Science This Week | A star swallows a Jupiter-sized planet, scientists find a new molecular motor and more

Find the latest news and updates from the world of science.

May 07, 2023 01:43 pm | Updated 01:44 pm IST

This undated artist’s impression shows a doomed planet skimming the surface of its star, located about 15,000 light-years away from Earth, before being fully engulfed.

This undated artist’s impression shows a doomed planet skimming the surface of its star, located about 15,000 light-years away from Earth, before being fully engulfed. | Photo Credit: Reuters

From inching closer to what could have kickstarted the building blocks of life on Earth to finally knowing why our life ‘flashes’ before our eyes near death, this week’s stories have shed some interesting insights into the field of science. Read the latest discoveries and findings here.

A bloated star swallows a Jupiter-sized planet

Scientists for the first time have observed a star, bloated in its old age, swallowing a Jupiter-like planet, then expelling some material into space in an energetic belch. The planet in this research was a type called a “hot Jupiter” - a gas giant resembling our solar system’s biggest world but with an orbit much tighter to its star. This planet, perhaps a few times bigger than Jupiter, orbited its star in less than a day at a distance closer than Mercury, our innermost planet, orbits the sun. Mercury, Venus and finally Earth, our solar system’s three innermost planets, will meet this destiny as the sun evolves through its red giant phase in about 5 billion years

A younger, more active Sun may have kickstarted life on Earth

Scientists say the first building blocks of organic life, amino acids and carboxylic acids, may have been formed from solar particles of solar eruptions colliding with gases in Earth’s early atmosphere. A 2016 study suggested that during Earth’s first 100 million years, while the Sun was about 30% dimmer, solar “superflares” - powerful eruptions seen every 100 years or so today - would have erupted once every 3-10 days. These superflares launch near-light speed particles, regularly colliding with our atmosphere and kickstarting chemical reactions.

Bengaluru scientists help find new kind of molecular motor

An international team of researchers, including from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, has reported a new kind of molecular motor. Molecular motors are molecules inside cells that perform mechanical work, such as pulling two organelles together and moving cargo towards or away from the nucleus. The new study has found, for the first time, that a long protein called EEA1 uses another mechanism. It allows a molecule to change its flexibility between two states instead of the usual lever-like back-and-forth action.

Wastewater study detects a large, silent Covid-19 wave in Bengaluru

Environmental surveillance carried out by testing sewage water samples from 28 sewage treatment plants spread across Bengaluru by the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS) has revealed the true extent of spread of the virus in the city. One sample collected once a week from each of the 28 treatment plants shows that RNA fragments found in the sewage water began increasing from early-March and peaked on April 1. At its peak, over 80,000 virus copies per ml were present in the city. That would mean that thousands of people were infected in Bengaluru alone.

Atmospheric rivers caused 70% of India’s floods between 1985 and 2020

The devastating floods that occurred in the country between 1985 and 2020 during the summer monsoon season were directly associated with atmospheric rivers, a phenomenon of a stream of water vapour moving in the sky like a river flowing on the land, says a new study. It says severe weather events like the 2013 Uttarakhand floods and the 2018 floods in Kerala that claimed several lives were all due to severe atmospheric rivers (ARs).

We may finally know why our life ‘flashes’ before our eyes near death

Researchers at the University of Michigan found evidence of surges in brain activity associated with consciousness in two dying patients. The team looked back at the records of four patients who died from cardiac arrest while on electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring. All four fell into comas and were removed from life support after it was determined they were beyond medical help. When taken off their ventilators, two of the four patients saw increases in their heart rates as well as surges of brain waves in the gamma frequency -- the fastest such brain activity, which is associated with consciousness.

Is mind-reading now a reality?

Neuroscientists at the University of Texas have for the first time decoded data from non-invasive brain scans and used them to reconstruct language and meaning from stories that people hear, see or even imagine. Technology that can create language from brain signals could be enormously useful for people who cannot speak due to conditions such as motor neurone disease. At the same time, it raises concerns for the future privacy of our thoughts.

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