• Can Evolution Beat Climate Change?

    The oceanic pincushion known as the purple sea urchin relies on its many spines and pincers for protection and food. An inability to form its spiny shell would devastate the species, which thrives on rocky shores off North America’s west coast. Unfortunately for the purple sea urchin, higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere as a result of human fossil-fuel burning presage a more acidic ocean that might make it harder to form such shells.

    But new research suggests that the purple sea urchin may have the genetic reserves to combat this insidious threat. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 8 found that exposing purple sea urchins to the kinds of acidified ocean conditions possible in the future unleashed genetic changes that may help the animal survive. The researchers showed that although the exterior of sea urchin larvae changed very little, their genetics adapted to high CO2 environmental conditions in a single life span.

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  • Just Explain It: Solar Storms

    You’ve probably heard of or seen photos of the Aurora Borealis – a natural light show in the northern night sky. But did you know this phenomenon is actually caused by solar storms, happening on the Sun's surface 93 million miles away?

    As it happens, the storms aren’t just in the business of putting on a great show. They can also interfere with GPS and satellites, and even cause major power outages.

    Later this year, solar activity is expected to increase, and so will the likelihood that these storms will affect our everyday lives on Earth. Travel, communications, phone service and basic power are all vulnerable to solar storms.

    So, what causes these solar storms? How do they affect us here on Earth? And what can we do to protect infrastructure and ourselves? That's the topic of today's "Just Explain It."

    [Related: Slumbering Sun Should Wake Up This Year]

    Let’s start by going straight to the source: the Sun.  

    On the Sun’s surface, turbulent magnetic activity creates what are called sunspots.

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  • 3D-Textured Solar Cells Will Be Tested in Space

    An experimental 3D-textured solar cell is set to be bolted to the outside of the International Space Station (ISS), where it will experience 16 "sunrises" each day as part of a harsh performance test.

    A proposal submitted by W. Jud Ready, a professor of materials science at Georgia Tech, to study the performance of his "3D" textured solar cell in space was recently accepted by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the organization that manages research onboard the ISS. His solar cell, made from carbon nanotubes coated in an experimental light-absorbing material, will hitch a ride to the ISS sometime next year.

    "It will be placed out on what they euphemistically call the back porch of the Japanese Experiment Module...It plugs into, literally, a USB port," Ready said.

    [Scientists 'Evolve' a Super-Efficient Solar Cell]

    The ISS has served as an orbiting laboratory for scientists, academics and even schoolchildren for years, but typically, the experiments are

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  • NASA Spacecraft Take Spring Break at Mars

    NASA's robotic Mars explorers are taking a cosmic break for the next few weeks, thanks to an unfavorable planetary alignment of Mars, the Earth and the sun.

    Mission controllers won't send any commands to the agency's Opportunity rover, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) or Mars Odyssey orbiter from today (April 9) through April 26. The blackout is even longer for NASA's car-size Curiosity rover, which is slated to go solo from April 4 through May 1.

    The cause of the communications moratorium is a phenomenon called a Mars solar conjunction, during which the sun comes between Earth and the Red Planet. Our star can disrupt and degrade interplanetary signals in this formation, so mission teams won't be taking any chances.

    "Receiving a partial command could confuse the spacecraft, putting them in grave danger," NASA officials explain in a video posted last month by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. [The Boldest Mars Missions in History]


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