Dwarf Planet Moon Discovered; Supplements Boost Antidepressants; Kepler Back in Business

Posted April 27th, 2016 at 2:29 pm (UTC-4)
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Artist concept of dwarf planet Makemake and its moon MK2 (NASA/ESA)

Artist concept of dwarf planet Makemake and its moon MK2 (NASA/ESA)

Hubble Spots Moon Circling Distant Dwarf Planet

Out in the far reaches of our solar system lies the Kuiper Belt.  This region of space is occupied by icy objects left over from the creation of the solar system.

Several dwarf planets, such as Pluto, also occupy the Kuiper Belt.

Astronomers studying images gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2015, say that they have found a dark and tiny moon circling the dwarf planet Makemake, the smaller sister of Pluto.

Makemake, discovered in 2005, was named after a deity worshiped by the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.

This new found moon, the first companion to the dwarf planet that’s ever been seen, has been nicknamed MK 2.

Its diameter is estimated to be about 260 kilometers across and was found orbiting Makemake at a distance of about 21,000 kilometers.  Astronomers will further study MK2 to determine whether its orbit is elliptical or circular.

Astronomers will study MK2 further to determine whether its orbit is elliptical or circular.

Bupropion tablets - antidepressant medication (Tery-butyl via Wikimedia Commons)

Bupropion tablets – antidepressant medication (Tery-butyl via Wikimedia Commons)

Some Nutritional Supplements Boost Effects of Antidepressants

An international team of researchers has found that several nutritional supplements can enhance the effectiveness of antidepressant medications.

Researchers from Australia’s University of Melbourne and Harvard University say supplements such as Omega 3 fish oils, Vitamin D, methyl-folate, and another compound were found to boost the effects of medications prescribed to treat those with clinical depression.

The team’s findings are based on an analysis of 40 worldwide clinical trials along with a meticulous evaluation of evidence for treating severe depressive disorders with the combination of antidepressant medications and nutritional supplements.

The Australian/American group, who outlined their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry say their research did not reveal any serious safety concerns from combining antidepressants with the supplements.

But they did caution that patients should consult with their health care provider before doing so.

Artist's concept of the Kepler Space Telescope in space (Image: Dana Berry-NASA/Kepler Mission)

Artist’s concept of the Kepler Space Telescope in space (Image: Dana Berry-NASA/Kepler Mission)

Kepler Recovers and Resumes Science Mission

NASA reports that its exoplanet finding Kepler spacecraft has recovered from a recent bout of problems that had sent it into ‘emergency mode’ earlier this month and has resumed its K2 mission of looking for extrasolar planets.

While Kepler team members were making a scheduled contact with the spacecraft on April 7th they noticed that it was operating in Emergency Mode (EM), its lowest operational level which was also described as being fuel intensive.

NASA declared the Kepler problem as a ‘spacecraft emergency’ which gave the mission priority use of its Deep Space Network, a large communications network that can transmit and receive radio signals into the far reaches of space.

Mission officials said that their initial findings indicated that the spacecraft went into Emergency Mode about 36 hours prior to its discovery.

According to NASA, mission operators put Kepler through a series of procedures to take it out of EM and normalize its operations.

Among the procedures that were performed included reloading and verifying the spacecraft’s pointing tables and science targets, which tells it where and what to look at and its various onboard logs and counters were all reset.

Mission controllers also turned the Kepler spacecraft so that its telescope points towards the center of the Milky Way and made other preparations for the K2 mission’s new project called Campaign 9 or C9.

Most of the exoplanets discovered so far by Kepler were found fairly close to its host star. But Campaign 9 will survey stars toward the center of the Milky Way to look for exoplanets that are further out from its host star or are wandering between stars.

The C9 experiment will not only involve the Kepler spacecraft but also some ground based observatories around the world.

The spacecraft had been preparing for the C9 project when it went into Emergency Mode.

Back in July 2012 a couple of Kepler’s four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, onboard instruments that allow mission controllers to make small and accurate adjustments to the spacecraft’s position in space, failed.

NASA said for the original Kepler mission to continue at least three of the four reaction wheels had to be fully functional.

So instead of completely scrubbing the remainder of Kepler’s mission, NASA decided to use the spacecraft’s remaining capabilities for a repurposed mission called K2.

The K2 mission continues Kepler’s search for planets located outside of our own solar system as well as pursue other opportunities to observe astronomical objects such as star clusters, galaxies and supernovae.

NASA says that Campaign 9’s observation period will end on July 1st when the spacecraft will no longer be able to look at the center of the Milky Way.

Kepler’s K2 mission will then begin Campaign 10 (C10), which NASA says will explore a new collection of astrophysical objectives.

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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