Bed-In for Science; Microbes Abound in House Dust ; Twin Black Holes Power Quasar

Posted August 28th, 2015 at 7:43 pm (UTC+0)
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Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

ESA Experiment Will Send a Dozen Men to Bed for 60 Days

How would you like to spend the next 60 days in bed?  That’s what the European Space Agency is asking 12 men to do, all in the name of science.

The first members of this group of a dozen will hit the sack for two months starting 9/9/15.

The bed-in, according to ESA, is a part of the research they’re conducting so that they could learn how to stop the wasting effects of spaceflight on the body.

Although the experiment may sound like a cozy and relaxing time for the volunteers, ESA says that it will not be as a restful of an experience as it sounds.

This isn’t the first bedrest study arranged by the ESA, the space agency held others that were of various lengths and included both men and women.  Among the past research conducted included learning about effects of spaceflight on bone loss and changes in blood flow so that methods to counteract those issues can be developed.

What household dust looks like under a microscope. (NIAID)

What household dust looks like under a microscope. (NIAID)

Dust and Grime in a Home Can Reveal Details of its Occupants

Scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder and North Carolina State University have found that the dust and grime that’s been collecting in your home can tell a lot about you.

The researchers found out that dust, bacteria and fungi in your house can not only reveal what geographic area you live in but also whether you have a pet and the gender ratio of those living in your home.

The researchers recruited occupants from around 1,200 homes throughout the continental United States who collected indoor and outdoor test samples at their homes.

After reviewing the samples, the researchers found that each of the homes they studied had, on average, more than 5,000 different species of bacteria and about 2,000 species of fungi.

The researchers found that samples of fungi taken from the homes revealed its location while the bacterial samples offered evidence about the identity of its occupants.

Artistic illustration of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231. (NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI))

Artistic illustration of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231. (NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI))

Nearest Quasar to Earth Powered by Binary Black Hole

American and Chinese astronomers, studying data from the Hubble Space Telescope, have discovered the nearest quasar to Earth.

This bright and powerful mass of energy and light is located in the Markarian 231 or MRK 231 galaxy about 600 million light years from Earth and is powered by two black holes wildly whirling around each other.

One of the black holes is larger than its companion and has an estimated mass that’s about 150 million times the mass of our sun.  The mass of smaller black hole is about 4 million solar masses.  The astronomers say that it takes about 1.2 years for the two black holes to orbit each other.

The astronomers believe that the smaller black hole is actually a left over from a smaller galaxy that merged with the Markarian 231 galaxy.

It’s expected that in about a few hundred thousand years the two black holes will spin and crash into each other.

Human brain (NIH)

Human brain (NIH)

Researchers Replicate Less Than 50% of Published Psychological Studies

Some 270 researchers from all over the world who are members of the Reproducibility Project: Psychology got together to conduct an enormous experiment to see if they could duplicate 100 research findings that had been published in three major psychology journals.

The large group of independent researchers, who worked at various sites with multiple criteria, found that they could only duplicate less than 50% of the original published findings.

The group says that the results of their work could cause some to doubt the legitimacy of the original published findings or it may an indication of just how difficult it can be to perform successful replications of psychological studies that produce the same results.

“Scientific evidence does not rely on trusting the authority of the person that made the discovery.  Rather, credibility accumulates through independent replication and elaboration of the ideas and evidence,” said project member Angela Attwood from The UK’s University of Bristol.

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.

Stephen Hawking: There May Be a Way Out of a Black Hole

Posted August 26th, 2015 at 4:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Nobel physics laureate Gerard 't Hooft, of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, confers with Stephen Hawking after the Cambridge professor presented his solution to the information loss paradox. Hawking is in town for a weeklong conference on the information loss paradox, which is co-hosted by Nordita at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (Håkan Lindgren/KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Nobel physics laureate Gerard ‘t Hooft, of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, confers with Stephen Hawking after the Cambridge professor presented his solution to the information loss paradox. Hawking is in town for a weeklong conference on the information loss paradox, which is co-hosted by Nordita at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (Håkan Lindgren/KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Yesterday, renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, speaking to attendees of a conference being held at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, proposed a new idea that addresses a forty-year old cosmological mystery called the Black Hole Information Paradox.

Simply put, the basis for the paradox is the conflict between quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity. In involves the fate of the physical information of an object once it enters a black hole.

The theory of general relativity suggests that this information would be permanently destroyed and lost after entering the black hole.  However this theory would actually violate the laws of quantum mechanics that information cannot be lost.

Hawking told the conference attendees that rather than actually swallowing and destroying this information, a black hole at its event horizon – the boundary where its gravitational pull becomes so great that nothing, not even light, can escape – encodes it within two dimensional holograms, called super translations.

A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

“The idea is the super translations are a hologram of the ingoing particles,” said Hawking in a press release from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. “Thus they contain all the information that would otherwise be lost.”

Hawking said that the information is emitted within quantum fluctuations – short variations in the level of energy within a point in space that are produced by black holes.  However, this form of information, according to Hawking, is in a “chaotic, useless form.” “For all practical purposes the information is lost,” he said.

While it’s generally thought that nothing can escape the powerful gravity of a black hole, Hawking, during an earlier lecture, suggested that the remaining information may have a way out.

“The existence of alternative histories with black holes suggests this might be possible,” Hawking said. “The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe,” he said.

(KTH Royal Institute of Technology)
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.

Researchers Map Plastic Debris in Pacific Ocean

Posted August 24th, 2015 at 7:19 pm (UTC+0)
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Plastic ocean debris littering Hawaiian shoreline. Hawaii is located near the center of the North Pacific gyre where debris tends to concentrate. (NOAA)

Plastic ocean debris littering Hawaiian shoreline. Hawaii is located near the center of the North Pacific gyre where debris tends to concentrate. (NOAA)

A team of volunteers, sailing in a flotilla of some thirty vessels, has successfully completed its month long research expedition through the western portion of the infamous Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

The first group of boats from the 30 vessel fleet, along with the Ocean Starr, a former NOAA research vehicle which served as the expedition’s “mother ship”, ended their journey when they sailed into in the port of San Francisco on Sunday, 8/23/15.

The Dutch environmental organization founded by Boylan Slat, called the Ocean Cleanup conducted its Mega Expedition Reconnaissance Mission through the massive collection of marine debris so that it could gather data to find out how much plastic is actually floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Nearly 8 million tons of plastic, mostly from land enters the ocean every year said a recent study.

Researchers say that portions of this huge collection of plastic, along with other forms of marine debris, gathers in five areas of the world’s oceans where the currents meet called the gyres.

A 2014 study found that currently there are at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the oceans with about third of it concentrated in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The impacts of plastic pollution include harm to the environment, economy and human health.

The Ocean Cleanup's Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr is shown here deploying the two 6 meter-wide ‘mega nets’, two ‘manta trawls’, and its survey balloon with camera at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Skyframes)

The Ocean Cleanup’s Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr is shown here deploying the two 6 meter-wide ‘mega nets’, two ‘manta trawls’, and its survey balloon with camera at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Skyframes)

About one million seabirds and one-hundred thousand marine mammals die every year due to plastic pollution, according to a 1997 study.

Toxic chemicals that are found in and can be amplified by the plastic pollutants enter the human daily diet through fish and other edible sea creatures who consume plastic polluted food.

Health effects that have been tied to these food borne chemicals include cancer, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.

The Ocean Cleanup group plans to use the gathered data to create the first high-resolution map of plastic in the Pacific as well as to help in the preparation for the organization’s large scale ocean cleanup project that’s planned for 2020.

The thirty vessels sailed in parallel with each other over a 3.6 million square kilometer course in the Pacific Ocean. Over the month long period, the boats made around fifty crossings between the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii to conduct surveys on the amount of plastic they came across.

Map showing the 50 transects the Mega Expedition will perform based on routing information provided by the skippers before they left port.   Copyright: The Ocean Cleanup ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Lys-Anne Sirks)

Map showing the 50 transects the Mega Expedition will perform based on routing information provided by the skippers before they left port.
Copyright: The Ocean Cleanup ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Lys-Anne Sirks)

The expedition used a variety of measurement techniques to gather data.  Each of the boats towed a trawling net so that they could sample some of the smaller debris floating in the ocean. They tallied the larger pieces of debris with a special smart phone application called “The Ocean Cleanup survey app.”

To study large objects like ghost nets – fishing nets lost or left in the ocean – and debris from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, the researchers also used an aerial camera system and giant nets that were aboard the Ocean Starr mothership.

According to a report from the Associated Press, most of the trash found by the expedition, including a one ton fishing net, were in medium to large pieces.

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.

Asteroid Rumor Not True; Celestial Fireworks; Daycare Doesn’t Make Children Agressive

Posted August 21st, 2015 at 7:56 pm (UTC+0)
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Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

NASA: There is No Truth Behind Asteroid Online Rumor

The internet has been abuzz with a now viral rumor that life on Earth will be wiped out by a massive asteroid strike some time near the end of September.

Numerous recent blogs and web postings are erroneously claiming that an asteroid will impact Earth, sometime between Sept. 15 and 28, 2015. On one of those dates, as rumors go, there will be an impact — “evidently” near Puerto Rico — causing wanton destruction to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America.

The folks at NASA beg to differ, and have had to come out with a statement they hope will diffuse this rumor of doom.

“There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in a NASA press release.

The NASA office that keeps watch on potentially dangerous incoming objects says that they not only haven’t seen any asteroids or comets that would smack into the Earth anytime in the foreseeable future but all known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids have less than a 0.01% chance of colliding with our planet within the next 100 years.

Children in daycare (meddygarnet/creative commons)

Children in daycare (meddygarnet/creative commons)

Study: Daycare Has Little Effect on a Child’s Aggression

A new study recently published in Psychological Science may bring a measure of relief to those who send their children to daycare.

Researchers followed a thousand Norwegian kids who were sent to childcare, and found that the amount of time the children spent at daycare were no more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior than children who were raised at home.

The researchers plan next to study the positive effects of day care on children’s learning and language development.

 Image of the "bull's eye" collision (Ivan Bojicic/the scientific team)


Image of the “bull’s eye” collision (Ivan Bojicic/the scientific team)

Astronomers Spot Spectacular Display of Celestial Fireworks

Astronomers from the University of Manchester (England) and the University of Hong Kong say that a collision between two small nearby galaxies they’ve spotted is producing an incredibly colorful celestial fireworks display.

The researchers say that this so-called “bull’s eye collision” between the two galaxies of similar mass is taking place about 30 million light years away from Earth near the Milky Way.

A bull’s eye collision has been described as one galaxy blasting through the center or bull’s eye of another galaxy like a cannon shot.

The incredible display, which the astronomers say resembles a firework called a “Catherine Wheel” or pinwheel, is made possible after collision shockwaves squeeze supplies of gas from each of the galaxies. This process sparks the creation of new stars which produces a cosmic ring of powerful emissions that illuminates the now combined star system.

Although collisions help a number of galaxies, the astronomers say that it is quite rare to observe one as its taking place. The “bull’s-eye” galactic collision they discovered is even rarer to catch while in progress.

New study shows that yawning helps cool the brain (Andrew Gallup)

(Andrew Gallup)

Psychopaths Less Likely to “Catch Yawns”

If you see someone yawn it’s most likely that you’ll yawn too.  This phenomenon is often referred to a “contagious yawning” and has been associated with feelings of empathy and bonding.

Now scientists at Baylor University in Texas have found that people with psychopathic traits are less likely to be affected by contagious yawning.

Those with psychopathic traits aren’t as empathetic, unable to feel guilt or remorse and tend to be quite cunning and manipulative without a regard for others.

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.

Playing Tetris May Help Addicts Reduce Cravings

Posted August 17th, 2015 at 10:15 pm (UTC+0)
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Example of a Tetris game, from JsTetris version (Cezary Tomczak, Maxime Lorant via Wikimedia Commons)

Example of a Tetris game, from JsTetris version (Cezary Tomczak, Maxime Lorant via Wikimedia Commons)

Could playing a classic block-shifting puzzle video game help drug addicts and compulsive eaters overcome, or at least reduce, their addictions or their obsession with food?

Psychologists in the U.K. and Australia said that they found playing Tetris can weaken cravings for things such as drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, food and drugs, as well as such pursuits as sex and sleeping by as much as twenty percent.

Thirty-one undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 27 were recruited by the researchers at Plymouth University, England and Queensland University of Technology, Australia, as the experiment subjects.

The volunteers were randomly sent text message prompts seven times throughout a day, over a seven day test period, asking them to report any cravings they were feeling at that time.  They were also urged to report any other cravings they had at other times of the day, as well.

Fifteen of the thirty-one volunteers who reported cravings were then were told to play Tetris on an iPod for three minutes.  Following game-play the subjects again reported their craving levels.

The researchers found that about thirty percent of all the text prompts were responded to with reports containing levels of craving.

Sixty-six percent of those reported cravings were for food and non-alcoholic drinks.  Twenty-one percent were for various substances such as drugs, coffee, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages like wine and beer.  Sixteen percent of the craving response were for various activities such as hanging out with friends, playing video games or engaging in sexual activity.

The researchers, who outlined their findings in a paper published by the journal Addictive Behaviors, said that playing Tetris helped study participants decrease their craving levels for food, drugs and various activities from seventy percent down to fifty-six percent.

“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity, said Jackie Andrade, an author of the paper and a professor at the School of Psychology in a college release.

“Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time,” he said.

Playing Tetris on a smartphone (Plymouth University/Lloyd Russell)

Playing Tetris on a smartphone (Plymouth University/Lloyd Russell)

The researchers also said that they found the impact of Tetris game playing on craving was consistent with all types of cravings – food, drugs and activities – throughout the entire week long testing period.

“People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off, reported Jon May, a co-author of the paper and also a professor at Plymouth University. “This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it,” he added.

The researchers said that while their findings show that playing games such as Tetris could prove to be a useful tool for helping people control their cravings, further research and testing are needed, especially for those addicted to drugs.

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.

Scientists Find Jupiter’s Younger Sibling

Posted August 15th, 2015 at 4:45 am (UTC+0)
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An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eridani b (Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute)

An artistic conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet, 51 Eridani b (Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute)

A group of scientists have discovered a new exoplanet they say resembles a young Jupiter.

Called 51 Eridani b, the gas giant is about 100 light years away, has twice the mass of Jupiter, orbits its star – 51 Eridani – at a distance comparable to between Saturn and Uranus in our solar system and is a youthful 20 million years old.  By comparison, the Earth, Sun and most other objects in our solar system are around 4.5 – 4.6 billion years old.

The scientists outlined their findings in a new paper published in the August 13th online edition of the journal, Science.

“This planet really could have formed the same way Jupiter did; the whole solar system could be a lot like ours,” said the paper’s lead author Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The light from this alien planet is very faint to begin with and with its host star glowing about a three million times brighter it would have been difficult to make the discovery without special equipment.

This image of planet 51 Eridani b was taken with the Gemini Planet Imager in near-infrared light in December 2014. (Julien Rameau (UdeM) and Christian Marois (NRC Herzberg))

This image of planet 51 Eridani b was taken with the Gemini Planet Imager in near-infrared light in December 2014. (Julien Rameau (UdeM) and Christian Marois (NRC Herzberg))

The scientists were able to pick up on the faint planet and overcome the blinding luminosity of its star by using a specially designed device called Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI.

The GPI can make observations of faint objects because of its ability can mask the light from nearby stars.

The device was installed in 2013 on the 8 meter Gemini South Telescope in central Chile.

Being such a young planet, 51 Eridani b is still releasing a lot of energy and heat from its formation.

Since the GPI can take images over a wide range of wavelengths the scientists were able to directly detect the exoplanet in near infrared light produced by that radiating heat and energy.

The exoplanet has a temperature of about 430°C.  While this temperature is incredibly hot and can still melt lead - 327.5°C, the planet is actually kind of chilly compared to other gas giants, that usually have temperatures above 540°C.

The scientists say that this newly found exoplanet is most like a planet from our own solar system that has ever been directly imaged around another star.

Up until this discovery other the only other gas giant exoplanets that had been detected directly were much large in size; between five to thirteen times the mass of Jupiter.

The GPI is also equipped with a newly developed spectrometer that revealed the presence of water and that 51 Eridani b is surrounded by the highest concentration of methane that has ever been detected on an exoplanet. Previously discovered Jovian exoplanets have shown only faint hints of methane.

The scientists say that their discovery could provide valuable clues to help gain a better understanding of how our solar system’s planets formed around the sun billions of years ago.

Discovery of Young Jupiter Exoplanet (Gemini Observatory)

 

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.

Universe Dying?; Seals Use Voice Recognition; Bacteria Helps Smokers Quit

Posted August 13th, 2015 at 2:42 pm (UTC+0)
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Astronomers Say our Universe is Dying

Is our universe slowly dying?  An international group of astronomers, who studied more than 200,000 galaxies and precisely measured the energy produced within a large portion of the cosmos, have confirmed that a section of the Universe is generating about half as much energy as it did two billion years ago.

Furthermore, the astronomers, using many of the world’s most powerful ground based telescopes and three space based telescopes, said that it the most complete assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

Scientists have known that the energy of the Universe is slowly fading away since the late 1990’s, but the new study provides new details that it’s taking place across all wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, from the ultraviolet to the far infrared.

The research team recently presented their findings at the International Astronomical Union’s 29th General Assembly held from August 3 – 14 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Male Elephant Seals Develop Voice Recognition

Pity the male elephant seal who tries to find a female mate during breeding season.

The competition for a lady elephant seal’s attention, among the male population, is pretty stiff to say the least.

The males call attention to themselves with a lot of arguing and posturing among themselves

While somewhat rare, violent and bloody fights do break out between opponents vying for the affection of a particular female.

But a new study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz has found that the males learn to recognize the unique call of their adversaries so that they can decide whether they should engage in a brutal fight or avoid confrontation by fleeing.

It turns out that these calls communicate a male elephant seal’s status in the dominance hierarchy.

The researchers said that the call of an individual male is very distinctive and the sound is always the same, regardless of the situation.

Astronomers Identify Smallest Supermassive Black Hole

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole (SMBH) ever detected.

Small and supermassive…isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? Well, not really.

Scientists who made the identification say that this SMBH, called RGG 118, may be small in size but contains enough mass that allows it to behave like those that are bigger and in some cases much bigger in size.

Originally discovered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, RGG 118 is located in the center of dwarf galaxy some 340 million light years away and has about 50,000 times the mass of the sun.

The astronomers said that their discovery may provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies some 13 billion years or more in the past.

Bacteria May Soon Help Smokers Quit

If you’re a smoker, who has been trying to quit, you already know just how hard dropping the tobacco habit can be.  You may have tried going ‘cold turkey’, used smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum and patches or methods such as hypnotism and acupuncture, but you remain addicted.

But soon there just might be another weapon in your arsenal to fight your smoking habit: bacteria. Yes, scientists are finding that little microorganisms like those that can make great tasting yogurt or make you quite sick might someday help you quit smoking.

Writing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers at California’s Scripp’s Research Institute have reported success with bacteria that thrive on nicotine.

After conducting lab tests on mice, they found that NicA2, an enzyme found in the bacteria called Pseudomonas putida, broke down all the nicotine contained in various blood samples within 30 minutes. The scientists believe that this bacterial enzyme could possibly blunt the effects of this highly addictive chemical compound in humans.

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 Sunspot Index Breaks Link Between Solar Activity and Climate Change

Posted August 11th, 2015 at 2:42 pm (UTC+0)
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Large field-of-view image of sunspots. The image has been colored yellow for aesthetic reasons. (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

Large field-of-view image of sunspots. The image has been colored yellow for aesthetic reasons. (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences)

A newly updated analysis of sunspot numbers over the last 400 years suggests solar activity has nothing to do with climate change, a discovery that eliminates a key argument used by those who question human caused climate change.

Some of those who suggest that climate change is not anthropogenic in nature contend that changes in the sun’s activity are responsible for any increase or decrease in global temperatures.

Scientists have been tracking that solar activity within the sun’s solar cycle by counting sunspots for years.

For the last 160 years scientists have relied on the Wolf Sunspot Number (WSN) – also called the International sunspot number, relative sunspot number, or Zürich number – to count the number of sunspots present on the surface of the sun.

Use of the WSN, since its introduction by Rudolph Wolf in 1856, has allowed scientists to develop a historical record of solar activity over time.

But in 1994 scientists began to question whether the WSN was an accurate method to build a reliable index of historical sunspot records.

Since telescope technology before modern times wasn’t as advanced as today the scientists thought that perhaps some smaller sunspots were being missed in the count.

So, a new counting method called the Group Sunspot Number (GSN) was created by Douglas Hoyt and Ken Schatten in 1994 and introduced in 1998.

Creators of this new way of counting sunspots said that they were able to add to amount of available sunspot data since it included measurements made further back into the sunspot historical record by Galileo, Thomas Harriot and Christoph Scheiner.

However there are huge discrepancies between the WSN and GSN for sunspot measurements made before 1885 and around 1945.  This has become a contentious issue among scientists for some time.

One of the links between solar activity and climate change that’s often cited by the non-believers of human caused climate change is a time period called the Maunder Minimum.

A drawing of the Sun made by Galileo Galilei on 23 June 1613 showing the positions and sizes of a number of sunspots. Galileo was one of the first to observe and document sunspots. (The Galileo Project/M. Kornmesser)

A drawing of the Sun made by Galileo Galilei on 23 June 1613 showing the positions and sizes of a number of sunspots. Galileo was one of the first to observe and document sunspots. (The Galileo Project/M. Kornmesser)

During the Maunder Minimum, which took place between 1645 and 1715, scientists noticed fewer sunspots on the sun’s surface.  Winters throughout this time were also unusually harsh.

Some scientists have said that following the end of the Maunder Minimum, which was also the beginning of the industrial revolution, a new period of increased solar activity began.

This period of increased solar activity, which is said to have peaked in the late 20th century with the Modern Grand Maximum, also happened to coincide with a rise in global temperatures.

While the GSN index reflected this pattern of increased solar activity the WSN didn’t show such a pattern.

A group of scientists led by Frédéric Clette, Director of the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations program at the World Data Center, Ed Cliver from the National Solar Observatory and Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University have found that the discrepancies between the WSN and GSN were due to a major calibration error in the Group Sunspot Number.

So scientists reconciled and recalibrated the sunspot index which has eliminated the discrepancies between the WSN and GSN.

The resulting new sunspot index called the Sunspot Number Version 2.0, which also includes the older historical data of the GSN, shows that solar activity has been constant over the past few centuries without any noteworthy long-term upward trends in solar activity since 1700.

This means that any rise in global temperatures since the beginning of the industrial revolution or end of the Maunder Minimum cannot be attributed to an increase in solar activity.

The scientists presented their new sunspot index at the International Astronomical Union’s 29th General Assembly being held in Honolulu, Hawaii through August 14th.

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.

NASA Camera Snaps Images of the Moon Crossing Face of The Earth

Posted August 8th, 2015 at 1:30 am (UTC+0)
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This animation features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth. (NASA/NOAA)

This animation features actual satellite images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) and telescope, and the Earth. (NASA/NOAA)

Since the beginning of the space age more than 50 years ago, NASA, the U.S. space agency, has provided the world with spectacular images of our planet, solar system and universe.

Now, NASA has just released an amazing ‘animated gif’ (see above) that shows the moon as it moves across of the sunlit side of Earth.

The images that were used to produce the gif were taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the NASA/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  They were taken from the satellite’s position between the sun and Earth at a distance of about 1,609,344 kilometers.

“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland in a press release. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

The key mission for the DSCOVR satellite will allow NOAA to monitor the solar wind in real-time so that the U.S. agency can provide advanced warnings of above average amounts of high-energy particles produced by the sun.

Powerful bursts of these high-energy particles can impact items such as power grids, communications systems, and satellites orbiting close to Earth.

DSCOVR Mission's EPIC Instrument - Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (NASA/DSCOVR)

DSCOVR Mission’s EPIC Instrument – Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (NASA/DSCOVR)

EPIC is a four megapixel CCD (charge-coupled device) camera and telescope mounted on the DSCOVR satellite.

The device continuously keeps the fully lit Earth in its sights as our home planet rotates on its axis.

NASA says that EPIC will provide scientists with observations of Earth’s ozone, vegetation, cloud height, as well as atmospheric aerosols – tiny particles of material suspended in the atmosphere.

Each image taken by EPIC is shot through filters that cover 10 narrowband channels of the spectral band from ultraviolet to near infrared.

The ‘natural color’ pictures of Earth, according to the space agency, are produced by EPIC, with a combination of three distinct monochrome images – red, green and blue – that are taken in quick succession.

NASA says that once EPIC begins to make its regular observations, scheduled for some time next month, it will post color images to a special website.

The images, taken daily, will show different views of a rotating Earth and will be available to the public some 12 to 36 hours after EPIC sends them back to Earth.

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.

Pancreatic Cancer Test; Bonobos Talk Like Babies; Yeast Cleans Toxic Waste

Posted August 5th, 2015 at 8:10 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Simple Urine Test for Pancreatic Cancer Possible

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that high levels of three specific proteins in urine can indicate early-stage pancreatic cancer.

They say that their discovery could lead to an inexpensive and noninvasive test to screen people who are at high risk of developing the disease, which is almost always fatal.

The research team at Bart’s Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London found that the particular three-protein ‘signature’ can detect the most common form of pancreatic cancer when still in its early stages.

World’s Glaciers Melting Faster Than Ever

A new study shows that the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever.

An international team of researchers led by the World Glacier Monitoring Service have completed a comprehensive analysis of data on global glacial changes for the last 120 years.

The researchers at the University of Zurich find that glaciers today are losing between one half to one meter of ice thickness each year.

Even if climate remains stable, the study indicates that glaciers in many parts of the world will very likely suffer further ice loss.

Bonobos Make Sounds Like Human Infants

A new study provides evidence that bonobos, our closest relatives in the animal world, can vocalize in a way that is similar to human infants.

After conducting their study on wild bonobos, researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, found that these primates produce a call type, they call the ‘peep.’

Their research indicated that the sound of the bonobos ‘peeps’ varied depending on context, such those made when alarmed, during feeding, traveling, resting or grooming.

These sound variations were found to be similar to those made by human infants.

New Yeast Strain Could Help Toxic Waste Cleanup

Russian microbiologists have found that a new strain of yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica Y-3492 was quite effective in treating waste water that contain certain chemical compounds.

Conducting their research at peat bogs in Western Siberia, the scientists from Kazan Federal University found that this new yeast strain was effective in eliminating nitro compounds. These organic nitro compounds are commonly used in such products as explosives, herbicides, insecticides, polymers, dyes, and some medications.

The scientists focused on a waste product called trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is known to be a serious health threat.

High amounts of this nitro compound waste are produced by industries such as oil refineries and military equipment manufacturers.

Study: Religious Affiliation Low in Areas With Beautiful Weather and Scenery

Can being surrounded with beautiful weather and scenery make you less likely to join a religious congregation?

Researchers from Baylor University, a Christian school in Texas, have found that U.S. counties that have more beautiful weather and scenery also happen to have lower numbers of people affiliated with religious groups.

Beautiful weather and surroundings, according to the researchers, could be providing the kind of ‘spiritual resources’ to people that may be actually competing with traditional religious groups.

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.