Tuesday January 22, 2019
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NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

The instrument, called ECOSTRESS, or ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometre Experiment on Space Station

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NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Blockchain would address the potential issues of privacy, prevent spoofing, denial of service and other attacks, Reisman said. Flickr

NASA plans to install on the International Space Station (ISS) an instrument that will measure the temperature of plants from space, enabling researchers to determine plant water use and to study how drought conditions affect plant health.

The instrument, called ECOSTRESS, or ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometre Experiment on Space Station, will hitch a ride to the space station on a SpaceX cargo resupply mission scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 29, NASA said on Tuesday.

Plants draw in water from the soil, and as they are heated by the Sun, the water is released through pores on the plants’ leaves through a process called transpiration.

This cools the plant down, much as sweating does in humans. However, if there is not enough water available to the plants, they close their pores to conserve water, causing their temperatures to rise.

Plants use those same pores to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for photosynthesis — the process they use to turn carbon dioxide and water into the sugar they use as food.

If they continue to experience insufficient water availability, or “water stress,” they eventually starve or overheat, and die.

The data from ECOSTRESS will show these changes in plants’ temperatures, providing insight into their health and water use while there is still time for water managers to correct agricultural water imbalances.

“When a plant is so stressed that it turns brown, its often too late for it to recover,” said Simon Hook, ECOSTRESS principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“But measuring the temperature of the plant lets you see that a plant is stressed before it reaches that point,” Hook said.

Space
Space, Pixabay

These temperature measurements are also considered an early indicator of potential droughts.

When plants in a given area start showing signs of water stress through elevated temperature, an agricultural drought is likely underway.

Having these data in advance gives the agricultural community a chance to prepare and/or respond accordingly, NASA said.

Also read: Woman Sues NASA Over Keeping Moon Dust Gifted to Her by Neil Armstrong

“ECOSTRESS will allow us to monitor rapid changes in crop stress at the field level, enabling earlier and more accurate estimates of how yields will be impacted,” said Martha Anderson, an ECOSTRESS science team member with the US Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland. (IANS)

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Asteroids Are Falling On Earth’s Surface Twice As Often: Study

This enhanced impact rate poses a threat for the next mass extinction event.

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Asteroids
This Dec. 29, 1968, photo made available by NASA shows craters on the moon. For the past 290 million years, giant rocks from space have been crashing into Earth more than twice as often as they did in the previous 700 million years, according to a new study. VOA

Giant rocks from space are falling from the sky more than they used to, but don’t worry.

For the past 290 million years, large asteroids have been crashing into Earth more than twice as often as they did in the previous 700 million years, according to a new study in Thursday’s journal Science.

But no need to cast a wary glance up. Asteroids still only smack Earth on average every million or few million years, even with the increased crash rate. NASA’s list of potential big space rock crashes shows no pending major threats. The biggest known risk is a 4,200-foot (1.3-km) wide asteroid with a 99.988 percent chance that it will miss Earth when it whizzes very near here in 861 years.

Tell that to the dinosaurs. Most scientists think dinosaurs and a lot of other species went extinct after a huge space rock crashed into Central America about 65 million years ago.

Earth, Asteroids
Taurids meteor shower lights up the sky. The risk of asteroids hitting the Earth has grown over the years. Wikimedia

“It’s just a game of probabilities,” said study lead author Sara Mazrouei, a University of Toronto planetary scientist. “These events are still rare and far between that I’m not too worried about it.”

Mazrouei and colleagues in the United Kingdom and United States compiled a list of impact craters on Earth and the moon that were larger than 12 miles (20 km) wide and came up with the dates of them. It takes a space rock that’s half a mile (800 meters) wide to create holes that big.

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years and nine between 291 million years and 650 million years old.

But we can see relatively few big craters on Earth because the planet is more than 70 percent ocean and past glaciers smoothed out some holes, said University of Toronto planetary scientist Rebecca Ghent, a study co-author.

Earth, Asteroids
These rocks were rare survivors from a very different time on Earth. Pixabay

Extrapolating for what can’t be seen brings the total to about 260 space crashes on Earth in the last 290 million years. Adding in other factors, the science team determined that the current space crash rate is 2.6 times more than the previous 700 million years.

Craters older than 650 million years are mostly wiped off on Earth by glacial forces so the scientists used impact craters on the nearby moon as a stand-in for holes between 650 million and 1 billion years old. The moon is a good guide for estimating Earth crashes, because it is close enough to be in the same bombardment path and its craters last longer.

Mixed reactions

So what happened nearly 300 million years ago?

“Perhaps an asteroid family was broken up in the asteroid belt,” Mazrouei speculated. The space rocks then headed toward the Earth and moon, and the planet got slightly more because it is a bigger target and it has higher gravity, Ghent said.

Oldest known asteroid family
An asteroid family. Wikimedia

Outside scientists are split about the research. Jay Melosh at Purdue said he found the number of craters too small to come to a reasonable conclusion, but Harvard’s Avi Loeb said the case was convincing.

Also Read: Newly Discovered Super-Earth Exoplanet May Sustain Primitive Life

Humans might not have emerged without mass extinctions from space rocks about 250 million and 65 million years ago, Loeb said in an email, adding, “but this enhanced impact rate poses a threat for the next mass extinction event, which we should watch for and attempt to avoid with the aid of technology.”

“This demonstrates how arbitrary and fragile human life is,” Loeb wrote. (VOA)