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)
Comments are closed

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)
Comments are closed

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)
Comments are closed

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.

Common Ancestor of Today’s Horse and Rhino Found in India

Posted November 25th, 2014 at 7:51 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Artist’s concept of Cambaytherium thewissi, the ancient ancestor of today's Horse and Rhino (Elaine Kasmer via Johns Hopkins University)

Artist’s concept of Cambaytherium thewissi, the ancient ancestor of today’s Horse and Rhino (Elaine Kasmer via Johns Hopkins University)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say fossils found in an Indian coal mine are pointing to a common ancestor for today’s horses, rhinos and tapirs.

The animals in question are members of an order called Perissodactyla or odd-toed ungulates because they happen to have an odd number of toes on their rear feet.

The findings come from an analysis of a huge bounty of various teeth and bones discovered in an open-pit coal mine located just north-east of Mumbai, India.

The number of fossils was so large and varied that researchers had to take them back home so that they could sort through all of them in their own laboratories.

Today's horse is thought to be a descendent of the extinct animal, Cambaytherium thewissi. (Peter aka anemoneprojectors/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Today’s horse is thought to be a descendent of the extinct animal, Cambaytherium thewissi. (Peter aka anemoneprojectors/Creative Commons via Flickr)

After examining and sorting the collection, the group found about 200 fossils belonging to an extinct and mysterious ancestor named Cabaytherius thewisse, an animal that could be the missing link in the evolution of the Perissodactyla group.

The Hopkins research team, writing in the online journal Nature Communications, says the mammals likely evolved on the Indian tectonic plate millions of years ago, long before it collided with the Eurasian plate.

To date, the oldest Perissodactyla fossils discovered go back to the Eocene epoch, about 55 to 56 million years ago.  These new samples from India are about 54.5 million years old.

After splitting from Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent traveled north and collided with Asia. (USGS)

After splitting from Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent traveled north and collided with Asia. (USGS)

Research team leader Ken Rose, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says because the fossils are slightly younger that previous samples,   researchers are gaining new insights into this missing link for all past and present members of the Perissodactyla group.

“Many of Cambaytherium’s features, like the teeth, the number of sacral vertebrae, and the bones of the hands and feet, are intermediate between Perissodactyla and more primitive animals,” Rose says. “This is the closest thing we’ve found to a common ancestor of the Perissodactyla order.”

Rose said the fossil collection gathered from the Indian coal mine also offers some provocative geological information about the ancient shifting of Earth’s tectonic plates.

“Around Cambaytherium’s time, we think India was an island, but it also had primates and a rodent similar to those living in Europe at the time,” Rose says. “One possible explanation is that India passed close by the Arabian Peninsula or the Horn of Africa, and there was a land bridge that allowed the animals to migrate. But Cambaytherium is unique and suggests that India was indeed isolated for a while.”

Scientists speculate the Indian plate eventually crashed into the Asian continent about 55 to 60 million years ago.

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: Mapping an Asteroid; Why the Universe Didn’t Collapse; Spicy Food Saves Lives

Posted November 19th, 2014 at 9:07 pm (UTC+0)
2 comments

Here's a sample of the new geological map of Vesta. Areas in brown represent the oldest, most heavily   cratered surface. Purple colors and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and   Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the   interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young   landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively. Tectonic features   such as faults are shown by black lines.  (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

A sample of the new geological map of Vesta. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

Scientists Create Geologic and Tectonic Map of Vesta the Asteroid

A group of scientists used high-resolution images captured by NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft between 2011 and 2012 to create what they say is the first total geologic and tectonic map of the asteroid Vesta.

Details on the work appear in the December edition of the journal Icarus.

According to the researchers, their study of Vesta shows that the asteroid had a history of impacts by large meteorites.

“The resulting maps enabled us to construct a geologic time scale of Vesta for comparison to other planets and moons,” said research team leader David Williams of Arizona State University in a press statement.  Read more here…

 

Time Line of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Time Line of the Universe. (NASA/WMAP Science Team)

Cosmological Mystery May Have Simple Solution

Scientists studying the Higgs-Boson found that the production of these former mystery particles in the rapidly expanding universe should have created a bit of instability right after the Big Bang that would have led to the collapse of the newly-forming universe.

Researchers have been puzzled since as to why the collapse didn’t happen.  Some of the scientists believe that the reason was due to some new and so far undiscovered physics.

Now, a team of scientists from the UK’s Imperial College London, Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, and Finland’s University of Helsinki say they believe gravity is what provided the universe with the stability that was needed to endure the rapid expansion.

The scientists outlined their findings in a study published by “Physical Review Letters.”  Read more here…

 

Smily Sun (Creative Commons via Pixabay)

(Creative Commons via Pixabay)

People with Low Levels of Vitamin D are at Risk of Disease and Death

Vitamin D, also known as the Sunshine Vitamin, is important for maintaining good bone health and helping prevent cardiovascular disease.

A new study of 96,000 Danish people found that those with a deficiency in vitamin D are also at risk of other diseases, such as cancer, and are experiencing higher rates of death than those with normal levels of vitamin D.

Humans get their vitamin D from the rays of the sun, in the food they eat or by taking supplements.

What the study doesn’t show is the best way to increase levels of vitamin D in those with a deficiency in the vitamin.  The researchers said that they still need to figure out just how much vitamin D would be needed to help those with a deficiency maintain a healthy level of the vitamin that would help prevent these diseases and lower mortality rates.  Read more…

 

A gathering of herbs and spices (Casey Fleser via Wikimedia Commons)

A gathering of herbs and spices (Casey Fleser via Wikimedia Commons)

A Bit of Spice in Your Food Could Lengthen Your Life

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) found that spices and herbs, which are packed full of antioxidants, could be quite helpful to people who have high levels of triglycerides and other fatty elements in their blood.

While you need some triglycerides in your bloodstream to maintain good health, too high a level of this fatty compound may raise the risk of heart disease.

It’s been found that a person’s triglyceride levels rise soon after eating a meal high in fat.

The Penn State researchers, comparing the post-fatty meal triglyceride levels in people who ate their meal cooked with the high-antioxidant spices and herbs, had as much as a 30 percent lower level of triglycerides than those who ate a meal cooked without the added seasonings.

The high-antioxidant herbs and spices added to the meals of those with the lower triglyceride levels included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric, ginger and black pepper.  Read more…

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.

Volcanic Activity Linked to A Warm and Wet Ancient Mars

Posted November 17th, 2014 at 7:09 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Early in Mars history water formed an open-basin lake, filling the crater, forming a delta, and breaching the lower rim as water flowed to lower elevations (blue). (NASA/James Dickson, Brown University)

Early in Mars history water formed an open-basin lake, filling the crater, forming a delta, and breaching the lower rim as water flowed to lower elevations (blue). (NASA/James Dickson, Brown University)

Exploratory missions to Mars, such as NASA’s Curiosity Rover, have provided more and more evidence that Mars at one time was warm enough for water to flow on its surface.

Now a new study published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” has found that those ancient, warm periods on the Red Planet probably took place in brief and sporadic spurts of time.

“This new analysis provides a mechanism for episodic periods of heating and melting of snow and ice that could have each lasted decades to centuries,” said James W. Head, the study’s co-author and a professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University, in a university press release.

The researchers from Brown University in the U.S. and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, suggest that the periods that saw warmth and flowing water on Mars some 3.7 billion years ago may have been the result of the expulsion of gases due to volcanic activity.

The U.S./Israeli study combined the impact of volcanic activity with fresh climatic data that gathered by the various Mars probes to create and update new Mars climate models.

Studying those newer climate models, researchers found several factors that would make it difficult for a warmer and wetter Red Planet to exist.

They said the Mars atmosphere was so thin it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the planet to retain enough heat to allow for water to flow freely on its surface.  They also suggested that many years ago our sun wasn’t quite as powerful as it is today.

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (left) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today. (NASA's Goddar Space Flight Center)

This artist’s concept depicts the early Martian environment (left) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today. (NASA’s Goddar Space Flight Center)

But ongoing research of the Red Planet’s geological features has suggested that when water flowed some 3.7 billion years ago, there was a lot of volcanic activity taking place, with gigantic volcanoes spewing out large amounts of lava.

Along with lava, ash and other , volcanoes also pumps out a good amount of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

While atmospheric sulfur dioxide here on Earth has been linked to the production of acid rain and global cooling, the researchers in this study believe that this gas may have affected the atmosphere of Mars differently.

To reach their findings the research team generated a model that examined how sulfuric acid might react with the extensive amounts of dust in the ancient Martian atmosphere.

The models suggested that the particles of sulfuric acid attached themselves onto the dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.  The combined particles of dust and sulfuric acid would have reduced the ability to reflect the rays of the sun.

And they also found that the sulfur dioxide gas pumped into the atmosphere by the volcanoes would also have created a slight greenhouse effect that provided just enough warmth to the equatorial region of Mars to allow water to flow.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Scientists consider the Dry Valleys to be the closest of any terrestrial environment to Mars. (NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)

The McMurdo Dry Valleys are a row of valleys west of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Scientists consider the Dry Valleys to be the closest of any terrestrial environment to Mars. (NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team)

Professor Head, who spent a number of years conducting research in Antarctica, said that he thinks the climate of ancient Mars may have been comparable to the frigid, desert-like conditions Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys.

“The average yearly temperature in the Antarctic Dry Valleys is way below freezing, but peak summer daytime temperatures can exceed the melting point of water, forming transient streams, which then refreeze,” Head said. “In a similar manner, we find that volcanism can bring the temperature on early Mars above the melting point for decades to centuries, causing episodic periods of stream and lake formation.”

The researchers said that warm Martian temperatures and flowing water on its surface ended with the cessation of the Red Planet’s volcanic activity.

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 Study: Universe Shines Brighter Than We Thought

Posted November 8th, 2014 at 1:08 am (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

Time-lapse photograph of one of the last Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launchses. Image was taken in 2013 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (T. Arai/University of Tokyo)

Time-lapse photograph of one of the last Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launchses. Image was taken in 2013 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (T. Arai/University of Tokyo)

Analysis of observations gathered by the first two Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) missions shows that the universe shines much brighter that had been thought.

CIBER scientists found that infrared light in what were thought to be dark areas of space between galaxies is producing a glow that gleams as brightly as all the known galaxies combined.

This glow was first detected by scientists working with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Our sky is filled with a diffuse background glow, known as the cosmic infrared background. (Adolf Schaller/STScI , Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA, Judy Schmidt)

Our sky is filled with a diffuse background glow, known as the cosmic infrared background. (Adolf Schaller/STScI , Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA, Judy Schmidt)

The team’s findings, which are outlined in a paper just published by the journal Science, could prompt scientists to rethink galaxy structure.  Galaxy boundaries may not be as well defined as thought, but instead stretch out over a great distance to create an immense and interconnected ocean of stars.

Members of the CIBER team, which is an international group of scientists from various universities and government laboratories, hope their findings will help settle whether this infrared glow is something produced by a flow of individual stars stripped from their galaxies as a result of galactic collisions, or from the first galaxies formed in the universe.

“We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions,” said the paper’s lead author, Michael Zemcov, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”

This graphic illustrates how the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic illustrates how the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The theory that this background light is produced by the stream of orphaned stars gained even more favor after the CIBER team noticed that the infrared light appeared to be too bright and too blue to originate from the earliest galaxies of the universe.

Those first galaxies, according to the CIBER team, would produce colors of light that would much more red than what was observed.

“The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves,” said CIBER project principal investigator James Bock from Caltech and JPL.

From 2010 until 2013, the CIBER project launched a total of four suborbital “sounding rockets,” each carrying a package of instruments that allowed the international group of universities and government laboratories to characterize near infrared (IR) background light.

CIBER’s instruments took images of the cosmic background light at two infrared wavelengths shorter than can be detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

CIBER scientists had to make their observations and conduct their studies from instruments that were in flown into space since Earth’s own atmosphere also happens to glow brilliantly at the very same wavelengths of light that were needed to make their studies.

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video
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: Space Chiefs Commit to ISS Cooperation, ESA Prepares for Comet Landing, Media/Real Violence Study

Posted November 6th, 2014 at 1:00 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

International Space Station Agency Heads (NASA)

International Space Station Agency Heads (NASA)

Space Agency Heads Reaffirm Commitment to ISS

While the media has occasionally suggested over the past few months that the current diplomatic tension between the U.S. and Russia could impact the future of the International Space Station (ISS) mission, the heads of the space agencies involved with operating the ISS from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States just reaffirmed their support for continuing ISS operations.

The quintet of space leaders met yesterday (11/4/14) in Paris, France and issued a joint statement that reiterate their commitment to the ISS mission.

In their statement, the heads of the ISS partner agencies said that they are continuing to work through each their own government’s procedures so that the space station mission could continue until at least 2020.  The U.S. has committed to extend the use of the ISS until at least 2024, while other partner nations are considering a similar extension.

 

Philae's primary landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been named Agilkia (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Philae’s primary landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been named Agilkia (© ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

ESA Renames Landing Site for Comet Probe

One week from today (11/12/14), if all goes according to plan, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send its Philae lander down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft to softly touchdown on the nucleus of a comet.

The lander, which hitched a ride to the comet aboard its mother ship, the Rosetta, will be sent to a location on the comet’s surface that was recently named Agilkia.  The landing location, formerly known as ‘Site J’, was named for Agilkia Island, which is located on the Nile River in the south of Egypt.

Agilkia was selected as the name of Philae’s landing by members of the Philae Lander Steering Committee.  The 150 names that led to the final selection came as the result of a public competition that ran from 10/16/14 to 10/22/14.

The winning name was submitted by Alexandre Brouste from France.  For his prize, the winner will be invited to ESA’s Space Operations Control Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to watch the Philae landing as it happens.

 

Teen playing video game (Margot Trudell via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Teen playing video game (Margot Trudell via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Studies: No Link Between Media Violence and Actual Violence

For years violent television programs, movies and even video games have been blamed for encouraging real-life violence.  Several studies conducted over the years have supported the violent media/societal violence link.

But two new studies conducted by researcher Christopher Ferguson from Florida’s Stetson University found no associations between the consumption of media violence with real violence.

In the first of the two studies, Ferguson researched the number of depictions of violence as well as just how graphic the violence portrayed in popular movies was between 1920 and 2005. He then compared that with the rates of homicide in those years.

He found that, in general, there was really no connection between movie and actual violence.

The second study looked at the consumption of violent videogames in relation to the incidents of youth violence from 1996 until 2011.

The results of this study indicated that there were actually declines in youth violence, despite the level of violent video game consumption.  But Ferguson said that he thought mere chance was more responsible for this drop in violence than kids who played violent video games.

Ferguson’s studies were published in the ‘Journal of Communication’.

 

University of Alabama Birmingham scientists including Anath Shalev (right), director of UAB's Comprehensive Diabetes Center, have uncovered that the drug verapamil, which is now used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, eradicated diabetes in animal tests (UAB News)

University of Alabama Birmingham scientists including Anath Shalev (right), director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center, have uncovered that the drug verapamil, which is now used to treat high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and migraine headaches, eradicated diabetes in animal tests (UAB News)

Experimental Drug Cured Diabetes in Animal Tests

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are offering type 1 diabetes patients a ray of hope. In animal studies, a drug called verapamil, which is currently being used to help control blood pressure, also completely reversed diabetes.

As a result of that success the researchers will pursue human clinical trials some time in 2015.

The researchers said the upcoming human trial will allow them to test an approach that will focus on beta cells in the pancreas. These are the specialized cells that produce insulin, which is used by the body to control blood sugar.

Called “the repurposing of verapamil as a beta cell survival therapy in type 1 diabetes,” the upcoming clinical trial comes as result of more than a decade of studies.

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

New Research Reveals Ominous Future for Universe

Posted November 3rd, 2014 at 6:59 pm (UTC+0)
5 comments

Data provided by Sloan Digital Sky Survey and others was used to study the nature of dark energy. (Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Data provided by Sloan Digital Sky Survey and others was used to study the nature of dark energy. (Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

A team of British and Italian scientists recently conducted research that suggests an ominous future for the universe.

In a paper just published by the journal Physical Review Letters, the scientists said a review of new astronomical data found that dark energy (a theoretical form of energy that cosmologists believe is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe) is increasing as it feeds off dark matter (a hypothetical form of matter that is invisible to electromagnetic radiation).

This increase in dark energy at the expense of dark matter, according to the team’s research, appears to be slowing the growth of structures such as galaxies and galaxy clusters in the universe.

“This study is about the fundamental properties of space-time. On a cosmic scale, this is about our universe and its fate,” said Professor David Wands, Director of the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, and a member of the research team in a University press release.  “If the dark energy is growing and dark matter is evaporating we will end up with a big, empty, boring universe with almost nothing in it.”

According to Wands, dark matter supplies the basis or a type of scaffolding for various cosmological structures to grow in the universe.  So if indeed dark energy is consuming the dark matter, as their research indicates, the disappearance of this material is slowing down the growth of such structures in the universe.

Italian research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said (University of Portsmouth)

Italian research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said (University of Portsmouth)

Along with Wands, the research team also included his University of Portsmouth colleague Dr. Marco Bruni, Professor Alessandro Melchiorri and researchers Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said from the Sapienza University of Rome.

To reach their findings, the team studied and analyzed the data from a number of astronomical surveys, which included the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.  With the extensive data sets, they were able to study the growth of cosmological structures that the astronomical data from the surveys revealed, so they could test various models of dark energy that had been developed.

U.S. scientists Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess along with Brian Schmidt of Australia shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for finding evidence that the Universe is not only expanding, but is doing so at an increasingly accelerated speed.

Riess and Schmidt worked together in the High-z Supernova Search Team, while Perlmutter led the Supernova Cosmology Project. Both teams made their prize winning findings at almost the same time.

Both teams of scientists made their virtually identical findings after studying something called a Type 1a supernovae and noticed that more distant objects appeared to be moving faster.

(Space Telescope Institute)

(Space Telescope Institute)

These findings were said to have shaken the study of cosmology to its roots, according to a number of scientists.

“Since the late 1990s astronomers have been convinced that something is causing the expansion of our Universe to accelerate,” said Wands. “The simplest explanation was that empty space – the vacuum – had an energy density that was a cosmological constant.

Wand went on to say that there is, however, increasing proof that the simple models provided by the research of the 1990’s cannot explain many things scientists are now finding in fresher and more extensive astronomical data that’s being made available, such his team’s findings that found cosmic structures like galaxies and clusters of galaxies seem to be growing slower than expected.

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 – October, 2014

Posted October 31st, 2014 at 6:57 pm (UTC+0)
Comments are closed

In this photo does the sun look like a jack-o-lantern to you?  This image showing the active regions of the sun was released by NASA on 10/8/14. Happy Halloween! (NASA)

In this photo does the sun look like a jack-o-lantern to you? This image showing the active regions of the sun was released by NASA on 10/8/14. Happy Halloween! (NASA)

An unmanned Antares rocket that was to send a commercial cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded into a spectacular ball of fire seconds after launch on 10/28/14. (NASA-TV)

An unmanned Antares rocket that was to send a commercial cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded into a spectacular ball of fire seconds after launch on 10/28/14. (NASA-TV)

Russia’s space cargo vehicle Progress 57 is seen approaching the International Space Station on 10/29/14, just hours after a NASA rocket carrying a similar spacecraft exploded. (NASA)

Russia’s space cargo vehicle Progress 57 is seen approaching the International Space Station on 10/29/14, just hours after a NASA rocket carrying a similar spacecraft exploded. (NASA)

Rows of robots are covered in plastic sheets at a Kuka Robotics plant in Shanghai.  China said it wants domestic companies to buy more locally made robots to lift productivity, but industry insiders have warned these policies are over-stimulating the market. (Reuters)

Rows of robots are covered in plastic sheets at a Kuka Robotics plant in Shanghai. China said it wants domestic companies to buy more locally made robots to lift productivity, but industry insiders have warned these policies are over-stimulating the market. (Reuters)

This image, released on 10/30/14, is of a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 2744, which is also nicknamed Pandora's Cluster.  Astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope recently found forensic evidence of galaxies torn apart long ago in this area of space. The glow comes from stars scattered into intergalactic space as a result of a galaxy's disintegration. (NASA/ESA)

This image, released on 10/30/14, is of a massive galaxy cluster called Abell 2744, which is also nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster. Astronomers, using the Hubble Space Telescope, recently found forensic evidence of galaxies torn apart long ago in this area of space. The glow comes from stars scattered into intergalactic space as a result of a galaxy’s disintegration. (NASA/ESA)

The sun peeks over the edge of Earth in a photo, taken on 10/29/14, by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the International Space Station. (NASA)

The sun peeks over the edge of Earth in a photo taken on 10/29/14 by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman from the International Space Station. (NASA)

Two members of the US Department of Defense's Ebola Military Medical Support Team are seen here, on 10/24/14, helping each other with the protective gear they wore during training at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio. (AP)

Two members of the US Department of Defense’s Ebola Military Medical Support Team help each other with the protective gear during training at San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. (AP)

The 10/8/14 lunar eclipse is can be seen behind a statue entitled "Enlightenment Giving Power" by John Gelert.  The statue sits atop the dome of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, N.J.  (AP)

The 10/8/14 lunar eclipse is can be seen behind a statue entitled “Enlightenment Giving Power” by John Gelert. The statue sits atop the dome of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, N.J. (AP)

Russian astronauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev walk in space outside of the International Space Station to inspect and perform maintenance outside the ISS’ Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) on 10/22/14. (NASA)

Russian astronauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev walk in space outside of the International Space Station to inspect and perform maintenance on the ISS’ Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) on 10/22/14. (NASA)

Teams of robots competed against each other on 10/10/14 in the three day 2014 China Robot Competition and Robocup China Open in Hefei, Anhui province. (Reuters)

Teams of robots competed against each other on 10/10/14 in the three-day 2014 China Robot Competition and Robocup China Open in Hefei, Anhui province. (Reuters)

The bay doors of the space shuttle Endeavour are shown wide open following the installation of a space lab, storage pod, replica robotic arm and docking system on 10/10/14.  After being retired following its final mission on 3/9/11, the Endeavor is now being kept at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

The bay doors of the space shuttle Endeavour are shown wide open following the installation of a space lab, storage pod, replica robotic arm and docking system on 10/10/14. After being retired following its final mission on 3/9/11, the Endeavor is now being kept at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (AP)

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, which brushed past Mars for a rare flyby on 10/19/14.  The image of the comet was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li)

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, brushed past Mars for a rare flyby on 10/19/14. The image of the comet was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li)

A boy visiting Tokyo’s “Hikari the Wonder of Light” exhibition on 10/29/14 is seen here looking at a kimono, made from silkworm cocoons, that glow yellow when it’s exposed to blue LEDs. (Reuters)

A boy visiting Tokyo’s “Hikari the Wonder of Light” exhibition on 10/29/14 looks at a kimono, made from silkworm cocoons, that glow yellow when it’s exposed to blue LEDs. (Reuters)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, shown here in the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility was finished 10/30/14.  It will be rolled out to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 11/10/14 and will be launched for a test flight on 12/4/14. (NASA/Lockheed Martin)

NASA’s Orion spacecraft, shown here in the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility was finished 10/30/14. It will be rolled out to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 11/10/14 and will be launched for a test flight on 12/4/14. (NASA/Lockheed Martin)

Astronaut-diver Julien Bonini is seen training in a swimming pool located in Marseille, France on 10/22/14. Ms. Bonini and her fellow astronauts were being trained underwater to help develop expertise in partial gravity spacewalks. (Reuters)

Astronaut-diver Julien Bonini is seen training in a swimming pool located in Marseille, France on 10/22/14. Ms. Bonini and her fellow astronauts were being trained underwater to help develop expertise in partial gravity spacewalks. (Reuters)

Fossilized fragments from the right tibia of a Tachiraptor admirabilis are seen during a news conference in Caracas

Fossilized fragments from the right tibia of a rare carnivorous dinosaur called Tachiraptor admirabilis are displayed at a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela on 10/17/14. An international team of scientists discovered the remains of the dinosaur in Western Venezuela. (Reuters)

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.