A disturbance on the rings of Saturn and other pictures

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NASA / JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Not Guilty

A bright disruption in Saturn’s narrow F ring captured by the Cassini spacecraft suggests it may have been disturbed recently. But Pandora lurking nearby, at lower right is unlikely the cause. 

This feature, sometimes refer to as “jets” was most likely created by the interaction of a small object embedded in the ring itself and material in the core of the ring. These bodies are so small and embedded in the F ring they are difficult to spot at the resolution currently available. 

Instead, their handiwork, like pictured here, reveals their presence, and allows scientists to study these stealthy sculptors of the F ring.

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Orion’s deep dive

A replica of the Orion spacecraft was pulled back like a pendulum, swung, released and plunged into a 6.1 meter deep pool during testing at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

Securely seated inside the capsule, crash-test dummies wearing modified Advanced Crew Escape Suits are being put through their paces to help engineers understand how splashdown in the ocean during return from deep-space missions could impact the crew and seats.

Each test in the water-impact series simulates different scenarios for Orion’s parachute-assisted landings, wind conditions, velocities and wave heights the spacecraft and crew may experience when landing in the ocean upon return missions in support of the journey to Mars.

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Jacobs School of Engineering, UC San Diego

Graphene sniffs out DNA mutations

Embedded with double stranded DNA, this electrical graphene chip is able to detect mutations in DNA in the body, thanks to bioengineers from the University of California. 

Graphene is a type of carbon made of layered sheets only one atom thick. Researchers say this chip has the potential to be used in medical applications, including blood-based tests for early cancer screening. 

The chip’s DNA is an engineered probe containing a sequence code for a specific, basic type of DNA mutation. When this mutation is detected, the chip gives off an electrical signal.  

This breakthrough is the first step towards developing a chip that can be inserted into the body and, in real time, communicate DNA mutations wirelessly to a smartphone or laptop. 

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Salk Institute

First detail of immune cells’ surface

When the body is fighting an invading pathogen, white blood cells–including T cells–must respond. Now researchers have imaged how vital receptors on the surface of T cells bundle together when activated for the first time.

The team used a super-resolution microscope called light-sheet direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM), which let the researchers visualize this process in mouse lymph nodes at a resolution of approximately 50 nanometers.

The study published in this weeks Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could help scientists better understand how to turn up or down the immune system’s activity to treat autoimmune diseases, infections or even cancer. 

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Lynette Cook

Giant planet orbiting 2 suns discovered

The discovery of a new planet that orbits two suns simultaneously was announced this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego.

With a mass and radius nearly identical to that of Jupiter, the planet, Kepler-1647b, pictured here as an artist’s impression, is the largest circumbinary planet — a planet that orbits two stars — ever discovered. Located in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, Kepler-1647b is 3,700 light-years away from Earth and approximately 4.4 billion years old, roughly Earth’s age. 

The stars it orbits are similar in size to our Sun, and it also has the largest orbit of any circumbinary planet ever found, taking roughly three Earth-years to orbit its host stars.

The team that discovered the new planet used data from the Kepler telescope and includes astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, San Francisco State University and San Diego State University. 

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