Health & Science
Snow on the Red Planet
It may be snowing on Mars. That’s the surprising conclusion of a new report by a team at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, who believe the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere is much more dynamic than previously thought. The researchers analyzed NASA data and used multiple computer models to simulate the weather on Mars. They concluded that Martian clouds absorb sunlight during the day, keeping the atmosphere warm and stable. But they believe that at night the cooling of waterice cloud particles generates strong winds and turbulence, producing sudden downdrafts of air that carry snow. Unlike the softly falling snow crystals that accumulate in white drifts on our planet, these Martian snowstorms coat the surface with pieces of ice only a few millionths of a meter thick, almost all of which turn to vapor by sunrise. “The amount of water overall is quite small,” study author Aymeric Spiga tells the Los Angeles Times. “You won’t be able to build any snowmen on Mars, and you won’t be able to put up a ski station.”
Recycling waste in space
As NASA prepares for a future mission to Mars, the space agency is funding research into how astronauts can recycle all their waste—including urine, feces, and exhaled air. “If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” study leader Mark Blenner, from Clemson University, tells Phys.org. “Atom economy will become really important.” Blenner’s research focuses on hibernating engineered yeast. By feeding various strains of common yeast with nitrogen-rich urine, carbon from human breath, and algae, he and his team have produced vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other dietary supplements, as well as a polymer that could be transformed using a 3-D printer into plastic parts and tools. While U.S. astronauts already recycle their pee into drinking water, this more advanced form of recycling is still in its early stages. The engineered yeast currently produces only limited quantities of polymer and nutrients, and it’s unclear how the fungi would fare in deep space.
Parabens tied to infertility
Unregulated chemicals in everyday items such as toothpaste, soap, and deodorant could be causing fertility problems for men, a new study suggests. Parabens such as methylparaben and propylparaben are preservatives widely used in U.S. grooming products. To examine the effects of these chemicals on fertility, researchers in Poland studied the lab test results of 315 male fertility clinic patients, reports Reuters.com. They found that those with higher concentrations of parabens in their saliva, blood, urine, and semen had lower testosterone levels and a larger proportion of sperm that was abnormally shaped or slow moving—factors that reduce the likelihood of fertilization. Parabens were also linked to DNA damage in men’s sperm. The researchers remain unsure why the chemicals may affect fertility, or at what levels they can be harmful—but urge caution all the same. Study leader Joanna Jurewicz says avoiding parabens altogether would be “very difficult, because they are widespread,” but suggests checking labels on personal care products to limit consumption where possible.
Health scare of the week
Binge watching impairs sleep
Binge watching shows on Netflix and other video on-demand services may take a significant toll on your sleep, reports Time.com. An international team of researchers had 423 young adults complete a survey assessing their sleep habits and how often they watched TV. More than 80 percent were binge watchers, meaning they had within the previous month viewed back-toback shows, on any type of screen, in one sitting. In most cases, these people didn’t set out to watch three or four consecutive installments of a series—it just happened. “The episode ends, a character may or may not have died, and we’re hooked,” says co-author Jan Van den Bulck, from the University of Michigan. Compared with the participants who didn’t get sucked into a show, the binge watchers reported more fatigue, more symptoms of insomnia, and heightened alertness at bedtime. Overall, they had a 98 percent higher risk for poor sleep than those who turned off the TV earlier. Van den Bulck suggests setting an episode limit before sitting down to watch a show, and doing meditation or relaxation exercises before bed. ■