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Readers weigh the microbes that travel to smoke, ‘Oumuamua and more

Up with smoke

A band of researchers is studying how microbes transported by the smoke of forest fires can affect human and ecological health, Megan Sever reported in “Smoke and Microbes” (SN: 4/10/21, p. 22).

Sever the story is “an excellent overview” of research on pyroerobiology, especially that of the fire ecologist Leda Kobziar, reader Forrest M. Mims III he wrote. Mims & # 39; daughter Sarah discovered that smoke can drag microbes into the air almost 20 years ago when she was a junior in high school, Mims annotated. Using a "50-cent air sample that flew from a comet and a cheap microscope," he discovered that the smoke from the biomass fires in Yucatan, Mexico, had reached Texas, transporting bacteria and fungi, he wrote. The father-daughter duo published the results in 2004 in Atmospheric Environment.

“That was a critical and pioneering study and is cited in each of my works,” he says Kobziar, from the University of Idaho in Moscow. While Sarah Mims ’studio didn’t wake up De Kobziar Initial curiosity about pyraerobiology, Mims' story should "inspire young scientists to pursue their curiosity." Kobziar of. "It certainly inspired me!"

Sparks of life

Phosphorus from a ray-forged version of a mineral called schreibersite may have been building the first DNA and RNA molecules on Earth, Maria Temming reported in “Lightning can cause life” (SN: 4/10/21, p. 7).

Reader Craig Smith I was wondering why DNA and RNA would need schreibersite phosphorus instead of other natural forms of the element.

"The version of phosphorus that existed in the soil before lightning was not a version that could be used to make biomolecules," he said. Temming of. The phosphorus of the ore schreibersite is greatly reduced, which means that it is not bound to the oxygen of the ore. This makes this phosphorus easier to extract from the mineral and therefore easier to incorporate into DNA and RNA molecules than other naturally occurring forms of the element, she says.

Shape changer

The strange-looking interstellar object known as Oumuamua may be a piece of nitrogen ice that shattered a Pluto-like exoplanet. Maria Temming reported in “‘ Oumuamua Gets a New History of Origin ”(SN: 4/10/21, p. 6).

Past illustrations of ‘Oumuamua suggested that the object had an elongated shape similar to that of a cigar (SN: 5/9/20 and 5/23/20, p. 12). If the object is made of nitrogen ice, how could it have retained such a shape given the "overwhelming gravitational forces of its approach to our sun?" reader Bob Reckers he asked.

"Oumuamua is now thought to have more of a pancake shape than a cigar (see illustration below). Researchers hypothesize that the object was much thicker when it entered our solar system, Temming of. Proximity to the sun tore ‘Oumuamua apart, similar to how rubbing a thick bar of soap gradually leads the bar to a flat, sharp fragment.

If the object is made of nitrogen ice, it should also be much brighter than scientists originally expected. Temming of. That means “Oumuamua must also be slightly smaller than scientists thought it should represent the amount of light that is reflected as it returned,” she says.

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