What Curiosity has yet to tell us about Mars

Curiosity selfie on lower Mount Sharp

After five years on Mars, the Curiosity rover is an old pro at doing science on the Red Planet. Since sticking its landingon August 5, 2012, NASA’s Little Robot That Could has learned a lot about its environs.

Its charge was simple: Look for signs that Gale crater, a huge impact basin with a mountain at its center, might once have been habitable (for microbes, not Matt Damon). Turning over rocks across the crater, the rover has compiled evidence of ancient water — a lake fed by rivers once occupied the crater itself — and organic compounds and other chemicals essential for life.

NASA has extended the mission through October 2018. And there’s still plenty of interesting chemistry and geology to be done. As the robot continues to climb Mount Sharp at the center of the crater, Curiosity will explore three new rock layers: one dominated by the iron mineral hematite, one dominated by clay and one with lots of sulfate salts.

So, here are four Martian mysteries that Curiosity could solve (or at least dig up some dirt on).

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Earth is becoming ‘Planet Plastic’

Hasil carian imej untuk earth is becoming a plastic

US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made and put the number at 8.3 billion tonnes.

It is an astonishing mass of material that has essentially been created only in the last 65 years or so.

The 8.3 billion tonnes is as heavy as 25,000 Empire State Buildings in New York, or a billion elephants.

The great issue is that plastic items, like packaging, tend to be used for very short periods before being discarded.

More than 70% of the total production is now in waste streams, sent largely to landfill – although too much of it just litters the wider environment, including the oceans.

“We are rapidly heading towards ‘Planet Plastic’, and if we don’t want to live on that kind of world then we may have to rethink how we use some materials, in particular plastic,” Dr Roland Geyer told BBC News.

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When should babies sleep in their own rooms?

baby crying in crib

When we brought our first baby home from the hospital, our pediatrician advised us to have her sleep in our room. We put our tiny new roommate in a crib near our bed (though other containers that were flat, firm and free of blankets, pillows or stuffed animals would have worked, too).

The advice aims to reduce the risk of sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Studies suggest that in their first year of life, babies who bunk with their parents (but not in the same bed) are less likely to die from SIDS than babies who sleep in their own room. The reasons aren’t clear, but scientists suspect it has to do with lighter sleep: Babies who sleep near parents might more readily wake themselves up and avoid the deep sleep that’s a risk factor for SIDS.

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WHEN IT COMES TO THE FLU, THE NOSE HAS A LONG MEMORY

Image result for flu

After an influenza infection, the nose recruits immune cells with long memories to keep watch for the virus, research with mice suggests.

For the first time, this type of immune cell — known as tissue resident memory T cells — has been found in the nose, researchers report June 2 in Science Immunology. Such nasal resident memory T cells may prevent flu from recurring. Future nasal spray vaccines that boost the number of these T cells in the nose might be an improvement over current flu shots, researchers say.

It’s known that some T cell sentinels take up residence in specific tissues, including the brain, liver, intestines, skin and lungs. In most of these tissues, the resident memory T cells start patrolling after a localized infection. “They’re basically sitting there waiting in case you get infected with that pathogen again,” says Linda Wakim, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. If a previous virus invades again, the T cells can quickly kill infected cells and make chemical signals, called cytokines, to call in other immune cells for reinforcement. These T cells can persist for years in most tissues.

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JUMPING GENES PLAY A BIG ROLE IN WHAT MAKES US HUMAN

chimpanzee and human

THE DIFFERENCE  Humans and chimpanzees are easy to tell apart, even though they share a primate ancestor. Jumping genes helped sculpt their distinctions

Face-to-face, a human and a chimpanzee are easy to tell apart. The two species share a common primate ancestor, but over millions of years, their characteristics have morphed into easily distinguishable features. Chimps developed prominent brow ridges, flat noses, low-crowned heads and protruding muzzles. Human noses jut from relatively flat faces under high-domed crowns.

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MARS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN BORN ALONGSIDE THE OTHER ROCKY PLANETS

Mars

Mars may have had a far-out birthplace.

Simulating the assembly of the solar system around 4.56 billion years ago, researchers propose that the Red Planet didn’t form in the inner solar system alongside the other terrestrial planets as previously thought. Mars instead may have formed around where the asteroid belt is now and migrated inward to its present-day orbit, the scientists report in the June 15 Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The proposal better explains why Mars has such a different chemical composition than Earth, says Stephen Mojzsis, a study coauthor and geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Immune Cells Play Surprising Role In Steady Heartbeat

macrophages and heart cells

Immune system cells may help your heart keep the beat. These cells, called macrophages, usually protect the body from invading pathogens. But a new study published April 20 in Cell shows that in mice, the immune cells help electricity flow between muscle cells to keep the organ pumping.

Macrophages squeeze in between heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes. These muscle cells rhythmically contract in response to electrical signals, pumping blood through the heart. By “plugging in” to the cardiomyocytes, macrophages help the heart cells receive the signals and stay on beat.

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