Solar powered water purification

Deep in the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula, residents of the remote Mexican village of La Mancalona are producing clean drinking water using the power of the sun.For nearly two years now, members of the community, most of whom are subsistence farmers, have operated and maintained a solar-powered water purification system engineered by researchers at MIT.The system consists of two solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity; these, in turn, power a set of pumps that push water through semiporous membranes in a filtration process called reverse osmosis. The setup purifies both brackish well water and collected rainwater, producing about 1,000 liters of purified water a day for the 450 residents.

New study finds massive eruptions likely triggered mass extinction

Around 252 million years ago, life on Earth collapsed in spectacular and unprecedented fashion, as more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species disappeared in a geological instant. The so-called end-Permian mass extinction ­— or more commonly, the “Great Dying” — remains the most severe extinction event in Earth’s history.

Lunar crust found to be highly fractured

Scientists believe that about 4 billion years ago, during a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, the moon took a severe beating, as an army of asteroids pelted its surface, carving out craters and opening deep fissures in its crust. Such sustained impacts increased the moon’s porosity, opening up a network of large seams beneath the lunar surface.Now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have identified regions on the far side of the moon, called the lunar highlands, that may have been so heavily bombarded — particularly by small asteroids — that the impacts completely shattered the upper crust, leaving these regions essentially as fractured and porous as they could be. The scientists found that further impacts to these highly porous regions may have then had the opposite effect, sealing up cracks and decreasing porosity.

Dust in the Waters

Each spring, powerful dust storms in the deserts of Mongolia and northern China send thick clouds of particles into the atmosphere. Eastward winds sweep these particles as far as the Pacific, where dust ultimately settles in the open ocean. This desert dust contains, among other minerals, iron — an essential nutrient for hundreds of species of phytoplankton that make up the ocean’s food base.

Draining Greenland lakes unlikely to contribute to sea-level rise

Each summer, Greenland’s ice sheet — the world’s second-largest expanse of ice, measuring three times the size of Texas — begins to melt. Pockets of melting ice form hundreds of large, “supraglacial” lakes on the surface of the ice. Many of these lakes drain through cracks and crevasses in the ice sheet, creating a liquid layer over which massive chunks of ice can slide. This natural conveyor belt can speed ice toward the coast, where it eventually falls off into the sea. In recent years, scientists have observed more lakes forming toward the center of the ice sheet — a region that had been previously too cold to melt enough ice for lakes to form.

Undersea robots plan missions autonomously

For the last decade, scientists have deployed increasingly capable underwater robots to map and monitor pockets of the ocean to track the health of fisheries, and survey marine habitats and species. In general, such robots are effective at carrying out low-level tasks, specifically assigned to them by human engineers — a tedious and time-consuming process for the engineers.When deploying autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), much of an engineer’s time is spent writing scripts, or low-level commands, in order to direct a robot to carry out a mission plan. Now a new programming approach developed by MIT engineers gives robots more “cognitive” capabilities, enabling humans to specify high-level goals, while a robot performs high-level decision-making to figure out how to achieve these goals.

New insight from MIT on what killed off the dinosaurs

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid more than five miles wide smashed into the Earth at 70,000 miles per hour, instantly vaporizing upon impact. The strike obliterated most terrestrial life, including the dinosaurs, in a geological instant: Heavy dust blocked out the sun, setting off a cataclysmic chain of events from the bottom of the food chain to the top, killing off more than three-quarters of Earth’s species — or so the popular theory goes.But now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have found evidence that a major volcanic eruption began just before the impact, possibly also playing a role in the extinction.

NASA’s GRAIL mission sheds light on the origin of the Procellarum basin on the Moon

New data obtained by NASA's GRAIL mission reveals that the Procellarum region on the near side of the moon - a giant basin often referred to as the "man in the moon" - likely arose not from a massive asteroid strike, but from a large plume of magma deep within the moon's interior. The Procellarum region is a roughly circular, volcanic terrain some 1,800 miles in diameter - nearly as wide as the United States. One hypothesis suggested that it was formed by a massive impact, in which case it would have been the largest impact basin on the moon. Subsequent asteroid collisions overprinted the region with smaller - although still large - basins.