Odd Feature from Galactic Collision; Crack in the Magnetosphere; Smartphones Make Us Trust Less?

Posted November 5th, 2016 at 12:56 pm (UTC-4)
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Dazzling eyelid-like features bursting with stars in galaxy IC 2163 formed from a tsunami of stars and gas triggered by a glancing collision with galaxy NGC 2207 (a portion of its spiral arm is shown on right side of image). ALMA image of carbon monoxide (orange), which revealed motion of the gas in these features, is shown on top of Hubble image (blue) of the galaxy. Credit: M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

Dazzling eyelid-like features bursting with stars in galaxy IC 2163 formed from a tsunami of stars and gas triggered by a glancing collision with galaxy NGC 2207. ( M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope)

Galactic Fender-Bender Produces Eye-Lid Shaped Feature

A team of astronomers say what started as a fender-bender between two galaxies has sent a torrent of stars and gas crashing through the center of one, which then produced a rare eyelid shaped star formation.

Working with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in Chile, the astronomers identified the colliding galaxies as NGC 2207 and IC 2163, which are both located some 114 million light-years from Earth in the Canis Major constellation.

IC 2163 is the galaxy that took the brunt of the storm of stars and gas, which produced the eyelid formation.

Both galaxies were identified as spiral galaxies, just like our own Milky Way.

Astronomer Michele Kaufman, lead author of a study that details the discovery, says that while galaxy collisions of this type aren’t uncommon, only a few galaxies with eye-like, or ocular, structures are known to exist.

She said the eyelid formation should last for a few tens of million years, a relatively short time when you consider the lifespan of a galaxy.

Diagram of Earth's magnetosphere (NASA)

Diagram of Earth’s magnetosphere (NASA)

Scientists Find Temporary Crack in Earth’s Magnetosphere

Indian scientists say that the Earth’s protective magnetosphere cracked momentarily during a powerful solar storm back on June 22, 2015.

The storm was the result a coronal mass ejection, or blasts of plasma from the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere a few days earlier.

The magnetosphere is an area of space that surrounds Earth and helps prevent most of the highly charged solar particles from hitting the surface.

The scientists found that the burst of high-energy from the storm smacked into the magnetosphere at a speed of about 2.5 million kilometers per hour.

The researchers observed the blast of solar energy with India’s GRAPES-3 muon telescope, a device that detects and monitors cosmic rays.

Information from their observations were used to perform numerical simulations, which indicated the temporary crack in the magnetosphere. While short-term radio outages were reported during this time, the solar storm apparently did not cause any known serious damage here on Earth.

Woman checks her smartphone. (John Ragai via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Woman checks her smartphone. (John Ragai via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Are Smartphones Making Us Less Trusting?

It’s hard to deny that the smartphone is a modern technological wonder.

It is a light and relatively small device that can fit in the palm of your hand, yet it can link you to the Internet, take photos and videos, give you directions and, oh yeah, make and receive telephone calls and texts.

Some people say they couldn’t live a day without theirs.

But, are smartphones making us less trusting of others?

Authors of a newly released study, Kostadin Kushlev of the University of Virginia and Jason D. E. Proulx of the University of British Columbia, gauged the relationship between access to mobile information and trust by surveying over 2,000 Americans.

The survey included questions such as how often they depend on mobile information technology and how much they trust other groups, including family, neighbors, foreigners and strangers.

The results of the research, published in the journal PLoS ONE, suggest that the more a person depends on smartphones for information, the less likely they are to trust other people.

A liquid milk chocolate spring inside the chocolate museum of Antica Norba, in the little ancient town of Norma in Italy. (Moyan Brenn via Cfreative Commons/Flickr)

A liquid milk chocolate spring inside the chocolate museum of Antica Norba, in the little ancient town of Norma in Italy. (Moyan Brenn via Cfreative Commons/Flickr)

Scientists May Have Found a Way to Make Milk Chocolate Healthy

Studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can actually be good for you.

Dark chocolate is thought to be quite nutritious and is loaded with antioxidants, which may help slow down aging and prevent diseases, including cancer.

The problem is that dark chocolate can have a bitter taste, especially when compared to its much more popular sibling, milk chocolate.

Unfortunately, milk chocolate doesn’t have the same kind health benefits dark chocolate has.

So you are forced to make a decision: dark chocolate that  may not taste very good, but is healthy for you or tasty and sweet milk chocolate, which isn’t as healthy.

But, researchers from North Carolina State University say they may have found a way of making a milk chocolate with even more of the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate.

To make the milk chocolate healthier the researchers fortified it with a mixture of a sweet food additive along with compounds from peanut skin, which are said to be packed with nutrients.

The researchers said they did not examine possible allergic reactions to the peanut skin extracts used in their formula, but are doing so in their ongoing studies.

Animation of theoretical collision event between Earth and Theia which led to formation of the moon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Animation of theoretical collision event between Earth and Theia and formation of Moon. (Wikimedia Commons)

Did Moon Formation Nearly Knock Earth on Its Side?

The most popular theory on the moon’s formation (giant impact theory) is that it was made from the debris left over from a violent collision between Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet (Theia) some 4.5 billion years ago.

A new model on the moon’s formation, created by a group of researchers, suggests what caused the formation of the moon may have also knocked Earth nearly on its side for a while and caused it to spin much faster on its axis.

Findings made with the model were detailed in a new study published by the journal, Nature.

According to the study, interactions between the Earth and moon over the billions of years that followed are thought to have slowed Earth’s rotational speed to its current speed of about 1,675 kilometers per hour, at the equator, and brought the tilt of its spin axis from about 60° to 80° to its current 23.5°.

The study also suggests the moon’s tilt initially mirrored Earth’s and orbited 15 times closer to Earth than today.

It’s thought tidal actions between the two and later the sun’s gravitational influence, reduced its orbital tilt to its current 5° and pushed the moon to its current location.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

October 2016 Science Images

Posted November 2nd, 2016 at 4:24 pm (UTC-4)
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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun on 10/30/16. Seen in this animated GIF, the lunar transit lasted for about one hour. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured images of a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun on 10/30/16. Seen in this animated GIF, the lunar transit lasted for about one hour. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng)

A Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is rolled out by train to its Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad on 10/16/16. The rocket sent International Space Station Expedition 49 flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos on 10/19/16. (NASA)

A Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft is rolled out by train to its Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad on 10/16/16. The rocket sent International Space Station Expedition 49 flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos on 10/19/16. (NASA)

With the arrival of a new trio of International Space Station crewmembers just days earlier, another group that had been aboard for months climbed into their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft for their trip home. Here you see the capsule carrying members of the ISS Expedition 49 – Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – coming in for touchdown near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 10/30/16. (NASA)

With the arrival of a new trio of International Space Station crewmembers just days earlier, another group that had been aboard for months climbed into their Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft for their trip home. Here you see the capsule carrying members of the ISS Expedition 49 – Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos, and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – coming in for touchdown near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 10/30/16. (NASA)

Another ISS image for you. Here an Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched a few days earlier from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., spaceport is seen being captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station on 10/17/16. The resupply ship was packed with more than 2,300 kilos of cargo and research equipment. (NASA)

Another ISS image for you. Here an Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft launched a few days earlier from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., spaceport is seen being captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station on 10/17/16. The resupply ship was packed with more than 2,300 kilos of cargo and research equipment. (NASA)

This is a camera system being by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to study and overall health of deep-water bottom fish species around the Hawaiian Islands. The second of two phases of this survey began in mid-October. It brought local commercial fishermen and scientists together to get a count of several species of deep-water grouper and snapper, which are popular table fare. (AP)

This is a camera system being by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to study and overall health of deep-water bottom fish species around the Hawaiian Islands. The second of two phases of this survey began in mid-October. It brought local commercial fishermen and scientists together to get a count of several species of deep-water grouper and snapper, which are popular table fare. (AP)

On 10/26/16, scientists announced the discovery of the L1448 IRS3B system, which is a rare triple-star system located some 750 light-years from Earth. The scientists, who made their discovery with the Atacama Large Milimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile say their discovery supports evidence of disk fragmentation—a process that leads to the formation of young binary and multiple star systems. (University of Oklahoma and ALMA)

On 10/26/16, scientists announced the discovery of the L1448 IRS3B system, which is a rare triple-star system located some 750 light-years from Earth. The scientists, who made their discovery with the Atacama Large Milimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA, in Chile say their discovery supports evidence of disk fragmentation—a process that leads to the formation of young binary and multiple star systems. (University of Oklahoma and ALMA)

Many of us already have heard about the development of cars that drive themselves, now a company called Aurora Flight Sciences is testing a robotic system that can co-pilot an aircraft. Called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the unit can be seen mounted in the co-pilot seat of a Cessna Caravan aircraft which is preparing for take-off at Manassas Airport in Manassas, Va., on 10/17/16. It is hoped that ALIAS can someday eliminate the need for a second human pilot in the cockpit. (AP)

Many of us already have heard about the development of cars that drive themselves, now a company called Aurora Flight Sciences is testing a robotic system that can co-pilot an aircraft. Called the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the unit can be seen mounted in the co-pilot seat of a Cessna Caravan aircraft which is preparing for take-off at Manassas Airport in Manassas, Va., on 10/17/16. It is hoped that ALIAS can someday eliminate the need for a second human pilot in the cockpit. (AP)

NASA released this image showing a haze layer encircling Pluto on 10/08/16. The planet was photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft’s during its July 14, 2015 flyby. Using a variety of near-infrared observational information, the image was created with special software to look as close to how a human eye would see it. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

NASA released this image showing a haze layer encircling Pluto on 10/08/16. The planet was photographed by the New Horizons spacecraft’s during its July 14, 2015 flyby. Using a variety of near-infrared observational information, the image was created with special software to look as close to how a human eye would see it. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

We love to show you Robots in action. Here is a squad of robotic cheerleaders, developed by Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Co., perform synchronized dancing on 10/06/16 during the annual CEATEC Japan advanced technologies show in the nation’s Chiba prefecture. The robo-cheerleaders shook color changing pom-poms. You can also see the bicyclist robot, named, "Murata Seisaku-kun", or Murata Boy in the background. (AP)

We love to show you Robots in action. Here is a squad of robotic cheerleaders, developed by Japan’s Murata Manufacturing Co., perform synchronized dancing on 10/06/16 during the annual CEATEC Japan advanced technologies show in the nation’s Chiba prefecture. The robo-cheerleaders shook color changing pom-poms. You can also see the bicyclist robot, named, “Murata Seisaku-kun”, or Murata Boy in the background. (AP)

Colorized composite image of ESA's ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements capture by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Colorized composite image of ESA’s ExoMars Schiaparelli module elements capture by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on 1 November 2016. Both the main impact site (top) and the region with the parachute and rear heatshield (bottom left) are now captured in the central portion of the HiRISE imaging swath that is imaged through three different filters, enabling a colour image to be constructed. The front heatshield (bottom right) lies outside the central colour imaging swath. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

The Context Camera on the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught before-and-after images of two spots that likely appeared in connection with the 10/19/16 arrival of the European Space Agency's Schiaparelli test lander on Mars. Due to technical malfunctions during landing, it is believed the lander crashed into the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The Context Camera on the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught before-and-after images of two spots that likely appeared in connection with the 10/19/16 arrival of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander on Mars. Due to technical malfunctions during landing, it is believed the lander crashed into the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

New blood: The South Pole replacement crew arrives

Posted October 31st, 2016 at 4:16 pm (UTC-4)
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After a week of high winds, blowing snow and general pea-soup conditions, the weather cleared. The sun emerged from its temporary hibernation in a fortress of grey steely clouds, and our ice-crusted visibility markers slowly thawed under an uninterrupted bombardment of photons, screaming through the sky like kamikaze pilots in search of martyrdom.

Our miraculous transformation from a frozen purgatory to a serene, blue-jay summer day took little more than 12 hours. Had I not been asleep, it would have been impressive sight to behold.

The first C130 of the season requires 5 kilometers of visibility, low cross winds and temperatures above minus 50 Celsius.  If conditions change during the flight, the plane will "boomerang" back to McMurdo.

The first C130 of the season requires 5 kilometers of visibility, low cross winds and temperatures above minus 50 Celsius. If conditions change during the flight, the plane will “boomerang” back to McMurdo.

With unrestricted visibility across the Antarctic plateau, “mild” temperatures and a wind softer than a cotton ball’s kiss, the first planes bearing passengers and fresh fruit arrived. New heavy equipment operators—eager to push snow; new utility technicians—filled with an unbridled excitement to fix broken boilers; men without beards; men with professional haircuts and authentic tans; new blood, innocent blood—ready to pick up our slack, replace us and send us packing. “Civilization, here we come!”

Fresh fruit

The apples are fresh and crunchy. They are harder than what I remember. It’s been 9 months since our last delivery, and biting into their firm flesh is nearly as gum-torturing as flossing after a month of foregoing anything related to oral hygiene. I don’t care. The pain is sweet and is drowned out in the perfect natural sweetness and robust texture that can only be found in those divine earthly creations that derive their nourishment from dirt, water and sun.

Bill Lindman, the South Pole Station's winter water plant manager, enjoys his first piece of fresh fruit of the year.

Bill Lindman, the South Pole Station’s winter water plant manager, enjoys his first piece of fresh fruit of the year.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but with these new “plague”-carrying South Pole workers, I’ve upped the ante to three apples and a daily mega-dose of vitamin C. Not only has it been 9 months since I’ve indulged in the merriment of masticating on “freshies,” it’s been an equal length of time since I’ve been exposed to new viruses—coughs, sneezes, colds and chills. The Antarctic Crud, uncaring and fierce, waits in ambush at every handshake, doorknob and galley table.

Crash course on daily duties

Alas, as much as I’d like to hide in my germ-free room until my plane arrives, I cannot. For me, with my replacements on station, it is a hectic time. The next week will be a whirlwind of 10 hour days of training and “pass-down.” Standard operating procedures for each instrument need to be refined, administrative tasks explained, the inner workings of each experiment outlined and illuminated—in short, all the nuances of my job. The fine details of my day-to-day duties need to be translated from an abstract gibberish that makes sense inside my neurotic brain into cohesive instructions that the new Station Chief and Station Technician can absorb, remember and act on.

Unstable weather is common during station opening.  A perfectly clear and windless day is a real rarity.

Unstable weather is common during station opening. A perfectly clear and windless day is a real rarity.

How does one compress a year’s worth of knowledge into a week of overlap? It’s no easy task and after two days of hitting it as hard as a baseball player on steroids, I realize that there is no way I can cover everything. I can take them halfway there and that’s it. An extreme experience awaits them, as it did for me and all my predecessors at the Atmospheric Research Observatory. The days will be cold, the nights eternal and equipment will break. They will suffer through a long 12 months, love each moment of it and ensure the Global Monitoring Division’s mission continues successfully for another year.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Pluto Flyby Data Feed Complete; Nearby Exoplanet May Have Oceans

Posted October 28th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on 7/14/15. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA released this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on 9/25/15.  (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizon’s Sends Final Data of Pluto Flyby

The final bits of data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby of Pluto were received this week by its mission operations center at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

More than 50 gigabytes of observational data was stored on the spacecraft’s digital recorders since the flyby.

The data has been sent back to Earth in increments over a 15 month period.

Mission officials say part of an observation sequence of Pluto and its largest moon Charon were included in the final data feed.

Traveling at light speed the data made the nearly 50 billion kilometer trip in about five hours.

After conducting a final verification of all received data, mission team members will clear space on the spacecraft’s digital recorders to make room for new data that will be gathered in its upcoming exploration of the Kuiper Belt.

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Romanum Island, Chuuk, Micronesia (Euniceminjeong via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

El Nino May Have Helped Settle South Pacific Islands

A team of scientists have found evidence that ancient Pacific sailors took advantage of various climate patterns such as the El Nino Southern Oscillation to travel to and settle on remote islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean some thirty four hundred years ago.

Using computer simulations and climatic data, the researchers found that the mariners who traveled over thousands of kilometers of ocean had to overcome strong currents and hazardous weather to reach the islands.

The researcher’s findings also provided some idea of the point where the sailors began their voyages.

They found that people who settled Western Micronesia probably came from near the Maluku or Spice Islands.

Those who made East Polynesia their new home probably came from Samoa. And, settlers of Hawaii and New Zealand may have come from the Marquesas or Society Islands.

The researchers are still trying to determine exactly what caused the island settlers to leave their original homes.

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. You can also see the better known double star Alpha Centauri AB in the image. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of the exoplanet, which is only 4.2 light years away from Earth on 8/24/16. The planet orbits its star within the habitable zone, where the temperature is said to be suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Artist’s impression of the surface of the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.  (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

New Findings on Closest Exoplanet to Earth

Back in late August, a team of astronomers announced that they had discovered a small planet orbiting in the habitable, or so-called “Goldilocks” zone of its star, Proxima Centauri, which is a little more than 4 light years away, making it the closest exoplanet to Earth.

A new study expands on the original findings with more details and suggests conditions on Proxima B actually increase the odds of it being habitable.

The researchers say that the nearby exoplanet could be an ocean planet, covered with the same kind of subsurface oceans detected inside a couple of moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Although the exoplanet orbits its star from a relatively close distance, Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, and not as bright as our sun, so its habitable zone is closer than it would be for stars like our sun.

The study also finds that the planet has a substantial metal core, and is about 30 percent more massive than Earth.

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Patient having blood pressure measured (Photo: National Cancer Institute/Linda Bartlett)

Air Pollution and Street Noise Linked to High Blood Pressure

Health issues from asthma, lung cancer, heart disease to reproductive and developmental disorders have long been linked to air pollution.

A new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that air pollution can also be connected to an increased prevalence of high blood pressure.

The study followed over 41,000 people in five countries for five to nine years and investigated the health effects not only air pollution, but also traffic noise.

The research indicates that one additional adult per 100 of the same age group who live in the most polluted areas develops high blood pressure that those who live in less polluted areas.

The study also shows that six percent of those who live on streets with average night time noise levels of 50 decibels or more had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who live on streets with night time noise levels that were lower.

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. The brightness of the planet's faint rings and dark moons has been enhanced for visibility. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Uranus is seen in this false-color view from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope from August 2003. (NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona))

Old Data Reveals Possible Mini-Moons Circling Uranus

Data gathered in 1986 by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft is still helping scientists make new discoveries.

University of Idaho researchers say they have found signs of two previously unseen tiny moons or moonlets in the rings of Uranus after studying information from the space probe’s flyby of the planet 30 years ago.

It’s thought the two possible moonlets are between 2 to 7 kilometers in radius, which are smaller than any of the known moons Uranus, but are about the same size as small of the identified moons of Saturn.

The researchers say they found signs of the tiny moons after they noticed that the amount of material in two of the planet’s rings varied occasionally.

Similar observations of Saturn’s rings also revealed similar moon like objects too.

In the 1970’s, rings were found to encircle not only Saturn, but all four of the solar system’s outer gas giant planets including Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Is Planet 9 Causing Our Solar System to Wobble?

Posted October 20th, 2016 at 4:19 pm (UTC-4)
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This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. The planet is thought to be gaseous, similar to Uranus and Neptune. Hypothetical lightning lights up the night side. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

A new study from researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that Planet 9, the huge and so far unseen planet said to be lurking in the far reaches of the solar system, might be causing our group of planets to wobble a little and giving an impression that the sun is slightly tilted.

Elizabeth Bailey, lead author of the new study, points out the planets in our solar system orbit in a relatively flat plane with the sun.

But she says that plane rotates at a six-degree angle, making the sun look like its actually tilted.

Our solar system features eight planets, seen in this artist’s diagram. (NASA/JPL)

Our solar system features eight planets, seen in this artist’s diagram. (NASA/JPL)

She and her colleagues assert in their study that the enigmatic Planet Nine is so massive and has such a lopsided orbit compared to the other planets, that our solar system can’t help but slowly twist itself out of alignment.

Astronomers have long been puzzled by this tilt of the orbital plane, especially because of how the planets are said to have been formed.

The most popular theory among scientists is the ‘protoplanet hypothesis’ (pdf), which suggests the planets were eventually formed from a rotating cloud of gas and dust left over from the creation of the sun.  Over time, gravity caused the cloud particles to gather and accumulate into objects such as planets.

“It’s such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don’t talk about it,” says Mike Brown, a Professor of Planetary Astronomy at Caltech in a press release.

Brown, along with his Caltech colleague Konstantin Batygin, caused quite a stir in the scientific community back in January after they uncovered evidence of the mysterious Planet 9.

The evidence of Planet 9 gathered by Brown and Batygin suggest that it has a mass that’s about 10 times more than Earth and 5,000 times that of Pluto.

Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of "Planet Nine". (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of “Planet Nine”. (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

It is also thought to orbit the sun from a distance of nearly 20 times farther than Neptune, whose average distance to the sun is about 4.5 billion kilometers.

They added that their mathematical modeling and computer simulations indicated that it would take Planet 9 between 10,000 and 20,000 years just to make one complete orbit around the sun.

Brown says that with the theorized size and distance of the giant mystery planet, the six degree tilt in the orbital plane fits perfectly, mathematically.

“It continues to amaze us; every time we look carefully we continue to find that Planet 9 explains something about the solar system that had long been a mystery,” says Batygin.

Astronomers continue to scan the skies in hopes of actually spotting and imaging Planet 9.

Video: Planet Nine Tilts the Sun! Q&A with Caltech Astronomers (Caltech)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

A Runway Run

Posted October 18th, 2016 at 10:09 am (UTC-4)
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The first planes of the season arrived two day ago — a Twin Otter and a Basler — two small aircraft en route to McMurdo. They came, stayed just long enough to refuel, see the sites, and grab a bite to eat. Then they left.

The first plane to arrive this year spent a little less than 2 hours on station. Smaller aircraft don't have the range to cross from New Zealand to Antarctica directly, so they leave from southern Chile, cross the Drake Passage and fly o wards to Ross Island, using several bases, including the South Pole, as pit stops. (Photo: D. Lukkari)

The first plane to arrive since mid-February spent a little less than 2 hours on station. Smaller aircraft don’t have the range to cross from New Zealand to Antarctica directly, so they leave from southern Chile, cross the Drake Passage and fly onward to Ross Island, using several bases, including the South Pole, as pit stops. (Photo: D. Lukkari)

Over 200 hours had been put into the skiway to prepare for their arrival. Heavy equipment operators worked on a 24-hour rotation, flattening drifts and leveling 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) of ice cap. Meteorological personnel dug out buried approach markers, some of which stood nearly 6.5 kilometers away from the nearest buildings. The utility technicians erected a fueling station and extended our electrical grid to the flight line.

Hundreds of hours of work to prepare for less than two hours of flight operations. It didn’t seem fair; a tease to the start of summer. Where were our replacements, the summer crew? Where were the crates of fresh fruit, our promised cornucopias of oranges, apples and kiwis?

The first plane of the summer circles as it prepares to land on the skiway at the Amundson-Scott Station. (Photo: H. Davis)

The first plane of the summer circles as it prepares to land on the Jack F. Paulus Skiway at the Amundson-Scott Station. (Photo: H. Davis)

All we have now is an empty runway. We watch it slowly disappear– erased by blowing snow and the primordial ebbs and flows of the continent.

“I won’t let the lack of aircraft lead to the skiway’s abandon,” I tell myself. “We put a ton of work into it, and it would be good for station morale to see it used.” So, dressed in my Antarctic running uniform – two pairs of wool tights, a black fleece sweater, a grey down pullover, a pair of well-used softshell pants, a baggy windbreaker, a ski cap and a thin, red polypropylene neck gator – I embark on a 6.5 kilo run, from the station to the end of the runway and back.

The snow is still soft, freshly groomed, and my feet sink in a bit with each pace—like running in loose sand. It’s tiring, and soon my calves swell with exertion and sweat begins to dribble from the edge of my hat and freeze on top of my nose and eyebrows.

Soon, I discover that running inside the wide, smooth, packed ski tracks left behind by the planes when they landed and took off, requires slightly less effort. The bamboo flag lines that mark the edges of the skiway tick by—every 60 meters another set of them disappears behind me.

The ski-way's 3,600 meter expanse can be clearly seen in an aerial photograph. To prepare it each year for flights can take upwards of a week of operations. (Photo: H. Davis)

The skiway’s 3,600 meter expanse can be clearly seen in an aerial photograph. To prepare it each year for flights can take upwards of a week of operations. (Photo: H. Davis)

If I were a plane, I’d already be done. I’d be back in the station with a hot cup of mint tea and honey, or sitting in the sauna reading some degenerate gonzo journalism. It’s been 20 minutes since I reached the end of the runway and turned around, and it was only then that I realized that a breeze had picked up and the temperature had dropped.

The colder I get, the more aware I become of my lack of headway, the slower the bamboo flags stream past me. It’s to the point where it feels like I’m running backwards, as if the earth were spinning against me like a giant treadmill calibrated just beyond my pace. My left eye is frozen shut with sweat, and the eyelashes on my right eye are so caked with ice that when I look into the distance it feels like I’m peering through a cracked pane of glass.

My radio (I always carry one) is hooked to the waistband on my pants. I touch it for reassurance and think about stopping and calling for a snowmobile. The wind freshens some more, and I grit my teeth against the cold, adjusting my neck gator to better protect my nose. I’m cold, but I keep on running. I’m as stubborn as the continent I stand on.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

NASA’s Resumes Resupply Missions From Virginia Spaceport

Posted October 17th, 2016 at 3:45 pm (UTC-4)
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The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches from Pad-0A, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Orbital ATK’s sixth contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station is delivering over 5,100 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

UPDATE: An Orbital ATK Antares 230 rocket carrying its Cygnus cargo spacecraft (pdf) was successfully sent into space at 7:45PM EDT (2245 UTC) on Monday, October 17th from the refurbished Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.

The launch site is located on the southern tip of NASA’s Wallops Island Flight facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.

Monday’s launch marks the aerospace company’s return to the Virginia launch site after its last attempt to do so, on October 28, 2014, ended with a catastrophic explosion and fire just six seconds after lift-off.

The Antares rocket, Cygnus spacecraft, as well as its payload were all destroyed in the fiery accident.

NASA reported the explosion also caused significant damage to the launch pad which has been repaired and upgraded to accommodate an upgraded Antares rocket.

Along with the improved launch vehicle, the Cygnus spacecraft itself was also upgraded to allow for increased payload capacity. The enhanced cargo ship, which first went into space in December 2015, also sports new fuel tanks and UltraFlex solar arrays (pdf).

Orbital ATK has a tradition of naming each of its Cygnus spacecraft after deceased astronauts. This mission’s spacecraft is named in honor of the late Alan G. Poindexter, a former astronaut and naval aviator. Poindexter, who was selected for NASA’s astronaut program in 1998, flew on two space shuttle missions during his career as an astronaut.

This resupply mission, called OA-5, is carrying 2,313 kg of material that includes food, supplies, provisions and emergency equipment for the ISS crew, as well as the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-II or Saffire-II that will study the behavior of combustion in microgravity.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch on October 28, 2014 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA)

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch on October 28, 2014 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA)

NASA says the Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the space station on Sunday, October 23rd, which is a bit later than usual.

Its arrival was delayed to allow for the docking and reception of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new ISS crew members on Friday, October 21st.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, along with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos are scheduled to be sent to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, October 19th at 0805 UTC.

After Cygnus’ arrival at the ISS, crewmembers Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA’s Kate Rubins will use the robotic arm of the space station’s Mobile Servicing System to grab, rotate and install Cygnus on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.

According to NASA, the cargo ship will remain attached to the ISS for a little over three weeks to allow ISS crewmembers to unload the new supplies and then pack it with waste for disposal.

Cygnus is scheduled to leave the ISS and head for Earth on November 18th. The space agency says the spacecraft and its load of garbage is expected to burn up as it reenters the atmosphere.

Launch of ISS Resupply Mission 0A-5 on October 17, 2016 (NASA)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Cosmic Cannon; Mars Dust Storm Forecast; Dione’s Subsurface Ocean

Posted October 7th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
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This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

Astronomers Find a Cosmic Cannon

Astronomers have spotted super-hot blobs of plasma blasting into space like cannonballs near a dying red giant star, some 1,200 light years away.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope to make their discovery, the scientists found that the balls of hot gas are flying so fast a trip from the Earth to the moon would take only 30 minutes.

It’s estimated that a cosmic artillery blast has taken place every 8 and a half years for at least the past 400 years.

Hubble data revealed a sequence of these giant gas balls that date back to 1986.

The plasma balls’ temperature is thought to be more than 9,500 degrees Celsius, which is about twice as hot as the surface of the sun at 5,500 degrees Celsius.

Scientists don’t think the plasma balls are being ejected by the red giant, but by a nearby and unseen companion star that is consuming material from the atmosphere of dying star.

Composite image of the Earth at night assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite over nine days in April 2012 and thirteen days in October 2012. Population estimates based on similar satellite data can help improve vaccination campaigns. (NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC)

Composite image of the Earth at night assembled from data
acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership
(Suomi NPP) satellite. (NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC)

Satellite Imagery Guides Immunization Campaigns

A Pennsylvania State University-led team of researchers has developed a system that could help public health officials conduct more thorough and complete immunization campaigns in the developing world.

Studies have shown that successful vaccination drives can improve the prevention and control of disease of outbreaks.

The new technique uses satellite imagery to help track and predict short-term shifts in population size.

The researchers studied a measles outbreak in Niger between 2003 and 2004.

The only estimates of population health officials had at the time of the outbreak did not consider seasonal migrations, which led to an underestimation of the numbers of people that needed to be immunized.

Using satellite images of nighttime light, the team was able to more accurately estimate the size of the population at the time of the outbreak.

This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

Forecasting Global Dust Storms on Mars

Scientists say that dust storms on Mars aren’t as powerful as the one that set up the plot to the hit movie and book, the Martian.

But these storms still could present some serious challenges for astronauts who’ll someday land on and explore the Red Planet.

Local Martian dust storms are somewhat common and can occasionally grow into regional storms.

There have also been rare occasions when the storms can grow into a global event.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are predicting a global Martian dust storm in the next few weeks or months.

The researchers noticed that current conditions are very similar to those when global storms occurred in the past.

If this prediction is proven correct, it might be possible to develop a system that can forecast future storms on the red planet.

Group of teens hanging out at the beach (Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Group of teens hanging out at the beach (Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Teen’s Drive for Reward Helps Them Learn

Some adults may think that teenagers today demand too much reward for little or no effort on their part.

But, a new study suggests that the need for reward may be a way evolution helps young people learn from their surrounding environment.

Study researchers had a group of teens play a picture-based learning game against a team of adults.

Some of the players were scanned with an MRI as they played.

If a player gave a right answer during the game they were rewarded with a flashing correct sign.  A wrong answer resulted in a scolding incorrect sign.

The teens out performed adults in the picture game.

The MRI scans showed activity in two areas of the teen’s brain as they played, while adults, mostly used only one.

A study author says that their work proposes that teens pay attention to their environment in a way that is different than adults.

Dione with Saturn and its rings in the background. This image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft on 08/17/15 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Dione with Saturn and its rings in the background. This image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft on 08/17/15 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Subsurface Ocean Found on Saturn Moon Dione

Belgian scientists say data from NASA’s Cassini mission has provided evidence of an ocean deep beneath the surface of Saturn’s moon Dione.

Previous studies suggested that the ringed-planet’s moon had no ocean.

With this finding, Dione joins its siblings Titan and Enceladus, as well as Jupiter’s moon Europa and possibly Pluto, in the group of celestial bodies having a subsurface ocean.

The study authors say that gravity data gathered during recent flybys by Cassini suggests Dione’s icy crust floats on an ocean several tens of kilometers deep, some 100 kilometers below its surface.

The study also proposes that Dione’s ocean surrounds a large rocky core.

The study suggests that interactions between the ocean and the moon’s rocky core could have long provided the essential ingredients needed to host microbial life.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

Another summer day at the bottom of the world

Posted October 5th, 2016 at 2:30 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s a cold, clear day outside. The sky is a cloudless light blue, uniform in color and shade from horizon to horizon. The ice cap stretches out beneath it, and apart from its icy whiteness, is a mirror image of its heavenly twin. Today, the sun sits slightly higher in the sky then it did yesterday, a full hand’s width above the plateau. It is supremely radiant — a sight worthy of sunglasses — and in the lee of the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO), you can feel the summer’s first suggestions of warmth.

In heavy extreme cold weather gear and navigating uneven terrain, it takes about 25 minutes to hike a couple of kilometers from the station. (Photo: R. Klein)

In heavy extreme cold weather gear and navigating uneven terrain, it takes about 25 minutes to hike a couple of kilometers from the station. (Photo: R. Klein)

The winds died down this morning. For the past week it’s been blustery outside to say the least, but today there is barely enough breeze to stir the American flag that stands beside the geographic South Pole marker.

It’s a lazy day out there. The snow is still and the smoke from the power plant climbs aimlessly into the air. The sun, circling slowly, casts long shadows that crawl across the landscape and align themselves with the hour of the day.

Three o’clock in the afternoon, and the 30 meter (100 ft.) meteorological tower casts a perfectly rectangular 90 meter (300’) long shade in the direction of due north. I adjust the time on my wristwatch and begin to think about making the most of the South Pole’s first summery day. Perhaps it high time for a hike.

The 30 meter tall meteorological tower at ARO acts as a large sundial. If you wanted to, you could set your watch by it. (Photo: H. Davis)

The 30 meter tall meteorological tower at ARO acts as a large sundial. If you wanted to, you could set your watch by it. (Photo: H. Davis)

I trade my chemical-stained jeans for my black, insulated canvas overalls, throw on a thick wool hooded sweatshirt with a hole in the right elbow, and don my always dependable 1000 fill, red goose-down jacket — my “Big Red.” I fill my purple Nalgene thermos with slightly cool tea-steeping water from the electric kettle that sits on top of the desk in my room, and place it cap-side down in the pocket of my coat so it doesn’t freeze shut when I head outside. Neck warmer: on. Hat: on. Googles: check. Mittens on hands. I make my way from my berthing to the giant steel refrigerator doors that divide the pleasantly heated, fluorescently illuminated station from the frigid and naturally lit great outdoors.

“Ah, what a day indeed.” If it wasn’t minus 56 Celsius (-70F) outside, the birds would be chirping and young liberal arts students would be busily debating weighty philosophical questions at hip, cigarette smoke-laden outdoor cafes.

Unfortunately, it’s still a few too many degrees below freezing for a true summer scene to unfurl, but for me, in this moment, it is perfect. The snow, clean and clear, reflects light in every direction, amplifying the sun’s intense glow. I follow the brightness towards the horizon and out onto the ice cap. The earth crunches below me like Styrofoam peanuts. Sastrugi glow orange and yellow in the late afternoon light. One kilometer, two kilometers out from the station, and the Antarctic surrounds me in every direction. I find a seat in the lee of a few exceptionally large ripples of snow, and sit with my legs stretched out in front of me, in the same fashion that someone might lean against a large log next to a campfire. I lower my neck gaiter, and breathe deeply through my nose.

The air smells different than it did a few weeks ago. Humid aromas, rain, and respiration, sap and ripening fruit, smells of summer… or is it just my mind playing tricks on me?

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

September 2016 Science Images

Posted September 30th, 2016 at 4:30 pm (UTC-4)
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One of the last images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was taken by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. This shot was taken at 0818 UTC 9/30/16 from an altitude of 5.7 km above the comet’s surface. Rosetta’s mission ended when the spacecraft was sent crashing into the comet’s surface. (ESA)

One of the last images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was taken by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. This shot was taken at 0818 UTC 9/30/16 from an altitude of 5.7 km above the comet’s surface. Rosetta’s mission ended when the spacecraft was sent crashing into the comet’s surface. (ESA)

Up up and away! The 3rd of six Jet Propulsion Laboratory Remote payload flights was launched on 9/27/16, from NASA’s Scientific Balloon Launch Site at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. JPL’s Remote mission is an upper atmosphere research experiment that will help better understand stratospheric chemistry and the stability of the ozone layer. (NASA/JPL)

Up up and away! The 3rd of six Jet Propulsion Laboratory Remote payload flights was launched on 9/27/16, from NASA’s Scientific Balloon Launch Site at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. JPL’s Remote mission is an upper atmosphere research experiment that will help better understand stratospheric chemistry and the stability of the ozone layer. (NASA/JPL)

A glass squid that was found off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island is shown in this 9/16 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Federal researchers just returned from an expedition to study the biodiversity and mechanisms of an unusually rich deep-sea ecosystem off the coast of Hawaii. (NOAA via AP)

A glass squid that was found off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island is shown in this 9/16 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Federal researchers just returned from an expedition to study the biodiversity and mechanisms of an unusually rich deep-sea ecosystem off the coast of Hawaii. (NOAA via AP)

Here’s another photo, taken in September 2016, of another odd sea creature found by researchers during a recent expedition to study the biodiversity and mechanisms of an unusually rich deep-sea ecosystem off the coast of Hawaii. In this photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a Commerson's frogfish. (NOAA via AP)

Here’s another photo, taken in September 2016, of another odd sea creature found by researchers during a recent expedition to study the biodiversity and mechanisms of an unusually rich deep-sea ecosystem off the coast of Hawaii. In this photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a Commerson’s frogfish. (NOAA via AP)

The Pisces V submersible sits on the deck of a research vessel during an expedition to previously unexplored seamounts off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island on 9/8/16. (AP)

The Pisces V submersible sits on the deck of a research vessel during an expedition to previously unexplored seamounts off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island on 9/8/16. (AP)

On 9/29/16 NASA announced the discovery of the first gamma-ray binary system to be found inside another galaxy. The binary system called LMC P3 (circled) was found in a supernova remnant called DEM L241 within the Large Magellanic Cloud. (NOAO/CTIO/MCELS, DSS)

On 9/29/16 NASA announced the discovery of the first gamma-ray binary system to be found inside another galaxy. The binary system called LMC P3 (circled) was found in a supernova remnant called DEM L241 within the Large Magellanic Cloud. (NOAO/CTIO/MCELS, DSS)

This image taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on 9/8/16 provides a view of an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This image taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on 9/8/16 provides a view of an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Here’s a group of self-driving Uber vehicles that are ready to take journalists on rides during a media preview at Uber's Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, on 9/12/16. (AP)

Here’s a group of self-driving Uber vehicles that are ready to take journalists on rides during a media preview at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, on 9/12/16. (AP)

This animation released by on 9/15/16 by NASA shows the slow migration of building-size fragments from Comet 332P/Ikeya-Murakami over a three-day period in January 2016. The animation was made from a sequence of Hubble Space Telescope images. The fragment broke off of the comet’s main nucleus in late 2015 its orbit brought it close to the sun (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA))

This animation released by on 9/15/16 by NASA shows the slow migration of building-size fragments from Comet 332P/Ikeya-Murakami over a three-day period in January 2016. The animation was made from a sequence of Hubble Space Telescope images. The fragment broke off of the comet’s main nucleus in late 2015 its orbit brought it close to the sun (NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA))

In this 9/7/16 photo, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, introduces Apple’s new AirPods, Bluetooth headsets that were designed to work seamlessly with Apple’s software. (AP)

In this 9/7/16 photo, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, introduces Apple’s new AirPods, Bluetooth headsets that were designed to work seamlessly with Apple’s software. (AP)

A municipal worker fumigates an alley in an impoverished area to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in New Delhi, India 9/2/16. Scientists say that 2.6 billion people living in parts of Asia and Africa could be at risk of infection by the Zika virus. (AP)

A municipal worker fumigates an alley in an impoverished area to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in New Delhi, India 9/2/16. Scientists say that 2.6 billion people living in parts of Asia and Africa could be at risk of infection by the Zika virus. (AP)

A Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft with returning ISS Expedition 48 crew members Jeff Williams a NASA astronaut and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin, and Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is about to land near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 9/7/16. (NASA)

A Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft with returning ISS Expedition 48 crew members Jeff Williams a NASA astronaut and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin, and Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is about to land near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on 9/7/16. (NASA)

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.