Tech News

Tesla research partnership progresses on new battery chemistry

Science - Posted On:2020-08-14 12:00:01 Source: arstechnica

Electric vehicles have come a long way in terms of going a long way on a charge. But everyone is still seeking the next big jump in battery technology—a battery with significantly higher energy density would mean more range or lower costs to hit the current range. There is always some room for incremental progress on current lithium-ion battery technology, but there is a lithium holy grail that has remained out of reach for decades: ditching its graphite anode to shrink the cell.

A lithium metal battery would simply use solid lithium as the anode instead of requiring a graphite framework for lithium atoms to tuck into as the battery charges. The problem is that the lithium doesn't form an order surface during recharging, so the battery capacity drops drastically—declining to 80 percent within 20 charge cycles in some configurations. Rogue lithium also tends to build up dangerous, branching, needle-like structures that can pierce the separator between the anode and cathode and short-circuit the cell.

Last year, a Dalhousie University lab group with ties to Tesla developed a lithium metal battery with somewhat better performance. Lithium atoms electroplate onto a copper electrode as the battery charges and then move back into a conventional lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt cathode as charge depletes. Through a new electrolyte, they were able to get this battery to last about 90 cycles before hitting 80 percent capacity to control the nasty short-circuit problem.

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People slept on comfy grass beds 200,000 years ago

Science - Posted On:2020-08-14 11:15:00 Source: arstechnica

Fragments of glassy petrified grass and microscopic traces of plant material, dating to around 200,000 years ago, are all that’s left of a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer’s bed in the back of Border Cave. In the same part of the rock shelter, archaeologists found layers of ash with more recent (as in only around 43,000 years old) and better-preserved leaves of dried grass laid on top, as if people had burned their old, dirty bedding and then laid fresh, clean sheaves of grass over the ashes—the rock shelter version of changing the sheets.

The finds shed light on an aspect of early human life that we rarely get to consider. Most of the artifacts that survive from more than a few thousand years ago are made of stone and bone; even wooden tools are rare. That means we tend to think of the Paleolithic in terms of hard, sharp stone tools and the bones of butchered animals. Through that lens, life looks very harsh—perhaps even harsher than it really was. Most of the human experience is missing from the archaeological record, including creature comforts like soft, clean beds.

Until now, the oldest bedding archaeologists had ever found came from another South African site called Sibudu, where people 77,000 years ago had piled up layers of grasslike wetland plants called sedge, mixed with assorted medicinal plants, and occasionally burned the old layers. Some modern people in parts of Africa also use plants as bedding in similar ways. The Border Cave find shows that people have been making comfy sleeping pallets out of grass for at least 200,000 years—nearly as long as there have been Homo sapiens in the world.

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Rocket Report: SpaceX’s South Texas resort, the Air Force makes its picks

Science - Posted On:2020-08-14 07:14:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 3.12 of the Rocket Report! We got plenty of serious news this week about rockets big and small. But our best story is a fun one, all the way from the Atlai Mountains in Siberia where SpaceX founder Elon Musk has a big fan in the clergy, apparently.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Mike Griffin joins the board of Rocket Lab. Who had NASA's former chief joining the board of directors at Rocket Lab on their 2020 bingo card? Not us. But on Wednesday, the company announced it added Griffin to its board, joining company founder Peter Beck and three investors: Sven Strohband of Khosla Ventures, David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners, and Matt Ocko of DCVC. The announcement came a little more than a month after Griffin resigned from his position as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, SpaceNews reports.

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Astronomers kill all the fun, blame dust for Betelgeuse’s dimming

Science - Posted On:2020-08-14 06:59:57 Source: arstechnica

Betelgeuse is one of the closest massive stars to Earth. It's also an old star, and it has reached the stage when it glows a dull red and expands, with the hot core only having a tenuous gravitational grip on its outer layers. This combination means that we're actually able to resolve different areas on the star's surface, despite the fact that it resides over 700 light years away.

That ability came in handy late last year when Betelgeuse did something unusual: it dimmed so much that the difference was visible to the naked eye. Telescopes pointed at the giant were able to determine that—rather than a tidy, uniform drop in luminance—Betelgeuse's dimming was unevenly distributed, giving the star an odd, squished shape when viewed from Earth. That raised lots of questions about what was going on with the giant, with some experts speculating that, because of Betelgeuse's size and advanced age, the strange behavior was a sign of a supernova in the making.

Now, an international team of international observers is here to throw cold water on the possible explosion. Said researchers were lucky to have the Hubble pointed at Betelgeuse before, during, and after the dimming event. Combined with some timely ground observations, this data indicates a rather mundane reason for the star getting darker: a big burp that formed a cloud of dust near the star.

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New Zealand baffled by new COVID-19 cases, eyes frozen-food packaging

Science - Posted On:2020-08-13 15:59:59 Source: arstechnica

New Zealand officials are scrambling to halt a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases that has baffled health investigators trying to understand how the pandemic coronavirus regained a foothold on the island nation.

Officials on Tuesday announced four cases in one family in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand. Before that, the country had gone 102 days without any local transmission. Throughout the pandemic, New Zealand has been among the most successful countries in the world at responding to and holding back the pandemic coronavirus, relying on swift and thorough testing and tracing as well as rigorous social distancing and lockdown orders.

But the new cluster has stumped investigators, who are now exploring all the possible ways the coronavirus may have slipped back in—including that it arrived on the packaging of frozen-food shipments and infected a worker unpacking them.

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Researchers find a chemical that makes locusts swarm

Science - Posted On:2020-08-12 17:59:59 Source: arstechnica

The year 2020 may be one for the record books in terms of apocalyptic tidings. In addition to the usual background of fires, floods, and earthquakes, the plague is still around. And you might have heard something about a pandemic. But what really nails down the apocalyptic vibe is the fact that the year's seen swarms of locusts causing the sorts of problems they're famous for.

In a tiny bit of good news, the same sort of research that may bail us out with therapies and a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 could potentially help us out against future locust swarms. That's because a team of biologists based in China has now identified the chemical that calls locusts to swarm and shown that genetic engineering can eliminate the response.

There's nothing especially exciting about any single aspect of the research here. Instead, the researchers simply put together techniques from a variety of specializations and then applied them to the topic of locust swarms. Locusts are normally solitary animals, but they become immensely destructive when conditions induce them to form massive swarms that are big enough to be picked up by radar. In addition to the altered behavior, swarming locusts actually look physically different, indicating that the decision to swarm involves widespread changes to a locust's biology.

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The First Gene-Edited Squid in History Is a Biological Breakthrough

science - Posted On:2020-08-12 16:14:59 Source: slashdot

Squid are among the smartest ocean dwellers. Along with other ink-squirting cephalopods like octopuses and cuttlefish, squid boast the largest brains of all invertebrates. They also have an incredibly complex nervous system capable of instantaneously camouflaging their bodies and communicating with each other using various signals. From a report: Scientists have long marveled at these sophisticated behaviors and have tried to understand why these tentacled creatures are so intelligent. Gene editing may be able to help researchers unravel the mysteries of the cephalopod brain. But until now, it's been too hard to do -- in part because cephalopod embryos are protected by a hard outer layer that makes manipulating them difficult. Recently, a group of marine scientists managed to engineer the first genetically altered squid using the DNA editing tool CRISPR. In addition to being a big milestone in biology, the advance has potential implications for human health: Because of their big brains, cephalopods are used to study neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The ability to edit the genes of these animals could help scientists study the genes involved in learning and memory as well as specific cephalopod behaviors. "I think you're going to see a huge jump in the use of these [gene-edited] organisms by neurobiologists," Joshua Rosenthal, PhD, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and a key architect of the first genetically engineered squid, tells OneZero. Rosenthal and his colleagues used CRISPR to snip out a gene responsible for the coloring of the squid's skin. As a result, the edited squid were transparent instead of having their usual reddish spots. The results were published July 30 in the journal Current Biology. But why bother to create a colorless squid? Rosenthal says the pigmentation gene was a logical starting place for experimentation. "If you see the pigmentation go away, it's easy to see if the gene editing is working," he explains. Being able to tinker with cephalopod DNA will allow scientists to better study what their individual genes do at a very basic level. The accomplishment wasn't easy. Scientists have successfully made gene-edited mice, monkeys, and other research animals to help them study a range of behaviors and medical conditions. But until now, they hadn't been successful at manipulating the genes of cephalopods. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Adding a dash of alcohol suppresses coffee ring effect in 2D printing inks

Science - Posted On:2020-08-12 14:15:00 Source: arstechnica

Inkjet printing of two-dimensional crystals will be crucial for ushering in the next generation of printed electronics. While the technology has made a lot of progress in recent years, a major challenge to industrial-scale printed electronic components is achieving uniform distribution of the crystals; uneven distribution can result in faulty devices. The culprit is a phenomenon known as the "coffee ring effect." Now scientists have created a new family of inks that can suppress the effect, according to a new paper in the journal Science Advances.

Coffee rings are the pattern you get when a liquid evaporates and leaves behind a ring of previously dissolved solids—coffee grounds in the case of your morning cup of joe, 2D crystals in the case of inkjet printing of electrical components. (You can also see the effect with single-malt scotch. A related phenomena is wine tears.) The coffee ring effect occurs when a single liquid evaporates and the solids that had been dissolved in the liquid (like coffee grounds or 2D crystals) form a telltale ring. It happens because the evaporation occurs faster at the edge than at the center. Any remaining liquid flows outward to the edge to fill in the gaps, dragging those solids with it. Mixing in solvents (water or alcohol) reduces the effect, as long as the drops are very small. Large drops produce more uniform stains.

Similarly, when a drop of watercolor paint dries, the pigment particles of color break outward, toward the rim of the drop. So artists who work with watercolors also have to deal with the coffee ring effect if they don't want that accumulation of pigment at the edges to happen. As we reported in 2018, adding alcohol to the watercolor paint can prevent it. Alternatively, an artist may wet the paper before applying the paint. Instead of the drop remaining pinned to the paper, the ink runs off. This allows the artist to play with various effects, such as generating unusual color gradients.

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Scientists Turn Normal Red Bricks into Electricity-Storing Supercapacitors

science - Posted On:2020-08-12 14:15:00 Source: slashdot

Bricks are about as basic as architectural materials can get, yet these simple building blocks have hidden powers that can be leveraged to provide electricity, according to a new study. From a report: Scientists modified a common red brick -- the same kind you'll find on sale for under a dollar at your local hardware store -- so that it could power a green LED light. This proof-of-concept for a "smart brick" reveals that brick technology, which dates back thousands of years, can be tweaked to have futuristic applications, including electrical conductivity and sensing capabilities. The results were published on Tuesday in Nature Communications. "We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy," said study co-author Julio D'Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, in a call. "We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks," he added. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Will any new smallsat rockets make it to orbit this year?

Science - Posted On:2020-08-12 13:15:00 Source: arstechnica

In case you hadn't noticed, we're approaching mid-August. As of Wednesday, there are a mere 142 days left in the year. So as the calendar churns toward the end of the year, this is a good time to ask whether any new commercial rockets that launch small satellites will make it to orbit this year.

Back at the optimistic, pre-pandemic beginning of 2020, we had high hopes for the debut of new rockets from Astra, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit. We also expected to see the first flight of Europe's Vega C rocket, which is now confirmed to slip into 2021.

Since then, a few companies have made launch attempts and failed to reach orbit. Others have been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's a rundown of the companies that could still make orbit this calendar year.

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How to turn regular bricks into electricity-storing supercapacitors

Science - Posted On:2020-08-12 10:44:56 Source: arstechnica

Usually the phrase “power brick” refers affectionately to the AC adapter of something like a laptop. But what if that term was quite literal, involving an actual brick?

A team led by Hongmin Wang at Washington University set out to make a genuine power brick. More specifically, they wanted to see if they could use a vapor coating technique to turn ordinary red bricks into part of a supercapacitor. That actually isn’t quite as weird as it sounds, given that the red of a brick is an iron mineral, and iron is a common component of some battery chemistries. Bricks are often porous as well, meaning there is plenty of surface area where a thin coating could interact with that iron.

The process (something they had developed previously) involves heating the brick in an enclosure along with hydrochloric acid and an organic compound that mercifully shortens to “EDOT.” The two liquid substances evaporate and condense on the brick’s convoluted surface. The acid dissolves some of the iron mineral, freeing up iron atoms that help the organic molecules link up to form polymer chains (graduating to “PEDOT”) that coat the surface. The polymer makes microscopic, entangled fibers that form a continuous and electrically conductive layer on each face of the brick, which otherwise remains. (This does have the effect of turning the brick black, though.)

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Amazon Satellites Add To Astronomers' Worries About the Night Sky

science - Posted On:2020-08-12 10:14:56 Source: slashdot

Welcome to the age of the satellite megaconstellation. Within the next few years, vast networks, containing hundreds or even thousands of spacecraft, could reshape the future of Earth's orbital environment. From a report: Much of the attention on these strings of satellites has been placed on the prolific launches of SpaceX and OneWeb, but the focus is now turning to Amazon. Last month, the Federal Communications Commission approved a request by the online marketplace to launch its Project Kuiper constellation, which, like SpaceX's Starlink and OneWeb's network, aims to extend high-speed internet service to customers around the world, including to remote or underserved communities hobbled by a persistent digital divide. The Kuiper constellation would consist of 3,236 satellites. That's more than the approximately 2,600 active satellites already orbiting Earth. While Amazon's hardware is a long way from the launchpad, SpaceX has already deployed hundreds of satellites in its Starlink constellation, including 57 additional satellites that it launched on Friday. It may expand it to 12,000, or more. Facebook and Telesat could also get into the internet constellation business. The rapid influx of satellites into low-Earth orbit has prompted pushback from professional and amateur astronomers. Starlink satellites are notorious for "photobombing" astronomical images with bright streaks, damaging the quality and reducing the volume of data that scientists collect for research. While SpaceX plans to mitigate the effects of its launches on astronomical observations, scientists and hobbyists in the community worry about the lack of regulation of constellations as more entrants such as Project Kuiper join the action. "We don't yet have any kind of industrywide guidelines," said Michele Bannister, a planetary astronomer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "We don't have an industry body that's producing good corporate citizenship on the part of all of these enthusiastic companies that want to launch, and we don't have any regulatory setup in place that's providing clear guidelines back to the industry." She added, "To me, honestly, it feels like putting a bunch of planes up and then not having air traffic control." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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How Will the Universe End? Scientists Say They May Have an Answer

science - Posted On:2020-08-12 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: In the unimaginably far future, cold stellar remnants known as black dwarfs will begin to explode in a spectacular series of supernovae, providing the final fireworks of all time. That's the conclusion of a new study, which posits that the universe will experience one last hurrah before everything goes dark forever. The dramatic detonations will begin to occur about 10^1100 years from now, a number the human brain can scarcely comprehend. The already unfathomable number 10^100 is known as a googol, so 10^1100 would be a googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol googol years. The explosions would continue until 10^32000 years from now, which would require most of a magazine page to represent in a similar fashion. A time traveler hoping to witness this last cosmic display would be disappointed. By the start of this era, the mysterious substance acting in opposition to gravity called dark energy will have driven everything in the universe apart so much that each individual black dwarf would be surrounded by vast darkness: The supernovae would even be unobservable to each another. The study has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Russia Claims To Have Registered World's First COVID-19 Vaccine

science - Posted On:2020-08-11 19:29:58 Source: slashdot

New submitter Hmmmmmm shares a report from CNBC: Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the registration of what Russia claims to be the first vaccine for the coronavirus in the world and said one of his daughters had already taken it. "Although I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, has passed all the necessary checks," Putin said. Clinical trials of this Russian vaccine have been completed in less than two months and phase three trials are set to begin on Wednesday, despite the vaccine having already been registered. Countries including the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia are taking part in those trials. "The vaccine developed by Russia is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the needed immune response into cells," reports Al Jazeera. "[The Gamaleya research institute's vaccine] is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China's CanSino. The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticizing the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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US childhood SARS-CoV-2 infections surging with the current peak

Science - Posted On:2020-08-11 15:45:00 Source: arstechnica

The US is currently debating if and how schools can be reopened safely while dealing with a cloud of presidential misinformation. The debate is made difficult by a mix of ambiguous data about how much children contribute to the spread of the virus and some dramatic instances of the pandemic spreading within schools. Given the confusing and sometimes anecdotal evidence, it can be difficult to get a decent picture of how children are affected by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

Fortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have decided to provide some perspective. The two groups have been gathering state-level data on a number of stats in children and compiling it to produce a national picture. While there are definitely limitations to the data, the picture it paints is one in which the national surge in infections is being paralleled by a surge in cases in children, with nearly 100,000 new cases in the last two weeks of July.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have been analyzing childhood infections at weekly intervals, allowing them to track the pandemic's progression in the United States. Their most recent report covers up to July 30, and they have data going back to mid-April.

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Russia skips COVID-19 vaccine trial, says millions to be vaccinated this month

Science - Posted On:2020-08-11 13:45:00 Source: arstechnica

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia is the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine—dubbed “Sputnik V.”

Putin claimed that one of his own daughters has already received a dose of the vaccine, according to reports from Moscow—though he didn’t note which daughter. Russian officials pledged to vaccinate millions within the month, starting with healthcare workers and teachers.

Little is known about Sputnik V, which was developed by researchers at the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow. There is no public data on the vaccine, let alone any published, peer-reviewed scientific studies. Public registration of two small clinical trials notes that Sputnik V uses a viral-vector-based design, but they suggest that it has only been tested in a small number of people. The trials, which began less than two months ago, enrolled 38 healthy volunteers and have an estimated study completion date of August 15.

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Russia rushes to distribute its untested COVID-19 vaccine, “Sputnik V”

Science - Posted On:2020-08-11 13:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia is the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine—dubbed “Sputnik V.”

Putin claimed that one of his own daughters has already received a dose of the vaccine, according to reports from Moscow—though he didn’t note which daughter. Russian officials pledged to vaccinate millions within the month, starting with healthcare workers and teachers.

Little is known about Sputnik V, which was developed by researchers at the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow. There is no public data on the vaccine, let alone any published, peer-reviewed scientific studies. Public registration of two small clinical trials notes that Sputnik V uses a viral-vector-based design, but they suggest that it has only been tested in a small number of people. The trials, which began less than two months ago, enrolled 38 healthy volunteers and have an estimated study completion date of August 15.

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New Zealand Reinstates Coronavirus Restrictions After First Locally-Transmitted Case in 102 Days

science - Posted On:2020-08-11 12:15:00 Source: slashdot

schwit1 shares a report: New Zealand has reintroduced coronavirus restrictions in parts of the country after new locally transmitted cases broke the 102-day streak the country had gone without recording a local infection. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed four new locally transmitted coronavirus cases on Tuesday night, and announced that New Zealand's most populous city, Auckland, will temporarily see level three restrictions introduced for three days starting from midday on Wednesday. All four of the cases were found within one household in South Auckland according to New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He added that none of the new cases had recently traveled outside of New Zealand. "We have been preparing for that time, and that time is now," said Dr Bloomfield adding that the "health system is well prepared." "In line with our precautionary approach we will be asking Aucklanders to take swift actions with us, as of 12 noon tomorrow, Wednesday August 12, we will be moving Auckland to level 3 restrictions," said Ardern. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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What Mars Would Look Like If Its Surface Was Covered With Water

science - Posted On:2020-08-11 06:14:57 Source: slashdot

schwit1 writes: A new map shows what the red planet would look like if 71 percent of its surface area was covered with water -- around the same proportion as Earth. The results are spectacular: it shows two distinct landmasses forming, each of which would seem to form continents. While the left side shows a dramatic, mountainous terrain that includes Olympus Mons, the right side seems to offer more flatlands that include planes like Terra Sabaea. The map was created by Aaditya Raj Bhattarai, a Nepal-based civil engineering student currently studying for his bachelor's degree at Tribhuwan University. "I am [a] big fan of Elon [Musk] and SpaceX and their plan to put man on Mars, and I hope I could help in his cause," Bhattarai says. "This is a part of my side project where I calculate the volume of water required to make life on Mars sustainable and the sources required for those water volumes from comets that will come nearby Mars in [the] next 100 years." [...] Bhattarai noted that in this map, Mars' sea level lies as low as 1,211 meters (0.75 miles) below the geoid level, a level that averages out the ocean surface by removing factors like tides and currents. The sea level also lies a staggering 20,076 meters (12.5 miles) below Olympus Mons, depicted in the image as the top-left-most black dot. Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the solar system and measures more than double the height of Mount Everest. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Planet Ceres Is An 'Ocean World' With Sea Water Beneath Surface, Mission Finds

science - Posted On:2020-08-11 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

The dwarf planet Ceres -- long believed to be a barren space rock -- is an ocean world with reservoirs of sea water beneath its surface, the results of a major exploration mission showed on Monday. The Guardian reports: Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and has its own gravity, enabling the Nasa Dawn spacecraft to capture high-resolution images of its surface. Now a team of scientists from the United States and Europe have analyzed images relayed from the orbiter, captured about 35km (22 miles) from the asteroid. They focused on the 20-million-year-old Occator crater and determined that there is an "extensive reservoir" of brine beneath its surface. Using infrared imaging, one team discovered the presence of the compound hydrohalite -- a material common in sea ice but which until now had never been observed off of Earth. Maria Cristina De Sanctis, from Rome's Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica said hydrohalite was a clear sign Ceres used to have sea water. "We can now say that Ceres is a sort of ocean world, as are some of Saturn's and Jupiter's moons," she told AFP. The team said the salt deposits looked like they had built up within the last 2 million years -- the blink of an eye in space time. This suggests that the brine may still be ascending from the planet's interior, something De Sanctis said could have profound implications in future studies. Writing in an accompanying comment article, Julie Castillo-Rogez, from the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the discovery of hydrohalite was a "smoking gun" for ongoing water activity. "That material is unstable on Ceres' surface, and hence must have been emplaced very recently," she said. In a separate paper, US-based researchers analyzed images of the Occator crater and found that its mounds and hills may have formed when water ejected by the impact of a meteor froze on the surface. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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