Whirling Black Holes’ Dance to End in Cosmic Blast

Posted September 18th, 2015 at 10:20 pm (UTC-4)
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An artist's simulation to help explain an odd light signal thought to be coming from a close-knit pair of merging black holes, PG 1302-102, located 3.5 billion light-years away. (Columbia University)

An artist’s simulation to help explain an odd light signal thought to be coming from a close-knit pair of merging black holes, PG 1302-102, located 3.5 billion light-years away. (Columbia University)

Some 3.5 billion light years from Earth, in the Virgo Constellation, there are two black holes (binary black hole), locked by gravity, that are madly orbiting each other.

But their orbits are continuing to close in and scientists from Columbia University expect that in about 100,000 years they will join together in one huge cosmic blast.

Right now scientists say that the distance between the two black holes is no bigger than the width of our solar system.

The binary black hole system that also hosts a quasar called PG 1302-102 and it’s pumping out an odd cyclical light signal.

The pair was discovered earlier this year after astronomers at the California Institute of Technology, (Caltech) noticed an odd light beaming from the center of a galaxy.

The Caltech scientists, who used the ground based telescopes of the Catalina Real-Time Transient Survey – composed of the Mt. Lemmon Survey, Catalina Sky Survey, and Siding Spring Survey – found that the strange fluctuating light signal is probably being generated by the motion of the orbiting black holes.

It’s thought that the light in the signal probably isn’t coming from the black holes directly but rather from surrounding material.

NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and Hubble Space Telescope provided the historical data that allowed the scientists to further study the black hole duo and gain new details about the odd, cyclical light signal.

“This is the closest we’ve come to observing two black holes on their way to a massive collision,” said the study’s senior author, Zoltan Haiman, an astronomer at Columbia in a university release.

The researchers say they have been studying the close orbiting black holes so that they can get a better understanding of how galaxies and the giant black holes at their centers merge – something they say happened often in the early days of the universe.

The scientists published their findings in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

When the binary black hole, a large one and a smaller companion finally do crash into each other and become one, it’s expected to trigger such a colossal cosmological blast that will be comparable to the explosion of 100 million supernovae. It has been predicted that the blast will also send out ripples in space and time (gravitational waves).

If it were possible for us to still be here in 100,000 years, we would be in for quite a show when these two black holes collide.

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.

Alien Invasion Unlikely; Love Rooted in Evolution; Smokers Risk Losing Teeth

Posted September 15th, 2015 at 8:31 pm (UTC-4)
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Dutch Scientist assures that An Alien Invasion is Unlikely

Should we be fearful of an invasion by Aliens?  Probably not any time soon, according to researchers involved in scanning the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Professor Michael Garrett, from the University of Leiden and the General and Scientific Director of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) is one of the scientists who conducted numerous radio observations over the years.

Based on his radio scans of the best candidate galaxies (those that held promise of hosting ETI) Garrett has determined that advanced ET civilizations are rare or are not present within the surveyed range of the universe.  He says that natural astrophysical processes are most likely behind the detection of any odd radio signals that had been received so far.

“In my view, it means we can all sleep safely in our beds tonight – an alien invasion doesn’t seem at all likely,” said Garrett.

Researchers find that Love is Rooted in Evolution

Humans aren’t the only species who are choosy when selecting mates.

A research team from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology recently conducted an experiment that found the Zebra Finch is also pretty fussy too, and for good reason: survival of its species.

For their experiment, the researchers had groups of 20 female Zebra Finches freely select their choice of mates from 20 males.

Once the birds had paired up, half of the zebra finch couples where allowed to go their own way, produce baby birds and live happily ever after.

For the remaining half, the researchers stepped in and broke up the couples.  The birds were forced to pair up and mate with a different companion, one who was just as heartbroken.

The researchers found that the happy, self-selected zebra finch couples produced significantly more chicks than the birds in the forced pairings.

On Sept. 15, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko reached the halfway point of the first one-year mission to the International Space Station. (NASA)

On Sept. 15, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (L) and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (R) reached the halfway point of the first one-year mission to the International Space Station. (NASA)

ISS One-Year Mission Marks Halfway Point

Today (9/15/15) marks the halfway point of the one-year mission being conducted on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been up in the space station since March and aren’t scheduled to return to Earth until the spring of 2016 when their Soyuz spacecraft will land in Kazakhstan.

Typically, an ISS expedition lasts between four and six months.

The One-Year Mission was developed to gain an understanding of the effects of extended spaceflight on the human body.

Knowing this is quite important to NASA’s plans of sending humans deeper into space, such as manned flights to and from Mars.

NASA says that research conducted over the year in space may also benefit humans here on Earth.  For example, scientists and doctors can learn to better assist patients who’ve been confined to bed for long periods of time and could allow for the development of improved monitoring systems for those whose bodies have difficulty fighting infections.

Scott Kelly’s twin brother Mark was also a NASA Astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions.  Throughout the One-Year Mission both Scott and his Earth bound brother, Mark, are being medically tested and monitored.  The results of each twin’s tests will later be compared to another.

Smokers Have Higher Risk of Losing Teeth

There are lots of good reasons to quit smoking.  Here’s another one: Keep smoking, and you’ll have higher risk of losing your teeth.

A new study just published in Journal of Dental Research shows that men who smoke are up to 3.6 times more likely than non-smoking guys to lose their teeth.

Among the ladies those who smoke are 2.5 more likely than those who don’t.

According to the study’s lead author Professor Thomas Dietrich, from the UK’s University of Birmingham, most people lose their teeth from either tooth decay or gum disease, which lists smoking as a risk factor.

Smoking can also hide the effects of gum disease so smokers may not realize the seriousness of their oral problems until it’s too late and the teeth start falling out.

And, if you think only old people lose their teeth because of smoking, think again.  The study also found that the connection between smoking and tooth loss was stronger among younger people than those who were older.

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.

Astronomers Find Massive Star Making Galaxy Cluster

Posted September 12th, 2015 at 8:10 pm (UTC-4)
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SpARCS1049+56 is a massive cluster of galaxies that creates hundreds of new stars each year.  It's pictured here in this multi-wavelength view from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/STScI/ESA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

SpARCS1049+56 is a massive cluster of galaxies that creates hundreds of new stars each year. It’s pictured here in this multi-wavelength view from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/STScI/ESA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

Astronomers have discovered a distant and massive galaxy cluster with a gigantic and prolific galaxy at its heart that’s pumping out hundreds of stars each year.

The galaxy cluster is named SpARCS 1049+56 and is located about 9.8 billion light years from Earth in the Ursa Major constellation.

Galaxy clusters are areas of the universe where perhaps hundreds of galaxies group together and are bound to each other by gravity. Contained within these galaxies are trillions of stars, along with hot gas and mysterious dark matter.

The astronomers found that this newly discovered galaxy cluster contains at least 27 galaxies, has a total mass equal to about 400 trillion suns, and is producing more than 860 stars per year. By comparison, scientists say our Milky Way galaxy only creates about one star each year.

The Milky Way galaxy itself dwells within a small galaxy group called the Local Group, which is also on the edge of the Laniakea supercluster that contains some 100,000 galaxies.

The discovery of the unique galaxy cluster was outlined in a study that has been accepted by the Astrophysical Journal for publication.

“Usually, the stars at the centers of galaxy clusters are old and dead, essentially fossils,” said lead author Tracy Webb of Montreal’s McGill University. “But we think the giant galaxy at the center of this cluster is furiously making new stars after merging with a smaller galaxy,” he said in press release.

The astronomers noted that, usually, most of these massive clusters has a huge galaxy that is slow to create new stars residing in its core.

But after conducting some visible light observations with the Hubble Space Telescope, it was found that the enormous galaxy at the heart of SpARCS 1049+56 may have merged with a smaller but gas-rich galaxy.  By siphoning off gas or star making fuel from the smaller galaxy, the larger of the two has been able to become a powerful and fertile star-making machine.

Hubble/Spitzer images of SpARCS1049+56 galaxy cluster. Right panel highlights the larger central galaxy and the remains of the smaller galaxy called the tidal tail.NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/ESA/STScI/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

Hubble/Spitzer images of SpARCS1049+56 galaxy cluster. Right panel highlights the larger central galaxy and the remains of the smaller galaxy called the tidal tail.NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/ESA/STScI/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

“Hubble found a train wreck of a merger at the center of this galaxy,” said Webb.

The astronomers said that they believe their newly found galaxy cluster could possibly be a representation of a much earlier time in our universe when it was common for galaxies to tap off fuel from other gas-rich galaxies.

The star cluster was first found by astronomers who used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii land based telescope that’s located atop Mauna Kea, the highest point in Hawaii. The W.M. Keck Observatory, also on Mauna Kea, was used to confirm the discovery.

Along with the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, the astronomers used observations made by the Herschel Space Observatory. The Herschel was built by the European Space Agency who along with NASA operated it from 2009 until it was decommissioned in 2013.

The Astronomers who found SpARCS1049+56 said that they’re planning to conduct further studies to find similar galaxy clusters and determine just how common they might be.

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.

Where Does Rain Go; Ocean Organics Form Cloud Ice; Hot Peppers May Fight Cancer

Posted September 9th, 2015 at 8:13 pm (UTC-4)
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A windshield wiper at work on a rainy day (Basheer Tome via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A windshield wiper at work on a rainy day (Basheer Tome via Flickr/Creative Commons)

What Happens to Precipitation After it Falls to Earth?

Have you ever wondered what happens to rain or snow once it falls on Earth?

Researchers from the University of Utah and Oregon State University analyzed measurements, taken by the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) on NASA’s Aura satellite, of the two forms of hydrogen contained within atmospheric water vapor – regular hydrogen and the isotope deuterium – to track the flow of water after a rain or snow fall.

Among the key findings made by the researchers are that the world’s plants may not be using as much water as previously estimated. This could mean either that plants aren’t growing as much as had been thought, or that plants can use water much more efficiently than previously believed.

The researcher’s findings also revealed that water from precipitation penetrates soil faster than what previous research showed. This finding, according to the researchers, could mean that water isn’t as exposed to various elements such as nutrients or impurities.

Of the precipitation that reaches Earth, the researchers found that more than 25 percent of it runs off the land and flows directly into the ocean. From the nearly 75 percent of the non-runoff water about two thirds of it eventually gets released by plants during photosynthesis. The remaining third of the precipitation simply evaporates.  Most of this evaporation comes from plant leaves and a little from the ground or bodies of water.

New image of Ceres' Occator crater with mysterious bright spots take by NASA's Dawn spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)

New image of Ceres’ Occator crater with mysterious bright spots take by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)

NASA Releases New Detailed Images of Dwarf Planet’s Mysterious Bright Spots

Earlier this year the mysterious bright spots that were spotted on the dwarf planet Ceres stoked the imagination of people everywhere. Now, NASA has released some new high detail images of those bright spots that were captured by its Dawn spacecraft since it went into orbit around the dwarf planet back in March.

The brightest of these mysterious spots are located within Ceres’ Occulator crater. NASA says that these newly released images, which have a resolution of 140 meters per pixel, are giving scientists with the closest view yet of the crater and are providing a unique and better understanding of these strange features.

Since the mysterious spots are much brighter than the surrounding landscape, the Dawn Project Team actually had to produce composites made up of two separate images for each shot at the proper exposure for its surroundings.

Organic Particles from the Ocean Triggers Formation of Ice Crystals in Clouds

Scientists have just found for the first time that microscopic plant-like organisms, called phyloplankton, in ocean regions throughout the world produce rare organic particles that, when sent up into the atmosphere, help generate the formation of ice crystals in the clouds.

Writing about their findings in a recent edition of the journal Nature, the researchers found that these organic particles make their way into the atmosphere with sea spray produced by the ocean’s breaking waves.

“Some sea spray particles contain biological material linked to the ocean’s ecosystem,” said study lead author Dr. Theo Wilson, from University of Leeds in the UK in a press release. “Now we have clear evidence that marine biological material such as matter exuded from phytoplankton is able to nucleate ice and could do so in the atmosphere,” he said.

The researchers believe that the organic particles’ role in sparking the production of ice crystals could affect the behavior of clouds which in turn may impact global climate.  Understanding where the ice-producing particles come from could provide needed insight for scientists to predict the world’s future climate they added.

Hot Stuff in Chili Peppers May Someday Treat Cancer

Capsaicin, the compound in that produces the “hot” in chili peppers, may help kill cancer cells, said researchers writing in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Already used in medicinal creams and ointments to help relieve various aches and pains, the researchers said that capsaicin, when administered in high doses, was found to kill prostate cancer cells without harming healthy normal cells.

The researchers found that the capsaicin molecules stick to a cancer cell’s protective membranes and eventually breaks the cancer cell apart.

With further research the researchers believe that power of capsaicin could someday be harnessed for use in the treatment of cancer and other conditions.

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.

Binge Watching TV Could Kill You

Posted September 4th, 2015 at 7:22 pm (UTC-4)
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A new Japanese study finds that binge watching television could kill you.

Binge watching, or viewing a number of movies or a television program’s episodes in one sitting, has become a popular pastime in parts of the world.

This 18 year study, involving more than 86,000 people, revealed that those who sit and watch a lot of television in a day have a higher risk of dying from a pulmonary embolism or PE – a sudden blockage or blood clot in one of the lung’s pulmonary arteries.

According to the Mayo Clinic, in most cases a pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from mostly the legs but also, rarely, from other parts of the body too.

The new study’s lead author is Toru Shirakawa, a public health research fellow in the Department of Social Medicine at Japan’s Osaka University.  Shirakawa presented the study in an address at the recently held congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

“Pulmonary embolism is a serious, sometimes fatal, lung-related vascular disease characterized by sudden onset of symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty breathing,” said Shirakawa in a press release.  “The disease is caused by obstruction of the pulmonary arteries by blood clots, generally formed in the leg vessels. Risk factors include cancer, prolonged bed rest or sitting, and oral contraceptive use,” he added.

The new Japanese study finds that the more hours a person spends watching television per day results in a corresponding increase in the risk of death from a pulmonary embolism.

The researchers found that someone who watched an average of five or more hours of television per day had twice the risk of dying from PE than those who watched less than two and a half hours a day.

These recent findings have added more support to the link between prolonged sitting and the risks of having a pulmonary embolism.  Other health concerns that have been associated with sitting for long periods of time include obesity, heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

The association between prolonged sitting and pulmonary embolisms was first reported in a paper published in the December, 1940 edition of the medical journal The Lancet.  The paper’s author Dr. Keith Simpson, M.D. found that there was an increase in the rate of pulmonary embolism fatalities among those who sat for long periods of time in London’s air-raid shelters during World War II.

To calculate the risk of death from a pulmonary embolism the researchers first considered their test subject’s gender, history of hypertension or diabetes, body mass index (BMI), exercise habits, if they smoked or drank alcohol and among older women, menopausal status.

The researchers discovered that those under 60 years of age who watched TV for more than five hours a day had six times the risk of a fatal pulmonary embolism compared to those who viewed less than two and a half hours of TV per day.

They also found that those within this age group who viewed between 2.5 to 4.9 hours of TV per day had three times the risk of those who watched television less than 2.5 hours a day.

If you were to indulge in TV binge watching, Shirakawa recommends that you take a break from time to time, stand up, and walk around as you watch TV.  He also said that drinking water to prevent dehydration is also important.

Related research has found that prolonged computer gaming has also been associated with pulmonary embolism fatalities.

Shirakawa suggested that more research be conducted to properly assess the risks of pulmonary embolism morbidity and mortality with prolonged use of new audio/visual and personal computing technologies.  “Public awareness of the risk of pulmonary embolism from lengthy leg immobility is essential,” he added.

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.

Ancient Dolphin; CPR is More Successful on TV; Blueberries Make Natural Antibiotic

Posted September 2nd, 2015 at 10:17 pm (UTC-4)
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Artistic reconstruction of Isthminia panamensis, a new fossil dolphin from Panama, feeding on a flatfish. (Julia Molnar/Smithsonian Institution)

Artistic reconstruction of Isthminia panamensis, a new fossil dolphin from Panama, feeding on a flatfish. (Julia Molnar/Smithsonian Institution)

New Extinct Species of River Dolphin Discovered

Scientists have recently discovered the fossils of a new extinct species of a river dolphin.  Since the fossils were found in ocean sediments just off the Caribbean coast of Panama, the new species have been named Isthminia panamensis.

The newly identified species is closely related to the Amazon or Pink dolphin, one of the last remaining species of river dolphins.  According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Amazon dolphin, which can only survive in fresh water, can be found today throughout much of the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

The Isthminia panamenis fossils found by the scientific group were of a single animal and included its skull, mandible, shoulder blade and some flipper bones.

The sediments where the fossils were found have been dated to between 5.8 and 6.1 million years old.

Details of the new species discovery have been outlined by the scientists in the 9/1/15 edition of the journal PeerJ.

An EMS technician performs CPR on a cardiac arrest patient. Behind patient is an automated external defibrillator (AED) which is also used to help stop ventricular fibrillation (David Bruce Jr./Creative Commons)

An EMS technician performs CPR on a cardiac arrest patient. Behind patient is an automated external defibrillator (AED) which is also used to help stop ventricular fibrillation (David Bruce Jr./Creative Commons)

CPR is More Successful on TV than in Real Life

Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology have learned that medical shows on TV may be painting a somewhat falsely optimistic picture of patient survival after performing CPR.

A new study by the researchers has discovered that fact is more depressing than fiction.

Writing in a recent online edition of the journal Resuscitation, the researchers found that TV show characters who were in cardiac arrest and administered CPR survived about 70 percent of the time.  Unfortunately in real life, the survival rate of those receiving CPR after cardiac arrest is nearly half of that at with around 37 percent surviving.

Another discrepancy between TV and reality uncovered by the researchers was that half of the characters who received CPR were able to recovery enough to eventually leave the hospital.  In real life, only about 13 percent of patients who are administered CPR actually survive in the long-term.

It is estimated that around 42 percent of older adults say that their health knowledge is based on what they saw on television.

“Most people have no knowledge of actual CPR survival and thus make medical care decisions for themselves and family members based on inaccurate assumptions,” said the study’s senior author Susan Enguidanos, an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California and an expert in end-of-life care in a press release.

Soyuz TMA-18M carrying three new ISS crewmembers heads for space after Wednesday's launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome (NASA-TV)

Soyuz TMA-18M carrying three new ISS crewmembers heads for space after Wednesday’s launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome (NASA-TV)

New Crewmembers Headed for ISS

The International Space Station will be getting three new crew members, two of which will only be aboard the orbiting laboratory for less than a week.

Sergey Volkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen of European Space Agency and Aidyn Aimbetov of the Kazakh Space Agency were launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday at 0437 UTC.

The trio’s spacecraft is set to dock with the ISS on Friday, 9/4/15.

The three new crewmembers will join Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Gennady Padalka, Oleg Kononenko and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency which will bring the total crew aboard the ISS to nine for the first time since 2013.

New arrivals Mogensen and Aimbetov will join current expedition 44 Commander Padalka for a return to Earth on 9/5/11.

Of the three that were just launched into space, only Volkov will remain.  He’s expected to take command of the ISS expedition 45 on 9/11/15.

Scientists Develop Natural Antibiotic to Treat Gum Disease

Scientists writing in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have found that extract from wild blueberries can help prevent the formation of dental plaque that can lead to gum diseases gingivitis or the more serious periodontitis.

The scientists believe that their discovery could eventually lead to new therapy methods to fight gum disease.

The early stage gum disease, gingivitis, occurs when oral bacteria forms a biofilm or plaques on teeth. This dental plaque can then harden into tartar which then must be scraped away by dentists.

If the gingivitis continues without treatment the inflammatory gum disease can progress into a more serious infection called periodontitis.

This inflammation can spread below the gum line, destroying the tissue that supports the teeth causing tooth loss. In more serious cases of periodontitis, along with having the dental plaque scraped from the teeth, treatment may also require the use antibiotics.

The researchers who were looking for a way to reduce the use of antibiotics in favor of natural antibacterial compounds said that they’re developing an oral device that could slowly release the wild blueberry extract after deep cleaning to help treat periodontitis.

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.

Science Images of the Month – August 2015

Posted August 31st, 2015 at 7:00 pm (UTC-4)
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The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released 8/24/15, shows off the remarkable complexity of the PN M2-9 Twin Jet Nebula which is also known as Minkowski's Butterfly, the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula or simply Butterfly Nebula.   The luminous nebula is about 2,100 light-years away from Earth.  Unlike ordinary planetary nebulae which has one star at their center, this is a bipolar nebula which has two stars from a binary star system. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The shimmering colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released 8/24/15, shows off the remarkable complexity of the PN M2-9 Twin Jet Nebula which is also known as Minkowski’s Butterfly, the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula or simply Butterfly Nebula. The luminous nebula is about 2,100 light-years away from Earth. Unlike ordinary planetary nebulae which has one star at their center, this is a bipolar nebula which has two stars from a binary star system. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A technician is seen here on 8/21/15 working on a central mirror of the Millimetron space observatory at Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems.  The company is located in the Siberian town of Zheleznogorsk, outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia (Reuters)

A technician is seen here on 8/21/15 working on a central mirror of the Millimetron space observatory at Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems. The company is located in the Siberian town of Zheleznogorsk, outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia (Reuters)

The International Space Station crew grabbed this photo of Typhoon Soudelor as it advanced on Taiwan 8/5/14 (NASA)

The International Space Station crew grabbed this photo of Typhoon Soudelor as it advanced on Taiwan 8/5/14 (NASA)

Inigo Munoz Elorza of Spain (L) and Stefan Dobrovolny of Austria (R) take stone samples on 8/7/15 during a simulated Mars mission on Tyrolean glaciers in Kaunertal, Austria.  The Austrian Space Forum sent some of its researchers to practice weight-less walking in spacesuits on a glacier which resembles the terrain on Mars.  (Reuters)

Inigo Munoz Elorza of Spain (L) and Stefan Dobrovolny of Austria (R) take stone samples on 8/7/15 during a simulated Mars mission on Tyrolean glaciers in Kaunertal, Austria. The Austrian Space Forum sent some of its researchers to practice weight-less walking in spacesuits on a glacier which resembles the terrain on Mars. (Reuters)

Lava erupts from the Piton de la Fournaise "Peak of the Furnace" volcano, on the southeastern corner of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Saturday on 8/1/15.  Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world is currently erupting on this Indian Ocean island. (AP)

Lava erupts from the Piton de la Fournaise “Peak of the Furnace” volcano, on the southeastern corner of the Indian Ocean island of Reunion Saturday on 8/1/15. Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is currently erupting on this Indian Ocean island. (AP)

A bioreactor stands in the production facilities of Protein Sciences in Pearl River, New York, Tuesday on 8/18/15. Protein Sciences is among the companies working on a greater variety of vaccine options for the coming flu season.  The company’s genetically engineered vaccine called Flublok was developed for people allergic to eggs.   Those with egg allergies are unable to receive regular flu vaccines. (AP)

A bioreactor stands in the production facilities of Protein Sciences in Pearl River, New York, Tuesday on 8/18/15. Protein Sciences is among the companies working on a greater variety of vaccine options for the coming flu season. The company’s genetically engineered vaccine called Flublok was developed for people allergic to eggs. Those with egg allergies are unable to receive regular flu vaccines. (AP)

Mmmmm space lettuce! Expedition 44 crewmembers aboard the International Space Station sampled their harvest of a crop of "Outredgeous" red romaine lettuce on 8/10/15.  The lettuce was grown with the ISS’ veggie plant growth system that tests hardware for growing vegetables and other plants in space. (NASA)

Mmmmm, space lettuce! Expedition 44 crewmembers aboard the International Space Station sampled their harvest of a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce on 8/10/15. The lettuce was grown with the ISS’ veggie plant growth system that tests hardware for growing vegetables and other plants in space. (NASA)

With the promise of a nice lunch of anchovies, Humboldt Penguins are led to the weighing scales at London Zoo on 8/26/15.  The Zoo held its annual weigh-in where the vital statistics of animals were taken in an aid for keepers to detect pregnancies and check the animal’s general wellbeing. (AP)

With the promise of a nice lunch of anchovies, Humboldt Penguins are led to the weighing scales at London Zoo on 8/26/15. The Zoo held its annual weigh-in where the vital statistics of animals were taken in an aid for keepers to detect pregnancies and check the animal’s general well being. (AP)

Technicians check out the CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) and Flight Crew Interface Test (FCIT).  CALET, which was sent to the International Space Station on 8/24/15 aboard a Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA’s) resupply spacecraft.  The CALET will search for signatures of dark matter and provide the highest energy direct measurements of the cosmic ray electron spectrum. (NASA)

Technicians check out the CALorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET) and Flight Crew Interface Test (FCIT). CALET, which was sent to the International Space Station on 8/24/15 aboard a Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA’s) resupply spacecraft, will search for signatures of dark matter and provide the highest energy direct measurements of the cosmic ray electron spectrum. (NASA)

On 8/5/15, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took a low-angle self-portrait of itself from above the "Buckskin" rock target in the "Marias Pass" area of lower Mount Sharp.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

On 8/5/15, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took a low-angle self-portrait of itself from above the “Buckskin” rock target in the “Marias Pass” area of lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This is a new image, released 8/24/15, of the globular cluster NGC 1793 that was taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  One of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud this cluster, located nearly 160,000 light years from Earth, was discovered by John Herschel in 1835. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

This is a new image, released 8/24/15, of the globular cluster NGC 1793 that was taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. One of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud this cluster, located nearly 160,000 light years from Earth, was discovered by John Herschel in 1835. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

The European Space Agency’s ninth and tenth Galileo satellites are being fueled by technicians wearing protective SCAPE suits within the Guiana Space Centre’s 3SB preparation building on 8/24/15.  The satellites are scheduled to be launched on 9/10/15. (ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Service Optique CSG JW Guillon)

The European Space Agency’s ninth and tenth Galileo satellites are being fueled by technicians wearing protective SCAPE suits within the Guiana Space Center’s 3SB preparation building on 8/24/15. The satellites are scheduled to be launched on 9/10/15. (ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Service Optique CSG JW Guillon)

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.

Bed-In for Science; Microbes Abound in House Dust ; Twin Black Holes Power Quasar

Posted August 28th, 2015 at 7:43 pm (UTC-4)
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Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

Sleeping man (Imogenisla via Creative Commons)

ESA Experiment Will Send a Dozen Men to Bed for 60 Days

How would you like to spend the next 60 days in bed?  That’s what the European Space Agency is asking 12 men to do, all in the name of science.

The first members of this group of a dozen will hit the sack for two months starting 9/9/15.

The bed-in, according to ESA, is a part of the research they’re conducting so that they could learn how to stop the wasting effects of spaceflight on the body.

Although the experiment may sound like a cozy and relaxing time for the volunteers, ESA says that it will not be as a restful of an experience as it sounds.

This isn’t the first bedrest study arranged by the ESA, the space agency held others that were of various lengths and included both men and women.  Among the past research conducted included learning about effects of spaceflight on bone loss and changes in blood flow so that methods to counteract those issues can be developed.

What household dust looks like under a microscope. (NIAID)

What household dust looks like under a microscope. (NIAID)

Dust and Grime in a Home Can Reveal Details of its Occupants

Scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder and North Carolina State University have found that the dust and grime that’s been collecting in your home can tell a lot about you.

The researchers found out that dust, bacteria and fungi in your house can not only reveal what geographic area you live in but also whether you have a pet and the gender ratio of those living in your home.

The researchers recruited occupants from around 1,200 homes throughout the continental United States who collected indoor and outdoor test samples at their homes.

After reviewing the samples, the researchers found that each of the homes they studied had, on average, more than 5,000 different species of bacteria and about 2,000 species of fungi.

The researchers found that samples of fungi taken from the homes revealed its location while the bacterial samples offered evidence about the identity of its occupants.

Artistic illustration of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231. (NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI))

Artistic illustration of a binary black hole found in the center of the nearest quasar to Earth, Markarian 231. (NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI))

Nearest Quasar to Earth Powered by Binary Black Hole

American and Chinese astronomers, studying data from the Hubble Space Telescope, have discovered the nearest quasar to Earth.

This bright and powerful mass of energy and light is located in the Markarian 231 or MRK 231 galaxy about 600 million light years from Earth and is powered by two black holes wildly whirling around each other.

One of the black holes is larger than its companion and has an estimated mass that’s about 150 million times the mass of our sun.  The mass of smaller black hole is about 4 million solar masses.  The astronomers say that it takes about 1.2 years for the two black holes to orbit each other.

The astronomers believe that the smaller black hole is actually a left over from a smaller galaxy that merged with the Markarian 231 galaxy.

It’s expected that in about a few hundred thousand years the two black holes will spin and crash into each other.

Human brain (NIH)

Human brain (NIH)

Researchers Replicate Less Than 50% of Published Psychological Studies

Some 270 researchers from all over the world who are members of the Reproducibility Project: Psychology got together to conduct an enormous experiment to see if they could duplicate 100 research findings that had been published in three major psychology journals.

The large group of independent researchers, who worked at various sites with multiple criteria, found that they could only duplicate less than 50% of the original published findings.

The group says that the results of their work could cause some to doubt the legitimacy of the original published findings or it may an indication of just how difficult it can be to perform successful replications of psychological studies that produce the same results.

“Scientific evidence does not rely on trusting the authority of the person that made the discovery.  Rather, credibility accumulates through independent replication and elaboration of the ideas and evidence,” said project member Angela Attwood from The UK’s University of Bristol.

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.

Stephen Hawking: There May Be a Way Out of a Black Hole

Posted August 26th, 2015 at 4:59 pm (UTC-4)
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Nobel physics laureate Gerard 't Hooft, of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, confers with Stephen Hawking after the Cambridge professor presented his solution to the information loss paradox. Hawking is in town for a weeklong conference on the information loss paradox, which is co-hosted by Nordita at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (Håkan Lindgren/KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Nobel physics laureate Gerard ‘t Hooft, of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, confers with Stephen Hawking after the Cambridge professor presented his solution to the information loss paradox. Hawking is in town for a weeklong conference on the information loss paradox, which is co-hosted by Nordita at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. (Håkan Lindgren/KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Yesterday, renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, speaking to attendees of a conference being held at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, proposed a new idea that addresses a forty-year old cosmological mystery called the Black Hole Information Paradox.

Simply put, the basis for the paradox is the conflict between quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity. In involves the fate of the physical information of an object once it enters a black hole.

The theory of general relativity suggests that this information would be permanently destroyed and lost after entering the black hole.  However this theory would actually violate the laws of quantum mechanics that information cannot be lost.

Hawking told the conference attendees that rather than actually swallowing and destroying this information, a black hole at its event horizon – the boundary where its gravitational pull becomes so great that nothing, not even light, can escape – encodes it within two dimensional holograms, called super translations.

A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

A computer-generated image of the light distortions created by a black hole. (Credit: Alain Riazuelo, IAP/UPMC/CNRS)

“The idea is the super translations are a hologram of the ingoing particles,” said Hawking in a press release from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. “Thus they contain all the information that would otherwise be lost.”

Hawking said that the information is emitted within quantum fluctuations – short variations in the level of energy within a point in space that are produced by black holes.  However, this form of information, according to Hawking, is in a “chaotic, useless form.” “For all practical purposes the information is lost,” he said.

While it’s generally thought that nothing can escape the powerful gravity of a black hole, Hawking, during an earlier lecture, suggested that the remaining information may have a way out.

“The existence of alternative histories with black holes suggests this might be possible,” Hawking said. “The hole would need to be large and if it was rotating it might have a passage to another universe. But you couldn’t come back to our universe,” he said.

(KTH Royal Institute of Technology)
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.

Researchers Map Plastic Debris in Pacific Ocean

Posted August 24th, 2015 at 7:19 pm (UTC-4)
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Plastic ocean debris littering Hawaiian shoreline. Hawaii is located near the center of the North Pacific gyre where debris tends to concentrate. (NOAA)

Plastic ocean debris littering Hawaiian shoreline. Hawaii is located near the center of the North Pacific gyre where debris tends to concentrate. (NOAA)

A team of volunteers, sailing in a flotilla of some thirty vessels, has successfully completed its month long research expedition through the eastern portion of the infamous Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

The first group of boats from the 30 vessel fleet, along with the Ocean Starr, a former NOAA research vehicle which served as the expedition’s “mother ship”, ended their journey when they sailed into in the port of San Francisco on Sunday, 8/23/15.

The Dutch environmental organization founded by Boylan Slat, called the Ocean Cleanup conducted its Mega Expedition Reconnaissance Mission through the massive collection of marine debris so that it could gather data to find out how much plastic is actually floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Nearly 8 million tons of plastic, mostly from land enters the ocean every year said a recent study.

Researchers say that portions of this huge collection of plastic, along with other forms of marine debris, gathers in five areas of the world’s oceans where the currents meet called the gyres.

A 2014 study found that currently there are at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the oceans with about third of it concentrated in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The impacts of plastic pollution include harm to the environment, economy and human health.

The Ocean Cleanup's Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr is shown here deploying the two 6 meter-wide ‘mega nets’, two ‘manta trawls’, and its survey balloon with camera at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Skyframes)

The Ocean Cleanup’s Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr is shown here deploying the two 6 meter-wide ‘mega nets’, two ‘manta trawls’, and its survey balloon with camera at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Skyframes)

About one million seabirds and one-hundred thousand marine mammals die every year due to plastic pollution, according to a 1997 study.

Toxic chemicals that are found in and can be amplified by the plastic pollutants enter the human daily diet through fish and other edible sea creatures who consume plastic polluted food.

Health effects that have been tied to these food borne chemicals include cancer, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.

The Ocean Cleanup group plans to use the gathered data to create the first high-resolution map of plastic in the Pacific as well as to help in the preparation for the organization’s large scale ocean cleanup project that’s planned for 2020.

The thirty vessels sailed in parallel with each other over a 3.6 million square kilometer course in the Pacific Ocean. Over the month long period, the boats made around fifty crossings between the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii to conduct surveys on the amount of plastic they came across.

Map showing the 50 transects the Mega Expedition will perform based on routing information provided by the skippers before they left port.   Copyright: The Ocean Cleanup ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Lys-Anne Sirks)

Map showing the 50 transects the Mega Expedition will perform based on routing information provided by the skippers before they left port.
Copyright: The Ocean Cleanup ((C) The Ocean Cleanup/Lys-Anne Sirks)

The expedition used a variety of measurement techniques to gather data.  Each of the boats towed a trawling net so that they could sample some of the smaller debris floating in the ocean. They tallied the larger pieces of debris with a special smart phone application called “The Ocean Cleanup survey app.”

To study large objects like ghost nets – fishing nets lost or left in the ocean – and debris from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, the researchers also used an aerial camera system and giant nets that were aboard the Ocean Starr mothership.

According to a report from the Associated Press, most of the trash found by the expedition, including a one ton fishing net, were in medium to large pieces.

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.