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Ozone layer collapse preceded mass extinction event 360 million years ago



May 27 (UPI) — Until now, scientists weren’t sure caused the Late Devonian extinction, one of five major extinction events in Earth’s history.

But new research — published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances — suggests a combination of global warming and the collapse of the ozone layer preceded the mass terrestrial die-off that occurred 360 million years ago.

The extinction event that killed the dinosaurs is the only die-off caused by an asteroid. At least two were caused by some combination of volcanic activity and ozone destruction. But the cause of the Devonian-Carboniferous extinction remained a mystery.

“There has always been the view that continental scale volcanic eruptions at the End Permian Great Dying and the Triassic/Jurassic mass extinction caused ozone damage,” John Marshall, professor of earth sciences at the University of Southampton in Britain, told UPI in an email. “There are malformed pollen/spores through both these extinctions.”

“What is different here is that there is no vast eruption at the D-C boundary,” Marshall said. “We have shown this by the absence of mercury.”

When Marshall and his research partners conducted a survey of ancient plant spores trapped in the sediment layers of lakes in Greenland and Bolivia, they found evidence of genetic damage caused by ultraviolet radiation.

“In the rocks in Greenland nearly all of the spores with spines are malformed,” Marshall said. “The [percentage] of this malformation increases progressively into the center of the lake bed. As it gets warmer there is more malformation.”

“Experimental work has been done that shows modern pollen malform if you subject them to UV light,” Marshall said.

Researchers already knew that the Late Devonian extinction event was preceded by a period of warming, which followed a prolonged ice age. They were surprised to find that the global warming corresponded with a breakdown of the ozone layer and an increase in UV radiation.

The ozone layer exists in a constant state of flux. The latest findings confirm that large volcanic eruptions aren’t needed to trigger the momentary but compete depletion of the layer.

Scientists suspect the period of global warming at the end of the Devonian period pushed ozone-eating chemicals higher into the atmosphere, depleting the layer that normally protects Earth’s surface and its living residents from the sun’s most damaging rays.

The disruptive effects of global warming and ozone depletion created a negative feedback loop that spelled doom for many of the planet’s terrestrial species.

“Ozone eating chemicals are a metabolic byproduct of many living algae, fungi and land plants,” Marshall said. “Start the process, strip off the forests and the nutrients flush to the sea. This will produce more ozone eating chemicals. Positive feedback.”

Marshall and his colleagues suggest a similar breakdown could result from human-caused global warming. As the atmosphere gets warmer, ozone-eating chemicals could once again get pushed into the upper layers of the atmosphere.

“As our climate warms rapidly, the same process may happen,” Marshall said. “We are not in a Devonian world but the key is rapid warming. It’s a warning from Deep Time.”

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touches down on asteroid Bennu to nab sample



Oct. 20 (UPI) — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touched down on asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening in a mission to scoop a sample of rocks and dirt.

The spacecraft — the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer — made soft contact with the asteroid at 6:12 p.m. EDT.

The historic “touch and go” event featured animation displaying OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection activities in real time. It takes time for real images of the touchdown to travel back to the Earth, so they won’t be released to the public until Wednesday.

The craft executed a series of maneuvers over the course of several hours before making soft contact with the surface of the asteroid to collect regolith, or rocks and dirt.

“It will be four and a half hours of anxiousness,” Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations manager at Lockheed Martin Space, said in a news conference ahead of the event.

Buck made a comparison to the descent of a spacecraft on Mars, when there is typically “seven minutes of terror.”

The goal is to learn more about the solar system’s history and help “planetary defense” engineers with missions to protect earth from rogue asteroids. Bennu is believed to be a window into the solar system’s past since it’s a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying building blocks of both planets and life.

At around 1:50 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft left orbit around the asteroid before executing a series of burns to position itself over a sampling area nicknamed Nightingale.

Once in position, the craft began its approach to the asteroid at 5:50 p.m. EDT. It then spent about 15 seconds attempting to collect the regolith sample before backing away again.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference.

The original mission called for a landing “zone” about 150% larger than Nightingale, at 82 feet, but that changed because Bennu was more rocky than expected.

The goal was to collect at least 1.7 ounces of fine-grained material, but the spacecraft can carry up to 4.4 pounds, Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona said.

“I would love for that capsule to be completely full,” Enos said.

Though early images from the asteroid should hint at whether the mission succeeded, it will take engineers roughly 10 days to compare and analyze the mass before and after the maneuver to actually know how much dirt is inside the OSIRIS-REx.

If it failed, the spacecraft has enough fuel to attempt two more touch downs to collect material.

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth, with the regolith sample from Bennu, in 2023.

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SpaceX scrubs Starlink launch until Thursday, if weather cooperates



Oct. 21 (UPI) — Just three days after sending 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit, SpaceX is aiming to launch another batch of broadband satellites into space from Florida.

If the weather cooperates, Thursday’s launch will be SpaceX’s 15th Starlink mission.

Liftoff had been scheduled for 12:29 p.m. EDT Wednesday aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but controllers scrubbed the launch due to weather and rescheduled for 12:14 p.m. on Thursday.

With a launch Sunday, SpaceX increased the size of their Starlink constellation to nearly 800 satellites. The 15th mission will see another 60-odd satellites join the network.

“The goal of Starlink is to create a network that will help provide Internet services to those who are not yet connected, and to provide reliable and affordable Internet across the globe,” according to the Kennedy Space Center.

Weather for Wednesday’s planned launch had looked so-so and the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

“A mid-level inverted trough and associated easterly wave currently across the Bahamas will meander into the state over the next few days, bringing enhanced moisture, cloud cover, and instability with a higher coverage of showers and storms,” Space Force forecasters wrote.

They said Thursday’s forecast looks quite similar to Wednesday’s.

Earlier this month, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink’s constellation was big enough to begin beta-testing the Internet service system in both the United States and southern Canada.

SpaceX has already offered Starlink Internet services to emergency responders in wildfire-stricken areas of Washington State.

Washington’s Hoh tribe is also using the Internet service to provide their members online education and telehealth services.

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Chernobyl-level radiation harms bumblebee reproduction



Oct. 21 (UPI) — Bees are more sensitive to radiation than scientists thought. Scientists found the reproduction rates of bumblebees declined significantly when exposed to Chernobyl-level radiation.

The research, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests radiation in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone could impair pollination services, triggering wider ecological consequences than previously estimated.

Humans are not allowed to live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the disaster area more directly impacted by the 1986 nuclear accident, the worst in history. However, the destroyed nuclear reactors are surrounded by forests that are populated by robust populations of birds, bears, bison, lynx, moose, wolves and more.

Efforts to gauge the effects of radiation contamination on insects have yielded mixed results in the past. While some studies have suggested insects are relatively radiation-resistant, others have demonstrated significant impairment.

When researchers exposed bumblebees in the lab to radiation dose of 100 µGyh-1, an amount approximating exposure inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, reproduction rates among the bees dropped between 30 and 45 percent.

Researchers found a direct correlation between the size of the radiation dose and reproduction rate declines. Lower levels of radiation had a smaller effect, while larger doses yielded greater declines.

Scientists were surprised to find they were able to detect reproductive rate declines at very small levels of radiation exposure.

“Our research provides much needed understanding as to the effects of radiation in highly contaminated areas and this is the first research to underpin the international recommendation for the effects of radiation on bees,” lead study author Katherine Raines, environmental scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said in a news release.

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