8,000-Year-Old Jars Are the Earliest Evidence of Winemaking

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8,000-Year-Old Jars Are the Earliest Evidence of Winemaking

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8,000-Year-Old Jars Are the Earliest Evidence of Winemaking

An 8,000-year-old Neolithic jaw, known as a qvevri — a vessel used for fermentation — found in the Republic of Georgia.

Credit: Judyta Olszewski

This remarkable find deserves a toast: People were fermenting grapes into wine about 8,000 years ago in what is now the Republic of Georgia, say scientists who found what’s now considered the oldest known winemaking site on record.

Archaeologists found ceramic jars that showed evidence of winemaking during an excavation of two Neolithic sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, which are in the South Caucasus, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.

Previously, the oldest evidence of winemaking was found in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, and dated to between 5500 B.C. and 5000 B.C. The new discovery, dated to 6000 B.C., shows that people were enjoying the alcoholic drink a good 600 to 1,000 years longer than formerly thought, the researchers said. [Raise Your Glass: 10 Intoxicating Beer Facts]

During the excavation in Georgia, researchers uncovered fragments of ceramic jars. While analyzing the chemical residue on shards from eight large jars, the scientists found tartaric acid, a fingerprint compound of grapes and wine.

“We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” study co-researcher Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Centre at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed the residues on the base of this Neolithic jar.

Researchers analyzed the residues on the base of this Neolithic jar.

Credit: Judyta Olszewski

During the Neolithic period, people began settling into permanent villages, farming crops, domesticating animals, making polished stone tools and developing crafts, such as pottery and woven goods. These new technologies likely helped ancient people with winemaking, the researchers said.

“Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine,” Batiuk said.

Moreover, there are more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide, and “Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time,” Batiuk said.

A number of analyses — including archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic and radiocarbon — indicate that the Eurasian grape known as Vitis vinifera was abundant at the two Neolithic sites. This grape likely had ideal growing conditions in these Neolithic villages, which had conditions close to those of the modern wine-producing regions of Italy and France, the researchers said.

It’s no surprise that once ancient farmers domesticated the grape, wine culture followed, Batiuk added. These ancient societies were awash in wine, which permeated nearly every aspect of life, including medical treatments, special celebrations and everyday meals.

“As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics and society throughout the ancient Near East,” Batiuk said.

A view of the excavations at Gadachrili Gora in Georgia, taken by a drone.

A view of the excavations at Gadachrili Gora in Georgia, taken by a drone.

Credit: Stephen Batiuk

Viniculture is complex; it includes domestication, propagation, selection of desirable traits, wine presses, suitable containers and proper closures (such as modern-day corks), the researchers wrote in the study, which was published online today (Nov. 13) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And now, people living in the South Caucasus have reason to be proud of the history within their region.

“The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 percent of wine made in the world today has its roots in Caucasia,” Batiuk said.

Original article on Live Science.

4,000-Year-Old Prenup Mentions Infertility, Surrogacy and Divorce

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4,000-Year-Old Prenup Mentions Infertility, Surrogacy and Divorce

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4,000-Year-Old Prenup Mentions Infertility, Surrogacy and Divorce

The 4,000-year-old Assyrian marriage contract.

Credit: Turp, AB. et al. Gynecological Endocrinology, 2017

Kim Kardashian made headlines recently for using a surrogate to carry her unborn child, but the practice of surrogacy — albeit in a different form — is much, much older, dating back at least 4,000 years, a new study finds.

Surrogacy in modern times often refers to the practice of a fertilized embryo from a couple being implanted and carried to term in another woman’s womb. But, thousands of years ago, it took a different form.

Researchers discovered the ancient evidence of surrogacy while studying an Assyrian clay tablet that contains the oldest known marriage contract with language on infertility and surrogacy. The contract details how a man named Laqipum and his bride, Hatala, will move forward with surrogacy if they don’t have a child within two years. [13 Facts on the History of Marriage]

“There are many different ways to solve infertility problems — like surrogacy, as mentioned even 4,000 years ago in this Assyrian clay tablet,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The tablet, as translated from cuneiform, says that if Hatala is unable to have a child, she will buy a slave woman, known as a hierodule, to sleep with her husband.

Here is the translation:

“Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru. In the country [Central Anatolia], Laqipum may not marry another [woman], [but] in the city [of Ashur] he may marry a hierodule. If, within two years, she [Hatala] does not provide him with offspring, she herself will purchase a slave woman, and later, after she will have produced a child by him, he may then dispose of her by sale where-so-ever he pleases.”

Note that the marriage contract assumes that any potential infertility stems from Hatala, the woman, rather than her husband. Granted, there wasn’t an advanced scientific understanding of infertility in 2000 B.C. But now, it’s well known that men can experience infertility problems, too, including from low sperm count and chronic health issues, such as obesity, Live Science previously reported.

Despite this ancient misconception, the marriage contract shows that “the concept of infertility is not just a disease of our age,” but rather one of the ages, the researchers wrote in the study. Infertility and surrogacy are also mentioned in the Old Testament, including when Sarah was unable to have children in her old age, prompting her to ask Abraham to sleep with Hagar, an Egyptian slave.

“Since Hagar agreed to give birth to a baby on behalf of Sarah, we can define Hagar as a surrogate mother,” Liubov Ben-Nun, a professor emeritus at the Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School of Ben-Gurion University, in Israel, told The Times of Israel.

The marriage contract also details stipulations in the event of divorce, in case things didn’t work out for Laqipum and Hatala.

“Should Laqipum choose to divorce her, he must pay [her] five minas of silver – and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay [him] five minas of silver,” according to a translation of the contract. (A mina is a unit of weight used for currency purposes.)

Researchers found the Assyrian tablet in modern-day Turkey at Kültepe-Kanesh, an archaeological site on the World Heritage list kept by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Archaeologists have found more than 23,500 clay tablets and envelopes, known as the Cappadocian tablets, to date. This particular tablet is on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, in Turkey.

The study was published online Oct. 26 in the journal Gynecological Endocrinology.

Original article on Live Science.

800-Year-Old Tombs Tell the Story of an Ancient Chinese Couple

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800-Year-Old Tombs Tell the Story of an Ancient Chinese Couple

Here, the rear wall of the coffin chamber in née Wu’s tomb.

Credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics

Two 800-year-old tombs belonging to a man named Lord Hu Hong and his wife née Wu, who carried the title Lady of Virtue, have been discovered at a construction site in Qingyuan County, in China’s Zhejiang province.

An inscription says that Hu Hong is the “Grand Master for Thorough Counsel.” He and née Wu lived at a time when China was divided between two dynasties, with Hu Hong serving the southern Song dynasty that controlled southern China, according to the researchers who described the findings.

The lengthy inscription discussing Hu Hong’s life was found inside his tomb. A translation of the inscription states that it “has been inscribed on this stone to be treasured here, in the hope it will last as long as heaven and earth!”

Among Hu Hong’s many duties was, in 1195, becoming “Investigating Censor prosecuting the treacherous and the heretical, with awe-inspiring justice,” the inscription says. Historical records say that in 1195, the government launched a crackdown on a religious group called the Tao-hsueh, who criticized Chinese senior officials and emperors for drinking alcohol and having multiple wives and concubines according to a number of researchers who have written about this time period.

Jianming Zheng, a researcher with the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, led the team of archaeologists who excavated the tombs. They discovered that Hu Hong’s tomb had been robbed, but née Wu’s tomb hadn’t. While inscriptions were found inside both tombs, the inscription in née Wu’s tomb is illegible, archaeologists said.

Here, the rear wall of the coffin chamber in née Wu’s tomb.

Credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics

Their bodies had almost completely decayed. A large amount of mercury was found within née Wu’s tomb that “was probably used [unsuccessfully] to prevent decomposition,” the archaeologists wrote in their journal article.

Inside both tombs, the archaeologists found porcelain jars decorated with elephant designs. And inside née Wu’s tomb, they also discovered gold jewelry, gold combs, gold and silver hairpins and a crystal disc. [Photos: Terracotta Warriors Protect Secret Tomb]

Hu Hong was born in April 1147, and according to the inscription and historical records, his family was poor. His father taught Confucianism to the public, and his earlier ancestors were refugees who moved to Longquan County (which is near Qingyuan County) after much of Chinawas engulfed in civil war during the 10th century, according to the inscription.

“Hu Hong loved learning, but his family was poor and had no money to buy books. When there were book peddlers passing by, he would borrow the books, read them overnight and return them the next day,” the “Gazetteer of Chuzhou Prefecture,” which was a text published in 1486, reads in translation.

Apparently, he showed “outstanding talent” as a child in school and, in 1163, passed a competitive series of government exams to get a junior position in the government according to the inscription found in Hu Hong’s tomb. He then rose gradually through the ranks. His career got a boost in 1179, when he agreed to serve on the southern Song dynasty’s northern borders. In 1193, the government recognized him as “best county magistrate of the year,” the inscription says.

As the “investigating censor,” Hu Hong prosecuted the “treacherous and the heretical” in 1195, the inscription says. He was made a military commissioner in 1200 and was charged with defeating a group of rebels. “At the time, the Yao tribes were rebellious, and he stamped the rebels out,” the inscription says. Today, the Yao live in China and Southeast Asia.

In his final years, Hu Hong was growing critical of his own government, and retired not long after 1200. “He knew that he was beyond his prime and insisted on retiring. Had he kept being outspoken, he would have been pushed out,” the inscription says. [In Photos: 1,000-Year-Old Tomb With Colorful Murals Discovered in China]

“Although worried about current affairs and concerned with the moral decline of the time, and though he could not easily let go, he no longer had the energy to fight and serve,” the inscription says. He died in 1203, and his wife died in 1206. Their tombs were built side by side. Hu Hong and née Wu had two sons, three daughters and two granddaughters, the inscription says.

The two tombs were discovered in March 2014. An article reporting the discovery was published in Chinese, in 2015 in the journal Wenwu. Recently, the article was translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

In Photos: Treasures From 800-Year-Old Tombs in China

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In Photos: Treasures From 800-Year-Old Tombs in China

Crystal disc

Credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics

Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

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Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Taking a nap in the afternoon is common in many societies.

Credit: © Marcin Kempski |Dreamstime.com”

Sleep apnea is a condition in which people experience pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, around 22 million Americans may suffer from sleep apnea and around 80 percent of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea goes undiagnosed.

These pauses in breathing, called apneas, can occur as often as 30 or more times per hour, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Sleep apnea may result in poor sleep and lead to daytime sleepiness. Between 12 and 18 million U.S. adults have sleep apnea, the NHLBI says.

There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway becomes partially or fully blocked during sleep. This may happen because the muscles of the throat and tongue relax more than they should during sleep, which hinders air flow to the lungs, the NHLBI says. Other factors that can lead to a blocked airway during sleep include having tonsils that are large compared with the opening of the windpipe, and being overweight, which can narrow the inside of the windpipe.

A blocked airway can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels, which triggers the brain to arouse you from sleep, so that your airway re-opens, the NHLBI says. This awakening may be so short that you do not remember it,according to the Mayo Clinic. When normal breathing resumes, there is often a loud snort or choking sound.

Central sleep apnea is less common than obstructive sleep apnea. With central sleep apnea, the brain stops sending signs to the muscles that allow you to breath. The condition may be due to other medical problems, such as problems that affect the brain stem, Parkinson’s disease, obesity and heart failure, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Some people have a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea, known as mixed sleep apnea.

The most common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring, although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, according to NHLBI. People with the condition may also have pauses in snoring, followed by choking or gasping. Daytime sleepiness is also another common sign of sleep apnea.

Other signs of sleep apnea include:

  • Headaches in the morning
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • Difficulty learning or concentrating during the day
  • Waking up frequently in the night to urinate
  • For central sleep apnea, waking up suddenly with shortness of breath

Because these breathing problems happen during sleep, people are often not aware that they have sleep apnea, and a family member or significant other is often the first person to spot the problem.

“A lot of times [patients] are brought in by their spouse,” said Dr. Robert Lapidus, an associate professor in the Divisions of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at National Jewish Health Hospital in Denver.

Sleep researchers classify sleep apnea as mild, moderate or severe based on the number of apneas and hypopneas that a patient experiences per hour during sleep. An apnea is a cessation of airflow that lasts at least 10 seconds, and a hypopnea is a reduction in airflow of at least 30 percent that’s associated with a drop in blood oxygen levels, and lasts at least 10 seconds, Lapidus said.

Less than five of these events per hour is considered normal, five to 15 is considered mild sleep apnea, 15 to 30 is considered moderate sleep apnea, and greater than 30 is considered severe sleep apnea, Lapidus said.

Though feeling sleepy may also be a symptom, women perceive sleep differently than men, said Dr. Stuart Quan, a sleep medicine specialist and researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. So, this symptom may be confusing. Men may say they are “feeling sleepy,” which to them means they could fall asleep right now if they went to bed, but women are more likely to say they “feel tired or fatigued,” he said. “Tired can mean a lot more than sleepy,” Quan noted. It might not necessarily mean that the person could lie down and fall asleep. [Missing Zzzs: Sleep Problems Common for Single Parents, Women]

People are at increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea if they are overweight/obese, are older than 60, or are male — men are twice as likely as women to have sleep apnea, according to the Mayo Clinic.

However, women, and people who are thin, can still develop sleep apnea. People who have small airways, or enlarged tonsils, may be at increased risk for the condition. You may also be more likely to develop sleep apnea if you have family members with the condition.

A sleep apnea diagnosis is based on a medical history, a physical exam — which looks at the tissue in your mouth, nose and throat — and a sleep test.

Sleep tests are the most accurate way of diagnosing sleep apnea, NHLBI says. One type of sleep test is a polysomnogram. For this test, individuals stay overnight in a sleep lab and have sensors attached to their body to monitor brain activity, eye movements, heart rate and blood pressure.

There are also home-based tests for sleep apnea, which involve using a portable monitor to record oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate and breathing patterns.

An increasing number of sleep apnea patients are being diagnosed with home-based tests, Lapidus said. Home tests are much less expensive than lab tests, more convenient to the patient, and generally provide comparable information to lab tests if patients do not have comorbidities like heart disease, Lapidus said.

However, if a patient does have comorbidities (another condition such as Parkinson’s or anxiety, for example), then doctors like to perform a lab-based test, Lapidus said. In addition, home-based tests may underestimate the severity of the sleep apnea, so if a home-base tests shows a normal result, but doctors are concerned about sleep apnea, a patient may need to repeat the test is a lab, Lapidus said.

People with mild sleep apnea may only need to make some lifestyle changes to improve their condition, such as weight loss, smoking cessation and sleeping on their side instead of their back, according to NHLBI.

A mouthpiece designed to keep the airway open may also help people with mild sleep apnea. These are available from a dentist. Some of these mouthpieces work by bringing the jaw forward. However, these appliances are not as reliably effective as other treatments for sleep apnea, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The most common treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). The device involves a mask over the nose, or mouth and nose, that uses air pressure to keep the throat open during sleep.

If a patient has a lab-based test for sleep apnea, then a technician may also be able to determine the optimal level of air pressure that the patient needs, Lapidus said.

If patients have a home test that shows they have sleep apnea, they can undergo a second home test to determine their treatment, using a device that automatically adjusts the air pressure up and down, Lapidus said.

Some patients will stop using their CPAP machine because they think the device is uncomfortable, but a lot of things can be done to improve the comfort of the device, Lapidus said. These include a fitting so that the mask fits more comfortably, padding devices that reduce pressure on the skin, and a machine that gradually increases air pressure, so that a patient can fall asleep with a lower air pressure, Lapidus said.

In some cases of sleep apnea, surgery is performed to widen the breathing passages. This is generally done only if other treatments have failed, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Amber Angelle and Alina Bradford contributed to this article.

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Long-Lost Da Vinci Painting Fetches Historic $450 Million, Obliterating Records

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Long-Lost Da Vinci Painting Fetches Historic $450 Million, Obliterating Records

Long-Lost Da Vinci Painting Fetches Historic $450 Million, Obliterating Records

A long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting, which depicts Jesus Christ, sold at auction for more than $450 million on Nov. 15, 2017.

Credit: Leonardo da Vinci

A painting by Leonardo da Vinci that preserves the artist’s own handprints sold for more than $450 million at auction tonight (Nov. 15), “obliterating the previous world record for the most expensive work of art at auction,” according to Christie’s Auction House.

Christie’s presented the painting, which depicts Jesus Christ holding up one hand in blessing while cradling a crystal orb in the other, at a sale in New York this evening. The auction house guaranteed the painting at $100 million, meaning it would pay the difference if bidders didn’t reach that level; last time the painting sold, in 2014, it went for $127.5 million. Tonight, the bidding lasted about 20 minutes and boiled down to two bidders, with the numbers already soaring past the guaranteed amount.

“Gasps were heard in the saleroom, which gave way to applause when Christie’s co-chairman Alex Rotter made the winning bid for a client on the phone,” according to a statement from Christie’s. The final sale: $450,312,500 (including buyer’s premium).

At one time, though, the very same painting went for a song — in 1958, it sold for a mere 45 British pounds, which is the equivalent of 990.50 pounds ($1,304) today. That’s because it wasn’t until the late 2000s that anyone realized the painting was a da Vinci. [Leonardo Da Vinci’s 10 Best Ideas]

Art experts now estimate that the painting — titled “Salvator Mundi,” or “Savior of the World” — was made around 1500. But between the mid-1600s and 2005, this piece of da Vinci’s work was lost. The painting now known to be his was thought to be a copy by one of his students, and it was heavily damaged by crude attempts at conservation.

"Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci.
“Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci.

Credit: Leonardo da Vinci

According to Christie’s, the reconstructed history of the painting goes something like this: da Vinci painted it around 1500, leaving behind a few sketches by his hand that tie him to the imagery. At some point, Charles I of England, a great art collector, acquired the piece. It probably hung in his wife’s chambers. Charles I was executed in 1649 after a civil war between the Royalists and the English and Scottish parliaments, which were seeking to curb the monarchy’s power. The artwork was sold in October 1951 to a mason named John Stone. [11 Hidden Secrets in Famous Works of Art]

Stone kept the painting until 1660, when Charles I’s son Charles II returned from exile to retake the English throne. (The intervening years had been a short-lived experiment in republican government run by Oliver Cromwell.) Stone then returned the da Vinci to the new king. Its path then becomes murky. It probably stayed at the Palace of Whitehall in London until the late 1700s, passing from Charles II’s possession to his brother James II, when that monarch took the throne, according to Christie’s. No one knows what happened next. The painting disappears from the historical record until 1900, when it was sold not as a da Vinci but as a work of Bernardino Luini, one of the great master’s students.

The painting bounced from hand to hand, including in the 1958 auction, when it sold for not much more than what people pay for an iPhone X today. It wasn’t until after 2005, when the painting appeared in an auction of a U.S. estate, that anyone realized what it really was.

After that sale, in 2007, conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini, of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, launched a project to restore the painting, removing clumsy dollops of paint that people had put on the wood panel to disguise chips and restoring ugly attempts to patch a crack in the wood. According to Christie’s, while the background of the painting has almost entirely sloughed away, the rendering of Christ’s hands, hair and clothing are well-preserved, and tiny inclusions and specks painted into the crystal orb are still visible.

Once the ugly layers of overpainting and resins were removed, Modestini realized the painting might not be a copy of da Vinci’s work after all, according to a 2011 article by ArtNews. Experts from around the world examined it, and soon everyone agreed: The painting was the real thing. In 2011, the painting was unveiled as a real da Vinci at an exhibit at The National Gallery in London.

Christ’s skin tone is blended with a technique called sfumato, in which the artist presses the heel of his hand into the paint to blur it. Infrared imaging of the painting revealed that these handprints are still pressed into the paint, particularly on the left side of the forehead.

The painting was sold for $80 million in 2013 to Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who then sold it for $127.5 million the following year to Russian investor Dmitry Rybolovlev. The markup led to a viscious legal battle between Rybolovlev and Bouvier. Rybolovlev is now being investigated in Monaco over whether he improperly used his political clout against Bouvier in that dispute, The Guardian recently reported. Rybolovlev’s name has also surfaced in the ongoing investigation about potential links between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, according to The Guardian, as Rybolovlev once bought a Florida property from Trump for $95 million.

The previous record-holder for the priciest “old master” painting was “Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for $76.7 million in 2002, according to Christie’s. The previous record-holder for the most expensive da Vinci was his “Horse and Rider,” which sold for $11,481,865 at Christie’s in 2001.

Original article on Live Science


In Photos: Cremated Buddha Remains and Buddha Statues

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In Photos: Cremated Buddha Remains and Buddha Statues

Spiritual discovery

Credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Cultural Relics

Aborting a Launch of NASA’S Orion Capsule Sounds Absolutely Horrifying

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Aborting a Launch of NASA’S Orion Capsule Sounds Absolutely Horrifying

Credit: NASA/Johnson

NASA is currently developing a space capsule, called Orion, that will eventually carry a crew of four astronauts to Low Earth Orbit and beyond. Should something go catastrophically wrong during launch, an abort system will work to save the lives of the astronauts—but whoa, would they ever be in for a hell of a ride.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV) will be delivered to space on top of NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System (SLS)—a monster rocket system capable of producing 8.8 million pounds of thrust. If this thing were to fail before takeoff or during the ascent, the fuel-packed rockets would unleash a massive explosion.

Hopefully this will never happen, but NASA is not taking any chances. As part of the SLS and Orion development process, NASA has scheduled a full stress test of the Launch Abort System (LAS) system for April 2019. That’s a bit earlier than NASA had intended, but it needs to run the test to move things along and help validate computer models of the system’s performance.

In a nutshell, here’s how LAS works: in event of an emergency on the launch pad or during the ascent, the system will separate the Orion crew module from the rocket using a solid rocket-powered launch abort motor (AM). This booster will produce a short, powerful burst of thrust to quickly create distance between the capsule and the falling—and possibly exploding—rocket.

For the test, NASA will use a fully functional LAS and an uncrewed 22,000 pound Orion test vehicle. These components will be placed atop an Orbital ATK-built booster rocket, and will launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Once at an altitude of 32,000 feet, and traveling at Mach 1.3 (that’s over 1,000 miles per hour), the LAS’s powerful reverse-flow abort motor will spring into action, igniting and pushing the Orion test module away from the booster.

So imagine you’re an astronaut, flying faster than the speed of sound, thinking you’re on your way to the Moon or Mars—or at least space—when all of a sudden you’re rudely shoved away from the rocket. Talk about whiplash. It’s probably at that point you’d be given an unwelcome reminder of what you had for lunch.

The falling capsule will not deploy a parachute during the test, as NASA is primarily assessing the performance of the capsule ejection stage.

“This will be the only time we test a fully active launch abort system during ascent before we fly crew, so verifying that it works as predicted, in the event of an emergency, is a critical step before we put astronauts on board,” Don Reed, manager of the Orion Program’s Flight Test Management Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in an agency release. “No matter what approach you take, having to move a 22,000-pound spacecraft away quickly from a catastrophic event, like a potential rocket failure, is extremely challenging.”

The LAS is comprised of two parts, a fairing assembly that protects the capsule from wind, heat, and acoustics of launch, and a launch abort tower, which includes three motors.

Sadly, it’s still going to be a while before we see any of this awesome new space technology applied to actual missions. On Wednesday, NASA announced that the inaugural launch of SLS won’t happen until December 2019, a target date that could easily slip to mid-2020. NASA is currently about a year (or more) behind schedule, citing technical hurdles and unforeseen events, such as a tornado striking the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana in February 2016. More encouragingly, NASA says it’s still on track for the first flight with astronauts, which is scheduled for 2023.

Looks like we’re going to have to patient as we prepare for a crewed mission to Mars and beyond.


Chemists May Have Found the ‘Missing Link’ to the First Life on Earth

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Chemists May Have Found the ‘Missing Link’ to the First Life on Earth

  • Chemists May Have Found the 'Missing Link' to the First Life on Earth
 Credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock

Four billion years ago, Earth was covered in a watery sludge swarming with primordial molecules, gases, and minerals — nothing that biologists would recognize as alive. Then somehow, out of that prebiotic stew emerged the first critical building blocks — proteins, sugars, amino acids, cell walls — that would combine over the next billion years to form the first specks of life on the planet.

A subset of chemists have devoted their careers to puzzling out the early chemical and environmental conditions that gave rise to the origins of life. With scant clues from the geological record, they synthesize simple molecules that may have existed billions of years ago and test if these ancient enzymes had the skills to turn prebiotic raw material into the stuff of life.

A team of such chemists from the Scripps Research Institute reportedNov. 6 in the journal Nature Chemistry that they identified a single, primitive enzyme that could have reacted with early Earth catalysts to produce some of the key precursors to life: the short chains of amino acids that power cells, the lipids that form cell walls, and the strands of nucleotides that store genetic information.

Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy is an associate professor of chemistry at Scripps and lead author of the origins of life paper. For a number of years, his lab has been experimenting with a synthetic enzyme called diamidophosphate (DAP) that’s been shown to drive a critical chemical process called phosphorylation. Without phosphorylation — which is simply the process of adding a phosphate molecule to another molecule — life wouldn’t exist.

“If you look at life today, and how it probably was at least three billion years ago, it was based on a lot of phosphorylation chemistry,” Krishnamurthy told Seeker. “Your RNA, DNA, and a lot of your biomolecules are phosphorylated. So are sugars, amino acids, and proteins.”

The enzymes that trigger phosphorylation are called kinases. They use phosphorylation to send signals instructing cells to divide, to make more of one protein than another, to tell DNA strands to separate, or RNA to form. DAP may have been one of the first primordial kinases to get the phosphorylation ball rolling, Krishnamurthy believed.

To test his theory, Krishnamurthy and his colleagues simulated early Earth conditions in the lab, using both a water base and a muddy paste set to varying pH levels. They combined DAP with different concentrations of magnesium, zinc, and a compound called imidazole that acted as a catalyst to speed the reactions, which still took weeks or sometimes months to complete.

For DAP to pass the test, it had to successfully trigger phosphorylation events that resulted in simple nucleotides, peptides, and cell wall structures under similar conditions. Past candidates for origin-of-life enzymes could only phosphorylate certain structures under wildly different chemical and environmental conditions. DAP, Krishnamurthy found, could do it all, phosphorylating the four nucleoside building blocks of RNA, then short RNA-like strands, then fatty acids, lipids, and peptide chains.

Does that mean that DAP is the pixie dust that transformed random matter into life? Not quite, said Krishnamurthy.

“The best we can do is try to demonstrate that simple chemicals under the right conditions could give rise to further chemistry which may lead to life-like behavior. We can’t make a claim that this is the way that life formed on the early Earth.”

RELATED: Life on Earth May Have Started With a Cosmic Splash

For one thing, Krishnamurthy has no proof that DAP even existed four billion years ago. He synthesized the molecule in his lab as a way to solve one of the fundamental challenges to phosphorylating in wet, early Earth conditions. For most phosphorylation reactions to work, they need to remove a molecule of water in the process.

“How do you remove water from a molecule when you are surrounded by a pool of water?” asked Krishnamurthy. “That’s thermodynamically an uphill task.”

DAP gets around that problem by removing a molecule of ammonia instead of water.

Krishnamurthy is working with geochemists to identify potential sources of DAP in the distant geological past. Phosphate-rich lava flows may have reacted with ammonia in the air to create DAP, or it could have been leached out of phosphate-containing minerals. Or maybe it even arrived on the back of a meteorite forged by a far-off star.

One thing is clear, without DAP or something like it, Earth might still be a lifeless mud puddle.

Originally published on Seeker.

This Week’s Strangest Science News

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This Week’s Strangest Science News

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At Live Science, we delve into science news from around the world every day — and some of those stories can get a little weird. Here are some of the strangest science news articles from this week.

A mosquito foot magnified 800 times under a scanning electron microscope.

A mosquito foot magnified 800 times under a scanning electron microscope.

Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/RPS

This bizarre image of a mosquito foot sent Reddit into a frenzy as users gave it tens of thousands of upvotes. A bit a digging revealed that this photo — made with a scanning electron microscope by photographer Steve Gschmeissner — shows the end of a mosquito’s leg, including a claw, scales and the pulvillus, a pad with adhesive hairs. [Read more about the magnified mosquito foot]

Sheep can recognize celebrities? Ewe gotta be kidding.

Sheep can recognize celebrities? Ewe gotta be kidding.

Credit: Live Science; Shutterstock

Sheep can identify a person merely by looking at a photo, new research finds. Scientists showed sheep photos of famous people, including actress Emma Watson and former U.S. President Barack Obama. When given the choice between a stranger’s photo and a photo of the celebrity, the sheep chose the celebrity almost 80 percent of the time, even when the photo was taken from a different angle. [Read more about the smart sheep]

On Oct. 22, 2017, 245 people broke a record by "rope jumping" off a bridge in Hortolandia, Brazil.

On Oct. 22, 2017, 245 people broke a record by “rope jumping” off a bridge in Hortolandia, Brazil.

Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters/Newscom

A group of 245 daredevils jumped off a bridge in Brazil and lived to tell the tale, thanks to a keen understanding of physics. The record-setting jump was made possible with a system of ropes, experts told Live Science. After the jump, the daredevils swung like pendulums from the bridge. [Read more about the incredible jump]

This artist's illustration depicts a hypothetical dust ring orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian's Star or Tabby's Star.

This artist’s illustration depicts a hypothetical dust ring orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star or Tabby’s Star.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If an alien megastructure were the cause of the odd blinking seen from “Boyajian’s Star” (also known as “Tabby’s Star”), it would have to be massive enough to block the star’s light in a noticeable way. In other words, it would have to be on the order of five times the sun’s radius, and larger than the star, known as KIC 8462852, itself. [Read more about the size of the possible alien megastructure]

We’ve all heard of crash test dummies. But what about Robutt: the robot butt that tests car seats? Ford engineers estimate that people sit down on their car seats about 25,000 in a 10-year period. Robutt is now testing the Ford Fiesta to ensure these seats stay durable despite heavy use. [Read more about Robutt, the robot butt]

A female bonobo embraces a newcomer on her first day in a new group.

Credit: Courtesy of Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary

Bonobo monkeys didn’t earn the nickname “hippie chimps” for nothing. New observations show that they help unfamiliar bonobos get a food reward, even when they didn’t receive a reward themselves. The monkeys also help strangers, regardless of whether the unknown bonobo asked for help in the first place. [Read more about these helpful monkeys]

The Greek sealstone's small size, along with the veining on the stone, meant that many of the tiny details could be seen only using photomicroscopy.

The Greek sealstone’s small size, along with the veining on the stone, meant that many of the tiny details could be seen only using photomicroscopy.

Credit: Courtesy of The Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati

Researchers found a real treasure: an intricately carved gemstone in an ancient Greek tomb. The gemstone carving depicts a warrior standing over the body of a slain enemy, plunging his sword into another soldier’s neck. [Read more about the gemstone discovery]

Want more weird science news and discoveries? Check out these and other “Strange News” stories on Live Science!