Rosetta Rendezvous With Comet, Measuring Happiness with Math, Lowered Testosterone Levels Civilized Us, Bettering our Brains with Electromagentic Stimulation
ESA’s Rosetta Rendezvous with its Target Comet
Today, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft became the first to rendezvous and orbit a comet.
Rosetta, launched back in March, 2004, spent over a decade traveling in space to pursue its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko.
Both the Rosetta and its target comet are about 405 million kilometers from Earth and are located about half-way between the orbits of both Jupiter and Mars. The spacecraft and comet are traveling through space at a speed of nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour, according to ESA.
Those associated with the Rosetta project are looking forward to gathering and reviewing the data captured by the spacecraft during its close encounter with Comet 67P/ Churyumov/Gerasimenko.
Scientists have theorized that comets provided Earth with its water some 4.6 billion years ago while others add to that theory and say that the icy space objects may have also delivered the ingredients of life on our planet.
As it gathers crucial information from the comet, the Rosetta will also look for an ideal landing site for its attached probe Philae, which will deploy from Rosetta and land on the comet for further scientific investigation this November.
Researchers Predict a Person’s Happiness with Mathematical Equation
Researchers at the UK’s University College London recently developed a mathematical equation that accurately predicts the happiness of over 18,000 people from all over the world.
They found that moment to moment happiness didn’t depend on whether or not things were just going well for the individual, but rather that things were going better than had been expected.
The UCL researchers first had 26 volunteers complete decision making tasks that, depending on their choices, could lead to them either gaining or losing money.
Throughout the testing the volunteers were asked ‘how happy are you right now?’ As the subjects performed these tasks, the researchers also measured their neural activity with an MRI.
From the data gathered during this initial phase of testing, the researchers built a computational model and presented it to some 18,420 participants in a smartphone game they called ‘What makes me happy?’
The researchers found that the equation developed from their initial research could also predict just how happy the smartphone users were as they played game, even though they could only win points and not money.
The researchers believe their findings may help give medical professionals new insight into mood disorders, which could lead to better treatments of those conditions.
Study: A Drop in Testosterone Levels Made Us More Civilized
A new study published in the journal Current Anthropology suggests that a reduction in the level of testosterone (male hormone) made humans a much more civilized species.
After studying some 1,400 ancient and modern human skulls, Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah, along with his colleagues at North Carolina’s Duke University, believe that the development of modern human culture, including the complex abilities of communication and cooperation, coincided with a drop in the level of the male hormone some 50,000 years ago.
Examining the wide range of old to younger fossils led the researchers to notice a distinct difference in facial structure between humans from about 50,000 years ago to their ancestors who walked Earth many years earlier.
Humans who displayed more modern and advanced behavioral traits tended to have more “feminine” faces and skulls than their ancestors, according to the study.
The differences between the ancient fossils, compared to those more modern ones, are similar to the faces of people living today with higher and lower testosterone levels, said Cieri.
One cause for the drop in testosterone levels, Cieri said, may be increased human population density. As more and more humans began to live closer together the need for cooperation versus aggression became necessary for our species to succeed.
Our Brains Could Work Better After Some Electromagnetic Stimulation
Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team of Australian and French researchers outlined their findings that stimulating a human brain with weak electromagnetic pulses just might make it work better.
The researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University in France conducting experiments on mice found that applying electromagnetic stimulation, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can change abnormally located neural connections in the brain to more normal locations.
The research team said their discovery could someday lead to treatments for those suffering from disorders that are the result of abnormal brain organization such as depression, epilepsy and tinnitus.
Opportunity Mars Rover Sets Record
Although NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, has hogged most of the attention since landing on the Red Planet nearly two years ago, Opportunity, the space agency’s Mars rover, which preceded its newer sibling by about 8 years, is the one to set a new record.
Opportunity mission officials said that, after traversing across a little more than 40 kilometers of Martian land, the little Mars rover now holds the off-Earth roving distance record.
On July 27, after a 48 meter excursion, Opportunity’s odometer clicked in at 40.25 kilometers.
“Opportunity driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said, John Callas, the Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a press release.
The Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon in 1973, was the previous record holder racking up a total of about 39 kilometers in less than five months, according to NASA.
Scottish Scientists Precisely Measure Mass of Milky Way
The Milky Way is not as massive as astronomers have long thought, according to a research team led by scientists at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. The scientists say they reached that conclusion after being able to accurately measure the mass of our Milky Way galaxy for the first time.
The Scottish scientists compared the Milky Way’s mass to that of one of our neighboring galaxies, Andromeda. They determined that our galaxy has about one-half the mass of Andromeda, even though both galaxies have similar spiral-shaped structures and dimensions.
The researchers also calculated the amount of so-called ‘dark matter’ and found that 90 percent of the mass of both galaxies is made up of the mysterious and theoretical substance.
U.S. Forest Service Says Trees Save Lives
A research project headed up by the U.S. Forest Service has revealed that trees save 850 human lives and prevent 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms every year.
The new study, recently published in the journal Environmental Pollution, has been described by research officials as the ‘first broad-scale estimate’ of air pollution that has been removed by trees throughout the U.S.
While the study did find that that the tree’s pollution removal improved average air quality by less than 1 percent, research officials said that the effect of that improvement is significant. The researchers estimated the monetary value of human health benefits achieved by the removal of pollution by trees to be about $7 billion each year.
ESA’s Billion Star Surveyor Gaia Ready to Get to Work
The European Space Agency says that its star surveying spacecraft, Gaia, is finally ready to begin its science mission. The spacecraft has undergone an extensive commissioning process and experienced problems in the months since its December 2013 launch from French Guiana.
The goal of Gaia’s ambitious mission is to chart and create an accurate 3D map of our Milky Way Galaxy. To do so, the spacecraft will make precise measurements of 1 billion stars, which they say is about 1% of the total star population of our galaxy. ESA says that in its mission Gaia will make about 70 observations of each of the 1 billion stars.
Mission officials say that, along with producing the stereoscopic and kinematic census of the 1 billion targets stars within the Milky Way, Gaia will be able to provide scientists with valuable data concerning composition, formation and evolution of our Galaxy.
Newborns Can Smell Mother’s Fears
Newborn babies can quickly learn what to fear by simply smelling the odor of their distressed mothers.
That’s according to a team of scientists from the University of Michigan Medical School and New York University.
And, the fears that are picked up by the little ones aren’t necessarily ‘natural’ fears but those that are unique to each individual mother.
For example, if the child’s mother happened to experience a particular traumatic event during pregnancy and as a result developed a specific fear, she could communicate that fear through an odor she emits whenever she feels fear allowing her newborn to also quickly learn that fear.
The researchers said that their findings could perhaps explain how a traumatic event experienced by a mother long before giving birth can deeply affect her children, which is something that has mystified mental health experts for years.
But did you know that, for a while now, scientists have considered the vapor of the most important ingredient in sustaining life on Earth – water – as one of the most abundant greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a key driver of global warming?
A new study led by scientists from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science confirmed that rising levels of water vapor in the troposphere – the layer of the atmosphere closest to the surface and rises to a height of between 5 to 20 km above Earth’s surface – will increasingly play an important role in climate change projections in the coming years.
The Florida researchers said their new study is also the first to demonstrate that the increasing amount of atmospheric water vapor is being caused by human activities.
The researchers wanted to find out what was causing a 30-year trend of increasing water vapor in the upper troposphere.
So they took data collected over the years by satellites from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and compared it to climate models that predicted water circulation between the ocean and the atmosphere.
This allowed the team to determine whether or not the observed changes in atmospheric water vapor were the result of natural or human-made causes.
But their experiments did suggest that human activity can account for the increase.
In an email to Science World, Brian Soden, a co-author of the study and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School pointed out that those human-caused increases in water vapor in the upper troposphere are not the result of actual man-made water vapor emissions. Instead the water vapor is created as a response to man-made warming of the atmosphere, which he said is due primarily to the increase in CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.
“Because the concentration of water vapor increases as the air temperature increases, this man-made warming triggers a natural “feedback” mechanism that causes the water vapor increase,” said Soden. “Because water vapor is itself a very powerful greenhouse gas, the increase in water vapor further amplifies the initial CO2 induced warming. Our study confirms the presence of this key feedback mechanism which is a crucial component of global warming projections in water vapor can be explained by a rise in the amount of other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide being fed into the atmosphere.”
If water vapor is plays a key role in global warming, which increases water evaporation, which in turn leads to even more atmospheric water vapor, could this feedback mechanism spin out of control?
“Fortunately the feedback is not strong enough to push the climate into a “runaway” mode which would cause indefinite warming,” Soden explains. “However, some hypothesize that such a runaway greenhouse effect may have occurred on Venus and led to its extremely large greenhouse effect and warm temperatures.”
The researcher’s study called “Upper Tropospheric Moistening in response to Anthropogenic Warming” was published today (July 28, 2014) in the early on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Developing Countries Inundated with E-waste; Google Street View of Distant Galaxies; Setting Sun Gives Bats Direction
Where Does the World’s E-Waste Go?
When you replace a PC, tablet, mobile or any kind of electronic device, do you ever wonder what happens to your old equipment?
A new study finds that about 25 percent of all e-waste discarded by developed countries ends up in seven developing nations, posing severe health risks to people living there.
The nations where this e-waste is dumped includes – China, India, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Liberia.
The problem of e-waste or electronic waste is proving to be a growing struggle for local and national governments worldwide.
Astronomers Develop Cosmological Google Street View
Australian astronomers have come up with a cosmological “Google Street View” of a number of distant galaxies.
Constructed of bundles of optical fibers, the home-made device called the Sydney-AAO Multi-Object Integral field spectrograph (SAMI) also provides astronomers with very detailed images of the galaxies.
The research team that developed the device said that astronomers used to only be able to study one galaxy in detail at a time, but this device allows them to make simultaneous, detailed observations of multiple galaxies.
NASA Astronomers Spot a Transformer Pulsar
NASA astronomers recently spotted a Transformer Pulsar.
They found it after noticing some unusual behavior of a pulsar (rapidly spinning neutron star) located in a binary star system some 4,000 light years from Earth.
Late last month, the astronomers were making measurements of the binary star system when they noticed the radio beacon being transmitted by the pulsar suddenly disappeared, while at the same time, the system’s gamma rays increased five times.
“It’s almost as if someone flipped a switch, morphing the system from a lower-energy state to a higher-energy one,” said Benjamin Stappers of the UK’s University of Manchester, who led the international research team’s effort.
Gamma rays are the most powerful form of light in the universe.
Bats Rely on Polarized Light to Reset Their Internal Compasses
A species of bats, called Greater mouse-eared bats, use the polarized light of the setting sun to calibrate their internal magnetic compass, which helps the flying animals travel in the right direction, according to a new report.
The sun usually gives off unpolarized light, which means that the light waves bounce all over the place. However, at sunset the light waves interact with the atmosphere in such a way that the unpolarized light becomes polarized, meaning the light waves travel in one direction.
Outlining their findings in a study published by in Nature Communications, the researchers admit that they have no idea how the bats are able to detect polarized light.
Popular Cooking Herbs May Someday Help Those with Diabetes
Rosemary and oregano are two popular herbs cooks use to enhance the flavor of foods, but new research shows they might someday also be key ingredients in medications for type 2 diabetes.
Research led by Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, finds that oregano and rosemary are also jam-packed full of healthy compounds.
Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the researchers said tests found the popular herbs could very well work in much the same way as prescription anti-diabetic medication.
While encouraged by their findings, the researchers said more studies are needed to understand the role that compounds contained within the herbs have in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes in humans.
While those radioactive materials naturally mix in the air, the quantities are usually low — typically less than one part per million.
The international research team from England, France and the United States, outlined its findings in Nature Materials.
Current methods for removing xenon from the air involve chilling the affected air to a temperature that is much further below the point where water freezes. This can be very expensive and use a lot of energy.
The new technique centers around a new material, CC3, which was developed by research team and members from the University of Liverpool. It’s a molecule that contains a number of cavities, or cages, structured to such an exacting size and shape that radioactive gas molecules of elements like xenon and radon fit very precisely into them.
“If you imagine sorting marbles, then you see the problem with sorting these atoms,” said chemist Andy Cooper from the University of Liverpool and lead study author in a press release. “They are round in shape and of a similar size, not to mention that only one marble in every million is the one you are looking for.”
Researchers performed laboratory experiments and simulations in order find out how effectively the CC3 material was able to separate these radioactive gases.
The CC3 absorbs all types of molecules or atoms that stick to the material’s surface. While only the radioactive gas molecules remain locked into place within the molecular cavities of the CC3, other molecules, such as water or nitrogen, are released.
The scientists say that their approach in removing these radioactive materials could prove helpful not only in removing these dangerous airborne elements that result from nuclear fuel clean up or naturally occur in buildings, but could be used to help recycle these elements for future use.
“Xenon, krypton and radon are noble gases, which are chemically inert. That makes it difficult to find materials that can trap them,” said study coauthor Praveen Thallapally of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “So we were happily surprised at how easily CC3 removed them from the gas stream.”
Krypton and xenon gases are used in the manufacture of specialty lighting such as flash lamps and are most popular in photographers’ flash units.