Science Scanner: Scientists Find Fried-egg Nebula Which Dwarfs the Sun

Posted September 28th, 2011 at 8:23 pm (UTC-4)

This picture of the nebula around a rare yellow hypergiant star called IRAS 17163-3907.  The star and its shells resemble an egg white around a yolky center, leading astronomers to nickname the object the Fried Egg Nebula.  (Photo: ESO/E. Lagadec)

This picture of the nebula around  IRAS 17163-3907. The star and its shells resemble an egg white around a yolky center, leading astronomers to nickname it the Fried Egg Nebula. (Photo: ESO/E. Lagadec)

Astronomers have found nebulae that resemble a horse’s head, a check  mark, a crab, an owl and a fried egg.

New pictures of a hyper-giant star, formally known  as IRAS 17163-3907, show it’s surrounded by a huge double shell. The star and its shells resemble an egg white around a yolky center, so University of Manchester scientists – along with others involved in the research – have nicknamed it the Fried Egg Nebula.

The star is about 13,000 light-years from Earth, making it the closest known yellow hypergiant to our planet. Its 1,000 times bigger and 500,000 times brighter than the sun.

To put the star’s size into perspective, scientists say if you placed it in the center of our Solar System, the Earth would lie deep within the star itself and the planet Jupiter would be orbiting just above its surface.

Add in surrounding nebula and it would then engulf all of the Solar System’s planets, dwarf planets and even some of the comets that orbit far beyond the orbit of Neptune.  The outer shell has a radius of 10,000 times the distance from the Earth to the  Sun.

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Learning While You Sleep

Talk about multitasking.

You might be learning while you sleep, according to a new study out of the Michigan State University.



The study authors say evidence shows your brain processes information while you sleep, without your  being aware that it is doing so. This ability may also contribute to your memory while awake.

The scientists believe this is a new, previously-undefined form of memory, which is separate and quite distinct from our traditional memory systems.

It also appears that the sleep memory ability varies from person to person.

The researchers say their study reinforces the need for a good night’s sleep, which could improve your work or school performance even more than previously thought.

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If You Give a Fish a Hammer

We’re often amazed to see animals use tools to accomplish a task, but a fish? Yep!

Giacomo Bernardi,  professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz has published video of tool use by a fish.

The 2009 video, shot by Bernardi in the island nation of Palau, shows an orange-dotted tuskfish dig a clam out of the sand and then swim over to a rock, where it repeatedly slams the clam against the rock in order to crush it.

Tool use was once thought to be a strictly human trait. Then, in the 1960’s, Jane Goodall stunned the scientific community when she reported tool use by chimpanzees. In the years since, many other animals – various primates, several kinds of birds, dolphins, elephants and others – have been observed using tools, too.

Bernardi says his movie shows fish are capable of forward thinking, such as taking a number of steps to reach a goal like getting dinner.

“For a fish”, Bernardi says, “it’s a pretty big deal.”

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On the Path to New Anti-malarial Drugs

Scientists may be one step closer to developing new treatments to fight malaria caused by drug resistant parasites.

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Monash University and Virginia Tech have examined and analyzed the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, to learn how it uses enzymes to devour human hemoglobin – the protein that delivers oxygen throughout the body – as a food source.

Following a bite from an infected mosquito, the parasite that causes malaria makes itself at home in the human host’s red blood cells and begins to feed on the blood’s hemoglobin.

The scientists found that two enzymes, called aminopeptidases, may be playing an active part in the parasite’s feeding process by releasing single amino acids from proteins, or peptides.

When the scientists inhibited one of the parasite’s enzymes called called PfA-M1, they found it blocked the breakdown of the hemoglobin, virtually starving the parasite to death.

The second enzyme, known as leucyl aminopeptidase, is an important element in this feeding process too, but earlier in the parasite’s life cycle within the host’s red blood cell.

These findings have allowed the team to validate that the two enzymes are potential anti-malarial drug targets that can be used in the future to develop new malaria treatments.

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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.

4 responses to “Science Scanner: Scientists Find Fried-egg Nebula Which Dwarfs the Sun”

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  2. […]'Fried Egg' nebula cracks open rare hypergiant starmsnbc.comBBC News -Voice of America (blog) -AFPall 43 news […]

  3. […] hypergiant star surrounded by a dusty double shell, prompting astronomers to think of breakfast. Scientists Find Fried-egg Nebula Which Dwarfs the Sun Voice of America (blog) “Fried Egg” Nebula Shows Rare Phase in Star Evolution National […]

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