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How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change – WUSF Public Media

TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.

Some of them may hold keys to helping the planet’s food supply adapt to climate change.

Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

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Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station.

The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They’re sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who’ve hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet.

The research center, formed in the 1970s, once mostly helped farmers in poorer countries in hot, dry climates. But now it also sends seeds to scientists in Europe, Canada and the United States, helping lead to breakthroughs in improving certain crops’ resilience to the effects of climate change.

“What we are collecting is a sample of the diversity that we have in nature,” says Mariana Yazbek, who manages the gene bank. Yazbek calls the center an “insurance policy” for humanity — it saves seeds in case nuclear war or other catastrophic events should wipe out plant species.

Mariana Yazbek, the seed bank manager, holds a sealed foil packet containing seed samples as she stands between two rows of heavy sliding metal shelves in the large freezer room where the seeds are stored at the ICARDA research station.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

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Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Mariana Yazbek, the seed bank manager, holds a sealed foil packet containing seed samples as she stands between two rows of heavy sliding metal shelves in the large freezer room where the seeds are stored at the ICARDA research station.

Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

The center replicates the seeds it collects by planting and harvesting them in the fields that surround it in the Bekaa valley. ICARDA then sends a copy to the Global Seed Vault, also known as the “doomsday vault,” in Svalbard, Norway, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.

And the seeds that ICARDA — which is funded by governments and international organizations — sends to scientists around the world are used to develop new varieties of crops such as wheat that can tolerate heat and drought.

“These wild relatives of crops have been evolving on Earth for millions of years, and they witnessed so many different climates,” says Yazbek. “The traits that help them adapt and survive in these conditions is stored in their DNA. We have this diversity and it can be a tool to help us face the future.”

The seed bank’s original home was in Syria

The wealth of genetic material in ICARDA’s seed bank might have been lost if not for a dramatic rescue effort a decade ago by its employees.

Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

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Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

The seed bank was originally housed in Syria, at a center close to Aleppo. But then civil war began in 2011, and rebels opposing the Syrian government and Islamic extremists took over parts of the country. At least one ICARDA researcher was kidnapped; others were shot at. Armed men stole the organization’s flock of over 300 sheep being bred for research.

Hassan Machlab, an ICARDA country manager in Lebanon, recalls that employees were able to locate 125 of the animals by searching livestock markets and bring them across to Lebanon, where they peacefully munch hay in their stalls these days.

Raffat Azzo, a barley breeder at the ICARDA research station in Lebanon, saved his entire collection of thousands of plant specimens from Syria as warplanes flew overhead.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Raffat Azzo, a barley breeder at the ICARDA research station in Lebanon, saved his entire collection of thousands of plant specimens from Syria as warplanes flew overhead.

Raffat Azzo, a researcher with ICARDA who specializes in barley breeds, managed to save his entire collection of thousands of plant specimens as warplanes flew overhead. He hired a bus, onto which he loaded hundreds of boxes of different barley seed varieties. The journey to Lebanon involved crossing multiple front lines. “It wasn’t simple,” Azzo recalls. But he believes it was worth the risk. “The seeds we saved are now fighting climate change.”

The seeds are helping farmers in Europe and the U.S.

After leaving Syria, ICARDA established a gene bank in Morocco as well as in Lebanon. The organization now runs centers for agricultural projects in more than a dozen other countries around the world.

Eman Darwish, left, an assistant at the ICARDA lab, works with Bilal Inaty at the research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

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Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Eman Darwish, left, an assistant at the ICARDA lab, works with Bilal Inaty at the research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

Lentil plants are collected to be tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Lentil plants are collected to be tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

In Lebanon, ICARDA is housed in a collection of low buildings with orange tiled roofs, surrounded by fields of experimental grains in the Bekaa valley. The work there continues despite the country’s descent into what the World Bank calls one of the worst economic crises of modern times. The center has multiple diesel generators to keep the seed bank running during the power outages that have become a daily reality in the country.

Despite these challenges, ICARDA’s Lebanon center remains an important hub.

Fouad Maalouf, a legume breeder, collaborates with scientists in more than 30 European countries including France, the U.K. and Italy. He takes the seeds ICARDA researchers collect from the wild and from local farmers and tests them for disease and crossbreeds them in experimental crops planted around the center. He then shares seeds from these plants with scientists in these countries that use their genes to develop new crops of chickpeas, lentils and other varieties of legume.

Legume breeder Fouad Maalouf stands in his office at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. He works with scientists in more than 30 European countries including France, the U.K. and Italy

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Legume breeder Fouad Maalouf stands in his office at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. He works with scientists in more than 30 European countries including France, the U.K. and Italy

Mariana Yazbek holds fava beans that are packed inside bags in the large freezer room where the seeds are stored at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Mariana Yazbek holds fava beans that are packed inside bags in the large freezer room where the seeds are stored at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022.

Maalouf says the scientists are particularly interested in legumes as a crop now because these plants capture a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also release nitrogen into the soil, meaning the farmers have to use less chemical fertilizer. And legumes take very little water to grow, he says. “So you are saving the environment, and second, you save water.”

ICARDA’s work is also helping farmers in the U.S. Dil Thavarajah, a professor at Clemson University, has worked with ICARDA researchers for over a decade, exploring ways to improve the nutritional quality of lentils. One of her discoveries, using lentil seeds native to the Mediterranean sent by the organization, could even help tackle obesity. Thavarajah extracted genetic material from which her team then bred crops that contain low digestible carbohydrates, also known as prebiotic carbohydrates; these compounds help regulate a person’s weight via modulating gut health.

Newly planted grains in a field at the ICARDA research station in the village of Terbol, Lebanon, Dec. 21, 2022.

/ Dalia Khamissy for NPR

/

Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Newly planted grains in a field at the ICARDA research station in the village of Terbol, Lebanon, Dec. 21, 2022.

The legume seeds also contain a particular trait that produces sugar alcohols that act as humectants, a substance that attracts and absorbs moisture and “saves the plant from freezing or saves the plant from drying out,” says Thavarajah. This is important because climate change is making growing seasons more unpredictable, with more extreme swings in weather. Thavarajah says using ICARDA’S seeds she developed legumes that — for the first time — can grow in South Carolina in the winter. She says this new winter crop is now being introduced in states across the American south.

In another case, a wheat seed collected in Iran and then stored and saved from the war in Syria, has allowed scientists in the U.S. to develop new wheat varieties resistant to the Hessian fly, a pest that causes tens of millions of dollars in damage to American crops every year.

Back at the seed bank in Lebanon, Mariana Yazbek looks over the tens of thousands of collected species. A major challenge, she says, is deciding which of the seeds collected from nature and local crops to store. Then it takes years of research to identify their unique properties. She says thousands of the seeds in the gene bank remain untested.

With such a large collection in ICARDA’s seed vault, Yazbek says, this is only the beginning of the help ancient grains and legumes can give farmers in a changing climate.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food – Phys.org

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
A winter donkey orchid (left) and a prickly bitter-pea. Credit: Cal Wood/iNaturalist; caitlind164/iNaturalist, CC BY

If you’ve ever compared a frozen pizza to the photo on the box, you know the feeling of being duped by appetizing looks.

In our latest study published in Ecology and Evolution, we show that animals—in this case, bees—are also prone to being tricked into making poor decisions, which explains a lot about how gaps in perception are exploited in nature.

When Charles Darwin was testing the theory of evolution 150 years ago, he looked at the interaction between flowering plants and the animals that forage to collect nectar.

This helped establish that flowers have adaptations to promote easier pollinator access, making it beneficial for the animal who gets a food “reward” from them. At the same time, it means the plants get pollinated and can reproduce.

One perplexing problem is some that reproduce by pollination are non-rewarding—the animal doesn’t get nectar from visiting the flower. This is true of certain orchids, yet these flowers are still visited by pollinators and survive well in nature.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-2.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-2.jpg" data-sub-html="Flower shape and colour properties of an orchid (upper row) and a native pea flower (lower row) shown in the field, as individual flowers, and with spectral measurements. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided”>

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
Flower shape and colour properties of an orchid (upper row) and a native pea flower (lower row) shown in the field, as individual flowers, and with spectral measurements. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided

A mistaken identity

With the benefit of modern scientific tools like a spectrophotometer that measures the amount of color, digital ultraviolet (UV) photography and computer modeling of how bees see the world, our international team set out to understand how some orchids have evolved dazzling floral displays.

Our chosen species was the winter donkey orchid (Diuris brumalis), endemic to Western Australia. This non-rewarding, food deceptive plant blooms at the same time as rewarding native pea plants (Daviesia).

As a result, native Trichocolletes bees appear to mistake the orchid for legume plants frequently enough that the orchid gets pollinated.

We quantified the flower color signals from both plants, revealing the main component of the visual information perceived by a bee was in the short wavelength UV region of the spectrum.

This made sense—while our vision sees blue, green and red wavelengths of light as primary colors, bees can see UV reflected light but lack a channel for perceiving primary red.

By using computer models of bee pollinator perception, we observed the orchid mimic species and the native pea plant species did actually look similar in color to bees.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-3.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/this-strange-donkey-or-3.jpg" data-sub-html="UV photographs of orchid flowers (upper left panel) in natural state and also with applied UV blocking screen. Middle panels show false-colour photographs of flower appearance for a bee, and right hand panel a computer model of how bee vision perceives flower colours. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided”>

This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food
UV photographs of orchid flowers (upper left panel) in natural state and also with applied UV blocking screen. Middle panels show false-colour photographs of flower appearance for a bee, and right hand panel a computer model of how bee vision perceives flower colours. Credit: Scaccabarozzi et al., 2023, Author provided

Putting a UV block on flowers

What was surprising, however, was the non-rewarding orchid flowers—pollinated by deception—actually have more conspicuous advertising for bee vision.

For example, the main display outer flower petals were significantly larger on the orchid plants, and also produced a stronger UV color signal.

To understand if such signaling was biologically relevant, we next conducted with the plants. We used a special UV sun-blocking solution to remove the strong UV signals in half of the orchid species, while the other half retained their natural appearance.

At the completion of the field season, several months latter, we could measure which plants were more successfully pollinated by bees, revealing the strong UV signals had a significant role in promoting pollination in the orchids.

A second interesting finding of the field experiments was the distance between the pea flowers and their copycat orchids was a major factor in the success of the orchids’ deception strategy.

If the orchids with strong UV signals were within close proximity—a meter or two—to the rewarding native pea flowers, the deception was less successful and few orchid flowers were pollinated. However, if the deceptive were about eight meters away from the rewarding model species, this produced the highest success rate in pollination.

Why deception works

It turns out a distance of about eight meters is important because of the way bee brains process color. When bees see a pair of colors in , they can evaluate them at the same time. This leads to very precise color matching. A similar process happens in —we also have to see colors at the same time.

However, seeing color stimuli with a time interval in between means the brain has to remember the first color, inspect the second color, and make a mental calculation about whether the two samples are indeed the same.

Neither bee brains, nor our own, are good at successive color comparisons. This is why when we purchase paint for a repair job we take a sample to get a precise match, rather than try and remember what we thought the color should look like.

Deceptive flowers are successful by exploiting this perceptual gap in how brains have to code information when need to fly several meters in search of more food.

By using a “look at me” strategy (essentially, better advertising than other plants) it is possible to survive in nature without actually offering a food reward to the pollinators. To do this, the plants need to be at an optimal distance from the plants they are mimicking. Not too close and not too far, and success is assured.

More information:
Daniela Scaccabarozzi et al, Mimicking orchids lure bees from afar with exaggerated ultraviolet signals, Ecology and Evolution (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ece3.9759

Provided by
The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation:
This strange donkey orchid uses UV light to trick bees into thinking it has food (2023, February 2)
retrieved 2 February 2023
from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-strange-donkey-orchid-uv-bees.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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The world’s oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don’t contain signs of life – Phys.org

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Credit: Saul Shepstein, Author provided

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is home to one of the most ancient surviving pieces of Earth’s crust, which has been geologically unchanged since its creation some 3.5 billion years ago.

Some of the oldest signs of life have been found here, in the North Pole area west of the town of Marble Bar, in black rocks composed of fine-grained quartz called chert.

Some features in the so-called “Apex chert” have been identified as the fossilized remains of microbes much like the bacteria that still survive today. However, scientists have debated the true origin of these features ever since they were discovered 30 years ago.

In new research published in Science Advances, we show the carbon-rich compounds also found in the chert may have been produced by non-biological processes. This suggests the supposed “fossils” are not remnants of early lifeforms but rather artifacts of chemical and geological processes.

Controversial Pilbara fossils

In 1993, American paleobiologist William Schopf spotted carbon-rich filaments in outcrops of the 3.45 billion year old Apex chert. He interpreted them as the charred remains of fossilized microbes similar to cyanobacteria, which were Earth’s first oxygen-producing organisms and are still abundant today.

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Veins of black chert found in the Pilbara open a window onto Earth as it was 3.5 billion years ago. Credit: Birger Rasmussen

The existence of fossilized cyanobacteria in such old rocks would imply that life was already pumping oxygen into the air more than a billion years before Earth’s atmosphere became rich in oxygen.

A key piece of evidence in favor of life was the association of with the ancient fossils. This is because living cells are made up of large , which comprise mainly carbon as well as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements.

In 2002, Schopf’s interpretation was challenged by English paleobiologist Martin Brasier and his team. They showed the “fossils” displayed a variety of shapes and sizes uncharacteristic of cyanobacteria, and indeed, inconsistent with microbial life. What’s more, they also showed the -bearing black cherts were not horizontal beds deposited on the seafloor, but angled veins cutting across the underlying layers of rock.

The fossil-bearing cherts appeared to have formed at high temperatures during . Brasier argued this environment was hostile to life and the “fossils” were, in fact, formed from graphite impurities in the rock. They also speculated that the carbon associated with the “fossils” may not even be biological in origin.

A lively debate ensued, and it has continued ever since.

<div data-thumb="https://scx1.b-cdn.net/csz/news/tmb/2023/the-worlds-oldest-foss-2.jpg" data-src="https://scx2.b-cdn.net/gfx/news/2023/the-worlds-oldest-foss-2.jpg" data-sub-html="Tiny structures like these, found in ancient black chert, have been interpreted as fossilised bacteria. Credit: Brasier et al.“>

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Tiny structures like these, found in ancient black chert, have been interpreted as fossilised bacteria. Credit: Brasier et al.

Microbes or hot fluids?

To try to determine where the carbon-rich deposits in the black chert veins came from, we took a very close look at them with a high-magnification electron microscope.

We found it did not come from fossilized bacteria. The oil-like substance occurs as residues in fractures and as petrified droplets, which have previously been mistaken for ancient fossils.

The textures in the black chert veins indicate they were formed when hot fluids rich in silica and carbon moved through cracks in lava flows below vents in the seafloor similar to modern “black smoker” vents. Upon approaching the seafloor, the hot fluids infiltrated layers of volcanic sediment, replacing it with black chert.

If the carbon came from such a hot fluid, this supports findings that the carbon-rich filaments in the Apex chert are not fossils. However, it also raises a new question.

Typically, organic compounds such as oil and gas, which are referred to as “fossil fuels” because they form from the dead remains of algae, bacteria and plants, are generated when these remains are buried and heated to temperatures above 65℃. Chemical reactions release organic compounds, which may accumulate to form oil and gas fields.

However, the sediments from the North Pole area are very thin (less than 50m thick), poor in organic molecules, and sandwiched between kilometers of lava flows. So, how did the organic compounds form in such surroundings?

The world's oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don't contain signs of life
Black chert veins may have formed when water came into contact with lava at seafloor vents. Credit: NOAA

Seafloor vents on early Earth

A possible alternative pathway is suggested from experimental evidence and research on Martian meteorites. In the absence of traditional biological sources, some of the organic molecules in the chert veins could have formed by non-biological processes.

For instance, when hot water circulates through lava or other igneous rock, water and carbon dioxide can react with mineral surfaces to form organic compounds. Similar reactions have been proposed to explain the presence of organic molecules in Martian meteorites and in some igneous rocks on Earth.

The carbon in black cherts from the Pilbara outback may therefore represent relics of organic compounds that were produced by reactions between water and rock. Indeed, on the early Earth seafloor vents may have created more organic compounds than biological processes did, making it difficult to distinguish between authentic carbon-bearing fossils and oily artifacts.

While more work is underway, early results suggest life was only just surviving 3.5 billion years ago, struggling to gain a foothold in an inhospitable environment. The world then was wracked by regular volcanic eruptions that covered Earth’s surface in lava, and bathed in harsh solar radiation streaming through an atmosphere with no protective ozone layer.

Looking further back in time, the black cherts offer a glimpse of a lifeless planet. Reactions between water and rock at seafloor vents produced a cocktail of organic compounds, perhaps supplying the raw materials for the assembly of the first living cells.

More information:
Birger Rasmussen et al, Organic carbon generation in 3.5-billion-year-old basalt-hosted seafloor hydrothermal vent systems, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.add7925

Provided by
The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation:
The world’s oldest fossils or oily gunk? Research suggests these 3.5 billion-year-old rocks don’t contain signs of life (2023, February 2)
retrieved 2 February 2023
from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-world-oldest-fossils-oily-gunk.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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‘Angel Wings’ for Satellites Could Help Mitigate Space Junk – CNET

As futuristic as this sounds, real estate in space is booming. Major corporations and science research organizations are actively vying to send satellites into orbit for extraordinary reasons — developing free internet connection; enhancing GPS systems; monitoring climate change; even analyzing Albert Einstein’s trippy general relativity equations

But while humanity continues to advance technologically, experts are growing increasingly worried about a major issue: We’ve found a new area of the universe to pollute. As of 2021, NASA said, more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, or “space junk,” resided in our planet’s gravitational tides — and since then, SpaceX alone has sent hundreds more satellites up there

Typically, when they’re done with their equipment, scientists kind of just wait until stuff in Earth’s orbit starts deorbiting and eventually burns up in our atmosphere. This natural process, however, can take a very (very) long time. 

Thus, hoping to pave a cleaner future for our space-y dreams, the European Space Agency announced the strengthening promise of its innovative, prototype aluminum-coated sail. This device can ride up to orbit with a satellite and help it deorbit whenever.

The concept is called the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System, or ADEO, braking sail — and in late December, the smallest of its kind completed its final successful demo mission since the program’s seminal one in 2018.

A silver space sail is seen with a gleaming star in the background.A silver space sail is seen with a gleaming star in the background.

An artist’s impression of ESA’s prototype braking sail concept.


ESA

How does it work?

Basically, ESA folded up the 3.5-square meter (38-foot) sail until it could fit in what essentially looks like a 10 centimeter (4 inch) jack-in-the-box package. Scientists then attached the component to a privately built spacecraft called the ION satellite carrier. ION was launched via a Falcon 9 rocket on June 30, 2021.

Then, in December 2022, the sail was deployed to showcase a silvery polyamide membrane secured to four carbon reinforced arms positioned in an X-shape. That increased what’s known as the satellite carrier’s atmospheric surface drag, which refers to a force generated by atoms near the top of the atmosphere that travel opposite to the relative motion of something in low Earth orbit. You can think of drag as friction, but with air.

With such a bolstered drag effect, the spacecraft started lowering its orbital altitude at an accelerated pace, expediting the satellite’s ultimate demise: burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

“The ADEO-N sail will ensure that the satellite will re-enter in around one year and three months, while otherwise it would have reentered in four to five years,” Tiziana Cardone, an ESA structural engineer who oversaw the project, said in a statement.

Earth is seen in the distance from the ION satellite's perspective. Covering most of the screen is part of the breaking space sail.Earth is seen in the distance from the ION satellite's perspective. Covering most of the screen is part of the breaking space sail.

A camera view from the ION satellite after it unfurled the sail.


HTS

For a wonderful mental picture of all this, ESA thinks of the silver sail as the satellite’s “angel wings,” softly helping it float toward its death. The official name of ADEO’s latest mission was, aptly, “Show Me Your Wings.”

Going forward, the agency says this sail can also be scaled up or down depending on what kind of satellite it’s connected to. 

“The largest variation can be as big as 100 square meters and take up to 45 [minutes] to deploy,” the agency said in a press release. “The smallest sail is just 3.5 square meters and deploy in just 0.8 seconds!”

Passive drag systems like this one aren’t exactly a new concept. According to NASA, such devices represent the most “common deorbit device” for satellites orbiting in low Earth orbit, and present an advantage because they’re quite easy to deal with and can be stored super compactly. 

But what’s striking about ESA’s recent achievement with ADEO is that it seems to be working extremely well, keeping in line with widespread efforts to mitigate the huge issue of space junk. Last year, for instance, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a new “five-year rule” for deorbiting satellites, down from the previous 25 years, and ESA itself has a major initiative to address space pollution.

“We want to establish a zero debris policy, which means if you bring a spacecraft into orbit you have to remove it,” Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director general, said in a statement last year.

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