Jupiter’s Poles, Alzheimer’s Progress, and SpaceX’s Latest RUD | Vol. 3 / No. 45

Featured Photo: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS, CC0 (Jupiter), Kevin Gill, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Earth)


A First Look At Jupiter’s Poles

Earlier this week we reported the successful first of thirty-six planned flybys of Jupiter by Juno, but at that point none of the data it collected had managed to find its way back. But later this week it started to trickle out into our news feeds, and boy is it cool. Check out this photo of Jupiter’s south pole:

Jupiter from "below" | Photo: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS , CC0 (Public Domain)
Jupiter from “below” | Photo: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS , CC0 (Public Domain)

Go ahead and zoom in, it’s fascinating. The banded structure so visible from the side views of the planet basically break down into an absolute chaotic mess of storms. And just so we’re clear on the scale of what’s going on, here’s something I (roughly) mocked up just to give you a bit of perspective:

Jupiter is 11.2 times as wide as the Earth | Photos: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS, CC0 (Jupiter), Kevin Gill, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Earth)
Jupiter is 11.2 times as wide as the Earth | Photos: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS, CC0 (Jupiter), Kevin Gill, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Earth)

These are continent-sized storms on a planet so radioactive that Juno has to take quick flybys so it doesn’t get completely fried. And if you want an idea about the power of that radiation, here’s what passing through its aurorae sounds like, courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

And do you know what the best part is? The pictures are only going to get better. As Emily Lakdawalla explains over at the Planetary Society, the Juno team was experimenting with the best settings, so some of the pictures are over- or underexposed, and in general things are set for a kind of “trial run.” By the time Juno whizzes past for the second time in October, the settings should be even better. At that point Juno will fire its engines and settle into a two week schedule, so we’ll have a steady supply of brilliant Jupiter data for a while to come. Check out the Planetary Society and JPL’s blog for more.


Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly

Photo: USLaunchReport
Photo: USLaunchReport

Pretty much everybody’s hearts sank a little on September 1, when something went very wrong around the time of a standard SpaceX pre-launch test. The test is called a static fire, and involves clamping down the rocket and firing its engines briefly just to make sure all the kinks are worked out, but it looks as though they didn’t actually get to the test itself before a fireball tore through the setup, causing a complete loss of the rocket and its $200 million payload, as well as undetermined damage to the pad and SpaceX’s 2016 launch schedule. A statement from the company immediately after the incident read that “SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s standard pre-launch static fire test, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.” As I say, the extent of the damage to the pad is unknown at present, but the strongback was still standing as they were putting out the fires. The payload, an Israeli communication satellite called Amos-6, was almost certainly insured, but it’ll delay Facebook’s plans for bringing “internet.org” to Africa (which I can’t say I’m sad about, actually). Over the coming weeks there’ll be an investigation into what actually happened (it looks once again like something to do with the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank) and then I expect things will go on. Unfortunate though it may be, there’s a reason why “rocket science” is the go-to phrase for “really hard things to do.” The reddit r/spacex community is your best bet for keeping abreast of the situation as it develops. See the USLaunchReport video below if you really need to.

Alzheimer’s Progress

β-amyloid | Image: Ayacop, CC0
β-amyloid | Image: Ayacop, CC0

A stage one clinical trial of a new antibody-based Alzheimer’s drug called aducanumab seems to show efficacy at breaking up one of the key proteins thought to be responsible for at least some of the disease’s symptoms. There are two proteins that build up in the brain in Alzheimer’s: beta-amyloid, which builds up so-called “plaques” on and around the neurons, and tau, which builds up “tangles” inside dying cells. Aducanumab targets the beta-amyloid plaques. A phase one trial isn’t designed to determine efficacy, but rather safety. As such patients exhibiting early-stage beta-amylod plaque buildup were given one of four levels of the drug, or a placebo, and were tracked for up to 54 weeks. Not only did they find it to be fairly safe (too much and certain genetically predisposed groups could develop brain inflammation), these preliminary results even seem to indicate that the drug is effective, as those receiving the higher doses had a stronger preventive effect, and seemed to experience a slower progression of the disease. Researchers are hoping to hit the “sweet spot” of effectiveness without inflammation. Now it must be admitted that we don’t actually know if the beta-amyloid (or tau) are symptoms of the disease or the cause, but at this point any successes against the disease should be considered major steps forward. It’s still early days in the fight against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, but I think we can all take a moment to celebrate today this potentially really positive development. Nature has more.


In case you missed it, here’s what else we go up to this week, in handy point form!

If you missed any of them, go check them out!

Best of the Rest

This was a banner week for interesting news, so be sure to check out some of these stories, too:


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an 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.