Ants Goof Off Too; Milky Way Steals Stars; Astronomers Spot Exocomets

Posted January 16th, 2017 at 1:12 pm (UTC-5)
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Ants work outside of their colony (Schristia, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Ants work outside of their colony (Schristia, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Ants Balance Work and Rest to Maintain Colony

Ants have a reputation of being dedicated and hardworking creatures.

But did you know that like humans, ants also seek to maintain a healthy balance of work and rest?

While an ant colony appears to be filled with busy workers, according to new research, there are also a number of ants just lying around and not doing a thing.

Rather than belittling them for not carrying their share of the work load, these so called “lazy ants” are still providing a valuable service to their colony.

According to scientists at the Missouri University of Science and technology, it’s important for some of the ants to take it easy and not use up too much of the group’s food, energy, and resources, which colony needs to be productive.

The researchers also find found that the larger the colony, the more important this work-rest balance becomes.

In this computer-generated image, a red oval marks the disk of our Milky Way galaxy and a red dot shows the location of the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. The yellow circles represent stars that have been ripped from the Sagittarius dwarf and flung far across space. (Marion Dierickx/CfA)

Computer-generated image: Red oval marks disk of  Milky Way galaxy – red dot shows the location of the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. The yellow circles are stars that have been ripped from the Sagittarius dwarf and flung far across space. (Marion Dierickx/CfA)

Milky Way Looting Stars from Neighboring Galaxy

According to Harvard astronomers, it appears that our Milky Way is stealing stars from a nearby satellite galaxy.

Fresh research, based on computer models, suggests that five or six of the eleven farthest known stars in the Milky Way have been yanked from the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy.

These stars, located outside of the Milky Way’s spiral, are about 300,000 light years from Earth.

There are dozens of these mini satellite galaxies, like the Sagittarius dwarf, that surround the Milky Way.

Scientists say since the beginning of the universe they have circled our galaxy several times.

As they do, the Milky Way’s tidal gravity pulls on the smaller galaxies and pulls them apart like taffy.

This allows their stars to migrate toward our galaxy in streams that can reach as far as one million light-years from the Milky Way’s center.

Artist impression shows several comets speeding across a vast protoplanetary disc of gas and dust and heading straight for the youthful, central star HD 172555. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild and G. Bacon (STScI))

Artist impression shows several comets speeding across a vast protoplanetary disc of gas and dust and heading straight for the youthful, central star HD 172555. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild and G. Bacon (STScI))

Astronomers Spot Exocomets Falling into Star

You’re probably familiar with extra solar or exoplanets – planets found beyond our own solar system.

But now thanks to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope scientists detected exocomets – comets that are located outside of the solar system plummeting into a young star called HD 172555.

The star is about 95 light-years from earth and is thought to be about 23 million years old.

These recent observations of exocomets mark the third time these objects have been spotted in star systems beyond our own.

The two previous occasions where they were detect also happened to be in solar systems that are less than 40 million years old.

While the exocomets have not been seen directly, they spotted after the Hubble detected gas scientists think is probably the vaporized remains of their icy nuclei.

This artist's conception portrays a collection of planet-mass objects that have been flung out of the galactic center at speeds of 10,000 km/s. These cosmic "spitballs" formed from fragments of a star that was shredded by the galaxy's supermassive black hole. (Mark A. Garlick/CfA)

Artist conception portrays a collection of planet-mass objects that have been flung out of the galactic center at speeds of 10,000 km/s. These cosmic “spitballs” formed from fragments of a star that was shredded by the galaxy’s supermassive black hole. (Mark A. Garlick/CfA)

Black Hole Flings Planet-Like Objects Throughout Galaxy

Astronomers say there is a supermassive black hole situated at the very center of our Milky Way galaxy.

Every now and then a star will get too close and the black hole’s tremendous gravity will rip the star to shreds.

While a much of the star gets pulled into the black hole, some of the star’s gas is hurled away at a rapid speed.

Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found that left over gas from one shredded star can form hundreds of planet-sized objects with a weight similar to Neptune and several Jupiter’s.

Because of the high speed the gas is already traveling these objects are blasted throughout the galaxy like giant “spitballs.”

Calculations from the scientists indicate that the closest of these planet-like objects might be within a few hundred light-years of Earth.

The researchers point out that other galaxies, such as Andromeda are also shooting these objects out at us all the time.

Is Our Moon Just One in a Series of Past Moons?

The most popular theory on how the moon was formed is called the giant impact hypothesis.

According to this proposition, our moon was made from the debris left over from a violent collision, about 4.5 billion years ago, between Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet.

Now a group of Israeli scientists have developed a new theory that suggests the moon we now see in the night sky is not Earth’s first and only moon, but that there were actually a number of moons that preceded it throughout our planet’s history.

The group’s findings, based on a model, suggests that each of the series of moons that circled ancient Earth were formed from different collisions with the still forming planet.

One of the study’s co-authors says that it was likely that these moonlets were either ejected into space, that they crashed into Earth or with each other to form bigger moons.

obese-mainHuman Biology Not Lack of Willpower Causes Diets to Fail

One of the most popular resolutions people make with the New Year is to lose weight.

Whether it’s missing favorite foods or being frustrated with not losing enough weight as quickly as thought, many people unfortunately tend to give up within a week or so starting their weight loss program.

Dr. David Ludwig from the Harvard Medical School suggests biology and not a lack of willpower may be more responsible for these efforts at weight loss to fail.

He advises against eating hyperprocessed fast foods and go with whole and natural foods, which are more likely to be efficiently used by the body and brain and doesn’t turn into fat as easily.

Dr. Ludwig suggests a diet with foods such as whole fruits, vegetables, a good amount of protein, which doesn’t necessarily have to be meat, and surprisingly plenty of high-fat foods.

This could include various nuts, nut butters, foods prepared with olive oil, and even full-fat dairy products.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Radioactive Material Found in Fracking Waste; Searching Space for H20

Posted December 21st, 2016 at 4:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Solid waste from horizontal gas wells contains radioactive material that ends up in landfills. (American Chemical Society)

Solid waste from horizontal gas wells contains radioactive material that ends up in landfills. (American Chemical Society)

Radioactive Isotopes Found in Fracking Waste

US oil and natural gas production, has been boosted in recent years by a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking.”

But this practice has also been criticized for its possible impact on the environment because of the wastewater this method generates.

A new study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology, which examined solid well waste from Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, finds that the waste contains naturally occurring radioactive material that had not been previously reported.

In addition to the early reports of uranium 238 and radium 226, the study indicates that collected waste samples also contain elevated levels of the radioactive isotopes uranium-234, thorium-230, lead-210 and polonium-210.

Uranium-238 and radium-226 have been reported in previous such samples.

The compound view shows a new ALMA Band 5 view of the colliding galaxy system Arp 220 - in red - on top of an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope -blue/green - (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA)

The compound view shows a new ALMA Band 5 view of the colliding galaxy system Arp 220 – in red – on top of an image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope -blue/green – (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA)

New ALMA Radio Receivers May Find Water in Universe

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile, is a collection of some 66 radio telescope antennas that work together to provide astronomers to study some of the earliest and most distant galaxies in the Universe.

Regions of space where these objects are located tend to be cold and dark and are difficult if not impossible to detect in visible light wavelengths.

But these features can be seen clearly and brightly when they are observed in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Now, ALMA has received an upgrade with the installation of new Band 5 receivers to a select set of the array’s antennas.

Band 5 refers a receiving range of frequencies that can vary from 582 to 806 megahertz.

These devices will make its observations in a whole new section of the radio spectrum and among other things will provide astronomers with a better way to look for signs of water in the nearby Universe.

This is an artist's rendering of Tingmiatornis arctica, the new prehistoric bird species discovered by scientists at the University of Rochester. (Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester)

Artist’s rendering of Tingmiatornis arctica, the new prehistoric bird species discovered by scientists at the University of Rochester. (Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester)

New Prehistoric Bird Species Discovered

Scientists have discovered a new ancient bird species that lived in the Canadian arctic some 90 million years ago during Cretaceous period.

They say that fossils leading to the discovery are among the oldest avian fossils that have been found in the northernmost latitudes.

The scientists describe this new ancient bird species as a cross between a large seagull and another diving bird species like cormorants.

They add that this creature probably had teeth as well.

The new fossils along with those gathered in the same area in the past suggest that the birds made their home near a peaceful freshwater bay, which was also home to turtles, large freshwater fish, and a now extinct crocodile-like reptiles called champsosaurs.

The scientists describe the climate in the Canadian arctic, some 90 to 84 million years ago, as being similar to northern Florida today – that is, warm through much of the year.

European Space Agency's three satellite Swarm network provide a high-resolution picture of the Earth's magnetic field (ESA)

European Space Agency’s three satellite Swarm network provide a high-resolution picture of the Earth’s magnetic field (ESA)

Jet Stream Found in Earth’s Molten Outer Core

The Earth’s core, which lies nearly 3,000 kilometers below the surface, is made of two layers.

At the very center of the Earth is the inner core, which scientists say is a solid sphere made of an iron-nickel alloy. Surrounding the inner core is the outer core of which is made of molten iron and nickel that’s believed to be between 4000-5000º Celsius.

New data gathered by the European Space Agency’s three satellite Swarm network is providing scientists with an x-ray view of the Earth’s core.

This information has led to the discovery of a jet stream flowing within the molten outer core.

Like the jet stream of air currents in the atmosphere, scientists explain that this jet stream in the outer core is a moving belt of molten material circling its magnetic North Pole and is traveling at a speed of about 40 kilometers per year.

Researchers who made the discovery say this jet stream lines-up with a boundary between two regions within the core.

Taking Sauna Baths May Help Prevent Dementia

A new study by Finnish researchers, and published in the journal Age and Aging, suggests taking frequent sauna baths can reduce the risk of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland followed 2,000 middle-age men for twenty years as part of its ongoing Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD).

They found that participants who took sauna baths between 4 to 7 times per week were 66% less likely of being diagnosed with dementia than those doing so once a week.

An earlier report from the continuing study indicated that frequent sauna bathing also considerably decreases the risk of sudden cardiac death, the risk of death due to coronary artery disease and other cardiac events, as well as overall mortality.

According to the paper’s authors the association between sauna bathing and the risk of dementia had not been studied until recently.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Biggest Wave Spotted; Walking Heel-to-Toe; Newborn Exoplanets

Posted December 15th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Large breaking wave (Wikimedia Commons)

Large breaking wave (Wikimedia Commons)

New Record for Biggest Wave Measured by Buoy

The UN’s World Meteorological Society says the biggest wave ever to be measured by a buoy was identified at 0600 universal time on February 4, 2013.

The colossal 19-meter swell was spotted in the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the UK.

The previous highest wave recorded by a buoy was measured at over 18 meters, on December 8, 2007, also in the North Atlantic.

The WMO says that the buoy that recorded the giant wave is a part of the UK’s Met Office (the British weather service) network of Marine Automatic Weather Stations.

Wave-measuring buoys are part of an extensive international observational network, which also includes ships and satellite observations to keep an eye on the oceans and make forecasts for weather-related hazards.

While this wave was the highest measured by a buoy, it’s certainly not the biggest overall — a nearly 31-meter high wave in Alaska, generated by an earthquake, is in the record books from 1958.

Why Do Humans Walk Heel-to-Toe?

University of Arizona doctoral student James Webber loves to run in his bare feet. It was his inspiration to study the mechanics of running.

But since it’s said you’ve got to walk before you run, Webber has focused his recent research on walking.

He incorporates his research into a new study that explores why humans walk heel-to-toe, while a number of other animal species walk on the balls of their feet.

Webber’s study suggests a human’s walk boils down to the length of our legs.

He explains that since we stand with heels down on the ground, our legs are physically shorter that if we stood on our toes.

To become more efficient walkers, Webber posits that we’ve had to adopt a heal-to-toe style of walking that produces what he calls “virtual legs” that are longer than actual physical legs.

A view of Earth's atmosphere at sunset as seen by the International Space Station Expedition 23 crew in 2010. Colors here roughly denote the various layers of the atmosphere. (NASA)

A view of Earth’s atmosphere at sunset as seen by the International Space Station Expedition 23 crew in 2010. Colors here roughly denote the various layers of the atmosphere. (NASA)

Harvard Researchers Have Idea to Safely Cool Planet

A recent assessment by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization indicates that 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record.

Some scientists have suggested that injecting light-reflecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere might cool the planet.

The problem with this approach is that while sulfate aerosols could cool the world, a nasty side effect would be that doing so would produce sulfuric acid in the atmosphere.

This is something scientists say would damage the ozone layer, which in itself could lead to a variety of health problems for Earth’s living creatures.

Now, Harvard researchers say that they found using calcite, a component of limestone, rather than sulfates in an aerosol might be able to cool the planet while at the same time repair any ozone damage. But both ideas reside only in the halls of academia, for now – no such global climate control plans are actually underway.

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star HD 163296 as seen in dust. New observations suggested that two planets, each about the size of Saturn, are in orbit around the star. (ALMA-ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/AUI/NSF)

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star HD 163296 as seen in dust.  (ALMA-ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Signs of Developing Planets Orbiting Young Star

Most of the extrasolar planets discovered so far are orbiting older or more mature stars with a fully developed planetary system.

But, new observations made by scientists working with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile are providing evidence of two, still developing, possibly Saturn-sized planets circling a relatively young star called HD 163296.

The scientists say signs of the two developing planets were found in rings of carbon monoxide gas between bands of dust within the star’s surrounding protoplanetary disk, or materials left over from the formation of the star.

The planet’s host star is said to be located some 400 light-years from Earth, is only about 5 million years old, and has about twice the mass of our Sun.

Astronomers find that these two newborn planets are forming at distances from its sun that would be equivalent to being well beyond our solar system’s Kuiper Belt – that’s the region space beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Back to Civilization

Posted December 14th, 2016 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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The smell of decaying cedar and brine wash over me in slow, undulating waves. A light rain, falling from a mosaic of low-lying slate-grey clouds, coats my neck and arms in chilly dampness. I can taste the 100 percent humidity. Thick and metallic, I roll it over my tongue like a sommelier tasting a fine wine. Green is everywhere. So is yellow, brown, orange and blue. It is a fecund scene—40 above zero (22 C), misty North American pine forest air so laden with oxygen I feel like I can breathe through my skin.

Vacation in the coastal rain forests of North America offers the author a chance to decompress and enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures of nature that have been absent from his life for the past year. (Credit: Seth Zippel)

Vacation in the coastal rain forests of North America offers the author a chance to decompress and enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures of nature that have been absent from his life for the past year. (Credit: Seth Zippel)

It’s been a month since I left the flat, odorless, toe-numbing and tasteless expanse of the South Pole. My senses have been bombarded ever since. New aromas carry me into Dali-esque landscapes. Textures—the sensation of standing on loose gravel, spongy earth, side-walk cement or fresh sod–perpetually catch me off balance. The sun rises and sets every 24 hours; light and shadow are in constant flux. Observing the patchwork of blue above me, as it brightens and dims, is disorienting and hypnotic in equal doses, like watching a bonfire through a kaleidoscope.

After some snotty weather on the Ice, a few delayed flights and a missed connection in Auckland, I finally made it back home to Colorado. It’s a bizarre feeling finding yourself face to face with “civilization” again, perhaps akin to what a captive black bear experiences when it’s released back into the wild. I went shopping for groceries today, and nearly had a mental breakdown when I hit the six shelves of olive oil. Lost in the profusion of extra virgin, virgin, regular and light, all went television static until a fellow basket-pusher nearly rammed into me and lifted me out of my stupor.

“I’m thawing out.” That’s what I’ve been telling myself and the grocery store attendant, and anyone else who is gutsy enough to begin a conversation with me. A little over a year in Antarctica and I now have the composure of a 1-month old golden retriever: manic, overwhelmed, curious, confused, elated, scared and playful.

Back at work at the Global Monitoring Division's headquarters in Colorado--working in a windowless office is nearly a novel experience after being stationed at the South Pole.

Back at work at the Global Monitoring Division’s headquarters in Colorado–working in a windowless office is nearly a novel experience after being stationed at the South Pole.

Each day in my brave new world is filled with novel experiences. Some are more exotic, like sitting at the bar in a popular wood-fired pizza restaurant while nursing a locally-crafted pale ale. Others are more mundane, like making myself a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal or paying my utility bill. Oh, the extreme, singular sensation of speaking with an unfamiliar face—penetrating new mannerisms, cultural references and tics. Living in an isolated community of 45 pale, grumpy and bearded men (and a few pale, grumpy women) for 55 weeks doesn’t prepare you for bus stop chit-chat or flirting with the girl with the tattooed forearm and nose piercing at the other end of the bar. “Is she reading the beer list behind me, or trying to get my attention?”

When the dishes pile up in the sink, or I sit down to another meal by myself, or I run out of laundry detergent, or my car’s fan-belt begins to squeal like a pig on a rollercoaster, I begin to think about what it would be like to do another season at the bottom of the earth, another 12 months at the Atmospheric Research Observatory. It’s in these moments, when my cursor is hovering over the send button to the “Dear Boss, do you need someone for Winter?” email, that I take a step back, open my refrigerator door and revel in the cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Perhaps I’ll spend a few more years in temperate climates.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Advanced Weather Satellite in Space; Can Migraines Lead to Stroke?

Posted November 21st, 2016 at 4:21 pm (UTC-5)
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NOAA's GOES-R satellite is launched into space from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Launch of NOAA’s GOES-R satellite (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA Launches NOAA’S Advanced Weather Satellite

On Saturday, 11/19/16, NASA launched the first of four advanced weather satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The satellite will maintain a geostationary orbit nearly 36,000 kilometers above Earth’s western hemisphere.

Called the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series or GEOS-R, NOAA says that the satellite will help it deliver more accurate and timely weather forecasts, watches and warnings.

According to NOAA, the GEOS-R will be able to examine the skies much faster than current technology, provide frequently updated high-resolution images of Earth’s weather, oceans and environment, and keep an eye on hurricanes and other dangerous weather.

The satellite will even monitor the sun and provide forecasters with critical information that will be used to issue space weather alerts and warnings.

Women’s Migraine Headaches Linked to Stroke

A new preliminary study from the American Heart Association suggests that women with a history of migraines may also have an increased risk of stroke.

Researchers led by Dr. Cecil Rambarat, M.D. of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida studied over 900 women who at the time were being assessed for heart disease.

Of the women studied, 224 or about 25 percent of them reported a history of migraine headaches.

The study suggests that compared to the women who did not report any migraines, those who did were found to have an 83 percent higher risk of some kind of cardiovascular event such either a stroke or heart-attack within an average six-year follow-up.

Compared to those who didn’t have migraines, women with a history of migraine were also found to be a little more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke during the study.

The intensity of FRB 150807 at different radio frequencies or colors -- red corresponds to lower frequencies and blue to higher frequencies. (Dr. Vikram Ravi/Caltech)

FRB 150807 at different radio frequencies — red (lower frequencies) and blue (higher frequencies) (Dr. Vikram Ravi/Caltech)

Rare Astrophysical Event Provides Intergalactic Clues

A team of scientists have discovered one of those rare and mysterious astrophysical events called a Fast Radio Burst or FRB.

A fast radio burst is just that an incredibly quick but brilliant and powerful pulse of radio waves.

So far scientists are stumped as to exactly what causes this phenomena.

It’s thought that some 2,000 to 10,000 FRBs take place every day somewhere in the universe, but since they’re so fast and unpredictable only 18 have been spotted since their 2007 discovery.

Researchers who discovered the newest FRB say it’s the most brilliant and brief fast radio burst that has be found so far and that it could provide insight into the “cosmic web” a network of intergalactic material.

FRB 150807 was detected on August 7, 2015 at the Parkes Observatory, a radio telescope facility in Australia, after traveling a distance of more than a billion light years.

A sample of some foods high in fat content (Lucasmartin2 via Wikimedia Commons)

A sample of foods high in fat content (Lucasmartin2 via Wikimedia Commons)

Fatty Foods While Young Could Impact Adult Brain Function

A new study, published in the medical journal Molecular Psychiatry, suggests that over indulging on a lot of high fat foods as a youngster could harm a person’s cognitive functions as an adult.

It’s no secret that children and teens love to eat junk food.  These high-fat foods often provide young people with convenient and inexpensive items to eat.

Eating high-fat foods over a long period of time can lead not only to problems such as obesity and possibly damage young and still developing brains, but new research is showing that eating a lot of fatty foods during adolescence may impact the brain in adulthood.

The findings were made after researchers compared the brains of young and adult mice who were fed either high-fat or normal diets.

The first signs of impaired cognitive functions of young mice who ate a high-fat diet started to show after only four weeks and before they started to show weight gain.

In this image of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, different colors represent different compositions of surface ices, revealing a surprisingly active body. (Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

In this image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, different colors represent different compositions of surface ices, revealing a surprisingly active body. (Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Ice & Underground Ocean May Have Reoriented Pluto

A new study suggest that an accumulation of ice in Pluto’s Sputnik Planitia basin, along with the existence of subsurface ocean, may have played roles in the dwarf planet rolling on its side and reorienting eons ago.

Sputnik Planitia is located within the heart shaped region of Pluto called Tombaugh Regio.

Scientists say that the basin was probably created by a giant meteorite blasting away a large amount of the planet’s crust in that area making it much thinner.

This thinner crust could have allowed a subsurface ocean beneath it to well up toward the basin.

The studies suggest  that the added mass of the accumulated ice and upwelled water in the basin area, combined with tidal forces between Pluto and its largest moon Charon, could have caused the planet to reorient itself.

Sputnik Planitia, which was formed northwest of its current location, rolled toward Pluto’s equator, ending up directly opposite the side facing Charon.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Powerful Punch of Gamma Rays Found in Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts

Posted November 14th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Fast radio bursts discovered in 2007 with the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. (CSIRO via Wikimedia Commons)

Fast radio bursts discovered in 2007 with the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. (CSIRO via Wikimedia Commons)

Astronomers at the Pennsylvania State University say they have discovered that the mysterious and elusive astronomical phenomenon called fast radio bursts, or FRB’s, can also pack a powerful punch of gamma rays along with their mighty but brief pulse of radio waves.

This discovery of the FRB’s gamma rays was made after researchers studied observational data from NASA’s Swift satellite of the same area of sky where FRB 131104 was detected by Australia’s Parkes Observatory radio telescope on November 4, 2013.

The researchers say that some FRBs may be capable of unleashing a billion times more gamma ray energy than radio waves and may come close to matching the power of gamma rays released by supernovae or exploding massive stars.

The radio waves in FRBs are heard as whistles while its accompanying gamma rays are heard as a bang, say the Penn State scientists.

The researchers, led by physics graduate student James DeLaunay detail their findings in a recently published study in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“I started this search for FRB counterparts without expecting to find anything,” said DeLaunay in a Penn State press release. “This burst was the first that even had useful data to analyze. When I saw that it showed a possible gamma ray counterpart, I couldn’t believe my luck!”

This discovery is said to be the first-ever finding of a non-radio emission from a fast radio burst.

The study suggests that the gamma ray emissions from the 2013 fast radio burst and others like it might also contain long-lived X-ray, optical, or radio emissions.

Back in 2007, a couple of astronomers were studying archival data from a survey of the Small Magellanic Cloud gathered by the 210-foot Parkes radio telescope in Australia. They discovered a mysterious, powerful burst of radio waves that lasted only a few milliseconds.

Fast Radio Burst “Whistle”

These fast radio bursts are thought to originate millions or even billions of light-years away and can emit as much energy in just one millisecond as our sun produces in 10,000 years.

The exact cause for this phenomenon is unknown, but among the phenomena suspected by scientists include supernovae, stellar flares, cataclysmic mergers of neutron stars and evaporating black holes may be behind these quick bursts of radio waves.

While only a few dozen FRB’s have been recorded since their discovery almost a decade ago, some scientists today think that they may be a fairly common phenomenon and can take place more than 2,000 times a day somewhere in the universe.

The authors of the study would like to continue to search for more FRB counterparts, which they say could finally reveal the source of these mysterious astronomical phenomena.

“Maybe we’ll get even luckier next time,” added DeLaunay.

Four models of powerful cosmic events that might have produced the fast radio burst FRB 131104.

Top left: Binary-neutron-star merger (Dana Berry, Skyworks Digital)
Top right: Supernova (G. Bacon, STScI)
Bottom left: Magnetar (Robert S. Mallozzi, UAH/NASA MSFC)
Bottom right: Blck-hole accretion event (M. Weiss, NASA/CXC)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Odd Feature from Galactic Collision; Crack in the Magnetosphere; Smartphones Make Us Trust Less?

Posted November 5th, 2016 at 12:56 pm (UTC-5)
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Dazzling eyelid-like features bursting with stars in galaxy IC 2163 formed from a tsunami of stars and gas triggered by a glancing collision with galaxy NGC 2207 (a portion of its spiral arm is shown on right side of image). ALMA image of carbon monoxide (orange), which revealed motion of the gas in these features, is shown on top of Hubble image (blue) of the galaxy. Credit: M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

Dazzling eyelid-like features bursting with stars in galaxy IC 2163 formed from a tsunami of stars and gas triggered by a glancing collision with galaxy NGC 2207. ( M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

Galactic Fender-Bender Produces Eye-Lid Shaped Feature

A team of astronomers say what started as a fender-bender between two galaxies has sent a torrent of stars and gas crashing through the center of one, which then produced a rare eyelid shaped star formation.

Working with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in Chile, the astronomers identified the colliding galaxies as NGC 2207 and IC 2163, which are both located some 114 million light-years from Earth in the Canis Major constellation.

IC 2163 is the galaxy that took the brunt of the storm of stars and gas, which produced the eyelid formation.

Both galaxies were identified as spiral galaxies, just like our own Milky Way.

Astronomer Michele Kaufman, lead author of a study that details the discovery, says that while galaxy collisions of this type aren’t uncommon, only a few galaxies with eye-like, or ocular, structures are known to exist.

She said the eyelid formation should last for a few tens of million years, a relatively short time when you consider the lifespan of a galaxy.

Diagram of Earth's magnetosphere (NASA)

Diagram of Earth’s magnetosphere (NASA)

Scientists Find Temporary Crack in Earth’s Magnetosphere

Indian scientists say that the Earth’s protective magnetosphere cracked momentarily during a powerful solar storm back on June 22, 2015.

The storm was the result a coronal mass ejection, or blasts of plasma from the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere a few days earlier.

The magnetosphere is an area of space that surrounds Earth and helps prevent most of the highly charged solar particles from hitting the surface.

The scientists found that the burst of high-energy from the storm smacked into the magnetosphere at a speed of about 2.5 million kilometers per hour.

The researchers observed the blast of solar energy with India’s GRAPES-3 muon telescope, a device that detects and monitors cosmic rays.

Information from their observations were used to perform numerical simulations, which indicated the temporary crack in the magnetosphere. While short-term radio outages were reported during this time, the solar storm apparently did not cause any known serious damage here on Earth.

Woman checks her smartphone. (John Ragai via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Woman checks her smartphone. (John Ragai via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Are Smartphones Making Us Less Trusting?

It’s hard to deny that the smartphone is a modern technological wonder.

It is a light and relatively small device that can fit in the palm of your hand, yet it can link you to the Internet, take photos and videos, give you directions and, oh yeah, make and receive telephone calls and texts.

Some people say they couldn’t live a day without theirs.

But, are smartphones making us less trusting of others?

Authors of a newly released study, Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia and Jason D. E. Proulx of the University of British Columbia, gauged the relationship between access to mobile information and trust by surveying over 2,000 Americans.

The survey included questions such as how often they depend on mobile information technology and how much they trust other groups, including family, neighbors, foreigners and strangers.

The results of the research, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggest that the more a person depends on smartphones for information, the less likely they are to trust other people.

A liquid milk chocolate spring inside the chocolate museum of Antica Norba, in the little ancient town of Norma in Italy. (Moyan Brenn via Cfreative Commons/Flickr)

A liquid milk chocolate spring inside the chocolate museum of Antica Norba, in the little ancient town of Norma in Italy. (Moyan Brenn via Cfreative Commons/Flickr)

Scientists May Have Found a Way to Make Milk Chocolate Healthy

Studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can actually be good for you.

Dark chocolate is thought to be quite nutritious and is loaded with antioxidants, which may help slow down aging and prevent diseases, including cancer.

The problem is that dark chocolate can have a bitter taste, especially when compared to its much more popular sibling, milk chocolate.

Unfortunately, milk chocolate doesn’t have the same kind health benefits dark chocolate has.

So you are forced to make a decision: dark chocolate that  may not taste very good, but is healthy for you or tasty and sweet milk chocolate, which isn’t as healthy.

But, researchers from North Carolina State University say they may have found a way of making a milk chocolate with even more of the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate.

To make the milk chocolate healthier the researchers fortified it with a mixture of a sweet food additive along with compounds from peanut skin, which are said to be packed with nutrients.

The researchers said they did not examine possible allergic reactions to the peanut skin extracts used in their formula, but are doing so in their ongoing studies.

Animation of theoretical collision event between Earth and Theia which led to formation of the moon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Animation of theoretical collision event between Earth and Theia and formation of Moon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Did Moon Formation Nearly Knock Earth on Its Side?

The most popular theory on the moon’s formation (giant impact theory) is that it was made from the debris left over from a violent collision between Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet (Theia) some 4.5 billion years ago.

A new model on the moon’s formation, created by a group of researchers, suggests what caused the formation of the moon may have also knocked Earth nearly on its side for a while and caused it to spin much faster on its axis.

Findings made with the model were detailed in a new study published by the journal, Nature.

According to the study, interactions between the Earth and moon over the billions of years that followed are thought to have slowed Earth’s rotational speed to its current speed of about 1,675 kilometers per hour, at the equator, and brought the tilt of its spin axis from about 60° to 80° to its current 23.5°.

The study also suggests the moon’s tilt initially mirrored Earth’s and orbited 15 times closer to Earth than today.

It’s thought tidal actions between the two and later the sun’s gravitational influence, reduced its orbital tilt to its current 5° and pushed the moon to its current location.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

October 2016 Science Images

Posted November 2nd, 2016 at 4:24 pm (UTC-5)
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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun on 10/30/16. Seen in this animated GIF, the lunar transit lasted for about one hour. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun on 10/30/16. Seen in this animated GIF, the lunar transit lasted for about one hour. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

A Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is rolled out by train to its Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad on 10/16/16. The rocket sent International Space Station Expedition 49 flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos on 10/19/16. (NASA)

A Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is rolled out by train to its Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad on 10/16/16. The rocket sent International Space Station Expedition 49 flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos on 10/19/16. (NASA)

With the arrival of a new trio of International Space Station crewmembers just days earlier, another group that had been aboard for months climbed into their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft for their trip home. Here you see the capsule carrying members of the ISS Expedition 49 – Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – coming in for touchdown near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 10/30/16. (NASA)

With the arrival of a new trio of International Space Station crewmembers just days earlier, another group that had been aboard for months climbed into their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft for their trip home. Here you see the capsule carrying members of the ISS Expedition 49 – Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – coming in for touchdown near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 10/30/16. (NASA)

Another ISS image for you. Here an Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched a few days earlier from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., spaceport is seen being captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station on 10/17/16. The resupply ship was packed with more than 2,300 kilos of cargo and research equipment. (NASA)

Another ISS image for you. Here an Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched a few days earlier from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., spaceport is seen being captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station on 10/17/16. The resupply ship was packed with more than 2,300 kilos of cargo and research equipment. (NASA)

This is a camera system being by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to study and overall health of deep-water bottom fish species around the Hawaiian Islands. The second of two phases of this survey began in mid-October. It brought local commercial fishermen and scientists together to get a count of several species of deep-water grouper and snapper, which are popular table fare. (AP)

This is a camera system being by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to study and overall health of deep-water bottom fish species around the Hawaiian Islands. The second of two phases of this survey began in mid-October. It brought local commercial fishermen and scientists together to get a count of several species of deep-water grouper and snapper, which are popular table fare. (AP)

On 10/26/16, scientists announced the discovery of the L1448 IRS3B system, which is a rare triple-star system located some 750 light-years from Earth. The scientists, who made their discovery with the Atacama Large Milimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile say their discovery supports evidence of disk fragmentation—a process that leads to the formation of young binary and multiple star systems. (University of Oklahoma and ALMA)

On 10/26/16, scientists announced the discovery of the L1448 IRS3B system, which is a rare triple-star system located some 750 light-years from Earth. The scientists, who made their discovery with the Atacama Large Milimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile say their discovery supports evidence of disk fragmentation—a process that leads to the formation of young binary and multiple star systems. (University of Oklahoma and ALMA)

Many of us already have heard about the development of cars that drive themselves, now a company called Aurora Flight Sciences is testing a robotic system that can co-pilot an aircraft. Called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the unit can be seen mounted in the co-pilot seat of a Cessna Caravan aircraft which is preparing for take-off at Manassas Airport in Manassas, Va., on 10/17/16. It is hoped that ALIAS can someday eliminate the need for a second human pilot in the cockpit. (AP)

Many of us already have heard about the development of cars that drive themselves, now a company called Aurora Flight Sciences is testing a robotic system that can co-pilot an aircraft. Called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the unit can be seen mounted in the co-pilot seat of a Cessna Caravan aircraft which is preparing for take-off at Manassas Airport in Manassas, Va., on 10/17/16. It is hoped that ALIAS can someday eliminate the need for a second human pilot in the cockpit. (AP)

NASA released this image showing a haze layer encircling Pluto on 10/08/16. The planet was photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft’s during its July 14, 2015 flyby. Using a variety of near-infrared observational information, the image was created with special software to look as close to how a human eye would see it. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

NASA released this image showing a haze layer encircling Pluto on 10/08/16. The planet was photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft’s during its July 14, 2015 flyby. Using a variety of near-infrared observational information, the image was created with special software to look as close to how a human eye would see it. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

We love to show you Robots in action. Here is a squad of robotic cheerleaders, developed by Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Co., perform synchronized dancing on 10/06/16 during the annual CEATEC Japan advanced technologies show in the nation’s Chiba prefecture. The robo-cheerleaders shook color changing pom-poms. You can also see the bicyclist robot, named, "Murata Seisaku-kun", or Murata Boy in the background. (AP)

We love to show you Robots in action. Here is a squad of robotic cheerleaders, developed by Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Co., perform synchronized dancing on 10/06/16 during the annual CEATEC Japan advanced technologies show in the nation’s Chiba prefecture. The robo-cheerleaders shook color changing pom-poms. You can also see the bicyclist robot, named, “Murata Seisaku-kun”, or Murata Boy in the background. (AP)

Colorized composite image of ESA's ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements capture by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Colorized composite image of ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements capture by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

The Context Camera on the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught before-and-after images of two spots that likely appeared in connection with the 10/19/16 arrival of the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander on Mars. Due to technical malfunctions during landing, it is believed the lander crashed into the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The Context Camera on the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught before-and-after images of two spots that likely appeared in connection with the 10/19/16 arrival of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander on Mars. Due to technical malfunctions during landing, it is believed the lander crashed into the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

New blood: The South Pole replacement crew arrives

Posted October 31st, 2016 at 4:16 pm (UTC-5)
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After a week of high winds, blowing snow and general pea-soup conditions, the weather cleared. The sun emerged from its temporary hibernation in a fortress of grey steely clouds, and our ice-crusted visibility markers slowly thawed under an uninterrupted bombardment of photons, screaming through the sky like kamikaze pilots in search of martyrdom.

Our miraculous transformation from a frozen purgatory to a serene, blue-jay summer day took little more than 12 hours. Had I not been asleep, it would have been impressive sight to behold.

The first C130 of the season requires 5 kilometers of visibility, low cross winds and temperatures above minus 50 Celsius.  If conditions change during the flight, the plane will "boomerang" back to McMurdo.

The first C130 of the season requires 5 kilometers of visibility, low cross winds and temperatures above minus 50 Celsius. If conditions change during the flight, the plane will “boomerang” back to McMurdo.

With unrestricted visibility across the Antarctic plateau, “mild” temperatures and a wind softer than a cotton ball’s kiss, the first planes bearing passengers and fresh fruit arrived. New heavy equipment operators—eager to push snow; new utility technicians—filled with an unbridled excitement to fix broken boilers; men without beards; men with professional haircuts and authentic tans; new blood, innocent blood—ready to pick up our slack, replace us and send us packing. “Civilization, here we come!”

Fresh fruit

The apples are fresh and crunchy. They are harder than what I remember. It’s been 9 months since our last delivery, and biting into their firm flesh is nearly as gum-torturing as flossing after a month of foregoing anything related to oral hygiene. I don’t care. The pain is sweet and is drowned out in the perfect natural sweetness and robust texture that can only be found in those divine earthly creations that derive their nourishment from dirt, water and sun.

Bill Lindman, the South Pole Station's winter water plant manager, enjoys his first piece of fresh fruit of the year.

Bill Lindman, the South Pole Station’s winter water plant manager, enjoys his first piece of fresh fruit of the year.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but with these new “plague”-carrying South Pole workers, I’ve upped the ante to three apples and a daily mega-dose of vitamin C. Not only has it been 9 months since I’ve indulged in the merriment of masticating on “freshies,” it’s been an equal length of time since I’ve been exposed to new viruses—coughs, sneezes, colds and chills. The Antarctic Crud, uncaring and fierce, waits in ambush at every handshake, doorknob and galley table.

Crash course on daily duties

Alas, as much as I’d like to hide in my germ-free room until my plane arrives, I cannot. For me, with my replacements on station, it is a hectic time. The next week will be a whirlwind of 10 hour days of training and “pass-down.” Standard operating procedures for each instrument need to be refined, administrative tasks explained, the inner workings of each experiment outlined and illuminated—in short, all the nuances of my job. The fine details of my day-to-day duties need to be translated from an abstract gibberish that makes sense inside my neurotic brain into cohesive instructions that the new Station Chief and Station Technician can absorb, remember and act on.

Unstable weather is common during station opening.  A perfectly clear and windless day is a real rarity.

Unstable weather is common during station opening. A perfectly clear and windless day is a real rarity.

How does one compress a year’s worth of knowledge into a week of overlap? It’s no easy task and after two days of hitting it as hard as a baseball player on steroids, I realize that there is no way I can cover everything. I can take them halfway there and that’s it. An extreme experience awaits them, as it did for me and all my predecessors at the Atmospheric Research Observatory. The days will be cold, the nights eternal and equipment will break. They will suffer through a long 12 months, love each moment of it and ensure the Global Monitoring Division’s mission continues successfully for another year.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Pluto Flyby Data Feed Complete; Nearby Exoplanet May Have Oceans

Posted October 28th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-5)
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NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on 7/14/15. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15.  (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizon’s Sends Final Data of Pluto Flyby

The final bits of data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby of Pluto were received this week by its mission operations center at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

More than 50 gigabytes of observational data was stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since the flyby.

The data has been sent back to Earth in increments over a 15 month period.

Mission officials say part of an observation sequence of Pluto and its largest moon Charon were included in the final data feed.

Traveling at light speed the data made the nearly 50 billion kilometer trip in about five hours.

After conducting a final verification of all received data, mission team members will clear space on the spacecraft’s digital recorders to make room for new data that will be gathered in its upcoming exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

El Nino May Have Helped Settle South Pacific Islands

A team of scientists have found evidence that ancient Pacific sailors took advantage of various climate patterns such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation to travel to and settle on remote islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean some thirty four hundred years ago.

Using computer simulations and climatic data, the researchers found that the mariners who traveled over thousands of kilometers of ocean had to overcome strong currents and hazardous weather to reach the islands.

The researcher’s findings also provided some idea of the point where the sailors began their voyages.

They found that people who settled Western Micronesia probably came from near the Maluku or Spice Islands.

Those who made East Polynesia their new home probably came from Samoa. And, settlers of Hawaii and New Zealand may have come from the Marquesas or Society Islands.

The researchers are still trying to determine exactly what caused the island settlers to leave their original homes.

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. You can also see the better known double star Alpha Centauri AB in the image. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of the exoplanet, which is only 4.2 light years away from Earth on 8/24/16. The planet orbits its star within the habitable zone, where the temperature is said to be suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.  (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

New Findings on Closest Exoplanet to Earth

Back in late August, a team of astronomers announced that they had discovered a small planet orbiting in the habitable, or so-called “Goldilocks” zone of its star, Proxima Centauri, which is a little more than 4 light years away, making it the closest exoplanet to Earth.

A new study expands on the original findings with more details and suggests conditions on Proxima B actually increase the odds of it being habitable.

The researchers say that the nearby exoplanet could be an ocean planet, covered with the same kind of subsurface oceans detected inside a couple of moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Although the exoplanet orbits its star from a relatively close distance, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, and not as bright as our sun, so its habitable zone is closer than it would be for stars like our sun.

The study also finds that the planet has a substantial metal core, and is about 30 percent more massive than Earth.

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Air Pollution and Street Noise Linked to High Blood Pressure

Health issues from asthma, lung cancer, heart disease to reproductive and developmental disorders have long been linked to air pollution.

A new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that air pollution can also be connected to an increased prevalence of high blood pressure.

The study followed over 41,000 people in five countries for five to nine years and investigated the health effects not only air pollution, but also traffic noise.

The research indicates that one additional adult per 100 of the same age group who live in the most polluted areas develops high blood pressure that those who live in less polluted areas.

The study also shows that six percent of those who live on streets with average night time noise levels of 50 decibels or more had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who live on streets with night time noise levels that were lower.

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. The brightness of the planet's faint rings and dark moons has been enhanced for visibility. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Old Data Reveals Possible Mini-Moons Circling Uranus

Data gathered in 1986 by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft is still helping scientists make new discoveries.

University of Idaho researchers say they have found signs of two previously unseen tiny moons or moonlets in the rings of Uranus after studying information from the space probe’s flyby of the planet 30 years ago.

It’s thought the two possible moonlets are between 2 to 7 kilometers in radius, which are smaller than any of the known moons Uranus, but are about the same size as small of the identified moons of Saturn.

The researchers say they found signs of the tiny moons after they noticed that the amount of material in two of the planet’s rings varied occasionally.

Similar observations of Saturn’s rings also revealed similar moon like objects too.

In the 1970’s, rings were found to encircle not only Saturn, but all four of the solar system’s outer gas giant planets including Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.