AstroTalk Episode December 7, 2017

Water and Electronegativity, Superworms? Worms in Space. Orbital Dance of Icy Worlds

3:09pm - 3:28pm

Electronegativity of Water. Worms in Space. C. elegans (worm) is often used in biomedical research, to help learn more about human development, genetics, aging and disease. Tests are being done on the worms to understand how their biological processes can be affected in a micro-gravity, or zero gravity environment. Researchers hope to use what they learn about the effect on the worms to hypothesize, or build models, on how spaceflight might affect humans. This knowledge can then hopefully be used to prepare humans for the long flight to Mars. Although the worm's biology is very simple in comparison to the comlex biology of a human, worms and humans share many of the same biological processes. Another advantage of studying the worms is that their lifespan is about 2 -3 weeks, so that s cientists can get a gd ideaa on the affects of microo-gravity on the whole lifetime of a creature. This knowledge can then be applied to humans, in predicting how affects a long spaceflight would have on the human anatomy. All 959 cells of a worm are visible through a microscope, and worms have a nervous system, a brain, muscles and a gut. It exhibits behavior and is capable of rudimentary learning. It produces sperm and eggs, and reproduces, although normally as a hermaphrodite. After reproduction, the worm gradually ages, loses vigor and finally dies. All these characteristics, which are similar to humans, make the worm an ideal candidate for study in space. Info on this experiment can be found at The mid and far-reaches of our solar system is populated by many icy worlds, both planet and moon. Liquid water may not have a chance to exist here, but, on icy moons like Enceladus, the gravitational tug or pull of its home planet, Saturn, may provide the heat necessary to Enceladus' sub-surface ocean in a liquid state. When talking about TNO's, Trans-Neptunian Objects, well then, water would have an even more difficult probability of being found, especially with typical temperatures of -200 deg C out there. But traces of sub-surface water, crystalline ice, and sub-surface ammonia hydrates have been found on some of these TNOs. The analysis was done by reflecting light onto the surface of these TNOs. Sicentists believe that the water may have come to the surface through a process known as "Cryovolcanism". Many of the moons, or TNOs, are thought to have been formed through collisions. When orbits stabilize and a TNO or moon achieves a stable orbit with its parent, then frictional hearing, or tidal heating, from gravitational interaction, can then create enough heat to allow water or other compounds to exist in this cold environment. Without the frictional heating, then the water could only exist as a form of very hard ice. With water and other compounds, comes the possibility that life could evolve way out yonder in the outer reaches of the Solar System. The tidal heating could also provide the chemical compounds and the heat that is necessary for life to evolve.