Rhythmic Light Pulses Help Astronomers Accurately Measure Medium Sized Black Hole

Posted August 18th, 2014 at 6:55 pm (UTC+0)
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This image of the galaxy Messier 82 is a composite of data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The intermediate-mass black hole M82 X-1 is the brightest object in the inset, at approximately 2 o'clock near the galaxy's center. (NASA/Feng et al)

Galaxy Messier 82  -  The intermediate-mass black hole M82 X-1 is the brightest object in the inset, at approximately 2 o’clock near the galaxy’s center. (NASA/Feng et al)

Astronomers have calculated that there may be about 100 million black holes in the galaxy.

And they mostly fall into two sizes… stellar and supermassive.  The size difference has to do with how much mass they contain versus that of our own sun or solar mass.

For some time now, astronomers have also theorized that black holes with a size between stellar – 100 to a million solar masses – and supermassive – hundreds to billions solar masses, called intermediate-mass black holes, also exist but their existence has never been confirmed.

While astronomers have been observing objects since the 1970s that they thought were intermediate-mass black holes, they weren’t able to measure the objects mass because they defied measurement techniques.

That is until perhaps now when a team of astronomers at the University of Maryland writing in the journal Nature announced that they were able to accurately measure an intermediate black hole which they said confirms the existence of the medium sized hypothetical astral object.

The researchers admitted that while the intermediate-mass black hole they studied may not have been the first to be measured, they say it was the first to be accurately measured.

“Objects in this range are the least expected of all black holes,” University of Maryland astronomy professor Richard Mushotzky said in a press release.

An artist's drawing shows a large black hole pulling gas away from a nearby star. (Image: NASA)

An artist’s drawing shows a large black hole pulling gas away from a nearby star. (Image: NASA)

Mushotzky, who is the study’s co-author said; “Astronomers have been asking, do these objects exist or do they not exist?  What are their properties?  Until now we have not had the data to answer these questions.”

The black hole observed and measured by the University of Maryland team has a solar mass of 400 resides in the Messier 82 galaxy, which is also known as NGC 3034, Cigar Galaxy or M82, located about 12 million light years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major.

Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory in 1999 were making observations on the M82 galaxy when they noticed some X-rays coming out of a bright object.

They called the object M82 X-1 and suspected that it might be an intermediate-mass black hole.  Astronomers at that time weren’t able figure out its mass, so the object remained unconfirmed.

The astronomers then turned to NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RTXTE) a satellite telescope that made about 800 observations of the M82 X-1 object between 2004 and 2010.  The RTXTE recorded the x-rays that were produced by M82 X-1.

Dheeraj Pasham, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, took the data that was gathered by the RTXTE and was able to map both the intensity and wavelength of those x-rays in each of the observational sequences. Pasham then linked all the sequences together and then made an analysis of the compiled data.

Artist impression of Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) in orbit.  Data recorded by this satellite was used to measure intermediate-mass black hole (NASA)

Artist impression of Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) in orbit. Data recorded by this satellite was used to measure intermediate-mass black hole (NASA)

Pasham noticed something odd from among the material that was circling the supposed black hole.  He noticed two repeating flares of light that were pulsating at a consistent rhythm.  One of the two light flares pulsed about 5.1 times per second while the other 3.3 times per second.  Together the two light flares were pulsing at a ratio of 3:2.

This pulsing 3:2 rhythm of light has provided astronomers with a technique to measure a black hole’s mass.

But it had been used to measure smaller black holes, not on objects suspected of being intermediate-mass black holes.

Nonetheless, Pasham and his colleagues went ahead and applied the 3:2 oscillation technique to determine the mass of the object.  His calculations showed that the M82 X1 has an estimated mass of about 428 times the mass of the sun, plus or minus about 105 solar masses.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 15th, 2014 at 7:35 pm (UTC+0)
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A man attending Gamescom 2014, Europe’s largest video games trade show, is shown here trying on Sony’s “Project Morpheus” virtual reality headset.  Gamescom 2014 runs through Sunday, August 17, 2014 in Cologne, Germany.  (Reuters)

A man attending Gamescom 2014, Europe’s largest video games trade show,  tries on Sony’s “Project Morpheus” virtual reality headset. Gamescom 2014 runs through Sunday, August 17, 2014 in Cologne, Germany. (Reuters)

Soaring above the southwest coast of Africa the Orbital Sciences Cygnus resupply cargo vehicle is shown here being released from the robotic arm on the International Space Station on August 15, 2014. (AP)

Soaring above the southwest coast of Africa, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus resupply cargo vehicle is released from the robotic arm on the International Space Station on August 15, 2014. (AP)

Protein samples that were taken from tobacco plants are being prepared in the laboratory of Icon Genetics on August 14, 2014.  The samples are being used in the German company’s current efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. (Reuters)

Protein samples that were taken from tobacco plants are prepared in the laboratory of Icon Genetics on August 14, 2014. The samples are being used in the German company’s current efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. (Reuters)

Gathering in a Madrid park, people enjoy the spectacular sight of a perigee moon, also known as a supermoon, as it rises above them on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. A supermoon takes place when the moon is near the horizon and appears larger and brighter than other full moons. (AP)

Gathering in a Madrid park, people enjoy the spectacular sight of a perigee moon, also known as a supermoon, as it rises above them on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. A supermoon takes place when the moon is near the horizon and appears larger and brighter than other full moons. (AP)

A female Sri Lankan baby leopard, born July 1, 2014 in a zoo located in Maubeuge, France was shown to the public on August 12, 2014. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently has the Sri Lankan leopard listed as an endangered animal species. (Reuters)

This female Sri Lankan baby leopard, born July 1, 2014 in a zoo located in Maubeuge, France was shown to the public on August 12, 2014. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently has the Sri Lankan leopard listed as an endangered animal species. (Reuters)

People throughout the world were recently treated to a show in the night skies during the annual Perseid meteor shower.  Here, in this long exposure photo taken on August 13, 2014, a meteor (center) falls through the atmosphere above the village of Blace, Macedonia (AP)

People throughout the world (mostly in the northern hemisphere) were recently treated to a show in the night skies during the annual Perseid meteor shower. Here, in this long exposure photo taken on August 13, 2014, a meteor (center) falls through the atmosphere above the village of Blace, Macedonia (AP)

Here’s another view of a Perseid meteor as it streaks through the Earth's atmosphere.  This photo was taken by astronaut Ron Garan while aboard the International Space Station on August 13, 2011. (NASA)

Here’s another view of a Perseid meteor (center) as it streaks through the Earth’s atmosphere. This photo was taken by astronaut Ron Garan while aboard the International Space Station on August 13, 2011. (NASA)

No they’re not astronauts or visitors from an alien planet but instead are actually doctors working in a Biosafety Level III laboratory at Peru’s National Institute of Health in Lima on August 12, 2014.  While no cases of Ebola have been reported so far in Peru, officials there still want to be prepared and are fitting the laboratory with equipment to perform sophisticated molecular testing that helps diagnose Ebola. (Reuters)

No, they’re not astronauts or visitors from an alien planet, but instead are doctors working in a Biosafety Level III laboratory at Peru’s National Institute of Health in Lima on August 12, 2014. While no cases of Ebola have been reported so far in Peru, officials there still want to be prepared and are fitting the laboratory with equipment to perform sophisticated molecular testing that helps diagnose Ebola. (Reuters)

The European Space Agency’s ATV-5 spacecraft, loaded with a variety of supplies, is seen here approaching the International Space Station, on August 12, 2014.  Launched from French Guiana on July 29, 2014 this was the last ATV spacecraft that ESA will send to resupply the space station. (© Roscomos/O.Artemyev)

The European Space Agency’s ATV-5 spacecraft, loaded with a variety of supplies, is seen here approaching the International Space Station, on August 12, 2014. Launched from French Guiana on July 29, 2014 this was the last ATV spacecraft that ESA will send to resupply the space station. (© Roscomos/O.Artemyev)

Power of a Black Hole, Metallic Glass, Bacteria Becoming More Antiseptic Resistant, How Geckos Stick to Ceiling

Posted August 13th, 2014 at 8:04 pm (UTC+0)
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A black hole's corona is shown here in one artist's rendering as the white light at the base of a jet just outside the entrance to the black hole. (NASA/JPL)

A black hole’s corona is shown here in one artist’s rendering as the white light at the base of a jet just outside the entrance to the black hole. (NASA/JPL)

Astronomers Witness Power of Supermassive Black Hole

Astronomers, using NASA’s space-based Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array or NuSTAR said they were able to capture what they described as a very rare astronomical event in the area that surrounds Markarian 335, a supermassive black hole that’s located about 324 million light-years from Earth.

The astronomers noticed that over a period of just days the powerful gravity produced by the black hole has been pulling its corona, a compacted source of x-rays that usually hovers near it, closer and closer into the black hole itself.

Michael Parker of the UK’s Institute of Astronomy and lead author of a new paper that details these findings said that, “The corona recently collapsed in toward the black hole, with the result that the black hole’s intense gravity pulled all the light down onto its surrounding disk, where material is spiraling inward.”

The paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

 

1 cm sized piece of tantalum (Wikimedia Commons)

1 cm sized piece of tantalum (Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers Form Glass from Metal

An international team of scientists were able to do something that materials scientists have been trying to do for a long time: form glass from pure, liquid metal.

The team developed an innovative new technique in order to create the metallic glass.  The system involves a special device that allows liquid metal to be cooled at a very rapid rate.

The researchers used the new device and technique to transform liquefied forms of the metals tantalum and vanadium into metallic glass.

The researchers said that since metallic glass is easily made and is a very strong material manufacturers like to use it for various specialized applications.

The work and findings made by the scientific team was outlined in a study recently published by the journal Nature.

 

A bottle containing the antibiotic chlorhexidine. (Wikimedia Commons)

A bottle containing the antibiotic chlorhexidine. (Wikimedia Commons)

Deadly Bacteria Shows Signs of Resisting Commonly Used Hospital Antiseptic

New research led by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine indicates that a form of bacteria that can cause life-threatening bloodstream infections in critically ill patients may be growing more and more resistant to a popular and common hospital antiseptic called Chlorhexidine gluconate or CHG.

A study detailing the researcher’s findings was published by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in its journal, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

“Hospitals are appropriately using chlorhexidine to reduce infections and control the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms,” said Nuntra Suwantarat, MD, the study’s lead author in a press release. “However, our findings are a clear signal that we must continue to monitor bacteria for emerging antiseptic resistance as these antibacterial washes become more widely used in hospitals.”

 

Close-up of the underside of a gecko's foot as it walks on a glass wall. Van der Waals force interactions between the finely divided setae (hairs on the toes) and the glass enables the gecko to stay in place and walk on the seemingly smooth glass. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons)

Close-up of the underside of a gecko’s foot as it walks on a glass wall. Van der Waals force interactions between the finely divided setae (hairs on the toes) and the glass enables the gecko to stay in place and walk on the seemingly smooth glass. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons)

Secret to Gecko’s Ability to Climb and Cling to Walls Uncovered

Did you ever wonder how creatures such as geckos can easily run up and down walls and cling almost endlessly to ceilings as if they have magic glue on their feet?

Scientists at Oregon State University recently developed a model that may explain these unique behaviors which could lead to the development such practical solutions as better and smarter adhesive systems.

Their scientific model pointed out that geckos have this incredible mechanism in their toes that allows them to turn their stickiness on/off or even ‘unstick’ themselves if need be.  The sticky mechanism involves the use of something called “seta” – tiny hairs that cover the gecko’s toes.

Details of the Oregon team’s research and findings were just published in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Woodpeckers Provide Scientists with Clues on Brain Injury Prevention

Posted August 11th, 2014 at 8:15 pm (UTC+0)
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Red Headed Wood Pecker (Noel Pennington/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Red Headed Woodpecker (Noel Pennington/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Sounding like a miniature jackhammer in overdrive, a quiet morning’s peace is suddenly interrupted by bursts of loud, rapid tapping.  It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that the intense and precise tapping is actually the sound of a woodpecker using his beak to search for his breakfast – usually insects or tree sap – in a neighboring tree.

Some ornithologists (scientists who study birds) estimate that a woodpecker can peck at a tree at speeds of up to 20 pecks per second or 1,200 per minute. Scientists say that a woodpecker’s brain is able to withstand g-forces of 1,200 G’s from the repeated impacts and deceleration brought on by this rapid pecking.

That’s a lot of physical stress for any living creature to bear.  Yet, for woodpeckers, it’s a necessity for survival.

Did you ever wonder how these hardy little birds are able to endure this seemingly punishing routine day after day without injuring themselves?

Chinese scientists thought studying how a woodpecker can regularly tolerate such severe physical impact may also provide some insight into what it would take to protect our bodies from harm that’s caused by shock and vibrations due to high-velocity impacts, such as an automobile accident.

The research team, led by Wu Chengwei at the Dalian University of Technology in northeastern China, decided that the best way to learn how a woodpecker’s body can function as an anti-shock structure was to build a cutting-edge, high-precision 3D model of the bird.

First data from extensive CT scans of a woodpecker’s body were fed into a computer that had been programed with specialized software to create their unique and detailed models.

This is a schematic of the pecking process of a woodpecker (a) and (e) are moments of readiness to peck; (b) and (d) are the moments of departure and return, respectively; (c) is the moment of collision; arrows on the beaks show velocity direction. (©Science China Press)

This is a schematic of the pecking process of a woodpecker (a) and (e) are moments of readiness to peck; (b) and (d) are the moments of departure and return, respectively; (c) is the moment of collision; arrows on the beaks show velocity direction. (©Science China Press)

Tests conducted with the computer models revealed that the creature’s body not only helps support it as it pecks on a tree, it also absorbs and stores most (99.7%) of the energy generated by the repeated impacts in the form of strain energy.  The amount of remaining impact energy (.3%) that actually enters the brain is significantly reduced.

The researchers also said that various features in the bird’s head, such as its beak, skull, and hyoid bone (a special bone that’s supported by muscles instead of other bones) further reduce most of the remaining the strain energy that may be absorbed by the brain.

Whatever small amount of impact energy that remains and enters the brain is gradually transformed into heat, said the researchers.  This heat caused by the remaining impact energy causes the bird’s brain temperature to quickly rise, which is why woodpeckers peck at the tree in one rapid burst, pause momentarily and resume with another burst of pecking.

Professor Wu and his colleagues outlined their findings in a new study that was recently published in the Beijing-based journal Science China Technological Sciences.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 8th, 2014 at 7:05 pm (UTC+0)
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An elephant takes a dip in the indoor pachyderm pool located at the Zoo in Leipzig, Germany, August 5, 2014. (AP)

An elephant takes a dip in the indoor pachyderm pool located at the Zoo in Leipzig, Germany, August 5, 2014. (AP)

Technicians at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana are shown in this photo released on August 8, 2014 as they fuel a Galileo FOC spacecraft. The European Space Agency says that two Galileo FOC spacecraft are scheduled to be launched aboard the Arianespace Flight VS09 on August 21, 2014. (ESA)

Technicians at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana are shown in a photo released on August 8, 2014 as they fuel a Galileo FOC spacecraft. The European Space Agency says that two Galileo FOC spacecraft are scheduled to be launched aboard the Arianespace Flight VS09 on August 21, 2014. (ESA)

Jiang Changgen is shown here preparing to fly his home-built helicopter" in China’s Dexing, Jiangxi province.  Unfortunately, Jiang, who spent 100,000 yuan ($16,214 US) on his home-made chopper, was unsuccessful in his attempt to fly the craft, according to local media. (Reuters)

Jiang Changgen is shown preparing to fly his home-built helicopter in China’s Dexing, Jiangxi province. Unfortunately, Jiang, who spent 100,000 yuan ($16,214 US) on his home-made chopper, was unsuccessful in his attempt to fly the craft, according to local media. (Reuters)

NASA, along with Lockheed Martin Corporation and the US Navy will soon be conducting recovery tests in the Pacific Ocean that will simulate the return of the new Orion spacecraft from a space mission.  Here an Orion “test vehicle” is shown sitting in the well deck of the USS Anchorage at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. (AP)

NASA released this photo on August 6, 2014, that shows a thin solar prominence above the Sun.  The prominence, which is controlled by the sun’s strong magnetic fields beneath it, then sprouted a number of plasma streams that disappeared back into the sun about a day later. NASA said that the photo was taken in extreme ultraviolet light. (NASA/SDO)

NASA released this photo on August 6, 2014, showing a thin solar prominence rising above the surface of the sun. The prominence, which is controlled by the sun’s strong magnetic fields beneath it, then sprouted a number of plasma streams that disappeared back into the sun about a day later. NASA said that the photo was taken in extreme ultraviolet light. (NASA/SDO)

In a photo taken August 5, 2014, here’s a look of the pump hall that surrounds the reactor inside the decommissioned, Soviet designed Unit Six of the Greifswald nuclear power station. Located outside the resort town of Lubmin, in was once East Germany, the power plant was just about completed when construction was stopped in 1990 due to the reunification of the then divided nation. The plant was decommissioned because it did not meet the much higher West German safety standards. (Reuters)

In a photo taken August 5, 2014, we see the pump hall that surrounds the reactor inside the decommissioned, Soviet designed Unit Six of the Greifswald nuclear power station. Located outside the resort town of Lubmin in what was once East Germany, the power plant was just about completed when construction was stopped in 1990 due to the reunification of the then divided nation. The plant was decommissioned because it did not meet the much higher West German safety standards. (Reuters)

Last week we introduced you to the hitch-hiking robot, ‘hitchBOT’ as he prepared to thumb his way across Canada.  We check in on hitchBot who is seen here next to Highway 17 north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on August 5, 2014. Latest reports have the robotic hitch-hiker at the halfway point in its cross-country journey. (Reuters)

Last week we introduced you to the hitch-hiking robot, ‘hitchBOT’ as he prepared to thumb his way across Canada. We check in on hitchBot who is seen here next to Highway 17 north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on August 5, 2014. Latest reports have the robotic hitch-hiker at the halfway point of its cross-country journey. (Reuters)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft met up with its target comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko this past Wednesday August 6, 2014. This image, taken from a distance of about 120 km, by cameras aboard the spacecraft, shows the comet’s ‘head’ (left), which is casting shadow onto its ‘neck’ and ‘body’ (right). The Rosetta has been flying in space for more than a decade to reach the comet. (AP)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft met up with its target comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko this past Wednesday August 6, 2014. This image, taken from a distance of about 120 km by cameras aboard the spacecraft, shows the comet’s ‘head’ (left), which is casting shadow onto its ‘neck’ and ‘body’ (right). The Rosetta has been flying in space for more than a decade to reach the comet. (AP)

Archaeologist Julien Beck, from the University of Geneva, is shown here climbing up to the deck of the world’s largest solar-powered boat, the MS Turanor PlanetSolar, at Zea Harbor, in Athens, on Tuesday Aug. 5, 2014.  The big sun powered boat will help Beck and his colleagues with an underwater archaeology project that hopes to find traces of what could be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. (AP)

Archaeologist Julien Beck, from the University of Geneva, is shown here climbing up to the deck of the world’s largest solar-powered boat, the MS Turanor PlanetSolar, at Zea Harbor, in Athens, on Tuesday Aug. 5, 2014. The big sun-powered boat will help Beck and his colleagues with an underwater archaeology project that hopes to find traces of what could be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. (AP)

Rosetta Rendezvous With Comet, Measuring Happiness with Math, Lowered Testosterone Levels Civilized Us, Bettering our Brains with Electromagentic Stimulation

Posted August 6th, 2014 at 5:14 pm (UTC+0)
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Rosetta's Target - Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken from a distance of 285 km by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera (European Space Agency/Rosetta)

Rosetta’s Target – Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken from a distance of 285 km by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera (European Space Agency/Rosetta)

ESA’s Rosetta Rendezvous with its Target Comet

Today, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft became the first to rendezvous and orbit a comet.

Rosetta, launched back in March, 2004, spent over a decade traveling in space to pursue its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko.

Both the Rosetta and its target comet are about 405 million kilometers from Earth and are located about half-way between the orbits of both Jupiter and Mars.  The spacecraft and comet are traveling through space at a speed of nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour, according to ESA.

Those associated with the Rosetta project are looking forward to gathering and reviewing the data captured by the spacecraft during its close encounter with Comet 67P/ Churyumov/Gerasimenko.

Scientists have theorized that comets provided Earth with its water some 4.6 billion years ago while others add to that theory and say that the icy space objects may have also delivered the ingredients of life on our planet.

As it gathers crucial information from the comet, the Rosetta will also look for an ideal landing site for its attached probe Philae, which will deploy from Rosetta and land on the comet for further scientific investigation this November.

 

Happy children (Jean Schweitzer via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Happy children (Jean Schweitzer via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Researchers Predict a Person’s Happiness with Mathematical Equation

Researchers at the UK’s University College London recently developed a mathematical equation that accurately predicts the happiness of over 18,000 people from all over the world.

They found that moment to moment happiness didn’t depend on whether or not things were just going well for the individual, but rather that things were going better than had been expected.

The UCL researchers first had 26 volunteers complete decision making tasks that, depending on their choices, could lead to them either gaining or losing money.

Throughout the testing the volunteers were asked ‘how happy are you right now?’  As the subjects performed these tasks, the researchers also measured their neural activity with an MRI.

From the data gathered during this initial phase of testing, the researchers built a computational model and presented it to some 18,420 participants in a smartphone game they called ‘What makes me happy?’

The researchers found that the equation developed from their initial research could also predict just how happy the smartphone users were as they played game, even though they could only win points and not money.

The researchers believe their findings may help give medical professionals new insight into mood disorders, which could lead to better treatments of those conditions.

 

A composite image shows the facial differences between an ancient (high testosterone) and a modern human (lower testosterone) with heavy brows and a large upper face and the more recent modern human who has rounder features and a much less prominent brow. (Robert Cieri, University of Utah)

A composite image shows the facial differences between an ancient (high testosterone – left) and a modern human (lower testosterone – right).  Ancient human had heavy brows and a large upper face and the more recent modern human has rounder features and a much less prominent brow. (Robert Cieri, University of Utah)

Study: A Drop in Testosterone Levels Made Us More Civilized

A new study published in the journal Current Anthropology suggests that a reduction in the level of testosterone (male hormone) made humans a much more civilized species.

After studying some 1,400 ancient and modern human skulls, Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah, along with his colleagues at North Carolina’s Duke University, believe that the development of modern human culture, including the complex abilities of communication and cooperation, coincided with a drop in the level of the male hormone some 50,000 years ago.

Examining the wide range of old to younger fossils led the researchers to notice a distinct difference in facial structure between humans from about 50,000 years ago to their ancestors who walked Earth many years earlier.

Humans who displayed more modern and advanced behavioral traits tended to have more “feminine” faces and skulls than their ancestors, according to the study.

The differences between the ancient fossils, compared to those more modern ones, are similar to the faces of people living today with higher and lower testosterone levels, said Cieri.

One cause for the drop in testosterone levels, Cieri said, may be increased human population density.  As more and more humans began to live closer together the need for cooperation versus aggression became necessary for our species to succeed.

 

Human brain (NIH)

Human brain (NIH)

Our Brains Could Work Better After Some Electromagnetic Stimulation

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team of Australian and French researchers outlined their findings that stimulating a human brain with weak electromagnetic pulses just might make it work better.

The researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University in France conducting experiments on mice found that applying electromagnetic stimulation, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can change abnormally located neural connections in the brain to more normal locations.

The research team said their discovery could someday lead to treatments for those suffering from disorders that are the result of abnormal brain organization such as depression, epilepsy and tinnitus.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 1st, 2014 at 5:35 pm (UTC+0)
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HitchBot, an anthropomorphic robot is shown here thumbing for a ride on Highway 102, just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as it begins a 6,000 kilometer cross-country journey to Victoria, British Columbia.  HitchBot’s owners are actually conducting a social experiment to see if drivers will actually stop to pick up the hitchhiking robot and drop off it off at its destination in one piece. (Reuters)

HitchBot, an anthropomorphic robot is shown here thumbing for a ride on Highway 102, just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as it begins a 6,000 kilometer cross-country journey to Victoria, British Columbia. HitchBot’s owners are actually conducting a social experiment to see if drivers will actually stop to pick up the hitchhiking robot and drop off it off at its destination in one piece. (Reuters)

Here’s a shot of the moon crossing between NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the sun, during a phenomenon called a lunar transit on July 26, 2014.  This photo was taken by the SDO itself.  NASA says a lunar transit takes place about twice a year, causing a partial solar eclipse that can only be seen from SDO's point of view. (Reuters/NASA/SDO)

Here’s a shot of the moon crossing between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the sun, during a phenomenon called a lunar transit on July 26, 2014. This photo was taken by the SDO itself. NASA says a lunar transit takes place about twice a year, causing a partial solar eclipse that can only be seen from SDO’s point of view. (Reuters/NASA/SDO)

In a photo released on July 28, 2014, a Giant Otter is seen here posing in a lagoon at the Manu National Park in Peru's southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The 1.8 million hectare reserve is the largest National Park in Peru and has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world. (Reuters)

In a photo released on July 28, 2014, a Giant Otter is seen here posing in a lagoon at the Manu National Park in Peru’s southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The 1.8 million hectare reserve is the largest National Park in Peru and has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world. (Reuters)

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity set a new off-Earth distance record recently.  To celebrate the occasion the space agency released this self-portrait of the record setter on July 29, 2014. (Reuters)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity set a new off-Earth distance record recently. To celebrate the occasion the space agency released this self-portrait of the record setter on July 29, 2014. (Reuters)

Curious visitors, on July 31, 2014, check out the nose/cockpit area of China’s new C919 airliner that’s currently being built in the Sichuan province.  The nose portion of the airliner, that being built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China is the second significant piece of the C919 to be completed. (Reuters)

Curious visitors, on July 31, 2014, check out the nose/cockpit area of China’s new C919 airliner that’s currently being built in the Sichuan province. The nose portion of the airliner, that being built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China is the second significant piece of the C919 to be completed. (Reuters)

The 18th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) came to a successful end with ‘Splashup’ on July 29, 2014.  Four astronauts spent nine days living and conducting research nearly 19 meters beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in Florida.  (NASA)

The 18th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) came to a successful end with ‘Splashup’ on July 29, 2014. Four astronauts spent nine days living and conducting research nearly 19 meters beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. (NASA)

A BMW i3 electric car is parked next to its charger at the Electric Power Research Institute's ‘Plug-In 2014’ conference in San Jose, California on July 28, 2014.  Conference attendees were able to check out the latest electric car products and talked about improving both technological and marketing issues facing the rapidly growing plug-in vehicle industry. (Reuters)

A BMW i3 electric car is parked next to its charger at the Electric Power Research Institute’s ‘Plug-In 2014’ conference in San Jose, California on July 28, 2014. Conference attendees were able to check out the latest electric car products and talked about improving both technological and marketing issues facing the rapidly growing plug-in vehicle industry. (Reuters)

The European Space Agency’s last un-manned Automated Transfer Vehicle to deliver supplies to the International Space Station lifts off atop an Ariane 5 launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on July 29, 2014.  (© ESA)

The European Space Agency’s last un-manned Automated Transfer Vehicle to deliver supplies to the International Space Station lifts off atop an Ariane 5 launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on July 29, 2014. (© ESA)

Those attending the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention, on July 25, 2014, got a chance to try out Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets as they watched a 3-dimensional video for the "Pacific Rim: Jaeger Pilot" video game. (Reuters)

Those attending the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention, on July 25, 2014, got a chance to try out Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets as they watched a 3-dimensional video for the “Pacific Rim: Jaeger Pilot” video game. (Reuters)

Science Scanner: Mars Rover Sets Off-Earth Distance Record; Infants Smell Mom’s Fear

Posted July 30th, 2014 at 7:19 pm (UTC+0)
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The gold line shows Opportunity's path of travel on Mars. The start point,its Eagle Crater landing site, is on the top left its current location after traveling a record setting 40.25 km is shown on the rim of Endeavour Crater. (NASA/JPL)

The gold line shows Opportunity’s path of travel on Mars. The start point, its Eagle Crater landing site, is on the top left. And, its current location after traveling a record-setting 40.25 km is shown on the rim of Endeavour Crater. (NASA)

Opportunity Mars Rover Sets Record

Although NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has hogged most of the attention since landing on the Red Planet nearly two years ago, Opportunity, the space agency’s Mars rover, which preceded its newer sibling by about 8 years, is the one to set a new record.

Opportunity mission officials said that, after traversing across a little more than 40 kilometers of Martian land, the little Mars rover now holds the off-Earth roving distance record.

On July 27, after a 48 meter excursion, Opportunity’s odometer clicked in at 40.25 kilometers.

“Opportunity driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said, John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a press release.

The Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon in 1973, was the previous record holder racking up a total of about 39 kilometers in less than five months, according to NASA.

 

This artist's concept illustrates the new view of the Milky Way. Scientists have discovered that the Milky Way's elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars. Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms. (Image: NASA)

An artist’s concept  of the Milky Way galaxy. (NASA)

Scottish Scientists Precisely Measure Mass of Milky Way

The Milky Way is not as massive as astronomers have long thought, according to a research team led by scientists at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. The scientists say they reached that conclusion after being able to accurately measure the mass of our Milky Way galaxy for the first time.

The Scottish scientists compared the Milky Way’s mass to that of one of our neighboring galaxies, Andromeda.  They determined that our galaxy has about one-half the mass of Andromeda, even though both galaxies have similar spiral-shaped structures and dimensions.

The researchers also calculated the amount of so-called ‘dark matter’ and found that 90 percent of the mass of both galaxies is made up of the mysterious and theoretical substance.

 

Trees blanket mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest (USDA)

Trees blanket mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest (USDA)

U.S. Forest Service Says Trees Save Lives

A research project headed up by the U.S. Forest Service has revealed that trees save 850 human lives and prevent 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms every year.

The new study, recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution, has been described by research officials as the ‘first broad-scale estimate’ of air pollution that has been removed by trees throughout the U.S.

While the study did find that that the tree’s pollution removal improved average air quality by less than 1 percent, research officials said that the effect of that improvement is significant. The researchers estimated the monetary value of human health benefits achieved by the removal of pollution by trees to be about $7 billion each year.

 

Artist's impression of ESA's Gaia spacecraft mapping the stars of the Milky Way ((c) ESA/ATG medialab/ESO)

Artist’s impression of ESA’s Gaia spacecraft mapping the stars of the Milky Way ((c) ESA/ATG medialab/ESO)

ESA’s Billion Star Surveyor Gaia Ready to Get to Work

The European Space Agency says that its star surveying spacecraft, Gaia, is finally ready to begin its science mission.  The spacecraft has undergone an extensive commissioning process and experienced problems in the months since its December 2013 launch from French Guiana.

The goal of Gaia’s ambitious mission is to chart and create an accurate 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy. To do so, the spacecraft will make precise measurements of 1 billion stars, which they say is about 1% of the total star population of our galaxy.  ESA says that in its mission Gaia will make about 70 observations of each of the 1 billion stars.

Mission officials say that, along with producing the stereoscopic and kinematic census of the 1 billion targets stars within the Milky Way, Gaia will be able to provide scientists with valuable data concerning composition, formation and evolution of our Galaxy.

 

A mother snuggles her newborn baby (David K/Creative Commons via Flickr)

A mother snuggles her newborn baby (David K/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Newborns Can Smell Mother’s Fears

Newborn babies can quickly learn what to fear by simply smelling the odor of their distressed mothers.

That’s according to a team of scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School and New York University.

And, the fears that are picked up by the little ones aren’t necessarily ‘natural’ fears but those that are unique to each individual mother.

For example, if the child’s mother happened to experience a particular traumatic event during pregnancy and as a result developed a specific fear, she could communicate that fear through an odor she emits whenever she feels fear allowing her newborn to also quickly learn that fear.

The researchers said that their findings could perhaps explain how a traumatic event experienced by a mother long before giving birth can deeply affect her children, which is something that has mystified mental health experts for years.

Rising Levels of Human-Caused Water Vapor in Troposphere will Intensify Climate Change Projections

Posted July 28th, 2014 at 7:01 pm (UTC+0)
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Illustration of annual mean T2-T12 field that provides a direct measure of the upper-tropospheric water vapor. Purple = dry and Red = moist. (Eui-Seok Chung, Ph.D./University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science)

Illustration of annual mean T2-T12 field that provides a direct measure of the upper-tropospheric water vapor. Purple = dry and Red = moist. (Eui-Seok Chung./University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science)

When it comes to greenhouse gases that contribute most to global warming, most people think of substances such as carbon dioxide, methane or even hydrofluorocarbons.

But did you know that, for a while now, scientists have considered the vapor of the most important ingredient in sustaining life on Earth – water – as one of the most abundant greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a key driver of global warming?

A new study led by scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science confirmed that rising levels of water vapor in the troposphere – the layer of the atmosphere closest to the surface and rises to a height of between 5 to 20 km above Earth’s surface – will increasingly play an important role in climate change projections in the coming years.

The Florida researchers said their new study is also the first to demonstrate that the increasing amount of atmospheric water vapor is being caused by human activities.

The researchers wanted to find out what was causing a 30-year trend of increasing water vapor in the upper troposphere.

So they took data collected over the years by satellites from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and compared it to climate models that predicted water circulation between the ocean and the atmosphere.

This allowed the team to determine whether or not the observed changes in atmospheric water vapor were the result of natural or human-made causes.

The experiments revealed that natural causes such as volcanic activity or variations in solar activity can’t explain the growing amounts of water vapor in the upper troposphere.

But their experiments did suggest that human activity can account for the increase.

In an email to Science World, Brian Soden, a co-author of the study and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School pointed out that those human-caused increases in water vapor in the upper troposphere are not the result of actual man-made water vapor emissions. Instead the water vapor is created as a response to man-made warming of the atmosphere, which he said is due primarily to the increase in CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.

A color enhanced satellite image of upper tropospheric water vapor. (NASA)

A color enhanced satellite image of upper tropospheric water vapor. (NASA)

“Because the concentration of water vapor increases as the air temperature increases, this man-made warming triggers a natural “feedback” mechanism that causes the water vapor increase,” said Soden. “Because water vapor is itself a very powerful greenhouse gas, the increase in water vapor further amplifies the initial CO2 induced warming. Our study confirms the presence of this key feedback mechanism which is a crucial component of global warming projections in water vapor can be explained by a rise in the amount of other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide being fed into the atmosphere.”

If water vapor is plays a key role in global warming, which increases water evaporation, which in turn leads to even more atmospheric water vapor, could this feedback mechanism spin out of control?

“Fortunately the feedback is not strong enough to push the climate into a “runaway” mode which would cause indefinite warming,” Soden explains. “However, some hypothesize that such a runaway greenhouse effect may have occurred on Venus and led to its extremely large greenhouse effect and warm temperatures.”

The researcher’s study called “Upper Tropospheric Moistening in response to Anthropogenic Warming” was published today (July 28, 2014) in the early on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Science Images of the Week

Posted July 25th, 2014 at 6:52 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA celebrated the 15th Anniversary of its Chandra X-ray Observatory on July 23, 2014 by releasing some newly processed images of objects out in the cosmos.  Here is G292.0+1.8 the remnants of supernova, which is a star that exploded. (NASA)

NASA celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Chandra X-ray Observatory on July 23, 2014, by releasing some newly processed images. This is G292.0+1.8 the remnants of supernova, a star that has exploded. (NASA)

Here’s another the newly processed images NASA released on July 23, 2014 to celebrate Chandra’s 15th anniversary.  This is the Crab Nebula.  The new image shows lower-energy X-rays from Chandra – red, medium energy X-rays – green, and the highest-energy X-rays – blue.  (NASA)

Here’s another image NASA released on July 23, 2014, to celebrate Chandra’s 15th anniversary. This image of the Crab Nebula shows the red lower-energy X-rays, green medium-energy X-rays, and blue, the highest-energy X-rays.  (NASA)

An engineer is seen working – yes he’s there keep looking – at the A Large Ion Collider Experiment or ALICE, which is a part of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), on July 23, 2014. (Reuters)

An engineer works at the A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE), which is a part of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), on July 23, 2014. (Reuters)

The Russian Progress 56 cargo ship is shown, in this NASA-TV video capture, as approaches the International Space Station for docking on July 23, 2014. (NASA-TV)

In this NASA-TV video capture, the Russian Progress 56 cargo ship approaches the International Space Station for docking on July 23, 2014. (NASA-TV)

Visitors check out the Apollo Lunar Module display at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 20, 2014, the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 lunar landing. (AP)

Visitors check out the Apollo Lunar Module display at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on July 20, 2014, the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 lunar landing. (AP)

Never question the power of Mother Nature – the violent typhoon Rammasun hit the city of Haikou, in China’s Hainan province on July 18, 2014.  Here you see a resident of the city as he pushes his electric bicycle through a flooded seaside street against the storm’s strong wind and heavy rainfalls.  (Reuters)

Never question the power of Mother Nature – the violent typhoon Rammasun hit the city of Haikou, in China’s Hainan province, on July 18, 2014. Here, a resident pushes his electric bicycle through a flooded seaside street. (Reuters)

On July 24, 2014, NASA and the European Space Agency released this image of the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 after their astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope, were able to create the most precise map of the mass within a galaxy cluster. (NASA/ESA)

On July 24, 2014, NASA and the European Space Agency released this image of the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0416.1-2403 after astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope created the most precise map of the mass within a galaxy cluster. (NASA/ESA)

For the first time technicians at the cleanroom Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach, California facility recently expanded and stacked the Sunshield of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently under construction. The Sunshield, shown here in a photo released by NASA on July 25, 2014, is the largest part of the observatory and when deployed in space must reliably unfurl to precise tolerances. (NASA)

Technicians at the clean-room at Northrop Grumman’s Redondo Beach, California, facility for the first time expanded and stacked the sun shield of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently under construction. The sun shield, here in a photo released by NASA on July 25, 2014, is the largest part of the observatory and when deployed in space must reliably unfurl to precise tolerances. (NASA)

Here’s a shot of the cracked ground that once held water at the Maria Cristina reservoir near Castellon, Spain.  Spain’s south-east region is suffering its worst drought that followed its driest winter in 150 years.  (Reuters)

Here’s a shot of the cracked ground that once held water at the Maria Cristina reservoir near Castellon, Spain. Spain’s south-east region is suffering its worst drought following its driest winter in 150 years. (Reuters)

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