Israeli researchers have developed an energy-independent portable system for extracting and collecting water from the air, including in desert areas, the northern Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) reported on Monday.
The new technology is particularly relevant to small, isolated communities that are located far away from water sources, as water transportation costs to such areas are high.
Unlike existing air harvesting systems, the new, cheap, efficient system allows to produce water on site, without the need for external energy.
While today's systems are based on cooling of all incoming air, the new system only cools the water vapor (which is only about 3 percent of air mass), thus significantly reducing the energy needed to produce water.
The researchers' motive for developing the new system was the World Health Organization (WHO) estimation that by 2025, half of the world's population will be living in water-stressed areas.
The Israeli new technology is based on a two-stage cyclic process: separation of moisture from the air by absorption using a highly concentrated saline solution, and separation of the moisture from the desiccant under and condensing the vapor under sub-atmospheric pressure conditions.
The researchers said that apart from its basic existence and health importance, such independent water production can prevent bloody conflicts over water sources in dry areas, and can also allow young women in some societies to study instead of having to carry water for their families.
"Our development, first prototype of its kind in the world, makes water an affordable resource anywhere in the world, regardless of existing water sources. We hope to make the system a commercial product soon," the researchers concluded.
Record high temperatures reportedly measured in Antarctica will take months to verify, the U.N. weather agency said Sunday.
A spokesman for the World Meteorological Organization said the measurements made by researchers from Argentina and Brazil earlier this month have to undergo a formal process to ensure that they meet international standards.
"A formal decision on whether or not this is a record is likely to be several months away," said Jonathan Fowler, the WMO spokesman.
Scientists at an Argentine research base measured a temperature of 18.3 degrees Celsius (nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit) Feb. 6 on a peninsula that juts out from Antarctica toward the southern tip of South America. Last week, researchers from Brazil claimed to have measured temperatures above 20 degrees C on an island off the peninsula.
Fowler said both measurements would need to be transmitted to Prof. Randall Cerveny, a researcher at Arizona State University who examines reported temperature records for WMO.
Cerveny then shares the data with a wider group of scientists who "will carefully evaluate the available evidence (including comparisons to surrounding stations) and debate the merits and problems of the observation," said Fowler.
The evaluation normally takes six to nine months, after which Cerveny would "formally either accept or reject the potential extreme," giving official WMO approval to the new record, he said.
Climate change is causing the Arctic and the Antarctic to warm faster than other parts of the planet.
NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies on the solar system, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Thursday.
NASA's Discovery Program invites scientists and engineers to assemble a team to design exciting planetary science missions, which will provide frequent flight opportunities for focused planetary science investigations, according to JPL.
"These selected missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the solar system's most active and complex worlds," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Exploring any one of these celestial bodies will help unlock the secrets of how it, and others like it, came to be in the cosmos."
The selected proposals are Trident, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy), DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus), and Io Volcano Observer.
Established in 1992, NASA's Discovery Program has so far supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments.
NASA officials on Tuesday broke ground on a new antenna for communicating with the agency's farthest-flung robotic spacecraft, according to a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
As part of the Deep Space Network, the 34-meter-wide antenna dish being built represents a future in which more missions will require advanced technology, such as lasers being needed to transmit vast amounts of data from astronauts on the surface of Mars.
NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, which is part of its Artemis program, and apply lessons learned there to send astronauts to Mars.
When completed in two-and-a-half years' time, the new antenna could achieve 10-times higher the data rates of current tech and support future missions to the Moon and Mars, according to JPL.
"This new antenna, the fifth of six currently planned, is another example of NASA's determination to enable science and space exploration through the use of the latest technology," said Badri Younes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation.
Managed by JPL, the world's largest and busiest deep space network is clustered in three locations -- Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia -- which are positioned about 120 degrees apart around the globe to enable continual contact with spacecraft as the Earth rotates.
Europe and NASA's Solar Orbiter rocketed into space Sunday night on an unprecedented mission to capture the first pictures of the sun's elusive poles.
The $1.5 billion spacecraft will join NASA's Parker Solar Probe, launched 1 1/2 years ago, in coming perilously close to the sun in order to unveil its secrets.
While Solar Orbiter won't venture close enough to penetrate the sun's corona, or crown-like outer atmosphere, like Parker, it will maneuver into a unique out-of-plane orbit that will take it over both poles, never photographed before. Together with powerful ground observatories, the sun-staring space duo will be like an orchestra, according to Gunther Hasinger, the European Space Agency's science director.
"Every instrument plays a different tune, but together they play the symphony of the sun," Hasinger said.
Solar Orbiter was made in Europe, along with nine science instruments. NASA provided the 10th instrument and arranged the late-night launch from Cape Canaveral.
Nearly 1,000 scientists and engineers from across Europe gathered with their U.S. colleagues under a full moon as United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket blasted off, illuminating the sky for miles around. Crowds also jammed nearby roads and beaches.
The rocket was visible for four full minutes after liftoff, a brilliant star piercing the night sky. Europe's project scientist Daniel Mueller was thrilled, calling it "picture perfect." His NASA counterpart, scientist Holly Gilbert, exclaimed, "One word: Wow."
Within an hour, the satellite separated neatly from the upper stage and was flying on its own.
Solar Orbiter — a boxy 4,000-pound (1,800-kilogram) spacecraft with spindly instrument booms and antennas — will swing past Venus in December and again next year, and then past Earth, using the planets' gravity to alter its path. Full science operations will begin in late 2021, with the first close solar encounter in 2022 and more every six months.
At its closest approach, Solar Orbiter will come within 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) of the sun, well within the orbit of Mercury.
Parker Solar Probe, by contrast, has already passed within 11.6 million miles (18.6 million kilometers) of the sun, an all-time record, and is shooting for a slim gap of 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) by 2025. But it's flying nowhere near the poles. That's where Solar Orbiter will shine.
The sun's poles are pockmarked with dark, constantly shifting coronal holes. They're hubs for the sun's magnetic field, flipping polarity every 11 years.
Solar Orbiter's head-on views should finally yield a full 3-D view of the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from our home planet.
"With Solar Observatory looking right down at the poles, we'll be able to see these huge coronal hole structures," said Nicola Fox, director of NASA's heliophysics division. "That's where all the fast solar wind comes from ... It really is a completely different view."
To protect the sensitive instruments from the sun's blistering heat, engineers devised a heat shield with an outer black coating made of burned bone charcoal similar to what was used in prehistoric cave paintings. The 10-foot-by-8-foot (3-meter-by-2.4-meter heat shield is just 15 inches (38 centimeters) thick, and made of titanium foil with gaps in between to shed heat. It can withstand temperatures up to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (530 degrees Celsius).
Embedded in the heat shield are five peepholes of varying sizes that will stay open just long enough for the science instruments to take measurements in X-ray, ultraviolet, visible and other wavelengths.
The observations will shed light on other stars, providing clues as to the potential habitability of worlds in other solar systems.
Closer to home, the findings will help scientists better predict space weather, which can disrupt communications.
"We need to know how the sun affects the local environment here on Earth, and also Mars and the moon when we move there," said Ian Walters, project manager for Airbus Defence and Space, which designed and built the spacecraft. "We've been lucky so far the last 150 years," since a colossal solar storm last hit. "We need to predict that. We just can't wait for it to happen."
The U.S.-European Ulysses spacecraft, launched in 1990, flew over the sun's poles, but from farther afield and with no cameras on board. It's been silent for more than a decade.
Europe and NASA's Soho spacecraft, launched in 1995, is still sending back valuable solar data.
Altogether, more than a dozen spacecraft have focused on the sun over the past 30 years. It took until now, however, for technology to allow elaborate spacecraft like Parker and Solar Orbiter to get close without being fried.
Fox considers it "a golden age" for solar physics.
"So much science still yet to do," she said, "and definitely a great time to be a heliophysicist."