Science This Week | NASA’s Artemis mission lifts off, earth now weighs 6 ronnagrams and more

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Updated - November 21, 2022 08:50 pm IST

Published - November 21, 2022 08:04 pm IST

NASA’s new moon rocket blasted off on its debut flight with three test dummies aboard Wednesday, bringing the U.S. a big step closer to putting astronauts back on the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program 50 years ago.

NASA’s new moon rocket blasted off on its debut flight with three test dummies aboard Wednesday, bringing the U.S. a big step closer to putting astronauts back on the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program 50 years ago. | Photo Credit: AP

As Vikram-S takes to the skies, new scales of measurement have been introduced and Indian scientists warn of extreme weather events increasing, here are this week’s most riveting finds and discoveries in the world of science.

India’s first privately-developed rocket lifts-off

Vikram-S lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Station in Sriharikota on November 18, signalling the advent of private rocket developers in a field which was previously dominated by the Indian Space Research Organisation. The rocket carried three payloads, two from domestic clients and one from a foreign client. Developed by a Hyderabad start-up, Skyroot Aerospace, the rocket also tested technologies that will be used in future orbital vehicles.

NASA’s rocket heads to the Moon after 50 years

On November 16, NASA launched its most powerful rocket and kickstarted its Artemis mission, half a century after its first mission to the Moon. The successor of the human spaceflight programme Apollo, this mission will focus on putting humans back on the Moon and establishing a sustainable base there, a possible step towards the future human exploration of Mars. 

The halo surrounding the Milky Way is tilted

A new study has shown that the shape of the halo of stars surrounding the thin disk of the Milky Way is actually oblong and tilted rather than spherical as previously thought. The new discovery may further our understanding of the history of our galaxy and its evolution while also offering insight into mysterious dark matter.

New oral drug for lowering cholesterol found

Scientists have identified an orally administered drug which they found lowers cholesterol in animal models by 70%. A class of medication called PCSK9 inhibitors are highly effective agents which help the body pull excess cholesterol from the blood, but unlike statins, which are available as oral agents, PCSK9 inhibitors can only be administered as shots, creating barriers to their use, researchers in the US said. But in the latest study, the researchers developed an orally administered small-molecule drug that reduces PCSK9 levels, thereby lowering cholesterol.

Declining sperm count and its relation to men’s health

There has been a significant decline in sperm counts in many countries over the past few years, including India, a new study has shown. Sperm count not indicates human fertility but is also related to men’s health with low levels being associated with a risk of chronic diseases, cancer and a decreased lifespan. Scientists have attributed the decline to the modern environment and lifestyle and have warned about its broader implications for the survival of human species. 

Extreme weather events to increase in India due to climate change

A study by researchers from IIT Gandhinagar has shown that extreme weather events such as floods and heatwaves are projected to rise manifold in the future due to climate change. The study found that the risk of sequential extremes— heatwaves in summer followed by extreme rainfall in the summer monsoon season —in India will increase significantly with rising temperatures.

Scientists find the link between ‘rat floods’ and bamboo fruit

A tropical bamboo species called Melocanna baccifera has long intrigued researchers for its association with the occurrence of ‘bamboo death’, ‘rat floods’ and famines in northeast India. In a new study, researchers in Thiruvananthapuram have shown that rats are attracted to the sugars present in this fruit rather than its protein content as previously thought. 

Black rats relish these fruits greatly during ‘Mautam’, the cyclical, mass bamboo flowering that occurs once in 48 years, and multiply rapidly. Once the fruits are gone, they turn to standing crops and as a result cause famines.

New scales of measurement

Scientists all over the world have agreed upon new metric prefixes to express the largest and smaller measurements in a world where the amount of data is growing increasingly. The prefixes ronna and quetta have been added for larger measurements while ronto and quecto have been added for smaller ones. The International System of Units (SI) adopted the four new prefixes, with immediate effect, in a vote held at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles on November 18.

According to these new scales, the Earth weighs six ronnagrams (27 zeroes after the number) and Jupiter weighs two quettagrams (30 zeroes after the number).

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