International Apps/Games Competition Ends with Selection of Five Finalists

Posted March 22nd, 2013 at 5:16 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

(Image: UNAOC)

(Image: UNAOC)

The U.N. Alliance of Civilizations recently wrapped up its inaugural international mobile apps and games competition called Create UNAOC Challenge 2012 with the selection of five finalists who were each awarded $5,000 to refine their interactive creations.

Educators, businesses, public service organizations and media outlets have all discovered that creating and offering a variety of computer and smartphone games and applications is a great way to engage and communicate with their audiences as well as providing challenging, but entertaining learning opportunities.

Games and applications designed for computers and platforms such as smartphones and tablets have become tools in providing an effective, yet fun way learning experience. (Photo: Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(Photo: Jesse Knish Photography for GDC Online via Flickr/Creative Commons)

The UNAOC also saw the growing value and importance of these digital creations.  So last fall, with the help of a number of sponsors, including the Learning Games Network, The Education Arcade, and the Voice of America, issued a challenge to teams and individuals who develop these software packages to come up with creative, educational and engaging games and apps or applications that would also help establish new avenues for intercultural dialogue.

The five finalists developed a variety of mobile apps and games that ranged from those that help players better understand Muslim culture, to the growing crisis regarding the most basic need: water, as well as learning about some of the customs and cultures of countries and regions around the world.

Here are the five finalists in Create UNAOC Challenge 2012 according to the UNAOC website.

(Image: Create UNAOC)

(Image: Create UNAOC)

Ibn Battuta’s App: Developed by MSL Audiovisual & Media, Spain – Players can follow in the footsteps of famed Moroccan scholar and traveler, Ibn Battuta, to learn about the Arab Muslim world.  With this iPad app’s slick artwork, you can follow him on his travels and learn more about Muslim culture. Vivid, animated storytelling and high-quality photos, as well as a desktop version for classrooms, lead you on the digital journey and let you test your knowledge of the Arab world. This app, now available in English and Spanish can be found in the iTunes Store. –Download–

(Image: Create UNAOC)

(Image: Create UNAOC)

Touchable Earth: Developed by Touchable Earth, New Zealand – Explore the sights and cultures of different countries with this interactive world book presented by children from around the world.  With this game, available on the iPad, you can quickly and easily navigate a world map and simply click on an area of the world that you’d like to know more about. Learn about children’s school day, games, music, dress and more in short, high-quality videos. This app is now available in the iTunes Store. Developers add content to it regularly. –Download–

(Image: Create UNAOC)

(Image: Create UNAOC)

Get Water!: Developed by Decode Global, Canada – Take on the role of Maya, a young girl who must collect water for her community in this addictive iPad game that illuminates the global crisis for the most basic and universal need: water. You/Maya are pulled out of school to fetch water for the family. In the style of other smartphone games, you collect water with your bucket and purchase new tools to aid in your effort. Along the way, you learn important facts about water shortages and waste and become a more informed global citizen. This app, still under development, is scheduled to be released very soon.

(Image: Create UNAOC)

(Image: Create UNAOC)

Sanskar: Developed by the Amrita Center for Wireless Networks and Applications, India – Understand different traditions with this interactive game and database that users from around the world can contribute to. Using the Android platform, this app, promotes “harmony through acceptance” and helps you explore new cultures with a magazine-style presentation and animated videos that demonstrate understanding and acceptance in 18 different cultures from around the globe. Each section is followed up with quizzes to assess the amount of materials you covered and measure your newfound respect for the culture. You are also invited to create your own content and share it via the app, to build a database of cultural knowledge.  This app is currently unavailable because it’s still in the early stages of development.

(Image: Create UNAOC)

(Image: Create UNAOC)

Reality: Developed by Alex Gurany, Ruri Lee, Kameron Oser, Danna Ortiz, Lane Pertusi, and Stephen Zhang, United States – This app aims to raise awareness of media bias and promote critical thinking about what we read, see and hear in the media. This winning iPad game puts the player in the shoes of a freelance journalist in a culturally and politically diverse city. By using time and money wisely, as well as talking to the right sources you can put together a complete story and then try to sell that story to one of the city’s newspapers. The rewards are also balanced; increased popularity and money can come at the cost of a more divisive and intolerant society.  This game is currently in development and is not available at this time.

On a recent radio edition of Science World, Michael Suen from the Learning Games Network talked about “Create UNAOC 2012″, the finalists and their winning entries.  Listen below.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Scientists Confirm Higgs Boson Discovery

Posted March 15th, 2013 at 6:25 pm (UTC+0)
13 comments

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN (Photo: CERN)

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN (CERN)

Scientists working with the world’s largest atom smasher say the mystery particle they found last summer was a Higgs boson, which is believed to give mass to everything in the universe.

However, while the physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) confirm the particle is a Higgs boson, it doesn’t appear to have all of the properties the theoretical Higgs boson is said to have.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said Joe Incandela, a spokesperson for CMS, one of the two independent teams behind last year’s discovery.

Physicist Peter Higgs arrives at a seminar, July 4, 2012 at CERN where it was announced that a new subatomic particle, said be consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, had been discovered. (Photo: AP Photo/Denis Balibouse, Pool)

Peter Higgs at CERN for the July 4, 2012 announcement that a new particle, consistent with  the Higgs boson, which was named for the physicist, had been discovered. (AP)

The teams wound up analyzing two-and-a-half times more data than was available when they announced the particle’s discovery last year.

This week in Italy, both teams reported the new particle is looking more and more like a Higgs boson.

But the scientists still don’t know if the Higgs boson they found was the one predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics, or if it could possibly be the lightest of several bosons which have been predicted in theories that go beyond the Standard Model.

In order to answer that question, the teams say they’ll need more data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, as well as more time to study and analyze the existing data.

Another view of a segment of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (Photo: AP/CERN)

Another view of a segment of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (AP/CERN)

“The beautiful new results represent a huge effort by many dedicated people,” said Dave Charlton, a spokesperson for ATLAS, one of the research teams. “They point to the new particle having the spin-parity of a Higgs boson as in the Standard Model. We are now well started on the measurement program in the Higgs sector.”

The two research teams still need to determine the particle’s  quantum properties as well as how it interacts with other particles.

The data the teams have been working with is generated by CERN’s collider, located along the border of France and Switzerland.   The LHC first went online on September 10, 2008.

New Imager Finds Distant Planets Unlike Others in Known Universe

Posted March 12th, 2013 at 7:22 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

Image of the HR8799 planets with starlight optically suppressed and data processing conducted to remove residual starlight. The star is at the center of the blackened circle in the image. The four spots indicated with the letters b through e are the planets. (Image: Project 1640)

Image of the HR8799 planets with starlight optically suppressed and data processing conducted to remove residual starlight. The star is at the center of the blackened circle in the image. The four circled spots are the planets. (Project 1640)

Thanks to new technology, astronomers are conducting the first remote reconnaissance of a distant solar system, allowing them to collect the first chemical fingerprints of four exoplanets orbiting a star some 128 light years from Earth.

Astronomers involved with Project 1640, a high-contrast imaging program at the Palomar Observatory in California, say the four exoplanets are radically different from other known worlds.

“These warm, red planets are unlike any other known object in our universe,” said Ben Oppenheimer, Project 1640’s principal investigator. “All four planets have different spectra, and all four are peculiar. The theorists have a lot of work to do now.”

The blinding light of a solar system’s sun usually overpowers views of its surrounding planets, but Project 1640’s innovative observational system sharpened and darkened the light to give scientists a better look at the worlds orbiting a star known as HR 8799.

Demonstration of Project 1640's light control system. Left image is star without new system - Right image is star with filtration that allows objects up to 10 million times fainter than the star to be seen (Images: Project 1640)

Demonstration of Project 1640′s light control system. The left image is a star without new system. The right image is the star with filtration that allows objects up to 10 million times fainter than the star to be seen. (Project 1640)

Because every chemical, such as carbon dioxide, methane, or water, provides a unique light signature, the scientists were able to use a technique called spectroscopy to learn about the chemical makeup of the planets and their atmospheres.  Spectroscopy separates light from an object into its component colors, much in the same way a prism converts sunlight into a rainbow.

The researchers detected an apparent chemical imbalance. Basic chemistry predicts that unless they are in either extremely hot or cold environments, the chemical compounds ammonia and methane should naturally coexist.

The HR 8799 exoplanets all have what the scientists call “lukewarm” temperatures of about 1000 Kelvin (727 degrees Celsius), yet they  show signs of having either methane or ammonia, with very little or no indications of the expected chemical coexistence.

The Project 1640 instrument prior to its installation at the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory (Photo: Palomar Observatory/S. Kardel)

The Project 1640 instrument prior to its installation at the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory (Palomar Observatory/S. Kardel)

The researchers  also found signs of other chemical compounds such as acetylene, which until now hasn’t been found on any exoplanet, and that carbon dioxide may be present there as well.

The exoplanets aren’t the only members of their solar system which are displaying odd characteristics. The astronomers noticed its sun, HR 8799, is  quite different from our  sun.

Not only does the star have 1.6 times the mass and five times the brightness of our sun, but its brightness can vary by as much as eight percent over a period of two days, while producing about 1,000 times more ultraviolet light than the sun.

These are factors which could affect the spectral fingerprints of the planets.

The Project 1640 team is already at work collecting more data on this solar system so they can look observe changes in the planets over time.

Rats Communicate Brain to Brain

Posted March 8th, 2013 at 8:31 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

(Image: Duke University)

( Duke University)

The old proverb, “two heads are better than one,” was put to the test recently when researchers electronically linked the brains of two rats, prompting the animals to work together to accomplish a common goal.

The researchers fitted each rat with a device that allowed one rat to send brain waves to the other, even when separated by long distances.  The rat that received the transmitted information used it to help perform a simple task, which earned both rats a reward.

When the rats’ joint efforts were unsuccessful, the animals used the device as a two-way communicator, to mentally collaborate with each other until they performed the task properly.

“These experiments demonstrated the ability to establish a sophisticated, direct communication linkage between rat brains, and that the decoder brain is working as a pattern-recognition device,” said Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University’s School of Medicine. “So basically, we are creating an organic computer that solves a puzzle.”

Microscopic electrodes were inserted into the brains of the two lab rats, into an area of the cerebral cortex which processes motor information, forming what researchers called an “organic computer.”

One of the rats, considered to be the encoder, transmitted brain wave information to the other rat, known as the decoder.

Screen capture of a video demonstrating behavior of the encoder rat (left) transmitting brain waves to the decoder rat (right) who is receiving the information with an electronic device (Photo: Duke University)

Screen capture of a video showing the encoder rat (left) transmitting brain waves to the decoder rat (right), which is receiving the information via an electronic device (Duke University)

The encoder rat received a visual cue, such as a light, indicating which lever to press in order to be rewarded with a sip of water.

When the encoder rat pressed the correct lever, brain activity indicating its  decision was translated into signals of electrical stimulation and transmitted directly to the brain of the decoder rat.

The encoder rat, unlike his partner, wasn’t given the same kind of visual cue to indicate which lever to press to obtain the reward.

So, in order to get the sip of water, the decoder rat had to rely strictly on the information transmitted by the encoder rat via the brain-to-brain electronic interface.

Researchers found the decoder rat responded to the electronic cues about 70 percent of the time.

The researchers also learned that the brain-to-brain interface provided two-way communications between the two rats which allowed them to help each other.

An encoder rat fitted with a brain-to-brain interface from video capture (Image: Duke University)

An encoder rat fitted with a brain-to-brain interface (Duke University)

“We saw that when the decoder rat committed an error, the encoder basically changed both its brain function and behavior to make it easier for its partner to get it right,” Nicolelis said. “The encoder improved the signal-to-noise ratio of its brain activity that represented the decision, so the signal became cleaner and easier to detect.”

The researchers even took an encoder to Brazil while the decoder rat remained in a North Carolina lab. Despite the distance, scientists were able to send brain wave signals between the rats via the internet and found that they were still able to work together.

“So, even though the animals were on different continents, with the resulting noisy transmission and signal delays, they could still communicate,” said Miguel Pais-Vieira, a postdoctoral fellow and author of the study. “This tells us that it could be possible to create a workable, network of animal brains distributed in many different locations.”

The study with the details of the research and findings were published recently in  Scientific Reports.

Third Radiation Belt Discovered Around Earth

Posted March 6th, 2013 at 5:28 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

A new radiation belt has been discovered around Earth. It is shown here using actual data as the middle arc of orange and red of the three arcs seen on each side of the Earth. (Image: JHUAPL/LASP)

A new radiation belt has been discovered around Earth. It is shown here using actual data as the middle arc of orange and red of the three arcs seen on each side of the Earth. (Image: JHUAPL/LASP)

NASA scientists have discovered a third radiation belt briefly surrounded Earth for about a month before being blasted away by an interplanetary shock wave from the sun.

Experts had long thought there were only two distinct regions of trapped radiation. But the third ring was spotted by twin Van Allen radiation probes NASA launched in 2012 to study the radiation belts which encircle Earth and can be hazardous to orbiting satellites and astronauts.

“This is the first time we have had such high-resolution instruments look at time, space and energy together in the outer belt,” said Daniel Baker from the University of Colorado in Boulder, who is lead author of the study. ”Previous observations of the outer radiation belt only resolved it as a single blurry element. When we turned REPT [the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope] on just two days after launch, a powerful electron acceleration event was already in progress, and we clearly saw the new belt and new slot between it and the outer belt.”

According to mission scientists, the discovery demonstrates radiation belts are dynamic and flexible in nature, which provides a better understanding of how they respond to solar activity.

However, the discovery might not have occurred had scientists followed standard operating procedures.

An artist rendering depicting the twin Van Allen Probes in orbit within Earth's magnetic field. (Image: JHU/APL)

Artist rendering of the twin Van Allen probes in orbit within Earth’s magnetic field. (Image: JHU/APL)

Anxious and excited mission scientists turned on a critical piece of equipment soon after it was launched into space aboard the probe.  Usually, standard operating procedures for most NASA science missions call for a waiting period that can take months. After that, instruments are slowly turned on and activated one at a time, as technicians slowly ramp them up to full power.

If scientists working with the Van Allen probes mission had followed that set of procedures, the third Van Allen belt might never have been spotted. Data sent back to Earth from the probes throughout the month of September at first showed the two expected Van Allen belts.

But a few days later, the scientists noticed  the belt’s outer ring seemed to be squeezing into an intense, tightly packed band of electrons and that a third, less compact belt of electrons formed further out, creating a total of three rings.

Named after the noted physicist, James Van Allen, the man who discovered them in 1958, the Van Allen radiation belts are two, and now sometimes three, layers of trapped radiation from solar winds or cosmic rays held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields.

Earth’s magnetic fields, which come from our planet’s inner core, repel most harmful radiation away from us, keeping it high above Earth where it accumulates in the Van Allen belts.

Graphic rendering of the Van Allen belts (Image: NASA)

Graphic of the Van Allen belts (NASA)

These layers of radiation are greatly affected by space weather and expand and contract depending upon the amount of energy sent to Earth from the sun and elsewhere.

The Van Allen belts can extend into space from an altitude of about 1,000 to 60,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.  The belt closest to Earth is called the inner belt. It’s separated from the outer belt by  an empty region of space.  This gap between the two Van Allen belts is caused by low-frequency radio waves that eject energy particles which would otherwise accumulate there.

Scientists have said there are times, when the sun erupts, that particles force their way into the gap, but soon disappear after a few days.

The Van Allen probes mission includes two spacecraft packed with identical instruments so that simultaneous measurements can be taken from different locations within the radiation belts.

“The fantastic new capabilities and advances in technology in the Van Allen Probes have allowed scientists to see in unprecedented detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles and will provide insight on what causes them to change, and how these processes affect the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science.

Van Allen Probes Discovery – NASA Video

After Russian Meteor, Keeping Closer Eye on Sky

Posted March 1st, 2013 at 4:19 pm (UTC+0)
4 comments

A meteorite contrail is seen over a vilage of Bolshoe Sidelnikovo 50 km of Chelyabinsk on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (Photo: AP/Nadezhda Luchinina, E1.ru)

A meteorite contrail is seen over a village in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (AP)

Earth resembled a cosmic shooting gallery this month after a meteor exploded over Russia. And then, a few hours later, an asteroid passed closer to Earth than most weather and communications satellites.

These two events, happening so close to each other, alerted people to the dangers posed by near-Earth objects such as asteroids, comets and other celestial debris lurking in outer space.

Several government agencies worldwide have programs to find and track these potential intruders.

This week, the Canadian Space Agency became the latest member of the international science community to join the effort, launching its NEOSSat spacecraft aboard an Indian PSLV-C20 rocket.

Astronaut Russell L. "Rusty" Schweickart - Circa 1971 (Photo: NASA)

Astronaut Russell L. “Rusty” Schweickart – Circa 1971 (NASA)

Also known as Canada’s Sentinel in the Sky, the experimental microsatellite is designed to detect and track near-Earth objects and space debris.

Other organizations also plan to keep an eye on these threatening space objects.

The B612 Foundation, a private organization comprised of notable scientists, including two former NASA astronauts, hopes to develop an early warning system to alert people to incoming danger.

Founded in 2001, the group originally focused on asteroid deflection research and advocacy. Later it realized that to protect humanity from a potentially destructive impact, an early warning system would be required.  The group went to work developing technology to make that possible.

The group plans to design, build, test, insure and launch a privately-funded spacecraft called the Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope.

Artist illustration of the B612 Foundation's space telescope Sentinal (Image: B612 Foundation)

Artist illustration of the B612 Foundation’s space telescope Sentinal (B612 Foundation)

With its Sentinel spacecraft, the B612 foundation hopes to discover and catalog 90 percent of asteroids, larger than 140 meters, which pass through Earth’s region of the solar system.

The mission team also hopes to document a significant number of smaller asteroids, down to a diameter of 30 meters.

So what if an asteroid or comet is found to be on a collision course with our planet?

Former NASA astronaut, Russell “Rusty” Schweickart (Apollo 9), warns against trying to completely destroy such an object with a nuclear explosion.

Schweickart, one of the founders of the B612 foundation,  favors a deflection technique, which would mean giving the space object a  nudge to veer off of its projected collision path with Earth.

According to Schweickart, in order to deflect a space object, preventative efforts must start several years to a decade ahead of the projected impact with Earth.

This would be done in two stages.  The first involves running the object off with an adequately sized spacecraft.

One method that's been proposed to deflect an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth is a kinetic impactor where a spacecraft rams into the object giving it a nudge and pushing it away.  This is the ESA's proposed Hidalgo space craft may be able to do just that. (Photo: ESA)

A kinetic impactor is a spacecraft that rams into the object giving it a nudge and pushing it away. The ESA is hoping that their proposed Hidalgo space craft will be able to do just that. (ESA)

If you ran into the side of the object facing Earth, according to Schweickart, the object would slow down; hitting it from the opposite direction would speed it up.  That step alone could prevent a possibly catastrophic impact with Earth.

But to ensure that object has been properly and safely nudged away from hitting  Earth, a gravity tractor would need to follow,  according to Schweickart.

A second spacecraft would pull up next to the object and hover either in front of it to speed it up, or behind it to slow it down.  The mutual gravity between the hovering spacecraft and the space object, he says, will pull the object toward the gravity tractor very slightly, but enough to cause a precise change in its orbit, deflecting it away from Earth.

Schweickart believes high-powered nuclear devices should only be considered if the approaching object happens to be enormous, something that occurs once every several million years.

Rather than using the nukes to blow the asteroid-like object to smithereens, Schweickart says the devices should be detonated near it.

This, he says, would make the object extremely hot on one side, boiling off that side which will push it off in the opposite direction, deflecting it away from Earth.

Scientists Find Evidence of Possible Lost Continent

Posted February 26th, 2013 at 7:32 pm (UTC+0)
3 comments

A beach on Mauritius.  Researchers say traces of an ancient mineral found in the beach sand of this island nation may led to the discovery of a long lost micro-continent.  (Photo: Contrarianmind via Wikimedia Commons)

A beach on Mauritius. Researchers say traces of an ancient mineral found on the island could have come from  a long-lost micro-continent. (Photo: Contrarianmind via Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists believe they’ve uncovered evidence of a long-lost continent in sand found on an island off the east coast of Africa.

The possible proof was found in traces of an ancient mineral believed to be between 660 million and 1.97 billion years, gathered from the beaches of Mauritius. It could provide evidence of a long lost micro-continent in the Indian Ocean.

The prehistoric mineral, zircon, is usually associated with much older landmasses yet Mauritius, in geological terms, is fairly young.  The island nation was born between eight and 10 million years ago after bursting from the sea floor, volcanic activity propelling it out of the ocean.

So how did the mineral end up on the beaches of Mauritius?  Writing in “Nature Geoscience,” an international research team suggests it came from fragments of a continental landmass that had been long submerged and buried beneath huge masses of lava on the floor of the Indian Ocean, which came to the surface when the island was formed by plume-related lava.

Mauritia, as researchers have dubbed the possible long-lost micro-continent, may have been part of Rodinia (Russian for homeland), a supercontinent that existed between 1.1 billion and 750 million years ago and was located between land that has since become Madagascar and India.

An artist's rendering of the prehistoric continent of Rodinia - in tan surrounding the blue ocean (Image: Kelvin Ma via Wikimedia Commons)

An artist’s rendering of the prehistoric continent of Rodinia – in tan surrounding the blue ocean (Image: Kelvin Ma via Wikimedia Commons)

At one time, Rodinia contained most, if not all, of Earth’s landmass, and began to break apart about 750 million years ago during the Neoproterozoic era.

Researchers theorize Mauritia detached from present-day India and Madagascar when the two landmasses drifted apart about 60 to 83.5  million years ago, sinking to the ocean bottom in much the same way as the doomed legendary lost continent of Atlantis.

However, not all scientists have been won over by the lost continent theory.

Jérôme Dyment, a geologist at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics, told National Geographic he is unconvinced. He believes it’s possible the ancient zircon minerals on Mauritius could have made their way to the island in other ways, such as being a part of ship ballast or modern construction material.

Flower Signals Electrify Nectar-Seeking Bees

Posted February 22nd, 2013 at 8:13 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

'First a little nectar from this flower then a little more from the other' (Photo: guy_incognito Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

(Photo: guy_incognito Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

Like a neon sign designed to attract customers, flowers emit electrical signals which help draw bees on the hunt for nectar.

While factors such as bright colors, patterns and tempting fragrances play a role in helping bees with their nectar-gathering duties, a study in Science Express reveals electrical signals from the blooms also help bees find and distinguish their targeted flowers.

Researchers from Bristol University’s School of Biological Sciences found that patterns of electrical signals emitted by flowers communicate information to the little pollinators.

Plants commonly emit weak and negatively-charged electric fields.  As they fly through the air, bees pick up positive electrical charges. Usually when a negative electrical signal meets a positive one, sparks can fly, but in the case of the bee and the bloom, nothing is exchanged except helpful information.

A bee gathers nectar from a flower (Photo: BitHead Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

(Photo: BitHead Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

“The co-evolution between flowers and bees has a long and beneficial history,” said Daniel Robert, the study’s lead author. “So perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that we are still discovering today how remarkably sophisticated their communication is.”

Another study on bees, from the University of Cambridge, suggests the contrast between flowers and their background is more important to bees than the colored vein patterns on pale flowers.

While flowers with patterns of varied color are more attractive to bees and provide them with guidance as to where to find nectar, researchers found little evidence to suggest bees specifically prefer the striped flowers.

The study revealed that solid red flowers reflect very little light and aren’t as interesting for the bees.

A bee grabs some nectar from a daisy (Photo: quas Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

A bee grabs some nectar from a daisy (Photo: quas Via Creative Commons @ Flickr)

When compared with red blooms, researchers found flowers with an ivory background seemed to have the greatest effect on the bees. They think that’s because the ivory color contrasted better with the background than the red flowers.

The study also points out that bees were able to tell the difference between solid ivory and veined flowers, but had no preference between the two.  But, the researchers did find that both the solid ivory and veined flowers were much more popular with bees than the solid red flowers.

Venation patterns (the distribution or arrangement of a system of veins on a flower) might be prevalent in nature because they can be useful nectar guides, particularly when they also increase flower visibility. But it appears that the color contrast of a flower with its background has a greater influence on bee preference,” the research team concluded in a released statement.

Does ‘God Particle’ Spell End of the Universe?

Posted February 20th, 2013 at 8:11 pm (UTC+0)
11 comments

Physicist Peter Higgs arrives at a seminar, July 4, 2013 at CERN where it was announced that a new subatomic particle, said be consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, had been discovered. (Photo: AP Photo/Denis Balibouse, Pool)

Physicist Peter Higgs arrives at a seminar, July 4, 2012 at CERN, where it was announced that a new subatomic particle, said be consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, had been discovered. (AP)

Last summer, when scientists finally cornered the elusive building block of the universe known as the Higgs boson, they apparently also discovered something else: that the universe’s days might be numbered.

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable,” said Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. “And at some point, billions of years from now, it’s all going to get wiped out,”

Scientists refer to last year’s discovery as a Higgs boson-like particle, since they’re still working to confirm it really is the elusive particle. The Higgs boson, also called the “God particle”, is believed to give all objects mass. But Lykken says it could also spell doom for the universe.

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN (Photo: CERN)

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN (Photo: CERN)

Lykken shared his conclusions at the 2013 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientist has also worked with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, which helped identify the Higgs boson-like particle.”If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” said Lykken, according to the Reuters news agency.

The calculation Lykken refers to requires knowing the mass of the Higgs to within one percent, as well as the precise mass of other related subatomic particles.

According to Lykeen if any changes are made to the parameters of the Standard Model of particle physics, even by just a little bit, that you’ll get a different end of the universe.

In a simulated data model, a Higgs boson is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. (Photo: CERN)

A simulated data model of the Higgs boson  (Photo: CERN)

“This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now, there’ll be a catastrophe,” Lykken told Reuters.

The Standard Model of particle physics provides an explanation for sub-nuclear physics and some aspects of cosmology in the earliest moments of the universe. In the standard model, it’s the Higgs boson that gives mass to all particles.

Lykken foresees the Armageddon scenario like this, “A little bubble of what you might think of as an ‘alternative’ universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us.”

He believes the cataclysmic event will take place quite quickly, at the speed of light.

The good news for planet Earth is that the end of the universe won’t occur for billions of years, long after the Sun burns out, an occurence which will destroy Earth long before the universe’s number is up.

Earth Gets a Hit, Braces for a Miss

Posted February 15th, 2013 at 7:14 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

A meteorite contrail is seen over a vilage of Bolshoe Sidelnikovo 50 km of Chelyabinsk on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (Photo: AP/Nadezhda Luchinina, E1.ru)

A meteorite contrail is seen over a village in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (AP)

Earth suddenly seems to be dodging celestial objects, although there was a direct hit earlier today when a streaking meteorite exploded above Russia’s Ural Mountains.

Hundreds of people were injured.  The powerful blast damaged the facades of buildings and shattered windows, according to the Russian Interior Ministry,

Now all eyes are on an asteroid that should zip past our planet today at 1924 UTC. However, experts say we are in no danger from asteroid 2012 DA14.

“According to NASA scientists, the trajectory of the Russian meteorite was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object. Information is still being collected about the Russian meteorite and analysis is preliminary at this point. In videos of the meteor, it is seen to pass from left to right in front of the rising sun, which means it was traveling from north to south. Asteroid DA14′s trajectory is in the opposite direction, from south to north.”

This animated set of images depicts asteroid 2012 DA14 as it was seen on 02-14-13, at a distance of 748,000 kilometers. The asteroid is the large bright spot moving near the middle of image. The other dots are stars in the background. A line that appears comes from a satellite that passed through the field of view.(Image credit: LCOGT/E. Gomez/Faulkes South/Remanzacco Observatory)

This animated set of images depicts asteroid 2012 DA14 as it was seen on 02-14-13, at a distance of 748,000 kilometers. The asteroid is the large bright spot moving near the middle of image. The other dots are stars in the background. A line that appears comes from a satellite that passed through the field of view.(Image credit: LCOGT/E. Gomez/Faulkes South/Remanzacco Observatory)

The asteroid is expected to fly past us at a speed of about 7.8 kilometers per second, coming within 27,000 kilometers of Earth. That’s close enough so that it will pass inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites that circle our planet at about 36,000 kilometers above Earth.

Barringer (or Meteor) Crater, in Arizona, measures 180 meters deep and 1,200 meters wide. Scientists estimate that a small asteroid about 45 meters in diameter, same as the passing 2012 DA14 created the hole some 25,000 years ago. (Photo: Kevin Walsh @ Creative Commons via Flickr)

The Barringer (or Meteor) Crater in Arizona measures 180 meters deep and 1,200 meters wide. Scientists estimate that a small asteroid, about the same size as the passing 2012 DA14, created the hole some 25,000 years ago. (Photo: Kevin Walsh @ Creative Commons via Flickr)

NASA, which has been studying the asteroid’s path, says there’s no chance the asteroid might collide with Earth. The flyby will, however, provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.

The 2012 DA14 asteroid is about 45 meters across, less than the width of a soccer field, weighs about 130,000 metric tons, and is most likely made of stone, rather than metal or ice.

Although the passing asteroid is relatively small in size, it could pack a mighty punch if it did swerve out of its projected path and hit the Earth.

Jack Rozdilsky an emergency management expert at Western Illinois University has considered the possibility of a hit.

“If the 150-foot asteroid passing Earth on Friday were on a collision course with the planet, it would impact the surface with an explosive force of 2.4 megatons of TNT,” Rozdilsky said.

While such a hit would not be planet destroying, it could wipe out a large metropolitan area in a one single blow.

“While popular disaster films such as ‘Armageddon’ have depicted fictionalized accounts of asteroids threatening Earth, asteroid impacts on Earth are not necessarily far-fetched,” Rozdilsky said. “In 1908, a comet impacted Tunguska, a forest in a remote area of northern Russia, with the resultant explosion devastating a large unpopulated area.”

A NASA animation show the trajectory of asteroid 2012 DA14 as it travels within the Earth-moon system on Feb. 15, 2013

 

About Science World

Science World

Science World is VOA’s on-air and online magazine covering science, health, technology and the environment.

Hosted by Rick Pantaleo, Science World‘s informative, entertaining and easy-to-understand presentation offers the latest news, features and one-on-one interviews with researchers, scientists, innovators and other news makers.

Listen to a Recent Program

Listen Sidebar

Broadcast Schedule

Broadcast Schedule

Science World begins after the newscast on Friday at 2200, Saturday at 0300, 1100 and 1900 and Sunday at 0100, 0400, 0900, 1100 and 1200.

Science World may also be heard on some VOA affiliates after the news on Saturday at 0900 and 1100. (All times UTC).

Contact Us

E-Mail
science@voanews.com

Postal Mail
Science World
Voice of America
330 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20237
USA