Where Does Rain Go; Ocean Organics Form Cloud Ice; Hot Peppers May Fight Cancer

Posted September 9th, 2015 at 8:13 pm (UTC-4)
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A windshield wiper at work on a rainy day (Basheer Tome via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A windshield wiper at work on a rainy day (Basheer Tome via Flickr/Creative Commons)

What Happens to Precipitation After it Falls to Earth?

Have you ever wondered what happens to rain or snow once it falls on Earth?

Researchers from the University of Utah and Oregon State University analyzed measurements, taken by the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) on NASA’s Aura satellite, of the two forms of hydrogen contained within atmospheric water vapor – regular hydrogen and the isotope deuterium – to track the flow of water after a rain or snow fall.

Among the key findings made by the researchers are that the world’s plants may not be using as much water as previously estimated. This could mean either that plants aren’t growing as much as had been thought, or that plants can use water much more efficiently than previously believed.

The researcher’s findings also revealed that water from precipitation penetrates soil faster than what previous research showed. This finding, according to the researchers, could mean that water isn’t as exposed to various elements such as nutrients or impurities.

Of the precipitation that reaches Earth, the researchers found that more than 25 percent of it runs off the land and flows directly into the ocean. From the nearly 75 percent of the non-runoff water about two thirds of it eventually gets released by plants during photosynthesis. The remaining third of the precipitation simply evaporates.  Most of this evaporation comes from plant leaves and a little from the ground or bodies of water.

New image of Ceres' Occator crater with mysterious bright spots take by NASA's Dawn spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)

New image of Ceres’ Occator crater with mysterious bright spots take by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)

NASA Releases New Detailed Images of Dwarf Planet’s Mysterious Bright Spots

Earlier this year the mysterious bright spots that were spotted on the dwarf planet Ceres stoked the imagination of people everywhere. Now, NASA has released some new high detail images of those bright spots that were captured by its Dawn spacecraft since it went into orbit around the dwarf planet back in March.

The brightest of these mysterious spots are located within Ceres’ Occulator crater. NASA says that these newly released images, which have a resolution of 140 meters per pixel, are giving scientists with the closest view yet of the crater and are providing a unique and better understanding of these strange features.

Since the mysterious spots are much brighter than the surrounding landscape, the Dawn Project Team actually had to produce composites made up of two separate images for each shot at the proper exposure for its surroundings.

Organic Particles from the Ocean Triggers Formation of Ice Crystals in Clouds

Scientists have just found for the first time that microscopic plant-like organisms, called phyloplankton, in ocean regions throughout the world produce rare organic particles that, when sent up into the atmosphere, help generate the formation of ice crystals in the clouds.

Writing about their findings in a recent edition of the journal Nature, the researchers found that these organic particles make their way into the atmosphere with sea spray produced by the ocean’s breaking waves.

“Some sea spray particles contain biological material linked to the ocean’s ecosystem,” said study lead author Dr. Theo Wilson, from University of Leeds in the UK in a press release. “Now we have clear evidence that marine biological material such as matter exuded from phytoplankton is able to nucleate ice and could do so in the atmosphere,” he said.

The researchers believe that the organic particles’ role in sparking the production of ice crystals could affect the behavior of clouds which in turn may impact global climate.  Understanding where the ice-producing particles come from could provide needed insight for scientists to predict the world’s future climate they added.

Hot Stuff in Chili Peppers May Someday Treat Cancer

Capsaicin, the compound in that produces the “hot” in chili peppers, may help kill cancer cells, said researchers writing in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Already used in medicinal creams and ointments to help relieve various aches and pains, the researchers said that capsaicin, when administered in high doses, was found to kill prostate cancer cells without harming healthy normal cells.

The researchers found that the capsaicin molecules stick to a cancer cell’s protective membranes and eventually breaks the cancer cell apart.

With further research the researchers believe that power of capsaicin could someday be harnessed for use in the treatment of cancer and other conditions.

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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