New Clouds, New Facts About Organs, and a Countdown to Reusability | Vol. 4 / No. 22

Photo: Alex Schueth, via YouTube.

This week we’ve got stories on clouds (here and on Mars), new discoveries in the body (in the lungs, brain, and testes), and the countdown to this week’s “first reuse” SpaceX launch! It’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, March 26, 2017.


The International Cloud Atlas is a real book, first published in the late 1800s and used since then as a guide for meteorologists to help them identify different cloud types and use the same words to describe them—kind of like an anatomy book for clouds. This week, for the first time in thirty years, new clouds were added to the Atlas, twelve of them in total. Take this one below:

It’s called an “asperitas” cloud, and was added thanks to a campaign by the also actually real Cloud Appreciation Society(!). Other new additions include the punch-hole “cavum” cloud and the rolling “volutus” cloud. You can get more details on the additions at PBS’s NovaNext and at the World Meteorological Society.

Meanwhile on Mars, scientists using data from the Curiosity rover have discovered rolling clouds on the red planet as well.

It’s not certain yet, but the feature you can see rippling through the Martian atmosphere above is potentially gravity waves in the atmosphere (not gravitational waves). If they are, it could help scientists to develop models to better estimate the amount of water involved in Mars’s geological processes, including those seasonal recurring slope lineae we love so much.


Normal lung tissue | Photo: Yale Rosen, CC BY-SA 2.0

Organ Facts

Anatomy textbooks might soon be getting an update or two, in response to new discoveries about the lungs, brain, and the testes. The first two are thanks to a new kind of imaging technology called intravital two-photon imaging, which allows scientists to study processes at the microscopic scale in living tissues. In studying the lungs of mice, they watched as a previously unstudied pool of stem cells produced blood cells called platelets in much greater numbers than seen before. In fact, it looks as though the majority of the body’s platelets might (because: mice) come from the lungs, as opposed to from the bone marrow as previously thought. As for the brain, scientists this week showed that the cerebellum apparently plays a role in the brain’s reward system, unlike the previous thought that it was mostly limited to motor function. Lastly, it seems that the testes are actually “visible” to the immune system. Previously it had been thought that—using a system not unlike the blood-brain barrier—the testes were shielded from immune responses that would otherwise treat the sperm like invaders and render men infertile. It looks like not all the antigens on the surfaces of sperm cells are kept locked away in the testes, but actually “leak” into the bloodstream. The discovery could help with certain kinds of male infertility. In addition to the news articles linked to above, you can check out the articles—two in Nature and one in the Journal of Clinical Investigation: Lungs; Brain; Testes.


CRS-9 long exposure of the launch and first-stage return | Photo: SpaceX, CC0 (public domain)

SpaceX Countdown

SpaceX is counting down to its first first-stage reuse this week. They’ve already demonstrated that they can return first stages home, now we get to see if they can use them again. If successful, it will be the first time any company has ever used the same rocket to put something into orbit twice, and will be a major vindication of Musk’s plan for reusability. The launch will see the SES-10, a communications satellite, put into a GTO—a geostationary transfer orbit, which places the satellite into a position to maneuver itself into a very distant orbit where its speed matches the speed of the ground, rendering it “stationary” by ground standards. The static fire is scheduled for Monday, and if successful will be followed by launch Wednesday or Thursday depending on how things go. It’s an exciting time to be a SpaceX fan, that’s for sure. You can follow the campaign thread over at r/SpaceX for the most up-to-date details.



In case you missed any of it, here’s what we got up to this week:

Go read them if you haven’t!


Best of the Rest

And of course, there’s always more to cover than we can. Here it is, your weekly linkspam:

That’s all for today, folks; have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.