Ultra-Dark Galaxies; Exoplanet With Comet-Like Tail; New Dinosaur Species

Posted June 24th, 2015 at 7:52 pm (UTC+0)
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Astronomers Find Huge Treasure Trove of Ultra-Dark Galaxies

U.S. and Japanese researchers have discovered 854 “ultra dark galaxies” located within the Coma Cluster, about 321 million light years from Earth. Dark galaxies are described as those that are totally composed of or are mostly filled with dark matter, which cannot be seen by telescopes. Nevertheless, the existence of dark galaxies can be implied from the gravitational effect dark matter has on visible matter.

Fossils Gathered 80 Years Ago Unearth New Dinosaur

Paleontologists who analyzed dinosaur fossils gathered in South Africa in the late 1930’s have discovered a new, 200-million-year-old dinosaur. Among the more distinctive features found within the fossil samples was a unique cross-like ankle bone. Since the fossils were found in an area about 30 kilometers from the Lesotho border, the new dinosaur was named Sefapanosaurus, from the Sesotho word “sefapano,” which means cross.

Childhood Emotional Adversity Could Lead to Migraines in Adulthood

Canadian scientists have linked childhood emotional distress to migraine headaches in adulthood. The researchers from the University of Toronto said that they found evidence that children who see their parents fighting or have experienced physical and sexual abuse have a better than average chance of experiencing migraine headaches when they grow-up. Men who reported all three adversities were found to have over three times the odds of getting migraine headaches. Women  who reported the same have little less than three times the chance of getting a migraine.

Scientists Find Comet-Like Tail Following Small Exoplanet

Scientists have discovered a “comet-like” tail trailing a Neptune-sized exoplanet 33 light years away. The tail is a cloud of hydrogen escaping from the small exoplanet, identified as GJ 436b. While escaping gas has already been observed in larger gas giant exoplanets, scientists were surprised to see the phenomena on a much smaller planet. The scientists said x-rays from the dwarf red star are burning off the exoplanet’s upper atmosphere, which is creating the hydrogen cloud.

Today’s Racehorses Run Faster than Ancestors

A new study by researchers at UK’s University of Exeter found that today’s racehorses run faster than their ancestors, despite a past scientific studies that indicated the speed of the racehorse has leveled off. The researchers said those past studies used smaller and more selective samples and didn’t include factors such as ground softness. For their new study, the researchers analyzed a large data set of racing records that gave a more detailed overview of thoroughbred performance from the mid 1800’s to 2012.

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.

Pope’s Encyclical Draws Reactions from Climate Change Scientist and Skeptic

Posted June 19th, 2015 at 8:26 pm (UTC+0)
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Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP)

Pope Francis delivers his speech during his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP)

In the 1600’s, Galileo angered the Roman Catholic Church for supporting the Copernican system that placed the Sun at the center of the solar system, with Earth and other planets circling it. At the time, most people subscribed to the geocentric system, which had Earth at the center of the universe, with the sun, planets and stars in orbit.

And the debate between those who back Darwin’s theory of evolution and those who believe the Earth and all its creatures were created by God still rages today.

Religion and science have had a shaky relationship for centuries.

But on June 18, 2015, they came together in the form of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Praised Be – the Care of the Common Home.

In the encyclical, a letter that’s traditionally sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis issued an urgent warning. He challenged the people of the world to recognize the harm humans continue to inflict on the Earth, take action against it, and take better care of “our common home.”

Pope Francis, who was a chemist before following his call into the priesthood, called for a “new partnership” between religion and science to fight human-driven climate change.

The environmentalist community welcomed and praised the Pope’s letter for entering the conversation on climate change. Those skeptical that climate change is real or linked to human behavior remained unswayed and unimpressed.

To gauge the reaction of both sides of the climate change “conversation” to the encyclical, Science World spoke with climatologist Raymond Bradley at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment and energy policy at Chicago’s Heartland Institute, a think tank that promotes skepticism about man-made climate change.

Bradley said that since the issue of global warming and environmental degradation has become so politicized, it was great to have somebody who has no political agenda speak on the topic.

The climatologist argued that the Pope framed environmental issues as being everybody’s responsibility for the common good – that everybody has to deal with the limited natural resources available on this planet.

“I can’t think of anybody with more moral authority than Pope Francis,” he said.

Bradley believes that Pope Frances presented climate change as a moral and ethical issue. He argued that scientists are confident they know what the problem is and believe there are plenty of technological solutions to address it. But he said politics has prevented that from happening.

Copies of Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si," (Praise Be) are displayed prior to the start of a press conference, at the Vatican, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP)

Copies of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si,” (Praise Be) are displayed prior to the start of a press conference, at the Vatican, Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP)

“So what the Pope is saying is let’s consider this as an ethical issue and let’s try to work together to elevate the problem above the petty politics that we seem to deal with all the time,” said Bradley.

But Taylor disagreed, arguing that by saying that current temperatures need to be addressed, the Pope is “missing out on the fact that if you go back over the past several thousand years, temperatures primarily have been warmer than today.”

He said while the Pope’s motives are good, he was getting “bad advice.”

“I believe that these actions [by the Pope] to address global warming are unnecessary and counterproductive,” said the climate change skeptic.

He said most people agree that we should care for our environment and help lift people out of poverty. But he argued that imposing expensive energy sources on people defeats the church’s goal of lifting them out of poverty and will have little, if any, environmental impact.

Forcing people to pay for expensive energy, added Taylor, leaves them with less money for better nutrition, health care, education, housing or whatever else is needed to improve their lives.

Taylor believes the best way for science and religion to come together is to find ways to better the human condition.

The full impact of the encyclical will probably take some time to sink in. But the spiritual leader of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has provided unique insight into the climate change debate and the role we all have in caring for our home planet.

Listen to the interviews with Ray Bradley and James Taylor below.

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

Science Scanner: Cat Videos Can Help You, Permanent Dust Cloud Surrounds Moon

Posted June 17th, 2015 at 7:10 pm (UTC+0)
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Watching Cat Videos Can Give You a Boost

You can hardly surf the Internet without stumbling across a cat video, and new research suggests those videos could actually be good for you.  Of all the categories of YouTube video content, videos of cats have had more views per video. It’s been suggested that there were more than 2 million cat videos on YouTube in 2014 garnering more than 26 billion views.  Now, Jessica Gall Myrick, an Indiana University Media School researcher, has found that these feline videos do more than merely entertain people.  She says her research shows that they can actually boost the viewer’s energy level, increase positive emotions and reduce negative feelings.

Acidification of Arctic Ocean Could Mean Difficulties for Shellfish

Within 15 years it’s possible that parts of the Arctic Ocean will become so acidic that at certain times of the year, marine animals such as Alaska king crabs will no longer be able to build and maintain the shells they need for survival.  Researchers from NOAA, University of Alaska, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that the increasing acidification is dissolving the calcium carbonate in the Arctic waters.  The sea creature’s shells are mostly composed of this chemical compound.

Earth’s Core Contains 90% of Earth’s Sulfur Supply

A new study has provided evidence that the Earth’s core contains 90 percent of our planet’s sulfur.  The scientists believe that a sizable amount of sulfur-rich liquid formed in the Earth’s mantle – the huge middle layer that surrounds the core – as the result of a planet-sized object crashing into the Earth in the very distant past.  The sulfur eventually sank from the mantle into the core.  A popular theory suggests that the moon was formed as a result of this collision.

Dust Cloud Envelopes Moon

Speaking of the moon, a new study led by scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that the moon is surrounded by a permanent cloud of dust that also intensifies from time to time.  Using data from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, the scientists say that the lunar cloud is mostly composed of tiny grains of dust from the lunar surface that had been sent aloft by the impact of high-speed, interplanetary dust particles.

Clue to Possible Life on Mars Found in Meteorites

A group of scientists believes that samples of six meteorites made up of Martian volcanic rock have provided a possible clue in the search for life on Mars.  The scientists said that they found traces of methane after conducting laboratory analysis on the Martian meteorite samples.  Methane is a chemical compound that some microbes here on Earth use as a food source.  The scientists believe that their discovery suggests that the methane could also provide energy to basic life forms that could lie beneath the surface of Mars.  The scientists did not find traces of methane in two other meteorites that didn’t originate from the Red Planet

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.

Poor Sleep Quality Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

Posted June 15th, 2015 at 11:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Blood is pumped into and out of the heart (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Blood is pumped into and out of the heart (Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Researchers have found that poor sleep could contribute to increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, are the number one cause of death worldwide, claiming 17 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Sleep disorders are very closely related to the presence of cardiovascular diseases,” said Valery Gafarov, a professor of cardiology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. “However until now, there has not been a population-based cohort study examining the impact of sleep disorders on the development of a heart attack or stroke.”

The 14-year study investigated connections between sleep disturbances and the risk of having a stroke or heart attack as part of the WHO’s major research project, MONICA – Multinational MONItoring of trends and determinants in CArdiovascular disease.

The researchers, who began their work in Novoisbirsk, Russia in 1994, first assessed the sleep quality of 657 men who were 25-64 years-old and didn’t have any history of heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

Sleep quality was measured with the Jenkins Sleep Scale, a gauge for the estimation of sleep problems developed in the mid 1980’s by C. David Jenkins. Those who had very bad, bad or poor ratings were considered to have a sleeping disorder.

Researchers also recorded cases of myocardial infarction and stroke among the study group over the 14-year period.

Nearly two-thirds or 63 percent of the 657 participants who had suffered a heart attack during the study period also had a sleeping disorder.

Men who had a sleeping disorder were 2 to 2.6 times at a higher risk of having a heart attack and 1.5 to 4 times more at risk of suffering a stroke than those without a sleeping disorder.

Gafarov said the highest incidents of heart attack or stroke among those with sleeping disorders affected widowed or divorced individuals and those who had not finished secondary school and had jobs that required medium-to-heavy manual labor.

“Poor sleep should be considered a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease along with smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet,” said Gafarov. “Guidelines should add sleep as a risk factor to recommendations for preventing cardiovascular disease.”

Sleeping disorders have also been closely linked with depression, anxiety and hostility.

Gafarov, who presented the findings at the EuroHeartCare 2015 medical conference in Dubronik, Croatia, said quality sleep for most people means getting between 7-8 hours of rest each night. He recommended that those who aren’t sleeping well should speak to their doctor.

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

Astronomers Image Birth of a Planetary Nebula in Sharp Detail

Posted June 11th, 2015 at 1:52 pm (UTC+0)
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Image of the birth of planetary nebula surounding red giant star L2 Puppis.  Astronomers at the ESO used a special optical and imaging device mounted on its Very Large Telescope (ESO/P. Kervella)

Image of the birth of planetary nebula surounding red giant star L2 Puppis. Astronomers at the ESO used a special optical and imaging device mounted on its Very Large Telescope (ESO/P. Kervella)

For the first time ever, a team of astronomers have captured stunning pictures of one of the universe’s most impressive sights: the birth of a bipolar ‘planetary nebula.’

The scientists gathered the images of nebula surrounding L2 Puppis using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope or VLT, in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. A planetary nebula is a cloud of ionized gas that’s been expelled by a red giant or dying star.

The astronomers compared the bipolar or twin lobed planetary nebula to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

L2 Puppis and is 200 light years away, one of the closest red giants to Earth.

The new images of L2 Puppis also show a nearby but dimmer companion star.  It’s believed that this companion star, located about 300 million kilometers from L2 Puppis, is also a red giant, but is much smaller and younger.

The ESO team thinks that the combination of an enormous quantity of dust, circling a star in its final stages of dying and is accompanied by a companion star, are the factors needed to form bipolar planetary nebulae.

Telescope enclosures of ESO's Very Large Telescope located in Chile. (ESO/H. Heyer)

Telescope enclosures of ESO’s Very Large Telescope located in Chile. (ESO/H. Heyer)

“The origin of bipolar planetary nebulae is one of the great classic problems of modern astrophysics, especially the question of how, exactly, stars return their valuable payload of metals back into space – an important process, because it is this material that will be used to produce later generations of planetary systems,” said Pierre Kervella lead author of a paper outlining the astronomer’s findings.

The ESO astronomers were able to make their discovery by using the ZIMPOL – Zurich IMaging POLarimeter – a subsystem of the SPHERE – Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research – a unique optical enhancement instrument that’s attached to the VLT.  The SPHERE instrument uses a variety of advanced techniques, often used in combination, to produce detailed views of dust discs and exoplanets.

According to ESO, the SPHERE, operating in its ZIMPOL mode, can generate images that are three times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The paper outlining the astronomer’s findings has been published by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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

Science Scanner: Monster Galaxy; Mars Missions On Vacation

Posted June 8th, 2015 at 11:45 pm (UTC+0)
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Monster Galaxy Found Near Edge of Universe

A group of researchers imaged a “monstrous galaxy” – SDP.81, located some 11.7 billion light-years from Earth, using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile and a natural magnification method called “gravitational lensing.”

The researchers used the gravity of a massive galaxy 3.4 billion light-years away to magnify the image of the galaxy located in the far reaches of the known universe.

Most of the World’s Population Has at Least One Health Problem

A new in-depth analysis from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) shows that 95 percent of the world’s population – more than 7 billion people – had health problems in 2013.

One third of the global population experienced more than five ailments during that year.

The researchers, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, warned that with a growing world population and an increased proportion of elderly people, the percentage of people living with less than perfect health is set to rise dramatically in the coming decades.

Building the Perfect Bonfire

The most efficient way to construct a fire is the one people have used for thousands of years, according to new research conducted by Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University.

Writing in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports, Bejan advised that wood and kindling should be stacked in pyramid fashion and that the pyramid should be as high as it is wide.

Curiosity, Other Mars Mission Take Time Out

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has given the Curiosity rover and its other Mars missions a vacation.

Right now, the sun is somewhere between Mars and Earth – a phenomenon known as the Mars solar conjunction that disrupts communication between the two planets.

So to prevent any possible harm to its Mars orbiters and rovers as a result of any possible miscommunication between the Red Planet and Earth, NASA temporarily stopped sending any operational commands to Mars from Sunday June 7 to June 21.

Study Shows May Births Have Lower Disease Risk

Scientists from Columbia University recently discovered links between disease risk and a person’s birth month.

The researchers created a computer algorithm that analyzed various medical databases in New York City and linked 55 diseases with the season of a person’s birth.

Writing in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, the research team said their study showed that people who were born in May had the lowest risk of disease, while those born five months later in October had the highest disease risk.

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.

Pluto Moons Dance in Chaotic Orbit

Posted June 5th, 2015 at 3:50 pm (UTC+0)
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This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon. (NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI))

This set of computer modeling illustrations of Pluto’s moon Nix shows how the orientation of the moon changes unpredictably as it orbits the “double planet” Pluto-Charon. (NASA/ESA/M. Showalter (SETI)/G. Bacon (STScI))

Pluto and its moons seem to be engaged in a kind of chaotic dance routine with each other.

After a thorough analysis of data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA scientists found that Nix and Hydra – two of Pluto’s five known moons – are wobbling and behaving erratically as they orbit the distant dwarf planet.

The scientists believe that the moons may be embedded within what has been described as a dynamically shifting gravitational field. Another factor could be their elliptical shape.

The gravitational field is generated by Pluto and its moon Charon because both orbit a common center of gravity. Charon is so large that it is considered by some to be Pluto’s twin planet.

Although further study is needed, scientists also believe that Kerberos and Styx – the other two moons of Pluto – may be moving in a similar manner.

NASA believes that the newly observed mayhem Pluto, Charon and its other four moons generate might provide scientists with a better understanding of the behavior of exoplanets in a binary star system.

While Hubble’s data analysis provided fresh evidence about the strange behavior of the moons, NASA said its New Horizons spacecraft, which will fly by the planet in July, will provide a better opportunity to observe Pluto, its moons, and their relationship with each other.

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.

Stand Up and Move to Help Prevent Health Risks

Posted June 1st, 2015 at 10:27 pm (UTC+0)
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Stop sitting around so much. If you value your health, get up and move around.

Sedentary office workers who want to avert the onset of some chronic diseases and possibly premature death should get up on their feet for at least two hours every work day.

That is the part of a new set of recommendations drafted by an international group of experts working on behalf of Public Health England and Active Working CIC, a British community interest company. Their findings and recommendations were just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Even two hours per day may not be enough standing time, noted the experts. Instead, they’d like to see workers on their feet for up to four hours a day to break-up their daily sitting time.

They suggested that office workers make use of the increasingly popular sit/stand desks, be allowed to perform work that requires some standing and take quick walks throughout the workday.

The team of experts poured through and analyzed previously gathered evidence concerning the risks of prolonged sitting and the advantages of standing from time to time throughout each working day.

Looking at sedentary behavior in the UK, their findings showed that an average office worker sits for about 65-75 percent of their workday. Up to 50 percent of their sitting time involves prolonged periods of sitting.

The experts found that average people in the UK spend about 60 percent of their waking hours being inactive. Those at a higher risk of developing a long-term health condition were sedentary for about 70 percent of their day.

But standing for too long in one position may be as harmful as prolonged sitting, cautioned the researchers. So instead of standing still, move around a bit.

The experts listed some recommendations to avert health risks attributed to prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity:

1) Standing for two hours daily with light walking during working hours, then progressing to four hours for all office workers whose jobs are predominantly desk-based

2) Dividing work regularly between tasks that require sitting and those that can be done while standing, and using adjustable sit-stand desks/work stations

3) Altering posture, along with light walking to alleviate possible musculoskeletal pain and fatigue

4) Encouraging staff to adopt healthier habits by cutting down on drinking and smoking, eating a nutritious diet, and alleviating stress

5) Employers should warn staff about the potential hazards of sitting for too long, whether at work or at home

A woman using a sit-stand desk in its standing configuration. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

A woman uses a sit-stand desk in its standing configuration. (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

The expert group’s findings join previous studies citing the dangers of prolonged sitting and inactivity.

An Australian study from March, 2012 published by the Archives of Internal Medicine found adults who sat 11 or more hours per day had a 40 percent increased risk of dying in the next three years, compared to those who stood more and sat for fewer than four hours a day.

In July 2012, an international team of scientists writing in the medical journal The Lancet cited statistics from 2008 that physical inactivity led to the death of nearly 5.3 million people across the world – that’s one in every 10 deaths.

The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Joyner, recommended, in the July 2012 edition of The Journal of Physiology, that inactivity or a lack of exercise should be treated as if it were a medical condition.

The researchers admitted that a lot of the evidence they reviewed was based on observational studies. They said that “makes it difficult to prove direct cause and effect.”

But while more in-depth studies are needed, the researchers emphasized that the findings justify their guidelines and recommendations, given their review of years of accumulated evidence and public health concerns over rising chronic diseases.

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

Science Images from May 2015

Posted May 30th, 2015 at 3:00 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA posted this photo on 5/3/15, of Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti sipping a cup of espresso aboard the International Space Station.  Her cup of the robust coffee was brewed with the first ever espresso machine in space. (NASA)

In this NASA photo posted on May 3, 2015, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti sips a cup of espresso aboard the International Space Station. Her cup of the robust coffee was brewed with the first ever espresso machine in space. (NASA)

On 5/19/15 a broken pipeline near Santa Barbara, CA spilled crude oil into a storm drain and into the Pacific Ocean.  Here, staff members and volunteers are shown working to clean oil off a brown pelican, on 5/22/15, at the International Bird Rescue office in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles. (AP)

On May 19, 2015, a broken pipeline near Santa Barbara, California spilled crude oil into a storm drain and into the Pacific Ocean. Here, staff members and volunteers work to clean oil off a brown pelican at the International Bird Rescue office in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles on  May 22, 2015. (AP)

Investigators with the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Project (LDSD) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are seen inspecting the LDSD spacecraft on 5/28/15.  The space vehicle that’s been dubbed the “flying saucer” is used to test new technologies that will allow the space agency to safely land heavier spacecraft such as those that would be used for future manned missions to Mars.  (NASA)

Investigators with the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Project (LDSD) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory inspect the LDSD spacecraft on May 28, 2015. The space vehicle dubbed the “flying saucer” is used to test new technologies that will allow the space agency to safely land heavier spacecraft for future manned missions to Mars. (NASA)

This is a part of the High Performance Computing and Storage Complex II that’s been installed at the new data center of the Lehmann Center of the Dresden University of Technology in Dresden, Germany.  The data center was officially opened on 5/13/15.  This new supercomputer includes more than 43,000 CPU cores and attains a peak performance of 1.5 quadrillion floating point operations per second. (AP)

This is a part of the High Performance Computing and Storage Complex II that’s been installed at the new data center of the Lehmann Center of the Dresden University of Technology in Dresden, Germany. The data center was officially opened on May 13, 2015. This new supercomputer includes more than 43,000 CPU cores and attains a peak performance of 1.5 quadrillion floating point operations per second. (AP)

An international team of astronomers announced on 5/15/15 that they have discovered the most distant galaxy ever detected.  They measured the exact distance of EGS-zs8-1 (pictured in this Hubble image) and found that the galaxy is 13.1 billion light years away from Earth. The light from the galaxy now reaching Earth was produced back when the universe was only 5% of its present age. (Pascal Oesch and Ivelina Momcheva, NASA, European Space Agency)

An international team of astronomers announced on May 15, 2015 that they have discovered the most distant galaxy ever detected. They measured the exact distance of EGS-zs8-1 (pictured in this Hubble image) and found that the galaxy is 13.1 billion light years away from Earth. The light from the galaxy now reaching Earth was produced back when the universe was only 5 percent of its present age. (Pascal Oesch, Ivelina Momcheva, NASA, European Space Agency)

NOAA Fisheries announced on 5/15/15 that they found the first fully warm-blooded fish.  NOAA Fisheries scientists said that the opah or moonfish (seen here) is the first fully warm-blooded fish much like mammals and birds.  (NOAA Fisheries/Southwest Fisheries Science Center)

NOAA Fisheries announced on May 15, 2015 that they found the first fully warm-blooded fish. NOAA Fisheries scientists said the Opah or Moonfish (seen here) is the first fully warm-blooded fish, much like mammals and birds. (NOAA Fisheries/Southwest Fisheries Science Center)

Sunset on Mars – On 5/8/15, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this color image captured a few weeks earlier by the Curiosity rover from its location in Gale Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.)

Sunset on Mars, on May 8, 2015. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this color image captured a few weeks earlier by the Curiosity rover from its location in Gale Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.)

In this 5/11/15 photo, technicians, standing behind a protective barrier, at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Hot Fuel Examination Facility, operate a robotic arm that is handling radioactive material.  The U.S. Department of Energy wants scientists at the facility to get better understanding the storage and shipment of spent “High Burnup” nuclear fuel – burned in a nuclear reactor for 45 GigaWatt days per Metric Ton of Uranium or longer.  (AP)

In this May 11, 2015 photo, technicians standing behind a protective barrier at the Idaho National Laboratory’s Hot Fuel Examination Facility operate a robotic arm that is handling radioactive material. (AP)

This is a Russian sokol suit worn by astronauts/cosmonauts who fly up and back from the International Space Station. The photo was taken on 5/7/15 as members of the upcoming ISS expedition 44/45 crew prepare for their spaceflight to the space station. (NASA)

This is a Russian sokol suit worn by astronauts/cosmonauts who fly up and back from the International Space Station. The photo was taken on May 17, 2015 as members of the upcoming ISS expedition 44/45 crew prepare for their flight to the space station. (NASA)

Two small robots made from a CD, toothbrush bristles and motors sits atop a table on 5/11/15 at the Reuseum, a technology education and recycling center in Boise, Idaho. The Reuseum encourages children to pursue science and technology related fields by providing them with opportunities to tinker and create with used materials. (AP)

Two small robots made from a CD, toothbrush bristles and motors sit atop a table on May 11, 2015 at the Reuseum, a technology education and recycling center in Boise, Idaho. The Reuseum encourages children to pursue science and technology related fields by providing them with opportunities to tinker and create with used materials. (AP)

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.

Paralyzed Man Wills Robotic Arm to Move

Posted May 27th, 2015 at 3:06 pm (UTC+0)
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Example of an fMRI scan used for targeting the device implantation location. (Caltech)

Example of an MRI scan used to target the device implantation location. (Caltech)

A quadriplegic man can now operate a robotic arm using just his thoughts and imagination.

Erik Sorto, who was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a gunshot wound 13 years ago, became the first person in the world to have a neuroprosthetic device implanted in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), which is an area of the brain where intentions are made.

Doctors at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital surgically implanted the new device in Sorto’s brain in April 2013. Since it was implanted in the area of the brain that controls the intent to move, the research team said that they were able to develop a way to move the robotic arm with more natural, smooth and fluid motions.

Most other neural prosthetic devices in use today are usually implanted in the motor cortex – the part of the brain that directly controls movement. As a result, these units tend to produce motion that doesn’t mimic natural movement but instead tends to be somewhat delayed and erratic.

“When you move your arm, you really don’t think about which muscles to activate and the details of the movement, such as lift the arm, extend the arm, grasp the cup, close the hand around the cup, and so on. Instead, you think about the goal of the movement. For example, ‘I want to pick up that cup of water,’” said Caltech’s Richard Andersen, the clinical trial’s principal investigator, in a press release.

Using his mind and imagination Erik Sorto was able to control a robotic arm, which made it possible to give himself a drink for the first time in 10 years (Spencer Kellis & Christian Klaes/Caltech)

Using his mind and imagination, Erik Sorto was able to control a robotic arm and give himself a drink for the first time in 10 years. (Spencer Kellis & Christian Klaes/Caltech)

The new device was clinically tested by its developers at Caltech – the California Institute of Technology – in Pasadena, California, along with their colleagues at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles and the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California.

“In this trial,” added Andersen, “we were successfully able to decode these actual intents by asking the subject to simply imagine the movement as a whole, rather than breaking it down into a myriad components.”

Since the surgery, researchers from Caltech and staff members at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center have been working to rehabilitate Sorto and teach him to control a computer cursor and a robotic arm with his mind.

Researchers and rehabilitation staff helped him develop the capability of performing a natural hand-shaking gesture with the robotic arm and even play the “rock, paper, and scissors” game with a separate robotic arm.

As his instruction and rehabilitation progressed, the researchers said that they were able to actually see what they were hoping for – the intuitive movement of the robotic arm.

Soto said he was surprised at just how easy it was to control the robotic arm.

Using his mind and the neural prosthetic to control a robotic arm, he said he was able to give himself a drink for the first time since becoming paralyzed.

“This study has been very meaningful to me,” he said. “It gives me great pleasure to be part of the solution for improving paralyzed patients’ lives.”

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.