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ISS Surface As Littered With Microbes As A Gym, Claims NASA’s Scientists

The study provides the first comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems and can be used to help improve safety measures that meet NASA requirements for deep space human habitation.

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Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health. Pixabay

 A team of NASA researchers, including an Indian-origin scientist has found the surface inside the International Space Station (ISS) is littered with microbes just like in a gym or office on Earth — threatening astronauts’ health at the orbiting laboratory.

The knowledge of the composition of the microbial and fungal communities on the ISS can be used to develop safety measures for NASA for long-term space travel or living in space, said the researchers in a paper that appeared in the open access journal Microbiome.

Specific microbes in indoor spaces on Earth have been shown to impact human health.

“This is even more important for astronauts during spaceflight, as they have altered immunity and do not have access to the sophisticated medical interventions available on Earth,” said Dr Kasthuri Venkateswaran from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and a corresponding author.

The researchers used traditional culture techniques and gene sequencing methods to analyse surface samples collected in eight locations on the ISS, including the viewing window, toilet, exercise platform, dining table and sleeping quarters, during three flights across 14 months.

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The authors found that while fungal communities were stable, microbial communities were similar across locations but changed over time. Pixabay

This allowed them to examine if and how the microbial and fungal populations differed between locations and over time.

The authors found that while fungal communities were stable, microbial communities were similar across locations but changed over time.

The microbes on the ISS were mostly human-associated. The most prominent bacteria were Staphylococcus, Pantoea and Bacillus.

They included organisms that are considered opportunistic pathogens on Earth, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which is commonly found on the skin and in the nasal passage and Enterobacter, which is associated with the human gastrointestinal tract.

“On Earth, they are predominant in gyms, offices, and hospitals, which suggests that the ISS is similar to other built environments where the microbiome is shaped by human occupation,” the study noted.

There are currently six astronauts on board the International Space Station.

Whether these opportunistic bacteria could cause disease in astronauts on the ISS is unknown. This would depend on a number of factors, including the health status of each individual and how these organisms function while in the space environment.

bacteria
The knowledge of the composition of the microbial and fungal communities on the ISS can be used to develop safety measures for NASA for long-term space travel or living in space, said the researchers in a paper that appeared in the open access journal Microbiome. Pixabay

“Regardless, the detection of possible disease-causing organisms highlights the importance of further studies to examine how these ISS microbes function in space,” said Dr Checinska Sielaff, the study’s first author.

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The study provides the first comprehensive catalogue of the bacteria and fungi found on surfaces in closed space systems and can be used to help improve safety measures that meet NASA requirements for deep space human habitation.

“The results can also have significant impact on our understanding of other confined built environments on the Earth such as clean rooms used in the pharmaceutical and medical industries,” said Dr Venkateswaran. (IANS)

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NASA Telescope Captures Record-Breaking Thermonuclear X-Ray Flash: ’Burst was Outstanding’

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst

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NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named "J1808". Wikimedia Commons

NASA has detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space, caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar — the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.

NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency.

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named “J1808”.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. Pixabay

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst.

In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

“This burst was outstanding. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

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“J1808” is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Astronomers employ a concept called the “Eddington limit”, named after English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand.

This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency. Pixabay

“Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way,” said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at MIT.

“We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.”

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A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters. (IANS)