Facebook Likes Reveal Personality Traits

Posted January 13th, 2015 at 2:52 pm (UTC+0)
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(Ksayer1/Creative Commons via Flickr)

(Ksayer1/Creative Commons via Flickr)

A new Anglo-American study has provided evidence that the ‘digital footprints’ you leave behind on your visits to social media websites such as Facebook can reveal more about your personality than your family or best friends.

Researchers at California’s Stanford University and the UK’s University of Cambridge constructed a computer model that mined the Facebook Likes of some 86,220 volunteers who also filled out a 100 question personality survey through a Facebook app called ‘myPersonality’.

The researchers found their computer model was better able to forecast an individual’s personality than family members and close friends.

The new study was built on research conducted by the University of Cambridge back in 2013 that found Facebook ‘likes’ could accurately forecast a number psychological and demographic traits.

The study found that the computer, by analyzing a mere 10 Facebook ‘likes’, was better able to predict an individual’s personality than a co-worker.   With 70 ‘likes’ to study, the computer did better than a friend or roommate and 150 ‘likes’ to gauge personality traits better than parents or siblings.

With enough Facebook ‘likes’ to analyze, the study showed that only the spouse came as close as the computer model for accurately tracking psychological traits.  The computer model needed to analyze at least 300 ‘likes’ before coming close to making its personality forecast compared with the same accuracy as a significant other.

FILE - Facebook employee walks past a sign at company headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP)

FILE – Facebook employee walks past a sign at company headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP)

To get an idea of just how accurate their new system was in forecasting personality traits, the research team compared the results of findings made by the new computer model to a number of past psychological studies that only used family and friends to judge personality traits.  The researchers found that their new computer model was able to produce results that were similar to the averages produced by the person-to-person studies.

The study volunteers who used the ‘myPersonality’ app also had the chance to invite their family and friends to weigh in on the volunteer’s personality traits by filling out a shorter – 10 question – version of the 100 item questionnaire.

Describing their findings as an “empathic demonstration” of the computer’s ability to unveil personality traits through purely scientific data analysis, the British/American collaboration also said that their investigation provided an “important milestone” by showing how non-human devices such as computers can get to know us better than what had been thought.  The research team also said that their work   provides some insight into better human-computer interactions.

“In the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially skilled machines,” said lead author Wu Youyou, from Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center in a university press release.

This is a graph showing accuracy of Stafford/University of Cambridge computer model's personality judgement compared with humans (Wu Youyou/Michal Kosinski)

This is a graph showing accuracy of Stafford/University of Cambridge computer model’s personality judgement compared with humans (Wu Youyou/Michal Kosinski)

The research team in addressing concerns about privacy, especially as communications/computer technology continues to develop, said that they support policies that would give online users total control over their digital footprint.

The research team believes that their findings, which could lead to the development of quick, accurate, and inexpensive personality appraisals, may prove to be quite useful in helping people make better decisions in areas such as personnel screening and recruitment to choosing a romantic partner.

The Stanford/University of Cambridge study was published today in the journal the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

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.

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Begins Approach to Dwarf Planet Ceres

Posted January 2nd, 2015 at 8:27 pm (UTC+0)
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Artist concept of NASA's Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is getting set for the final segment of its planned ten-year mission after entering the approach phase of its visit to the dwarf planet Ceres.

This dwarf planet, with an average diameter of 950 kilometers, is the largest object in the asteroid belt, a region of space located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter  filled with debris of all sizes left over from the creation of the solar system.

Mission officials say that Dawn is scheduled to enter orbit with Ceres in March to study and photograph the celestial object up close.

When Dawn enters its orbit around Ceres, NASA says that the spacecraft will become the first ever to circle two solar system targets.

According to NASA, the Dawn spacecraft is about 640,000 kilometers from the dwarf planet target and is traveling at a speed of around 725 kilometers per hour.

NASA's Space Probe sitting atop a Delta II rocket begins its journey on 9/27/2007 to study two of the solar system's largest asteroids. (NASA)

NASA’s space probe Dawn, sitting atop a Delta II rocket, begins its journey on 9/27/2007 to study two of the solar system’s largest asteroids. (NASA)

Dawn, launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in 2007, already completed half of its mission back in 2012 after spending 14 months visiting and exploring Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt.  Scientists also refer to Vesta as a minor planet named Vesta 4.

“Ceres is almost a complete mystery to us,” said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, in a NASA press release. “Ceres, unlike Vesta, has no meteorites linked to it to help reveal its secrets. All we can predict with confidence is that we will be surprised.”

Before entering its approach phase with Ceres, the spacecraft was in a solar conjunction, meaning it was on the other side of the sun from us.  With the sun right in the middle between Earth and Dawn, those involved with its mission had limited contact with the spacecraft.

But since the sun is no longer blocking Dawn from Earth and reliable communications have been re-established, mission controllers are able to program the spacecraft’s computers with the maneuvers necessary to safely and effectively guide it to Ceres.

With its unique ion propulsion system, NASA says that the Dawn spacecraft is able to travel to its destinations much more efficiently than if it had been equipped with a traditional chemical based propulsion system.

A full view of Vesta composed of mosaic of images taken by the Dawn space probe in September, 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

A full view of Vesta composed of mosaic of images taken by the Dawn space probe in September, 2012 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Because of this efficient method of propulsion Dawn has been able to travel through the cosmos with a higher amount of thrust time than any other spacecraft.

“Orbiting both Vesta and Ceres would be truly impossible with conventional propulsion. Thanks to ion propulsion, we’re about to make history as the first spaceship ever to orbit two unexplored alien worlds,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Scientists think that Ceres may have formed later and may have a cooler interior than Dawn’s first target asteroid, Vesta.

Recent research suggests that since it formed earlier, when radioactive material was more plentiful, Vesta was able to produce more heat than Ceres and retain only a small amount of water.  On the other hand, scientists believe that Ceres is covered with thick mantle of ice and could even have an ocean tucked under its frigid crust.

NASA says that as Dawn comes closer and closer to Ceres, the spacecraft’s cameras will be able to provide some of the best images ever taken of the dwarf planet.

NASA/JPL video explaining Dawn’s Ion Propulsion System
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 of the Month – December, 2014

Posted December 31st, 2014 at 5:50 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of the sun as it pumped out a powerful X1.8-class solar flare on 12/19/14.  X-class flares are the biggest and most intense of these solar explosions that blast large amounts of energy, light and high speed particles into space. (NASA)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of the sun pumping out a powerful X1.8-class solar flare on 12/19/14. X-class flares are the biggest and most intense of these solar explosions that blast large amounts of energy, light and high speed particles into space. (Reuters/NASA)

How much money are you supposed to tip your robot waiter?  A crew of 30 robots welcomes customers, cooks meals and delivers dishes at a restaurant located in Hefei, in the Chinese province of Anhui on 12/26/14. (Reuters)

How much money are you supposed to tip your robot waiter? A crew of 30 robots welcomes customers, cooks meals and delivers dishes at a restaurant located in Hefei, in the Chinese province of Anhui on 12/26/14. (Reuters)

NASA sent its new Orion capsule, atop a Delta IV rocket, into space on its first unmanned orbital test flight on 12/5/14.  NASA hopes to use the new space capsule in the future for manned flights to an asteroid or perhaps even Mars. (AP/NASA)

NASA sent its new Orion capsule, atop a Delta IV rocket, into space on its first unmanned orbital test flight on 12/5/14. NASA hopes to use the new space capsule for future manned flights to an asteroid or perhaps even Mars. (AP/NASA)

And of course what goes up must come down.  After successfully completing its first unmanned orbital test flight, NASA’s Orion Crew Module is shown here as it descends to the Pacific Ocean under its three main parachutes on 12/5/14. (AP/US Navy)

And of course what goes up must come down. After successfully completing its first unmanned orbital test flight, NASA’s Orion Crew Module is shown here as it descends to the Pacific Ocean under its three main parachutes on 12/5/14. (AP/US Navy)

A student at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, located in Manahawkin, NJ holds an adult diamondback terrapin turtle on 12/16/14. The students, who study and take care of the turtles at the school recently, mounted a successful campaign to get New Jersey state lawmakers to introduce a bill that would make it illegal to catch or take the turtles from the wild. (AP)

A student at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, located in Manahawkin, NJ holds an adult diamondback terrapin turtle on 12/16/14. The students, who study and take care of the turtles at the school, recently mounted a successful campaign to get New Jersey state lawmakers to introduce a bill that would make it illegal to catch or take the turtles from the wild. (AP)

This amazing photo of the sun setting (left) over the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Gulf Coast (right) from space was posted to social media by the crew of the International Space Station on 12/14/14.  (Reuters/NASA)

This amazing photo of the sun setting (left) over the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Gulf Coast (right) from space was posted to social media by the crew of the International Space Station on 12/14/14. (Reuters/NASA)

A visitor gets an early look at the "Musee des Confluences", a brand new science and anthropology museum in Lyon, France on 12/18/14.  The museum, designed by Austrian architect Wolf Dieter Prix officially opened its doors to the public on 12/20/14. (AP)

A visitor gets an early look at the “Musee des Confluences”, a brand new science and anthropology museum in Lyon, France on 12/18/14. The museum, designed by Austrian architect Wolf Dieter Prix, officially opened its doors to the public on 12/20/14. (AP)

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched its heaviest rocket ever on 12/18/14.  Called the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mark-III), the huge rocket also carried an experimental crew module, CARE (Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment), into space.  (AP/Press Trust of India)

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched its heaviest rocket ever on 12/18/14. Called the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV Mark-III), the huge rocket also carried an experimental crew module, CARE (Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment), into space. (AP/Press Trust of India)

“Pepper”, a friendly human-like robot is shown here at its new job selling new Nestle coffee machines at a Tokyo electric shop on 12/1/14.  Nestle says it would like to have robots like “Pepper” working at 1,000 stores by the end of next year.  (Reuters)

“Pepper”, a friendly human-like robot is shown here at its new job selling new Nestle coffee machines at a Tokyo electric shop on 12/1/14. Nestle says it would like to have robots like “Pepper” working at 1,000 stores by the end of next year. (Reuters)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this new Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy IC 335 on 12/24/14.  The IC 335 galaxy is located in the Fornax Galaxy Cluster, which is about 60 million light-years away. (ESA/Hubble/NASA)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this new Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy IC 335 on 12/24/14. The IC 335 galaxy is located in the Fornax Galaxy Cluster, which is about 60 million light-years away. (ESA/Hubble/NASA)

A scientist holds the fossil skull of an Aquilops americanus which is believed to be the oldest known horned dinosaur species from North America. Scientists announced the discovery of this ancient fossil at press conference that was held on 12/10/14. (Reuters/Andrew A. Farke)

A scientist holds the fossil skull of an Aquilops americanus which is believed to be the oldest known horned dinosaur species from North America. Scientists announced the discovery of this ancient fossil at press conference on 12/10/14. (Reuters/Andrew A. Farke)

Ho ho ho!  Diver Mark Lane, who was dressed as Scuba Santa Claus, delights children on 12/17/14 as he makes his first dive of the holiday season in the 802,507 liter Philippine Coral Reef tank at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. (AP)

Ho ho ho!  Diver Mark Lane, who was dressed as Scuba Santa Claus, delights children on 12/17/14 as he makes his first dive of the holiday season in the 802,507 liter Philippine Coral Reef tank at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. (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.

Science Scanner: Venus Mission Ends, Organic Chemistry on Mars, Hormone Changes in Expectant Dads, New High in CO2 Output

Posted December 17th, 2014 at 9:24 pm (UTC+0)
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Artist impression of ESA's Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

Artist impression of ESA’s Venus Express conducting special maneuvers to lower its orbit around Venus ((c) ESA–C. Carreau)

ESA’s Venus Express Mission Ends

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week that the space probe it sent to orbit Venus back in 2006 has reached the end of its life.

Called the Venus Express, the spacecraft ran out of its propellant after executing a number of thruster burns that returned the probe to a normal orbit, following a daring low altitude exploratory operation this past June and July.

During the last week of November, mission officials thought that the space probe still had some remaining propellant after completing the low altitude operation.  However, attempts to boost the spacecraft back up to its previous orbiting altitude failed.  ESA lost full contact with the probe on November 28.

Mission officials did manage to partially re-establish the telemetry and telecommand links for a short time afterward, but could only retrieve a limited amount of information.

Patrick Martin, ESA’s Venus Express mission manager said that the spacecraft probably ran out its remaining fuel about half way through the November efforts to raise its altitude.  He noted the probe had already exceeded its life expectancy.

 

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, "Cumberland." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The first conclusive detection of Martian organic chemicals in material on the surface of Mars came from analysis by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover of sample powder from this mudstone target, “Cumberland.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA/JPL’s Curiosity Rover Finds Signs of Organic Chemistry on Mars

Meanwhile, officials at NASA/JPL, say the Martian rover Curiosity has discovered signs of the building blocks of life on the red planet.

According to NASA, those conclusions are based on a tenfold jump in the levels of the organic chemical, methane, the rover detected in the Martian atmosphere.  Curiosity also found other organic molecules in samples of rock-powder that had been collected by its robotic drill.

NASA/JPL officials announced these new findings during a news briefing held Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco.  The news was published online this week in the journal Science.

 

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Expectant couple (Jason Corey/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Study: Expectant Fathers Also Experience Hormonal Changes

Excited expectant couples often announce the upcoming birth of their child by saying “we’re pregnant”.  While we all know that only women can actually become pregnant, a number of men swept up in the excitement of becoming a father often talk and act as though they were pregnant as well.

It turns out that that “we’re pregnant” may be closer to the truth than thought after a new study conducted by the University of Michigan found that men may also go through actual hormonal changes as his mate’s pregnancy progresses.

It’s well known that pregnant women naturally go through a number of hormonal changes.

But what researchers at the University of Michigan didn’t expect to find was that while pregnant women had large increases in the levels of salivary testosterone, cortisol, estradiol and progesterone, their male mates showed substantial prenatal drops in their levels of testosterone and estradiol.  They found no noticeable changes in levels of cortisol or progesterone in the males.

 

Industrial pollution - one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

Industrial pollution – one source of CO2 emissions (©Martin Muránsky/Shutterstock.com)

European Report:  CO2 Levels Keep Getting Higher but Rate of Increase Slows

A new report out of Europe indicates while we continue to pour record levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere, the rate at which we are doing so is on the decline.

CO2, a bi-product of burning fossil fuels,is the primary culprit blamed for global warming.

The report released this week by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency says while global levels CO2 emissions reached a new all-time high in 2013, the growth rate was slower than the average over the past ten years.

The report indicates the atmospheric increase in CO2 levels over the last decade was mostly due to a steady rise in energy use in countries with emerging economies.

The European study said that the slowdown in the increase of global CO2 emissions started in 2012 and is mainly a reflection of China’s lower growth rate in emissions.

China, the US and the EU are still listed in the report as the world’s top-3 CO2 producers.

Despite previous years of declining carbon dioxide output in the United States, emission levels of the greenhouse gas actually grew by 2.5% in 2013, while emissions from European Union countries decreased 1.4% in 2013.

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.

Tweets Offer Insight into Mental Health Issues

Posted December 15th, 2014 at 7:38 pm (UTC+0)
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A portrait of the Twitter logo (Reuters)

A portrait of the Twitter logo (Reuters)

Computer scientists are analyzing Twitter tweets to gather key information on the prevalence of common mental illnesses.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say their new computer program can sift through volumes of publicly available postings on the social media website, and detect certain ‘language cues’ associated with particular disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and season affective disorder (SAD).

One benefit of mining relevant mental health data in Twitter posts is that analysis of the information can be delivered to medical professionals much quicker and cheaper than with current, traditional methods.

The data on mental illness trends discovered during a Twitter search can even provide information for specific geographical areas, which would be handy for public health officials and medical providers during times that follow natural and man-made disasters.

The Johns Hopkins scientists evaluated over eight billion tweets in developing their computer algorithms that look for specific words and language patterns in the Tweets.  For example, if information regarding disorders such as anxiety or insomnia is desired, the algorithm would pour through the tweets and look for words and phrases such as “I really don’t want to get out of bed today” or “I’m feeling really sad today”.

This new Tweet-based data gathering and analysis system for mental illness was built off a similar system that Johns Hopkins researchers developed back in 2013.  That system filtered out irrelevant online chatter to produce real-time data on cases of influenza.

As the researchers put their new system to the test it revealed a prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among military personnel at US armed services installations that regularly deployed combat troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.  It also detected Tweets indicating higher than normal symptoms of depression in areas where unemployment was high.

Tweeting with mobile device (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Tweeting with mobile device (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

“Using Twitter to get a fix on mental health cases could be very helpful to health practitioners and governmental officials who need to decide where counseling and other care is needed most,” says Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.

“It could point to places where many veterans may be experiencing PTSD, for example, or to towns where people have been traumatized by a shooting spree or widespread tornado damage,” Dredze says.

Privacy issues were of the utmost concern to the researchers as they developed their new mental health analysis system.  They noted that information on mental health issues gathered and analyzed by their new tool does not reveal the names of people who publicly tweeted about their disorders.

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.

Rosetta Mission Fuels Argument About Origin of Earth’s Water

Posted December 12th, 2014 at 9:08 pm (UTC+0)
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Young boy about to quench his thirst with some water (USAID)

Young boy about to quench his thirst with some water (USAID)

The debate about the origin of Earth’s water just got deeper.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) comet-chasing spacecraft Rosetta has sent back some interesting information regarding water vapor it detected and analyzed on its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

According to the ESA and an international group of scientists, the analysis shows that the chemical composition of the comet’s water vapor is very different from water found on Earth.

Scientists studying the origin of Earth’s water say Rosetta’s findings have added some fuel to the ongoing debate about where our water came from.

Some scientists believe Earth’s supply of life-sustaining water is the result of chemical reactions that took place as the Sun and solar system began forming some 4.6 billion years ago.

Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)

Artist view of the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta’s lander, Philae, is attached and is shown in blue (© ESA/J. Huart)

Others theorize that since the Earth was so hot after its formation, any water that had been here originally probably boiled off, therefore the water we have now had to have been delivered by large numbers of water-rich comets and asteroids that bombarded our planet after it had cooled down.

Asteroids, which are mostly made of rock and/or metals, can be found in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

However a majority of comets, sometimes called ‘dirty snowballs’ since they’re made up of rock, dust, ice and frozen gases, are located in deep space in either the Kuiper Belt, an area of space that’s just outside the orbit of Pluto or even further out toward the edge of the solar system in the Oort cloud.

Scientists are still debating how much of Earth’s current water supply was delivered by asteroids or by comets.

One of key elements in the origin of Earth’s water involves the chemical structure of our water.

While most of us are familiar with the H20 composition of water, two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, some of our water (mostly seawater) also contains a very tiny amount of 2H2O or D2O or heavy water that’s been enriched with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen.

Rosetta's NavCaM snapped this shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 20, 2014 ((C) ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Rosetta’s NavCaM snapped this shot of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 20, 2014 ((C) ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

The data provided by the spacecraft’s Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) instrument indicates that the water vapor sampled from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a much higher deuterium to hydrogen (D/H) ratio, meaning its water is more enriched with the deuterium than what can be found on Earth.

The scientific group studying ROSINA data says their findings seem to contradict the theory that most of Earth’s water originated in deep space and was delivered to us via comets.

Some of the scientists who believe most of our water came from asteroids have found that the lower ratio of deuterium enriched water to ordinary water here on Earth matches the same value found in water-rich asteroids.

This lower ratio of deuterium/hydrogen found in Earth’s water and in the water-rich asteroids is thought to be the result of time and more exposure to the Sun.

And, since comets originate so far away from the Sun, they may not be as exposed to solar radiation as asteroids which could explain the higher deuterium/hydrogen ratio ROSINA found in Comet 67P’s water vapor.

The Rosetta spacecraft, which arrived for its rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerisimenko back in August, is expected to complete its mission in December 2015, about four months after the comet reaches its closest point to the Sun (August 2015). The comet will then begin its journey back out to the far reaches of the solar system.

((c) Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam; Data: Altwegg et al. 2014 and references therein)

((c) Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam; Data: Altwegg et al. 2014 and references therein)

 

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 – Big Asteroid Won’t Hit Us, Artificial Skin Detects Pressure, Link Found: ER Visits and Internet Searches

Posted December 10th, 2014 at 8:59 pm (UTC+0)
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Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Asteroid impacting Earth (NASA)

Huge Asteroid Won’t Hit Us After All

The NASA/JPL Near-Earth Object Program Office says that we can all breathe easier now: Reports indicating that a gigantic asteroid is heading our way and would possibly impact the Earth are not true.

The 400-meter wide ‘2014 UR116’ asteroid, found on October 27 at the MASTER-II observatory in Kislovodsk, Russia does occasionally pass by Earth as it orbits the Sun over a three year period.  But the huge hunk of rock really isn’t a threat to us, since it really doesn’t come close enough to the Earth as it makes it way around the Sun to cause a problem, according to the U.S. space agency.

NASA/JPL goes on to say that Tim Spahr, the Director of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Minor Planet Center in Cambridge Massachusetts, re-calculated the orbital path of the asteroid after he noticed that it was the same object that had been observed about six years ago.

Using the Sentry System at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA took Spahr’s calculations further and found that the asteroid doesn’t pose any threat to Earth or any of the solar systems other planet for at least the next 150 years.

 

A new kind of stretchy "electronic skin" (blue patch) is the first to be able to detect directional pressure. (American Chemical Society)

A new kind of stretchy “electronic skin” (blue patch) is the first to be able to detect directional pressure.
(American Chemical Society)

New Artificial Skin  Senses Pressure Strength and Direction

A group of South Korean scientists have developed an artificial skin that they say can detect not only pressure, but also what direction that pressure is coming from.

Writing in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS NANO, the researchers, led by Hyunhyub Ko, said their new ‘electronic skin’ is a flexible, film-like mechanism that can perform a number of tasks, including sensing pressure, reading brain activity and monitoring heart rate.

The research team wanted to develop an artificial skin that could ‘feel’ in three dimensions.

To provide that enhanced sense of touch, the researchers made their skin out of tiny domes of material that can mesh with each other and deform when something pokes it or blows air across it.

The researchers said that the construction of their artificial skin allows the user to sense the location, intensity and direction of each touch, vibration and air flow that is applied to the skin.

This new wearable skin, which was modeled after human skin, could prove to be useful in developing prosthetic limbs, robotic skins and rehabilitation devices, said the researchers.

 

Trauma patient being rushed to surgery

Trauma patient being rushed to surgery

Link Between Internet Searches and ER Visits Found

A new Swedish study found a significant link between the amount of Internet searches that were conducted on a regional medical website and the number of next-day visits to nearby emergency rooms (ERs).

The Swedish researchers used Google Analytics for one year to tally and graph Internet searches of the Stockholm Health Care Guide and then compared the data to ER visits over the same time period.

Being able gauge the demand for emergency medical services ahead of time could help hospital administrators provide resources and personnel when needed most, and prepare medical providers such as doctors and nurses for any sudden high demand for services.

The researchers say that their study, which was recently published online in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine,” suggests that Internet search data may someday be used to help forecast ER needs at local or regional hospitals.

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: Orion Set for Test, Mars Meteorite May Have Organic Matter, Heavy Newborns Excel in School, Oceans Help Warming Hiatus

Posted December 3rd, 2014 at 7:45 pm (UTC+0)
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The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA Readies Orion Spacecraft for Test Flight

Excitement continues to build in Florida as NASA makes final preparations for the tomorrow’s (12/4/14) first unmanned flight test of Orion spacecraft, which the space agency plans to use to send astronauts to an asteroid and then to Mars.

Liftoff has been set for 1105 UTC from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).  The Orion will be sent into space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The spacecraft’s trip is scheduled to last about 4½ hours when it is expected to orbit the Earth twice and fly to an altitude of approximately 5,800 km.

NASA said that Orion’s test flight was designed to assess many of the mechanisms that would pose the greatest threat to astronauts and will provide engineers and technicians with critical information that would be needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to mission crews it will carry in the future.

The last time a human flew into space aboard a NASA spacecraft was with the launch of the Atlantis Space Shuttle Mission STS-135 on July 8, 2011. The space agency’s Space Shuttle era came to a close when Atlantis returned to Earth on July 21, 2011.

 

This meteorite has been found in Morocco in 2011. It's tiny cracks contain carbon of organic nature. This carbon has been deposited on Mars and could have been originated by a biological activity. (Alain Herzog/EPFL 2014)

This meteorite has been found in Morocco in 2011. It’s tiny cracks contain carbon of organic nature. (Alain Herzog/EPFL 2014)

Meteorite May Contain Organic Material from Mars

Scientists from Switzerland, China, Japan and Germany recently conducted a thorough investigation of traces of organic carbon that were found in a Martian meteorite and found that the material most likely had a biological origin.

The meteorite, named ‘Tissint’, fell in the Moroccan desert on July 18, 2011.  After conducting a chemical, microscopic and isotope examination of the meteorite, the scientists believe that the meteorite did not have a terrestrial origin, but was made up of Martian geological material that was expelled from the Red Planet after an asteroid collision.

While there is still ongoing debate over the exact origin of the carbon material, the investigators believe that fluid, rich in organic matter, made its way into fissures of the rock, while it was still on Mars.

 

Newborn baby ((radloff via Creative Commons/Flicker)

(radloff via Creative Commons/Flicker)

Study: Heavy Newborns Perform Well in School

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Chicago have found evidence that babies born with a higher birth weight may have a brighter academic future than those with lower birth weights.

The study conducted by scientists from Northwestern University shows that heavier babies do better than their lighter peers when tested years later in elementary and middle school.

“A child who is born healthy doesn’t necessarily have a fully-formed brain,” said David Figlio, one of the study’s authors and director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research in a press release. “Our study speaks to the idea that longer gestation and accompanying weight gain is good,” he said.

The Northwestern team also found this to be true even among twin babies.  The twin with a heaver birth weight had higher test scores than his lighter sibling.

 

The red areas show where the ocean has been taking up more heat during the global "warming hiatus." (University of Southampton)

The red areas show where the ocean has been taking up more heat during the global “warming hiatus.” (University of Southampton)

Increase in Oceanic Heat Drawdown Could Be Behind ‘Global Warming Hiatus’

A new study published in the scientific journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’ shows that a slowdown in the amount of global warming in the early 2000s, which has also been referred to as a “global warming hiatus”, was likely caused by an increase in the amount of heat drawn deep into equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean basins.

Researchers from the UK’s University of Southampton, National Oceanography Center (NOC) and the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) used data that was taken from a variety of state-of-the-art ocean and atmosphere models.

“This study attributes the increased oceanic heat drawdown in the equatorial Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Ocean to specific, different mechanisms in each region,” said Sybren Drijfhout a study author from the University of Southampton in a press release.

Scientists had thought that the drawdown of heat within the Equatorial Pacific Ocean over the course of the decade-long hiatus was due to a number of La Niña events, which caused surface temperatures over that region of the Pacific to cool.

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.

Ground-Based Telescope Observes Exoplanet Transiting Bright Star

Posted December 1st, 2014 at 9:51 pm (UTC+0)
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This artist's conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). Astronomers using a ground-based telescope have measure the transit of 55 Cancri e for the first time. (NASA/JPL)

This artist’s conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). (NASA/JPL)

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has used a ground-based telescope to detect and observe the transit of a planet in front of a Sun-like star outside of our own solar system.

Until now, only space-based telescopes were capable of detecting the transits of exoplanets as they passed by bright stars.

Distortions caused by the atmosphere, the same phenomenon that makes stars look like they’re twinkling, makes it difficult for astronomers to observe transiting planets around bright stars from telescopes based on Earth.

In September, 2013, Japanese astronomers, using the ground-based Subaru telescope were able to observe the transit of super-Earth, GJ 1214b, but this exoplanet orbits a much dimmer star, known as a red dwarf.

The most recent achievement involves a super-sized Earth-like planet in a binary star system more than 40-light years away.  Called 55 Cancri e, the planet orbits its primary star 55 Cancri A, in the constellation Cancer.  The solar system’s secondary star, 55 Cancri B, is a red dwarf star which is located about 159,321,732,615 km from the primary star.

The Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. (Bob Tubbs/Wikimedia Commons)

The Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. (Bob Tubbs/Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists say that while the primary star can be seen with the naked eye, it takes ideal conditions such as a clear and moonless night.

According to team leader, Dr. Ernst de Mooij of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, 55 Cancri e, was measured to have a diameter of about 26,000 km, which is twice that of Earth, but with eight times its mass.

Previous studies have found that the planet makes one complete orbit around its sun in about 18 hours and that since its daytime temperature can reach nearly 1,700° Celsius, 55 Cancri e is not at all hospitable to life.

The astronomical team used the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory’s 2.5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope, located in the Spanish archipelago Canary Islands.

The researchers believe their success may be good news for other astronomers using the same kind of tools and methods to study newly-found exoplanets.

A number of small, extra-solar planets are expected to be discovered in the next ten years as new observational space missions — including NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and the European Space Agency’s Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO) –are launched.

An artist's concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An artist’s concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar. Remote sensing across tens of light-years is not easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity.” says study co-author Dr. Ray Jayawardhana of York University, Canada.

Both PLATO – set to go in 2014 and TESS, scheduled for a 2017 launch – will look for transiting Earth-like planets circling nearby bright stars.

Along with de Moorji and Jayawardhana, the research team also includes Mercedes Lopez-Morales of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as Raine Karjalainen and Marie Hrudkova of the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes in the Canary Islands.

The group’s findings will be outlined in a study that will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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 of the Month – November, 2014

Posted November 28th, 2014 at 7:51 pm (UTC+0)
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The Orion Spacecraft moves past NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building on November 11, 2014, as it slowly makes its 22 mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Orion is scheduled to launch for a test flight on Dec. 4, 2014. (AP)

The Orion Spacecraft moves past NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building on November 11, 2014, as it slowly makes its 22 mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled to launch for a test flight on Dec. 4, 2014. (AP)

Paleontology student Hillary McLean is seen here, on November 25, 2014, piecing together the tusk of an ancient mastodon.  The fossil was part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colorado. The discovery of ancient bones is providing an intriguing glimpse into what happened some 120,000 years ago when the Earth was as warm as it is today. (AP)

Paleontology student Hillary McLean is seen here, on November 25, 2014, piecing together the tusk of an ancient mastodon. The fossil was part of an extensive discovery unearthed from Snowmass, Colorado. The discovery of ancient bones is providing an intriguing glimpse into what happened some 120,000 years ago when the Earth was as warm as it is today. (AP)

A man watches a test flight of the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft, piloted by Swiss Bertrand Piccard, in Payerne November 13, 2014.  An attempt to fly around the world in stages using only solar energy will be made in 2015. (Reuters)

A man watches a test flight of the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 experimental aircraft, piloted by Swiss Bertrand Piccard, in Payerne November 13, 2014. An attempt to fly around the world in stages using only solar energy will be made in 2015. (Reuters)

After spending 5 ½ months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany is seen here being helped out a Soyuz TMA-13M space capsule after safely landing in a remote area in northern Kazakhstan November 10, 2014. Gerst returned to Earth with his fellow crewmembers Maxim Suraev of Russian and Reid Wiseman from the United States. (Reuters)

After spending 5 ½ months in orbit aboard the International Space Station, crew member Alexander Gerst of Germany is seen here being helped out a Soyuz TMA-13M space capsule after safely landing in a remote area in northern Kazakhstan November 10, 2014. Gerst returned to Earth with his fellow crewmembers Maxim Suraev of Russian and Reid Wiseman from the United States. (Reuters)

Here’s a microscopic view of the transfer of Bluefin tuna reproductive cells into a mackerel fry surrogate.  If successful, this procedure will produce tuna when it matures. Researchers at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology are fine-tuning a technology to use mackerel surrogates to spawn the Bluefin to help relieve pressure on wild fish stocks while preserving vital genetic diversity. (AP)

Here’s a microscopic view of the transfer of Bluefin tuna reproductive cells into a mackerel fry surrogate. If successful, this procedure will produce tuna when it matures. Researchers at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology are fine-tuning a technology to use mackerel surrogates to spawn the Bluefin to help relieve pressure on wild fish stocks while preserving vital genetic diversity. (AP)

This northeast-facing view from the lower edge of the pale "Pahrump Hills" outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Nov. 13, 2014. The image includes wind-sculpted ripples of sand and dust in the middle ground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This northeast-facing view from the lower edge of the pale “Pahrump Hills” outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars was captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Nov. 13, 2014. The image includes wind-sculpted ripples of sand and dust in the middle ground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This humanoid robot face was displayed during the International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid, Spain on November 19, 2014. (Reuters)

This humanoid robot face was displayed during the International Conference on Humanoid Robots in Madrid, Spain on November 19, 2014. (Reuters)

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new International Space Station crewmembers blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014.  (AP)

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three new International Space Station crewmembers blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP)

Visitors to the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show are seen here, on November 20, 2014, examining the Toyota Future Mobility Concept car that was on display in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

Visitors to the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show are seen here, on November 20, 2014, examining the Toyota Future Mobility Concept car that was on display in Los Angeles, California. (Reuters)

This is a high-fidelity supercomputer simulation of magnetic field loops on the sun.  NASA researchers use these simulations to learn how these magnetic fields emerge, heat the sun’s outer atmosphere and produce sunspots and flares.  NASA featured this and a number of other computer simulations at SC14, the international supercomputing conference held from November 16-21, 2014 in New Orleans. (NASA/Ames)

This is a high-fidelity supercomputer simulation of magnetic field loops on the sun. NASA researchers use these simulations to learn how these magnetic fields emerge, heat the sun’s outer atmosphere and produce sunspots and flares. NASA featured this and a number of other computer simulations at SC14, the international supercomputing conference held from November 16-21, 2014 in New Orleans. (NASA/Ames)

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.