5 Challenges Scientists Working on Mars Will Face


As space agencies begin planning for the future missions that will take human explorers to Mars, volunteer researchers are testing out what working in deep-space conditions will be like by living in a tiny dome on a remote volcano in Hawaii. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, is in its fourth iteration.

Astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux recently shared details of his experience as one of six researchers in HI-SEAS IV for a year on his blog, and his tale makes the idea of being a pioneering outer space scientist sound way harder than it looks in the movies. Here are five things we learned about what working on Mars might be like in the future.


The HI-SEAS habitat in Hawaii. Image Credit: Cyprien Verseux

One day, Verseux broke a flask in his lab. “A cheap flask, easily replaceable, that I would have quickly forgotten about under normal conditions,” he writes. “As I have not seen a shop in the past eight months, and the dome has no postal address, I will have to go without it. Without this flask, precious after all, that was part of the limited supplies we have here. Researchers on Mars will have to face constraints which are unusual to a typical western laboratory.”


Resources are predictably scarce in space, and it’s not just water that’s limited. Most of the dome’s energy supply comes from solar panels, as it might on Mars, but they don’t always perform as expected. “In practice, our power generation is quite unpredictable: we don’t face dust storms as we would have on Mars, but we do get clouds,” Verseux writes. “I often have to postpone experiments because we lack the power for running the centrifuge or the autoclave.”


“How do you feel after spending an entire weekend at home, without going outside even once?” Verseux asks. “Imagine spending months there. Because of the lack of open air and the monotony, we sometimes have to fight a tendency to slow down.”


If The Martian taught us anything, it’s that improvisational skills are key in space. But even conducting basic scientific work far from Earth-bound labs requires clever workarounds. Just because you carefully plan and budget for your project doesn’t mean that everything goes as planned, Verseux cautions. “You used more tubes than expected because you had forgotten a control, you spilled a bottle of reagent, a colleague broke your glassware when dancing to the sound of his MP3 player,” he lists among the potential pratfalls of the lab. Under normal circumstances, these issues could be easily remedied, but far from any postal service, they become bigger barriers. If it wasn’t on the initial list of necessities, you won’t be getting it delivered to Mars.


“Our internet access is limited to a few websites necessary to our work,” he describes. The researchers have to email the Mission Support Crew to access most documents and information that could easily be Googled at home. “Getting information that we could find in less than 15 minutes ‘on Earth’ can take days here, especially given that our emails have a 20-minute delay in both directions to simulate the 4-to-24-minute delay necessary for Earth–Mars communications.”

[h/t ResearchGate]

'Lime Disease' Could Give You a Nasty Rash This Summer

A cold Corona or virgin margarita is best enjoyed by the pool, but watch where you’re squeezing those limes. As Slate illustrates in a new video, there’s a lesser-known “lime disease,” and it can give you a nasty skin rash if you’re not careful.

When lime juice comes into contact with your skin and is then exposed to UV rays, it can cause a chemical reaction that results in phytophotodermatitis. It looks a little like a poison ivy reaction or sun poisoning, and some of the symptoms include redness, blistering, and inflammation. It’s the same reaction caused by a corrosive sap on the giant hogweed, an invasive weed that’s spreading throughout the U.S.

"Lime disease" may sound random, but it’s a lot more common than you might think. Dermatologist Barry D. Goldman tells Slate he sees cases of the skin condition almost daily in the summer. Some people have even reported receiving second-degree burns as a result of the citric acid from lime juice. According to the Mayo Clinic, the chemical that causes phytophotodermatitis can also be found in wild parsnip, wild dill, wild parsley, buttercups, and other citrus fruits.

To play it safe, keep your limes confined to the great indoors or wash your hands with soap after handling the fruit. You can learn more about phytophotodermatitis by checking out Slate’s video below.

[h/t Slate]

Why Eating From a Smaller Plate Might Not Be an Effective Dieting Trick 

It might be time to rewrite the diet books. Israeli psychologists have cast doubt on the widespread belief that eating from smaller plates helps you control food portions and feel fuller, Scientific American reports.

Past studies have shown that this mind trick, called the Delboeuf illusion, influences the amount of food that people eat. In one 2012 study, participants who were given larger bowls ended up eating more soup overall than those given smaller bowls.

However, researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Negev, Israel, concluded in a study published in the journal Appetite that the effectiveness of the illusion depends on how empty your stomach is. The team of scientists studied two groups of participants: one that ate three hours before the experiment, and another that ate one hour prior. When participants were shown images of pizzas on serving trays of varying sizes, the group that hadn’t eaten in several hours was more accurate in assessing the size of pizzas. In other words, the hungrier they were, the less likely they were to be fooled by the different trays.

However, both groups were equally tricked by the illusion when they were asked to estimate the size of non-food objects, such as black circles inside of white circles and hubcaps within tires. Researchers say this demonstrates that motivational factors, like appetite, affects how we perceive food. The findings also dovetail with the results of an earlier study, which concluded that overweight people are less likely to fall for the illusion than people of a normal weight.

So go ahead and get a large plate every now and then. At the very least, it may save you a second trip to the buffet table.

[h/t Scientific American]


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