Snooze (this week in Science News): April 16th

    New inventions, discoveries, and competitions filled the past week for the science community. Researchers pulled water from the air for consumption, scientists discovered yet another habitable zone in space and the battle between different social media platforms’ “stories” continues. Let’s take a look.

    Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat

    Courtesy of Digital Glue

    So whose stories are more popular now?

    In 2013, Facebook attempted to purchase Snapchat for $3 billion, but was ultimately rejected. Afterwards, Facebook-owned Instagram created its own version of "stories" to compete, and it looks like it’s finally paying off. On Thursday, Mac World reported that more than 200 million people use Instagram "stories" every day. In contrast, Snapchat currently only has 161 million daily users.

    Can Instagram Stories really beat Snapchat?

    Well, at this point, competition seems to be intense. While Snapchat does have the lead in its geofilters, Instagram has plans to increase its own (which are currently available in New York City, Jakarta, and São Paulo) by spreading to London, Madrid, Tokyo, and, our very own, Chicago. Instagram has also recently added new selfie stickers to increase its daily users. On the bright side, the 200 million figure that Instagram released on Thursday only depicts the amount of users who watch the stories, not the number of users who post them. Who the real winner of the “stories” battle has yet to be decided; maybe someone’s “stories” meme will motivate the next competitor to join in on the fun.

    Researchers can now make water out of thin air.

    Sounds fake…

    It does, but it is very real. Actually, it’s not even the first of its kind, but to this date, it is probably the most successful. The researchers behind the device, MIT’s Evelyn Wang and Berkley’s Omar Yaghi, believe that this device may play a crucial part in areas where water shortages are common, according to RT News.

    How exactly does it work?

    Wang and Yaghi think that this device can help fix water shortages, especially in areas with dry humidity, according to MIT Technology Review, because the device uses a relatively new material called a MOF (metal-organic framework), which is comprised of metal and organic compounds. The material is porous and at room temperature, can use its pores to entrap gases; when the temperature increases, researchers are able to extract the gases from the pores. This means that the entrapment of water vapor, even in areas of dry humidity, is possible.

    How is this new device any better than its predecessors?

    It is the first device of its kind to use MOFs in this manner and it has allowed the process to become more economically friendly and efficient. The heat required to release the gases comes from sunlight and the materials required to create MOFs “aren’t exotic” as Krista Walton, a chemical engineer from Georgia Tech states. This, coupled with the fact that one can "harvest the equivalent of a Coke can’s worth of water in an hour,” as co-creator Yaghi says, raises expectations for the device. It is currently only a prototype, but in time, we may see it reach its full potential.

    Saturn’s moon may be able to host life.

    Courtesy of Link Observatory Space Science Institute / Flickr

    Another supposed habitable zone?

    Yes and no. Scientists at NASA are still unsure what to make of the environment found on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, since it is relatively young; however, its environment does point towards a habitable zone for life, according to Big Think. On Thursday, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft detected a chemical reaction under the moon’s surface, where a warm ocean is believed to exist. This chemical reaction may be caused by the ocean interacting with rock, creating a form of chemical energy that involves hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington, says, "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment".

    So why are we doubting the fact that the moon can host a form of life?

    Not necessarily doubting it, but instead, scientists are choosing not to focus on it. All conditions point towards the formation of life, but again, since the moon is so young, this will not be happening any time soon. Most scientists are instead choosing to focus their efforts on a moon that has been considered as a candidate for hosting life for much longer: Jupiter’s older moon, Europa.


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