The 'Fish Out of Water' Blog

written by Tom Edathikunnel

Month: April, 2014

Project MAVEN Sheds New Light on Martian Atmosphere


The latest data regarding Mars over the last several years has transformed speculation into identifiable atmospheric findings. Previous missions to Mars have shown scientists that the atmosphere of the red planet has changed drastically over time and have found evidence of the former abundance of liquid water on its surface. These exciting findings raise new questions. Where did the Marian atmosphere go and what happened to its water? NASA’s latest mission aims to find out.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN mission is a satellite mission that will orbit Mars and investigate how the sun interacts with its atmosphere. The satellite aims to explore how the sun may have stripped the Martian atmosphere, turning the possibly lush and habitable plant into the cold and barren desert we see today. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the Martian atmosphere.

Following an elliptical orbit, this unique spacecraft will graze the atmosphere at 93 miles above the planet’s surface. At this altitude, the spacecraft will pass through the upper atmosphere and will be able to sample gas and other ionic compositions directly. The MAVEN will carry three instrument suites to analyze and observe the Martian atmosphere. The main payload consists of the Particles and Fields Package (PFP), containing six instruments that characterize solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. Other instruments will measure the composition and isotopes.Its highest point will be more than 3,728 miles above the surface, allowing the MAVEN to map the entire planet in rich ultraviolet imaging.

This fusion of both these long and short-range instruments give this mission an unparalleled vision of the red planet, and give a scientists a clear and better defined profile of the Martian atmosphere. With more research and further findings, the incessant question of the evaporated Martian atmosphere, as well as the question of its hospitality for life, may finally be answered.

Modern Hearts Discovered In Ancient Shrimp


A recent discovery from an international research team across the United States, China, and the United Kingdom has unearthed fossils of the earliest known cardiovascular system, a system that for the first time clearly shows a complex system of heart and interconnecting blood vessels. The primitive system, discovered in the Fuxinanhula protensa, is dated to be over half a billion years old. These findings shed new light on the evolution of body organization throughout the animal kingdom and show that early creatures possesses organ systems and complex organ interaction similar to those in modern decedents.

The three inch fossil appears to be a shrimp like creature and was found entombed in fine dust-like particle during the Cambrian Period over 520 million years ago. Found in what is today the Yunnan province of China, researchers believe that this species is an extinct lineage of arthropods that took the first steps toward advanced internal anatomy.

Nicholas Strausfeld, a Regents Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Arizona’s Department of Neuroscience stated “this is the first preserved vascular system that we know of.” As one of the world’s most foremost experts in arthropod morphology and neuroanatomy Strausfeld, the creatures complex organ system is a pattern that appears very much like a modern crustacean.

71240_webIn a surprising finding, Strauseld pointed out that Fuxinanhula protensa, vascular system is actually more complex than what is found in many modern crustaceans. “It appears to be the ground pattern for which others have evolved,” he states. “Different groups of crustaceans have vascular systems that have evolved into a variety of arrangements by all refer back to what we can see in Fuxinanhula protensa. Over the course of evolution certain segments of the animals body became specialized for certain things, while others because less elaborate.”

This spectacular finding demonstrates the rich complexity of early life on Earth and the evidence of consistent shifts in adaptable traits and beneficial attributes. Evolution is neither linear nor progressive, in that traits do not move from simple to more complex. Only through their subsequent success for reproduction do they continue to propagate. Thus a complex vascular system may have been beneficial in Cambrian Earth 520 million years ago, but became less effective over time, resulting in the more simplified and specialized crustaceans we see today.

The article “An exceptionally preserved arthropod cardiovascular system from the early Cambrian” appears in Nature Communications, published on April 7th, 2014.