Posted on

Dust Collisions Could Transport Microbial Life to Other Planets

Microbial life lofted into Earth’s upper atmosphere could be sputtering into space thanks to collisions with interplanetary dust streams, potentially resulting in life being transported from planet to planet.

The Solar System is filled with dust, left over from the formation of the planets, produced by asteroid collisions and expelled by comets. Professor Arjun Berera, a physicist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, has modeled how streams of interplanetary dust impact Earth’s atmosphere at velocities of up to 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) per second. Writing in the journal Astrobiology, Berera finds that the dust impacts provide enough energy to knock atmospheric molecules, as well as any organic matter or microbes that may exist at altitudes of 150 kilometers (93 miles), free of Earth’s gravity and into space.

The findings provide a potential mode of transport for organic matter between planets, raising the possibility that life could have begun elsewhere in the Solar System before being transported to Earth, or vis versa.

However, Berera admits that there are caveats to his work. Number one is that no life has ever been found 150 kilometers above Earth’s surface. However, there are ways to feasibly transport microbes up there, such as vertical winds in the upper atmosphere, and phenomena linked to thunderstorms such as sprites and blue jets.

“What my calculations show is that one would need just a vanishingly small concentration [of life] at 150 kilometers altitude for my mechanism to work,” Berera tells Astrobiology Magazine.

Have microbes ejected from Earth’s atmosphere made their way to Mars? Have microbes ejected from Mars ever made their way to Earth? Image Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech.

Another potential problem is the high-velocity impacts of dust particles striking microbes could kill them. Previous studies, says Berera, have shown that bacteria can survive shock pressures of 50 gigapascal, and Berera’s calculations indicate that in some cases the dust collisions will inflict shock pressures less than that. However, he sees this as a major factor in limiting how many microbes can escape into space.

Although Berera’s work shows how microbes could escape Earth, his research indicates that “it is extremely difficult for any small organisms to escape Earth’s gravity, since many things have to come together,” he says. “More research is now needed to assess what the concentration of biological material is high up in the atmosphere, how well it could withstand the violent blows of collisions with space dust and how well it could survive in space.”

The research was funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

The post Dust Collisions Could Transport Microbial Life to Other Planets appeared first on Futurism.

Posted on

New Airplane Design Uses Less Fuel, Reducing Noise and Air Pollution

The “Double Bubble”

An estimated 50 million Americans are taking to the skies this holiday season, battling crowded airports in order to enjoy time with their friends and family. However, while they can bring people closer together, commercial airplanes are widening the gap between humanity and our climate goals.

But a team of designers from Aurora Flight Sciences, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Pratt & Whitney think they have a way to change that.

In 2008, the team started working on a new design concept for commercial aircraft as part of NASA’s N+3 program. They call the new craft the “double-bubble” D8, and if it works in practice how it does on paper, it could dramatically reduce the noise, emissions, and fuel burn associated with commercial travel.

The primary difference between the D8 and other passenger aircraft — such as a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 — is the position of the engines. Instead of placing them beneath the wings, the designers have chosen to put the engines on top of the plane’s body near the tail. This  greatly reduces the plane’s drag and improves its fuel efficiency.

The main body of the D8, called the fuselage, is wider and more oval-shaped than a conventional passenger jet. This design allows the fuselage itself to generate some lift, project co-lead Alejandra Uranga, who is now an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), told Scientific American. The D8’s design also includes a smaller, lighter tail and wings and a more aerodynamic nose.

Cleaner Skies

While electric ground transportation is growing in popularity, the aviation industry hasn’t made similar efforts to go green. Air travel currently accounts for two to three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and within the next 10 years, that figure is expected to double. Some experts have even suggested avoiding air travel altogether in an effort to combat its current negative impact on the environment.

If adopted worldwide, the D8 could reduce fuel consumption — and in turn emissions — by up to 66 percent in the next 20 years. According to the team’s calculations, the D8 design requires 37 percent less fuel than typical passenger jets. It would also mean a 50 percent reduction in community noise levels, and an 87 percent reduction in landing and take-off cycle nitrogen oxide emissions.

However, the D8 also flies slower than other aircraft. Manufacturers will need to decide how the slower speed will play out economically, but given its environmental advantages, plane manufacturers might be willing to take a chance on this concept plane of the future.

The team has already built and tested an 11th-scale model of the D8 in a NASA wind tunnel, and next, they want to build and test a half-scale prototype. If the results of those tests are promising, the D8 could be hitting the skies in time for the 2035 holiday travel season.

The post New Airplane Design Uses Less Fuel, Reducing Noise and Air Pollution appeared first on Futurism.