing data collected by MAVEN’s Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) instrument said while the mysterious dust cloud has been around for as long as the spacecraft has been in operation, they still don’t know if it’s a temporary or long-lasting occurrence.

Meanwhile, MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) detected a bright auroral glow reaching deep into the Martian atmosphere. Observed over a five-day period just before 12/25/14, scientists called it the aurora “Christmas lights.”

“What’s especially surprising about the aurora we saw is how deep in the atmosphere it occurs — much deeper than at Earth or elsewhere on Mars,” said Arnaud Stiepen, IUVS team member at the University of Colorado. “The electrons producing it must be really energetic.”

Auroras on Earth are created by the collision between high energy particles, mostly electrons and protons from the Sun, and deep space and gassy particles as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. These spectacular light shows are normally seen in areas near the Earth’s poles.  Auroras near the North Pole are also called the northern lights, while those near the South Pole are called the southern lights.


Sandia National Laboratories Z machine is the most powerful producer of pulses of electrical energy on Earth. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)

Sandia National Laboratories Z machine is the most powerful producer of pulses of electrical energy on Earth. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories)

Iron Rain Once Fell On Earth

Why does the Earth’s mantle contain a good amount of iron while the moon, by comparison, doesn’t have as much of the element in its mantle?

These mysteries have puzzled astrophysicists for years. Now, a group of scientists working with Sandia National Laboratory’s “Z-Machine” — a device that produces the most powerful pulses of electrical energy on Earth — may have some answers.

Scientists have long thought that iron found within Earth’s mantle, a layer located between the Earth’s crust and core, may have arrived as a result of bombardment by a great number of plantesimals – small-to-large objects left over from the creation of the solar system’s planets that hit Earth during the later stages of its formation.

Then again, the moon was also was subjected to the same bombardment. So why doesn’t it have as much iron in its mantle as Earth?

The scientist’s research provided evidence that iron contained within the colliding objects vaporized upon impact, creating clouds of iron droplets that then rained on the early Earth. This iron-rich rain then made its way through layers of Earth, creating pockets of the element in the mantle.

It is also thought that because of its comparatively weaker gravity, the moon’s mantle wasn’t as able to absorb as much iron content in this way as Earth.

The research team outlined its findings in a paper published in a recent edition of the journal “Nature Geosciences.”


Nurse administers chemotherapy to patient (National Cancer Institute)

Nurse administers chemotherapy to patient (National Cancer Institute)

Study: Exercise Could Improve Cancer Treatment

Researchers, led by the Duke Cancer Institute, have learned that exercise helps slow the growth of tumors and improves the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.

While studying models of breast cancer in mice, the researchers found that the tumors of those who exercised shrank more significantly when treated with chemotherapy than those of more sedentary mice.

Cancerous tumors can diminish the effectiveness of cancer treatments by reducing the amount of oxygen they receive. This in turn allows the tumor to develop a kind of a cloaking device that protects it from the toxic elements of chemotherapy drugs and radiation.

Exercise, according to the researchers, helped improve the flow of oxygen to areas affected by cancer by stimulating the growth and performance of blood vessels surrounding the tumors.

“There is a growing body of work showing that exercise is a safe and tolerable therapy associated with improvements in many outcomes such as fitness, quality of life, and reductions in symptoms such as fatigue in a number of cancer types, including breast cancer,” said study co-lead author Lee Jones, Ph.D., from New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute in a press release.

The scientists detailed their findings in a study that was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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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