The Mystery of Methuselah

by Rida Fatima

The oldest star in the universe is HD140283 — or Methuselah
Figure 1: The oldest star in the universe is HD140283 — or Methuselah as it’s commonly known. This Digitized Sky Survey image shows Methuselah star, located 190.1 light-years away. Astronomers refined the star’s age to about 14.3 billion years (which is older than the universe), plus or minus 800 million years. Image released March 7, 2013. (Image credit: Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, and UKSTU/AAO)

Scientists tried to determine the age of what they believed to be the universe’s oldest star in 2000 and these observations were made with the help of the European Space Agency’s (ESA). HD140283, often known as Methuselah, was calculated by the Hipparcos satellite to be an astounding 16 billion years old. Such a number seemed somewhat perplexing. The universe is after all 13.8 billion years old, according to studies of the cosmic microwave background. Astronomers began seeking out the truth and vetting the figure’s correctness. Their findings were equally astounding (Crookes, 2022). Methuselah, named after a biblical patriarch who is claimed to have lived to the age of 969 and hence was the longest-living person in the Bible, has been the subject of astronomical observation for more than a century. Methuselah is about 190 light-years away from our planet, residing in the constellation Libra. It zips through the sky at an incredible 1.3 million kilometers per hour.

The metallically poor sub giant is primarily composed of hydrogen and helium, with very little iron which makes it obvious how old this star was (Crookes, 2022). Due to its chemical makeup, it must have formed before iron became widely distributed in the cosmos and during the helium and hydrogen era. However, is it possible that Methuselah is more than 2 billion years older than its surroundings? The cosmos was either not as “new” as scientists believed it to be, or Methuselah was older than the universe. Or maybe the dating was just completely off. What would it be?

Investigating the age of Methusela

This is a backyard view of the sky surrounding the ancient Methuselah star
Figure 2: This is a backyard view of the sky surrounding the ancient Methuselah star, cataloged as HD 140283. Image released March 7, 2013. (Image credit: A. Fujii and Z. Levay (STScI))

The Hubble Space Telescope had conducted observations, noting the locations, separations, and luminous output of stars. The scientists were able to establish a more accurate sense of age by the acquisition of parallax, spectroscopy, and photometry readings. The precise distance to the star was one of the unknowns associated with HD 140283’s age. It was crucial to get this right because it helps to calculate the star’s luminosity and, consequently, its age; the younger the star, the greater the intrinsic luminosity. The astronomers were looking for the parallax effect, which required them to observe the star twice, six months apart, in order to detect any change in the star’s location brought on by the Earth’s orbit, which may be used to determine the distance (Tang et al., 2021).

Astronomers also explain that the theoretical models of the stars also had uncertainties. This includes the exact rates of nuclear reactions in the core as well as the importance of elements being diffused downward in the external layers. As a result, they centered on the hypothesis that any residual helium diffuses deeper into the core, reducing the amount of hydrogen available for nuclear fusion. The age is decreased as fuel is utilized more quickly. The amount of oxygen present in the star was an additional essential component. Since oxygen was not abundant in the universe until a few million years ago, HD 140283 had an oxygen-to-iron ratio that was higher than expected, which again suggested a younger age for the star (Tang et al., 2021).

After doing all of this work, scientists determined that HD 140283 is 14.46 billion years old. Although it was far less than the previously stated age (16 billion), it was still significantly larger than the age of the universe. Within this regard, it still didn’t answer the question and, at first glance, seemed to do little more than ensure that Methuselah would remain a mystery (Lincoln, 2021). However, the scientists included an additional 800 million years of residual uncertainty. It was a significant development. The age of HD 140283 decreased slightly when more adjustments were made. In 2014, a follow-up study was done that reviewed the star’s age to 14.27 billion years. There is no conflict because 13.8 billion years falls inside the star’s error bar if one takes into account all sources of uncertainty, including those in observational measurements and theoretical models.

Additionally, in May 2021, a different team of astronomers updated the best hypotheses for the age and mass of Methuselah, and after modelling the evolution of stars, they determined that it is 12 billion years old. Even though the sun, at 4.6 billion years old, is still a baby compared to HD 140283, this nevertheless places the star’s age well within the universe’s age range. Or does it?

Why does the Universe appear younger than Methuselah

Artist's impression of the formation of the universe's first stars
Figure 3: Artist’s impression of the formation of the universe’s first stars. (Image credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

There are two possibilities explaining why universe appears younger than Methuselah. According to the scientific history, both possibilities may be true in such circumstances. In this situation, such would be unresolved sources of observational inaccuracy as well as some gaps in the dynamics of the universe theory. Primarily, this includes strength of dark energy, which has been the main force behind the cosmos’ long-term expansion (Bond et al., 2013).

Time variation in dark energy can explain the current “age paradox” leading to a change in the rate of acceleration. This hypothesis has been proven to be compatible with theories regarding the basic properties of gravity i.e., causal set theory. According to Matthews, fresh gravitational wave research may assist to explain the conundrum. Cosmic microwave background or the observation of nearby objects like Cepheid variables and supernovae will not be used to measure the Hubble Constant. However, scientists would instead look at the ripples created in the fabric of space and time by pairs of dead stars (Catelan, 2017).

Since gravitational waves were only directly discovered for the first time in 2015, detecting them is a difficult process. However, astronomer Stephen Feeney of the Flatiron Institute in New York believes that a discovery might be found within the next ten years. The goal is to gather information from pairs of neutron star collisions and measure their velocity in relation to Earth by measuring the visible light these events release. It also involves measuring the distance from the gravitational waves that are produced; when combined, these two factors can yield the most precise Hubble Constant determination ever.

The age of HD 140283 is a riddle that is leading to something bigger and more sophisticated in science. It is also changing our understanding of how the universe functions. The paradox is most likely explained by some empirical phenomenon that has gone unnoticed or by a significant gap in our knowledge of the dynamics of cosmic expansion. Astronomers will continue to face challenges as they try to determine exactly what that “something” is.


  • Crookes. (2022, March 7). Methuselah: The oldest star in the universe. Space.Com.
  • Tang, Jianling, and Meridith Joyce. “Revised Best Estimates for the Age and Mass of the Methuselah Star HD 140283 Using MESA and Interferometry and Implications for 1D Convection.” Research Notes of the AAS 5.5 (2021): 117.
  • Lincoln, Don. “Have Astronomers Found a Star Older Than the Universe?.” The Physics Teacher 59.3 (2021): 154-158.
  • Bond, Howard E., et al. “HD 140283: A star in the solar neighborhood that formed shortly after the Big Bang.” The Astrophysical Journal Letters 765.1 (2013): L12.
  • Catelan, M. “The ages of (the oldest) stars.” Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 13.S334 (2017): 11-20.

What Astronomers have to say about the Mystery of Bermuda Triangle?

by Rida Fatima

Bermuda Triangle
(Figure 1: Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle.

For years, many cases of mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the North Atlantic Ocean, have come to light. Since the middle of the 19th century, more than 50 ships and 20 aircraft have disappeared without a trace. However, that does not imply that the search for an explanation has not been entertaining. Maybe there are some extraterrestrial beings involved, something is tugging things under the sea, perhaps there is a connection to the storied lost city of Atlantis. It can also be just bad weather leading to a human error, or a lot of traffic in the area? In reality, there aren’t any more disappearances in this part of the ocean than in any other well-traveled region, yet conspiracy theories still abound. From space, we can investigate a similar phenomenon known as the “Bermuda Triangle of space”. This region above the Earth is known to cause trouble for any spacecraft that happens to pass through it. No one is saying that the ships in question are suddenly dissipating into thin air, but the disturbance nonetheless poses severe issues for both the astronauts’ equipment and safety (Crookes, 2020).


The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), sometimes known as the Bermuda Triangle of Space, is located above the South Atlantic and stretches from Chile to Zimbabwe. It’s located where the inner Van Allen radiation belt is most in close proximity to the planet’s surface. The magnetic field of Earth is very weak here. In order to better understand, let’s look at Earth’s two Van Allen belts, which are magnetically locked rings of charged particles that circle our globe. High-energy protons make up the majority of the inner half, while electrons make up the majority of the outer part. The belts end up shielding the planet’s surface from dangerous radiation because they catch the particles that are firing from the sun’s surface.

Van Allen belts
(Figure 2: How the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) is created.

However, the solar cosmic ray particles are not being repelled to the same degree at the SAA position as they are elsewhere above the globe. As a result, the distance between the sun’s rays and the Earth’s surface is reduced to 200 kilometers (124 miles), and the region experiences an increase in the flux of energetic particles due to the sun’s stronger radiation. The lower geomagnetic field intensity in that location eventually makes satellites there more susceptible to energetic particles, to the point that spacecraft damage could happen when they pass through the zone (Keating, 2018). Due to the decreasing magnetic field intensity, the inner Van Allen radiation belt, or Earth’s radiation belt, is able to approach the planet’s surface, which causes issues with communications satellites and other equipment.

According to a researcher, satellites travelling through this area will be exposed to greater radiation levels to the point where damage may result. “Imagine a discharge or arc in an electrical system. A satellite may become charged as a result of increased radiation arriving, and the ensuing arcs may cause significant harm.


Due to the decreasing magnetic field intensity, the inner Van Allen radiation belt, or Earth’s radiation belt, is able to approach the planet’s surface, which causes issues with communications satellites and other equip. According to a study, satellites travelling through this area will be exposed to greater radiation levels to the point where damage may result. “Imagine a discharge or arc in an electrical system. A satellite may become charged as a result of increased radiation arriving, and the ensuing arcs may cause significant harm. Shutdowns protect a number of significant operations, such as those employing the Hubble Space Telescope, which travels through the SAA ten times per day and spends about 15% of its time there. Unfortunately, but necessary, Hubble cannot gather astronomical data at these times. System failure is probably what would happen if measures weren’t taken. Undoubtedly, there is a greater chance for issues to arise the more complicated electronics have grown. For instance, the onboard oscillator frequency shifts for satellites using the microwave tracking method DORIS, which stands for Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated by Satellite (Aron, 2014).

Van Allen Probes
(Figure 3: The Van Allen Probes (VAP) were launched in 2012 and operated for seven years to better understand Earth’s radiation belts.

Computer issues on board spacecraft that pass by the SAA have also been observed by astronauts. “Putting equipment into a safe mode” involves restricting operations that are more radiation-sensitive. In fact, the SAA is the reason that the International Space Station (ISS) has robust shielding around the areas that are used the most, such the gallery and the sleeping areas, limiting the radiation the astronauts are exposed to. Additionally, it explains why astronauts are required to wear dosimeters, which monitor an individual’s exposure to ionising radiation in real time and issue alerts when harmful levels are reached.


The weak magnetic field above the South Atlantic is a result of Earth’s irregular shape, which is not entirely round. The Earth’s magnetic dipole field is located approximately 300 miles (500 km) away from the planet’s center due to a modest middle bulge (300 miles). Charged particles and cosmic rays are fairly close to the Earth’s surface. They provide minimal protection from interplanetary space where the dip is located. The magnetic bubble still blocks the surface from the solar wind, though.

The magnetic field is maintained by a dynamo mechanism that rises up from the fluidized metal in the Earth’s outer core, producing electric currents. The tumultuous movement of molten, charged material as the globe rotates on its axis creates the magnetic field that gives the planet its north and south poles at the surface. The Earth’s magnetic field, however, is continually moving and changing strength, thus the poles aren’t fixed. The SAA is currently expanding because the magnetic field is diminishing in that region (ESA, 2020).

NASA is actively investigating. Ionospheric Connection Explorer was orbited by a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket on October 10, 2019. Its mission-required monitoring of the weak region in the magnetic field revealed that the “dent” in the magnetic field is basically travelling west and dividing in two. NASA reported that this is making satellite missions more difficult. Terry Sabaka is a geophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, according to Terry,

“The SAA is slow-moving but it is undergoing some change in morphology, so it’s also important that we keep observing it by having continued missions because that’s what helps us make models and predictions.”


Hazard from Space: Just a catastrophe away from Mass Extinction

by Jk_TheAnonymousWriter

Hazard from Space
(AI Generated)

The apocalyptic threat is revolving and approaching the earth at a much faster rate, which gives us a small window to do something about it. It seems like we are either standing on a time bomb or in the spotlight where the space-time bomb will eventually fall.

We are facing more than a thousand mass annihilation threats that could wipe out the entire human civilization. Those apocalyptic threats are categorized as — Asteroid/comet strikes, high-energy solar flares, expanding sun, local gamma-ray bursts, supernova explosions, and moving stars. And today we are going to talk about asteroid strikes.

It has Happened Earlier and may happen again

The day the sky fell was approximately sixty-six million years ago, when dinosaurs were able to see their approaching end. Luis Walter Alvarez and Walter’s theory suggest that a layer of iridium-rich clay was formed as the asteroid hit the earth. The sudden devastation in the affected area and the widespread secondary effects of the impact were the prime reasons why dinosaurs died so instantly.

How could an asteroid wipe out the entire population of dinosaurs?

Well, asteroids aren’t just some space debris or dust; they are pretty large in shape and have rock bodies. They orbit the sun and can range from a few to 100s of meters in diameter. If the asteroid’s fragment lands on the earth’s surface, it’s known as a meteorite. Some meteoroids and space debris burn out when entering the earth’s atmosphere.

By now, numerous craters have been found that support this tragic end of the dinosaurs and the approaching apocalyptic threat.

The asteroid that put an end to all dinosaurs is thought to have a diameter of about 10 to 15 km. Its impact site is known as the Chicxulub crater. The velocity of the asteroid collision caused a much larger crater, about 150 km in diameter. It resulted in throwing a huge amount of debris into the air, resulting in massive tidal waves and substantial fires that drowned certain parts of the American continent. It further contaminated the climate and generated heatwaves; the dust traveled across and somehow blocked out the sunlight (not completely) that reached the earth’s surface. All this led to the devastation and mass extinction of quite a few species, including dinosaurs, and it also had a huge impact on plant growth.

It seems Asteroid was just testing its impact on Dinosaurs

So, by now, I think you know what will happen if an asteroid (1 km wide) ever hits or strikes the earth. Researchers say that even if an asteroid passes the earth’s orbit, it will result in hugely devastating effects. Astronomers have already discovered over 8000 NEOs (near-Earth objects) large enough to wipe out an entire state or city.

Even smaller asteroids that might strike Earth will result in devastating effects. For example, the space rock that fell over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, was about 19 meters wide. It caused severe damage not only at the site of the impact but also 93 kilometers away from the original site. More than 1,200 people were injured. So if you think an asteroid will fall on America and then Canada and Mexico will be alright or have no threat or impact, then you are wrong.

Could we have any chance to survive if a gigantic asteroid collides with Earth?

If we are fortunate, the asteroid will be small and will fall over the ocean in deep water. Then less asteroid rock dust will vaporize, and heat waves and further devastation will be much less as compared to when it straightaway hits the ground. It lowers our chances of extinction but doesn’t provide any surety.

Now assume that if the asteroid is large enough, then it most surely will trigger the apocalyptic button that will put an end to the human era. Even though the asteroid won’t have to touch the surface to wipe out human civilization, the atmospheric impact will create a firewall, and there will be an asteroid shower, large enough to destroy anyone who will see it.

During that time, noxious and poisonous gases would cloud up the sky, which would mostly contain asteroid dust. As a result of the sunlight being blocked, no future greens and vegetation, animals, or humans will survive.

Thinking of Buying an Underground Bunker so that you can survive, well the chances of survival are low

If you are lucky enough, your bunker won’t be situated at the site of impact. The direct hit from a large asteroid will excavate a crater approximately 40 kilometers deep. So find a bunker that is much deeper than that.

But, the bunker
(AI Generated)

Even if your bunker survived the shockwave and was situated somewhere safe. Eventually, you will find the world devastated, and the food in the bunker will run out after some time; either you will die of starvation or from devastating heatwaves and poisonous gas caused by the impact

What if Doctor Strange transports the asteroid to another dimension using his sling ring?

First, it’s not possible; second, it’s fiction. We don’t have Doctor Strange; we have space agencies that are working to rule out this possible threat. Space agencies like NASA are planning to deflect the asteroid from its original path so it doesn’t strike our beloved planet Earth.

Scientists are continuously observing the NEO and estimating the trajectory of a potential asteroid that may strike Earth.

Surprisingly, if an asteroid or space rock changes its trajectory and puts itself in Earth’s sights, then we may have a plan that works out in our favor. NASA has just tested a plan to deal with this possible situation. The space agency smashed an uncrewed rocket into the 525-foot-wide (160-meter) asteroid known as Dimorphos and demonstrated that they were successful in altering the asteroid’s trajectory.

Because Dimorphos isn’t heading for Earth, we can test this as a planetary defense system for future asteroid strikes; if it works, Dinasours will be jealous.

With birth, the end is also determined, and the end of the Earth is given. Knowing this should fill us with terrible fear. It is something we might be able to change, which is similar to our life, which has a start and an end. It is what distinguishes humans; all we can do is make the most of our time on Earth and live a happy and fulfilling life. Rather than looking up at the sky as a threat and wondering what could kill, aspire to the beauty of what is ahead of us and what surrounds us, and get inspired by infinite space that also offers a future and meaning.

The great news is that there is no known potentially hazardous asteroid, a threat that may kill human civilization, reaching Earth for at least the next 100 years.

Are Water Bears True Bears?

By Rida Fatima

(Credit: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library)

Why do water bears exist? Are those bears actually there? It’s simple to respond “no,” as the only similarity between water bears and bears are that they are both animals. Water bears have a morphology that is somewhat similar to that of true bears, like the polar bear or the grizzly, but they are most closely linked to the enormous group of organisms known as the arthropods. This group of creatures, which consists of insects, spiders, millipedes, and crabs, is distinguished by its exoskeleton. However, due to their small size, water bears are invisible to the unaided eye. Their typical size is 1 mm. Over 200 years have passed since the discovery of water bears. They were first referred to as “little water bears” by German pastor and biologist Johann Goeze because of their diminutive size and fondness for wet conditions (Elleuche, 2021)

Water bear Size Comparison
(Figure 1: Tardigrades are extremely small compared to other animals. The water bear micrograph by Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden/grasshopper and the cat photograph by S. Elleuche)

Why water bears are considered as best animals to be sent on mars?

It is known that some microorganisms, including as bacteria, algae, fungi, and archaea, can endure the extreme environments found on other planets and/or moons (e.g. on Mars). Would it also be feasible with regard to higher organisms, such as animals? Specifically, tiny invertebrates called tardigrades? Mars is a relatively unfavorable environment for invertebrates from Earth because of its nearly nonexistent atmosphere, extremely low atmospheric pressure and temperatures, absence of liquid water, and significant doses of cosmic, ionizing, and UV radiation. On the other hand, it is still likely the Solar System location that is friendliest to terrestrial life (apart from the Earth). Numerous studies have demonstrated that nematodes, rotifers, and of course tardigrades are among a few types of cryptobiotic invertebrates that are the best prospects to thrive in Martian circumstances. More than 1,200 species of water bears make up the Phylum Tardigrada (water bears), which can be found in practically every terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystem on Earth, from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains. Studies on survival in harsh environments frequently employ tardigrades as a model multicellular organism because they are among the strongest metazoans on Earth.

Tardigrades in extreme environments
(Figure 2: Tardigrades in extreme environments. Łukasz Kaczmarek photo taken during the research.)

The capacity of tardigrades to enter cryptobiosis is responsible for their extraordinary resistance to harmful environments. The metabolic processes dramatically slow down or even stop in this state. Numerous studies shown that water bears are remarkably resilient to a wide range of environmental stresses, including a lack of liquid water, extremely high and low pressures, radiation, and numerous chemicals. Can we now question if this is sufficient for Mars survival? Additionally, studies have been carried out within the context of BARg operations (Biodiversity and Astrobiology Research group) (Kaczmarek, 2017).

Water Bear Genes Could Help Protect Space Explorers From Radiation

The genes that enable the resilient water bear to survive such extremes have been identified in a new analysis of the tardigrade genome, which may have ramifications for upcoming human space flight. One of the more resilient tardigrade species, Ramazzottius varieornatus, had its DNA examined by scientists from the University of Tokyo. They discovered numerous distinctive features of the genome through this study, including more copies of an antioxidant enzyme and a protein repair gene than were discovered in any other mammal. However, the gene of particular relevance codes for a protein that is specific to the species and probably shields it from radiation. The protein helps to repair radiation damage in addition to shielding the DNA in tardigrade cells from harmful radiation (Daley, 2016).

X-ray-damaged DNA is protected and repaired by a protein generated by the microscopic but tough tardigrades.

At first, it didn’t seem to matter that the scientists transplanted Dsup to grown human cells. The discrepancy, however, was “kept in the incubator for a time with the expectation that the difference would eventually become extremely obvious and that a critical attribute of Dsup lay concealed somewhere in that microscopic difference.” When the cells were reexamined under the microscope a while later, much to our great astonishment, their form and number had altered dramatically, exceeding our expectations. Particularly, over time, the Dsup assisted in DNA repair. This could be a significant advancement in the protection of human astronauts who would be exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation on upcoming missions to Mars and other planets. However, at the moment, it required genetic alterations to do this, which is not going to happen anytime soon. “Once Dsup can be introduced into people, it probably can enhance radio-tolerance”. The protein, according to the researchers, only provides about half the necessary protection, and it’s probable that the tardigrade uses additional defense mechanisms to defend itself from radiation. (Daley, 2016).

The discovery also settles a dispute that arose a year ago after a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, published research asserting tardigrades have amassed roughly around 6000 genes from archaea, bacteria, fungus, and plants which are accounting for nearly 1/6th of the total genome. Furthermore, the concept was that through a process called as horizontal transfer, this particular specie had “borrowed” the genes that gave it its abilities from many other different species. However, after a back-and-forth with some other team that differed with the findings, the researchers rapidly came to the conclusion that the bulk of those genes were a result of contamination during the investigation. This new study took extra efforts to avoid contamination and examined genes obtained through horizontal transfer as well. According to their research, 1.2% of tardigrade genetic material originates from other species, which is not unusual in the animal realm (Daley, 2016). This fact highlights how remarkable the water bears are. Most of these extraordinary talents were independently developed by tardigrades.


280 Million-Year-Old Bacteria Might be Lurking Beneath Mars’ Surface

By Raquel Santos

Conan the Bacterium
(Deinococcus radiodurans (Image by Michael J. Daly/USU) )

Knowing whether there is or ever was life on Mars is a question that we’ve always asked ourselves. There was never any solid indication that there was any form of life on our neighboring planet. Until now.

Researchers at Northwestern University conducted an experiment in which they simulated Mars’ radiation conditions to see how long dried, frozen bacteria and fungi could survive. They concluded that Deinococcus radiodurans, also known as ‘Conan the Bacterium’, could survive 280 million years if buried.

This means that there could be some form of life on Mars, just below the surface, and that the chances of uncovering it are higher than ever.

A Hard-Knock Life on Mars

It’s not complicated to explain why it would be pretty much impossible to find life on Mars. The Red Planet’s environment is unforgiving with icy temperatures, solar protons, and cosmic radiation constantly bombarding its surface.

While there’s evidence that the planet was once more hospitable, it now resembles a frozen desert.

“There is no flowing water or significant water in the Martian atmosphere, so cells and spores would dry out,” said study coauthor Brian Hoffman. “It also is known that the surface temperature on Mars is roughly similar to dry ice, so it is indeed deeply frozen.”

Previous research suggested that some bacteria would be able to survive for up to about a million years beneath the surface of Mars. Now, scientists have discovered that perhaps some life forms could withstand the planet’s harsh conditions for a lot longer.

Martian Simulations – A Proof of Life?

A research team from Northwestern University conducted an experiment in which they simulated the martian environment and radiation to see if any kind of bacteria or fungi could survive underneath the surface.

They exposed six types of organisms to a simulation of the Red Planet’s surface and then zapped them with large doses of gamma radiation and protons to mimic radiation in space. One robust microbe, in particular, the Deinococcus radiodurans, showed promise against the simulated martian conditions.

Conan in a dish
(Conan the Bacterium in a dish (Image by Michael J. Daly/USU))

Using a spectroscopy technique, the researchers measured the accumulation of manganese antioxidants in the microbes’ cells. The more manganese antioxidants are present in the cells, the more resistant a microorganism is to radiation and the better odds it has of survival.

The accumulation of the substance on Conan the Bacterium was such that it would be able to take 140,000 grays of radiation, a dose that’s 28,000 times greater than what would kill us, humans.

Ultraviolet light would kill this microorganism in a few hours if it were exposed to the surface. However, if it were buried just 10 centimeters beneath the surface, its lifespan would increase to 1.5 million years. Burying it 10 meters below showed that Deinococcus radiodurans could survive up to 280 million years.

Conan the Bacterium’s survival skills are due to its genetic code. This microorganism’s chromosomes and plasmids are perfectly aligned and linked together in a way that allows for careful repair after intense radiation exposure.

But what does this all mean exactly?

The Risk of Interplanetary Contamination

If any bacteria or fungi similar to Deinococcus radiodurans ever existed on Mars, particularly during a time when the water stopped flowing, its remains might still be dormant just under the surface.

“Although D. radiodurans buried in the Martian subsurface could not survive dormant for the estimated 2 to 2.5 billion years since flowing water disappeared on Mars, such Martian environments are regularly altered and melted by meteorite impacts,” Michael Daly said. “We suggest that periodic melting could allow intermittent repopulation and dispersal. Also, if Martian life ever existed, even if viable lifeforms are not now present on Mars, their macromolecules and viruses would survive much, much longer. That strengthens the probability that, if life ever evolved on Mars, this will be revealed in future missions.”

Future missions like ExoMars, the Mars Life Explorer, and the Mars Sample Return programs will extract and return materials from about two meters below Mars’ surface. The teams hope that these extractions can prove whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

If there is in fact evidence that there are any dormant life forms on Mars, there might be risks of contamination. Future missions and astronauts might contaminate the planet with their microbes.

“Our model organisms serve as proxies for both forward contamination of Mars, as well as backward contamination of Earth, both of which should be avoided,” said Michael Daly. “Importantly, these findings have biodefense implications, too, because the threat of biological agents, such as Anthrax, remains a concern to military and homeland defense.”

The study, “Effects of desiccation and freezing on microbial ionizing radiation survivability: Considerations for Mars sample-return” was published in the journal Astrobiology and can be found, here.


Asteroid Mining – Economic Benefit and Fallout

Asteroid Mining
(Credit: Detlev Van Ravenswaay via Science Photo Library)

by Rida Fatima


Asteroids are the remaining crumbs from the formation of the planets, the remains of the youthful exuberance of our solar system. Much of the space period was spent ignoring asteroids in favour of the Moon and the much more glamorous planets. The asteroids, which are dark, irregular rocks that are difficult to see and locate, have long passed unnoticed by us. However, that was a misstep. They are essential to the destiny of our species; in fact, asteroids are linked to humanity’s survival and advancement, three options are listed ahead. They carry messages that date back to the formation of the solar system, long before our Earth existed, and where we are heading depends on how we got here. They are also stores of resources that could help us avoid shortages in the future. Last but not least, a small point: We could all be wiped off the face of the planet by an asteroid.

Asteroids are the byproducts of collisions between some of the first protoplanets, or “planetesimals,” which formed in large numbers when the solar system was only a few million years old. Many asteroids are therefore nothing more than heaps of fragmented debris kept together by their own weak gravity, which is around a million times weaker than the gravity we experience on Earth. Because asteroids are untainted messengers from those violent early times, unravelling the solar system’s volatile history is made easier by their presence. In contrast to the planets, the asteroids have not undergone significant change in the last few billion years. There are millions of them, and the vast majority of them orbit the Sun in a region known as the “Main Belt” that lies between Mars and Jupiter.


Asteroid mining is largely a speculative concept due to its enormous expense. While precise costs of commercial mining are still unknown, comparisons can be made with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which aims to collect samples from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The mission is anticipated to take 7 years and cost over US$1 billion, even though it is only expected to return 400 grammes to 1 kilogramme of material. In order to cover such significant development expenditures, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries were unable to raise the necessary funds. In 2018 and 2019, respectively, other companies bought out both enterprises. Because of the incredibly costly minerals that asteroids have, despite its enormous expense, the development of asteroid mining technology may very well be a successful business. According to Asterank, which calculates the potential value of the roughly 6,000 asteroids that NASA currently monitors, mining just the top 10 most profitable asteroids—those that are both closest to Earth and have the most value and would result in a profit of around US$1.5 trillion. Additionally, there is enormous opportunity for growth. It has been estimated that one asteroid, 16 Psyche, holds US$700 quintillion in gold, or nearly US$93 billion for every person on earth.

Such technologies might also directly affect the environment. The utilisation of traditional underground mining methods, which result in acid mine drainage and leak dangerous substances like lead and arsenic into streams, would be completely replaced by asteroid mining. It may pave the way for the creation of solar-powered satellites, a potentially dependable source of renewable energy. The majority of the advancements in asteroid mining technologies have been made in the area of water extraction, reflecting worries about the global water crisis. Small-scale mining (ASM) enterprises that are not run by larger mining companies would be particularly affected by this. The use of child labour and deadly accidents within Congolese ASM activities has revealed the need for considerable change.

Economic Impacts

The implications of asteroid mining on the global economy are both positive and negative. On the one hand, it could produce substantial wealth for individuals; astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson claims that the first trillionaire will be a businessman engaged in asteroid mining. It could also destroy the global raw materials sector, which is currently valued at about US$660 billion.

All raw commodities would swiftly lose value as the market would be inundated with asteroid mining resources. Researchers from Tel Aviv University modelled a comparable scenario. They predicted that there would be a tremendous “global struggle for riches and power” in a society that mined asteroids. They arrived at this conclusion after performing a simulation in which one shipment of space minerals reduced the value of the price of gold on Earth by 50%. Notably, the Tel Aviv researchers also predicted that developing countries would suffer greatly from this battle because they rely heavily on the export of minerals and lack the resources to set up their own asteroid mining operations. This perspective, though it might be a feasible one, is not covered in great detail in the economics of space mining literature that is currently available. Asteroid mining might give one company dominance over the trading of a single natural resource, putting at risk the countries that currently rely on resource exports. For instance, some asteroids have platinum inside them that might be worth $50 billion. The leading producer of platinum in the world, South Africa, produced only 4.3 million ounces of the metal in 2018, worth about US$3.8 billion, at an average price of US$882.18 per ounce. The utilisation of South Africa’s platinum riches as well as its numerous other natural resources has considerably helped the country; the sector now employs over 451,000 people and accounts for 8.2 percent of its GDP. Future asteroid mining would become commonplace, which would have a negative impact on many South Africans’ ability to support themselves.

Zimbabwe, another big producer of platinum, would struggle significantly more if mining operations were seized. A wide range of developing economies are in danger as research is being done to find out how much other elements, like cobalt, reside on other asteroids. While, the people currently operating in dangerous mining conditions would probably be safer, but they would also lose their jobs. More significantly, those who lost their jobs would not be able to find new employment in the asteroid mining sector, especially low-income individuals who lack the necessary skills. As a result, these crucial low-skilled occupations for those in desperate need of money would be permanently lost.

Steps Forward

There are a few possible solutions to this problem. The first would entail increasing access to asteroid mining technologies for emerging economies so that more would be able to compete in a future space-oriented economy. Given that such activities would likely be significantly influenced by private enterprises, developing nations may need to sponsor the presence of such companies within their borders or support educational initiatives that would enable the establishment of similar companies domestically. The second choice would necessitate the diversification of economies, as many of them are currently quite dependent on mining technologies. However, given that this process is already occurring and moving very slowly, technology advancements that exclusively benefit wealthy countries would make it slower.

A third option would be to create a system through which wealthier countries that employ the technology would compensate less wealthy countries, as was outlined in the Tel Aviv University study. The last option is for legislators to work on responsible production regulation. This would guarantee that materials would only be produced at a rate that is equivalent to current production, even if mining asteroids in enormous quantities became feasible. This would also lessen the possibility of a situation known as a tragedy of the commons, in which excessive consumption depletes a resource’s availability. It is high time to bring all countries to the asteroid mining table; asteroid mining operations must also involve countries that stand to bear the brunt of its negative economic impacts so things will be divided and managed fairly, producing a less hectic result.