How lasers and a goggle-wearing parrot could aid flying robot designs

Obi the parrotlet wearing protective goggles.

Obi the parrotlet wearing protective goggles.  (Eric Gutierrez)

A barely visible fog hangs in the air in a California laboratory, illuminated by a laser. And through it flies a parrot, outfitted with a pair of tiny, red-tinted goggles to protect its eyes.

As the bird flaps its way through the water particles, its wings generate disruptive waves, tracing patterns that help scientists understand how animals fly.

In a new study, a team of scientists measured and analyzed the particle trails that were produced by the goggle-wearing parrot’s test flights, and showed that previous computer models of wing movement aren’t as accurate as they once thought. This new perspective on flight dynamics could inform future wing designs in autonomous flying robots, according to the study authors.

When animals fly, they create an invisible “footprint” in the air, similar to the wake that a swimmer leaves behind in water. Computer models can interpret these air disturbances to calculate the forces that are required to keep a flyer aloft and propel it forward.

A team of scientists had recently developed a new system that tracked the airflow generated by flight at an unprecedented level of detail. They wanted to compare their improved observations to several commonly used computer models that use wake measurements to estimate flying animals’ lift, to see if their predictions would be on track.

Flight of the parrotlet

For the study, the researchers enlisted the help of a Pacific parrotlet — a type of small parrot — named Obi. Obi was trained to fly between two perches that are positioned about 3 feet apart, through a very fine mist of water droplets, which are illuminated by a laser sheet. The water particles that seeded the air were exceptionally small, “only 1 micron in diameter,” said study author David Lentink, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University in California. (In comparison, the average strand of human hair is about 100 microns thick.)

Obi’s eyes were protected from the laser’s light with custom goggles: a 3D-printed frame that is fitted with lenses cut from human safety glasses — the same type of glasses worn by Lentink and his team.

When the laser flashed on and off — at a rate of 1,000 times per second — the water droplets scattered the laser’s light, and high-speed cameras shooting 1,000 frames per second captured the trails of disturbed particles as Obi fluttered from perch to perch.

The tests showed something unexpected. Computer models predicted that once the whirling air patterns — also known as vortices — were created by a bird’s wings, they would remain relatively stable in the air. But the patterns Obi traced began to disintegrate after the bird flapped its wings just a few times.

“We were surprised to find the vortices that are usually drawn in papers and text books as beautiful donut rings turned out to break up dramatically after two to three wing beats,” Lentink told Live Science in an email. He explained that this meant the models, which are widely used in animal flight studies to calculate an animal’s lift based on the wake it produced, were likely inaccurate.

“Thanks to the high-speed recording, we were able to capture this and play it back in slow motion, so we could see with our eyes how the vortices break up and make it hard for the models to predict lift well,” Lentink said.

Testing the flight models

The researchers performed their own calculations about how much lift Obi generated from his wing beats by using a device that Lentink’s team developed in 2015 — an enclosed box that’s equipped with force sensors so sensitive that they were able to detect vibrations produced by the lab’s ventilation system, Lentink said in a statement .

They then tested three different models, plugging in the measurements of the air patterns from Obi’s flights, and comparing the models’ lift estimates to their own. The models produced a range of results — none of which matched the scientists’ calculations.

Creating better models will be an important next step for studying animal flight, Lentink told Live Science. Video of a be-goggled Obi showed that even a slow-flying parrotlet’s wing movements are more complex than scientists had anticipated. Even more variations are likely to exist across species and in animals using different flying techniques, which suggests that the current models are greatly oversimplified, the study authors wrote. Updating them will enable researchers to better understand how animals fly, and could help engineers improve flying robots — many of which mimic animals’ powered flight.

“Many people look at the results in the animal flight literature for understanding how robotic wings could be designed better,” Lentink said in a statement. “Now, we’ve shown that the equations that people have used are not as reliable as the community hoped they were. We need new studies, new methods to really inform this design process much more reliably.”

The findings were published online Dec. 5 in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics .

Original article on Live Science .

Utah to spend $138,000 to restore Butch Cassidy’s cabin

NOW PLAYINGButch Cassidy: Non-violent criminal or first US gangster?

Utah state officials are going to spend $138,000 to restore a decaying wood cabin in Piute County that has become a tourist spot because it’s believed to be the boyhood home of outlaw Butch Cassidy.

The Utah Legislature has authorized $138,000 to disassemble the decrepit cabin outside Circleville and put it back together piece by restored piece, KSL-TV reported.

“It’s slowly degrading,” said Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman. “It’s not on a real foundation and it’s slowly tilting and leaning and listing. And we just, we really wanted to preserve the cabin.”


The state is also working to build a parking lot big enough for 20 cars and four buses.

“We took some counts,” Bushman said. “We were getting between 60 and 90 cars a day stopping here, out on the highway.”

The cabin is currently owned by Afton Morgan, but many believe it is where Cassidy grew up. Cassidy, whose real name was Robert Leroy Parker, was born in Beaver in 1866 and the Parker family did live in the Circleville cabin. It is unknown if Cassidy lived there with his family of if he had already left to live the life of an outlaw.

“There’s a lot of rumors of that,” Morgan said. “But to the best of our knowledge, Butch came here when he was just a young boy. I’ve heard all the way from 8 to 12 years old.”

Fred Hayes, director of the Utah Division of State Parks, said his agency will develop information signs for the historic site. He said the division will do its best to get the history right, including the ongoing debate on whether or not the law ever caught Cassidy.


In the popular 1969 movie about the outlaw, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the gang of outlaws flees to South America and dies in a shootout in 1908. Morgan said he doesn’t believe the Hollywood ending.

“I don’t buy that story, nope!” Morgan said. “We have people from Panguitch and people from Circleville, and they claim they saw him in the ’30s.”

1,000-year-old Viking toolbox found at mysterious Danish fortress

The remains of the toolbox were found in what archaeologists think was a workshop in the Viking fortress at Borgring.

The remains of the toolbox were found in what archaeologists think was a workshop in the Viking fortress at Borgring.

A Viking toolbox found in Denmark has been opened for the first time in 1,000 years, revealing an extraordinary set of iron hand tools that may have been used to make Viking ships and houses, according to archaeologists.

The tools were found this summer at a mysterious, ring-shaped fortress at Borgring, on the island of Zealand. The famed 10th-century Danish king Harald Bluetooth is thought to have ordered the construction of the fortress.

So far, archaeologists have found at least 14 iron tools inside a single deposit of earth excavated from a gatehouse building of the fortress. The researchers said only traces remain of the wooden chest that once held the tools. [See Photos of the Viking Tools Found at the Danish Fortress]

Iron was valuable in Viking-age Denmark , and the researchers think the tools once belonged to a craftsman who occupied a workroom in the gatehouse until it collapsed in the late 10th century.

The archaeologists are still studying the heavily rusted objects, but they’ve already identified several sophisticated hand tools and other metal items, including a set of “spoon drills” that were used to make holes in timber; what looks like a pair of tweezers or small pliers; a “clink nail” used to fasten wooden planks together; four carefully crafted chain links attached to an iron ring; and a drawplate to make metal wires that may have been used in jewelry.

Archaeologist Nanna Holm, a curator at the Danish Castle Center in Vordingborg who is leading the excavations of the ringed-shaped fort at Borgring, said this is the first time an entire set of tools has been discovered in a Viking workplace.

“This is not an ordinary find,” Holm told Live Science. “Not many tools are found in Scandinavia, but the others found before this have all been left for the gods, by being put down in a swamp.”

The newfound tools are special because they were found where the craftsman would have been working, she said. “That’s why it’s so exciting for us to see what’s inside, because we can see what one man has used at this specific site,” Holm added.

Viking iron

The cache of iron tools was first located by amateur archaeologists using a metal detector near the eastern gate of the buried fortress at Borgring.

That discovery inspired Holm’s archaeological team in August to excavate the eastern gatehouse, where they removed the deposit of earth containing all the tools in one piece — a delicate process that took two days.

The next step was to transport the lump of earth, rust and iron to a local hospital, where it was scanned with computed tomography (CT) equipment usually used by doctors to examine the internal organs of their patients. [Photos: 10th-Century Viking Tomb Unearthed in Denmark]

The CT scans revealed the precise arrangement of at least 14 iron tools, which have since been excavated from the toolbox deposit for individual X-ray studies and preservation before they are put on display in an exhibition next year, Holm said.

All of the tools are heavily corroded, but much of the original iron remains, and even more tools may be hidden in the rust, according to the researchers. “There are a minimum of 14 tools, but I think there are 16 now, from the new X-rays that we’ve already done,” Holm said.

The contents of the toolbox provide a rare glimpse of working life in the late Viking age , she said.

“They can be used for different crafts,” Holm said. “We have some spoon drills for making holes in wood, which could be used for building ships or for building houses.”

The iron drawplate has a series of small holes of different sizes that were used to make wires from softer metals, the researchers said. “You pulled the metal through each of the holes to make it smaller and smaller, and thinner and thinner,” she explained.


Bluetooth technology

The toolbox is an important early find for the archaeologists, who will conduct further excavations at Borgring each summer for the next three years, Holm said.

The remains of houses and human graves have been found at other Viking ring forts, but the toolbox is the first direct evidence of human habitation at Borgring itself, she added.

“So far, we haven’t found any houses, but we now have proof that there were people here — so hopefully, next year, we will find their houses,” Holm said. [Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Culture]

Archaeologists think the ringed-shaped fort at Borgring and four others like it were built by the Danish king Harald Bluetooth around A.D. 980, as military outposts to enforce his rule as he introduced Christianity into Denmark and parts of Sweden and Norway.

The origin of the king’s curious surname is uncertain, but his success in uniting the unruly Viking clans into a single kingdom inspired the name of today’s Bluetooth wireless technology , according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which oversees development of the technology.

Borgring has appeared on maps since the 1600s, but Holm said the site was only recently recognized as one of Bluetooth’s network of Viking ring forts.

“This is the first ring fort in 60 years that we’ll be studying with all the new archeological methods, and today we can do so much more with science,” she said. “It’s pretty different work compared to what else we’ve done in Denmark, so this is something special. Hopefully, we will get a little bit closer to finding out what actually happened here and what the forts have been used for.”

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Israel’s Bonus says lab-grown bones successfully transplanted

Dec. 4, 2016: A researcher displays parts of a lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft at the laboratory of Israeli biotech firm Bonus Biogroup in Haifa, Israel.

Dec. 4, 2016: A researcher displays parts of a lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft at the laboratory of Israeli biotech firm Bonus Biogroup in Haifa, Israel.  (Reuters)

Israeli biotech company Bonus Biogroup’s lab-grown, semi-liquid bone graft was successfully injected into the jaws of 11 people to repair bone loss in an early stage clinical trial, it said on Monday.

The material, grown in a lab from each patient’s own fat cells, was injected into and filled the voids of the problematic bones. Over a few months it hardened and merged with the existing bone to complete the jaw, it said.

The announcement was made in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Bonus Biogroup is presenting its results at the International Conference on Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Spain on Monday.

The company, which has raised $14 million, said it plans to dual list on Nasdaq in the coming months.

“For the first time worldwide, reconstruction of deficient or damaged bone tissue is achievable by growing viable human bone graft in a laboratory, and transplanting it back to the patient in a minimally invasive surgery via injection,” said Chief Executive Shai Meretzki.

More on this…

  • Firefighter who got extensive face transplant is making remarkable recovery

  • Meet the Cuban-American doctor behind the world’s most amazing face transplant

  • Heart transplant recipient dies from mold infection

Meretzki previously founded Pluristem Therapeutics, which works with stem cells and is one of the more advanced Israeli biomed companies.

Ora Burger, vice president of regulation affairs at Bonus Biogroup, told Reuters the transplant “was 100 percent successful in all 11 patients”.

“Now we are going to conduct a clinical study in the extremities, long bones,” she said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Susan Thomas)

What Is EmDrive, NASA’s New Space Engine?

By Rich Smith Markets

NASA is going to Mars, perhaps as early as 2033. It won’t be a short trip, however, at least not with current technology.

According to a recent Boeing (NYSE: BA) presentation on NASA’s plan for a manned mission to Mars, the best time to launch a spaceship from Earth to Mars is during “Mars Opposition,” the time of year when Mars is closest to Earth, and directly opposite Earth in relation to the Sun. Such approaches come only once every 26 months, however. And even then, at the point of closest proximity between the planets, current engine technology relying on the burning of liquid fuel to propel a spaceship means a trip to the Red Planet will take at least six months — one way.

But what if there were a better way to travel?
The NASA “mad scientists” at Eagleworks continue to work toward developing a fuel-less electromagnetic spaceship engine (not pictured). Image source: Getty Images.

Introducing EmDrive

One technology NASA is evaluating to power such a Mars mission is called “EmDrive,” short for Electromagnetic Drive. We first introduced you to EmDrive last year. Simply put, it’s a device for converting electrical energy into microwaves, which in turn provide thrust to move a spaceship through space.

Initially, the thrust produced is minuscule — about 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt. (So one kilowatt produces enough thrust to accelerate one gram of mass one meter per second per second.) But as the thrust continues over time, speeds increase. Ultimately, it’s believed that an EmDrive-powered spaceship might permit Earth-to-Mars travel in as little as 10 weeks.

And here’s the most amazing part: Scientists still can’t quite nail down how EmDrive jibes with Newton’s Third Law of Motion, as it appears to create thrust without any need to expel propellant. Electricity alone (generated from an on-board nuclear reactor or solar panels, for example) appears able to propel the ship. Thus, there’s no need to spend millions of dollars, and millions of gallons of fuel, lifting propellant out of a planet’s gravity well to fuel and power a spaceship.

Too good to be true?

Propulsion without fuel? An “engine” that runs without “gas”? EmDrive sounds too good to be true, but try as it might, NASA hasn’t been able to prove that the EmDrive is a hoax (yet).

Not that it hasn’t tried. First proposed by Britain’s Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd in 2001, and later tested in China, NASA’s “Eagleworks” Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory began studying EmDrive in 2013. Last month, The Christian Science Monitor confirmed that an Eagleworks report on EmDrive “has survived peer review” and has been published in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Journal of Propulsion and Power.

The Monitor goes on to clarify that merely passing review does not conclusively prove that EmDrive works as described. It does, however, confirm that Eagleworks’ methodology was “sound,” and lends support to NASA’s plan to next test EmDrive in space.

What it means for investors

That’s where things could get interesting for investors in the space arena. Currently, multiple companies are pouring billions of dollars into developing conventionally fueled engines to power spaceships on interplanetary flight — everything from Aerojet Rocketdyne‘s (NYSE: AJRD) RL10 engine and its successors to the new interplanetary engines that Elon Musk is designing for his Mars Colonial Transport at SpaceX.

On one hand, if EmDrive survives testing in space, and continues to prove out the concept of fuel-less propulsion, this could render all those other investments in conventional engine technology obsolete. On the other hand, development of a working EmDrive propulsion system could open up new avenues for space tech companies to research. And by making space travel more efficient, and cheaper, it could further advance the creation of private companies seeking to develop space commercially.

In short, EmDrive may sound a lot like “Star Trek tech,” and far-fetched to boot. But as long as EmDrive keeps passing every test NASA can throw at it, it remains a technology worth watching.

10 stocks we like better than Aerojet Rocketdyne
When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now… and Aerojet Rocketdyne wasn’t one of them! That’s right — they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Click here to learn about these picks!

*Stock Advisor returns as of November 7, 2016

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he’s currently ranked No. 336 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Inside the new effort to entomb Chernobyl’s wreckage

In this Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 photo an arch-shaped shelter, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, has begun creeping toward the exploded Chernobyl nuclear reactor in what represents a significant step toward liquidating the remains of the world's worst nuclear accident.

In this Monday, Nov. 14, 2016 photo an arch-shaped shelter, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, has begun creeping toward the exploded Chernobyl nuclear reactor in what represents a significant step toward liquidating the remains of the world’s worst nuclear accident.  (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development via AP)

In the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, which resulted in radiation that ultimately reached as far as Japan and the US, the Soviet Union slapped together a massive sarcophagus of metal and concrete as hastily as possible to contain further fallout at the site of reactor 4.

With no welded or bolted joints and a leaky roof that led to corrosion “hastening its demise,” it was never seen as a permanent solution, reports Live Science.

Construction began on its enormous replacement, the New Safe Confinement, in 2012. Now French consortium Novarka is using 224 hydraulic jacks to slowly slide the steel structure 1,070 feet to cover the ruins in Ukraine.

More from Newser

  • NASA Wants You to Help Astronauts Poop

  • Female Fish Fight Bigger Penises With Bigger Brains

  • 3M Years Before Humans, Ants Were Farmers

  • Adopt a Piece of Space Junk, Get Its Tweets as It Flies By

(The site is too dangerous to build over.) “The start of the sliding of the Arch over reactor 4 … is the beginning of the end of a 30-year-long fight with the consequences of the 1986 accident,” says Ukraine’s minister of ecology and natural resources, per the BBC.

At 354 feet high, 531 feet wide, and 843 feet long, the $1.6 billion arch is taller than the Statue of Liberty and the largest man-made structure to ever move across land.

It should last 100 years and withstand a tornado. Next, robotic cranes will take the sarcophagus apart and vacuum cleaners operated by remote workers will remove radioactive dust.

The main sponsor of the project, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, plans to complete installation on Nov. 29, reports AFP. (Amid Chernobyl’s ruins, one thing of value remains.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Robots and Giant Sliding Dome Are Finally Sealing Chernobyl

Great Molasses Flood of 1919: Why this deluge of goo was so deadly

 In 1919, a collapsed molasses tank sent a towering wave of the sticky mess through the streets, ensnaring everything from humans to horses to homes. The wreckage of the tank can be seen in the upper-right of the image.

In 1919, a collapsed molasses tank sent a towering wave of the sticky mess through the streets, ensnaring everything from humans to horses to homes. The wreckage of the tank can be seen in the upper-right of the image.  (Boston Public Library)

A bubbling flood of molasses that sent a towering wave of goo down the streets of Boston in 1919, catching everything from horses to humans in its sticky grasp, killing 21 people, injuring 150 more and flattening buildings in its wake. Now, scientists have figured out why the deluge of viscous sweetener was so deadly.

Cool temperatures may have caused the spilled molasses to flow more slowly, complicating attempts to rescue victims and to begin recovery and cleanup, researchers report in a new study.

On Jan. 15, 1919, shortly after 12:40 p.m. local time, a giant storage tank 50 feet tall and 90 feet wide on Boston’s waterfront at the Purity Distilling Co. collapsed in the city’s crowded North End, according to newspapers at the time. It released more than 2.3 million gallons of molasses. [The 10 Weirdest Spills in Nature]

The wave from the flood, which reached about 25 feet tall, oozed at more than 50 feet per second, the researchers of the new study said. It took just moments for the molasses — a standard sweetener at the time — to engulf Boston’s Commercial Street area.

More from LiveScience

  • Lessons From 10 of the Worst Engineering Disasters in US History

  • Fishy Rain to Fire Whirlwinds: The World’s Weirdest Weather

  • Photos: The World’s Weirdest Geological Formations

According to a report from The Boston Post from 1919, “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form‍ —‌ whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍ —‌ men and women‍ —‌ suffered likewise.”

How molasses flows

Scientists began investigating the science of this disaster this year, after undergraduate students produced a video about the flood in May. “To gather relevant details about the flood and its aftermath, I’ve read hundreds of pages of historical accounts and contemporary newspaper articles, studied century-old maps of buildings in the area, and even called the National Weather Service to request historic meteorological data,” lead study author Nicole Sharp, a Denver-based aerospace engineer and fluid dynamicist, said in a statement.

The scientists also investigated the properties of blackstrap molasses, focusing on how temperature affected its rate of flow. “The goal is to take our knowledge and understanding of highly viscous spreading flows and apply that to the Boston Molasses Flood,” Sharp said in the statement. [The Mysterious Physics of 7 Everyday Things]

The researchers found that at the time of the collapse, the air temperature would have been around 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The molasses, however, had arrived from the Caribbean to top off the tank only two days before the flood, and was likely a balmy 50 to 68 degrees F when it was first delivered. Boston winter temperatures would have cooled the molasses down, but it would still likely have been a few degrees warmer than the surrounding air, Sharp said.

Once the tank collapsed, the molasses started flowing quickly over the waterfront. The scientists found that temperature could greatly influence molasses’s viscosity, or the degree to which it resists flowing.

“Temperatures dipped just below freezing the night following the accident,” Sharp told Live Science. “Based on our data, it’s possible the viscosity of the molasses increased by a factor of four or more due to that drop in temperature. That does not sound like such a big difference, but the high viscosity of the molasses was a major factor for rescue work.”

For example, “a group of men were trapped in a nearby firehouse when the molasses knocked the building off its foundation and caused the upper floor to collapse atop them,” Sharp said. “Reaching them took hours, and one of the men, George Layhe, grew so exhausted fighting against the molasses hour after hour that he ultimately drowned when he could no longer hold his head up.”

Tank failure

The tank had its share of issues even before the disaster.

“The molasses tank was originally built in December 1915 under the direction of a manager, Arthur Jell, with no technical background,” Sharp said. “The tank leaked throughout its short lifetime, and the response of United States Industrial Alcohol’s management to the comments and complaints about the leakage was to paint the tank brown so that the leaks were less noticeable.”  (United States Industrial Alcohol was the parent company ofthe Purity Distilling Co.)

“As an engineer, one of the things that struck me about the whole affair was the lack of professional ethics involved,” Sharp said. “We engineers have a professional and a moral obligation to ensure that what we design and build is safe. People’s lives and livelihoods are at risk if we fail. The Boston Molasses Flood is a reminder of what can happen when corners are cut and when warnings about a structure’s failing integrity are ignored.”

Sharp hopes to figure out what was going on in the tank prior to its collapse. “Two days before the rupture, warm molasses was pumped into the bottom of a tank of cold molasses,” she said. “Historical accounts say that the tank walls ‘groaned’ after such deliveries, presumably due to the mixing between the warm and cold molasses. That’s a problem I’d like to simulate using computational fluid dynamics, both to try and address the rumbling described by accounts and to have a clearer idea of what temperature the molasses might have been at the time of the disaster.”

The physics of the Boston Molasses Flood are relevant to other accidents that affect the public, including industrial spills or breaking levees. However, the main goal of this work is education.

“Ultimately, I hope that by shedding some light on the physics of a fascinating and surreal historical event, our work can inspire a greater appreciation for fluid dynamics among our students and the public,” Sharp said.

Sharp and her colleagues Jordan Kennedy and Shmuel Rubinstein, both at Harvard University, detailed their findings today (Nov. 21) at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Portland, Oregon.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the temperature of the molasses when the disaster happened.

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Huge underground ice deposit on Mars is bigger than New Mexico

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This vertically exaggerated view shows scalloped depressions in a part of Mars where such textures prompted researchers to check for buried ice, using ground-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

A giant deposit of buried ice on Mars contains about as much water as Lake Superior does here on Earth, a new study reports.

The ice layer, which spans a greater area than the state of New Mexico, lies in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes and is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet of soil. It therefore represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts exploring the Red Planet, study team members said.

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt, of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement. [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

The researchers, led by Cassie Stuurman of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas, analyzed observations of Mars’ Utopia Planitia region made by the ground-penetrating Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They focused on this area because Utopia Planitia features “scalloped depressions” similar to landscapes in the Canadian Arctic that lie atop buried ice.

More from

  • NASA Probe Snaps Stunning New Pics of Dwarf Planet Ceres

  • Mysterious Unidentified Object Crashes in Myanmar

  • Ultra-Faint Satellite Galaxy is a Clue to Understanding Dark Matter

Data gathered by SHARAD during 600 MRO passes over Utopia Planitia revealed the deposit between 39 and 49 degrees north latitude. The layer ranges in thickness from 260 feet to 560 feet  and is made up of 50 to 85 percent water ice, researchers said. (The remainder is dirt and rock.)

That puts the deposit’s water volume roughly on a par with that of Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, which holds 2,900 cubic miles of the wet stuff.

SHARAD is capable of distinguishing between layers of liquid and frozen water, and the instrument’s data indicate that all of the Utopia Planitia water is ice at the moment. That’s bad news for anyone hoping to find evidence of Mars life, because life here on Earth is intimately tied to liquid water.

But there may have been some melting in the past, during times when Mars’ poles were tilted at a different angle, researchers said. The planet has a 25-degree lean at the moment, but this axial tilt varies to about 50 degrees over a 120,000-year cycle.

Indeed, the ice deposit probably formed during a high-tilt era, when snow accumulated at middle Martian latitudes rather than at the poles as it does now, Stuurman said. So further study of the Utopia Planitia ice deposit could also shed light on how the Martian climate has changed over the ages.


“The ice deposits in Utopia Planitia aren’t just an exploration resource, they’re also one of the most accessible climate change records on Mars,” co-author Joe Levy, also of the University of Texas, said in the same statement.

“We don’t understand fully why ice has built up in some areas of the Martian surface and not in others,” Levy added. “Sampling and using this ice with a future mission could help keep astronauts alive, while also helping them unlock the secrets of Martian ice ages.”

The new study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Incredible photos offer first glimpse of uncontacted Amazon tribe

Uncontacted Yanomami yano (communal house) in the Brazilian Amazon, photographed from the air in 2016  (© Guilherme Gnipper Trevisan/Hutukara).

Uncontacted Yanomami yano (communal house) in the Brazilian Amazon, photographed from the air in 2016 (© Guilherme Gnipper Trevisan/Hutukara).

New aerial photos offer the first glimpse of an uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian Amazon that experts warn could be in danger of being wiped out.

The photos reveal a village in northern Brazil’s remote Yanomami indigenous territory that is estimated to be home to around 100 people.

The village, which is close to the Venezuelan border, has a typical Yanomami ‘yano’ – a large communal house for several families that can be seen in the images. Each of the yano’s square sections is home to a different family, where they hang their hammocks, maintain fires and keep food stores, according to tribal advocacy group Survival International.


Survival International warns that the area where the tribe lives is in danger of being over-run by 5,000 illegal gold miners, raising serious fears that they could be wiped out. “Miners have brought diseases like malaria to the region and polluted Yanomami food and water sources with mercury, leading to a serious health crisis,” the group warned, in a press release.

Diseases brought by outsiders such as flu and measles can also be devastating to tribes living in the remote area.

Survival International warns that the Brazilian government agents charged with protecting the Yanomami territory are facing severe budget cuts.

“We know that this uncontacted group is dangerously close to illegal gold miners, and that the small team dedicated to protecting the territory face stringent budget cuts,” Survival Internaional’s Campaigns Director Fiona Watson told, via email. “Without proper protection, exposure to violence or disease could wipe out this highly vulnerable uncontacted people.”


FUNAI, the Brazilian government Indian Affairs department, has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story from

The Yanomani Indigenous territory was created in 1992 in an attempt to protect the group from violence and diseases brought in by outsiders.

The Yanomami have vast botanical knowledge and use about 500 plants for food, medicine and building houses. Tribespeople provide for themselves by hunting, gathering and fishing, as well as cultivating crops such as manioc (cassava or yuca) and bananas, which are grown in large gardens cleared from the forest.

“These extraordinary images are further proof of the existence of still more uncontacted tribes,” said Survival International Director Stephen Corry, in the press release. “They’re not savages but complex and contemporary societies whose rights must be respected.”


Corry added that the groups are perfectly capable of living successfully without the need for outside notions of “progress” and “development.”

Survival International says that uncontacted Yanomami have made clear their desire to be left alone by fleeing from outsiders and avoiding contacted members of the tribe.

Around 22,000 Yanomami live on the Brazilian side of the border with Venezuela, and at least three of the groups have had no contact with outsiders.

“We estimate that there are around 100 uncontacted tribes around the world, the vast majority of which are in South America, in the Amazon,” a Survival International spokesman told

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Pluto could harbor a subterranean icy ocean

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

The dark blue represents a possible subsurface ocean on Pluto and light blue, frozen crust. (Artwork by Pam Engebretson)

If you’re planning on visiting Pluto anytime soon, best to bring some warm boots. A frigid, possibly “slushy” subsurface ocean could be lurking under the crust of the dwarf planet, according to a new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Scientists are interested in a region of Pluto known as Sputnik Planitia, a basin covered with frozen nitrogen that could be anywhere from about two to six miles thick. Because this part of Pluto lines up with Charon, the dwarf planet’s biggest moon, scientists think that an icy ocean below the surface of this area could be producing a gravitational anomaly that explains the orientation between the two celestial bodies. NASA’s New Horizons probe, which whizzed by Pluto in 2015, provided the researchers with data.

Sputnik Planitia is “a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” Francis Nimmo, the study’s first author and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement.


Sputnik Planitia is part of a larger feature on Pluto’s surface is called Tombaugh Regio, which is shaped like a heart.

“Pluto is hard to fathom on so many different levels,” Richard Binzel, a coauthor on the new study and a professor at MIT, said in a statement. “People had considered whether you could get a subsurface layer of water somewhere on Pluto. What’s surprising is that we would have any information from a flyby that would give a compelling argument as to why there might be a subsurface ocean there.”

Binzel pointed out that there’s a very small chance— “less than 5 percent,” he said— that the part of Pluto they focused on had “randomly” aligned with Charon so closely. The best explanation, they posit, is an icy ocean below the crust.


“So we calculated Pluto’s size with its interior heat flow, and found that underneath Sputnik Planitia, at those temperatures and pressures, you could have a zone of water-ice that could be at least viscous,” he said in the statement. “It’s not a liquid, flowing ocean, but maybe slushy.”

Pluto wouldn’t be the only planetary body besides Earth in our solar system that astronomers think could host a subsurface ocean. Saturn’s moon Enceladus is thought to have one, as is Jupiter’s moon Europa. Scientists have detected water jets emitting from Enceladus, and seen evidence of what also might be water jets coming out of Europa. Both places could be good spots to look for life.

Caleb Scharf, the director of astrobiology at Columbia University, said that Pluto is turning out to be anything but dull.

“The evidence is looking pretty convincing that far from being a solid, frozen, boring ball of rock and ice,” Scharf said in an email to, “Pluto may have an internal ‘dark’ ocean, probably laced with stuff like ammonia.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger