Science Images for September, 2014

Posted September 29th, 2014 at 7:23 pm (UTC+0)
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The colorful fish (Pterophyllum Scalare var.) glowing in this aquarium have been genetically-engineered.   The fish were on display from September 12th through September 15th at the 2014 Taiwan Aquarium Expo in Taipei September 12, 2014.  (Reuters)

The colorful fish (Pterophyllum Scalare var.) glowing in this aquarium have been genetically-engineered. The fish were on display from September 12th through September 15th at the 2014 Taiwan Aquarium Expo in Taipei September 12, 2014. (Reuters)

The Soyuz TMA-14M rocket carrying three new crewmembers to the International Space Station launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. (NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)

The Soyuz TMA-14M rocket carrying three new crewmembers to the International Space Station launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. (NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)

Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted on Saturday, September 27, 2014.  Here you can see smoke rising from the volcano, located in central Japan.  On Sunday, September 28, 2014, local officials and media said that four hikers were confirmed dead and an additional 27 bodies had been found on the mountain. (Reuters/Kyodo)

Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Here you can see smoke rising from the volcano, located in central Japan. On Sunday local officials and media said that four hikers were confirmed dead and an additional 27 bodies had been found on the mountain. (Reuters/Kyodo)

The sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft during a training flight at its base in Payerne, Switzerland on September 27, 2014.  The solar plane will attempt an around the world flight in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)

Here’s the sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft during a training flight near its base in Payerne, Switzerland on September 27, 2014. The solar plane will attempt an around the world flight in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)

A man attending the opening of the second annual Bulletproof Biohacking Conference tries out a gyro device on September 26, 2014.  The conference being held in California features innovative technology that optimizes a human’s mental and physical performance. (Reuters)

A man attending the opening of the second annual Bulletproof Biohacking Conference tries out a gyro device on September 26, 2014. The conference being held in California features innovative technology that optimizes a human’s mental and physical performance. (Reuters)

These parabolic mirrors are tracking the sun at a research facility in Israel’s Negev desert on September 9, 2014. The solar power company Brenmiller Energy said that their unique new system of parabolic mirrors can provide a more efficient way to store heat from the sun and will allow thermal solar power i plants to run at full capacity both during the day and at night. (Reuters)

These parabolic mirrors are tracking the sun at a research facility in Israel’s Negev desert on September 9, 2014. The solar power company Brenmiller Energy said their unique new system of parabolic mirrors can provide a more efficient way to store heat from the sun and will allow thermal solar power plants to run at full capacity both during the day and at night. (Reuters)

Here’s a look of the powerful engines of the Soyuz-FG booster rocket that ferried a new crew to the International Space Station on September 26, 2014.  The photo was taken at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)

Here’s a look of the powerful engines of the Soyuz-FG booster rocket that ferried a new crew to the International Space Station.. The photo was taken at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (NASA, Aubrey Gemignani)

This set of giant panda triplets, were born recently with the help of artificial insemination at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.  The trio of baby pandas opened their eyes on September 19, 2014. (Reuters)

This set of giant panda triplets were conceived with the help of artificial insemination at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. The trio of baby pandas opened their eyes on September 19, 2014. (Reuters)

NASA, astronaut Randy Bresnik prepares to enter The Boeing Company's CST-100 spacecraft for a fit check evaluation on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.  Both Bresnik and fellow astronaut Serena Aunon spent four hours testing their maneuverability in the spacecraft at Boeing’s Houston facility. (NASA)

NASA, astronaut Randy Bresnik prepares to enter The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft for a fit check evaluation on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. Both Bresnik and fellow astronaut Serena Aunon spent four hours testing their maneuverability in the spacecraft at Boeing’s Houston facility. (NASA)

Meet the "Murata Cheerleaders", the latest concept robots from Japan's Murata Manufacturing Co.  The team of cheerleading robots, seen here at an unveiling event in Tokyo on September 25, 2014, use the latest sensing and communication technology to balance on balls and synchronize as a team. (Reuters/Yuya Shino)

Meet the “Murata Cheerleaders”, the latest concept robots from Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Co. The team of cheerleading robots, seen here at an unveiling event in Tokyo on September 25, 2014, use the latest sensing and communication technology to balance on balls and synchronize as a team. (Reuters/Yuya Shino)

This is an extreme ultra-violet wavelength image of a powerful X1.6 class solar flare, which can be seen in the middle of the sun.  This image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on at 1745 UTC on Sept. 10, 2014. (NASA)

This is an extreme ultra-violet wavelength image of a powerful X1.6 class solar flare, which can be seen in the middle of the sun. This image was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on at 1745 UTC on Sept. 10, 2014. (NASA)

In a photo taken on September 29, 2014, this is the ‘Corpse Flower’ otherwise known as the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) in bloom at Switzerland’s Botanical Garden at the University of Basel.  The Corpse Flower, one of the world's largest and rare tropical flowering plants, got its nickname from the incredibly strong and foul odor it emits.  After blooming for only a couple of days, the plant then wilts and dies. (Reuters)

In a photo taken on September 29, 2014, this is the ‘Corpse Flower’ otherwise known as the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is seen blooming at Switzerland’s Botanical Garden at the University of Basel. The Corpse Flower, one of the world’s largest and rare tropical flowering plants, got its nickname from the incredibly strong and foul odor it emits. After blooming for only a couple of days, the plant wilts and dies. (Reuters)

This is the primary landing site on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was selected by the European Space Agency for its Philae lander.  The photo was taken by the Rosetta spacecraft on September 21, 2014.  Before picking this location, known to ESA scientists as ‘landing site J’, the space agency had considered a number of other touch down spots for its lander that is scheduled to be sent  down to the comet by the Rosetta in November 2014. (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

This is a close-up of the primary landing site on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was selected by the European Space Agency for its Philae lander. The photo was taken by the Rosetta spacecraft on September 21, 2014. Before picking this location, known to ESA scientists as ‘landing site J’, the space agency had considered a number of other touch down spots for its lander that is scheduled to be sent down to the comet by the Rosetta in November 2014. (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

A scientist counts male and female genetically modified aedes aegypti mosquito pupae with a microscope at a laboratory in Panama City, on Sept. 26, 2014. Scientists recently released these genetically modified mosquitos in Panama to fight and control populations of this species of mosquitoes, which transmit dengue. (AP)

A scientist counts male and female genetically modified aedes aegypti mosquito pupae with a microscope at a laboratory in Panama City, on Sept. 26, 2014. Scientists recently released these genetically modified mosquitoes in Panama to fight and control populations of the mosquitoes, which transmit dengue. (AP)

NASA's DHC-3 Otter plane surveys mountain glaciers in Alaska as a part of Operation IceBridge-Alaska on September 18, 2014.  Operation IceBridge-Alaska will provide scientists an understanding of how rising temperatures are affecting the Arctic.   The NASA project was designed to address questions about the relationship between retreating sea ice and the Arctic climate.  (NASA)

NASA’s DHC-3 Otter plane surveys mountain glaciers in Alaska as a part of Operation IceBridge-Alaska on September 18, 2014. Operation IceBridge-Alaska will provide scientists an understanding of how rising temperatures are affecting the Arctic. The NASA project was designed to address questions about the relationship between retreating sea ice and the Arctic climate. (NASA)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently snapped this rare photo of three of Saturn's moons surrounding the planet’s ‘F-Ring’.  Each of these moons are quite different from one another. The largest of the trio Tethys, seen in the center, is round and has a variety of landscapes across its surface.  Hyperion, which can been seen to the upper-left of Tethys, is known to astronomers as the "wild one" because it has such a chaotic spin.  And then there is Prometheus, seen as the tiny dot just to the lower left of the ring.  This moon of Saturn, called a ‘Shepard satellite’, by astronomers helps keep an edge on the planet’s ‘F-Ring’. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently snapped this rare photo of three of Saturn’s moons surrounding the planet’s ‘F-Ring’. Each of these moons are quite different from one another. The largest of the trio, Tethys, seen in the center, is round and has a variety of landscapes across its surface. Hyperion, which can been seen to the upper-left of Tethys, is known to astronomers as the “wild one” because it has such a chaotic spin. And then there is Prometheus, seen as the tiny dot just to the lower left of the ring. This moon, called a ‘Shepard satellite’, by astronomers, helps keep an edge on the planet’s ‘F-Ring’. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

About Half of the Water You Drink is Older than the Sun

Posted September 26th, 2014 at 8:07 pm (UTC+0)
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Child quenches thirst with some water (USAID)

Child quenches thirst with some water (USAID)

New research reveals that as much as one half of all of Earth’s current water supply is older than the Sun.

An international team of scientists led by Ilse Cleeves at the University of Michigan looked back into creation of Earth and our solar system to find out where all of the water came from.

Some scientists think Earth’s supply of life-sustaining H2O was the result of chemical reactions that took place as the Sun and solar system began forming some 4.6 billion years ago.

Others theorize that today’s water originated about a million years earlier in the cold recesses of interstellar space from a molecular cloud that later provided material to form the sun and planets.

To reach their findings, Cleeves and her colleagues simulated the chemistry of our solar system as it was forming and then compared the ratio of two slightly different types of water, one that was plain H2O and the other, ‘heavier type’, that had been enriched with deuterium – an isotope of the hydrogen molecule.

The researchers found that the water in Earth’s oceans as ice found in comets have a higher ratio of the ‘heavy water’ to the deuterium free water than the Sun contains.

A view of Earth taken by NASA/NOAA GOES-11 satelite. About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water (NASA/NOAA)

A view of Earth taken by NASA/NOAA GOES-11 satellite. About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water (NASA/NOAA)

“That’s obviously a clue for what’s going on and it suggests that that very cold chemistry is required to produce these very large enrichments in the heavy isotopes deuterium in the water,” said Dr. Conel Alexander from the Carnegie Institution for Science, who was a member of the research team.

Alexander said that this very cold chemistry, about 10 to 30 degrees Kelvin – -263.15 to -243.15 Celsius – had to have ionizing radiation around in order to overcome the activation barriers that stop typical chemistry that takes place at the extremely cold temperatures.

The scientists considered two possible locations that may have allowed the cold chemistry.

One would be in the ancient molecular clouds (also called stellar nurseries) where stars form.

The other location would be in very cold regions of protoplanetary disks, which form solar system bodies such as planets, moons, asteroids, and others that surround developing stars.

But Cleeves realized that young stars that are surrounded by these planet-forming disks produce some very intense solar winds.

These solar winds, according to Alexander, would prevent galactic cosmic rays – one of the major sources of ionizing radiation – from even entering those disks, something that may very well stop deuterium-enriched water from forming.

This realization helped Cleeves create a complex model for the chemistry that existed within the planetary disks.

Composite image of the molecular cloud Cepheus B, taken with combined data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA)

Composite image of the molecular cloud Cepheus B, taken with combined data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA)

Alexander said the model did indeed show that deuterium-enriched water cannot be made in the disks, which led the group to conclude that it was produced within molecular clouds found in the interstellar medium.

“Ultimately, the intriguing idea is that you’re bringing in ices from the interstellar medium, pretty much intact, and those ices have a lot of organic material in them and some people have speculated that the organic material in meteorites and comets may have helped kick-start life,” said Alexander.

“If that’s true, and our solar system is fairly typical, then fairly similar superable organic material and water/ice is coming into most forming solar systems.”

This could, Alexander said, make the potential for life in other solar systems significantly more probable.

You can listen to the Science World radio interview with Dr. Conel Alexander either through the player below or check out the entire show at the times and places listed in the right side column.

Science Scanner: Voters Say Pluto is a Planet, Sense of Touch Explored, Promising New Way to Stop Spread of Cancer, High-Tech Bracelet Secures Computers

Posted September 24th, 2014 at 7:48 pm (UTC+0)
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Computer-augmented map of Pluto in rotation (NASA/ESA)

Computer-augmented map of Pluto in rotation (NASA/ESA)

People Vote to Make Pluto a Planet Again

Until 2006, school children were taught – and most people considered the matter settled – that Pluto is one of the nine planets of the solar system.  But that year members of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) – which is responsible for naming and classifying celestial objects – voted to define the characteristics that officially make a planet a planet.

And according to the formally adopted definition, Pluto could no longer be considered a planet.  It was demoted to dwarf planet status.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts felt it was time to reexamine IAU’s definition of a planet by holding a debate that featured three leading experts in planetary science.

After listening to all sides of the debate, the audience voted on what a planet is or isn’t and whether or not Pluto is a planet.

The audience voted for a definition submitted by Dr. Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, who defined a planet as “the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants.” The also voted that Pluto was a planet.

 

(Agustín Ruiz via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Agustín Ruiz via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Scientists Offer New Theory on How Our Sense of Touch is Produced

Have you ever wondered how our sense of touch is produced?

Neuroscientists from the University of Chicago, writing in the journal Trends in Neurosciences, said their research indicates a variety of different nerves and skin receptors which sense pressure, temperature, and vibrations on or around the skin all work together to produce our sense of touch.

The findings made by the Chicago scientists dispute long-held theories that indicate there are separate and distinct groups of nerves and skins receptors that are each responsible for various aspects of touch, such as an object’s texture or its shape.

To make their findings, the researchers analyzed more than 100 previously conducted studies conducted over the past 57 years.

 

New Therapy to Keep Cancer from Spreading Shows Promise

Stanford researchers develop protein therapy to stop metastasis (Stanford University)

Researchers at Stanford University may be close to developing a new way to slow or even stop cancer from spreading or metastasizing from one part of the body to others without the risks and severe side-effects of chemotherapy.

The California scientists, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, developed what they call an ‘evolved’ protein therapy.

Their new metastasis prevention therapy interrupts the process that causes cancer cells to separate from original tumor locations, enter the bloodstream and travel to other locations throughout the body where the more aggressive and deadly cancer growths can form.

The researchers found that cancer spreads when two proteins – Axl and Growth arrest-specific 6 (Gas6) interact with each other.

To keep this interaction from taking place, the scientists created a harmless version of the Axl protein.  This harmless protein, acting like a decoy, attaches itself to the Gas6 protein within the bloodstream and keeps the harmful Axl protein from being activated.

The scientists said that they used their new experimental protein therapy to stop the spread of ovarian and breast cancer in lab mice.

 

Dartmouth College Scientists develop new system that continously protects computers systems from unauthorized users (US NAVY)

Dartmouth College Scientists develop new system that continously protects computers systems from unauthorized users (US NAVY)

New Bracelet Device Helps Keep Computer Systems Safer and More Secure

Keeping important and sensitive information safe and secure on computer and network systems is incredibly challenging.

Researchers at Dartmouth College say their Zero-Effort Bilateral Recurring Authentication (ZEBRA) method of computer security continuously confirms the identity of a user as they work at their terminal.

When the system detects that an authorized user is no longer working with the terminal, it automatically logs them out, preventing others from viewing or accessing their material.

The researchers said that despite the popular and effective authentication systems used today – such as those that rely on passwords, finger prints or eye scans – users often forget to logout when they step-away from their computer, leaving it open and vulnerable to security risks.

Users accessing ZEBRA-protected systems wear a specially designed bracelet that includes a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope and radio on their dominant wrist.  The bracelet interacts with the computer or terminal to continuously monitor and authenticate authorized use. Once the authorized user steps away from the computer for a predetermined length of time the system automatically logs the user out.

Report – Record High Amount of CO2 will be Released in 2014

Posted September 22nd, 2014 at 6:28 pm (UTC+0)
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Industrial pollution - one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

Industrial pollution – one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

A new report by the Global Carbon Project, an international science/environmental group, shows that the emission of carbon dioxide, one of the world’s top greenhouse gases – which scientists say leads to global warming – will not only rise once again in 2014, but will set a record high of 40 billion metric tons.

As the UN prepares to host its one day Climate Summit Tuesday at its New York headquarters, the report, which is an annual update to the group’s Global Carbon Budget, indicated that CO2 emissions that stem from fossil-fuel combustion and the production of cement grew by rate of 2.3 percent in 2013, with a record 36 billion metric tons of CO2 being produced. The report also predicted an additional 2.5 percent increase in CO2 emissions for 2014.

For a 66 percent chance of maintaining the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change goal of keeping average global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, this new report indicates that the total amount of future CO2 emissions can’t exceed more than 1,200 metric tons.

The Global Carbon Project estimates that, at the current CO2 emission rate, this 1,200 metric ton quota would be used up in about 30 years.

The report shows that global CO2 emissions must be reduced by more than 5 percent each year over the next several decades to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius goal.

Climate scientists contributing to the report said that unless new technologies to store carbon in the ground are developed and widely deployed, more than half of all the planet’s fossil fuel reserves may need to be left untouched to keep CO2 emissions below the 1,200 metric ton total.

global-warming-“The human influence on climate change is clear,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change at the UK’s University of East Anglia in a press release. “We need substantial and sustained reductions in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels if we are to limit global climate change. We are nowhere near the commitments necessary to stay below 2 degrees Celsius of climate change, a level that will be already challenging to manage for most countries around the world, even for rich nations.”

Along with the CO2 emission projection for 2014, the update to the Global Carbon Budget also breaks the 2013 carbon dioxide emissions report into a country by country as well as a per capita breakdown.

Among the report’s key facts and figures:

  • China, the USA, the EU and India are the largest emitters – together accounting for 58 per cent of emissions.
  • China’s CO2 emissions grew by 4.2 per cent in 2013, the USA’s grew by 2.9 per cent, and India’s emissions grew by 5.1 per cent.
  • The EU decreased its emissions by 1.8 per cent, though it continues to export a third of its emissions to China and other producers through imported goods and services.
  • China’s CO2 emissions per person overtook emissions in the EU for the first time in 2013. China’s emissions are now larger than the US and EU combined. 16 per cent of China’s emissions are for goods and services which are exported elsewhere.
  • CO2 emissions are caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, as well as by cement production and deforestation. Deforestation accounts for 8 per cent of CO2 emissions.

The Global Carbon Budget 2014 also includes a number of individual studies conducted by various research organizations who contributed to the report.  These studies were published the journals, Nature Climate Change, Nature Geoscience and Earth System Science Data Discussions.

History of atmospheric CO2 from 800,000 years ago until January, 2012 (NOAA)

Two Martian Probes Set to Orbit Red Planet

Posted September 19th, 2014 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
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The planet Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA/JPL/California Institute of Technology)

The planet Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA/JPL/California Institute of Technology)

Two unmanned spacecraft headed to Mars, one launched by the United States and the other by India, will soon reach the Red Planet within days of each other.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe, launched November 18 is set for insertion into Mars orbit (MOI) on Sunday, September 21.  India’s first interplanetary spacecraft, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyan, launched November 5 will be put into orbit around Mars on Wednesday, September 24.

MAVEN will study the specific processes that led to Mars losing much of its atmosphere about 3.5 billion years ago, something that could provide scientists with new insight about the evolution of the Red Planet as well as help solve the mystery of what happened to its water and carbon dioxide.

Some scientists say that billions of years ago, Mars had a rich atmosphere and was a warm and wet world.  Others have speculated that the planet may have also had the right conditions to support microbial life.

Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Artist’s concept of the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

University of Michigan Professor Stephen Bougher, who is also an investigator with the MAVEN team, told us that that it’s possible that the Martian H2O could have gone underground or was simple lost to space.

Among the immediate goals of the MAVEN mission, according to Bougher, is to find out how Mars’s upper atmosphere is connected to the solar wind that blows past the planet and how it strips away that upper atmosphere.

It’s possible that at some time during the early history of Mars the sun may have been much more active than today, producing a much more powerful solar wind that could have swept away Mars’ formerly lush atmosphere away like a broom sweeps dust and dirt.

Once scientists get answers to those present day questions, Bougher said the MAVEN team could run their computer models backwards in time to calculate what might have happened to Mars’s climate billions of years ago.

Artist rendering of India's Mars Orbital Mission spacecraft nearing the Red Planet. (Nesnad via Wikimedia Commons)

Artist rendering of India’s Mars Orbital Mission spacecraft nearing the Red Planet. (Nesnad via Wikimedia Commons)

Data sent back to Earth from the MAVEN spacecraft could also help scientists gain a greater understanding of climate change on the planet and learn more of the history of planetary habitability.

The Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) MOM satellite will orbit Mars for about a year, exploring the Martian surface and atmosphere.

Although not directly connected with ISRO’s mission, Bougher said that India’s spacecraft won’t get as close to the planet as MAVEN.

MOM also has a methane detection and measurement instrument onboard that will look for signs of the gas in the Martian atmosphere.

The detection of methane on Mars is considered by some to be controversial, especially since most methane here on Earth is produced biologically (such as from cow flatulence).  But, some (less than 1%) of our methane has been produced by non-biological methods.

A lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the Curiosity's Tunable Laser Spectrometer, an instrument  that found no sign of methane on the Red Planet in 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the Curiosity’s Tunable Laser Spectrometer, an instrument  that found no sign of methane on the Red Planet in 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While some previous Earth based observations indicated the presence of methane on Mars, a year ago NASA delivered disappointing news that “after extensive tests” its Curiosity Rover could not find any sign of the gas on the Red Planet.

Along with its scientific goals of studying the Red Planet, ISRO has said that one of MOM’s other main objectives is to allow the Indian space program to develop the technologies required to design, plan, manage and operate an interplanetary mission.

You can listen to the Science World radio interview with Professor Stephen Bougher either through the player below or check out the entire show at the times and places listed in the right side column.

Some Bacteria are Sneakier Than First Suspected

Posted September 9th, 2014 at 7:59 pm (UTC+0)
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This image shows two strains of E. coli bacteria (wild-type and GASP) competing with each other as they grow out on a flat surface. The wild-type bacteria appear green on the surface while the GASP bacteria appear red. (Robert Austin/Princeton University)

This image shows two strains of E. coli bacteria (wild-type and GASP) competing with each other as they grow out on a flat surface. The wild-type bacteria appear green on the surface while the GASP bacteria appear red. (Robert Austin/Princeton University)

The emergence and rapid growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria has become a serious worldwide health concern.

The World Health Organization said in its 2014 report on antimicrobial resistance that “without urgent, coordinated action, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill.”

Scientists have found that some infection causing bacteria can quickly evolve and mutate to a point where antibiotics that were created to destroy it become ineffective. But now a team of researchers from three American universities have found that these mutating microbes can be sneakier that had been suspected.

The researchers, writing in the journal Biomicrofluidics, found that among the tools used by bacteria to avoid harm or destruction is a built-in arsenal of hidden genetic weapons that helps it develop a number of different ways to evolve and mutate quickly while under stress due to antibiotic treatments, making the microbes much more adaptable and tougher to beat.

An electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped (USDA)

An electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped (USDA)

“Bacteria are clever – they have hidden ways to respond to stress that involve re-sculpting their genomes,” said Princeton University biophysicist and team leader, Robert Austin in a press release.  “It teaches us that antibiotics have to be used much more carefully than they have been up to this point,” he said.

Rather than using traditional test tubes or petri dishes, the researchers used unique fluid-filled microstructures in their experiments that were developed by Austin and his colleagues.  The research team said that they think their new devices represented a more natural environment for their investigations than traditional laboratory implements.

“In complex environments the emergence of resistance can be far more rapid and profound than would be expected from test tube experiments,” Austin said.

In previous studies, the researchers found that there are some “wild type” or non-mutated forms of Escherichia coli (E-coli) bacteria that can quickly evolve and develop a resistance to antibiotics.

So the team wondered if a mutated strain of E-coli, called GASP, would have the same type of antibiotic resistance as the “wild type” strain if it were exposed to the same drug.

Ciprofloxacin tablets (AJ Cann via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Ciprofloxacin tablets (AJ Cann via Flickr/Creative Commons)

To find out, the researchers sequenced the genomes of both “wild type” and the mutated GASP strains of E-coli bacteria that had been exposed to ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic medication known commonly as Cipro. The sequencing experiments showed that although the strains of the E-coli used different methods of genetic mutation, they all were able to develop comparable levels of antibiotic resistance.

Austin said that the research his team conducted revealed the wide range of tools bacteria can use to overcome stress and develop antibiotic resistance.

He also wondered about the effectiveness of other commonly used methods for killing potentially harmful microbes, such as using alcohol to sanitize germ ridden surfaces, and if bacteria would be able to develop a resistance to them as well.

Austin and his team are planning further tests.

ESA’s Rosetta Probe Gets Close to Duck-Shaped Comet 67P/C-K

Posted September 5th, 2014 at 8:33 pm (UTC+0)
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This animation comprises 101 images acquired by the Navigation Camera on board ESA's Rosetta spacecraft as it approached comet 67P/C-G in August 2014. The first image was taken on 1 August at 11:07 UTC at a distance of 832 km. The last image was taken 6 August at 06:07 UTC at a distance of 110 km. ((c) ESA/Rosetta/Navcam)

This animation comprises 101 images acquired by the Navigation Camera on board ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft as it approached comet 67P/C-G in August 2014. The first image was taken on 1 August at 11:07 UTC at a distance of 832 km. The last image was taken 6 August at 06:07 UTC at a distance of 110 km. ((c) ESA/Rosetta/Navcam)

Back on Aug. 6 the European Space Agency‘s unmanned space probe Rosetta completed its decade long journey across space to meet up with its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.

As the spacecraft neared its target, it took some close-up photos of the comet with its two camera Navigation Camera system (NAVCAM).

After examining the images, members of the Rosetta team at ESA couldn’t help but notice that Comet 67P/C-G appeared to be a very oddly shaped object.  Its peculiar shape led them to nickname the comet the “rubber duck”.

As they continue to study Comet 67P/C-G, the scientists are looking to get a better understanding of its surface properties.

Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Senior Science Advisor thinks that there should be a number of craters on the comet’s surface. If so, scientists would like to know how they were formed. Are they impact craters from being hit by various objects or could they be the result of residue left by materials that burst out from inside the comet?

Rosetta is now traveling in front of the comet at an average speed of about one meter per second said McCaughrean.

The spacecraft is now only about 50 kilometers away from Comet 67P/C-G, which is about 450,000,000 kilometers from the sun.

The Rosetta team is planning to place the spacecraft in orbit around the comet in a couple of weeks where it’ll stay for the remainder of its planned mission.

McCaughrean said that once Rosetta is in orbit it will do so at an average distance of about 30 kilometers.

Artist impression of ESA's Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ((c) Spacecraft- ESA/ATG Medialab/Comet - ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Artist impression of ESA’s Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ((c) Spacecraft- ESA/ATG Medialab/Comet – ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

The team is planning to occasionally lower the spacecraft’s orbit to about 10 kilometers above the comet’s surface or possibly even lower when the Rosetta’s attached Philae lander is deployed in November.

But before deciding to drop Rosetta to a lower altitude McCaughrean said that the team will need to consider the comet’s activity, such as how much gas and dust is flowing way from it.

Along with getting the spacecraft ready to orbit the comet, scientists have been quite busy trying to find an ideal landing spot for the Philae lander.

They have selected a number of possible landing sites and ESA is expected to announce the primary and back-up landing sites on September 15.

McCaughrean described the ideal landing site for Philae as one that would be about one square kilometer in size and able to provide enough sunlight to charge the probe’s battery.

Since the comet’s gravity is so low, the probe will most likely bounce when it first touches down, so ESA engineers have equipped it with two harpoons and some ice screws to keep the probe steady and attached to 67P/C-G’s surface.

While the Rosetta spacecraft is the mission’s most powerful machine and will be doing most of the work, the Philae lander, since it will actually be on the surface of the comet, will be able to do things that Rosetta can’t.

Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014. ((c) ESA/ATG Medialab)

Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014. ((c) ESA/ATG Medialab)

One of the first tasks assigned to Philae is to take a 360° panorama of its location.

It will use its onboard microscopes to get a closer look at the surface.  Then it will drill about 25 centimeters into the comet to pull material up for analysis by Philae’s small laboratory so scientists can learn more about what makes up Comet 67P/C-G.

“We’re learning a huge amount (about the comet), but there’s still a huge amount to be learned in the next four years we sit next to this comet as it evolves,” said McCaughrean.

You can listen to the Science World radio interview with Mark McCaughrean either through the player below or check out the entire show at the times and places listed in the right side column.

3D Printer in Space, Antibiotic Laced Pesticides May Trigger Allergies, Milky Way a Member of the Laniakea Supercluster, Drink Responsibly Messages, Reducing E-Waste

Posted September 3rd, 2014 at 7:52 pm (UTC+0)
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3-D printer that will soon be delivered to the International Space Station. Items the 3-D printer created is perched on its top side. (NASA)

3-D printer that will soon be delivered to the International Space Station. Items the 3-D printer created is perched on its top side. (NASA)

NASA Hopes 3D Printer Technology Will Prove Useful in Space Voyages

NASA is taking its first step to see if it could someday create the first machine shop in outer space.

On its resupply mission that should launch sometime after September 19th, the SpaceX-4 will be delivering the first 3D printer to fly in space to the International Space Station.

The 3D printer is specially designed to operate in the micro-gravity environment of the space station.

The space agency is hoping that the 3D printer will operate properly and be able to create various items just as well in space as it does on the ground.

If the 3D printing experiment is successful, NASA says that the technology could someday help space travelers on missions into deep space produce critically needed tools or replacement parts.

Being able to create these items as they journey in space will allow mission crews to not only be more self-sufficient, but could also save space and lighten the weight of the spacecraft instead of having to store a supply of goods that may or may not be needed over the course of a mission.

 

A cornucopia of fruit and vegetables (Jina Lee via Wikipedia Commons)

A cornucopia of fruit and vegetables (Jina Lee via Wikipedia Commons)

Fruits and Vegetables Treated with Antibiotic Laced Pesticides Could Trigger Allergic Reaction in Some

Even if you don’t have any food allergies, scientists have found that danger just might be lurking in the fruits and vegetables you eat.

According to an article published in the September issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, if you’re allergic to antibiotics such as streptomycin, it could be possible to develop an allergic reaction due to a residue of antibiotics that remains in these foods.

Scientists studied a 10 year-old girl who suffered from a severe allergic reaction after eating blueberry pie despite it being free of any ingredients she is normally allergic to.

After some intensive testing of the young girl and a sample of the pie, the researchers were able to trace her allergic reaction to a streptomycin-tainted blueberry.  It turns out that this antibiotic, which is often prescribed to treat various infections in humans, is also used as an ingredient in a pesticide that fights the growth of bacteria, fungi and algae in fruit.

 

This artist's concept illustrates the new view of the Milky Way. Scientists have discovered that the Milky Way's elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars. Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms. (Image: NASA)

This artist’s concept of the Milky Way. (NASA)

Milky Way Found to be Part of the Laniakea Supercluster of Galaxies

Most of us already know that our solar system resides in the Milky Way galaxy.  But did you know that our galaxy is part of a supercluster containing other galaxies?

Scientists have found that rather than being randomly strewn throughout the universe, galaxies tend to be grouped in these superclusters and linked together by a network of filaments.

The international team of astronomers who recently outlined the contours of this vast supercluster also came up with a name for this gathering of galaxies: “Laniakea”, which in Hawaiian means “immense heaven”.

Their findings are outlined in an article that appears in the September 4th edition of the journal Nature.

 

A shot of whiskey (David Levinson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A shot of whiskey (David Levinson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Study: Drink Responsibly Messages in Liquor Ads Promote Product Not Public Health

You may have seen advertisements on TV and in magazines for various liquor products, and, at least here in the United States, most of the ads contain reminder messages to consumers such as “drink responsibly” or “enjoy in moderation”.

But a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the September issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol indicates that these “reminder messages” do more to promote the alcoholic product rather than deliver fundamental public health information regarding the use or abuse of alcohol.

After analyzing a number of U.S. advertisements for various alcoholic beverages that appeared in U.S. magazines from 2008 to 2010, the researchers found that these advertiser messages also need to spell out what is considered to be responsible drinking and provide clear and specific warnings to the consumer about the risks that are linked to alcohol consumption.

The researchers also indicated that their analysis of the ads containing the “responsibility messages” revealed that 88 percent of the messages wound up reinforcing the promotion of the advertised product, with many of the messages actually contradicting the visual images that were displayed in the ads.

 

Stemming the Tide of E-Waste

The E-waste centre of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where electronic waste is burnt and disassembled with no safety or environmental considerations. (Marlenenapoli via Wikimedia Commons)

The E-waste centre of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where electronic waste is burnt and disassembled with no safety or environmental considerations. (Marlenenapoli via Wikimedia Commons)

An article published in the American Chemical Society journal Chemical and Engineering News, notes that people around the world purchase more than 1.8 billion new mobile phones per year, with many replacing older models that wind up as e-waste instead of being recycled or reused.

Precious metals such as gold and silver, which are used to manufacture cellphones that are sold this year alone are said to be worth more than $2.5 billion, according the article.

The author offered suggestions he felt would cut down on the amount of e-waste that’s rapidly accumulating throughout the world.

Among them is to make cell phones with easily replaceable modules that allow the user to replace the worn out or broken internal elements while being able keep the remainder of the phone intact.

Another suggests that the recycling process itself be upgraded to be more efficient and environmentally friendly, allowing for the recovery of a greater number of elements.

However, the article points out that consumers themselves are the key to cutting down the amount of e-waste. Instead of simply tossing aside their used electronic equipment people should consider and embrace the idea of recycling these products.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 29th, 2014 at 6:55 pm (UTC+0)
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Here’s a photo of Pacific Hurricane Marie that was taken from the International Space Station by astronaut/crewmember Reid Wiseman on August 26, 2014.  Officials said that enormous waves stirred up by Marie caused extensive damage to picturesque Catalina Island that’s located just off the coast of Southern California.  (NASA)

Here’s a photo of Pacific Hurricane Marie taken from the International Space Station by astronaut/crew member Reid Wiseman on August 26, 2014. Officials said that enormous waves stirred up by Marie caused extensive damage to picturesque Catalina Island that’s located just off the coast of Southern California. (NASA)

Several volcanoes around the world have become active recently.  Among them is Iceland’s Bardabunga Volcano.  Here steam and smoke are shown rising above a lava field fissure that’s part of the Bardabunga Volcano system on August 29, 2014.  (Reuters)

Several volcanoes around the world became active recently. Among them is Iceland’s Bardabunga Volcano. Here steam and smoke are shown rising above a lava field fissure that’s part of the Bardabunga Volcano system on August 29, 2014. (Reuters)

Here’s another of this week’s active volcanoes.  This is Ecuador's Tungurahua, or “Throat of Fire”, volcano as it erupts on August 24, 2014. (Reuters)

Here’s another of this week’s active volcanoes. This is Ecuador’s Tungurahua, or “Throat of Fire”, volcano as it erupts on August 24, 2014. (Reuters)

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets have become quite a popular feature at recent technology shows and conferences.  Here South Korean children enjoy a virtual reality experience at SK Telecom's "T.um mobile", a hands-on experience center that recently opened in Seoul South Korea. (AP)

Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets have become quite a popular feature at recent technology shows and conferences. Here South Korean children enjoy a virtual reality experience at SK Telecom’s “T.um mobile”, a hands-on experience center that recently opened in Seoul South Korea. (AP)

The sun recently let loose with a burst of radiation in this M5 class or mid-level solar flare that peaked at 1216 UTC, on August 24, 2014.  This image was taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).  The M class of solar flares is about ten times less powerful than the most powerful flares, called X-class flares. (NASA/SDO)

The sun recently let loose with a burst of radiation in this M5 class or mid-level solar flare (left) that peaked at 1216 UTC, on August 24, 2014. This image was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The M class of solar flares is about ten times less powerful than the most powerful flares, called X-class flares. (NASA/SDO)

A 5-percent scale model of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is ignited for a test at the space agency’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Alabama on August 28, 2014.  NASA engineers are using these tests to better understand just how loud the SLS vehicle will be during liftoff.  Data gathered from the tests will help the engineers design a water sound suppression system that reduces liftoff vibrations on the vehicle. (NASA)

A 5-percent scale model of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is ignited for a test at the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on August 28, 2014. NASA engineers are using these tests to better understand just how loud the SLS vehicle will be during liftoff. Data gathered from the tests will help the engineers design a water sound suppression system that reduces liftoff vibrations on the vehicle. (NASA)

Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea after they were released near Tyre, Lebanon on August 28, 2014 by members of the Orange House conservation project.   The Orange House Project’s mission is to protect and conserve sea turtles in South Lebanon. (Reuters)

Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea after they were released near Tyre, Lebanon on August 28, 2014 by members of the Orange House conservation project. The Orange House Project’s mission is to protect and conserve sea turtles in South Lebanon. (Reuters)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this image on August 25, 2014, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows a star, known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212, in its early stages of life being flanked by a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. (© ESA/NASA)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this image on August 25, 2014, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows a star, known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212, in its early stages of life being flanked by a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. (© ESA/NASA)

White clouds swirling above blue ocean waters form an interesting pattern.  This August 28, 2014 photo was taken from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut, and crewmember Alexander Gerst.  (© ESA/NASA)

White clouds swirling above blue ocean waters form an interesting pattern. This August 28, 2014 photo was taken from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut, and crew member Alexander Gerst. (© ESA/NASA)

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