Study Confirms Earth’s Magnetic Field is Weakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science Images of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekly Science Scanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TV Violence (Einarfa via OpenClipart)

TV Violence (Einarfa via OpenClipart)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Low Will Arctic Sea Ice Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

689574main_MinSeaIce_20120916-orig_full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science Images of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyundai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Launch

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

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

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

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

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

Hungary Zoo

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

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

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

Jaret Daniels

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Science Scanner

Posted June 11th, 2014 at 6:20 pm (UTC+0)
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Man vs machine (Heather Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

Man vs machine (Heather Bailey via Wikimedia Commons)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Earthrise on the Moon (NASA)

Earthrise on the Moon (NASA)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

Science Images of the Week

Posted June 6th, 2014 at 7:32 pm (UTC+0)
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This is “Pepper” a human-like robot made by Japan’s SoftBank Corporation.  Pepper was displayed at SoftBank’s Tokyo branch on June 6, 2014.  SoftBank announced that it will begin selling robots like Pepper for personal use by next February. (Reuters)

Pepper, a human-like robot made by Japan’s SoftBank Corporation, on display in Tokyo on June 6, 2014. SoftBank envisions the robots serving as baby-sitters, nurses, emergency medical workers and even party companions, and will begin selling them for personal use for about $1900 by next February.  (Reuters)

Those who attended the 6th International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics that was held from June 3 to June 6, 2014 in Munich got to visit with the humanoid robot 'Agile Justin'. (Reuters)

People visit with humanoid robot ‘Agile Justin’ at the 6th International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics in Munich on June 5, 2014. (Reuters)

A new robotic exoskeleton called PowerLoader has been created to help farmers and construction workers do things that no ordinary human can do on their own.  The robotic helper, which is worn by its user and nicknamed the Ninja was demonstrated in Tokyo on June 2, 2014. (Reuters)

A new robotic exoskeleton called PowerLoader will help farmers and construction workers do things that ordinary humans can’t do on their own. The robotic helper, which is worn by its user and nicknamed the Ninja, was demonstrated in Tokyo on June 2, 2014. (Reuters)

Here is a nice composite picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy or M51 in the Canes Venatici constellation.  The composite merges x-ray images taken with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with optical images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. June 3, 2014 (NASA)

Here is a nice composite picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) in the Canes Venatici constellation. The composite merges x-ray images taken with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory with optical images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, June 3, 2014. (NASA)

A lion cub cuddles with its mom, the 4½-year-old Kashifa, at the Zoo Miami in Florida, during the family’s introduction on Thursday, June 5, 2014. Along with the cub seen here, Kashifa’s family also includes 4 more cubs. (AP)

A lion cub cuddles with its mom, the 4½-year-old Kashifa, at the Zoo Miami in Florida, during the family’s introduction on Thursday, June 5, 2014. Along with the cub seen here, Kashifa’s family also includes 4 more cubs. (AP)

NASA engineers finish their installation of the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield.  The heat shield will help protect those who ride back to Earth aboard the Orion from the blazing hot temperatures – about 2,205° Celsius - it will endure during its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. June 5, 2014 (NASA)

NASA engineers finish their installation of the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield. The heat shield will help protect those who ride back to Earth aboard the Orion from the blazing hot temperatures – about 2,205° Celsius – it will endure during its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, June 5, 2014 (NASA)

Astronomers gathered a number of images that were taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and put together a spectacular and colorful picture of the evolving universe. June 3, 2014. (NASA/ESA)

Astronomers gathered a number of images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and put together a spectacular and colorful picture of the evolving universe, June 3, 2014. (NASA)

Archeologists digging in China announced this week that they had discovered the first three-dimensionally preserved pterosaur eggs. June 5, 2014 (Maurilio Oliveira)

Researchers discovered the first three-dimensionally preserved pterosaur eggs in China. Pterosaurs were flying reptiles that lived during the dinosaur age. The eggs were found among dozens, if not hundreds, of pterosaur fossils, June 5, 2014. (Maurilio Oliveira)

The sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft is shown here on June 2, 2014, during its maiden flight from its home in Payerne, Switzerland.  This aircraft has a wingspan of 72 meters and is powered by more than more than 17,000 solar cells. (Reuters)

The sun-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft lands during its maiden flight in Payerne, Switzerland on June 2, 2014. The aircraft has a wingspan of 72 meters and is powered by more than more than 17,000 solar cells. (Reuters)

This is another composite image that was taken with 3 different telescopes.  This composite is of the colliding galaxy clusters MACS J0717+3745 which are more than 5 billion light-years from Earth.  The background imaging is from the Hubble Space Telescope image, the blue colored imaging was taken with Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the red colored imaging was taken with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA). June 3, 21014 (NASA, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

This composite image, taken with 3 different telescopes, is of colliding galaxy clusters located more than 5 billion light-years from Earth. The background imaging is from the Hubble Space Telescope, the blue colored imaging was taken with Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the red colored imaging was taken with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA), June 3, 2014. (NASA)

Weekly Science Scanner

Posted June 4th, 2014 at 8:02 pm (UTC+0)
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Thorne-Żytkow objects (TŻOs) are thought to resemble a red supergiant such as Betelgeuse - seen here - in the orion constellation. (ESO/VLT)

Thorne-Żytkow objects (TŻOs) resemble red supergiants such as Betelgeuse. (ESO/VLT)

A bizarre hybrid star has been discovered by American, British and Chilean astronomers.

Using the Magellan Clay telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, the researchers were able to confirm the existence of what, until now, has only been part of a theoretical class of stars.

Called a Thorne-Zytkow object (TZO), this celestial oddity is a hybrid between red supergiant stars and neutron stars, but it looks like red supergiants.

Located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, the TZO is referred to as HV 2112.

The researchers outline their findings in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

 

SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise during a glide flight in Mojave, CA, USA. Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise during a glide flight in Mojave, California. (Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

Sir Richard Branson’s dream of sending paying passengers into suborbital space is  closer to being a reality.

A month ago Branson’s space-flight company, Virgin Galactic, signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, the US agency that oversees all of non-military aviation, that will allow it to start routine space missions from a spaceport in New Mexico.

On June 3, Virgin Galactic, which has joined forces with NASA, announced the selection of 12 payloads designed and created by groups such as US federal laboratories, universities as well as private Companies. Although a launch date has not been announced, the NASA chartered flight will offer researchers the opportunity to conduct various scientific studies in microgravity offered by the sub-orbital trip into space.

 

A pile of moldy bread - YUCK! (Maestrosync via Wikimedia Commons)

A pile of moldy bread – YUCK! (Maestrosync via Wikimedia Commons)

Are you tired of finding that the loaf of bread you just bought a few days ago is already stale and moldy?  You might be interested to know that a new completely edible film made from oils contained in cloves and oregano preserves bread much longer than any currently available additives.

A study published by the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has outlined the development of the more “consumer friendly” method of preserving a key staple in many people’s diet.

 

The planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft is back in action after experiencing mechanical failures that threatened to end it’s mission. The reborn Kepler mission, which is called K2, re-started its observation work on May 30.

 

Erasing a bad memory might be possible in the near future, but if we decide at some point that we need that memory back, it could be regenerated.

Writing in Nature, researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine said that they were able to successfully create a memory in rats, then erase it, only to reactivate that erased memory.

 

A koala keeping cool in a tree (Cody Pop via Wikimedia Commons)

A koala keeping cool in a tree. (Cody Pop via Wikimedia Commons)

Calling an environmentalist a “tree hugger” is usually meant as an insult, but scientists recently found that Australia’s koalas literally hug trees to keep themselves cool during periods of hot weather.

Writing in Biology Letters, the researchers observed the behavior of about 30 koalas and took thermal images of them getting a respite from the scorching temperatures by hugging trees.

The data showed that the trees in question were about 5 degrees, Celsius cooler than the air temperature.

The scientists found that koalas also pant and lick their fur to cool themselves even further.

Study: Sun Plays Role in Lightning Strikes

Posted June 2nd, 2014 at 7:31 pm (UTC+0)
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(University of Reading)

(University of Reading)

Lightning is one of nature’s most spectacular and mysterious phenomena, yet there is much scientists still don’t know about it.

British researchers have found evidence that high-energy particles, which are blown toward Earth on the solar wind, play a role in triggering lightning on Earth.

These energized solar particles can travel from the sun at a rate as high as 800 kilometers per second, according to NASA.

The scientists from the University of Reading’s Department of Meteorology discovered a large and significant increase in lightning strikes across Europe for up to 40 days after solar winds struck our atmosphere.

The British study comes on the heels of a report released about a year ago by Russian researchers who found evidence that cosmic rays ‒ high-energy radiation generated by exploding stars deep in the universe that travel through the cosmos at the speed of light ‒ play a role in initiating lightning strikes.

Of course, the atmospheric conditions needed to produce lightning must first be present before it can be triggered either by cosmic rays, solar particles, or other phenomena, says the new study’s lead author, Chris Scott from the University of Reading.

Lightning flashes across the night sky (Carolina Ödman via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Lightning flashes across the night sky. (Carolina Ödman via Flickr/Creative Commons)

While the specific mechanism behind the causes of lightning still remains a mystery, study scientists think the air’s electrical properties change when the charged solar particles hit the atmosphere.

The team’s research found the sun can generate particles that ‒ while not as energetic as cosmic rays ‒ are nonetheless able to penetrate our atmosphere, helping to enhance and speed the lightning process.

Solar wind is the continuous expulsion of material from the sun into space.

“It’s a bit like steam rising from a sauce-pan,” Scott said. “It’s the most energetic particles in the solar atmosphere that are able to escape and move out into space.”

He also suggested that if you think of the sun as a “leaky football,” it has various different jets that produce fast and relatively slower solar winds that can cause gusts and concentrations within the solar wind, all of which can intensity the sun’s magnetic field in space.

Computer generated image of the constant flow of solar wind streaming outward from the sun added to an actual image of the sun's chromosphere from NASA's Solar & Heliospheric Observatory - SOHO (NASA)

Computer-generated image of the constant flow of solar wind streaming outward from the sun, added to an actual image of the sun’s chromosphere. (NASA)

This concentration of the sun’s magnetic field also shields Earth from cosmic rays because they’re deflected by that magnetic field, which also accelerates the solar particles ahead of it in much the same way as a “surfer is accelerated by the wave he’s riding,” said Scott.

The research team noticed an increase in lightning when the streams of accelerated solar particles blew toward our planet.

They were able to make their findings after examining and analyzing lightning strike data from 2000 to 2005 recorded by the Met Office – the UK’s weather service – and its lightning detection system. They focused on lightning strikes that took place within a 500-kilometer radius in central England.

They compared that with data provided by NASA’S Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft, which has studied and measured the high energy particles contained within the solar wind since August 1997.

Scott and his team found that, for 40 days prior to the arrival of a solar wind at Earth, there was an average of 321 lightning strikes across the UK.  But for the 40-day period after the arrival of the solar wind, that number increased to about 422. Their studies also revealed that the number of lightning strikes peaked between 12 and 18 days after the solar wind’s arrival.

The findings made by the researchers are outlined in a study published by the Institute of Physics journal Environmental Research Letters.

Video from the University of Reading Explains Where Lightning Comes From

Science Images of the Week

Posted May 30th, 2014 at 7:21 pm (UTC+0)
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The Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station crew of Alexander Gerst of Germany, Maxim Suraev of Russia and Reid Wiseman of the U.S. blasts off from the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome May 29, 2014.

The Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station crew of Alexander Gerst of Germany, Maxim Suraev of Russia, and Reid Wiseman of the U.S., blasts off from the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome May 29, 2014. (AP)

US President Barack Obama holds a model used to demonstrate how polymers expand at the 2014 White House Science Fair that was held this past week. The science fair featured the work of students from throughout the US who won science, technology, engineering and math competitions. (AP)

US President Barack Obama holds a model used to demonstrate how polymers expand at the 2014 White House Science Fair on May 27, 2014. The science fair featured the work of students from throughout the US who won science, technology, engineering and math competitions. (AP)

The SpaceX Corporation unveils its new manned spacecraft, Dragon V2, May 29, 2014. SpaceX hopes its spaceship will someday transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. (AP)

Here’s a view of the inside of the newly unveiled SpaceX Dragon V2. (Reuters)

Here’s a view inside the SpaceX Dragon V2 that was unveiled May 29, 2014. (Reuters)

Robot dancers open the first LEGO League Open Championship in Pamploma, Spain.  90 teams from a number of countries around the world are taking part in this completion; organizers say celebrates science and technology. (AP)

Robot dancers open the first LEGO League Open Championship in Pamploma, Spain, on May 29, 2014. Ninety teams from around the world are taking part in the competition which celebrates science and technology. (AP)

NASA is planning to test its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project and fly an inflatable saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space next week. NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory workers are shown here preparing the vehicle for shipment to the test facility in Hawaii. (NASA)

NASA is planning to test its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project and fly an inflatable saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space next week. NASA workers are shown here preparing the vehicle for shipment to the test facility in Hawaii. (NASA)

Mounted on a piece of glass is a 1958 prototype of an integrated circuit chip.  It was designed by Jack Kirby at Texas Instruments.  The historical piece of electronic technology is expected to fetch up to $2 million at an auction held by Christie’s in New York City on June 19th. Kirby, who won the 2000 Nobel Physics Prize Physics died in 2005. (AP)

Mounted on a piece of glass is a 1958 prototype of an integrated circuit chip designed by Noble Prize Physics winner Jack Kirby of Texas Instruments. The prototype microchip, a historical contribution to the modern computing era, is expected to fetch up to $2 million at an auction held by Christie’s in New York City on June 19, 2014. (AP)

Tibor Toth, owner of a zoo in Abony, Hungary, just east of Budapest, is shown here feeding a couple of cute 7-week-old white lion cubs on May 30, 2014. (Reuters)

Tibor Toth, owner of a zoo in Abony, Hungary, just east of Budapest, is shown here feeding a couple of cute 7-week-old white lion cubs on May 30, 2014. (Reuters)

With much fewer than the 200 meteor per hour display that was predicted, a lot of people have called last weekend’s so called “spectacular” Camelopardalid meteor shower a dud. But we’ve got a shot of one of the meteors that did make an appearance streaking across the sky of Castaic Lake, California. (Reuters)

We didn’t get the 200-meteor-per-hour display that was predicted, but the Camelopardalid meteor shower did offer this sight streaking across the sky of Castaic Lake, California, on May 24, 2014. (Reuters)

He Liang spent 10 years transforming an ordinary suitcase into an electric powered motor scooter.  He’s shown here riding his home-made suitcase-scooter down a street in Changsha, Hunan province.   He Liang says that the suitcase-scooter can zoom down the road at a top speed of up to 20km/h and one electrical charge will allow it to travel up to 50-60km. (Reuters)

He Liang spent 10 years transforming an ordinary suitcase into an electric powered motor scooter. He’s shown here on May 28, 2014, riding his home-made suitcase-scooter down a street in Changsha, Hunan province. He Liang says the suitcase-scooter can zoom down the road at a top speed of up to 20km/h and one electrical charge will allow it to travel up to 50-60km. (Reuters)

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