097: Opportunity Lost. InSight Gained.

On This Week’s Show

  • Ukraine's science revolution stumbles
  • Opportunity lost
  • InSight gained
  • Life began to move 2.1 billion years ago
  • The Pub Quiz
  • And a special appearance by Mr. Vincent Price

Science News with Dr. Amrita Sule, and Chris MacAlister

Ukraine’s science revolution stumbles five years on

Amrita Sule

Around five years ago in February 2014 a revolution took place in Ukraine known as the “Euromaidan” revolution, or the “Revolution of Dignity”, which ended with change in the leadership.

The new leadership in Ukraine aligned with European Union. This raised hopes among scientists that more fruitful collaborations will form with the western world.

Initially this looked very promising. In 2015 Ukraine was able to apply for EU research programs and in 2016 a law was passed to strengthen science, technology and innovation.

However, five years later the national science spending is still low and inefficiency in funding and low salaries is steering talented students away from pursuing careers in science.

Overall there is very less amount of money which goes to the research institutes, result of which is inability to buy state of the art equipment and updating top-class infrastructure. This limits their ability to compete with other EU countries.   

This has resulted in very low funds coming their way from EU funded grants compared to other east European countries like Poland and Hungary.

The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU) which employs 15000 people over 160 institutes gets most share of the funds. A review of 94 institutes of NASU between 2016-2018 deemed that 21 of them were underperforming leading to closure of around 200 research departments. The institute which attracts most of the taxpayer money in Ukraine is criticized for being outdated and over staffed.  

But things are changing and new funding mechanisms which will be in place this year will fund individual scientists and groups from universities over the country after peer review.  

The research policy wing of the Ukrainian govt. is currently focusing on mapping out plans to make reforms to become more competitive in science. Just have to wait for the implementation of the same.


Opportunity Lost

Chris MacAlister

Following NASA is like a non-stop emotional rollercoaster. From the excitement of launches like TESS, or the upcoming James Webb Telescope; to the sad and inevitable ends. The Saturnine Fireworks that brought the demise of Cassini or Mars Rover: Opportunity’s less spectacular conclusion last week.

We reported, last summer, that “Oppy” was hunkering down for planet wide martian dust storm which would render its solar panels useless. The storm finished in October and NASA have since made over 1000 attempts to re-establish contact, all to no avail. This means that the rover either suffered critical damage during the storms or its solar panels became too dust-coated to work.

But in the same way that Cassini surpassed all expectations, Oppy has been breaking records like an on-trend boyband. The original mission was due to last just 90 martian days (or sols) and cover a distance of a kilometer. At the end of the mission, Oppy has completed that first ever extraterrestrial marathon and lasted more than 5000 sols, some 15 Earth years, a feat that could leave a certain battery promoting pink bunny somewhat fearful for his job.

So what did Opportunity achieve? Geology. Lots of geology. It’s actually a little depressing that the best known geologist on the planet is an inoperative robot on another one. One it’s headline achievements was collecting a extra martian meteorite, which I guess is a bit like when I went to Japan but still headed into the first Starbucks that I saw.

So Opportunity has set the standard for future rovers. Two rovers are looking to break this record; NASA’s other Mars rover, Curiosity and China’s Moon rover Yutu 2. And possibly Brexit.

BBC News Science and Environment, LA Times

Nasa's InSight mission: Mars ‘mole' put on planet's surface

Amrita Sule

Let’s talk about some more action happening on the red planet. Remember the robotic lander InSight? (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport).

Insight was launched in May 2018 and landed on Mars surface in November 2018. The main purpose of this lander is to study the Mars seismic activity and monitor marsquakes.

On the 12th of February NASA’s Insight tweeted “The gang’s all here: my seismometer, its cover, and now the heat flow probe! It’s no easy task to set up such sensitive instruments on the surface of another world. Together we’ll unlock some of Mars' deep secrets.”

So, what is it talking about? The InSight lander has positioned second of its surface instruments on Mars. This is a heat flow probe also referred to as HP3. HP3 was picked off the deck of the lander with a robot arm placed next to the SEIS seismometer package, which was deployed in December.

Together with the on-board radio was experiment these sensor systems will be used to understand how the sub-surface rocks on the Mars are layered as well as understand present day surface activity.

So how does HP3 work? It incorporates a mole to drill down up to 5 meters below the surface. The SEIS system will listen for “marsquakes” and impacts of meteorites. The SEIS will also monitor HP3 while it drills and collect information about the underground materials in the surrounding local area.

I can’t wait to hear about all the insight we gather from the lander!

BBC News Science and Environment

Fossils suggest life began to move 2.1 billion years ago

Chris MacAlister

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The oldest life on Earth could be as old as 4.2 billion years old. Microbial life is then all that we see until just 635 million years ago. This has led to the idea that life can start fairly easily, however the emergence of complex life is remarkably difficult and rare.

But what took nature some 3 billion years to achieve doesn’t replicate in the laboratory. The shift to multicellular life has been recreated in yeast and multiple cases of multicellular activity in the most simple types of cells (prokaryotes) suggest that this leap may no be quite so difficult.

So are we missing a piece of the puzzle? A team of international scientists believe so after their claim to have found the first evidence of life moving itself through our world.

They have discovered fossilized pits and trails containing chemical signatures that have led them to the conclusion that a creature, like a slime mould, was travelling across the ancient seabed.

What is so remarkable about this story is the date. 2.1 billion years ago. This is older than the first accepted complex cells (eukaryotes) that all complex multicellular life is made of, including us and slime moulds.

This means that the story of live of Earth may not be about its limiting inability to develop. 2.1 billion years ago there was a period of high oxygen content in the atmosphere. Shortly after the levels dropped again until that key moment 635 million years ago. If the conclusion of this team are correct, live may have been ready to go all along, it was just the inadequate accommodation that was to blame.]

New Scientist, The Conversation

Pub Quiz

The latest science news in quiz form. Can you beat the Blue Streak team?

Let's get small!

Public Service Announcement

Vincent Price delivers a timeless message. His words are as meaningful today as they were in 1947.

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and any number of podcast directories.

You can get the Blue Streak Science app from the App Store.

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Amrita Sule, and Chris MacAlister.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember…follow the science!

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