Science Scanner: Bacteria Go Dormant Until Antibiotics Wear Off, Spacecraft Dives by Saturn’s Ring, and Antartica’s Disappearing Penguins

Posted July 2nd, 2014 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA Launches Mission to Study Atmospheric C02

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

NASA’s successfully launched its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Wednesday morning.

OCO-2’s mission, which is expected to last at least two years, will study atmospheric carbon dioxide, which scientists say is not only an important element of Earth’s carbon-cycle, but also the primary human-produced greenhouse gas that’s been singled out as playing a role in global warming.

Throughout the course of its mission, the spacecraft’s lone instrument, which contains three high-resolution grating spectrometers, will collect space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 as well as locate sources of and storage places for this greenhouse gas.

Mission officials say OCO-2 will take the study of the global carbon cycle to a unique new level.  They said it will create the most thorough picture that’s ever been taken of Earth’s natural carbon dioxide sources and their “sinks”, which are areas where the CO2 is removed and stored.

Up to 50% of Antarctica’s Emperor Penguins Could Disappear by Century’s End

Emperor penguin family (Christopher Michel - Creative Commons via Flickr)

Emperor penguin family (Christopher Michel – Creative Commons via Flickr)

The population of Emperor penguins living in Antarctica is at risk of severe decline by the end of the century because of climate change, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

Currently, the Emperor penguin is being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list, a move the study researchers support.

The researchers pointed out that since Emperor penguins depend so much on sea ice in their daily lives, any changes in the amount of local sea ice concentration (SIC) would have serious effects on their well-being.

In making their analysis of future Emperor penguin population, the researchers included all current and projected drops in sea ice concentration where the penguins maintain their colonies. They found that, due to ongoing climate change, the penguin numbers could drop as much as 50 percent by the end of the century.

Cassini Grand Finale

Artist's rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. (NASA)

Artist’s rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. (NASA)

NASA’s Cassini Mission, which has been studying Saturn, its famous rings and its moons for a decade, is readying for its final mission phase which is expected to begin sometime in 2016.

With help from 2,000 members of the public and those involved with the mission, the space agency has named the unmanned spacecraft’s swan song mission, “Cassini Grand Finale”.

In this final portion of the Cassini Mission, the spacecraft will be put through a “daring set of orbits” that in some ways will be like an entirely new mission, NASA says.

The spacecraft will frequently climb high above the ringed planet’s North Pole as it soars just outside of its narrow F ring. Mission officials said that Cassini will also study the water-rich geyser plumes found spouting high above the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and will dive between the planet and innermost ring 22 times.

Fish Have Better Memories than Thought

Fish have better memories than thought (Benson Kua – Creative Commons via Flickr)

Fish have better memories than thought (Benson Kua – Creative Commons via Flickr)

Canadian scientists have found that fish have a better memory that was previously thought.   Fish were thought to have a memory span of only about 30 seconds, but the researchers said the fish they studied disproved that notion by remembering context and associations for as long as 12 days.

The African Cichlids (Labidochromis caeruleus), a species many people put in their aquariums, exhibited a number of intricate behaviors, including aggression. This led the scientists to think that the fish might be capable of performing some advanced memory tasks.

So, the researchers trained each of the fish used in their experiments to navigate itself into a specific area of the aquarium where it was given a food reward. Each training session lasted about 20 minutes over a three-day period. The fish were then removed from their training area and  allowed to rest for 12 days.

After this rest period, the fish were reintroduced back into their training environment where their movements were tracked with motion-tracking software.

The fish showed a preference for the area of the aquarium that had the previous food reward, which indicated that they were able to recall their previous training.

After the researchers put them through additional training, the fish were able to disassociate themselves from the original reward area in favor of a new location where the food was placed.

How Does Bacteria Become Antibiotic Resistant?

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (yellow, round items) killing and escaping from a human white cell. (NIAID)

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (yellow, round items) killing and escaping from a human white cell. (NIAID)

Have you ever wondered how bacteria mutate to a point where they build up a resistance to medication designed to kill them?

Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem were able to precisely measure how bacteria respond to antibiotics, which allowed them to develop a mathematical model of the process.

The model they developed showed that giving the bacteria daily three-hour doses of an antibiotic provided it with the ability to predict just how long each dose was effective and then allowed it to go dormant for that period of time.  The bacteria were able to evolve to where it was able to develop biological timers so it could outlive the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Vast Oceans Detected Deep Beneath Earth’s Surface

Posted June 30th, 2014 at 6:58 pm (UTC+0)
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Schematic cross section of the Earth’s interior. (Northwestern University)

Schematic cross section of the Earth’s interior. (Northwestern University)

New evidence suggests there  might be oceans of water far beneath Earth’s surface.

Northwestern University geophysicist Steve Jacobsen, along with University of New Mexico seismologist Brandon Schmandt, found evidence of water in pockets of hot magma about 645 km beneath North America within the transition zone between Earth’s upper and lower mantle.

“It alters our previous understanding of the composition of the Earth,” said Jacobsen, adding that Earth might have far more H2O than was previously thought.

“It [also] has some implications for where Earth’s water came from, from inside [the Earth] versus comets,” Jacobsen said.

Even though this deep-Earth water isn’t in the form we’re used to, such as liquid, ice or even vapor, researchers say their discovery could still turn out to be one of our planet’s largest water reservoirs.

Not only will the findings help determine just how much water is trapped inside rock in the transition zone, but they will also provide scientists with unique insight into the composition of Earth’s structure, how it was formed, and the complex processes that are taking place deep inside our planet.

The study augments another, by a Canadian-led team, that discovered water deep within Earth hydrous minerals that were pushed to the surface by volcanoes.

Jacobsen and Schmandt believe that plate tectonics may be responsible for driving water so far down into the Earth.

“We’re trying to connect the rock cycles, which some people know as plate tectonics, with the water cycle,” said Jacobsen.

Study co-author Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University (Northwestern University)

Study co-author Steve Jacobsen from Northwestern University (Northwestern University)

There are instances where tectonic plates come together and one of them dives deep down from the crust into the mantle, beneath the other, in a process called subduction.

There are times during subduction when water is taken down into the mantle in the form of hydrous minerals, such as ringwoodite. This form of water often doesn’t make it that far down into the mantle.

Typically, within the upper 100 kilometers or so into the mantle, temperatures become so hot and the pressures become so high, that those hydrous minerals begin breaking down to form other minerals. But, in doing this, the minerals also release some water in a process called dehydration melting, which Jacobsen said is also the source of magma in all  volcanoes .

The huge amounts of water described by the researchers are trapped within the molecular structure of minerals that are contained in the mantle rock.

The researchers say that even if only 1percent of the weight of transition zone rock had trapped water inside, that amount of water would be equal to about three times the water that’s held in our oceans.

Since the minerals are subjected to such immense pressure and high temperatures, water molecules that become bound within the mineral’s crystal structure actually split and form something called hydroxyl radicals.

As these OH rich minerals come up to the surface of the Earth and are melted through geological events such volcanic eruptions, the OH molecules  regroup and form actual water (H20) molecules and are expelled as water vapor.

Photomicrograph of a grown ringwoodite blue crystal (Jasperox via Wikimedia Commons)

Photomicrograph of a grown ringwoodite blue crystal.(Jasperox via Wikimedia Commons)

The research team believes that this deep Earth water is connected with surface reservoirs.

“You can probably recycle all of the water in the oceans, through the upper mantle, once every 100 million years or so,” said Jacobsen.

The research Schmandt conducted was based on seismic data produced by USArray, a network of some 2,000 seismometers that have been placed throughout the US. Jacobsen replicates the pressure and temperatures found deep inside the Earth through various laboratory experiments and then studies the geophysical processes that are taking place so far beneath the surface of the Earth, that direct observation isn’t possible.

“We don’t know much yet, about this deeper reservoir, which could be potentially as large as the oceans or maybe even more than that,” said Jacobsen.

Science Images of the Week

Posted June 27th, 2014 at 6:41 pm (UTC+0)
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A customer in Santa Monica, California uses one of two new ATM’s that were put into operation June 21, 2014 in Southern California to purchase the popular digital currency, bitcoins. (Reuters)

A customer in Santa Monica, California, purchases the popular digital currency, bitcoins, using one of two new ATM’s that were put into operation on June 21, 2014. (Reuters)

A technician is shown making adjustments on an ESA ATV-5 spacecraft that was being prepared for integration on an Ariane 5 rocket on 24 June 2014.  This is ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and was named for the father of the “Big Bang”, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian physicist.  The spacecraft, which will deliver more than 2600 kg of goods to the International Space Station, is scheduled for launch sometime in the second half of July, 2014 from the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. (© ESA-S. Corvaja)

An ESA ATV-5 spacecraft is prepared for integration on an Ariane 5 rocket on June 24, 2014. This is ESA’s fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and was named for the father of the “Big Bang”, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian physicist. The spacecraft, which will deliver more than 2600 kg of goods to the International Space Station, is scheduled for launch sometime in July 2014 from Kourou, French Guiana. (© ESA-S. Corvaja)

Here’s a close-up of Harley Davidson’s new electric motorcycle prototype, Project LiveWire that was on display at the motorcycle company’s New York store on June 23, 2014.  The LiveWire isn’t on sale yet since the final version of the LiveWire is still being developed. (Reuters)

Harley Davidson’s new electric motorcycle prototype, Project LiveWire, on display at the motorcycle company’s New York store on June 23, 2014. The LiveWire isn’t on sale yet because it is still in development. (Reuters)

NASA successfully tested the parachute system of its Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Arizona on June 25, 2014.  A test version of the spacecraft is shown here descending to the ground under its three main parachutes.  The space agency said this was the most difficult test of the spacecraft’s parachute system as it is getting set for Orion’s first trip into space in December 2014. (NASA)

NASA successfully tested the parachute system of its Orion spacecraft at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Arizona on June 25, 2014. The U.S. space agency said this was the most difficult test of the spacecraft’s parachute system as it gets set for Orion’s first trip into space in December 2014. (NASA)

Here’s a shot of the constellation Orion that was taken from the International Space Station on June 24, 2014 by ISS Engineer, Reid Wiseman.  In the upper right area you can see the U Destiny module. (NASA)

Here’s a shot of the constellation Orion (little bright blue objects in center) that was taken from the International Space Station on June 24, 2014 by ISS Engineer Reid Wiseman. (NASA)

Representatives from the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University Of North Dakota, Grand Forks, are shown here piloting a Draganflyer X4ES drone during a demonstration on Tuesday, June 24, 2014.  They were demonstrating the drone’s possible use in various law enforcement applications. (AP)

Representatives from the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University Of North Dakota, Grand Forks, demonstrate a Draganflyer X4ES drone on June 24, 2014. They were demonstrating the drone’s possible use in various law enforcement applications. (AP)

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover celebrated its first Mars Year on the Red Planet, June 24, 2014, by sending back a selfie it took of itself at a Martian sandstone target called "Windjana". The selfie was actually composed with dozens of individual images taken between April and May 2014. (NASA)

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover celebrates its first Mars year on the red planet by sending back a selfie taken at a Martian sandstone target called Windjana, June 24, 2014. The selfie was actually composed with dozens of individual images taken between April and May 2014. (NASA)

A Google employee demonstrates the Android Auto interface at the Google I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco June 26, 2014. An Android powered device will interface with the auto’s dashboard touchscreen system to provide drivers with a safe way to access and operate Android’s built-in navigation, communication and entertainment applications by just using voice commands. (Reuters)

A Google employee demonstrates the Android auto interface at the Google I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco June 26, 2014. An Android-powered device will interface with the auto’s dashboard touchscreen system to provide drivers with a safe way to access and operate Android’s built-in navigation, communication and entertainment applications by using voice commands. (Reuters)

NASA released this new composite image of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster on June 24, 2014.  The composite was made from a number of observational images taken over a decade by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.  According to NASA the Perseus Cluster is one of the most massive objects in the Universe and it contains thousands of galaxies that are surrounde by a huge cloud of superheated gas.  (NASA)

NASA released this new composite image of the Perseus Galaxy Cluster on June 24, 2014. The composite was made from a number of observational images taken over a decade by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. According to NASA, the Perseus Cluster is one of the most massive objects in the Universe, containing thousands of galaxies surrounded by a huge cloud of superheated gas. (NASA)

Otonaroid, a female-announcer robot is shown here addressing a crowd during a press event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan in Tokyo Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Android expert Hiroshi Ishiguro, who created Otonaroid, also demonstrated others that included another girl robot called Kodomoroid and a bald-headed mannequin robot with pointed arms called Telenoid. (AP)

Otonaroid, a female-announcer robot, is shown here addressing a crowd during a press event at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan in Tokyo on June 24, 2014. Android expert Hiroshi Ishiguro, who created Otonaroid, also demonstrated others that included another girl robot called Kodomoroid and a bald-headed mannequin robot with pointed arms called Telenoid. (AP)

 

Science Scanner: Curiosity’s Mars Selfie, Jurassic Caterpillar & an X-ray of Dark Matter?

Posted June 25th, 2014 at 7:26 pm (UTC+0)
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Odd X-ray Signal Might be Sign of Dark Matter

Astronomers found the mysterious X-ray signal in 73 galaxy clusters including the Perseus glaxy cluster, shown here.  The little chart inside the image is a plot of X-ray intensity as a function of X-ray energy.  Circled is the unidentified x-ray emission line (NASA/CXC/SAO)

Astronomers found mysterious X-ray signal in 73 galaxy clusters including Perseus, shown here. Inside the image is a plot of X-ray intensity as a function of X-ray energy. Circled is the unidentified x-ray emission line (NASA)

Strange X-ray emissions from galaxy clusters– hundreds of galaxies connected to each other by gravity–are providing clues about mysterious dark matter.

Dark matter–if it really does exist–is thought to be invisible, doesn’t produce or attract light, and makes up a majority, 84.5 percent, of the matter in the universe.

But scientists who’ve been trying to unlock the mysteries of dark matter have so far only been able gather evidence of its existence by studying objects throughout the Universe, such as stars and galaxies, that seem to be influenced by gravity produced by unseen material.

Using ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Chandra space telescopes, both of which make their observations by detecting x-ray radiation, astronomers noticed an emission at an odd wavelength that they think may have been produced by the decay of a sterile neutrino, a certain type of dark matter.

 

Curiosity Marks its First Mars Year with a Selfie

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year exploring the Red Planet. (NASA)

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover captures a selfie to mark a full Martian year of exploring the red planet. (NASA)

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity marked the anniversary of its first Martian year on the red planet by taking a selfie.

A Martian year is equal to 687 Earth Days, about 45 shy of two Earth years.

Curiosity’s selfie was snapped at a location called Windjana, where it drilled into Martian rock.

NASA says the Martian rover has traveled 7.9 kilometers since since it touching down on Mars in August 2012. Curiosity is heading to Mt. Sharp inside the Gale Crater.

Curiosity’s selfie is actually a combination of images it took of itself between this past April and May.

 

Archeologists Discover Jurassic Period Parasite Fossil

Artist's rendering of the ancient and odd Qiyia jurassica (Yang Dinghua, Nanjing)

Artist’s rendering of the ancient and odd Qiyia jurassica (Yang Dinghua, Nanjing)

Archeologists recently found an odd fly larva fossil with legs like a caterpillar and a giant sucking plate of a thorax that allowed it to attach to, and feed on, ancient amphibians with a mouth fashioned like a sting.

The parasite fossil called Qiyia (bizarre in Chinese) jurassica (Jurassic period – when the animal lived) was found in Inner Mongolia. It’s about 2 centimeters long and is believed to be 165 million years old.

The archeologists who made the discovery said there’s no other known insect with the unique features of the Qiyia jurrassica.

 

Some Sad People Actually Prefer Not to be Cheered Up

Feeling sad? (Barry Langdon-Lassagne via Wikimedia Commons)

Feeling sad? (Barry Langdon-Lassagne via Wikimedia Commons)

You may want to think about this the next time you come across a loved one or friend who is feeling sad.

According to a new study by a couple of Canadian Universities, despite your good intentions, Mr. or Ms. Glum may not want to be cheered up, especially if they have low self-esteem.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada found that people who have negative feelings about themselves want others to see them as they see themselves, rather than spouting off a litany of positive and optimistic affirmations.

The study finds these people want negative validation, to be reassured that all the pessimism they’re feeling about themselves is normal and appropriate.

Rather than the cheery lecture you’d normally give to someone who is down in the dumps, the researchers suggest that you show some understanding of what they’re going through and agree that the bad feelings they’re experiencing are OK.

 

Special Glove Teaches How to Read and Write Braille

Woman wearing a special glove designed by scientists at Georgia that teaches how to read and write Braille. (Caitlyn Seim/Georgia Tech)

Woman wears a special glove that teaches people how to read and write Braille. (Caitlyn Seim/Georgia Tech)

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have come up with some special gloves that can teach you to read and write Braille, the communications method used by those with impaired vision.

The process used to teach Braille is based on what the Georgia Tech researchers called passive haptic learning (PHL), which helps people learn muscle memory through vibrating stimulus, rather than through sight.

Some of the research participants were given gloves with tiny vibrating motors sewn into the knuckle area, while others weren’t provided with the device.

The motors vibrated the knuckles in such a way that matched a typing pattern of a specific phrase in Braille.

The keyboard would also provide audio cues as to what they were actually typing.  After typing the phrase with help of the vibrating glove, the participants were then challenged to do the same thing again, only without the glove or audio cues.

The researchers found that about one-third of those using the vibrating glove were more accurate in their typing than those who didn’t have the benefit of the glove.

Study Confirms Earth’s Magnetic Field is Weakening

Posted June 23rd, 2014 at 8:01 pm (UTC+0)
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Magnetic_field_changes_node_full_image_2

Changes in Earth’s magnetic field from January to June 2014 as measured by the Swarm constellation of satellites. Red represent areas of strengthening, blues show areas of weakening. ((C) ESA/DTU Space)

Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, according to  measurements taken over the past six months by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm satellite constellation.

The measurements–taken between January and June 2014–come from the first high-resolution results made by Swarm, and also indicate that the magnetic field has declined most dramatically in the Western Hemisphere while increasing in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean.

The measurements also confirm that Earth’s magnetic north continues its slide towards Siberia.

Scientists say the shifting of the magnetic north pole is part of a process that takes thousands of years and will eventually result in the swap in magnetic poles – north will be south and vice-versa.

: A schematic illustrating the relationship between motion of conducting fluid, organized into rolls by the Coriolis force, and the magnetic field the motion generates. (USGS)

A schematic illustrating the relationship between motion of conducting fluid, organized into rolls by the Coriolis force, and the magnetic field the motion generates. (USGS)

Scientists studying ancient rocks that came to the surface from deep within our planet have found that the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles have swapped with each other several hundred times during the past 160 million years.

Past research, including a study released in 2011, suggests that shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates may play a role in the shifting of the magnetic poles.

The 2011 study suggested that, as the tectonics plates shift and move, they push into Earth’s crust at subduction zones, and could continue until they reach the outer core, modifying the flow of its molten iron which helps generate the magnetic field.

The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from harmful radiation from cosmic rays as well as high-energy particles from the sun. It has previously been shown to have faded by about 10 percent since measurements were first made in 1835 by German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

This is a world map of main field total intensity created by the National Geophysical Data Center at NOAA.

This is a world map of main field total intensity created by the National Geophysical Data Center at NOAA.

But unlike what was portrayed in the 2003 Sci-Fi movie, “The Core”, the Earth’s magnetic field will not simply fade out.

Field strength changes in the magnetic field are considered normal and while measurements, including those made by Swarm, indicate that it’s fading a bit, scientists say the magnetic field could just as easily regain its strength and become strong again.

The findings made by the Swarm mission were presented on Thursday, June 19, 2014, at the Third Swarm Science Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The ESA Swarm mission, which measures the magnetic signals that come from Earth’s core up through the ionosphere and magnetosphere, was launched in November 2013.

Three identical but separate spacecraft are operating in tandem with each other for the mission.

Artist rendering of the Swarm constellation in orbit (ESA/AOES Medialab)

Artist rendering of the Swarm constellation in orbit (ESA/AOES Medialab)

All three units are circling the Earth in a polar orbit. Two of the three spacecraft, Swarm A and B, orbit at an altitude of about 460 km, while the third spacecraft Swarm C orbits at a higher altitude of about 530 km.

Mission officials say that as the Swarm program progresses, it will provide an unparalleled understanding of complex workings of Earth’s magnetic field.

Swarm mission officials said that as the spacecraft continues to send data, scientists hope to uncover the influence of the Earth’s mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere in creating and maintaining our planet’s protective magnetic shield.

Science Images of the Week

Posted June 20th, 2014 at 7:08 pm (UTC+0)
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International Space Station crewmembers took this remarkable photo of a sunrise as seen by the ISS.  The photo was taken just a few minutes before the beginning of the June 19, 2014 spacewalk. (NASA)

International Space Station crew members captured this remarkable image of a sunrise. The photo was taken just a few minutes before the the June 19, 2014, spacewalk. (NASA)

A robotic giraffe, shown here with US President Barrack Obama, was among the unique devices and gizmos that were created by everyday tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs at the first-ever White House “Maker Faire” on June 18, 2014.  (Reuters)

A robotic giraffe, shown here with US President Barrack Obama, was among the unique devices and gizmos that were created by everyday tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs at the first-ever White House “Maker Faire” on June 18, 2014. (Reuters)

Online shopping giant Amazon unveiled its new “Fire” smartphone in Seattle, Washington on June 18, 2014. (AP)

Online shopping giant Amazon unveiled its new “Fire” smartphone in Seattle, Washington, on June 18, 2014. (AP)

Oleg Artemiev, a member of the International Space Station crew is shown here floating outside the ISS as he and his fellow crewmember Alexander Skvortsov took a walk in space on June 19, 2014.  During their space-walk or extra-vehicular activity (EVA), the two Russian astronauts installed a new antenna, moved a cargo boom and did some other work that could only be done from outside the space station (NASA)

Oleg Artemiev, a member of the International Space Station crew, floats outside the ISS as he and fellow crew member Alexander Skvortsov, take a walk in space on June 19, 2014. The two Russian cosmonauts installed a new antenna, moved a cargo boom, and did some other work that could only be done from outside the space station (NASA)

Harriet, a Masai giraffe, is shown here taking care of her four-day-old calf at the San Diego Zoo on June 19, 2014. The male calf, born on June 16, already stands almost 2 meters tall and weighs over 66 kilograms. The calf’s father, not shown, named Silver, the giraffe herd’s sire. (AP)

Harriet, a Masai giraffe, with her 4-day-old calf at the San Diego Zoo on June 19, 2014. The male calf, born on June 16, already stands almost 2 meters tall and weighs over 66 kilograms. (AP)

This is what a storm cell looks like from high above the clouds.  The photo was taken by a high-altitude NASA ER-2 aircraft as a part of a joint project between the space agency, NOAA and Duke University called the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx).  The IPHEx program, which studied precipitation over mountainous terrain along the U.S. East Coast, came to an end on June 16, 2014.  (NASA)

This photo of a storm cell from above the clouds was taken by a high-altitude NASA ER-2 aircraft on May 23, 2014 and released June 18, 2014, as a part of a joint project between the space agency, NOAA and Duke University which studied precipitation over mountainous terrain along the U.S. East Coast. (NASA)

Even robots are getting into the spirit of the World Cup games.  These humanoid robots which are dressed in the colors of Germany's and Brazil's national soccer team are getting set to compete with other robots in their own version of the World cup called the “RoboCup”, which takes place in Brazil from July 21st through July 24th. (Reuters)

Even robots are getting into the spirit of the World Cup games. These humanoid robots, dressed in the colors of Germany’s and Brazil’s national soccer teams, will compete with other robots in their own version of the World cup called the “RoboCup”, which takes place in Brazil July 21-July 24. (Reuters)

Fans and riders of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle fiercely embrace tradition as well as traditional and proven technology.  The tend to cringe whenever the company develops and employs new technology, will be shocked to learn that Harley-Davidson is planning to unveil “LiveWire” a new electric motorcycle (shown here in action) in New York on June 23, 2014. (AP)

The iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycle company is planning to unveil a new electric motorcycle called LiveWire, (shown here in action) in New York on June 23, 2014. (AP)

 

Weekly Science Scanner

Posted June 18th, 2014 at 8:02 pm (UTC+0)
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A cow's hoof up close (School of Veterinary Medicine and Science University of Nottingham via Creative Commons)

A cow’s hoof (School of Veterinary Medicine and Science University of Nottingham via Creative Commons)

Early ancestors of cows and pigs had legs with five toes, just like humans. So what changed?

Scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland believe they have the answer. They’ve identified a gene regulatory switch that played an important role in the evolutionary changes in the limbs of members of a group of large mammals called ungulates.

According to the fossil record, it turns out that early ancestors of the animals in the ungulate group, originally had legs with five toes instead of two twos or cloven hooves.

But, as the animals evolved so did their limb structure, these evolutionary changes provided these animals with better traction that allowed each species, with their own specific and unique body structures, to properly and easily traverse a variety of terrain.

 

Artist's impression of the preliminary design of ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) which is being built atop Cerro Armazones, in Chile's Atacama Desert. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Artist’s impression of the preliminary design of ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope which is being built atop Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert. (ESO/L. Calçada)

Scientists are planning to blow up a portion of a mountain top in the Chilean Andes in the name of science.

The European Southern Observatory’s plans for its new European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) require a large and level area upon which to build it.

Officials say the blast, which ESO is referring to as a “ground-breaking” will take place Thursday, June 19 between 1630 and 1830 UTC.  And you’ll be able to watch the mountain top being blown away live via webcast.

The ESO says they plan to lop off about 40 meters from the top of Cerro Armazones Mountain in Northern Chile. Nearly a million tonnes of rock will are expected to be blown off in the blast.

The E-ELT is expected to catch 15 times more light than any current optical telescope and produce images that will even be 16 times clearer than what is captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The ESO hopes to have its new Extremely Large Telescope up and running by the 2020s.

 

TV Violence (Einarfa via OpenClipart)

TV Violence (Einarfa via OpenClipart)

Young men who watch a lot of violence on TV show signs of less mature brain development.

A study from the Indiana University School of Medicine also found these men to have poorer executive functioning—mental processes that help us problem-solve, reason, and make decisions—than those exposed to little or no violence from TV and movies.

To reach their findings the researchers, used psychological testing and MRI’s to measure the brain volume and mental abilities of 65 healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 29.

The guys all had normal IQ’s and were specifically chosen for experimentation because didn’t regularly play video games.

 

A  British Airways Concorde on its way to London from New York in June 2000 (Aero Icarus via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A British Airways Concorde en route to London from New York in June 2000. (Aero Icarus via Flickr/Creative Commons)

NASA is stepping in to speed the return of supersonic passenger travel.

When the last Concorde flew its last flight about 11 years ago, airline passengers were left without a way of traveling faster than the speed of sound.

The US space agency has been working on ways to help overcome one of the huge obstacles in bringing back supersonic travel; the sonic boom that’s produced when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound.

NASA researchers this week will be briefing members of the aviation industry on the work they’ve been doing to reduce the sonic boom.

The space agency believes that research into supersonic flight has produced results that could soon make it possible to design and produce low-boom supersonic jets.

How Low Will Arctic Sea Ice Go?

Posted June 16th, 2014 at 11:00 pm (UTC+0)
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The shallow but extensive ponds that form on sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer act as windows, letting light penetrate the ice cap. (Photo: Don Perovich/U.S. Army Cold Regions and Engineering Laboratory)

The shallow but extensive ponds that form on sea ice when  snow cover melts in the summer act as windows, letting light penetrate the ice cap. (Photo: Don Perovich/U.S. Army Cold Regions and Engineering Laboratory)

British researchers have used a new forecasting method to determine that this year’s melt will be about the same or slightly more than last year, but nowhere near the record arctic sea ice melt set in 2012.

This new method of predicting arctic sea ice melt was outlined in Nature Climate Change.

Last year, the arctic sea ice extent melted to 5.10 million square kilometers, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Back in 2012, the size of the sea ice extent melted down to a record low of 3.41 million square kilometers.

This year’s ice melt is expected to about 18 percent higher than the average ice melt was between 1981 and 2010.

The new forecasting method developed by polar climate scientists at the UK’s University of Reading allows researchers to take ice melt data from early in the summer melting season, which usually begins in March, to make predictions of total arctic sea ice melt, which normally reaches its peak in mid-September.

The British scientists expect the arctic sea ice extent to be about 5.4 million square kilometers by the end of the 2014 summer melt season, but the final sea ice extent measurement could be anywhere between 4.9 and 5.9 million square kilometers.

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Satellite data reveals the new record low Arctic sea ice extent, from Sept. 16, 2012, compares to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years (in yellow). (NASA)

This new forecasting method centers on analyzing both the size and coverage of melt ponds that form on the sea ice surface during the melting season.

The melted sea ice doesn’t flow into the open sea right away, instead forming into melt ponds, which are pools of melted iced water that can be found among and atop chunks of remaining ice chunks. The researchers said that these melt ponds can last for a number of months during the melt season.

The researchers found that the number of these melt ponds in May was relatively low and had not developed as quickly as they did in previous years.

“Melt ponds are crucial to the speed of the annual ice melt, as the dark water on the surface absorbs more energy from the sun than the white ice, which reflects much of it back into space. But until now, there has not been a physically-based melt pond model,” said Daniel Feltham, who leads the NERC Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling team at the University of Reading, in a press-release.

“Compared to the last five years, the Arctic has had colder air temperatures and slightly thicker ice in the relevant areas, meaning the melt ponds have not developed as quickly in 2014,” he added.

 Arctic sea ice extent for September 13, 2013 was 5.10 million square kilometers  (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Arctic sea ice extent for September 13, 2013 was 5.10 million square kilometers (National Snow and Ice Data Center)

If the team’s prediction turns out to be accurate and there are two consecutive years where the sea ice extent didn’t melt as much as it did in 2012, it may indicate that the decline is temporarily in one of these more stable periods, according to Ed Hawkins, from the National Center for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading.

“The latest climate models suggest that Arctic sea ice will dwindle as the 21st century progresses. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate it’s likely that the Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free in around 40 years’ time,” said Hawkins. “However, during this long-term downwards trend we expect to see periods of several years when the sea-ice melts very rapidly, and similar periods of relatively stable ice levels – the decline will not occur smoothly.”

The researchers say their new forecasting system could be of great use to industries like tourism, shipping and oil production, which are all looking for new passageways through the Arctic.

Science Images of the Week

Posted June 13th, 2014 at 8:08 pm (UTC+0)
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The Egyptian desert meets the Red Sea on a cloudless afternoon in this photo tweeted by first-time astronaut Reid Wiseman on June 8, 2014. Wiseman is one of six men living aboard the International Space Station. Wiseman has a growing following on Twitter where he shared this image. (Reuters)

The Egyptian desert meets the Red Sea on a cloudless afternoon in this photo tweeted by first-time astronaut Reid Wiseman on June 8, 2014. Wiseman is one of six men living aboard the International Space Station. Wiseman has a growing following on Twitter where he shared this image. (Reuters)

A solar flare bursts off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 10, 2014. (Reuters/NASA)

A solar flare bursts off the left limb of the sun in this image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 10, 2014. (Reuters/NASA)

A new undated Hubble image shows NGC 1566, a galaxy located about 40 million light-years away in the constellation of Dorado

A new undated Hubble image shows NGC 1566, a galaxy located about 40 million light-years away in the constellation of Dorado (The Dolphinfish). (Reuters/NASA)

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is seen at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida in this photo released by NASA on June 10, 2014. In December, Orion will launch 3,600 miles into space in a four-hour flight to test the systems that will be critical for survival in future human missions to deep space. (Reuters/NASA)

Hyundai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Launch

Tustin Hyundai celebrates the sale of the first Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell on June 10, 2014, in Tustin, California. The Tucson Fuel Cell vehicle is the first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle offered in the U.S. market. (AP)

Bruce Campbell sits on his futon bed while using a laptop in his Boeing 727 home in the woods outside the suburbs of Portland, Oregon

Bruce Campbell sits on his futon bed while using a laptop in his Boeing 727 home in the woods outside the suburbs of Portland, Oregon May 21, 2014. In 1999, the former electrical engineer had a vision: To save retired jetliners from becoming scrap metal by reusing them. (Reuters)

An attendee tries out the Virtuix Oculus Rift and Omni Treadmill game at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, in Los Angeles

An attendee tries out the Virtuix Oculus Rift and Omni Treadmill game at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, in Los Angeles, California, June 11, 2014. (Reuters)

Hungary Zoo

Sixteen-month old Indian elephant Asha cools itself in her enclosure at the Budapest Zoo as the temperature reaches 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) in Budapest, Hungary, June 11, 2014. (AP)

A look at the inside of the International Space Station while most of it's crew is asleep. This view looks  into the ISS' Destiny Laboratory from the Unity Node.  You can also see the Harmony Node in the background.  June 11, 2014 (NASA)

A look at the inside of the International Space Station while most of its crew is asleep. This view looks into the ISS’ Destiny Laboratory from the Unity Node. You can also see the Harmony Node in the background. June 11, 2014 (NASA)

Jaret Daniels

A biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History holds an endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly before releasing it into the wild June 9, 2014, in Biscayne National Park, Florida. The butterfly is part of a captive breeding operation, begun in 2012, to save the butterfly from extinction. Each adult released is numbered with a permanent marker for identification. (AP)

With the excitement of World Cup 2014 reaching fever pitch, members of the ISS crew took this photo of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo at night.  The two Brazilian cities are host to some of the World Cup 2014 games. June 12, 2014 (NASA)

With the excitement of World Cup 2014 reaching fever pitch, members of the ISS crew took this photo of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo at night. The two Brazilian cities are host to some of the World Cup 2014 games, June 12, 2014 (NASA)

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory recently discovered an a unique ring of material within a giant cloud of gas called NGC 7538. Clumps of material that have gathered within the cloud may one day produce, what some astronomers think will be a number of collasal stars. June 12, 2014 (ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Whitman College)

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory recently discovered a unique ring of material within a giant cloud of gas called NGC 7538. Clumps of material that have gathered within the cloud may one day produce what some astronomers think will be a number of collossal stars. June 12, 2014 (NASA)

Weekly Science Scanner

Posted June 11th, 2014 at 6:20 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

 

Man vs machine (Heather Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

Man vs machine (Heather Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

Score one for the machine. In an historic test of man versus machine, a cyber-teen named Eugene Goostman took a step toward toward reaching technological singularity, the so-called moment in time when artificial intelligence reaches a point where it shows greater intelligence than man.

Eugene, actually a computer program pretending to be a 13-year-old boy, passed the Turing Test, which assesses a machine’s capability to display intelligent behavior equal or equivalent to a human being.

The Eugene Goostman computer program was created Vladimir Veselov and Eugene Demchenko who live in Russia.

 

A gathering of chimpanzees (Photo: Klaus Post via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A gathering of chimpanzees (Photo: Klaus Post via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Chimps might also be catching up with humans. Working with chimps from the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, California researchers found that man’s evolutionary relatives can outsmart and outperform humans strategically in a simple game that resembled the children’s favorite “Hide and Seek”.

The Caltech researchers said that perhaps the exceptional performance by the participating chimpanzees could be due to the animals’ excellent good short-term memory.

 

Skull reconstructions comparing chimpanzees with four hominins (University of Utah/Skulls Unlimited)

Skull reconstructions comparing chimpanzees with four hominins. (University of Utah/Skulls Unlimited)

Did our faces evolve as a result of our need to fight? University of Utah researchers recently found that the faces of some of our early human ancestors evolved to minimize the amount of facial damage the could be caused by fist-fights with competitors or adversaries.

Previous studies show that human hands evolved to help improve fighting abilities.

The Utah scientists said their new research augments their previous studies that demonstrate the strong role violence has played in human evolution.

 

Earthrise on the Moon (NASA)

Earthrise on the Moon (NASA)

Earth and the moon are about 60 million years older than we thought, according to evidence found by a pair of geochemists from France’s University of Loraine.

The researchers were able to make their findings after studying and analyzing the isotopes of xenon gas trapped inside some South African and Australian quartz, which had been previously dated to between 2.7 and 3.4 billion years old.

The researchers presented their findings at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference being held in Sacramento, California. They said that while it’s impossible to give an exact date of the Earth’s formation, their work does indicate that it is tens of millions of years older than scientists have long thought.

 

Lip of a patient with a herpes simplex lesion on the lower lip. (CDC)

Lip of a patient with a herpes simplex lesion on the lower lip. (CDC)

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), a common, incurable viral disease, has been around since long before humans first walked the Earth, according to new studies by scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

There are two types of the Herpes Simplex Virus. HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes which can result in cold sores or fever blisters around the lips and mouth area and is caused by skin-to-skin contact with someone infected with the virus. HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes and is passed via sexual contact. Its symptoms include painful blisters.

The California researchers found that the HSV-1 virus first infected hominids shortly after the evolutionary split from chimpanzees, about 6 million years ago. The HSV-2 strain jumped species from the chimp to early human ancestors about 1.6 million year ago.

 

 NASA has been trying to test its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) "flying saucer" vehicle. Shown here being prepared to shipment to the test facility in Hawaii. (NASA)


NASA has been trying to test its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) “flying saucer” vehicle. Shown here being prepared to shipment to the test facility in Hawaii. (NASA)

Mother Nature is playing the role of spoiler as NASA attempts to test its “flying-saucer” Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) vehicle. The U.S. space agency hopes the vehicle will be a viable way of safely landing bigger payloads on the surface of Mars.

The LDSD was first scheduled for test launch from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii on June 3, but was scrubbed due to adverse weather conditions.

It was rescheduled three more times due to weather reasons, the latest cancellation coming just today.

Maybe the sixth time will be the charm when NASA tries once again to test fly the LDSD on Saturday, June 14. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for optimal weather conditions!

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