Science Scanner: Venus Mission Ends, Organic Chemistry on Mars, Hormone Changes in Expectant Dads, New High in CO2 Output

Posted December 17th, 2014 at 9:24 pm (UTC+0)
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Artist impression of ESA's Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

Artist impression of ESA’s Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

ESA’s Venus Express Mission Ends

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week that the space probe it sent to orbit Venus back in 2006 has reached the end of its life.

Called the Venus Express, the spacecraft ran out of its propellant after executing a number of thruster burns that returned the probe to a normal orbit, following a daring low altitude exploratory operation this past June and July.

During the last week of November, mission officials thought that the space probe still had some remaining propellant after completing the low altitude operation.  However, attempts to boost the spacecraft back up to its previous orbiting altitude failed.  ESA lost full contact with the probe on November 28.

Mission officials did manage to partially re-establish the telemetry and telecommand links for a short time afterward, but could only retrieve a limited amount of information.

Patrick Martin, ESA’s Venus Express mission manager said that the spacecraft probably ran out its remaining fuel about half way through the November efforts to raise its altitude.  He noted the probe had already exceeded its life expectancy.

 

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, "Cumberland." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, “Cumberland.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA/JPL’s Curiosity Rover Finds Signs of Organic Chemistry on Mars

Meanwhile, officials at NASA/JPL, say the Martian rover Curiosity has discovered signs of the building blocks of life on the red planet.

According to NASA, those conclusions are based on a tenfold jump in the levels of the organic chemical, methane, the rover detected in the Martian atmosphere.  Curiosity also found other organic molecules in samples of rock-powder that had been collected by its robotic drill.

NASA/JPL officials announced these new findings during a news briefing held Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco.  The news was published online this week in the journal Science.

 

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Study: Expectant Fathers Also Experience Hormonal Changes

Excited expectant couples often announce the upcoming birth of their child by saying “we’re pregnant”.  While we all know that only women can actually become pregnant, a number of men swept up in the excitement of becoming a father often talk and act as though they were pregnant as well.

It turns out that that “we’re pregnant” may be closer to the truth than thought after a new study conducted by the University of Michigan found that men may also go through actual hormonal changes as his mate’s pregnancy progresses.

It’s well known that pregnant women naturally go through a number of hormonal changes.

But what researchers at the University of Michigan didn’t expect to find was that while pregnant women had large increases in the levels of salivary testosterone, cortisol, estradiol and progesterone, their male mates showed substantial prenatal drops in their levels of testosterone and estradiol.  They found no noticeable changes in levels of cortisol or progesterone in the males.

 

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

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

European Report:  CO2 Levels Keep Getting Higher but Rate of Increase Slows

A new report out of Europe indicates while we continue to pour record levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere, the rate at which we are doing so is on the decline.

CO2, a bi-product of burning fossil fuels,is the primary culprit blamed for global warming.

The report released this week by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency says while global levels CO2 emissions reached a new all-time high in 2013, the growth rate was slower than the average over the past ten years.

The report indicates the atmospheric increase in CO2 levels over the last decade was mostly due to a steady rise in energy use in countries with emerging economies.

The European study said that the slowdown in the increase of global CO2 emissions started in 2012 and is mainly a reflection of China’s lower growth rate in emissions.

China, the US and the EU are still listed in the report as the world’s top-3 CO2 producers.

Despite previous years of declining carbon dioxide output in the United States, emission levels of the greenhouse gas actually grew by 2.5% in 2013, while emissions from European Union countries decreased 1.4% in 2013.

Tweets Offer Insight into Mental Health Issues

Posted December 15th, 2014 at 7:38 pm (UTC+0)
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A portrait of the Twitter logo (Reuters)

A portrait of the Twitter logo (Reuters)

Computer scientists are analyzing Twitter tweets to gather key information on the prevalence of common mental illnesses.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say their new computer program can sift through volumes of publicly available postings on the social media website, and detect certain ‘language cues’ associated with particular disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and season affective disorder (SAD).

One benefit of mining relevant mental health data in Twitter posts is that analysis of the information can be delivered to medical professionals much quicker and cheaper than with current, traditional methods.

The data on mental illness trends discovered during a Twitter search can even provide information for specific geographical areas, which would be handy for public health officials and medical providers during times that follow natural and man-made disasters.

The Johns Hopkins scientists evaluated over eight billion tweets in developing their computer algorithms that look for specific words and language patterns in the Tweets.  For example, if information regarding disorders such as anxiety or insomnia is desired, the algorithm would pour through the tweets and look for words and phrases such as “I really don’t want to get out of bed today” or “I’m feeling really sad today”.

This new Tweet-based data gathering and analysis system for mental illness was built off a similar system that Johns Hopkins researchers developed back in 2013.  That system filtered out irrelevant online chatter to produce real-time data on cases of influenza.

As the researchers put their new system to the test it revealed a prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among military personnel at US armed services installations that regularly deployed combat troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.  It also detected Tweets indicating higher than normal symptoms of depression in areas where unemployment was high.

Tweeting with mobile device (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Tweeting with mobile device (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

“Using Twitter to get a fix on mental health cases could be very helpful to health practitioners and governmental officials who need to decide where counseling and other care is needed most,” says Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.

“It could point to places where many veterans may be experiencing PTSD, for example, or to towns where people have been traumatized by a shooting spree or widespread tornado damage,” Dredze says.

Privacy issues were of the utmost concern to the researchers as they developed their new mental health analysis system.  They noted that information on mental health issues gathered and analyzed by their new tool does not reveal the names of people who publicly tweeted about their disorders.

Rosetta Mission Fuels Argument About Origin of Earth’s Water

Posted December 12th, 2014 at 9:08 pm (UTC+0)
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Young boy about to quench his thirst with some water (USAID)

Young boy about to quench his thirst with some water (USAID)

The debate about the origin of Earth’s water just got deeper.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) comet-chasing spacecraft Rosetta has sent back some interesting information regarding water vapor it detected and analyzed on its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

According to the ESA and an international group of scientists, the analysis shows that the chemical composition of the comet’s water vapor is very different from water found on Earth.

Scientists studying the origin of Earth’s water say Rosetta’s findings have added some fuel to the ongoing debate about where our water came from.

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

Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)

Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)

Others theorize that since the Earth was so hot after its formation, any water that had been here originally probably boiled off, therefore the water we have now had to have been delivered by large numbers of water-rich comets and asteroids that bombarded our planet after it had cooled down.

Asteroids, which are mostly made of rock and/or metals, can be found in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

However a majority of comets, sometimes called ‘dirty snowballs’ since they’re made up of rock, dust, ice and frozen gases, are located in deep space in either the Kuiper Belt, an area of space that’s just outside the orbit of Pluto or even further out toward the edge of the solar system in the Oort cloud.

Scientists are still debating how much of Earth’s current water supply was delivered by asteroids or by comets.

One of key elements in the origin of Earth’s water involves the chemical structure of our water.

While most of us are familiar with the H20 composition of water, two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, some of our water (mostly seawater) also contains a very tiny amount of 2H2O or D2O or heavy water that’s been enriched with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen.

Rosetta's NavCaM snapped this shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 20, 2014 ((C) ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Rosetta’s NavCaM snapped this shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 20, 2014 ((C) ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

The data provided by the spacecraft’s Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) instrument indicates that the water vapor sampled from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a much higher deuterium to hydrogen (D/H) ratio, meaning its water is more enriched with the deuterium than what can be found on Earth.

The scientific group studying ROSINA data says their findings seem to contradict the theory that most of Earth’s water originated in deep space and was delivered to us via comets.

Some of the scientists who believe most of our water came from asteroids have found that the lower ratio of deuterium enriched water to ordinary water here on Earth matches the same value found in water-rich asteroids.

This lower ratio of deuterium/hydrogen found in Earth’s water and in the water-rich asteroids is thought to be the result of time and more exposure to the Sun.

And, since comets originate so far away from the Sun, they may not be as exposed to solar radiation as asteroids which could explain the higher deuterium/hydrogen ratio ROSINA found in Comet 67P’s water vapor.

The Rosetta spacecraft, which arrived for its rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerisimenko back in August, is expected to complete its mission in December 2015, about four months after the comet reaches its closest point to the Sun (August 2015). The comet will then begin its journey back out to the far reaches of the solar system.

((c) Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam; Data: Altwegg et al. 2014 and references therein)

((c) Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam; Data: Altwegg et al. 2014 and references therein)

 

Science Scanner – Big Asteroid Won’t Hit Us, Artificial Skin Detects Pressure, Link Found: ER Visits and Internet Searches

Posted December 10th, 2014 at 8:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Huge Asteroid Won’t Hit Us After All

The NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office says that we can all breathe easier now: Reports indicating that a gigantic asteroid is heading our way and would possibly impact the Earth are not true.

The 400-meter wide ‘2014 UR116’ asteroid, found on October 27 at the MASTER-II observatory in Kislovodsk, Russia does occasionally pass by Earth as it orbits the Sun over a three year period.  But the huge hunk of rock really isn’t a threat to us, since it really doesn’t come close enough to the Earth as it makes it way around the Sun to cause a problem, according to the U.S. space agency.

NASA/JPL goes on to say that Tim Spahr, the Director of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Minor Planet Center in Cambridge Massachusetts, re-calculated the orbital path of the asteroid after he noticed that it was the same object that had been observed about six years ago.

Using the Sentry System at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA took Spahr’s calculations further and found that the asteroid doesn’t pose any threat to Earth or any of the solar systems other planet for at least the next 150 years.

 

A new kind of stretchy "electronic skin" (blue patch) is the first to be able to detect directional pressure. (American Chemical Society)

A new kind of stretchy “electronic skin” (blue patch) is the first to be able to detect directional pressure.
(American Chemical Society)

New Artificial Skin  Senses Pressure Strength and Direction

A group of South Korean scientists have developed an artificial skin that they say can detect not only pressure, but also what direction that pressure is coming from.

Writing in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS NANO, the researchers, led by Hyunhyub Ko, said their new ‘electronic skin’ is a flexible, film-like mechanism that can perform a number of tasks, including sensing pressure, reading brain activity and monitoring heart rate.

The research team wanted to develop an artificial skin that could ‘feel’ in three dimensions.

To provide that enhanced sense of touch, the researchers made their skin out of tiny domes of material that can mesh with each other and deform when something pokes it or blows air across it.

The researchers said that the construction of their artificial skin allows the user to sense the location, intensity and direction of each touch, vibration and air flow that is applied to the skin.

This new wearable skin, which was modeled after human skin, could prove to be useful in developing prosthetic limbs, robotic skins and rehabilitation devices, said the researchers.

 

Trauma patient being rushed to surgery

Trauma patient being rushed to surgery

Link Between Internet Searches and ER Visits Found

A new Swedish study found a significant link between the amount of Internet searches that were conducted on a regional medical website and the number of next-day visits to nearby emergency rooms (ERs).

The Swedish researchers used Google Analytics for one year to tally and graph Internet searches of the Stockholm Health Care Guide and then compared the data to ER visits over the same time period.

Being able gauge the demand for emergency medical services ahead of time could help hospital administrators provide resources and personnel when needed most, and prepare medical providers such as doctors and nurses for any sudden high demand for services.

The researchers say that their study, which was recently published online in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine,” suggests that Internet search data may someday be used to help forecast ER needs at local or regional hospitals.

Science Scanner: Orion Set for Test, Mars Meteorite May Have Organic Matter, Heavy Newborns Excel in School, Oceans Help Warming Hiatus

Posted December 3rd, 2014 at 7:45 pm (UTC+0)
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The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA Readies Orion Spacecraft for Test Flight

Excitement continues to build in Florida as NASA makes final preparations for the tomorrow’s (12/4/14) first unmanned flight test of Orion spacecraft, which the space agency plans to use to send astronauts to an asteroid and then to Mars.

Liftoff has been set for 1105 UTC from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).  The Orion will be sent into space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The spacecraft’s trip is scheduled to last about 4½ hours when it is expected to orbit the Earth twice and fly to an altitude of approximately 5,800 km.

NASA said that Orion’s test flight was designed to assess many of the mechanisms that would pose the greatest threat to astronauts and will provide engineers and technicians with critical information that would be needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to mission crews it will carry in the future.

The last time a human flew into space aboard a NASA spacecraft was with the launch of the Atlantis Space Shuttle Mission STS-135 on July 8, 2011. The space agency’s Space Shuttle era came to a close when Atlantis returned to Earth on July 21, 2011.

 

This meteorite has been found in Morocco in 2011. It's tiny cracks contain carbon of organic nature. This carbon has been deposited on Mars and could have been originated by a biological activity. (Alain Herzog/EPFL 2014)

This meteorite has been found in Morocco in 2011. It’s tiny cracks contain carbon of organic nature. (Alain Herzog/EPFL 2014)

Meteorite May Contain Organic Material from Mars

Scientists from Switzerland, China, Japan and Germany recently conducted a thorough investigation of traces of organic carbon that were found in a Martian meteorite and found that the material most likely had a biological origin.

The meteorite, named ‘Tissint’, fell in the Moroccan desert on July 18, 2011.  After conducting a chemical, microscopic and isotope examination of the meteorite, the scientists believe that the meteorite did not have a terrestrial origin, but was made up of Martian geological material that was expelled from the Red Planet after an asteroid collision.

While there is still ongoing debate over the exact origin of the carbon material, the investigators believe that fluid, rich in organic matter, made its way into fissures of the rock, while it was still on Mars.

 

Newborn baby ((radloff via Creative Commons/Flicker)

(radloff via Creative Commons/Flicker)

Study: Heavy Newborns Perform Well in School

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Chicago have found evidence that babies born with a higher birth weight may have a brighter academic future than those with lower birth weights.

The study conducted by scientists from Northwestern University shows that heavier babies do better than their lighter peers when tested years later in elementary and middle school.

“A child who is born healthy doesn’t necessarily have a fully-formed brain,” said David Figlio, one of the study’s authors and director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research in a press release. “Our study speaks to the idea that longer gestation and accompanying weight gain is good,” he said.

The Northwestern team also found this to be true even among twin babies.  The twin with a heaver birth weight had higher test scores than his lighter sibling.

 

The red areas show where the ocean has been taking up more heat during the global "warming hiatus." (University of Southampton)

The red areas show where the ocean has been taking up more heat during the global “warming hiatus.” (University of Southampton)

Increase in Oceanic Heat Drawdown Could Be Behind ‘Global Warming Hiatus’

A new study published in the scientific journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’ shows that a slowdown in the amount of global warming in the early 2000s, which has also been referred to as a “global warming hiatus”, was likely caused by an increase in the amount of heat drawn deep into equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean basins.

Researchers from the UK’s University of Southampton, National Oceanography Center (NOC) and the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) used data that was taken from a variety of state-of-the-art ocean and atmosphere models.

“This study attributes the increased oceanic heat drawdown in the equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean to specific, different mechanisms in each region,” said Sybren Drijfhout a study author from the University of Southampton in a press release.

Scientists had thought that the drawdown of heat within the Equatorial Pacific Ocean over the course of the decade-long hiatus was due to a number of La Niña events, which caused surface temperatures over that region of the Pacific to cool.

Ground-Based Telescope Observes Exoplanet Transiting Bright Star

Posted December 1st, 2014 at 9:51 pm (UTC+0)
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This artist's conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). Astronomers using a ground-based telescope have measure the transit of 55 Cancri e for the first time. (NASA/JPL)

This artist’s conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). (NASA/JPL)

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has used a ground-based telescope to detect and observe the transit of a planet in front of a Sun-like star outside of our own solar system.

Until now, only space-based telescopes were capable of detecting the transits of exoplanets as they passed by bright stars.

Distortions caused by the atmosphere, the same phenomenon that makes stars look like they’re twinkling, makes it difficult for astronomers to observe transiting planets around bright stars from telescopes based on Earth.

In September, 2013, Japanese astronomers, using the ground-based Subaru telescope were able to observe the transit of super-Earth, GJ 1214b, but this exoplanet orbits a much dimmer star, known as a red dwarf.

The most recent achievement involves a super-sized Earth-like planet in a binary star system more than 40-light years away.  Called 55 Cancri e, the planet orbits its primary star 55 Cancri A, in the constellation Cancer.  The solar system’s secondary star, 55 Cancri B, is a red dwarf star which is located about 159,321,732,615 km from the primary star.

The Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. (Bob Tubbs/Wikimedia Commons)

The Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. (Bob Tubbs/Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists say that while the primary star can be seen with the naked eye, it takes ideal conditions such as a clear and moonless night.

According to team leader, Dr. Ernst de Mooij of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, 55 Cancri e, was measured to have a diameter of about 26,000 km, which is twice that of Earth, but with eight times its mass.

Previous studies have found that the planet makes one complete orbit around its sun in about 18 hours and that since its daytime temperature can reach nearly 1,700° Celsius, 55 Cancri e is not at all hospitable to life.

The astronomical team used the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory’s 2.5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope, located in the Spanish archipelago Canary Islands.

The researchers believe their success may be good news for other astronomers using the same kind of tools and methods to study newly-found exoplanets.

A number of small, extra-solar planets are expected to be discovered in the next ten years as new observational space missions — including NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the European Space Agency’s Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO) –are launched.

An artist's concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An artist’s concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar. Remote sensing across tens of light-years is not easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.” says study co-author Dr. Ray Jayawardhana of York University, Canada.

Both PLATO – set to go in 2014 and TESS, scheduled for a 2017 launch – will look for transiting Earth-like planets circling nearby bright stars.

Along with de Moorji and Jayawardhana, the research team also includes Mercedes Lopez-Morales of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as Raine Karjalainen and Marie Hrudkova of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes in the Canary Islands.

The group’s findings will be outlined in a study that will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Science Images of the Month – November, 2014

Posted November 28th, 2014 at 7:51 pm (UTC+0)
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The Orion Spacecraft moves past NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building on November 11, 2014, as it slowly makes its 22 mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Orion is scheduled to launch for a test flight on Dec. 4, 2014. (AP)

The Orion Spacecraft moves past NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building on November 11, 2014, as it slowly makes its 22 mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled to launch for a test flight on Dec. 4, 2014. (AP)

Paleontology student Hillary McLean is seen here, on November 25, 2014, piecing together the tusk of an ancient mastodon.  The fossil was part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colorado. The discovery of ancient bones is providing an intriguing glimpse into what happened some 120,000 years ago when the Earth was as warm as it is today. (AP)

Paleontology student Hillary McLean is seen here, on November 25, 2014, piecing together the tusk of an ancient mastodon. The fossil was part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colorado. The discovery of ancient bones is providing an intriguing glimpse into what happened some 120,000 years ago when the Earth was as warm as it is today. (AP)

A man watches a test flight of the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft, piloted by Swiss Bertrand Piccard, in Payerne November 13, 2014.  An attempt to fly around the world in stages using only solar energy will be made in 2015. (Reuters)

A man watches a test flight of the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft, piloted by Swiss Bertrand Piccard, in Payerne November 13, 2014. An attempt to fly around the world in stages using only solar energy will be made in 2015. (Reuters)

After spending 5 ½ months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany is seen here being helped out a Soyuz TMA-13M space capsule after safely landing in a remote area in northern Kazakhstan November 10, 2014. Gerst returned to Earth with his fellow crewmembers Maxim Suraev of Russian and Reid Wiseman from the United States. (Reuters)

After spending 5 ½ months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany is seen here being helped out a Soyuz TMA-13M space capsule after safely landing in a remote area in northern Kazakhstan November 10, 2014. Gerst returned to Earth with his fellow crewmembers Maxim Suraev of Russian and Reid Wiseman from the United States. (Reuters)

Here’s a microscopic view of the transfer of Bluefin tuna reproductive cells into a mackerel fry surrogate.  If successful, this procedure will produce tuna when it matures. Researchers at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology are fine-tuning a technology to use mackerel surrogates to spawn the Bluefin to help relieve pressure on wild fish stocks while preserving vital genetic diversity. (AP)

Here’s a microscopic view of the transfer of Bluefin tuna reproductive cells into a mackerel fry surrogate. If successful, this procedure will produce tuna when it matures. Researchers at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology are fine-tuning a technology to use mackerel surrogates to spawn the Bluefin to help relieve pressure on wild fish stocks while preserving vital genetic diversity. (AP)

This northeast-facing view from the lower edge of the pale "Pahrump Hills" outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Nov. 13, 2014. The image includes wind-sculpted ripples of sand and dust in the middle ground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This northeast-facing view from the lower edge of the pale “Pahrump Hills” outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Nov. 13, 2014. The image includes wind-sculpted ripples of sand and dust in the middle ground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This humanoid robot face was displayed during the International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid, Spain on November 19, 2014. (Reuters)

This humanoid robot face was displayed during the International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid, Spain on November 19, 2014. (Reuters)

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new International Space Station crewmembers blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014.  (AP)

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new International Space Station crewmembers blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP)

Visitors to the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show are seen here, on November 20, 2014, examining the Toyota Future Mobility Concept car that was on display in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

Visitors to the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show are seen here, on November 20, 2014, examining the Toyota Future Mobility Concept car that was on display in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

This is a high-fidelity supercomputer simulation of magnetic field loops on the sun.  NASA researchers use these simulations to learn how these magnetic fields emerge, heat the sun’s outer atmosphere and produce sunspots and flares.  NASA featured this and a number of other computer simulations at SC14, the international supercomputing conference held from November 16-21, 2014 in New Orleans. (NASA/Ames)

This is a high-fidelity supercomputer simulation of magnetic field loops on the sun. NASA researchers use these simulations to learn how these magnetic fields emerge, heat the sun’s outer atmosphere and produce sunspots and flares. NASA featured this and a number of other computer simulations at SC14, the international supercomputing conference held from November 16-21, 2014 in New Orleans. (NASA/Ames)

Common Ancestor of Today’s Horse and Rhino Found in India

Posted November 25th, 2014 at 7:51 pm (UTC+0)
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Artist’s concept of Cambaytherium thewissi, the ancient ancestor of today's Horse and Rhino (Elaine Kasmer via Johns Hopkins University)

Artist’s concept of Cambaytherium thewissi, the ancient ancestor of today’s Horse and Rhino (Elaine Kasmer via Johns Hopkins University)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say fossils found in an Indian coal mine are pointing to a common ancestor for today’s horses, rhinos and tapirs.

The animals in question are members of an order called Perissodactyla or odd-toed ungulates because they happen to have an odd number of toes on their rear feet.

The findings come from an analysis of a huge bounty of various teeth and bones discovered in an open-pit coal mine located just north-east of Mumbai, India.

The number of fossils was so large and varied that researchers had to take them back home so that they could sort through all of them in their own laboratories.

Today's horse is thought to be a descendent of the extinct animal, Cambaytherium thewissi. (Peter aka anemoneprojectors/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Today’s horse is thought to be a descendent of the extinct animal, Cambaytherium thewissi. (Peter aka anemoneprojectors/Creative Commons via Flickr)

After examining and sorting the collection, the group found about 200 fossils belonging to an extinct and mysterious ancestor named Cabaytherius thewisse, an animal that could be the missing link in the evolution of the Perissodactyla group.

The Hopkins research team, writing in the online journal Nature Communications, says the mammals likely evolved on the Indian tectonic plate millions of years ago, long before it collided with the Eurasian plate.

To date, the oldest Perissodactyla fossils discovered go back to the Eocene epoch, about 55 to 56 million years ago.  These new samples from India are about 54.5 million years old.

After splitting from Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent traveled north and collided with Asia. (USGS)

After splitting from Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent traveled north and collided with Asia. (USGS)

Research team leader Ken Rose, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says because the fossils are slightly younger that previous samples,   researchers are gaining new insights into this missing link for all past and present members of the Perissodactyla group.

“Many of Cambaytherium’s features, like the teeth, the number of sacral vertebrae, and the bones of the hands and feet, are intermediate between Perissodactyla and more primitive animals,” Rose says. “This is the closest thing we’ve found to a common ancestor of the Perissodactyla order.”

Rose said the fossil collection gathered from the Indian coal mine also offers some provocative geological information about the ancient shifting of Earth’s tectonic plates.

“Around Cambaytherium’s time, we think India was an island, but it also had primates and a rodent similar to those living in Europe at the time,” Rose says. “One possible explanation is that India passed close by the Arabian Peninsula or the Horn of Africa, and there was a land bridge that allowed the animals to migrate. But Cambaytherium is unique and suggests that India was indeed isolated for a while.”

Scientists speculate the Indian plate eventually crashed into the Asian continent about 55 to 60 million years ago.

Science Scanner: Mapping an Asteroid; Why the Universe Didn’t Collapse; Spicy Food Saves Lives

Posted November 19th, 2014 at 9:07 pm (UTC+0)
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Here's a sample of the new geological map of Vesta. Areas in brown represent the oldest, most heavily   cratered surface. Purple colors and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and   Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the   interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young   landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively. Tectonic features   such as faults are shown by black lines.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

A sample of the new geological map of Vesta. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

Scientists Create Geologic and Tectonic Map of Vesta the Asteroid

A group of scientists used high-resolution images captured by NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft between 2011 and 2012 to create what they say is the first total geologic and tectonic map of the asteroid Vesta.

Details on the work appear in the December edition of the journal Icarus.

According to the researchers, their study of Vesta shows that the asteroid had a history of impacts by large meteorites.

“The resulting maps enabled us to construct a geologic time scale of Vesta for comparison to other planets and moons,” said research team leader David Williams of Arizona State University in a press statement.  Read more here…

 

Time Line of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Time Line of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Cosmological Mystery May Have Simple Solution

Scientists studying the Higgs-Boson found that the production of these former mystery particles in the rapidly expanding universe should have created a bit of instability right after the Big Bang that would have led to the collapse of the newly-forming universe.

Researchers have been puzzled since as to why the collapse didn’t happen.  Some of the scientists believe that the reason was due to some new and so far undiscovered physics.

Now, a team of scientists from the UK’s Imperial College London, Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, and Finland’s University of Helsinki say they believe gravity is what provided the universe with the stability that was needed to endure the rapid expansion.

The scientists outlined their findings in a study published by “Physical Review Letters.”  Read more here…

 

Smily Sun (Creative Commons via Pixabay)

(Creative Commons via Pixabay)

People with Low Levels of Vitamin D are at Risk of Disease and Death

Vitamin D, also known as the Sunshine Vitamin, is important for maintaining good bone health and helping prevent cardiovascular disease.

A new study of 96,000 Danish people found that those with a deficiency in vitamin D are also at risk of other diseases, such as cancer, and are experiencing higher rates of death than those with normal levels of vitamin D.

Humans get their vitamin D from the rays of the sun, in the food they eat or by taking supplements.

What the study doesn’t show is the best way to increase levels of vitamin D in those with a deficiency in the vitamin.  The researchers said that they still need to figure out just how much vitamin D would be needed to help those with a deficiency maintain a healthy level of the vitamin that would help prevent these diseases and lower mortality rates.  Read more…

 

A gathering of herbs and spices (Casey Fleser via Wikimedia Commons)

A gathering of herbs and spices (Casey Fleser via Wikimedia Commons)

A Bit of Spice in Your Food Could Lengthen Your Life

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) found that spices and herbs, which are packed full of antioxidants, could be quite helpful to people who have high levels of triglycerides and other fatty elements in their blood.

While you need some triglycerides in your bloodstream to maintain good health, too high a level of this fatty compound may raise the risk of heart disease.

It’s been found that a person’s triglyceride levels rise soon after eating a meal high in fat.

The Penn State researchers, comparing the post-fatty meal triglyceride levels in people who ate their meal cooked with the high-antioxidant spices and herbs, had as much as a 30 percent lower level of triglycerides than those who ate a meal cooked without the added seasonings.

The high-antioxidant herbs and spices added to the meals of those with the lower triglyceride levels included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric, ginger and black pepper.  Read more…

Volcanic Activity Linked to A Warm and Wet Ancient Mars

Posted November 17th, 2014 at 7:09 pm (UTC+0)
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Early in Mars history water formed an open-basin lake, filling the crater, forming a delta, and breaching the lower rim as water flowed to lower elevations (blue). (NASA/James Dickson, Brown University)

Early in Mars history water formed an open-basin lake, filling the crater, forming a delta, and breaching the lower rim as water flowed to lower elevations (blue). (NASA/James Dickson, Brown University)

Exploratory missions to Mars, such as NASA’s Curiosity Rover, have provided more and more evidence that Mars at one time was warm enough for water to flow on its surface.

Now a new study published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” has found that those ancient, warm periods on the Red Planet probably took place in brief and sporadic spurts of time.

“This new analysis provides a mechanism for episodic periods of heating and melting of snow and ice that could have each lasted decades to centuries,” said James W. Head, the study’s co-author and a professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University, in a university press release.

The researchers from Brown University in the U.S. and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, suggest that the periods that saw warmth and flowing water on Mars some 3.7 billion years ago may have been the result of the expulsion of gases due to volcanic activity.

The U.S./Israeli study combined the impact of volcanic activity with fresh climatic data that gathered by the various Mars probes to create and update new Mars climate models.

Studying those newer climate models, researchers found several factors that would make it difficult for a warmer and wetter Red Planet to exist.

They said the Mars atmosphere was so thin it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the planet to retain enough heat to allow for water to flow freely on its surface.  They also suggested that many years ago our sun wasn’t quite as powerful as it is today.

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (left) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today. (NASA's Goddar Space Flight Center)

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (left) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today. (NASA’s Goddar Space Flight Center)

But ongoing research of the Red Planet’s geological features has suggested that when water flowed some 3.7 billion years ago, there was a lot of volcanic activity taking place, with gigantic volcanoes spewing out large amounts of lava.

Along with lava, ash and other , volcanoes also pumps out a good amount of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

While atmospheric sulfur dioxide here on Earth has been linked to the production of acid rain and global cooling, the researchers in this study believe that this gas may have affected the atmosphere of Mars differently.

To reach their findings the research team generated a model that examined how sulfuric acid might react with the extensive amounts of dust in the ancient Martian atmosphere.

The models suggested that the particles of sulfuric acid attached themselves onto the dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.  The combined particles of dust and sulfuric acid would have reduced the ability to reflect the rays of the sun.

And they also found that the sulfur dioxide gas pumped into the atmosphere by the volcanoes would also have created a slight greenhouse effect that provided just enough warmth to the equatorial region of Mars to allow water to flow.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Scientists consider the Dry Valleys to be the closest of any terrestrial environment to Mars. (NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Scientists consider the Dry Valleys to be the closest of any terrestrial environment to Mars. (NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)

Professor Head, who spent a number of years conducting research in Antarctica, said that he thinks the climate of ancient Mars may have been comparable to the frigid, desert-like conditions Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys.

“The average yearly temperature in the Antarctic Dry Valleys is way below freezing, but peak summer daytime temperatures can exceed the melting point of water, forming transient streams, which then refreeze,” Head said. “In a similar manner, we find that volcanism can bring the temperature on early Mars above the melting point for decades to centuries, causing episodic periods of stream and lake formation.”

The researchers said that warm Martian temperatures and flowing water on its surface ended with the cessation of the Red Planet’s volcanic activity.

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