SciTech Briefs

Orbital Sciences plans to replace Antares’ engines

In the aftermath of the Antares rocket explosion on Oct. 28, its manufacturer, the Orbital Sciences company, announced plans to replace the Antares’ AJ26 first-stage engines by 2017. The Antares rocket explosion caused the destruction of the company’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft, resulting in the loss of 5,000 pounds in supplies that were intended to be delivered to the International Space Station, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Orbital Sciences Corporation reports evidence that approximately 15 seconds after ignition, one of the two AJ26 engines failed. Lately, the company has been scrutinized for using AJ26 parts, which were built more than 40 years ago for the Soviet Union’s ill-fated N1 moon rocket.

The rocket engines were then later refurbished by an American company.

Source: Discovery News

Bats compete when hunting prey via jamming calls

Biologists Aaron Corcoran and William Conner, respectively from the University of Maryland and Wake Forest University, have conducted a study on the competition among Mexican free-tailed bats in the search for prey at night. They found that bats use jamming calls in an attempt to distract their competitors as they hunt for prey. Their research took place in a research station in Arizona and in a high school parking lot in Animas, N.M. In one experiment, the team used highly-sensitive cameras and a specialized array of ultrasonic microphones to trace the interactions between traveling bats using emitted sounds. In another experiment, they lured bats with moths suspended on delicate fishing lines, while performing jamming calls. From their data, the biologists determined that jamming calls from exterior sources, given the right time and frequency, were able to cause a bat to miss its prey.

Source: Science Daily

Tech company develops new exoskeleton suit

An advanced technology company, Lockheed Martin, has created an exoskeleton suit that can take off 36 pounds of weight from the users’ hands and arms, and transfer that weight to the ground.

While the exoskeleton, known as the Fortis, contains 30 pounds of anodized aluminum and carbon fiber, the suit actually feels weightless to the user. The Fortis also has joints that parallel those normally in the human body and is able to flex across the waist. Fortis minimizes muscle fatigue, increasing productivity of the users. Its design team found that workers could hold a 16-pound grinder overhead for as long as 30 continuous minutes, which is a major improvement from the maximum three minutes without the suit.

The suit was also designed to give users the flexibility of moving in complex environments, such as climbing up the stairs or a ladder.

Source: CNN Tech

Cretaceous footprints found in diamond mine

Paleontologists discovered ancient track marks of Cretaceous vertebrates in the Catoca diamond mine, the world’s fourth largest diamond mine.

The fossils are said to be the first record of Cretaceous vertebrates in inland Angola. Finding the footprints of these large mammals was significant, as ancient warm-blooded animals were often too small to leave durable track marks.
In the past, after some animal tracks were discovered, members of the PaleoAngola Project asked the diamond mine to help preserve the footprints, to which the diamond mine cooperated. The PaleoAngola Project is an international effort to investigate vertebrate paleontology in Angola.

Months later, paleontologists came to the mine and discovered ripple marks in the stone surrounding the fossils, suggesting that a shallow lake may have attracted the mammals.

Source: Discovery News

Dopamine levels are connected to Parkinson’s

In a recent study from the Cell Stem Cell journal, researchers from Lund University were able to restore motor function in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. Authors Malin Parmar and Shane Grealish transplanted neurons taken from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into brain regions that dictated movement in the rat.

Affecting millions worldwide, Parkinson’s disease is an incurable, progressive disorder that involves the loss of control over dexterity and the speed of movement. Its current treatment options often cause side effects and decrease in effectiveness over time. Part of the disease can be attributed to the death of neurons, causing low levels of dopamine release in the brain. But within five months, after successfully transplanting the cells, the researchers were able to restore dopamine to its normal levels, as well as establish a correct pattern of long-distance connections in the brain.

Source: ScienceDaily

Neurologists find a way to create “ghostly presence”

In a recent paper from the journal Current Biology, a team of Swiss neurologists identified a possible reason for the “feeling of a presence” (FoP) phenomenon. FoP occurs when a person falsely senses that somebody is physically nearby, contributing to the belief of a “ghostly presence.”

After studying brain activity in patients with severe cases of FoP, the scientists recreated the neurological experience in healthy volunteers. Blindfolded, subjects were asked to perform a series of movements with their arms. Robots hooked up to the patients would mimic the subjects’ movements while tracing the subjects’ backs.

The group found that by delaying the robot’s movement, a subject would experience FoP, which they concluded is caused by mismatches in sensorimotor signals.

Source: Smithsonian