Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life

Image of a white ice moon with blue lines streaked across its surface and a small cluster of cratersImage copyrightNASA

Scientists have found complex carbon-based molecules in the waters of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Compounds like this have only previously been found on Earth, and in some meteorites.

They are thought to have formed in reactions between water and warm rock at the base of the moon’s subsurface ocean.

Though not a sign of life, their presence suggests Enceladus could play host to living organisms.

The discovery came from data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft.

An image of Enceladus next to a satellite map of Great Britain. The moon spans from the top of Scotland to YorkImage copyright PRESS ASSOCIATION
Image captionSmall neighbourhood: Enceladus is just 500km wide

A new pale blue dot?

“These huge molecules contain a complex network often built from hundreds of atoms,” explains study author Dr Frank Postberg.

“This is the first ever detection of such complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water-world.”

On Earth, these molecules are usually biologically created, but this does not have to be the case.

“They are a necessary precursor to life,” says Dr Postberg, “[but] we currently cannot tell if these organics are biologically irrelevant or signs of prebiotic chemistry or even life.”

What does life need?

  • Liquid water
  • Energy
  • Organics (compounds containing carbon)
  • A group of particular elements (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur)

Phosphorus and sulphur have not yet been measured on the moon, but it has all of the other ingredients.

What next?

The Cassini mission, which ended by plunging into Saturn’s cloud-tops last September, was never designed to detect life.

In fact, it was dispatched before scientists even knew about the peculiar jets of water emerging from the south pole of Enceladus.

Cassini first observed them in 2005, after its arrival in the Saturn system.

The technology to distinguish whether molecules like those detected are biological in origin already exists on Earth.

“The next logical step,” says Dr Postberg, “is to go back to Enceladus soon with a dedicated payload and see if there is extraterrestrial life.”

Chasing the Sun: The woman forgotten by science

Annie MaunderImage copyright RAS/DORRIE GILES
Image caption Annie Maunder: A pioneer of solar astronomy

On the far side of the Moon lies the Maunder crater, named after two British astronomers – Annie and Walter Maunder.

Annie worked alongside her husband at the end of the 19th Century, recording the dark spots that pepper the Sun.

The name Maunder is still known in scientific circles, yet Annie has somehow slipped from history.

“I think the name Maunder is there and we have all rather forgotten that that’s two people,” says Dr Sue Bowler, editor of the Royal Astronomical Society magazine, Astronomy and Geophysics.

“She was acknowledged on papers, she published in her own name as well as with her husband, she wrote books, she was clearly doing a lot of work but she also clearly kept to the conventions of the day, I think.”

The ‘lady computers’

Annie Scott Dill Russell was born in 1868 in Strabane, the daughter of a Reverend.

Clearly of fierce intelligence, she won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge, and became one of the first female scientists to work at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

In the courtyard of the observatory, looking over the park, curator Dr Louise Devoy, tells me what little they know about her work.

The Royal Observatory, GreenwichImage copyright NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, LONDON
Image caption The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in 1933

“She was one of what we now call the ‘lady computers’ employed in the early 1890s by the then Astronomer Royal, William Christie,” she explains.

“I believe she came from Northern Ireland and she worked here for several years on very low pay just like many of the computers here, both male and female.

“In terms of what she actually did here, we have very little concrete record or photographs.'”

‘Grit and devotion’

Female scientists were hindered because of their gender until the 1920s and 30s, despite superb skills and experience, says Dr Devoy.

At Greenwich, employing women with a university education in mathematics was an audacious experiment.

Women were only considered because the Astronomer Royal needed skilled assistants but could afford only lowly computers – historically, schoolboys on a wage of £4 per month.

Annie Maunder on an eclipse expedition in Labrador, NewfoundlandImage copyright ALFRED JOHNSON/ANNIE MAUNDER’S FAMILY
Image caption Annie Maunder on an eclipse expedition in Labrador, Newfoundland
Walter MaunderImage copyright MAUNDER FAMILY
Image caption Walter Maunder met Annie after the death of his first wife and collaborated with her until his death

Maunder was offered a post as a lady computer, which meant a huge drop in pay for someone who had been working, briefly, as a school teacher.

Letters show that she appealed for more money but was turned down.

The lady computers would carry out routine calculations to turn raw observations into usable data. They were also trained to use telescopes.

At times, this meant walking through Greenwich Park at night without a chaperone, an activity that was frowned on at the time.

“In an age when many middle-class women were still chaperoned, the grit and devotion of these young women astronomers, clad in their clumsy long gowns as they worked at their telescopes or in the laboratories, were surely remarkable,” wrote the science historian and astronomer Mary T Brück.

In 1892, the names of Annie Russell and fellow Greenwich astronomer Alice Everett were put forward to become fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society.

However, they failed to gain enough of the popular vote in a secret ballot and were rejected.

The RAS had long argued that since the pronoun “he” was used in the charter, women could not be admitted alongside men.

Instead, Annie Russell and Alice Everett, who had studied together at Cambridge, joined the amateur British Astronomical Association (BAA).

Alice Everett grew tired of the low pay and left Greenwich, eventually developing an interest in the new field of television. Annie Russell stayed on.

“She was clearly very tough and wanted to follow her science,” says Dr Bowler.

“She sat the [difficult] mathematical Tripos at a time when women couldn’t actually be awarded a degree and there were even protests at Cambridge against the whole idea of giving women degrees.

“So she was clearly tough enough to do that and to do it well and to succeed then in getting employment as a scientist, which was fairly rare anyway – astronomy was still very much a gentleman’s pursuit.”

Studying the Sun

Annie Russell married her colleague Edward Walter Maunder in 1895.

Under civil service rules, as a married woman, she was forced to give up her paid position, bringing the age of lady computers to an end.

“She did come back as a volunteer during the First World War and then she was taken on as a paid employee later in the 1920s,” says Dr Devoy.

On board ship: Annie and Walter Maunder can be seen sitting togetherImage copyright MAUNDER FAMILY
Image caption On board ship: Annie and Walter Maunder can be seen sitting together
Family photos show preparations for observing an eclipseImage copyright MAUNDER FAMILY
Image caption Family photos show preparations for observing an eclipse

Annie worked alongside Walter taking photographs of the Sun, laying the groundwork for a modern understanding of solar activity.

“They would take photographs of the Sun every clear day just to note where the sunspots were and to sketch where they were,” says Dr Bowler. “But she also, as a trained mathematician, put quite a bit of effort into analysis. She wasn’t just writing things down; she wasn’t just Walter’s assistant.”

Annie Maunder went on many scientific expeditions to observe eclipses around the turn of the century, often as the only woman. She travelled to Lapland, India, Algiers, Mauritius and Labrador.

She even designed her own camera to take spectacular pictures of the Sun, including the first photograph ever of streamers from the Sun’s outer layer, or corona.

“She particularly caught an extremely long ray – a streak of the corona – coming out from the Sun, while it was eclipsed, that nobody had ever seen before – a feature of the corona that people just didn’t know about,” says Dr Bowler.

“I’ve seen photos of her adjusting the instruments. She’s taking her photographs. She’s not at all a passenger.

“It may have been only socially acceptable for her to go because she’s travelling with her husband but she was on official scientific expeditions and her photographs were acknowledged as among the best.”

The Heavens and Their Story

The conventions of the time meant that Annie’s photographs were published under her husband’s name and she could not speak at scientific meetings.

However, she was eventually made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1916, 24 years after first being proposed.

Annie Maunder medal Image copyright RAS
Image caption The RAS has set up the Annie Maunder medal

She was involved with promoting astronomy to a general audience as vice president of the BAA and edited the in-house journal.

In 1908, the Maunders published the book, The Heavens and Their Story, which was aimed at popular science.

The book was released under both their names, but her husband acknowledged in the preface that it was almost all her work.

The Maunders are also well known for the butterfly diagram, which shows how the number of sunspots varies with time, and the Maunder Minimum, a period in the 17th Century when sunspots all but disappeared.

Much of their work still holds true today.

Annie’s legacy

This year, Annie’s name is being remembered through the inaugural Annie Maunder Medal, to recognise public engagement in science.

“She is an ideal person for that medal to be named after,” says Dr Bowler. “That’s largely what she was doing, certainly later in her career.”

Annie Maunder died in 1947, long after her husband.

On a leafy street near Clapham Common I find the Victorian terraced house where she spent her final years.

From the outside there is nothing to speak of the pioneering scientist.

Yet, despite perhaps not getting the recognition she deserved in her lifetime, she clearly left her mark on science.

“From her letters which are in the Royal Astronomical Society archives she was a very strong-minded, very decided personality,” says Sue Bowler.

“She didn’t mince her words. She’s really quite amusingly rude in some of her letters and very precise.

“I really admire her – she’s one of the people I would definitely have at my dream dinner party – I think she would be extraordinarily interesting.

“And her thoughts, her opinions about the paper based on her observations are very modern and form the basis for solar physics through a lot of the years following.”

In 1940 two twin-engine airplanes collided mid-air–interlocked, they flew for five miles and landed safely

Featured image

In what surely is one of the most bizarre flying incidents ever to have occurred, two British Avro Anson bomber airplanes doing cross-country practice flights in preparation for World War II made sudden impact 3,000 feet above ground in Brocklesby, New South Wales, Australia.

The risk of mid-air collisions is very low, yet the most freakish thing about it was not that they collided, but the fact that the planes jammed precisely one over the other, and as such, interlocked as in a scene from a cartoon, remarkably landing without serious injuries in a paddock near a small farm, terrifying the horses who until that unexpected visit were feasting on the fresh grass, waving their tails, chasing horseflies, and having a blast on a sunny September morning.

And the funniest thing was that the pilot who went through a forced landing, and the plane piggybacking underneath it, was calm as a cucumber, acting as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

“I did everything we’ve been told to do in a forced landing–land as close as possible to habitation or a farmhouse and, if possible, land into the wind. I did all that. There’s the farmhouse, and I did a couple of circuits and landed into the wind. She was pretty heavy on the controls, though!”

Sure she was. One plane had the engines intact. The other one only its wings and controls. Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Leonard G. Fuller, the pilot of the latter, the one on top, who jokingly gave this nonchalant statement to his supervisor Group Captain Arthur “Spud” Murphy right after the incident had, in fact, a grave task at hand to fly them both and take them down.

According to every paper that covered the incident and wrote a story about it–and let’s just say there were many who did report this freakish event for it attracted worldwide media attention and for a few months was all over the news despite the fact that a war was raging on–the pilot, LAC Leonard Graham Fuller, aged 22, from Cootamundra, and LAC Ian Menzies Sinclair, 27, from Glen Innes, acting as his navigator, took off in their Avro Anson number N4876 from the flying training school ground of the Royal Australian Air Force near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.

The same morning on September 29, 1940, and just right after them, 19-year-old LAC Jack Inglis Hewson from Newcastle, Australia, assisted by his 27-year-old navigator LAC Hugh Gavin Fraser from Melbourne, left the ground in their L9162 aircraft.

Both were supposed to leave the airbase, make a joined round trip over Corowa and Narrandera, and return from where they took off. Unfortunately,somewhere around 10.45 a.m., the planes lost track of each other and Fuller’s plane smashed on the top of the other in what he later described, according to The Daily News and their story from October 2, 1940, “Risks life to save villagers,” a sound of a “grinding crash and a bang as roaring propellers struck each other and bit into the engine cowlings.”

The planes were now jammed tightly, his engines blew off almost instantly, but the ones of the plane underneath were working at full strength. Although Sinclair bailed immediately after the impact, as did Fraser, the navigator from down under, Fuller saw his controls were working and realized he could control the pair of planes at the very moment he saw Hewson jumping from the plane and getting hit by the propellers as he did so.

Amelia Earhart – Aviation Pioneer

The aircraft was losing altitude and was about to start to spin. It was up to him to either jump now or try and take the planes down and save innocent lives that potentially could get lost by unmanned planes crashing down on them.

Good thing he was a skilled pilot, and cool, calm, and collected while everything was going on for he managed to fly 5 miles in search of the best possible place to land the now Siamese-twin-plane, before making an improvised emergency pancake landing in Mr. T. Murphy’s farm 6 miles southwest of Brocklesby. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the process. Not even Hewson, whose back was injured when the propeller struck him, and had troubles with his parachute that wouldn’t open until 100 feet off the ground. He slammed so hard on the ground that it left him paralyzed for four months.

In fact, everyone was just fine and Fuller’s plane was in such a good state that was put back into service almost right away.

However, it was not all because of one man’s courage and his unparalleled creative set of piloting skills but a conjoined effort of both that prevented this dual-plane aircraft from spiraling out of control.

Before bailing out, Hewson locked the controls of his plane and raised the engines to full strength right after the impact and said goodbye, for if there was any chance for the planes to belly land, it was to be his belly that would be the first to taste the ground. Without his reasoning and quick reaction, both of the planes were doomed.

But in the end, everything went fine, and this “small” accident in the sky made the small town of Brocklesby famous. Though it is safe to say the horses enjoying the sun that September morning in the nearby paddock where the plane landed and slid for 200 yards were running for their lives petrified, and Mr. T. Murphy was having trouble calming them down and getting them back inside his farm.

The greatest irony was that Fuller, the pilot who showed courage, landing a strange aircraft in an even stranger scenario, died four years later in 1944, when a bus struck and killed him on the spot. He was riding his bike.

 Martin Chalakoski

Why Do Rockets Follow A Curved Trajectory While Going Into Space?

Take a look at this picture of the trajectory of a launched rocket:

rocket-from-ground

Do you notice the rather intriguing thing about the path that the rocket follows? Instead of moving in a straight line, the rocket following a curved trajectory. This isn’t a mistake… you will see the exact same thing in every other picture and video of a rocket launch.

Even so, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Rockets are supposed to go into space, right? So wouldn’t it make more sense if they went straight up in a line, rather than following a parabolic path? They’d reach space much faster that way, it would seem. There must be a reason, because rocket scientists tend to be pretty smart, so, why do they not go straight up?

Short answer: Because they want to get into the orbit around the Earth using as little fuel as possible.

Why do rockets launch vertically?

In the context of space technology, a rocket is something that can send people and stuff into space. It’s that thin, cylindrical, very tall vehicle that launches from the launch pad, leaving a humongous cloud of smoke in its wake. In theory, it could launch like an airplane taking off from a runway, but that would require a number of changes in the current designs of rockets, not to mention being downright uneconomical. (Check out Why Don’t Space Shuttles Take Off Like Airplanes?)

rocket launch

Rockets are launched vertically with a tremendous amount of upward thrust, thanks to their own engines and the solid boosters attached to them (which are jettisoned soon after the launch). Following the launch, the rocket’s climb is initially slow; but by the end of the first minute into the ascent, the rocket is moving at a staggering 1,000 mph (1,609 kmph). (Source)

While flying through the sky, a rocket loses a great deal of its energy as a result of air resistance, and it needs to make sure that it attains a high enough altitude when most of its fuel is used up. That’s why a rocket initially flies straight up very fast, as it needs to cross the thickest part of the atmosphere in the least possible distance.

Why does a rocket’s trajectory angle after the launch?

I think that much of the confusion about a rocket’s trajectory stems from the common assumption that most rockets simply want to escape Earth’s gravity and reach ‘space’. While this is not technically incorrect, it does not paint a clear picture.

First off, you should understand that space is not all that far away (you might want to check out: Where does space begin?). If you fly above an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above Earth, you are officially considered ‘in space’. The US Air Force would call you an ‘astronaut’ if you flew above 80 km (almost 50 miles). Felix Baumgartner’s skydive (he holds the record for the highest vertical free fall without drogue) is famously called a ‘space jump’, even though he only jumped from an altitude of 39 km (around 24 miles).

There’s one singular takeaway from all of this….

Hence, it’s not that rockets simply want to reach ‘space’; they can actually do that using much less fuel. What most rockets really want to do is enter the Earth’s ‘orbit’.

Making it into Orbit

The main objective of most rockets is to reach the planet’s orbit and stay there. In the planet’s orbit, the gravitational tug of the planet is high enough to keep the rocket from drifting off into outer space, and low enough so the rocket doesn’t have to burn huge amounts of fuel to keep itself from plummeting back to Earth.

To enter orbit, a rocket begins to tilt onto its side at first, and gradually increases this tilt until it achieves an elliptical orbit around Earth. That being said, attaining a proper orbital path is not easy; it comes at the cost of huge quantities fuel that are exhausted to attain an incredible horizontal velocity of 28,968 kmph (18,000 mph) (Source). This technique of optimizing the trajectory of a spacecraft so that it attains the desired path is called a gravity turn or a zero-lift turn.

Rocket launch

This technique offers two principal benefits: first, it lets the rocket maintain a very low or even zero angle of attack during the early stages of its ascent, meaning that the rocket experiences less aerodynamic stress. The other advantage is that it lets the rocket use Earth’s gravity, rather than its own fuel, to change its direction. The fuel that the rocket consequently saves can be used to accelerate it horizontally, in order to attain a high speed, and more easily enter the orbit.

In a nutshell, a rocket must curve its trajectory post-launch, if it wants to enter the Earth’s orbit. If it didn’t do that and continued to go straight up, it would eventually reach a point where its fuel would run out and, most likely, it would end up plummeting back to Earth like a stone.

Stopping habitat loss is the key to saving Canada’s endangered species

Canada has been losing and saving species for a long time. Since European settlement, over 100 species have been lost here. These include plants and animals that are extinct and extirpated and species that are considered historic (no one has seen them in Canada for a long time). The number of lost species varies between different regions of the country. In the Great Lakes region of southern Ontario, there are extinct species (passenger pigeon), extirpated species (paddlefish) and historic species (Eskimo curlew). There are also species that have vanished from this landscape but still exist elsewhere in Canada. This includes large carnivores, such as black bear and cougar, and plants and smaller wildlife, such as white prairie-clover, spring salamander and Melissa blue butterfly.

The causes of species loss in Canada have varied through time, and include over-hunting, pollution, invasive species, habitat loss and climate change. These mirror the threats to species around the world. Canada has made significant progress in reducing some of these threats, and helping some species to recover.

Pronghorn antelope, Old Man on His Back (Photo by Karol Dabbs)

Pronghorn antelope, Old Man on His Back (Photo by Karol Dabbs)

Over a century ago, many of our game and furbearing animals, such as pronghorn, beaver and marten, had vanished from huge areas of Canada because of unregulated hunting and trapping. Many migratory birds were becoming rare because of over-hunting and commercial harvest. Today, trapping and hunting are not a significant threat to endangered species in Canada. We have also seen an extraordinary recovery of species, such as wood duck and river otter.

Peregrine falcon, ON (Photo by Brian Ratcliff)

Peregrine falcon, ON (Photo by Brian Ratcliff)

When I was kid in the late 1970s, I had posters of peregrine falcons and American white pelicans on my wall. Their populations had drastically declined, in part, because of the pesticide DDT. DDT would accumulate in these birds and cause the shells of their eggs to thin and crack. Without new generations of these birds being born, their populations were declining. When DDT was mostly phased out by the mid-1970s, populations of these birds recovered. While there are still some chemicals that are impacting species, we now know that by reducing environmental pollution, species can recover.

Canadians today should be thankful to those who made the changes needed to help wildlife recover. Introducing new trapping regulations, passing the Migratory Bird Act in 1916 to control hunting and protect birds, and the banning of DDT were not simple feats. But they were necessary, and those conservation actions benefit Canadians and Canadian wildlife today.

Today our challenge to save species is also not simple, but it is equally necessary. Of all the threats to species and of all the factors endangering Canada’s wildlife, the challenge to our generation is stopping habitat loss.

Now, you might have thought climate change is our biggest challenge. But to save species, to prevent the further loss of Canada’s wildlife, we need to save habitat. There is no opportunity for species’ recovery if their habitat is lost. Changes in hunting regulations couldn’t have saved pronghorns if there wasn’t any habitat left. And solving climate change won’t protect species if, in our race to reduce carbon emissions, their habitat disappears.

The Green Mountains Nature Reserve, QC (Photo by Appalachian Corridor)

The Green Mountains Nature Reserve, QC (Photo by Appalachian Corridor)

There are many important initiatives to protect habitat for endangered species and wildlife. Canada’s current target of protecting 17 per cent of our land and inland waters by 2020 will help us meet an important conservation milestone, but many of these new protected areas and conservation lands will be in our northlands. This is critical for woodland caribou and wolverines, but many of Canada’s most endangered species live in the southern areas of Canada where most of the land is privately owned. This is also a landscape that is under the most immediate threat. In many regions, we have a one-time opportunity for our generation to protect critical habitats for our most endangered plants and animals.

One of the most important roles of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), and other land trusts, is to work with private landowners to protect habitat for species that are at risk of being lost from Canada. NCC now protects habitat for over 200 species that have been assessed as endangered, threatened or special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada(COSEWIC). This growing number reflects both the increasing number of species assessed as at risk by COSEWIC and NCC’s continued focus on protecting lands that provide habitat for our most endangered species.

Over the last two years, with support from the Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program, NCC has documented over 20 new species of endangered wildlife on our properties. Some of these are found on new NCC properties. Some are the result of new information and discoveries, and additions from recent COSEWIC assessments. Some of the species new to NCC’s portfolio of Canada’s endangered wildlife that we help to protect include:

Maritime ringlet (endangered)

The entire range of this small butterfly is restricted to coastal marshes in northern New Brunswick and the southern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. NCC documented this globally rare butterfly in 2016 on a property in the Southern Gulf of the St. Lawrence.

Lark bunting (threatened)

The global population of this grassland bird has declined by 98 per cent in the last 50 years due to habitat loss. When the species was assessed as threatened by COSEWIC in 2017, NCC had already protected over 30 properties in Alberta and Saskatchewan, including the Wideview Complex in Saskatchewan, that provide the shrinking prairie habitats it needs.

Van Brunt’s Jacob’s ladder (threatened)

This globally rare wildflower was recently discovered on an NCC property in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Van Brunt’s Jacob’s ladder is rare throughout its range in northeastern Northern America and is threatened by habitat loss.

Evening grosbeak (special concern)

This coniferous forest songbird has been declining throughout most of its range. Threats to the evening grosbeak include loss of mature and old-growth forests. This bird was assessed as special concern by COSEWIC in 2016. At that time, NCC was already protecting nesting and stopover habitat across Canada, including Southwest Nova Natural Area in Nova Scotia, Riding Mountain in Manitoba and the Salish Sea in BC.

Hine’s emerald (endangered)

The Canadian distribution of the globally rare Hine’s emerald dragonfly is restricted to the Minesing Wetlands, just west of Barrie, Ontario. In 2017 and 2018, NCC protected two properties where the Hine’s emerald has been recorded. In addition to habitat protection, NCC will also be restoring wetlands on the Patrick W. E. Hodgson Property over the next few years to create additional habitat for this species.

Habitat is the lynchpin of wildlife conservation. There are important successes in recovery and discovery that we need to share. But most importantly, we need to do more conservation and we need to do it faster. No one else can save Canadian wildlife except Canadians.

May 18, 2018 | by Dan Kraus   The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC)

 

Dan Kraus

About the Author

Dan Kraus is NCC’s National conservation biologist.

Read more about Dan Kraus.

An Australian railway man saved more than 2 million babies—including his own grandchild—with a simple donation of blood

Featured image
James Harrison. Photo by: Australian Red Cross

An Australian man who required blood transfusions to survive surgery as a teenager decided to repay the kindness of strangers by becoming a blood donor himself. Little did he know at the time that his blood contained a rare antibody required for a life-saving medication. By the time he retired from donating this month, James Harrison had saved an amazing estimate of 2.4 million babies!

James Harrison came to blood donation from personal experience. When he was 14 years old, he underwent major lung surgery that took hours and required a vast quantity of transfusions—13 units of blood, in fact. He remained hospitalized for three months. So he decided to pay it forward as soon as he could. In Australia, blood donors must be a minimum of 18 years old; so in 1954, when he turned 18, Harrison gave his first units of blood. Despite a fear of needles, he returned to donate every few weeks for a remarkable 60 years.

But the Good Samaritan’s good deed turned out to be more beneficial than he ever could have imagined. In the 1960s, researchers discovered that Harrison’s blood contained a rare antibody used in a medication called Anti-D that helps save babies from a potentially fatal disease. The Australian Red Cross reports that Harrison’s blood has been used in more than 3 million doses of Anti-D since 1967, and that he has helped save the lives of 2.4 million babies, including that of his grandchildren. His daughter, Tracey Mellowship, received the injection and had two healthy babies. The Red Cross called him “the man with the golden arm.”

The Anti-D injections are given to pregnant Rh(D) negative women carrying Rh(D) positive babies, whose blood-type incompatibility can result in miscarriage, brain damage, or even stillbirth, according to the Australian Red Cross. Around 17 percent of Australian women need the injections, which come only from blood plasma from a “tiny pool” of around 160 donors who have the rare antibody that Harrison has. Attempts to make a synthetic version of the medication have so far failed.

Harrison had been donating for a decade when researchers discovered his blood was perfect for their new Anti-D program.

A Man Saved A Condor Years Ago And The Bird Still Flies Back To Say Thanks

On May 11, Harrison, now 81 and retired from his job as a railway administrator, lay back and had his arm strapped and swabbed as he got ready to give his last donation. As always, he looked away from the needle, and gripped a stress ball in his other hand. Medical officials with the Red Cross said it was time for Harrison to retire and save his blood for his own health. He received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1999 for his service to the Anti-D program. He also made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003.

Harrison’s last donation at the Town Hall Blood Donor Center in Sydney was videotaped and shown on the local TV news. (Harrison, ever the proper railway man, wore a tie to the occasion.) Helium balloons above his head had the numbers 1, 1, 7, and 3 to represent the 1,173 times he had donated blood. A half-dozen moms who had benefited from the Anti-D injection program showed up, their babies in their arms, to commemorate the unassuming hero.

“The end of an era,” Harrison, who lives in New South Wales, told the New York Times. “It was sad because I felt like I could keep going.”

Harrison was proud of having helped though not unduly vain about his accomplishment. He hopes the publicity surrounding his retirement will inspire other blood donors to come forward; perhaps one will also carry the rare antibody.  “Saving one baby is good,” Harrison told the New York Times. “Saving two million is hard to get your head around, but if they claim that’s what it is, I’m glad to have done it.”

 E.L. Hamilton