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.

NASA Study: Universe Shines Brighter Than We Thought

Posted November 8th, 2014 at 1:08 am (UTC+0)
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Time-lapse photograph of one of the last Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launchses. Image was taken in 2013 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (T. Arai/University of Tokyo)

Time-lapse photograph of one of the last Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launchses. Image was taken in 2013 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (T. Arai/University of Tokyo)

Analysis of observations gathered by the first two Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) missions shows that the universe shines much brighter that had been thought.

CIBER scientists found that infrared light in what were thought to be dark areas of space between galaxies is producing a glow that gleams as brightly as all the known galaxies combined.

This glow was first detected by scientists working with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Our sky is filled with a diffuse background glow, known as the cosmic infrared background. (Adolf Schaller/STScI , Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA, Judy Schmidt)

Our sky is filled with a diffuse background glow, known as the cosmic infrared background. (Adolf Schaller/STScI , Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA, Judy Schmidt)

The team’s findings, which are outlined in a paper just published by the journal Science, could prompt scientists to rethink galaxy structure.  Galaxy boundaries may not be as well defined as thought, but instead stretch out over a great distance to create an immense and interconnected ocean of stars.

Members of the CIBER team, which is an international group of scientists from various universities and government laboratories, hope their findings will help settle whether this infrared glow is something produced by a flow of individual stars stripped from their galaxies as a result of galactic collisions, or from the first galaxies formed in the universe.

“We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions,” said the paper’s lead author, Michael Zemcov, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”

This graphic illustrates how the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic illustrates how the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The theory that this background light is produced by the stream of orphaned stars gained even more favor after the CIBER team noticed that the infrared light appeared to be too bright and too blue to originate from the earliest galaxies of the universe.

Those first galaxies, according to the CIBER team, would produce colors of light that would much more red than what was observed.

“The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves,” said CIBER project principal investigator James Bock from Caltech and JPL.

From 2010 until 2013, the CIBER project launched a total of four suborbital “sounding rockets,” each carrying a package of instruments that allowed the international group of universities and government laboratories to characterize near infrared (IR) background light.

CIBER’s instruments took images of the cosmic background light at two infrared wavelengths shorter than can be detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

CIBER scientists had to make their observations and conduct their studies from instruments that were in flown into space since Earth’s own atmosphere also happens to glow brilliantly at the very same wavelengths of light that were needed to make their studies.

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video

Science Scanner: Space Chiefs Commit to ISS Cooperation, ESA Prepares for Comet Landing, Media/Real Violence Study

Posted November 6th, 2014 at 1:00 pm (UTC+0)
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International Space Station Agency Heads (NASA)

International Space Station Agency Heads (NASA)

Space Agency Heads Reaffirm Commitment to ISS

While the media has occasionally suggested over the past few months that the current diplomatic tension between the U.S. and Russia could impact the future of the International Space Station (ISS) mission, the heads of the space agencies involved with operating the ISS from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States just reaffirmed their support for continuing ISS operations.

The quintet of space leaders met yesterday (11/4/14) in Paris, France and issued a joint statement that reiterate their commitment to the ISS mission.

In their statement, the heads of the ISS partner agencies said that they are continuing to work through each their own government’s procedures so that the space station mission could continue until at least 2020.  The U.S. has committed to extend the use of the ISS until at least 2024, while other partner nations are considering a similar extension.

 

Philae's primary landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been named Agilkia (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Philae’s primary landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been named Agilkia (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

ESA Renames Landing Site for Comet Probe

One week from today (11/12/14), if all goes according to plan, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send its Philae lander down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft to softly touchdown on the nucleus of a comet.

The lander, which hitched a ride to the comet aboard its mother ship, the Rosetta, will be sent to a location on the comet’s surface that was recently named Agilkia.  The landing location, formerly known as ‘Site J’, was named for Agilkia Island, which is located on the Nile River in the south of Egypt.

Agilkia was selected as the name of Philae’s landing by members of the Philae Lander Steering Committee.  The 150 names that led to the final selection came as the result of a public competition that ran from 10/16/14 to 10/22/14.

The winning name was submitted by Alexandre Brouste from France.  For his prize, the winner will be invited to ESA’s Space Operations Control Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to watch the Philae landing as it happens.

 

Teen playing video game (Margot Trudell via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Teen playing video game (Margot Trudell via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Studies: No Link Between Media Violence and Actual Violence

For years violent television programs, movies and even video games have been blamed for encouraging real-life violence.  Several studies conducted over the years have supported the violent media/societal violence link.

But two new studies conducted by researcher Christopher Ferguson from Florida’s Stetson University found no associations between the consumption of media violence with real violence.

In the first of the two studies, Ferguson researched the number of depictions of violence as well as just how graphic the violence portrayed in popular movies was between 1920 and 2005. He then compared that with the rates of homicide in those years.

He found that, in general, there was really no connection between movie and actual violence.

The second study looked at the consumption of violent videogames in relation to the incidents of youth violence from 1996 until 2011.

The results of this study indicated that there were actually declines in youth violence, despite the level of violent video game consumption.  But Ferguson said that he thought mere chance was more responsible for this drop in violence than kids who played violent video games.

Ferguson’s studies were published in the ‘Journal of Communication’.

 

University of Alabama Birmingham scientists including Anath Shalev (right), director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Center, have uncovered that the drug verapamil, which is now used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, eradicated diabetes in animal tests (UAB News)

University of Alabama Birmingham scientists including Anath Shalev (right), director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center, have uncovered that the drug verapamil, which is now used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, eradicated diabetes in animal tests (UAB News)

Experimental Drug Cured Diabetes in Animal Tests

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are offering type 1 diabetes patients a ray of hope. In animal studies, a drug called verapamil, which is currently being used to help control blood pressure, also completely reversed diabetes.

As a result of that success the researchers will pursue human clinical trials some time in 2015.

The researchers said the upcoming human trial will allow them to test an approach that will focus on beta cells in the pancreas. These are the specialized cells that produce insulin, which is used by the body to control blood sugar.

Called “the repurposing of verapamil as a beta cell survival therapy in type 1 diabetes,” the upcoming clinical trial comes as result of more than a decade of studies.

New Research Reveals Ominous Future for Universe

Posted November 3rd, 2014 at 6:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Data provided by Sloan Digital Sky Survey and others was used to study the nature of dark energy. (Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Data provided by Sloan Digital Sky Survey and others was used to study the nature of dark energy. (Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

A team of British and Italian scientists recently conducted research that suggests an ominous future for the universe.

In a paper just published by the journal Physical Review Letters, the scientists said a review of new astronomical data found that dark energy (a theoretical form of energy that cosmologists believe is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe) is increasing as it feeds off dark matter (a hypothetical form of matter that is invisible to electromagnetic radiation).

This increase in dark energy at the expense of dark matter, according to the team’s research, appears to be slowing the growth of structures such as galaxies and galaxy clusters in the universe.

“This study is about the fundamental properties of space-time. On a cosmic scale, this is about our universe and its fate,” said Professor David Wands, Director of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, and a member of the research team in a University press release.  “If the dark energy is growing and dark matter is evaporating we will end up with a big, empty, boring universe with almost nothing in it.”

According to Wands, dark matter supplies the basis or a type of scaffolding for various cosmological structures to grow in the universe.  So if indeed dark energy is consuming the dark matter, as their research indicates, the disappearance of this material is slowing down the growth of such structures in the universe.

Italian research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said (University of Portsmouth)

Italian research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said (University of Portsmouth)

Along with Wands, the research team also included his University of Portsmouth colleague Dr. Marco Bruni, Professor Alessandro Melchiorri and researchers Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said from the Sapienza University of Rome.

To reach their findings, the team studied and analyzed the data from a number of astronomical surveys, which included the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.  With the extensive data sets, they were able to study the growth of cosmological structures that the astronomical data from the surveys revealed, so they could test various models of dark energy that had been developed.

U.S. scientists Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess along with Brian Schmidt of Australia shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for finding evidence that the Universe is not only expanding, but is doing so at an increasingly accelerated speed.

Riess and Schmidt worked together in the High-z Supernova Search Team, while Perlmutter led the Supernova Cosmology Project. Both teams made their prize winning findings at almost the same time.

Both teams of scientists made their virtually identical findings after studying something called a Type 1a supernovae and noticed that more distant objects appeared to be moving faster.

(Space Telescope Institute)

(Space Telescope Institute)

These findings were said to have shaken the study of cosmology to its roots, according to a number of scientists.

“Since the late 1990s astronomers have been convinced that something is causing the expansion of our Universe to accelerate,” said Wands. “The simplest explanation was that empty space – the vacuum – had an energy density that was a cosmological constant.

Wand went on to say that there is, however, increasing proof that the simple models provided by the research of the 1990’s cannot explain many things scientists are now finding in fresher and more extensive astronomical data that’s being made available, such his team’s findings that found cosmic structures like galaxies and clusters of galaxies seem to be growing slower than expected.

Science Images of the Month – October, 2014

Posted October 31st, 2014 at 6:57 pm (UTC+0)
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In this photo does the sun look like a jack-o-lantern to you?  This image showing the active regions of the sun was released by NASA on 10/8/14. Happy Halloween! (NASA)

In this photo does the sun look like a jack-o-lantern to you? This image showing the active regions of the sun was released by NASA on 10/8/14. Happy Halloween! (NASA)

An unmanned Antares rocket that was to send a commercial cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded into a spectacular ball of fire seconds after launch on 10/28/14. (NASA-TV)

An unmanned Antares rocket that was to send a commercial cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded into a spectacular ball of fire seconds after launch on 10/28/14. (NASA-TV)

Russia’s space cargo vehicle Progress 57 is seen approaching the International Space Station on 10/29/14, just hours after a NASA rocket carrying a similar spacecraft exploded. (NASA)

Russia’s space cargo vehicle Progress 57 is seen approaching the International Space Station on 10/29/14, just hours after a NASA rocket carrying a similar spacecraft exploded. (NASA)

Rows of robots are covered in plastic sheets at a Kuka Robotics plant in Shanghai.  China said it wants domestic companies to buy more locally made robots to lift productivity, but industry insiders have warned these policies are over-stimulating the market. (Reuters)

Rows of robots are covered in plastic sheets at a Kuka Robotics plant in Shanghai. China said it wants domestic companies to buy more locally made robots to lift productivity, but industry insiders have warned these policies are over-stimulating the market. (Reuters)

This image, released on 10/30/14, is of a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 2744, which is also nicknamed Pandora's Cluster.  Astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope recently found forensic evidence of galaxies torn apart long ago in this area of space. The glow comes from stars scattered into intergalactic space as a result of a galaxy's disintegration. (NASA/ESA)

This image, released on 10/30/14, is of a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 2744, which is also nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster. Astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope, recently found forensic evidence of galaxies torn apart long ago in this area of space. The glow comes from stars scattered into intergalactic space as a result of a galaxy’s disintegration. (NASA/ESA)

The sun peeks over the edge of Earth in a photo, taken on 10/29/14, by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the International Space Station. (NASA)

The sun peeks over the edge of Earth in a photo taken on 10/29/14 by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Two members of the US Department of Defense's Ebola Military Medical Support Team are seen here, on 10/24/14, helping each other with the protective gear they wore during training at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio. (AP)

Two members of the US Department of Defense’s Ebola Military Medical Support Team help each other with the protective gear during training at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. (AP)

The 10/8/14 lunar eclipse is can be seen behind a statue entitled "Enlightenment Giving Power" by John Gelert.  The statue sits atop the dome of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, N.J.  (AP)

The 10/8/14 lunar eclipse is can be seen behind a statue entitled “Enlightenment Giving Power” by John Gelert. The statue sits atop the dome of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, N.J. (AP)

Russian astronauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev walk in space outside of the International Space Station to inspect and perform maintenance outside the ISS’ Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) on 10/22/14. (NASA)

Russian astronauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev walk in space outside of the International Space Station to inspect and perform maintenance on the ISS’ Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) on 10/22/14. (NASA)

Teams of robots competed against each other on 10/10/14 in the three day 2014 China Robot Competition and Robocup China Open in Hefei, Anhui province. (Reuters)

Teams of robots competed against each other on 10/10/14 in the three-day 2014 China Robot Competition and Robocup China Open in Hefei, Anhui province. (Reuters)

The bay doors of the space shuttle Endeavour are shown wide open following the installation of a space lab, storage pod, replica robotic arm and docking system on 10/10/14.  After being retired following its final mission on 3/9/11, the Endeavor is now being kept at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

The bay doors of the space shuttle Endeavour are shown wide open following the installation of a space lab, storage pod, replica robotic arm and docking system on 10/10/14. After being retired following its final mission on 3/9/11, the Endeavor is now being kept at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, which brushed past Mars for a rare flyby on 10/19/14.  The image of the comet was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li)

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, brushed past Mars for a rare flyby on 10/19/14. The image of the comet was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li)

A boy visiting Tokyo’s “Hikari the Wonder of Light” exhibition on 10/29/14 is seen here looking at a kimono, made from silkworm cocoons, that glow yellow when it’s exposed to blue LEDs. (Reuters)

A boy visiting Tokyo’s “Hikari the Wonder of Light” exhibition on 10/29/14 looks at a kimono, made from silkworm cocoons, that glow yellow when it’s exposed to blue LEDs. (Reuters)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, shown here in the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility was finished 10/30/14.  It will be rolled out to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 11/10/14 and will be launched for a test flight on 12/4/14. (NASA/Lockheed Martin)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, shown here in the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility was finished 10/30/14. It will be rolled out to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 11/10/14 and will be launched for a test flight on 12/4/14. (NASA/Lockheed Martin)

Astronaut-diver Julien Bonini is seen training in a swimming pool located in Marseille, France on 10/22/14. Ms. Bonini and her fellow astronauts were being trained underwater to help develop expertise in partial gravity spacewalks. (Reuters)

Astronaut-diver Julien Bonini is seen training in a swimming pool located in Marseille, France on 10/22/14. Ms. Bonini and her fellow astronauts were being trained underwater to help develop expertise in partial gravity spacewalks. (Reuters)

Fossilized fragments from the right tibia of a Tachiraptor admirabilis are seen during a news conference in Caracas

Fossilized fragments from the right tibia of a rare carnivorous dinosaur called Tachiraptor admirabilis are displayed at a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela on 10/17/14. An international team of scientists discovered the remains of the dinosaur in Western Venezuela. (Reuters)

Science Scanner: ISS Resupply Spacecraft Explodes, Tiny Decontamination Devices, Walking Workstations = Health/Happy Workers

Posted October 29th, 2014 at 8:58 pm (UTC+0)
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Rocket With NASA’s Cargo Spacecraft Explodes Shortly After Liftoff/Russian Supply Mission Reaches ISS

Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Va., just six seconds after liftoff.  (NASA-TV)

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Va., just six seconds after liftoff. (NASA-TV)

You probably read about this elsewhere, but we’d be remiss if we were to omit mention of the two ISS resupply missions launched yesterday… one successful while the other crashed and burned, or perhaps more accurately, burned and crashed.

NASA’s resupply mission to the International Space Station ended in disaster after the Orbital Science’s Antares rocket that was to ferry the unmanned Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the space station exploded shortly after its 2022 UTC launch last night from the space agency’s Wallops Island Fight Center in Virginia.

However, a few hours after NASA’s attempted launch, the Russian space agency successfully sent up its resupply cargo ship which, according to NASA’s Space Station blog, docked with the ISS today at 1308 UTC.

“The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies,” said William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate in a prepared statement.

Both the US and Russian resupply missions were planned and scheduled in advance.

 

Microdevices Designed to Neutralize Chemical/Biological Warfare Agents 

Spherical micromotors fueled by water can neutralize dangerous chemical and biological agents. (American Chemical Society)

Spherical micromotors fueled by water can neutralize dangerous chemical and biological agents. (American Chemical Society)

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego said they’ve come up with a unique new approach to handling threats posed by the use of chemical and biological weapons by terrorists or rogue governments.

The California researchers are developing tiny new spherical microrockets that will quickly deliver titanium dioxide, an agent that scientists say neutralizes dangerous biological and chemical agents, into environments that can be difficult to decontaminate.

The scientific team, led by UCSD’s Joseph Wang, outlined their new decontamination process in the journal ‘ACS Nano’.  They created a delivery system by coating the titanium dioxide over tiny spherical cores of magnesium.

When these little orbs, with one tiny hole drilled into its shell, are introduced into watery environment the magnesium reacts to the water and produces hydrogen gas which quickly pushes the neutralizing titanium dioxide through the contaminated fluid.

The researchers tested their new micromotors and found that they were able to successfully neutralize not only nerve agents but also anthrax-like bacteria and were able to do so in much less time than with methods that are currently being used.

 

A 'walking workstation' (Jerry Huddleston via Creative Commons/Flickr)

A ‘walking workstation’ (Jerry Huddleston via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Healthier & Happier Workers Thanks to Walking Workstations

Most of us who work in offices are used to spending a lot of time sitting at our desks, but numerous studies have shown that too much sitting can be bad for our health.

As a result of this research, a number of office workers, including a number of my colleagues here at VOA, have switched from standard sitting workstations to those that allow you to work while standing up.

Some offices have taken the stand-up work station a step further and have introduced something called walking workstations.  Instead of simply standing at your desk on the office floor, with the walking workstation you stand on a treadmill which can be switched on and off throughout the day, allowing workers to do a little walking while they work.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) recently conducted a study that found office workers using walking workstations had a higher level of satisfaction and weren’t as bored or stressed as those working with standing or sitting workstations.

“We found that the walking workstations, regardless of a person’s exercise habits or body mass index (BMI), had significant benefits,” said study co-author Michael Sliter, in a press release. “Even if you don’t exercise or if you are overweight, you’ll experience both short-term physical and psychological benefits.”

The study can be found online in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and will be published in the print edition of the journal in  this coming January.

NASA’s NuStar Mission Finds Rare Pulsar that Pumps Out the Energy of 10 Million Suns

Posted October 27th, 2014 at 6:49 pm (UTC+0)
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This animation shows a neutron star—the core of a star that exploded in a massive supernova. This particular neutron star is known as a pulsar because it sends out rotating beams of X-rays that sweep past Earth like lighthouse beacons. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission recently made a remarkable discovery that could lead to a better understanding of how collapsed remnants like black holes can grow and feed on matter at very high rates, something that scientists think had to be done very early in the history of the universe.

The NuStar team, led by Dr. Fiona Harrison from the California Institute for Technology, was studying a supernova that had exploded in a nearby galaxy called Messier 82, or the Cigar Galaxy.

As they were making their observations the scientists also found some other very bright and incredibly luminous x-ray sources – ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) – which they were quite sure were relatively massive black holes eating material at a very high rate.

Upon further investigation the team noticed that one of the objects was pulsing or flashing light.  They then realized that it wasn’t a black hole they were observing but a pulsating neutron star (a dead star) called a pulsar.

High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta) found in the M82 or Cigar Galaxy this mosaic of images from space and earth based telescopes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAO/NOAO)

High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta) found in the M82 or Cigar Galaxy this mosaic of images from space and earth based telescopes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAO/NOAO)

And what they found wasn’t just any regular pulsar, but the brightest that had ever been seen, pumping out about 10 million times more energy than our sun and more than ten times brighter than any known object like it.

The team’s finding is challenging theorists to try and understand the physics of how this object, nicknamed the “Mighty Mouse” of pulsars, could be so bright.

Harrison, one of the first women to become a principal investigator of a NASA mission, said that this newly discovered object has so much mass packed into it that it’s equivalent to having the mass of the sun jammed into a region the size of the city of San Francisco.

“If you took a teaspoon of the neutron star it would weigh more than all the humans on Earth,” she said.

NuStar, one of NASA’s small ‘explorer missions’ is the first telescope that can offer finely focused images of the universe in the high energy part of the x-ray band (6 – 79 keV).  Harrison said that since NuStar can focus so well it produces images that are 100 times crisper than any that had been offered in the high-energy part of the spectrum before.

X-ray electromagnetic radiation is emitted by some of the hottest, densest, most energetic regions in the universe.

Artist's concept of NuSTAR spacecraft in orbit. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s concept of NuSTAR spacecraft in orbit. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Harrison helped create some of the instruments that are aboard the NuStar spacecraft.

One of the first things that Harrison and her colleagues had to do to get the NuStar mission off the ground was to develop x-ray lens that can focus the light as well as new kinds of detectors that work like digital cameras, but can make images in the high-energy x-ray range.

As members of the NuStar mission began their work, they found that the only available types of telescopes that would work in the part of the x-ray spectrum they would be focusing on were those that were based on ‘pinhole cameras’ which she said was a very crude technology.

In order to peer deep into the cosmos, Harrison said that ‘real telescopes’ were needed.  So they worked with available x-ray mirror technology and developed and built telescopes that could be used to make observations at higher energies, as well as detectors that could actually stop the powerful beams of electromagnetic radiation to make images.

So as they prepared the NuStar for its June 13, 2012 launch, mission engineers and technicians packed it with instruments that were designed to collect images at energies beyond those of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton or X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission space telescope.

Although NuStar completed its two-year primary mission, NASA moved the x-ray space telescope onto a two-year mission extension.

Principal Investigator Dr. Fiona Harrison poses with model of NASA's NuStar spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Principal Investigator Dr. Fiona Harrison poses with model of NASA’s NuStar spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA officials said they plan continued observations with not only NASA’s NuSTAR, but with its Swift and Chandra spacecraft to see if they can find some kind of an explanation for the behavior of the newly discovered pulsar.

Also, since the discovery of this unique pulsar was a bit of a surprise, members of the NuSTAR team will continue to closely observe other ultraluminous X-ray sources in hopes of finding even more pulsars.

Dr. Fiona Harrison talked about the pulsar discovery, the NuStar mission itself, what it’s like being one of the first female primary investigators of a NASA mission and how she balances her very busy scientific schedule with an active home life as a wife and mother on a recent radio edition of VOA’s Science World.

You can listen to the interview through the audio player below.

Science Scanner: Heart of Space Telescope Survives Deep Freeze, Pain-Free Blood Tests and 3-D Videogames Trigger Player Anger

Posted October 22nd, 2014 at 7:13 pm (UTC+0)
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The view from inside NASA Goddard's Thermal Vacuum Chamber shows the space telescope's ISIM being lifted out by crane, after completing weeks of space environment testing. (NASA/Chris Gunn)

The view from inside NASA Goddard’s Thermal Vacuum Chamber shows the space telescope’s ISIM being lifted out by crane, after completing weeks of space environment testing. (NASA/Chris Gunn)

Key Space Telescope Component Passes Deep Freeze Test

Officials with the James Webb Space Telescope project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland report success in a crucial test to see if a key component, which  they refer to as the ‘heart’ of the space telescope, can take the incredibly cold conditions of space.

Project team members placed the component, known at the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), along with the very sensitive instruments it contains, inside a thermal vacuum chamber called the Space Environment Simulator (SES) for 116 days at a temperature of 40° Kelvin, which is -233.15° C. According to NASA, that’s 126.67° C colder than any place on the Earth’s surface.

Members of the Webb team refer to the ISIM as the space telescope’s heart because it houses the four key instruments that will detect light from celestial objects such as distant stars and galaxies, and planets.

Around the clock throughout the 116 day test period, technicians and engineers monitored the module and its instruments to make sure that all was working as it should in conditions that replicated the icy environment it will operate in following its planned 2018 launch.

 

Illustration depicting liposomal OTS964 entering cancer cells where it blocks the enzyme TOPK, preventing the final stage of cell division. (Jae-Hyun Park D.V.M., Ph.D., Research Associate/Assistant Professor, Section of Hematology/Oncology, The University of Chicago)

Illustration depicting liposomal OTS964 entering cancer cells where it blocks the enzyme TOPK, preventing the final stage of cell division. (Jae-Hyun Park D.V.M., Ph.D., Research Associate/Assistant Professor, Section of Hematology/Oncology, The University of Chicago)

New Cancer-Fighting Drug is Effective, Produces Fewer Side Effects

Researchers from the US and Japan, writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that a newly developed drug known as OTS964 is able to destroy aggressive human lung cancers that had been transplanted into mice with fewer side effects than is experienced with other cancer treatments.

The researchers found that this new medication, which can be administered either as a pill or by injection, reduces the action of a protein called TOPK (T–lymphokine-activated killer cell – originated protein kinase), which tends to be overproduced by a wide range of human cancers, but is rarely expressed in healthy tissues.

Cancer cells that lack this protein aren’t able to complete the cell-division process and as a result, die.

The researchers found that when the drug was administered by pill, the test mice were able to tolerate it with only small degree of toxicity.  Given in an intravenous form, not only was the OTS964 as effective as in pill form, but the test mice experienced fewer side effects.

Both the pill and injection versions of the drug also led to a complete regression of the tumors transplanted into the mice.

The researchers hope to begin a phase-1 clinical trial as soon as the fall of 2015.

 

Young woman expresses her aversion to getting jabbed with a needle as a medical technician draws blood (Photo: US Navy)

Young woman expresses her aversion to getting jabbed with a needle as a medical technician draws blood (Photo: US Navy)

Australian Researchers Develop Less Painful Alternative to Blood Tests

Australian researchers writing in the American Chemical Society’s journal Analytical Chemistry said that they’ve developed a new and less painful method for drawing the blood needed for blood tests.

Rather than drawing blood with a syringe, the Aussie researchers are working on system uses small diagnostic skin patches.  One side of their skin patch is covered with a network of thousands of tiny, hollow needles that can retrieve fluids from skin tissue without the pain and difficulty of the standard blood drawing system.

While researchers have experimented with similar skin patch systems, those developed so far have only been able to test for one biomarker at a time.  For a more accurate and reliable diagnosis, multiple biomarkers are needed.

The Australian team optimized their skin patch so it captures two biomarkers for the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, which health officials say kills more than 1 million people every year.

To test the effectiveness of their system, the researchers first injected malaria proteins into the bloodstream of live mice and then applied their patch to their skin.  The researchers were able to successfully grab a sample of those injected proteins using their skin patch system.

 

Young woman playing 3D game 'Invincible Tiger' (Deadmanjones/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Young woman playing 3D game ‘Invincible Tiger’ (Deadmanjones/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Immersive 3-D Violent Video Games Increases Players Anger Levels

​Video game producers work continuously to make their games as lifelike as possible, so many have turned to 3-D gaming technology.

But according to a new study from Ohio State University, 3-D technology makes violent video games so realistic that they lead to high anger levels in players.

The researchers found that those who played violent 3-D games displayed more signs of anger than those who played the regular 2-D systems, even if they used large display screens.

Compared to 2-D game system players, the researchers found that those who played the video games on the 3-D systems felt more “immersed in the game”.

“3-D gaming increases anger because the players felt more immersed in the violence when they played violent games,” said study co-author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University in a press release. “As the technology in video games improves, it has the ability to have stronger effects on players.”

Bushman said that combining violent game content with immersive technology like 3-D can be troublesome and that factor should be considered by those involved, from game creators to content rating agencies to consumers.

The Ohio State study has been accepted for publication in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Mars Has Close Call With Comet

Posted October 20th, 2014 at 7:47 pm (UTC+0)
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Artist's concept of Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars. (NASA)

Artist’s concept of Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars. (NASA)

Wow that was close!

NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) are reporting that their Mars Orbiters are safe and doing fine after comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring brushed by and made its closest approach to the Red Planet Sunday, with its nucleus passing by at approximately 1827 UTC.

Scientists said that the comet blew past Mars at a speed of about 56 kilometers per second and got as close as 139,500 kilometers of the planet, that’s about one-third of the distance between Earth and the Moon.

Artist's concept shows the NASA Mars orbiters lining up behind Mars for their “duck and cover” maneuver to shield them from comet dust that may result from the close flyby of Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring  on Oct. 19, 2014.  (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Artist’s concept shows the NASA Mars orbiters lining up behind Mars for their “duck and cover” maneuver to shield them from comet dust that may result from the close flyby of Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring on Oct. 19, 2014. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

All three space agencies put special measures in place ahead of time to protect their spacecraft from the envelope of gas and high-velocity dust particles that accompanies the comet in its orbital trip around the sun.

NASA moved its Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) to the opposite side of the planet from the approaching comet.

Officials with each of the three NASA orbiter missions also took additional steps to protect their spacecraft and its onboard instruments.

ESA put its Mars Express into a special protective mode that would reduce any risk to the spacecraft from from comet particles.

Path of Comet Siding Spring animation (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Path of Comet Siding Spring animation (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

“This included turning off all instruments and non-essential onboard systems, and turning the spacecraft so as to use the large high-gain antenna as a shield,” said Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager Michel Denis in a press release.

ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Tweeted “Phew! Experience of a lifetime. Watched the #MarsComet #SidingSpring whizzing past the planet. I’m in my orbit, safe and sound.”

The fleet of spacecraft also had a ring-side seat to watch the rare celestial event as the comet zipped past Mars.

This artist's concept puts solar system distances in perspective.  (NASA Goddard)

This artist’s concept puts solar system distances in perspective. (NASA Goddard)

The space agencies said that their orbiters are sending images and observational data back to Earth where it’s being downloaded.  NASA said that it could take days for it to retrieve a full download of data from its spacecraft.

To get a wide range of observations of the Comet’s close encounter with Mars, NASA used other resources, such as its Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, as well as other spacecraft and facilities like the Hubble, Swift and Kepler Space Telescopes to watch the flyby from their unique perspectives.

If Mars were Earth, comet Siding Spring would pass by at about 1/3 the distance of Earth to the Moon.  (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

If Mars were Earth, comet Siding Spring would pass by at about 1/3 the distance of Earth to the Moon. (NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring was discovered by astronomer Robert McNaught at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory on January 3, 2013.  At the time of its discovery the comet was about 1,078,260,480 km from the sun.

Scientists said that the celestial object originated in the ‘Oort Cloud’ and probably has been making its orbital trip toward the sun for millions of years.

The comet is expected to reach its perihelion – closest encounter with the Sun – on October 25, 2014 getting within a distance of 1.39875 AU or 209,250,022 km.

After rendezvousing with the sun, Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will make its long return trip back into the depths of the solar system way beyond Pluto.

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