Wednesday 30 September 2015

The Curiously Curious Curiosity

In a breaking news on Monday, 28th Sept 2015, in Washington DC, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced a scientific evidence of flowing water in Mars. Images from the Mars orbit supported by soil specimens by the Mars rover indicate liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months, according to researchers who say the discovery raises the chances of the barren planet being home to some forms of life.

Scientists are unsure where the water comes from, but it may rise up from underground ice or salty aquifers, or condense out of the thin Martian atmosphere.  “There is liquid water today on the surface of Mars,” Michael Meyer, said the lead scientist on NASA’s Mars exploration program. “Because of this, we suspect that it is at least possible to have a habitable environment today.”

The water flows could point NASA and other space agencies towards the most promising sites to find life on Mars, and to landing spots for future human missions where water can be collected from a natural supply. Oxygen and water supplies are major challenges to putting humans on Mars – so finding water there could significantly “lighten the load” of any manned mission.  “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said NASA’s Jim Green. 

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks are flowing downhill on Mars, and are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water.

The exciting breakthroughs are made possible by images taken from the camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and rock and soil specimens from the Mars rover, Curiosity.

Curiosity is a car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s USD$ 2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. It was launched from Cape Canaveral on 26 Nov 2011 and landed in Gale Crater on 6 Aug 2012. The rover's missions include: investigation of the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life in preparation for future human explorations. 

Curiosity has discovered ‘burps’ of methane, which NASA scientists said could indicate “life or evidence of ancient methane trapped which could show ancient life”.  Most methane on Earth is produced as a waste gas by living organisms and scientists suggested the gas encountered on Mars could be from bacteria. If that were confirmed it would be the first evidence of life outside Earth. 

In early 2015, the Mars rover also found calcium perchlorate – a type of salt – in the soil, suggesting that salty liquid water could be present close to Mars’ surface. Calcium perchlorate lowers the temperature at which water freezes, which could allow it to remain in liquid form even on Mars, where temperatures drop to -125 C in winter.  The salt also absorbs water from the atmosphere, dragging it down into the surface. Tiny creatures have been discovered on Earth that can live entirely on brine, without oxygen, raising the possibility that a briny liquid on Mars could be home to some sort of primitive alien life-form. 

This major science discovery could pave the way for the search of life on the Red Planet by scientists. The exciting prospect of life on Mars also captures the interest of some of the top Hollywood producers. The latest Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’ tells a dramatic story of the NASA Mars exploration team sent to the arid planet in 2030, the year NASA plans to send manned mission. 

Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, was part of the ill-fated mission. He was accidently knocked down unconsciously during a fierce storm. Presumed dead, he was left behind by his fellow crew members in the barren planet. With only meagre supplies, he drew upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to innovate and signal home that he was still alive. A botch ‘Bring Him Home’ rescue mission was scrambled by NASA but the next available ‘flight’ could be 4 years ahead. Hence, he must fight to stay alive and the only way to survive in the harsh environment was to improvise.  After careful planning and preparation (and dramatic hiccups in between) he finally made a perilous 3,200 km journey on his modified Mars rover to his rescuers’ scheduled landing site.

    A scene of ‘The Martian’ featuring a Mars rover                                        
    Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The movie features a futuristic Mars rover which is based on the existing Curiosity model. I had an opportunity to learn more about Curiosity during a trip to a NASA center in 2012.

    Image feed from Mars’ Curiosity  
    Image courtesy of NASA

I visited NASA Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland, Ohio, in Oct 2012 during the ASTC 2012 Conference in Columbus. The facility is one of the 10 NASA field centers across the USA providing research works for NASA’s missions. The sprawling 350 acres facility houses 140 buildings, 500 test facilities, 5 wind tunnels, 14 vacuum chambers and 2 drop towers for simulations of micro gravity.

The center has a tight security system and I was told that a few visit applications by ASTC delegates from certain countries such as China and the Middle East were declined for an obvious reason. I was one of the only two non-Americans in the small group with the other one was a Canadian.

    An aerial view of NASA Glenn Research Centre, Lewis Fields  
    Image courtesy of NASA

After surrendering my passport, we were given a briefing followed by a guided tour inside the selected facilities with more critical areas were still out of bound from visitors. A special focus was given to the research on the wheels of the Lunar and Mars rovers.  

We were shown a few wheel prototypes co-developed with Goodyear for NASA’s space missions inside the SLOPE (Simulated Lunar Operations) Lab with test rigs and equipment to study traction of rovers and other vehicles operating in soils.

                                 Mars’ Curiosity under testing at NASA’s Lab
                                 Image courtesy of NASA     

                                Image feed from Mars’ Curiosity   
                                Image courtesy of NASA  

Last month, image feeds from Curiosity have shown a gaping hole on the tires from the many bumps sustained by the rover since it landed in the rocky terrain in Aug 2012. 4 months later, Curiosity 's original two-year mission was extended indefinitely… and after over 3 years ‘stranded’ alone in the new frontier, it is now calling home…  

Curiosity’s six wheels are made from aluminum, a material that’s favored in the aerospace industry because it’s strong, yet lightweight. The wheels have the thickness of nine sheets of paper, or about two to three times as thick as a soda can. Each wheel has cleats to help the rover grip soft sand or climb over steep hills.  Engineers drove the wheels on a full-scale rover through rugged environments on Earth to simulate what the machine would experience on Mars. Although rock-strewn terrain seems to be the main culprit, engineers are analyzing many possible factors for the increasing pace of wear and tear.

The rover has done a superb job in the Mars exploration mission and it’s about time for Curiosity to be relieved of its official duty and for the upcoming Mars 2020 or ESA’s (European Space Agency) ExoMars rover to assume the next mission. Let’s ‘Bring Him Home’!

The short day-trip to NASA Glenn Research Centre has indeed given a glimpse of the American Space Program superiority. For me, some of my curiosities on Curiosity have been explained by none others than the NASA engineers themselves.

    An artist impression of NASA’s Mars 2020   
    Image courtesy of NASA

    An artist impression of ESA’s ExoMars rover   
    Image courtesy of ESA

Shared by Hasnan
Guest Blogger

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Nature's Food Enhancers

Bread, cheese, kimchi, pepperoni, soy sauce, tapai, wine and yogurtsome of our favourite foods.  There’s a common link, and it’s none other than our friendly microbes!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a world without microbes-assisted food.  Yes, cheese and kimchi wouldn’t taste as we know it!  Mind you, it’s not as simple as scooping a spoonful of microbes to get that tasty dish you like.  It requires a lot of work, patience and tender-loving care!

What actually happens?  Fermentation.  In food processing, it is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria, or a combination of both.  This takes place under anaerobic (the absence of air or free oxygen) conditions. Fermentation usually implies that the action of microorganisms is desirable.

Now about coffee.  Do you know coffee cherries could be fermented to produce a distinct flavour?  No?  Let’s explore how it’s done.

Normally, after coffee cherries are picked, they are immediately processed either by the dry (natural) method, or the wet method.  Wet method involves fermentation. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the wet method, the pulp is removed from the coffee cherry after harvesting and the beans are put in fermentation tanks filled with water. The goal here is to remove the layer of mucilage (called the parenchyma) that is still attached to the parchment skin on the bean. The fermentation causes this layer to break down and disappear. The beans are then rinsed and then dried.

Dried beans are then hulled, graded, sorted and sacked.  These beans are called "green coffee" and they're now ready to be sent off to be roasted. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“So what?” you may say!  There are coffee artisans who are taking fermentation a step further.  They actually select specific types of non-disease causing bacteria “to create precise flavour profiles batch after batch” [Carrie Arnold, The Daily Beast].

How does it work?  When the bacteria breaks down the cherry, it produces chemicals that has created a variety of flavours.  To get a particular flavor, all one needs to do is identify the bacteria and spray a solution of that bacteria directly onto green, unroasted coffee beans and leave it to ferment.  If a repeated flavour is required for another batch of the same type of coffee, the process is repeated with the same bacteria in the same conditions.

So, fancy a cup of bacteria-flavoured coffee?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shared by Azni Zainal Abidin
Guest Blogger

Monday 21 September 2015

Return of The HAZE!

Our unwelcomed visitor is back!  Yes, it’s that time of the year my friends.  An annual event not to be missed.  This friend does not bring the fresh fragrance of flowers or sunny clear blue skies.  It brings with it the dreaded HAZE!  “Go away! Why do you bug us every year?” most of us will say.  But it cares not!  So out comes our boring face masks except for a fashionable few who will don colourful and fancy ones.

The haze in Kuala Lumpur

The bare facts
What is this dreaded haze?  Why does it make an appearance between July – October annually in our part of the world? 

Haze is an atmospheric condition where particles, smoke, dust and moisture suspend in the air obscuring visibility.  More pollutants mean more light is absorbed and scattered by the particles. Some types of particles such as sulfates, scatter more light, particularly during humid conditions.  

Slash and burn agriculture.  A technique that involves the cutting and burning of trees to create fields.  Typical in shifting cultivation agriculture, and in transhumance livestock herding.  Today the main method used by small farmers and plantation owners in the tropics.  Uses little technology.  

Nasa satellite data shows multiple fires in mid-September 2015 in the eastern part of Sumatra island and the southern part of Kalimantan island of Indonesia 

What can happen to us?
The haze we are experiencing at Malaysia, Singapore & Indonesia is short-term in nature. 

We may experience the following if exposed continuously to unhealthy daily Air Pollutants Index (API) levels over a period of a few days:
Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat in healthy individuals.
Can affect the heart and lungs, especially in people who already have chronic heart or lung disease e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart failure.

How can we protect ourselves?
Pay attention to local air quality updates
Avoid outdoor activities, especially outdoor sports
Close all windows, doors and any openings that may allow haze to enter your home and office
Use an air purifier to keep the particulate levels low
Keep air conditioner in tip-top working condition with regular cleaning and servicing
If you are staying in a building with a central air conditioning system, install an air cleaning device 
Take your medication regularly if you are suffering from an existing disease, especially heart disease and respiratory disease
Drink more water and increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables
Limit or avoid smoking indoor and the use of gas stove, wood fireplace, candles, incense and anything that burns and emits smoke
Avoid driving if visibility is bad
Under severe haze condition, wear a respirator if you must go outside

Here’s wishing clear skies & fresh air soon.  Mr. Haze, you are not welcomed next year and the years after!

Shared by Azni Zainal Abidin
Guest Blogger

Monday 14 September 2015

Kenapa Lebam Ada Pelbagai Warna?

Apakah itu lebam?
Lebam ialah kecederaan pada tisu kulit kesan terkena hentaman atau ketukan yang kuat. Ia mengakibatkan  saluran darah terkecil dalam badan iaitu kapilari darah pecah akibat terkena hentaman.

Kenapa darah berwarna merah?
Darah tediri dari hemoglobin (Hb) yang merupakan molekul protein di dalam sel darah merah yang bergabung dengan oksigen dan karbon dioksida untuk diangkut melalui sistem peredaran darah ke tisu-tisu dalam badan. Ion besi (Ferum) dalam bentuk Fe+2 dalam hemoglobin memberikan warna merah pada darah.

Bagaimana lebam berubah warna? 
Lebam terjadi selepas terkena hentaman atau ketukan. Pada mulanya, lebam akan kelihatan berwarna biru kehitaman dan seterusnya berubah menjadi kehijauan. Kemudian ia akan berubah menjadi warna kuning sebelum menjadi normal kepada warna asal kulit kita.

Apabila hentaman atau ketukan berlaku pada permukaan badan kita, kapilari darah akan pecah. Kapilari darah ibarat saluran paip yang mengangkut darah darah beroksigen dalam badan. Darah akan terkeluar dari saluran kapilari apabila ia pecah akibat hentaman. 

Apabila darah berada di luar kapilari darah, darah tadi akan terperangkap dan ia tidak lagi berfungsi. Dari pandangan luar ianya kelihatan biru kehitaman. Pada masa inilah sel lain yang dikenali sebagai 'fagosit' akan datang mengepung dan menguraikan kepada bentuk yang teringkas.

Semasa proses ini berlaku, hemoglobin tadi akan diuraikan dan bertukar kepada biliverdin, sejenis cecair dari hempedu, yang menukarkannya dari biru kehitaman menjadi warna kehijauan. 

Proses ini berterusan di mana sel fagosit tadi akan menukarkan biliverdin tadi kepada bentuk yang lebih mudah, iaitu bilirubin yang berwarna kuning. Ianya akan diakhiri dengan penguraian hemoglobin kepada bentuk yang teringkas iaitu hemosiderin. Homosiderin berwarna perang dan merupakan bentuk teringkas ion Ferum dalam darah. Ia akan diserap ke dalam badan untuk dikumuhkan. 

Tahukah anda? 
1. Lebam mengambil masa sekurang-kurangnya 2 minggu untuk kesan warnanya hilang sepenuhnya.
2. Adakalanya kesan lebam seolah-olah menghala ke bawah disebabkan oleh tarikan graviti yang menariknya ke bawah.
3. Biliverdin dan bilirubin juga merupakan pigmen warna yang memberi warna kepada air kencing dan najis kita.


Shared by Kamarul Annuar
Guest Blogger

Friday 11 September 2015

Alami Pengalaman Menakjubkan di 'ILLUSION'!

Kunjungan ke pameran ILLUSION memang memberikan satu pengalaman yang akan menguji deria kita! Tahukah anda, kadang-kala tanggapan kita berbeza dengan apa yang kita lihat? Pameran ILLUSION mempersembahkan sesuatu yang menakjubkan dan menjemput kita untuk mengetahui bagaimana tanggapan membentuk pandangan, rasa dan pemahaman terhadap dunia. 

Bertemakan 'Minda Memperdaya Mata' ataupun 'Nothing Is As It Seems' merupakan satu pameran  yang membuat pengunjung menggunakan deria-deria lalu menjelaskan persepsi dan mencetus otak supaya berfikir menggunakan gabungan sains, seni dan psikologi merangkumi bermulanya dari laluan masuk ke ruang pameran.
Laluan masuk yang turut mempertontonkan pengalaman ILLUSION

Pameran ini pernah dipamerkan di Charlotte, North Carolina dan San Diego, California. Kini, pameran ini berada di Petrosains, KLCC dan juga merupakan lokasi pertama di Asia, di mana menjadikan ianya pameran yang 'wajib' dan 'amat berbaloi' untuk dikunjungi.
Pintu masuk pameran

3 perkara yang mesti kita cuba!
1: Virtual Barbershop
Singgah sebentar di kedai gunting rambut di dalam pameran ILLUSION. Duduk dan pakai fon kepala. Dengar bunyi! Bunyi yang didengari menyebabkan anda  merasai seolah-olah rambut anda sedang di gunting! 

2: 'Delicate Boundaries'
Anda pasti terpegun melihat pepijat merayap pada kulit anda. Sekumpulan pepijat sedang berkumpul dapat dilihat di dalam skrin. Kemudian apabila skrin disentuh, pepijat ini bergerak ke arah titik sentuhan. Pepijat ini seolah-olah cuba keluar dari skrin dan meninggalkan alam mayanya dan membuatkan penonton terpegun.

3: Columba
Anda pasti terpegun melihat rupa bentuk misteri yang terapung muncul dari himpunan bintang iaitu buruj Columba Noachi, atau Merpati Nabi Nuh dalam Bahasa Latin; iaitu satu simbol perkembangan kesedaran kerohanian. Ia memaparkan seorang budak perempuan yang duduk dalam limpahan bintang kristal kuarza yang bergemerlapan. Columba pada asalnya dihasilkan secara digital dalam bentuk pemetaan tiga dimensi, kemudian diukir dengan tangan menjadi ribuan titik bercahaya pada ratusan gentian optik.

Jangan ketinggalan! Datanglah dan alami banyak lagi perkara menakjubkan dalam ILLUSION!

Kunjungi pameran Illusion: Nothing Is As It Seems dan Lihat Dunia Berubah Di Depan Mata Anda di Petrosains, KLCC dari 4 September 2015 - 10 Januari 2016!
Maklumat lanjut boleh didapati di  

Posted by Ayu

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Bulan kelihatan pada waktu siang?

Sejak dari zaman dahulu lagi kita memang telah lama terpegun dengan keindahan Bulan. Banyak lagu telah dicipta untuk menyatakan betapa indahnya Bulan, dan bagaimana Bulan itu mempengaruhi hidup dan perasaan kita. Antara lagu-lagu yang menggunakan Bulan (atau nama lainnya – Purnama) sebagai ‘objek simbolik’ untuk mencurahkan perasaan ialah Oh Bulan (Kembara), Engkau Laksana Bulan (Tan Sri P. Ramlee), Purnama Merindu (Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza), Pelita Di Bawah Purnama (Dayang Erema) dan banyak lagi.

Imej kredit: M Hazeli Petrosains

Tapi adakah kita benar-benar tahu dan memahami Bulan secara saintifik?

Jadual di bawah menunjukkan kedudukan Bulan di angkasa pada masa-masa tertentu. Cuba anda jejak pergerakan Bulan. Kita boleh lakukan aktiviti ini mulai 15 September nanti.
Sebelum menggunakan jadual di bawah perlu diingatkan bahawa kita beranggapan bahawa Matahari terbit pada jam 6.00 pagi dan tenggelam pada jam 6.00 petang. 

di Timur
atas kepala
Tenggelam di Barat
Anak Bulan
Tidak kelihatan, terlalu dekat dengan Matahari
6.00 pagi
12.00 tengahari
6.00 petang
Bulan Sabit Muda
Lewat pagi dan selepas senja
9.00 pagi
3.00 petang
9.00 malam
Bulan Separa
Tengahari dan awal petang
12.00 tengahari
6.00 petang
12.00 tengah malam
Bulan Hampir Purnama
Lewat tengahari dan hampir sepanjang malam
3.00 petang
9.00 malam
3.00 pagi
Bulan Purnama
Sepanjang malam
6.00 petang
12.00 tengah malam
6.00 pagi
Bulan Hampir Purnama
Hampir sepanjang malam dan awal pagi
9.00 malam
3.00 pagi
9.00 pagi
Bulan Separa
Lewat malam dan pagi
12.00 tengah malam
6.00 pagi
12.00 tengahari
Bulan Sabit Tua
Awal pagi dan tengahari
3.00 pagi
9.00 pagi
3.00 petang
Anak Bulan (baru)
Tidak kelihatan, terlalu dekat dengan Matahari
6.00 pagi
12.00 tengahari
6.00 petang

Satu lagi fakta tentang bulan yang mungkin mengelirukan kita…
Cuba perhatikan kenyataan di bawah

Matahari hanya kelihatan pada waktu siang
Matahari tidak kelihatan pada waktu malam
Bulan tidak kelihatan pada waktu siang
Bulan hanya kelihatan pada waktu malam

Adakah semua kenyataan di atas benar? Cuba gunakan jadual di atas dan juga buat pemerhatian untuk mencari jawapannya.

Untuk pengetahuan anda, sebenarnya Bulan boleh dilihat pada waktu siang, sebagai contohnya bila Bulan berada pada fasa Bulan Hampir Purnama atau Bulan Separa. Tetapi mengapakan sebahagian kita ada yang hanya percaya bahawa Bulan kelihatan pada waktu malam sahaja?

Ini mungkin disebabkan apabila disebut perkataan Bulan, kita sentiasa membayangkan Bulan Penuh atau Bulan Purnama. Memang benar Bulan Penuh atau Bulan Purnama hanya kelihatan pada waktu malam sahaja kerana kedudukannya adalah sentiasa bertentangan dengan Matahari (ia muncul di timur apabila Matahari tenggelam di barat, dan tenggelam di barat apabila Matahari muncul atau terbit di timur). Tetapi pada fasa-fasa lain terutamanya pada fasa Bulan Separa atau Bulan Hampir Purnama, kita sebenarnya boleh melihat Bulan pada waktu siang.

Cuba aktiviti ini:
Lihat ke angkasa pada waktu berikut…

(Untuk kawasan Kuala Lumpur masa selama lebih kurang 1 jam perlu ditambah kepada masa dalam jadual di atas memandangkan kita menggunakan sistem zon untuk menetapkan masa tempatan)

15 September 2015 (1 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini Anak Bulan akan muncul di ufuk barat. Bulan tidak akan kelihatan kerana cahaya Matahari yang sedang tenggelam, juga di ufuk barat, menyukarkan kita melihat Bulan dengan jelas.

21 September 2015 (7 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini dalam jam 4.00 petang sila lihat ke arah timur…anda mungkin dapat lihat Bulan Separa pada kedudukan 45 darjah dari garisan ufuk, walaupun agak kurang jelas.

25 September 2015 (11 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini dalam jam 4.00 petang sila lihat ke arah timur…anda mungkin dapat melihat Bulan Hampir Purnama mula terbit di ufuk timur. Antara jam 4.00 petang sehingga 7.00 petang, Bulan memang dapat dilihat pada waktu siang!

28 September 2015 (14 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini dalam jam 7.00 petang, Matahari akan tenggelam di ufuk barat dan Bulan Purnama akan terbit di ufuk timur. Jam 7.00 pagi keesokannya (29 September, 15 Zulhijjah) Matahari akan terbit di ufuk timur dan Bulan Purnama akan tenggelam di ufuk barat.

2 Oktober 2015 (18 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini dalam jam 7.00 pagi sila lihat ke arah barat…anda mungkin dapat melihat Bulan Hampir Purnama berada pada kedudukan 45 darjah dari garisan ufuk. Antara jam 7.00 pagi hingga 10.00 pagi, Bulan memang dapat dilihat pada waktu siang!

6 Oktober 2015 (22 Zulhijjah 1436). Pada tarikh ini dalam jam 10.00 pagi sila lihat ke arah barat…anda mungkin dapat lihat Bulan Separa pada kedudukan 45 darjah dari garisan ufuk.

14 Oktober 2015 (1 Muharram 1437). Pada tarikh ini, Anak Bulan yang baru akan muncul di ufuk barat. Ia juga menandakan masuknya tahun baru Hijrah (Awal Muharram, Maal Hijrah)

Kunjungi pautan blog di bawah untuk melihat penerangan mengenai pergerakan dan kedudukan Bulan pada fasa-fasa berbeza.

Shared by Saiful Bahri Baharom
Guest Blogger