July 2015 Science Images

Posted July 31st, 2015 at 7:40 pm (UTC+0)
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“There’s no place like home!” A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away. (NASA)

“There’s no place like home!” A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away. (NASA)

A team works on the "Incredible Science Machine" on 7/16/15 at Detroit’s “Michigan Science Center”.  This large chain reaction machine contained more than half a million objects, including about 200,000 dominoes and thousands of other common objects.  Unfortunately the contraption didn’t quite set the record for “largest chain reaction machine” since several of its sections failed after being triggered on 7/18/15.  (AP)

A team works on the “Incredible Science Machine” on 7/16/15 at Detroit’s “Michigan Science Center”. This large chain reaction machine contained more than half a million objects, including about 200,000 dominoes and thousands of other common objects. Unfortunately the contraption didn’t quite set the record for “largest chain reaction machine” since several of its sections failed after being triggered on 7/18/15. (AP)

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope released on 7/27/15.  As the star was dying it burst into a planetary nebula known as NGC 6565. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope released on 7/27/15. As the star was dying it burst into a planetary nebula known as NGC 6565. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A robot took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for The College of New Jersey's planned $75 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics complex in Ewing, New Jersey on 7/7/15. (AP)

A robot took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for The College of New Jersey’s planned $75 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics complex in Ewing, New Jersey on 7/7/15. (AP)

This image of Pluto, released 7/24/15, was made by combining several images from two cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it was about 450,000 km from the dwarf planet.  (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This image of Pluto, released 7/24/15, was made by combining several images from two cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it was about 450,000 km from the dwarf planet. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

On 7/28/15, a team of scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne announced the identities of four men buried within Jamestown Virginia’s historic 1608 church.  The remains have been identified as Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Capt. William West, all high-status leaders who helped shape the future of America during the initial phase of the Jamestown colony. (James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)

On 7/28/15, a team of scientists from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation at Historic Jamestowne announced the identities of four men buried within Jamestown Virginia’s historic 1608 church. The remains have been identified as Rev. Robert Hunt, Capt. Gabriel Archer, Sir Ferdinando Wainman and Capt. William West, all high-status leaders who helped shape the future of America during the initial phase of the Jamestown colony. (James Di Loreto/Smithsonian Institution)

NASA's NuSTAR telescope has captured high-energy X-rays coming from active regions across the sun. This image was created by combining observations from NuSTAR along with several other telescopes. The image was presented on 7/8/15 at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA)

NASA’s NuSTAR telescope has captured high-energy X-rays coming from active regions across the sun. This image was created by combining observations from NuSTAR along with several other telescopes. The image was presented on 7/8/15 at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/JAXA)

New Horizons Flight Controllers, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, celebrate after they received confirmation that the NASA spacecraft had successfully completed its close flyby of Pluto on 7/14/15. (NASA)

New Horizons Flight Controllers, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, celebrate after they received confirmation that the NASA spacecraft had successfully completed its close flyby of Pluto on 7/14/15. (NASA)

Caltech led scientists discovered a powerful auroral display – seen in this artist’s conception – on a brown dwarf star some 20 light years away.  The scientists said that these auroras also happen to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than any detected in our solar system. This discovery was outlined in the 7/30/15 edition of the journal “Nature”. (Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan/Caltech)

Caltech led scientists discovered a powerful auroral display – seen in this artist’s conception – on a brown dwarf star some 20 light years away. The scientists said that these auroras also happen to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than any detected in our solar system. This discovery was outlined in the 7/30/15 edition of the journal “Nature”. (Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan/Caltech)

This photo, taken 7/20/15 through a pipe at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, shows a Soyuz-FG booster rocket with the space capsule Soyuz TMA-17M after being lifted onto its launch pad by three service towers.  The spacecraft, launched on 7/22/15 carried a new crew to the International Space Station. (AP)

This photo, taken 7/20/15 through a pipe at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, shows a Soyuz-FG booster rocket with the space capsule Soyuz TMA-17M after being lifted onto its launch pad by three service towers. The spacecraft, launched on 7/22/15 carried a new crew to the International Space Station. (AP)

This composite image of stellar cluster NGC 1333 was created by combining observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, along with optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories' Mayall 4-meter telescope near Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/NOAO/DSS)

This composite image of stellar cluster NGC 1333 was created by combining observations made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, along with optical data from the Digitized Sky Survey and the National Optical Astronomical Observatories’ Mayall 4-meter telescope near Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/NOAO/DSS)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Study: Obese People Have Little Chance of Ever Returning to Normal Weight

Posted July 27th, 2015 at 9:00 pm (UTC+0)
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Once obese there's very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Once obese there’s very little chance of a return to normal weight says UK study. (Tony Alter/Flickr/Creative Commons)

If you’ve ever tried to lose a few pounds, you know how hard it can be. A new study confirms that.

British researchers, analyzing UK health records, tracked the weight of nearly 279,000 people – 129,194 men and 149,788 women over a ten year period – 2004 to 2014 – and found the chance of an obese person returning to a normal body weight is very low.

The study, led by researchers at King’s College London and published by the American Journal of Public Health, emphasizes just how hard it is for people suffering with obesity to succeed in losing and then keeping off even small amounts of weight.

For those considered obese – Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 to 35 – only 1 in 210 men and 1 in 124 women were able to drop enough weight to be considered “normal weight.”

The odds really increase for those who are considered severely obese – BMI of 35 to 39 – with to 1 in 1,290 for men and 1 in 677 for women reaching normal weight.

Research has shown that a five to ten percent loss of body weight not only provides significant health benefits, but is also an ideal weight loss target.

Obese people, tracked in this study, fared a little better when they aimed for a five percent weight loss.   1 in 12 men and 1 in 10 women were able to shed five percent of their weight.

But the losses were often fleeting.

Unfortunately, 53 per cent of those who lost this weight gained it back within two years and 78 percent had regained the weight within five years.

In other words the, study shows that once an adult becomes obese, there is only a small chance that they will ever get back to having a healthy body weight.

The researchers also noticed that a third of the obese people, involved with the study, cycled back and forth between losing and gaining weight – also called weight cycling and yo-yo dieting.

This led the researchers to conclude methods used for treating obesity today aren’t effective enough to allow obese people to maintain a sustained weight loss.

Body Mass Index - BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Body Mass Index – BMI Chart (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Researchers said a new approach may be needed.

“Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Martin Gulliford, from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, in a press release. “The greatest opportunity for stemming the current obesity epidemic is in wider-reaching public health policies to prevent obesity in the population,” he added.

The researchers said their study shows an urgent need for the development of new obesity treatment methods, with an emphasis on preventing those who are overweight and obese from gaining any more weight, and helping those that who successfully lose weight to keep it off

They added that there needs to be more of an effort on preventing weight gain in the first place.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Earth’s ‘Cousin’ Found; Burnt Scroll Made Readable, ET Search Boosted

Posted July 24th, 2015 at 11:24 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA Finds Earth’s Older and Bigger Cousin

NASA announced that its Kepler mission has discovered a planet and star that closely resembles the Earth and our Sun.  Some have even been calling the discovery of the exoplanet “Earth’s older and bigger cousin”.

The planet and sun are part of the Kepler-452 system and are about 1,400 light-years away and located in the constellation Cygnus.

Called Kepler-452b the Earth-like exoplanet, cis located within the star system’s “habitable zone”.  That’s the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet

NASA said that the Kepler mission also discovered 11 other new small exoplanets located in the habitable zone of their star systems.

Ancient and Charred Scroll Made Readable Again by New Technologies

Scientists have developed some advanced technologies that have made it possible, for the first time, to read parts of a badly burned 1,500 year old scroll.

The scroll, written in Hebrew, was discovered in 1970 inside the Holy Ark of the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel.

Text of damaged scroll was made readable again through the use of high-resolution scanning and an innovative new virtual unwrapping tool developed by Professor Brent Seales from the University of Kentucky.

The scroll contains the beginning of the Book of Leviticus and carbon dating has indicated that it’s from the late sixth century.

Four-Legged Snake Ancestor Found in Brazil

Scientists studying a fossil taken from the Crato Formation in Brazil said that they’ve discovered an ancient species of a four-legged snake called Tetrapodophis amplectus.

It’s thought that the Tetrapodophis’s four legs weren’t used for movement but for grasping, either to grab prey or to clasp during mating.

The quadruped serpent, which was found to be an ancestor of modern-day snakes, lived during the Early Cretaceous period some 146 to 100 million years ago.

The scientists said that their findings have provided evidence that the snake may have evolved from animals that were ground burrowers rather than from sea-based ancestors.

Lots of Friends at 20 and Good Friends at 30 Provides Well-being Later in Life

A new study from the University of Rochester (New York) has found that having an active social life at 20 and having really good friends at 30 can be beneficial to a person’s well-being as they get older.

A busy social life at 20, according to the study, helps people build a set of useful tools that can help later in life.

The researchers said that people in their twenties often get to meet people from a variety of backgrounds and have different opinions and values than ours.  This teaches us how to best manage those differences.

For people in their thirties, the study showed that having the kind of active social life as they had while they were in their twenties provided no psychosocial benefits later in life.

But, those 30 year olds who said that they had high-quality relationships that were intimate and satisfying also had a high level of well-being as they got older.

Billionaire and Scientist Will Boost Search for ET

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking gave the search for extraterrestrial intelligence a significant boost this week when they announced the formation of the $100 million dollar Breakthrough Initiatives.

The multi-disciplinary project will span 10-years and use the world’s largest telescopes to mine data from the nearest 1-million stars in the Milky Way, and some 100 other galaxies.

The first two of these initiatives include “Breakthrough Listen,” which organizers say will be the most powerful, wide-ranging and intensive scientific search for signs of intelligent life in the cosmos.

The second initiative, called “Breakthrough Message,” will be a 1-million dollar international competition to compose digital messages that represent humanity and our planet, which one day could be sent to other civilizations beyond Earth.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Rise in the Volume of Arctic Sea Ice Noted by UK Researchers

Posted July 22nd, 2015 at 10:37 pm (UTC+0)
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An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

An image of an area of the Arctic sea ice pack well north of Alaska, captured by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sept. 13, 2013 (NASA)

Previous research has suggested that both the thickness and extent of Arctic summer sea ice have dramatically declined over the past 30 years. The data includes measurements taken by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

But now, some British scientists have found the volume of Arctic sea ice has actually increased by a third after 2013’s unusually cool summer.  That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at University College London and the University of Leeds, and published in the journal Nature.

Rachel Tilling, the study’s lead author from the Center for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University College London, said that the much cooler temperatures in the summer of 2013 were more like those recorded back in the late 1990s.

“This allowed thick sea ice to persist northwest of Greenland because there were fewer days when it could melt,” she said in a press release. “Although models have suggested that the volume of Arctic sea ice is in long-term decline, we know now that it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short.”

In an email to Science World, Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said she is “very cautious about these results (of the UK study)” because much of the processing used in the study was not well-described, which makes it difficult for others to fully reproduce their results.  However, Stroeve said she doesn’t doubt that the overall Arctic ice thickness was larger in 2013 and 2014 than in 2012, because not as much ice melted.

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on Arctic sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer. (US Army)

According to the Nature study, the sudden increase in sea ice volume after just one cool summer suggests that Arctic sea ice may be more resilient than has been previously considered.

Stroeve doesn’t quite agree. “I think the statement that sea ice is more resilient is a bit premature as it’s based on only 5 years of data, and it does not take into account variable precipitation as they assume climatological snow depth,” she said.

To make their findings, the British researchers used measurements taken by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite between 2010 and 2014, as well as maps of sea ice extent.

CryoSat’s primary instrument, according to ESA’s website, is the Synthetic Aperture Interferometric Radar Altimeter. It was designed to meet the measurement requirements for ice-sheet elevation and the height of sea ice protruding from the water.

Stroeve says that one does not measure ice thickness directly with radar or a laser altimeter. “You need to also know snow depth and density, both of which are not known over the Arctic Ocean,” she says.

ESA's CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice.  ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

ESA’s CryoSat satellite scans polar ice sheets and floating sea ice. ((c) ESA/P. Carril)

Professor Andrew Shepherd, Director of Center for Polar Observation and Modelling said that while it is doubtful the Arctic region will be ice-free this summer, due to the jump in sea ice volume, temperatures are expected to rise again in the future.  He likens the effects of the cool summer of 2013 as simply “winding the clock back a few years” on long-term Arctic sea ice decline.

“Understanding what controls the amount of Arctic sea ice takes us one step closer to making reliable predictions of how long it will last, which is important because it is a key component of Earth’s climate system,” he says.

The researchers said that they are planning to use CryoSat’s measurements of changing sea ice thickness not only to help improve models that are used to forecast future climate change, but also to help sailors steer their ships in the potentially dangerous Arctic region.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Close Call for ISS; Threat to Polar Bears; Binary System Cannibal

Posted July 18th, 2015 at 1:00 am (UTC+0)
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ISS Crewmembers Back to Work after Close Call with Space Junk

Fear that a floating piece of space junk could impact the ISS sent astronauts the station’s crew scrambling onto a docked Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on Friday (07/17). Luckily, the debris passed the station harmlessly, and the crew was back at work.

Houston’s Mission Control was tracking a chunk of what used to be a weather satellite when they noticed that it was headed to toward the space station for possible impact Thursday (07/16) at 1201 UTC.

Loss of Sea Ice Poses Serious Threat to Polar Bears

Food has always been scarce for polar bears, but the quickening loss of sea ice during the summer months could lead to even less food available.

While the bears have certain amount of stored energy, a new study suggests they may not be able to rely on that reserve to get them through the melt season. The bears also can reduce the amount of energy they use to help prolong their supply of stored energy, but the study indicates it isn’t enough to make up for any food shortages they experience during the summer.

It May be Harder to Avoid Mosquito Bites than Thought

A new study from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has found that blood-feeding mosquitoes have evolved to where they can use three senses to zero-in on the human or animal host for their next meal.

Many insects, including mosquitoes, are drawn in by the odor of carbon dioxide released by humans and other animals when they exhale.  But, the study found mosquitoes can also use their vision to see their host and detect body heat with their thermal sensory abilities.

Study: Oceans Reduced the Rise of Global Surface Temperatures

Climate scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and UCLA, who studied ocean temperatures, have found that some of the heat generated by greenhouse gases has been trapped and held beneath the surface of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The researchers suggest this may explain the slowdown in the rise of global surface temperatures that have been observed over the past decade.

They found a layer beneath the surface Pacific and Indian Oceans, located between 91 and 305 meters, is gathering more heat than previously observed.  According to the researchers, movement of the warm subsurface ocean water has produced an unusually cooler surface which in turn has also cooled the air temperature above.

Astronomers Discover a Cannibal in a Dual-Star System

Professional astronomers with help from amateur stargazers have discovered a fascinating binary star system containing a very hot and dense white dwarf that is actually devouring its larger companion star.

Named Gaia-14aae, the rare star system is located some 730 light years away from Earth in the Draco constellation.

Another factor that sets this star system apart from others is that it contains a large amount of helium but no hydrogen, which is very strange since hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

New Horizons Team Relieved After Spacecraft Phones Home

Posted July 15th, 2015 at 9:52 pm (UTC+0)
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New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland.
(NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It took a little more than thirteen hours after NASA’s New Horizons mission made its historic close encounter with Pluto and its five known moons, but the piano-sized spacecraft finally phoned home to say that it’s OK and that the fly-by went according to plan.

Anxious members of the New Horizons mission team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland became jubilant after they started receiving status messages from the spacecraft a little before 0100 UTC on July 15th.

The reason why mission controllers had to wait so long after the fly-by is that New Horizons was instructed not to communicate with Earth until after it flew beyond the Pluto system and had gathered as much data as possible.

New Horizons captured this close-up image of Pluto's surface (NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI)

New Horizons captured this close-up image of Pluto’s surface (NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI)

After traveling some five billion kilometers into the far reaches of our solar system for nearly a decade, the first spacecraft to be sent to Pluto flew within 12,500 kilometers above the surface of the dwarf planet on July 14th at 1149 UTC.

The New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft that has ever been launched – it’s hurtling through space at more than 52,000 kilometers per hour.

NASA said the spacecraft flew past Pluto and its five known moons while in data-gathering mode and was not in immediate contact with controllers here on Earth.

Mission officials said that the New Horizons has gathered so much data that it will take about 16 months for to send it all back to Earth.

New Horizons was sent into space in January 2006 to explore a region of the solar system beyond the large planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – that’s never been explored before.

This area of space, called the Kuiper Belt, is several billion kilometers wide and contains relatively smaller, icy and rocky objects that are thought to be remnants of the formation of the solar system.

“You can’t understand the solar system, in which we live in, without understanding all its parts,” said Paul Schenk, a co-investigator on the New Horizons science team in an interview with Science World.

Scientists are expecting the spacecraft to send back some amazing images of Pluto and its large moon, Charon as well as “pretty good views” of several of the remaining four smaller moons.

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI))

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI))

Schenk said that he and his colleagues didn’t actually know that two of the four smaller moons of Pluto even existed until the Hubble Space Telescope and ground based telescopes found them after New Horizons was launched. So, to make sure they would be able to get at least some images of them, the spacecraft’s flight path had to be changed slightly as it made its way to Pluto.

It’s hoped that the images taken by New Horizons will provide scientists with at least an idea of the size and shapes of the moons.

Members of the mission’s team began monitoring Pluto with the spacecraft this past January.

In that time they were able to learn about some of the dwarf planet’s basic characteristics, determine its exact position in space and its orbital dynamics so that they could make sure their targeting was correct as well as look for any of Pluto’s moons that had not yet been discovered.

So far they haven’t been able to spot any new moons, but the search continues.

With the successful fly-by behind them, Schenk said that in October mission members are planning to slightly nudge the spacecraft’s flight path so that they can visit other Kuiper belt objects that might prove to be just as or even more interesting than Pluto and its moons.

Listen to Science World’s interview with Paul Schenk, a co-investigator on the New Horizons science team.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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

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

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

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

 Kids Involved With Sports Programs Do Better in the Classroom

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

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

 Citrus Fruits May Make Us More Susceptible to Skin Cancer

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

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

 ESA’s New Leader Assumes Duties

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

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

June 2015 Science Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Slumbering Giant Black Hole Awakes After 26 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.