Fiery furnace galaxies, fair fungal partners and Zika on the brain

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SpaceX lands a rocket on ocean droneship

Over the weekend, a Falcon 9 rocket launched as part of SpaceX’s eighth supply mission to deliver critical cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). But what’s more exciting is for the first time the stage-1 rocket landed on a floating droneship. A remote camera aboard the droneship captured this image of the landing.

The success of this landing is a milestone for SpaceX after four previous attempts at sea landing on the "Of Course I Still Love You” droneship failed.

Now SpaceX has landed rockets on the ground and ocean, the company could make space missions less costly.

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Erick Loiola, PhD / Rodrigo Madeiro, PhD / IDOR

Zika virus tested in brain precursor cells

This confocal microscopy image is of a human neural stem cell culture infected with Zika virus (red). Cell nuclei are shown in blue.

A study published in Science this week reported that the Zika virus preferentially kills developing brain cells. The results offer evidence for how Zika may cause brain defects in babies – and specifically microcephaly, a rare birth defect where the brain fails to grow properly.

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ESO / Aniello Grado / Luca Limatola

Inside the fiery furnace

This new image from the Very Large Telescope’s Survey Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile captures a spectacular concentration of galaxies known as the Fornax Cluster, which can be found in the southern hemisphere constellation of Fornax (the furnace). The cluster plays host to a menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes – nearly 60 large galaxies and a similar number of smaller dwarf galaxies.

Such galaxy clusters are commonplace in the Universe and illustrate the powerful influence of gravity over large distances as it draws the enormous masses of individual galaxies into one region.

Galaxy clusters do not come in neatly defined shapes so it is difficult to determine exactly where they begin and end. However, astronomers have estimated that the centre of the Fornax Cluster is around 65 million light-years from Earth.

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NASA Ames / Tim Sandstrom

NASA supercomputer simulations improve aircraft design

Researchers at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at Ames have produced, for the first time, simulations of sound produced by air. This will help predict noise sources for rotors designed for new green aviation technologies.

This image was generated from a computer simulation of a contra-rotating, open-rotor design, where red particles are “released” on the upstream blades and blue on the aft blades.

Solid colours are released on the blade tips, while faded colours are on the blade trailing edges. The basket-weave pattern shows where particles interact with each other – a source of blade noise.

Using computational fluid dynamics methods and the Pleiades supercomputer, the NAS team verified the simulation accuracy and compared sound pressure level ranges with extensive wind tunnel test data from NASA’s Glenn Research Centre and General Electric. Their simulations and results matched closely with the wind tunnel test results for sounds produced by the rotating blades.

The analysis requires a massive amount of computing power and time. Currently, the NAS team is researching ways to speed up the simulation and analysis process and cut down on computing resources needed to design quiet planes that are more Earth-friendly.

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Plants force fungal partners to behave fairly

Do plants operate according to economic criteria? A study published in Ecology letters outlines a “carbs for phosphates” deal between plants and mycorrhizal fungi (pictured), which can only feed with a partner.

The plant supplies the fungus with carbohydrates and is “paid back” in phosphates. Phosphates are extremely attractive for the plant as they act as fertiliser and help it grow.

It really gets interesting when plants are mutualised with fungal partners of varying degrees of cooperativeness: a “meaner” one, which supplies fewer phosphates per unit of carbohydrate provided, and a “more generous” one, which “pays” more phosphates for its nutrients.

"In a case like this, the plant can deliberately decide to provide the meaner partner with fewer carbohydrates," write the University of Zurich ecologists.

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