DAILY DOSE: NASA hears heartbeat of lost Voyager 2 satellite in interstellar space; Scientists develop form of cement that stores electricity.

NASA has reestablished contact with Voyager 2, a spacecraft in interstellar space billions of miles away, after accidentally sending a command that tilted the craft’s antenna away from Earth, severing contact nearly two weeks ago. The agency’s Deep Space Network, a global array of giant radio antennas, detected a “heartbeat signal”, indicating that the 46-year-old craft is alive and operating, according to project manager Suzanne Dodd. The next step is to try and turn Voyager 2’s antenna back towards Earth. If unsuccessful, controllers will need to wait until October for an automatic spacecraft reset. Despite the antenna being only 2% off-kilter, this is a lengthy wait, and Dodd mentioned that they will try to send commands several times before then. Launched in 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 are on a mission to explore outer planets. Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft, is 15 billion miles from Earth and still functioning properly. Voyager 2, trailing its twin, is over 12 billion miles away from Earth, taking more than 18 hours for a signal to travel one way. (Associated Press)

Indian authorities have discovered violations related to manufacturing and lab practices at Riemann Labs, a drugmaker whose cough syrup was connected to child fatalities in Cameroon. This has led to increased scrutiny of drug manufacturers, after cough syrups from India were implicated in multiple overseas child deaths. Riemann Labs, which has halted production following regulatory lapses, has been unresponsive to requests for comment. Regulators found lapses during an inspection of the company’s Madhya Pradesh state production unit. State drugs controller Sudam Khade stated that violations in good manufacturing and lab practices were discovered, without providing specific details. Product samples from the company are being tested, with further action to be determined based on the results. Naturcold cough syrup, identified as a Riemann product, was linked by Cameroon authorities to at least six child deaths. (Reuters)

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Typhoon Khanun hit southern Japan on Wednesday, causing one reported death and leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity. The storm, categorized as “very strong” by the Japanese weather agency, brought sustained wind speeds of 180 kilometers per hour. In Okinawa, almost 35% of households were without power. An evacuation warning was issued for over 690,000 residents across Okinawa and southern Kagoshima, with 11 reported minor injuries in Okinawa. A 90-year-old man died after being trapped under a collapsed garage, possibly due to strong winds. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of potential flooding and landslides in Okinawa. The typhoon was moving west-northwest and was expected to hit eastern China later in the week. Over 400 flights were cancelled on Wednesday, affecting over 65,000 passengers, with tourists stuck at the main Naha airport. (Japan Today)

Scientists have developed genetically modified human cells capable of producing insulin when activated by an electrical current, which could potentially improve treatments for type 1 diabetes. By manipulating the cells’ response to reactive oxygen species (ROS), unstable molecules that are produced during cell metabolism or when an electrical current is applied, the researchers have successfully engineered cells that initiate a chain reaction resulting in the production of insulin. In a proof-of-concept experiment, these engineered cells were implanted into hyperglycaemic mice and released insulin, normalizing blood sugar levels, when an electrical current was delivered. Despite promising results, the technology is still in its early stages and more research is needed before potential human applications can be explored. The hope is to develop this system into a wearable medical device, controlled by a computer or smartphone, that could provide on-demand insulin production for diabetes patients. (Nature)

Controversial legislation that could remove legal protection from over a quarter of India’s forests is close to being passed. The amendments to India’s 1980 Forest Conservation Act are part of the government’s strategy to combat climate change and clarify rules governing forest use. However, conservation scientists, activists, and indigenous groups argue that these changes could lead to extensive deforestation, harm biodiversity, and infringe upon the rights of indigenous communities. They claim it would permit easier mining and infrastructure construction in protected areas, whilst removing the need for developers to consult with forest-dependent communities. Critics have labeled the bill as “ecocide.” Despite widespread criticism and requests for a delayed vote, the legislation has passed quickly through India’s Parliament. If implemented, it could face numerous legal challenges due to its potential unconstitutionality. Conservationists worry this amendment is a threat to existing forest lands and the communities that inhabit them. (Science)

Western quolls, a native mammal species nearly wiped out in Western Australia, have been reintroduced to Mount Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary for the first time in a century. Predation by feral cats and foxes led to their disappearance from most of the country by the 1930s. Now, about 30 of these mammals, also known as chuditch, have been reintroduced as part of a project that has seen the highest number of species reintroduced to a single site in Australia. Early signs of successful adaptation include the detection of females with pouch young. To monitor the quolls, a first-of-its-kind technology in the field, involving radio tracking collars and drones, has been employed, replacing the more time-consuming handheld antenna method. The quolls will be regularly monitored, especially during breeding season, to track their progress. (ABC)

Researchers have developed a method to store electricity in cement, potentially turning homes and roadways into supercapacitors. This technique involves combining cement powder with carbon black, a cheap and conductive form of powdered carbon. The carbon particles form tendrils within the hardening cement, acting as an interconnected network of wires. After sealing the cement in a sandwich structure with an electrolyte, the researchers successfully lit a series of LED lights. Current prototypes are small, but there is potential to scale up. A 45-cubic-meter volume of this cement can store 10 kilowatt-hours of energy, sufficient to power an average household for a day. The technology could be incorporated into roads, charging electric vehicles as they drive. This affordable method could make storing renewable power more accessible worldwide. However, scaling up poses challenges as larger supercapacitors experience decreased electrical conductivity. Solutions include adding more carbon black, up to 10% without compromising the structural integrity of the cement. Researchers have patented the technology and aim to scale it up to match a 12-volt car battery. (Science)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy.


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