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Nature / 05 March 2013
The death of the Chebarkul meteor
Scientists reconstruct a battered traveller's final moments
По предварительным результатам геохимического анализа, взорвавшийся над Челябинском метеорит представляет собой хондрит (каменное метеорное тело с низким содержанием железа), отколовшийся когда-то от более крупного объекта.
The city of Chelyabinsk was once a secret Soviet weapons centre, then a poor Siberian backwater. But a few minutes after sunrise on 15 February, the largest meteor blast in more than 100 years lifted the region from obscurity. Since then, scientists have been scrutinizing fragments of the meteorite and studying videos of its final moments to pin down its origin and how it got to Earth.
The picture so far is of a garden-variety envoy from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the size of a house and weighing 9,000 tonnes, that had a hard life even before its chance encounter with Earth. "It was a rather fragile body," says Pavel Spurný, a meteor expert at the Ondшejov Observatory near Prague, a member of one of the teams doing the analysis.
His team examined seven videos of the fireball - the largest since the 1908 Tunguska meteorite, which also hit Siberia. The analysis reveals that the meteor first became visible around 92 kilometres above ground. Just over 11 seconds later, at a height of nearly 32 kilometres, it exploded spectacularly under the stress of heating and air drag, damaging thousands of homes and injuring more than 1,000 people in and around Chelyabinsk.
Before its cataclysmic encounter with Earth's atmosphere, the object - dubbed Chebarkul after the small town and lake where some of the largest fragments have been found - seems to have been on an elliptical orbit around the Sun. Stretched between Venus and the centre of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Earth-crossing orbit was just slightly inclined relative to the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun, the team says in its report to the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (NASA scientists have ruled out any relation between the Chebarkul meteor and the asteroid 2012 DA14, which skimmed by Earth just hours later.)
A team assigned by the Russian Academy of Sciences to comb the snowy countryside has collected more than 50 fragments measuring 0.5-1 centimetre in diameter. A second group, led by Viktor Grokhovsky of the Urals Federal University in Ekaterinburg, has found another 50 or so pieces, one of which weighs almost 2 kilograms. The samples are being sent to the Russian Academy of Science's Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry in Moscow, which has also asked locals for photographs of any fragments they have found.
Inside some of the rocky shards are glassy veins, perhaps created during the impact that broke the object away from its mother asteroid many million years ago. Preliminary geochemical analysis suggests that Chebarkul was a stony meteor with low iron content - a chondrite - made of material that had been partially melted and recrystallized from the dust and gas cloud of the early solar nebula.
A sturdier body might have reached the surface without exploding, but this one probably took a beating after its genesis, having collided with other celestial bodies, says Timothy Spahr, director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This could have caused cracks which then resulted in such a powerful blast," says Erik Galimov, director of the Vernadsky Institute.
The search is on for bigger pieces that hold more clues to the meteor's origin and history. Spurný and his colleagues have calculated the final part of the meteor's 254-kilometre flight through the atmosphere and where the largest fragments probably landed.
The fireball zipped through the upper atmosphere at an initial velocity of 17.5 kilometres per second, the team thinks. In the denser air near the ground, the fragments would have slowed to about 180 metres per second, cooled and vanished, says Jiri Borovicka, a co-author of the report.
But calculations based on the fireball's observed path and on wind profiles suggest that chunks weighing tens of kilograms probably landed close to the village of Travniki, and one weighing around 1 kilogram may have hit northwest of the village of Shchapino, Borovicka says. Thousands of smaller pieces may be hiding in a 25-kilometre-long swathe south of the final point of the trajectory.
The largest single fragment, a piece of rock that could weigh up to half a tonne, may have landed smack in Lake Chebarkul. A 6-metre-wide hole found in the lake's frozen surface the morning after the impact "almost certainly" marks the spot where the whopper came down, says Borovicka.
Russian military divers are busy searching the shallow lake. But Spahr, who discussed the impact with other scientists at a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna last month, isn't so sure. "From what we've seen on pictures, the "crater" just doesn't look right," he says. "It looks more like a hole someone has cut in the lake with an axe."
© 2013 Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. All Rights Reserved.
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La Voix de la Russie / 13.03.2013
Un biophysicien russe reproduit le cœur humain
Японские ученые из Киотского университета под руководством российского биофизика Константина Агладзе впервые вырастили полноценную, способную функционировать сердечную ткань. В дальнейшем полученную из индуцированных стволовых клеток ткань можно будет применять в регенеративной медицине, а также для тестирования лекарственных препаратов.
La nouvelle découverte dans le domaine de la médecine permettra de sauver de millions de personnes. Le scientifique russe Konstantin Agladze et les biologistes japonais ont réussi pour la première fois à créer des tissus du cœur humain à partir de cellules souches. C'est un progrès significatif non seulement pour le domaine de la transplantation, mais aussi pour celui de la pharmaceutique : les organes bioartificiels permettent de tester des médicaments.
Le myocarde se forme étape par étape. Pour commencer, les cellules se regroupent en gouttes pulsatiles et isolées, qui se retrouvent en suite sans influence extérieure et forment un tissu continu.
Cela fait 5 ans environ que les scientifiques de l'université de Kyoto travaillent sur la création d'organes humains. Pendant 4 de ces 5 ans, le professeur Konstantin Agladze, directeur de laboratoire du centre scientifique Nanofizika de l'Institut de physique et de technologie de Moscou, a supervisé le projet.
En tant que source de matière génétique, le groupe scientifique nippo-russe a utilisé des cellules souches induites. Ces cellules composent un embryon aux premiers stades de son développement. Ce sont justement elles qui sont à l'origine du corps humain.
Le principal c'est de comprendre sous quelles conditions se forment les tissus. Sous la direction du professeur Agladze, les scientifiques ont pu trouver la substance chimique qui déclenche le mécanisme de transformation. 80 % de « protocellules » induites deviennent des cellules du cœur.
La température optimale de conservation de cellules est 37 degrés. Pour s'assurer que le tissu du cœur est vivant, il faut l'observer au microscope électronique. Si on grossit l'image plusieurs millions de fois, on s'aperçoit que le tissu se contracte.
En plus, le muscle travaille tout seul sans stimulateur externe : 50-70 pulsations par minute. C'est à cela que ressemble le tissu quelques mois après sa création à partir de cellules souches. Au fur et à mesure, les cellules se rassemblent pour former le tissu du myocarde.
Selon Konstantin Agladze, ce tissu sera utilisé à deux fins. Premièrement, des médicaments seront testés sur lui. Deuxièmement, des cellules souches créées pourront être implantées dans un cœur malade.
En ce qui concerne la création de tissus vivants pour la transplantation, les scientifiques pensent qu'il leur faudra encore 3-4 ans. À l'avenir, cette technologie permettra de sauver de millions de vies.
© 2005-2013 La Voix de la Russie.
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Popular Mechanics / March 13, 2013
Antarctica's "New Life": Expected, or Extraordinary?
Russian scientists are defending their claim to have discovered new life in an Antarctic lake buried beneath a glacier. If confirmed, the bacteria will join a menagerie of bizarre microbes that are redefining what it means for an environment to be habitable
Ученые из Арктического и антарктического научно-исследовательского института и Петербургского института ядерной физики заявили об обнаружении нового типа бактерий в образцах воды из подледного озера Восток в Антарктиде. Всего в пробах было обнаружено более двухсот видов бактерий, но все они были результатом неизбежного загрязнения при бурении. Кроме одной группы, которая к загрязнителям не относилась, более того - ее не удалось ни идентифицировать, ни даже классифицировать. Другие ученые полагают, что уровень сходства по ДНК-последовательности менее 86% - недостаточно для того, чтобы говорить о новом виде. Обе стороны сходятся на том, что с окончательными выводами следует подождать до получения более чистых образцов.
Antarctica's Lake Vostok is buried 2 miles beneath a sheet of ice, where it's been isolated from the surface for more than 14 million years. No sunlight reaches the lake, organic matter is few and far between, and the temperatures go as low as 27 degrees Fahrenheit. For years, Russian scientists have been drilling toward the lake, hoping to find out whether life could exist in a place cut off from Earth's surface - and what that life would be like.
Last week, those scientists trumpeted that they had discovered "new life" in Lake Vostok. Sergey Bulat, a geneticist at the St. Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics and leader of the Russian team, told reporters that the team pulled a previously unknown form of bacteria from the borehole. Bulat's team contended that the bacteria shares only 86 percent of its DNA with known forms of life, representing a new species or previously unknown lineage of bacteria.
In the days since then, researchers have gone back and forth about whether the claims are correct. But even if they are, the finding might not be as remarkable as it sounds - not because it isn't cool to find life buried in an Antarctic lake, but because scientists are finding all the time that life thrives in weird places.
By Monday morning, Vladimir Korolev, the head of the St. Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics, told the Interfax news agency that the samples had been contaminated and there was no new life. But now it looks like the popular consensus will have to reverse positions again. In an email to Popular Mechanics, Bulat defended the original claim, saying, "Dr. Korolev is a head of our division and was completely unaware about our latest results - in fact he was never interested in this field and he was wrong person to contact for any comments on our work." (Korolev did not respond to multiple requests to confirm this statement.)
So it looks as if we have a new form of bacteria on our hands - maybe. The discovery needs to be confirmed in other samples, which Bulat says his team will collect during an expedition in mid-May. He hopes the mission will reveal other bacteria as well, "because we suppose that it's not just one species that can live in the lake, it should be an entire community."
Ariel Anbar, an astrobiologist from Arizona State University, says it's impossible to comment on the significance of the finding and what it may mean because the results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. "I'm left curious but wanting to see data."
A press release, translated from Russian via Google Translate, states that the bacteria's "similarity in DNA sequence with known taxa was less than 86 percent." It's not clear whether the researchers analyzed the entire genome of the bacteria, or just the sequence of one or a few genes. When it comes to comparing whole genomes, two bacteria may share only 70 percent of their DNA but still be considered members of the same species.
Meanwhile, if the researchers are comparing one gene only, then the 86 percent figure might be low but not unheard of, says Louisiana State University biologist Brent Christner. "Calling it new life is a bit of a stretch," Christner says. "He's using a DNA-based method, which is targeted to old life." Or in other words, it's not as if they've found an organism whose fundamental biochemistry is wildly different from life as we know it.
If the results hold up and the Vostok microbes turn out to be a new species or lineage of bacteria, it won't be an earth-shattering conclusion. In fact, biologists are finding microbes in pretty much every place they look these days. Late last year scientists discovered that more than 2000 types of bacteria can survive in the human belly button, and hundreds of those species appear to be new to science.
Life finds a way to survive even in the harshest environments. Recent studies have revealed that bacteria thrive in storm clouds many miles above the ground, as well as below ground under 2 miles or more of dirt. They lurk in the deepest parts of the ocean where the sun doesn't shine and in the salty sands of the Atacama, the driest desert in the world. Some can even thrive in water as caustic as battery acid.
So finding bacteria in Lake Vostok is in some ways "exactly what you would expect," Christner says. Just last month, he and a team of American scientists discovered microbes living in a different subglacial lake in Antarctica, Lake Whillans, though the team hasn't finished the genetic tests to determine whether these bacteria are new to science. Lake Whillans is much closer to the surface than Lake Vostok, but the results seem to indicate that life can indeed withstand the harsh conditions of Antarctica.
While the findings from lakes Whillans and Vostok might not reveal anything extraordinary about life on earth, they might aid the search for life on other worlds. The moons Europa (of Jupiter) and Enceladus (of Saturn) are favorites in the search for life, thanks to the oceans hiding beneath their shells of ice. Jupiter's Ganymede and Saturn's Titan may also harbor subsurface oceans. Microbes in Antarctica could provide scientists with a greater understanding of how life survives under such cold and dark conditions.
"If the "unusual" species [in Lake Vostok] is proven to be a new species of bacterium, then it is a definite plus for astrobiology and the search for life," astrobiologist Louisa Preston from the Open University in the U.K., says. "If this is a new species, then it can be added to our database of extremophiles that might be found on other worlds, and if we are lucky may hold a few secrets as to its ability to survive in the lake."
© 2013 Hearst Communication, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Forbes / 3/13/2013
Samsung Gets Ahead Through Its Russian Connection
Своим «взлетом» компания Samsung не в последнюю очередь обязана инновационным методам советских ученых, а также идеям современных российских специалистов. Разработанная советским изобретателем Генрихом Альтшуллером теория решения изобретательских задач (ТРИЗ) стала для компании настоящей «корпоративной религией», а идея способного подстраиваться под пользователя уникального 3D дисплея (совместная разработка Физического института им. Лебедева РАН и Исследовательского центра Samsung) принадлежит сотруднику ФИАН Андрею Путилину.
It's only 24 hours away from the S 4 launch and Samsung is well and truly in the spotlight. Few people would deny that the Korean company is exerting a lot of pressure on Apple, and Apple until recently was the world's best tech company.
Apple's fall from grace is a topic for another day but just before the S 4 launch, let's return to how Samsung became so innovative.
I addressed part of that question a couple of days back and pointed out that at the start of the talent crunch back in the early 2000s, Samsung was able to bring Russian scientists from the former Soviet Union into its Korean labs. In fact those relationships go back to the early 1990s when South Korea reestablished diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
Since then Samsung has done what every major electronics company does - created new labs in countries and cities with good science fundamentals.
But the Russian group has been critical in Samsung's development. Russian scientists also introduced systematic innovation methods - TRIZ in particular. Samsung has taken this method and made it the company's religion. It now organizes innovation around a large creative elite that is TRIZ qualified.
The Russian connection continues through a framework agreement with the Russian Academy of Science. And it continues to pay dividends.
The Opto-electronics group at the national Physics Lab (FIAN), part of the Academy, and Samsung, recently devised a new method for a 3D display that adapts itself to each user.
At the heart of the system is eye-tracking software, making this agreement central to the future of display and user interaction. Eye scroll is expected to be a major feature of the new S IV.
Samsung is seen as a particularly important catch for Russia, in part because it helps with the patenting of Russian science. On the exploitation side Samsung recently agreed to open a lab at the new Skolkovo tech hub outside Moscow. According to East-West Digital News:
"In the remarks he delivered at the official signing ceremony at Moscow's Samsung Gallery earlier this week, Skolkovo's President Viktor Vekselberg said that he views Samsung's move an "historic event of exceptional importance."
Russia is currently negotiating a 40 year gas supply deal to South Korea (who recently began importing Russian oil) in exchange for technological modernization and investment of the type that Samsung offers.
Samsung collaborates with companies like i-Free, a Russian mobile tech company on the development of 3-D viewing apps for smart TVs and also has a nascent retail strategy under development in Russia.
The company opened the first of its North American retail stores in Canada mid-2012. But in Russia planned ten retail stores as of mid-2012. Apple is just hiring for an online Russian store. Samsung already has a strong own-retail presence in China that it credits with its sales growth there.
Have the Russians helped Samsung to develop eye-scroll? I'll come back to that later. From what I can tell there is no trace of any market leader in eye-tracking being a partner of Samsung, which points to an in-house, lab-based solution. At least nobody is admitting it this side of the S4 launch.
Indeed it is doubtful that the technology exists in the form people have been talking about, another point I will come back to.
Yet Russian science is helping Samsung to take a large step into the next generation of 3D screens and displays. Eye-scroll is a good example of Samsung's move into software-driven innovations and it is central to how 3D will work. The future is looking good but without the support of low-cost Russian science, and its Russian connections, would Samsung have progressed to the forward edge so quickly? I doubt it.
2013 Forbes.com LLC™. All Rights Reserved.
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Daily Maverick / 15 March 2013
Europe, Russia To Launch Mars Mission To Sample Soil For Signs Of Life
14 марта Роскосмос и Европейское космическое агентство наконец подписали финальное соглашение по проекту ExoMars, предполагающему запуск орбитального зонда для исследования Марса в 2016 г. и отправку посадочной платформы с марсоходом в 2018 г. Предложение о сотрудничестве Роскосмос получил еще четыре года назад, а после того, как проект покинуло НАСА, российская и европейская стороны договорились о совместной реализации программы.
Europe and Russia signed a deal on Thursday for a joint Mars mission which will bore beneath the Red Planet's surface for soil samples they hope will solve the mystery of whether there is life beyond Earth.
Europe's space agency had hoped to work with NASA on the two-spacecraft ExoMars mission but turned to the Russians after the U.S. agency pulled out due to budget shortfalls.
The announcement comes amid heightened excitement over the search for life on the planet in our solar system most like Earth after scientists said analysis from NASA's own mission rover, Curiosity, showed Mars had the right ingredients for life.
European scientists say the two-stage mission, with the two craft to be launched in 2016 and 2018, will pave the way for what NASA has described as the "Holy Grail" of Mars exploration: a separate mission to return dirt samples from the Red Planet.
"Curiosity learnt us a little bit, ExoMars will bring us a step further, but bringing back those samples to Earth you can do 10 to 100 times more analysis," Rolf de Groot, head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Robotic Exploration Coordination Office, told Reuters.
"That is a goal of everybody who works on Mars exploration."
The Europe-Russia mission hopes to take scientists beyond NASA's finding that the surface of Earth's neighbouring planet had the right mix of elements to sustain life, by drilling 2 metres (6 feet) below its radiation-hit surface for samples.
"NASA is also drilling, but two centimetres deep," de Groot said, referring to the ongoing Curiosity mission. "It's a completely different story."
"ExoMars, by drilling 2 metres into the ground, might hope to identify really the big molecules because that would be a direct indication of the presence of life or that life once existed on Mars."
He said the ESA's Mars rover would also be equipped with a much more advanced laboratory than Curiosity has, so would be able to carry out more detailed analysis.
Russian Space Agency Roskosmos will provide the rockets to launch the ExoMars - short for Exobiology on Mars - mission and will also design the descent module and surface platform.
Europe turned to Russia after NASA left the $1.3 billion project in February 2012, citing a budget crunch. The ESA and Roskosmos agreed to cooperate last April, but talks to work out the details dragged on for nearly a year.
"This event was a long time in the making and took a great deal of collaboration," Roskosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said after signing the deal with ESA Director Jean-Jacques Dordain in Paris.
Russia's involvement in the ambitious mission could boost the status of its once-pioneering space agency after a litany of costly and embarrassing failures.
The delays in agreeing the mission hinged on the extent of Russia's participation, according to Russian space experts who said Moscow had seemed to reach its goal of full partnership.
"The agreement implies that Russian scientists and engineers will become full-fledged participants in all the international scientific and technical groups," Roskosmos said in a statement.
What was to be Russia's first deep space mission in more than two decades - the Phobos-Grunt mission to scoop up soil samples from Mars - was among five botched launches that damaged Moscow's reputation as a reliable launch partner.
European governments have so far committed 850 million euros to the mission. The funding cap has been set at 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) but delays and changes to the scientific aspects of the project are expected to drive up the price tag.
Even though NASA pulled out, it will still provide radio communications equipment, an important organics experiment and engineering and mission support.
The United States also plans to follow up its Curiosity rover with an identical probe, to launch in 2020. It has not yet decided if it will cache samples for a future return to Earth.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2011 ranked a Mars sample return mission as its top priority in planetary science for the next decade. The long-term goal of the U.S. human space program is to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s.
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Russia & India Report / March 28, 2013
India loses "highly admired friend" in Marchuk - Ambassador Malhotra
The Indian scientific and diplomatic community mourns the passing away of Padma Bhushan winner and close friend of India, Russian scientist Guri Marchuk, who died in Moscow this week
14 марта скончался академик РАН Гурий Иванович Марчук, председатель СО АН СССР (1975-1980) и президент Академии наук СССР (1986-1991).
Condoling the death of Academician Gury Ivanovich Marchuk, Indian ambassador to Moscow, Ajai Malhotra said on Wednesday that in the sad demise of the one of the prominent scientists of Russia, India has lost a highly admired friend. Marchuk died in Moscow, on Monday, after a prolonged illness, at the age of 87. He was one of the last veterans of Soviet science.
Marchuk played a pioneering role in creating the bilateral Integrated Long-Term Programme (ILTP) of Cooperation in Science and Technology in 1987.
"Academician Marchuk was a very dear and highly admired friend of India, where he had many good friends," Malhotra said, adding "He was a pillar of our bilateral cooperation in science and technology."
"He was the first co-chairman of the flagship Integrated Long-Term Programme for Cooperation in Science and Technology between our two countries. His friendship and guidance contributed greatly to nurturing strong and mutually beneficial scientific ties between India and Russia," he stressed.
Recalling his close association with Marchuk, Malhotra said he was privileged to know him as a friend for 31 years, since 1982, and was absolutely delighted to meet up with him once again on my return to Moscow in 2011.
"We will always remember him with utmost admiration and deep respect. The gap he has left behind will certainly be impossible to fill," the ambassador said. "He was a remarkable human being, a versatile personality, and an eminent and very highly respected figure in the world of science."
"On this sad occasion, I would like to convey heartfelt condolences on behalf of the Government of India, the people of India and on my own behalf. Our prayers are with the grieving family of the departed soul as indeed with the Russian scientific fraternity and the people of Russia," Malhotra said, referring to the "irreparable loss" in the demise of Marchuk.
Marchuk was a key pillar of the ILTP as a scientific cooperation venture between India and the Soviet Union. The agreement on ILTP was signed on July 3, 1987 by the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The ILTP enabled the scientists of the two countries to undertake bilateral collaboration research in various fields, including healthcare, IT, biotechnology, laser and electronics.
The ILTP was extended for a further ten years from December 21, 2010, with a new mandate to promote innovation-led technology cooperation. So far, under the ILTP, 361 projects have been implemented and another over 110 are under implementation.
Marchuk co-chaired the ILTP's Joint Council with Prof. C.N.R. Rao for 25 years and was made a foreign honorary member of Indian National Academy of Sciences. He was also internationally recognized for his scientific achievements for which he was conferred with many high awards.
"His friendship and guidance contributed greatly to nurturing strong and mutually beneficial scientific ties between India and Russia," Malhotra said. "India acknowledged the contribution of this great scientist in 2002 by conferring on Academician Marchuk one of the highest Indian civil awards, "Padma Bhusahan".
Marchuk's professional career as a scientist scaled many heights. As a widely acclaimed scientist and author, he had more than 350 scientific publications to his name, covering fields such as computational and applied mathematics, atmospheric and oceanic physics and even immunology. He also helped build the Soviet thermonuclear bomb and designed a liquid metal cooled nuclear reactor for submarines.
In 1986, Marchuk was elected the President of Soviet Academy of Sciences, a post which he held until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. After retiring from the post, Marchuk continued his research work.
© 2007-2013 Russia Beyond The Headlines.
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