NASA’s Boomerang-Like Aircraft, Kid Athletes Excel in Class, Citrus and Skin Cancer

Posted July 1st, 2015 at 10:00 pm (UTC+0)
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Boomerang-Like Aircraft Could Help NASA Find Landing Sites on Mars

NASA has built a prototype of what it hopes to be the first aircraft to fly on Mars sometime in the 2020’s. Shaped like a boomerang, the flying wing Prandtl-m will be rather small, with a 61 cm wingspan, and weighing only about 454 grams. The designers are planning to send the drone-like aircraft to Mars in a Cube Sat – a miniaturized satellite. Once deployed in the Martian atmosphere, the aircraft can glide down and land.

NASA plans to use the Prandtl-m to fly around Mars to look for possible landing sites for a future manned mission and send back to Earth detailed high resolution images that could tell scientists about the suitability of those landing sites. NASA is planning to test-launch the Prandtl-m from a high altitude balloon later this year.

 Kids Involved With Sports Programs Do Better in the Classroom

A new study led by scientists at the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Children’s hospital found that encouraging children to participate in structured extracurricular sports can help them develop the discipline needed to be successful in the classroom.

The researchers’ analyzed information provided by the parents and teachers of children enrolled in kindergarten. Scientists monitored children’s extracurricular activities as they grew up and compared their success on the field with their classroom success. They found that by fourth grade, children who participated in a structured sport program were better at following their teacher’s instructions and were able to remain more focused in the classroom than those who didn’t take part in extracurricular sports.

 Citrus Fruits May Make Us More Susceptible to Skin Cancer

A new study published online by the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Journal of Clinical Oncology found that frequent consumption of citrus fruits could be associated with an increased risk of melanoma – skin cancer.

After analyzing the eating patterns of more than 100,000 Americans, the researchers noticed that people who ate or drank citrus products, specifically whole grapefruit and orange juice, at least 1.6 times a day, had 36 percent higher risk of melanoma than those who limited their citrus intake to less than twice a week. Despite the findings, the researchers say it’s too early to recommend changes to people’s citrus consumption.

 ESA’s New Leader Assumes Duties

The European Space Agency – ESA – has a new leader. Johann-Dietrich Woerner who was appointed by the space agency last December, began his new duties as Director General on July 1. He succeeded Jean-Jacques Dordain, the longest-serving Director General, who led ESA since July 2003. Along with overseeing ESA’s ongoing programs and missions, Woerner intends to play an active role in developing the space agency’s plans for the future, which he calls Space 4.0. Before he was appointed to his new position, Woerner served as Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) from March 2007 to June 2015.

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.

June 2015 Science Images

Posted June 29th, 2015 at 6:08 pm (UTC+0)
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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, carrying supplies to the International Space Station, breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida., Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP)

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, carrying supplies to the International Space Station, breaks apart shortly after liftoff at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in  Florida,  June 28, 2015. (AP)

A red aurora as seen from the International Space Station and tweeted by astronaut Scott Kelly on June 22, 2015. (NASA)

A red aurora as seen from the International Space Station and tweeted by astronaut Scott Kelly on June 22, 2015. (NASA)

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition’s walks up stairs made of unstable bricks on June 5, 2015 during DARPA’s (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) recent Robotics Challenge in Pomona, California. (AP)

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition’s ‘Running Man’ robot walks up stairs made of unstable bricks on June 5, 2015 during DARPA’s (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) recent Robotics Challenge in Pomona, California. (AP)

Members of the International Space Station's "Expedition 43" take a rest break shortly after landing safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan on June 11, 2015.  The returning crew members are (L-R) Terry Virts of the U.S., Anton Shkaplerov of Russia and Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy. The trio spent 199 days aboard the space station. (NASA)

Members of the International Space Station’s “Expedition 43″ take a rest break shortly after landing safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan on June 11, 2015. The returning crew members are (L-R) Terry Virts of the U.S., Anton Shkaplerov of Russia and Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy. The trio spent 199 days aboard the space station. (NASA)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew past Saturn’s moon Dione on June 16, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flies past Saturn’s moon Dione on June 16, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung spews volcanic materials and hot molten lava from its crater on June 25, 2015. (AP)

Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung spews volcanic materials and hot molten lava from its crater on June 25, 2015. (AP)

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released on June 26, 2015, shows a planetary nebula named NGC 6153, located about 4,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Scorpius. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

This Hubble Space Telescope image, released on June 26, 2015, shows a planetary nebula named NGC 6153, located about 4,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Scorpius. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The Solar Impulse 2, a solar powered plane can be seen making its approach at Nagoya airport in Japan on June 1, 2015. The airplane, which is only powered by the energy of the Sun, is attempting a 35,000 km round-the-world flight. (Reuters)

The Solar Impulse 2, a solar powered plane, makes its approach at Nagoya airport in Japan on June 1, 2015. The airplane, which is only powered by the energy of the Sun, is attempting a 35,000 km round-the-world flight. (Reuters)

U.S. Navy sailors recover the test vehicle for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii on June 8, 2015.  NASA officials said that the parachute inflated during the test of new technology for landing larger spacecraft on Mars, but it then disintegrated immediately afterward (U.S. Navy)

U.S. Navy sailors recover the test vehicle for NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii on June 8, 2015. NASA officials said the parachute inflated during the test of new technology for landing larger spacecraft on Mars, but it then disintegrated immediately afterward. (U.S. Navy)

Meet Xiomei.   Seen during a demonstration, on June 3, 2015, at a class of China’s Jiujiang University, the robot teacher is able to narrate teaching materials and can respond to several voice orders like "repeat" or "continue". (Reuters)

Meet Xiomei. Seen during a demonstration,on June 3, 2015 at a class of China’s Jiujiang University, the robot teacher is able to narrate teaching materials and can respond to several voice orders like “repeat” or “continue.” (Reuters)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) snapped this image of the sun emitting an M7.9 class mid-level solar flare that peaked at 0816 UTC on June 25, 2015. (NASA/SDO)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) snapped this image of the sun emitting an M7.9 class mid-level solar flare that peaked at 0816 UTC on June 25, 2015. (NASA/SDO)

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.

Slumbering Giant Black Hole Awakes After 26 Years

Posted June 27th, 2015 at 1:00 am (UTC+0)
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Artist’s impression of a black hole feasting on matter from its companion star in a binary system. Material flows from the star towards the black hole and gathers in a disc, where it is heated up, shining brightly at optical, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths before spiralling into the black hole. (ESA/ATG medialab)

Artist’s impression of a black hole feasting on matter from its companion star in a binary system. (ESA/ATG medialab)

Some 8,000 light years from Earth, in the constellation Cygnus, a binary system known as V404 Cygni has come to life for the first time in 26 years.

While most binary systems consist of two stars orbiting a common center of mass, V404 Cygni is made up of a black hole and a star that orbit each other, with the black hole devouring matter from its companion.

In a system like V404 Cygni, material from the star pours out, heads toward the black hole and collects in an accretion disk, a circular object made of material that gathers around a black hole.

The incredibly powerful gravity produced by the black hole heats the disk and causes it to brilliantly shine at optical, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths until it spirals into the black hole and disappears.

But not all of the disk material winds up in the black hole. Scientists said some of it is ejected in the form of two powerful jets of particles

The binary system caught the attention of astronomers on June 15, 2015 when the Burst Alert Telescope, mounted on NASA’s Swift satellite, detected a sudden burst of gamma rays from V404 Cygni.

Once detected, the unexpected blast of extremely high frequency radiation then activated the satellite’s X-ray telescope to begin its observations of V404 Cygni.

A short time later, an X-ray flare originating from the same area as V404 Cygni was spotted by MAXI – Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image, part of the International Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module.

The initial flurry of interest then set off a series of observations from ground-based and space telescopes around the world to monitor the black hole and its companion star at a variety of wavelengths that span the electromagnetic spectrum.

Erik Kuulkers, Integral project scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA), said V404 Cygni’s current behavior astonishes him and his colleagues, particularly its recurring flashes of bright light that last for less than an hour – something rarely seen in other black hole systems.

“In these moments, it becomes the brightest object in the X-ray sky – up to 50 times brighter than the Crab Nebula, normally one of the brightest sources in the high-energy sky,” said Kuulkers in an ESA press release.

Scientists said the last time the V404 Cygni system was as active and bright was back in 1989, when it was observed with the Japanese X-ray satellite Ginga, along with high-energy instruments mounted aboard the Mir space station.

Following that period of activity, the binary system began to quiet down again, allowing astronomers to finally see the black hole’s companion star, which had been obscured by the bright light produced by the outburst.

Referring back to the archival data gathered during the 20th century by various optical telescopes, astronomers found two previous outbursts. One occurred in 1938 and the other in 1956.

Scientists believe that the outbursts are triggered once the sheer amount of material within the surrounding accretion disk forces the black hole to dramatically increase its feeding mechanism – an event that takes place every two or three decades, said the scientists.

“Now that this extreme object has woken up again, we are all eager to learn more about the engine that powers the outburst we are observing,” said Carlo Ferrigno from the Integral Science Data Center at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

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.

Ultra-Dark Galaxies; Exoplanet With Comet-Like Tail; New Dinosaur Species

Posted June 24th, 2015 at 7:52 pm (UTC+0)
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Astronomers Find Huge Treasure Trove of Ultra-Dark Galaxies

U.S. and Japanese researchers have discovered 854 “ultra dark galaxies” located within the Coma Cluster, about 321 million light years from Earth. Dark galaxies are described as those that are totally composed of or are mostly filled with dark matter, which cannot be seen by telescopes. Nevertheless, the existence of dark galaxies can be implied from the gravitational effect dark matter has on visible matter.

Fossils Gathered 80 Years Ago Unearth New Dinosaur

Paleontologists who analyzed dinosaur fossils gathered in South Africa in the late 1930’s have discovered a new, 200-million-year-old dinosaur. Among the more distinctive features found within the fossil samples was a unique cross-like ankle bone. Since the fossils were found in an area about 30 kilometers from the Lesotho border, the new dinosaur was named Sefapanosaurus, from the Sesotho word “sefapano,” which means cross.

Childhood Emotional Adversity Could Lead to Migraines in Adulthood

Canadian scientists have linked childhood emotional distress to migraine headaches in adulthood. The researchers from the University of Toronto said that they found evidence that children who see their parents fighting or have experienced physical and sexual abuse have a better than average chance of experiencing migraine headaches when they grow-up. Men who reported all three adversities were found to have over three times the odds of getting migraine headaches. Women  who reported the same have little less than three times the chance of getting a migraine.

Scientists Find Comet-Like Tail Following Small Exoplanet

Scientists have discovered a “comet-like” tail trailing a Neptune-sized exoplanet 33 light years away. The tail is a cloud of hydrogen escaping from the small exoplanet, identified as GJ 436b. While escaping gas has already been observed in larger gas giant exoplanets, scientists were surprised to see the phenomena on a much smaller planet. The scientists said x-rays from the dwarf red star are burning off the exoplanet’s upper atmosphere, which is creating the hydrogen cloud.

Today’s Racehorses Run Faster than Ancestors

A new study by researchers at UK’s University of Exeter found that today’s racehorses run faster than their ancestors, despite a past scientific studies that indicated the speed of the racehorse has leveled off. The researchers said those past studies used smaller and more selective samples and didn’t include factors such as ground softness. For their new study, the researchers analyzed a large data set of racing records that gave a more detailed overview of thoroughbred performance from the mid 1800’s to 2012.

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.

Pope’s Encyclical Draws Reactions from Climate Change Scientist and Skeptic

Posted June 19th, 2015 at 8:26 pm (UTC+0)
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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP)

Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP)

In the 1600’s, Galileo angered the Roman Catholic Church for supporting the Copernican system that placed the Sun at the center of the solar system, with Earth and other planets circling it. At the time, most people subscribed to the geocentric system, which had Earth at the center of the universe, with the sun, planets and stars in orbit.

And the debate between those who back Darwin’s theory of evolution and those who believe the Earth and all its creatures were created by God still rages today.

Religion and science have had a shaky relationship for centuries.

But on June 18, 2015, they came together in the form of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Praised Be – the Care of the Common Home.

In the encyclical, a letter that’s traditionally sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis issued an urgent warning. He challenged the people of the world to recognize the harm humans continue to inflict on the Earth, take action against it, and take better care of “our common home.”

Pope Francis, who was a chemist before following his call into the priesthood, called for a “new partnership” between religion and science to fight human-driven climate change.

The environmentalist community welcomed and praised the Pope’s letter for entering the conversation on climate change. Those skeptical that climate change is real or linked to human behavior remained unswayed and unimpressed.

To gauge the reaction of both sides of the climate change “conversation” to the encyclical, Science World spoke with climatologist Raymond Bradley at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment and energy policy at Chicago’s Heartland Institute, a think tank that promotes skepticism about man-made climate change.

Bradley said that since the issue of global warming and environmental degradation has become so politicized, it was great to have somebody who has no political agenda speak on the topic.

The climatologist argued that the Pope framed environmental issues as being everybody’s responsibility for the common good – that everybody has to deal with the limited natural resources available on this planet.

“I can’t think of anybody with more moral authority than Pope Francis,” he said.

Bradley believes that Pope Frances presented climate change as a moral and ethical issue. He argued that scientists are confident they know what the problem is and believe there are plenty of technological solutions to address it. But he said politics has prevented that from happening.

Copies of Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si," (Praise Be) are displayed prior to the start of a press conference, at the Vatican, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP)

Copies of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si,” (Praise Be) are displayed prior to the start of a press conference, at the Vatican, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP)

“So what the Pope is saying is let’s consider this as an ethical issue and let’s try to work together to elevate the problem above the petty politics that we seem to deal with all the time,” said Bradley.

But Taylor disagreed, arguing that by saying that current temperatures need to be addressed, the Pope is “missing out on the fact that if you go back over the past several thousand years, temperatures primarily have been warmer than today.”

He said while the Pope’s motives are good, he was getting “bad advice.”

“I believe that these actions [by the Pope] to address global warming are unnecessary and counterproductive,” said the climate change skeptic.

He said most people agree that we should care for our environment and help lift people out of poverty. But he argued that imposing expensive energy sources on people defeats the church’s goal of lifting them out of poverty and will have little, if any, environmental impact.

Forcing people to pay for expensive energy, added Taylor, leaves them with less money for better nutrition, health care, education, housing or whatever else is needed to improve their lives.

Taylor believes the best way for science and religion to come together is to find ways to better the human condition.

The full impact of the encyclical will probably take some time to sink in. But the spiritual leader of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has provided unique insight into the climate change debate and the role we all have in caring for our home planet.

Listen to the interviews with Ray Bradley and James Taylor below.

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.

Science Scanner: Cat Videos Can Help You, Permanent Dust Cloud Surrounds Moon

Posted June 17th, 2015 at 7:10 pm (UTC+0)
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Watching Cat Videos Can Give You a Boost

You can hardly surf the Internet without stumbling across a cat video, and new research suggests those videos could actually be good for you.  Of all the categories of YouTube video content, videos of cats have had more views per video. It’s been suggested that there were more than 2 million cat videos on YouTube in 2014 garnering more than 26 billion views.  Now, Jessica Gall Myrick, an Indiana University Media School researcher, has found that these feline videos do more than merely entertain people.  She says her research shows that they can actually boost the viewer’s energy level, increase positive emotions and reduce negative feelings.

Acidification of Arctic Ocean Could Mean Difficulties for Shellfish

Within 15 years it’s possible that parts of the Arctic Ocean will become so acidic that at certain times of the year, marine animals such as Alaska king crabs will no longer be able to build and maintain the shells they need for survival.  Researchers from NOAA, University of Alaska, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that the increasing acidification is dissolving the calcium carbonate in the Arctic waters.  The sea creature’s shells are mostly composed of this chemical compound.

Earth’s Core Contains 90% of Earth’s Sulfur Supply

A new study has provided evidence that the Earth’s core contains 90 percent of our planet’s sulfur.  The scientists believe that a sizable amount of sulfur-rich liquid formed in the Earth’s mantle – the huge middle layer that surrounds the core – as the result of a planet-sized object crashing into the Earth in the very distant past.  The sulfur eventually sank from the mantle into the core.  A popular theory suggests that the moon was formed as a result of this collision.

Dust Cloud Envelopes Moon

Speaking of the moon, a new study led by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that the moon is surrounded by a permanent cloud of dust that also intensifies from time to time.  Using data from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, the scientists say that the lunar cloud is mostly composed of tiny grains of dust from the lunar surface that had been sent aloft by the impact of high-speed, interplanetary dust particles.

Clue to Possible Life on Mars Found in Meteorites

A group of scientists believes that samples of six meteorites made up of Martian volcanic rock have provided a possible clue in the search for life on Mars.  The scientists said that they found traces of methane after conducting laboratory analysis on the Martian meteorite samples.  Methane is a chemical compound that some microbes here on Earth use as a food source.  The scientists believe that their discovery suggests that the methane could also provide energy to basic life forms that could lie beneath the surface of Mars.  The scientists did not find traces of methane in two other meteorites that didn’t originate from the Red Planet

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.

Poor Sleep Quality Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

Posted June 15th, 2015 at 11:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Blood is pumped into and out of the heart (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Blood is pumped into and out of the heart (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Researchers have found that poor sleep could contribute to increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, are the number one cause of death worldwide, claiming 17 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Sleep disorders are very closely related to the presence of cardiovascular diseases,” said Valery Gafarov, a professor of cardiology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. “However until now, there has not been a population-based cohort study examining the impact of sleep disorders on the development of a heart attack or stroke.”

The 14-year study investigated connections between sleep disturbances and the risk of having a stroke or heart attack as part of the WHO’s major research project, MONICA – Multinational MONItoring of trends and determinants in CArdiovascular disease.

The researchers, who began their work in Novoisbirsk, Russia in 1994, first assessed the sleep quality of 657 men who were 25-64 years-old and didn’t have any history of heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

Sleep quality was measured with the Jenkins Sleep Scale, a gauge for the estimation of sleep problems developed in the mid 1980’s by C. David Jenkins. Those who had very bad, bad or poor ratings were considered to have a sleeping disorder.

Researchers also recorded cases of myocardial infarction and stroke among the study group over the 14-year period.

Nearly two-thirds or 63 percent of the 657 participants who had suffered a heart attack during the study period also had a sleeping disorder.

Men who had a sleeping disorder were 2 to 2.6 times at a higher risk of having a heart attack and 1.5 to 4 times more at risk of suffering a stroke than those without a sleeping disorder.

Gafarov said the highest incidents of heart attack or stroke among those with sleeping disorders affected widowed or divorced individuals and those who had not finished secondary school and had jobs that required medium-to-heavy manual labor.

“Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet,” said Gafarov. “Guidelines should add sleep as a risk factor to recommendations for preventing cardiovascular disease.”

Sleeping disorders have also been closely linked with depression, anxiety and hostility.

Gafarov, who presented the findings at the EuroHeartCare 2015 medical conference in Dubronik, Croatia, said quality sleep for most people means getting between 7-8 hours of rest each night. He recommended that those who aren’t sleeping well should speak to their doctor.

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.

Astronomers Image Birth of a Planetary Nebula in Sharp Detail

Posted June 11th, 2015 at 1:52 pm (UTC+0)
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Image of the birth of planetary nebula surounding red giant star L2 Puppis.  Astronomers at the ESO used a special optical and imaging device mounted on its Very Large Telescope (ESO/P. Kervella)

Image of the birth of planetary nebula surounding red giant star L2 Puppis. Astronomers at the ESO used a special optical and imaging device mounted on its Very Large Telescope (ESO/P. Kervella)

For the first time ever, a team of astronomers have captured stunning pictures of one of the universe’s most impressive sights: the birth of a bipolar ‘planetary nebula.’

The scientists gathered the images of nebula surrounding L2 Puppis using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope or VLT, in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. A planetary nebula is a cloud of ionized gas that’s been expelled by a red giant or dying star.

The astronomers compared the bipolar or twin lobed planetary nebula to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

L2 Puppis and is 200 light years away, one of the closest red giants to Earth.

The new images of L2 Puppis also show a nearby but dimmer companion star.  It’s believed that this companion star, located about 300 million kilometers from L2 Puppis, is also a red giant, but is much smaller and younger.

The ESO team thinks that the combination of an enormous quantity of dust, circling a star in its final stages of dying and is accompanied by a companion star, are the factors needed to form bipolar planetary nebulae.

Telescope enclosures of ESO's Very Large Telescope located in Chile. (ESO/H. Heyer)

Telescope enclosures of ESO’s Very Large Telescope located in Chile. (ESO/H. Heyer)

“The origin of bipolar planetary nebulae is one of the great classic problems of modern astrophysics, especially the question of how, exactly, stars return their valuable payload of metals back into space – an important process, because it is this material that will be used to produce later generations of planetary systems,” said Pierre Kervella lead author of a paper outlining the astronomer’s findings.

The ESO astronomers were able to make their discovery by using the ZIMPOL – Zurich IMaging POLarimeter – a subsystem of the SPHERE – Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research – a unique optical enhancement instrument that’s attached to the VLT.  The SPHERE instrument uses a variety of advanced techniques, often used in combination, to produce detailed views of dust discs and exoplanets.

According to ESO, the SPHERE, operating in its ZIMPOL mode, can generate images that are three times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The paper outlining the astronomer’s findings has been published by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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.

Science Scanner: Monster Galaxy; Mars Missions On Vacation

Posted June 8th, 2015 at 11:45 pm (UTC+0)
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Monster Galaxy Found Near Edge of Universe

A group of researchers imaged a “monstrous galaxy” – SDP.81, located some 11.7 billion light-years from Earth, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and a natural magnification method called “gravitational lensing.”

The researchers used the gravity of a massive galaxy 3.4 billion light-years away to magnify the image of the galaxy located in the far reaches of the known universe.

Most of the World’s Population Has at Least One Health Problem

A new in-depth analysis from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) shows that 95 percent of the world’s population – more than 7 billion people – had health problems in 2013.

One third of the global population experienced more than five ailments during that year.

The researchers, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, warned that with a growing world population and an increased proportion of elderly people, the percentage of people living with less than perfect health is set to rise dramatically in the coming decades.

Building the Perfect Bonfire

The most efficient way to construct a fire is the one people have used for thousands of years, according to new research conducted by Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University.

Writing in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports, Bejan advised that wood and kindling should be stacked in pyramid fashion and that the pyramid should be as high as it is wide.

Curiosity, Other Mars Mission Take Time Out

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has given the Curiosity rover and its other Mars missions a vacation.

Right now, the sun is somewhere between Mars and Earth – a phenomenon known as the Mars solar conjunction that disrupts communication between the two planets.

So to prevent any possible harm to its Mars orbiters and rovers as a result of any possible miscommunication between the Red Planet and Earth, NASA temporarily stopped sending any operational commands to Mars from Sunday June 7 to June 21.

Study Shows May Births Have Lower Disease Risk

Scientists from Columbia University recently discovered links between disease risk and a person’s birth month.

The researchers created a computer algorithm that analyzed various medical databases in New York City and linked 55 diseases with the season of a person’s birth.

Writing in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, the research team said their study showed that people who were born in May had the lowest risk of disease, while those born five months later in October had the highest disease risk.

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.

Pluto Moons Dance in Chaotic Orbit

Posted June 5th, 2015 at 3:50 pm (UTC+0)
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This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon. (NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI))

This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon. (NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI))

Pluto and its moons seem to be engaged in a kind of chaotic dance routine with each other.

After a thorough analysis of data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA scientists found that Nix and Hydra – two of Pluto’s five known moons – are wobbling and behaving erratically as they orbit the distant dwarf planet.

The scientists believe that the moons may be embedded within what has been described as a dynamically shifting gravitational field. Another factor could be their elliptical shape.

The gravitational field is generated by Pluto and its moon Charon because both orbit a common center of gravity. Charon is so large that it is considered by some to be Pluto’s twin planet.

Although further study is needed, scientists also believe that Kerberos and Styx – the other two moons of Pluto – may be moving in a similar manner.

NASA believes that the newly observed mayhem Pluto, Charon and its other four moons generate might provide scientists with a better understanding of the behavior of exoplanets in a binary star system.

While Hubble’s data analysis provided fresh evidence about the strange behavior of the moons, NASA said its New Horizons spacecraft, which will fly by the planet in July, will provide a better opportunity to observe Pluto, its moons, and their relationship with each other.

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.