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Researchers built a robot squid that propels itself with a water jet

To help explore underwater environments without damaging coral or sea life, engineers from UC San Diego created a robot squid (via Hackster.io). Soft robots are less likely to harm aquatic life than rigid ones. Researchers used mainly soft materials like acrylic polymer to build the device, along with a few 3D printed and laser-cut rigid parts.

The team drew inspiration from the jet propulsion mechanism of real squid to help the robot swim by itself. It takes some water into its flexible body, where it also stores elastic energy. The robot can compress its body to release that energy and use a water jet to propel itself. The device can adjust the nozzle’s position, so it can swim in any direction.

The engineers claim the robot can travel around half a mile per hour, which is faster than most soft robots. The robot also has a waterproof compartment that can house a camera or other sensor, which is vital for recording data.

“Essentially, we recreated all the key features that squids use for high-speed swimming,” said Michael T. Tolley, a professor at the university’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a senior author on a paper about the robot. “This is the first untethered robot that can generate jet pulses for rapid locomotion like the squid and can achieve these jet pulses by changing its body shape, which improves swimming efficiency.”

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Ocean patterns help scientists forecast drought, water flow in the Colorado river

Oct. 9 (UPI) — By analyzing what researchers call “long-term ocean memory,” scientists have been able to identify connections between flow rates in the Colorado River and sea surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The breakthrough analysis — described Friday in the journal Communications Earth and Environment — allowed scientists to develop a forecasting model capable of predicting the Colorado River water supply on multi-year timescales.

The Colorado River, the most important water resource in the West, is essential to energy production, food and drinking water security, forestry and tourism in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.

Access to more accurate long-term forecasting models could aid water resource management decisions.

“Using our tool we can develop an operational forecast of the Colorado River’s water supply,” lead study author Yoshimitsu Chikamoto, assistant professor of earth systems modeling at Utah State University, said in a news release.

Current forecasting models for predicting droughts and Colorado River flow are over-reliant on short-term weather patterns. The models are easily skewed by short-term weather phenomena — a big storm or an especially dry couple of months, for example.

“This new approach is robust and means that water managers, for the first time, have a tool to better estimate water supply in the Colorado River for the future,” said study co-author Robert Gillies, director of the Utah Climate Center and professor at Utah State University. “The model can be run iteratively so every year a new forecast for the next three years can be created.”

A two to three year lead on water flow and drought forecasts can allow farmers to make important decisions on crop rotations.

To build their model, scientists used their ocean memory analysis to draw connections between sea surface temperature and subsequent atmospheric effects. Next, researchers accounted for the influence of land systems on precipitation patterns — including soils, groundwater, vegetation and snowpack.

Because the upper basin of the Colorado River isn’t located in the Southwest, forecasters have previously failed to account for the influence of climate pattern El Niño and La Niña on Colorado River flow.

The new predictive model accounts for a complex array of natural phenomena: currents, water mixing and heat exchange in the ocean; clouds and aerosols in the atmosphere; and surface characteristics across the West’s semi-arid landscape.

In addition to aiding the decision making of farmers and water resource managers, the new model could used to inform preparations for future wild fire seasons.

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A NASA mission is about to capture carbon-rich dust from a former water world | Science

EarthBennuApproachSunBennuInternational Space StationA “touch and go” maneuver*not to scaleNitrogenCollected sampleTo an asteroid and backOn 20 October, OSIRIS-REx, a NASA asteroid sample return mission, will attempt to gather up to 1 kilogram of dust and pebbles for eventual return to Earth. Its carbon-rich target, Bennu, could hold organic molecules from the Solar System’s earliest days.Local targetBennu’s orbit brings itnearly as close to Earthas the Moon. OSIRIS-RExreached the asteroidin 2018.The spacecraft will extend a sampling arm as it approaches its target area.On contact, the armwill blast Bennu’ssurface with nitrogen.The gas will sweepup at least 60 grams of material.Scientific treasureOSIRIS-REx’s returncapsule will parachute tolanding

Asteroid Bennu may have been home to ancient water flows

Perhaps as a prelude to this attempt, researchers just published a number of new studies about the geochemistry of Bennu today in the journals Science and Science Advances, providing some of the biggest revelations to date. Here are the most compelling.

Bennu’s watery history

In the first Science study, scientists used high-resolution images taken by OSIRIS-Rex, as well as spectroscopy (which involves analyzing electromagnetic waves emitted from Bennu to determine its chemistry), to better understand the composition and history of the asteroid’s Nightingale crater region, where the sample will be collected.

They found that boulders in this area showed bright veins, narrow in width but about a meter in length, similar to what’s found in other carbonaceous chondritic meteorites that have landed on Earth. In those cases, the veins indicate that the rock had once interacted with flowing water. 

So naturally, for Bennu, “the veins suggest that water flowed through this asteroid very early in the solar system’s history,” says Hannah Kaplan, a planetary scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the lead author of the study. From the size of the veins, the researchers estimate that there was “a system of fluid flow that extended kilometers in size” back when Bennu was part of a much larger parent body. These water flows could have lasted for up to millions of years. Similar phenomena likely occurred on many other carbonaceous chondritic asteroids as well. 

Carbon, carbon everywhere

Another Science study used infrared spectroscopy to demonstrate how widespread carbon-bearing minerals and hydrated clay minerals were across Bennu’s surface. According to Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the lead author of this study, these minerals are found all over Bennu (though they are particularly concentrated in specific boulders). This is very good news, since it means “we should find both [materials] in our returned samples,” she says. 

Scientists think that Bennu formed from the rubble of a collision its parent body experienced in the main asteroid belt of our solar system. The remnants that came together as Bennu soon migrated out to an orbit closer to Earth. According to Simon, this process may be one way that small asteroid bodies delivered organics and hydrated minerals to the inner solar system, where they later became part of planets like Earth. 

Rare rocks abound

One study published in Science Advances used infrared cameras to investigate the boulders and rocks that make up Bennu’s rubble-pile structure. The findings reveal that two types of rocks are common on Bennu, but one type is much more porous and brittle than rocks found on Earth, the moon, or Mars. “It is likely that we don’t have similar specimens in meteorite collections on Earth, because Bennu’s rocks are likely too weak to survive atmospheric entry,” says Ben Rozitis, a researcher at the Open University in the UK and the lead author of this study. “It is likely that OSIRIS-REx will bring back asteroid samples not previously studied by scientists in