Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

Posted February 9th, 2016 at 10:19 am (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

The start of the 2016 South Pole Marathon. Six out of the 11 people who competed in the full 26.2 mile course, finished the run.

The start of the 2016 South Pole Marathon. Six out of the 11 people who competed in the full 26.2 mile course, finished the run.

It’s Christmas day 2010. Fifty runners gather at the geographic South Pole to participate in the Race Around the World, a 2.2 mile (3.5 kilometer) “fun run”. The event is largely a casual affair. Many participants are in holiday-themed costumes and a few are riding in sleds pulled by snowmobiles. No one cares about how fast they move and, for many, it will take close to an hour to complete the course.

SOUTH POLE JOURNAL
Refael Klein blogs about his year working and living at the South Pole. Read his earlier posts here.

For a select few, however, the race is a serious affair. They’ve trained all summer for it; some have trained all year. To win means more than bragging rights. It means a ticket back to McMurdo Station to compete in the McMurdo Marathon.

In 2010, the Race Around the World was won by a dish-pit worker who, some say, came to the South Pole purely for the opportunity to compete in the McMurdo Marathon. In the days leading up to his departure, weather at the Pole deteriorated and eventually all flights, including his, were canceled.

Forlorn, but still determined to run a marathon in Antarctica, our protagonist organized the first-ever South Pole Marathon. Only a handful of people participated, even fewer finished, and when the final runner crossed the finish line at a little over 7 hours with a face full of frost nip, many thought it was the conclusion of a one-time event. After all, how alluring is running 26.2 miles (42 kilometers) at 10,000 feet (3048 meters) when it’s minus 31 Celsius (minus 25 Fahrenheit) out?

A group photo before the start of the 2016 South Pole Marathon.

A group photo before the start of the 2016 South Pole Marathon.

Last week, against my better judgment, I decided to participate in the sixth annual South Pole Marathon. I had gone on a 10-mile (16-kilometer) training run the week prior to make sure I could run double digits, and then talked myself into competing by making the argument that 10 miles was half of 20 miles, and that all I had to do was double my previous week’s run and then add another six and I’d be done. It was a convincing train of thought, so I signed up.

At 1:07 in the afternoon, 23 of us — 12 running the half marathon, 11 running the full — took off across the starting line at the geographic South Pole. The course was comprised of a single 13.1 mile (21-kilometer) loop that followed “groomed roads”. I would need to run it twice to finish.

There were two aid stations on the loop, “warm up shacks” stocked with food, drink and someone with a radio, in case our legs or motivation gave out and we needed to call for a pick-up. My strategy, which I devised about five minutes before “Ready, Set, Go”, was to run the first loop without breaking and then take advantage of the aid stations on my second go around.  I wanted to get a significant amount of the race behind me before sitting down in a heated outbuilding, as I feared that my first exposure to above-zero temperatures and hot chocolate would de-motivate me and destroy my mental game.

The first 13 miles (20 kilometers) went smoothly. It was cold out and windy, but my 10-minute mile (1.6 kilometer) pace was enough to keep me warm and in a competitive position. When I hit the first aid station at the start of my second loop, I was in fifth place and, apart from a bit frost nip on my nose, felt good. I took about 10 minutes to warm up, eat a candy bar, drink a few cups of tea and stretch.

At the two-hour-and-45 minute mark, I left the aid station and took off on my final lap. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped. Although, thinking back now, it may have just been my body adjusting from the comfort of artificial heat to the ungodly cold of the ice cap. Either way, it felt noticeably worse out and, in the first few minutes after leaving the “warm-up shack”, I thought about turning around and radioing for a snowmobile to take me back to station.

Victory! That's me inside the finish line Warm Up Shack, happy to be done running, and looking better then I feel.

Victory! That’s me inside the finish line Warm Up Shack, happy to be done running, and looking better then I feel.

Fortunately, my stubbornness to continue moving won out and, an hour later, I found myself at mile 19 (kilometer 30). My legs had begun to feel a little tight but, this far into the race, I wasn’t turning back, even if I had to crawl the last mile.

Mile 20 (kilometer 32) marked the beginning of the end for me. My legs cramped and whatever calories I still had in reserve vanished. I began alternating running and walking.  Running for 5 minutes and then walking for five but, by the time I made it to the 22-mile (35 kilometer) aid station, it was more like walking punctuated with the occasional shuffle.

After a 15-minute break that included a bowl of curry soup and a coconut energy bar, I tugged my mittens back on and headed out the door for what I hoped would be a strong finish.

A half mile in, my strength dissolved. While running, I felt about as competent as a giraffe making its way through a pool of Jello. I started walking again, then tried to run, but couldn’t. My legs had revolted. All they would allow me to do was walk, and poorly at that.

The final miles were endless. One foot in front of the other, 18-inch (45-centimeter) stride to 18-inch stride to 18-inch stride, all the way to the finish line. I finally stumbled into the aid station and checked my time: 6 hours,15 minutes.

Fifth place overall and one of six that finished.

Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole every Tuesday here on Science World.

 

 

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Posted February 8th, 2016 at 3:55 pm (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

Summer temperatures were reconstructed from tree rings in the Russian Altai (red) and the European Alps (blue). Horizontal bars, shadings and stars refer to major plague outbreaks, rising and falling empires, large-scale human migrations, and political turmoil. (Past Global Changes International Project Office)

Summer temperatures were reconstructed from tree rings in the Russian Altai (red) and the European Alps (blue). Horizontal bars, shadings and stars refer to major plague outbreaks, rising and falling empires, large-scale human migrations, and political turmoil. (Past Global Changes International Project Office)

Much has been written about the wide reaching impact of the “Little Ice Age,” a period of global cooling that lasted approximately from the mid-13th to the mid-19th centuries.

Now, an international team of researchers say they have come across another extraordinary, extended period of cooling that took place in the northern hemisphere between 536 to around 660 AD, and have connected it to some significant and transformative changes in world history.

This multidisciplinary research team, made up of climatologists, naturalists, historians and linguists, is part of the Past Global Changes Project (PAGES).  The team examined tree rings from the Russian Altai and European Alps to gauge summer temperatures over the past 2,000 years.  Scientists say that tree ring width can be used to reliably estimate summer temperatures.

Calling it the “Late Antique Little Ice Age,” the researchers say this roughly 150-year drop in temperature began soon after three large and successive volcanic eruptions in 536, 540 and 547 AD.

Large amounts of volcanic ash and particulates that get blasted into the atmosphere form a dusty veil that shields the Earth from incoming sunlight.

Periods of cooling and other climatic changes have long been linked with volcanic eruptions.

Because of reduced sunlight and cooling temperatures it is thought that food supplies were most likely affected by these volcanic eruptions, since there were reports of major famine at that time.

The researchers note that the world’s first recorded pandemic, known as the Justinian Plague, named after the 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I, which swept through the Mediterranean area and killed millions of people, began in 541, only five years after the start of the “Late Antique Little Ice Age.”

Researchers analyzed tree rings to reconstruct summer temperatures for the last 2,000 years. (Christian Schnettelker via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Researchers analyzed tree rings to reconstruct summer temperatures for the last 2,000 years. (Christian Schnettelker via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Outlining their findings in a study published by the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers propose that the drop in temperature, subsequent famine, plague pandemic and other associated events may have played a role in one of the most tempestuous periods in European and Central Asian history.

“This was the most dramatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 2000 years,” said the study’s lead author, Ulf Büntgen of the Swiss Federal Research Institute in a press-release.

However, farther south, in the Arabian Peninsula, conditions were quite the opposite.

The normally hot and arid region received more rain than usual during this time, which in turn produced much more plant  life.

The researchers say that the increase in vegetation helped produce and expand herds of camels which were used by armies to carry out successful military operations that spawned and grew the Arab Empire.

Büntgen points out that the research conducted by the PAGES team demonstrates how sudden changes in climate can have an impact on the world’s political systems.

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.

Antarctic Dinosaur Hunt; 60 Days in Bed For Science; Noise May Disturb Sea Floor Ecosystem

Posted February 5th, 2016 at 4:20 pm (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

James Ross Island from NASA's DC-8 aircraft during an AirSAR 2004 mission over the Antarctic Peninsula (NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

James Ross Island from NASA’s DC-8 aircraft during an AirSAR 2004 mission over the Antarctic Peninsula (NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

Did Some of Today’s Species Get Their Start in Antarctica?

We know Antarctica is the land of snow and ice and is the coldest place on Earth.  But believe it or not, this polar continent, was once quite warm, due to the different, earlier atmosphere.  Antarctica was covered with lush vegetation and teeming with a variety life, including dinosaurs.

An international group of scientists, supported by the National Science Foundation, have begun a month long expedition to Antarctica to look for proof that it may have been where a number of today’s species got their start.

Most of any fossil evidence of such rich and diverse life is likely buried beneath the continent’s incredibly thick ice.

But, those heading up the expedition will focus their search in areas where rocks containing fossils are more accessible, such as on James Ross Island and others just off the Antarctic Peninsula.

They hope to find fossils that date from the Cretaceous through the Paleogene period, some 100 to 40 million years ago.  This time span covers the end of the Age of Dinosaurs through the start of the Age of Mammals.

A langoustine/Nephrops norvegicus. (University of Southhampton)

A langoustine/Nephrops norvegicus. (University of Southhampton)

Sounds of Human Activity Could Impact Sea Floor Ecosystems

A new study published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, finds that the behavior of some marine invertebrates, who make their home on the seafloor, can be affected by sounds related to human activity.

Researchers at England’s University of Southampton found that these animals, who play an important role in maintaining marine ecosystems, become less active when exposed to man-made sounds such as those produced by ship traffic or offshore construction activity.

Creatures, such as langoustines, Manila clams and brittlestars live in burrows they dig in the sediment of the ocean’s floor.  Creating the burrows and movement into and out of their homes stirs up the sea floor, which is considered vital in recycling nutrients and storing carbon.

The researchers say any reduction in the animal’s disturbance of the sediment can cause it to become compacted, which reduces its oxygen level.  This could lead to conditions which could have a negative impact on the area’s ecosystem.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot (Photo: NASA/JPL)

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (Photo: NASA/JPL)

Ancient Astronomers Used Geometry to Track Jupiter

A recent study published in the journal Science suggests that Babylonian astronomers from about 350 to 50 BC used some rather sophisticated geometric calculations to track the position and movement of Jupiter.

These new findings appear to contradict previously held beliefs that these complex mathematical techniques weren’t developed until the 1400’s by scholars in Oxford and Paris.

Mathieu Ossendrijver, a science historian from the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Cluster of Excellence Topoi reached his findings after analyzing several ancient cuneiform tablets.

While he didn’t notice any drawings on the tablets, he did find some geometric calculations that pinpointed the position of Jupiter from when it was first seen on the horizon to where it would be 60 and 120 days later.

According to Ossendrijver, the calculations are based on the area of a trapezoid.  He also says by dividing the trapezoid into two smaller ones of equal area, the Babylonian astronomers were also able to calculate the time when Jupiter covered half of this 60-day distance.

(Photo: Bernard Wee via Flickr)

(Photo: Bernard Wee via Flickr)

Study: Frequent Facebook Visits a Sign of Sleep Deprivation?

California scientists say they have found people who frequently check their Facebook pages may not be doing so because they enjoy the interactivity of social media, but because they may not be getting enough sleep.

After analyzing data collected from 76 undergraduate students, researchers from the University of California, Irvine say they found a direct link between chronic lack of sleep, a bad mood and an increased dependence on checking out Facebook pages.

The study also showed a link between sleep deprivation and being distracted.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Gloria Mark, if someone is distracted, they often go online and check their Facebook page because it’s easy and they’re tired.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called sleep deprivation a public health epidemic. Lack of sleep has been linked to potentially life threatening incidents like car and industrial accidents.

Those who are sleep deprived are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, as well as from cancer.

Short-Arm Human Centrifuge at DLR Cologne is equipped with a new Artificial Gravity Training Device (DLR/Christian Gahl)

Short-Arm Human Centrifuge at DLR Cologne is equipped with a new Artificial Gravity Training Device (DLR/Christian Gahl)

NASA/ESA Research Will Send Volunteers to Bed for 60 Days

To help prepare for extended spaceflight to an asteroid or perhaps Mars, the European Space Agency and NASA are planning to send a group of volunteers to bed for 60 days.

It’s hoped that more can be learned about the effects of space and artificial gravity on the human body.

According to NASA prolonged exposure to the weightless environment of space travel can cause a number of physiological problems such as muscle fiber shrinkage and bone loss.

To help prevent negative impact of weightlessness astronauts aboard the ISS currently exercise about two hours a day.

Along with keeping the volunteers in bed for 60 days researchers at the DLR German Aerospace Center, in Cologne will also put them on a centrifuge to see if artificial gravity produced by the rotating machine will offset of the negative effects of weightlessness.

The ESA/DLR researchers conducted one 60 day bed-rest study last November it didn’t include the centrifuge tests.

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.

First Flight of NASA’s New Space Launch System Will Carry 13 CubeSats

Posted February 3rd, 2016 at 3:00 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

Artist rendering of a 70 metric-ton crew vehicle SLS  blasting off from a NASA launchpad.  (NASA/MSFC)

Artist rendering of a 70 metric-ton crew vehicle SLS blasting off from a NASA launchpad. (NASA/MSFC)

NASA says the planned 2018 inaugural flight of its new and powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will test the performance of the SLS and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system before it can be used to send humans into space.

This initial flight, called Exploration Mission-1 or EM-1, will also carry 13 CubeSats (miniature satellites) on the Orion.

The space agency says that the EM-1 mission will provide the rare opportunity for the CubeSats to reach deep space destinations, since most current launch opportunities for the little satellites are from low-Earth orbit.

The CubeSats will be deployed from dispensers on the Orion spacecraft with spring mechanisms after it separates from the SLS’ upper stage and is a safe distance away.

Artist conception of the Lunar Flashlight one of 13 CubeSat experiments that will fly on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, will examine the moon’s surface for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted. (NASA)

Artist conception of the Lunar Flashlight one of 13 CubeSat experiments that will fly on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, will examine the moon’s surface for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted. (NASA)

The mini-satellites will conduct a variety of studies the space agency says will help open the way for future human exploration of deep space destinations including Mars.

Once deployed, transmitters on the CubeSat’s will be switched on and their signals will be monitored by ground stations on Earth.

“The 13 CubeSats that will fly to deep space as secondary payloads aboard SLS on EM-1 showcase the intersection of science and technology, and advance our journey to Mars,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman in a NASA press release.

Some of the experiments that will be carried out by the CubeSat’s include low moon orbits to gather information about its surface and look for water, ice and other lunar resources.

Others will include a photographic and observational trip near to an asteroid as well as one that will use yeast to investigate the effect of deep space radiation on living organisms over the course of a long journey into deep space.

According a NASA spokesperson, after being launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the SLS will travel to the moon, then use lunar gravity to help propel it thousands of kilometers beyond the moon and make a return trip to earth.

For the EM-1 mission, the SLS will be powered by four RS-25 engines and two boosters which NASA says will provide a lift capability of at least minimum 70-metric-tons.

Space Launch System Carries CubeSat Explorers During First Mission (NASA/MSFC)
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.

What Happens to Decades of Human Junk at the South Pole

Posted February 2nd, 2016 at 2:31 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

A recently groomed road between two berms.  (Photo by Hunter Davis)

A recently groomed road between two berms. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

The United States has had a permanent presence at the South Pole since 1959.

SOUTH POLE JOURNAL
Refael Klein blogs about his year working and living at the South Pole. Read his earlier posts here.

Like anyone  who has lived in the same spot for the better half of a century, the Antarctic Program at Amundson-Scott Station has managed to accumulate a lot of stuff. There are stacks of old mattresses, piles of broken treadmills, a lumberyard’s worth of wooden dunnage, and boxes of bacon that some say date back to the Clinton administration.

An endless task. A volunteer shovels snow off of a berm. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

An endless task. A volunteer shovels snow off of a berm. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

So why do we hold onto so much junk?

The answer has two parts: (1) we are living in the most remote place on earth, so having our own personal scrap yard is a great resource for spare parts, and materials and (2) flying back planeloads of potentially useful things is expensive and eats up space for time-sensitive shipments on-board our aircraft.

Though Amundson-Scott station is massive, our inside storage space is limited. That’s why most of the station’s materials, including most of our food stuffs, are stored outside in a maze of snow structures known as The Berms.

Berms are large piles of snow built into long, narrow rectangular shapes, using snow plows. Most berms are only few feet tall by a few feet wide, but they can be many hundreds of feet long.

Everything we don’t know what to do with, but can’t bare to throw out or excess off continent, is loaded onto The Berms using fork trucks and heavy equipment. There is a berm for lumber, a berm for old kitchen equipment, a berm for boxes, and a berm for wooden spools.

All berms are built into the wind so that blowing snow only drifts in on one side. In theory, this is supposed to keep the materials we store on top of them exposed, which it does, sort of. The thing is, while the berms do a good job of preventing the build-up of major drifts, the fact they are uncovered, and open to the elements, means that falling snow still accumulates.

 Berming Man volunteers gather outside to enjoy an open fire, a rare sight at the South Pole. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Berming Man volunteers gather outside to enjoy an open fire, a rare sight at the South Pole. (Photo by Refael Klein)

At the South Pole, we see about 23 centimeters (9 inches) of precipitation each year. That’s snow that never melts, so it builds up, burying materials and making finding something in the berms, say a replacement window, about as difficult as playing eye-spy with a blindfold.

Berm maintenance hadn’t been addressed in a few years so, last Saturday, the Materials Department — the group in charge of storing and keeping track of all the station’s property — organized the first ever Berming Man Celebration, a combination community work day and music extravaganza similar to Nevada’s Burning Man Festival, just with more clothes and more manual labor.

Close to 50 people volunteered their time working on the berms, and more than 100 attended the festival. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Close to 50 people volunteered their time working on the berms, and more than 100 attended the festival. (Photo by Refael Klein)

Having always enjoyed shoveling driveways, I volunteered to join the crew digging out the lumber and gas cylinder berms. It was a minus 29 Celsius (minus 20 Fahrenheit) and windy, but the work was strenuous and kept me warm. I spent most of the day in a hooded wool sweatshirt with no jacket or gloves.

There is something ironic about shoveling snow on top of a 3.2 kilometer (two mile) thick ice cap. After four hours of it, we quit and hitched rides on snowmobiles back to the station for a warm meal.

Berning Man’s festivities began at 8 p.m.. Five bands were set to perform on a stage set up in a heated plywood outbuilding about a half-kilometer (quarter-mile) south of the station.

While guitars were tuned and amplifiers put in place, I stepped outside to where a small group of people gathered around the remains of an old charcoal barbecue that had been converted into a fire pit. The flames were well stoked. Billows of smoke swirled into the air.

I was mesmerized. I hadn’t smelled campfire smoke in many months. When the first power cord was struck, the walls of the building shook with the audience’s excitement. I didn’t hear anything but the occasional crackle and hiss of dry wood.

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.

Moon Born from a Violent Head-On Collision

Posted February 1st, 2016 at 3:28 pm (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

The extremely similar chemical composition of rocks on the Earth and moon helped scientists determine that a head-on collision, not a glancing blow, took place between Earth and Theia. ((c) William Hartmann)

The extremely similar chemical composition of rocks on the Earth and moon helped scientists determine that a head-on collision, not a glancing blow, took place between Earth and Theia. ((c) William Hartmann)

It’s been theorized by a number of scientists that the moon was formed as the result of a collision between an early Earth and a protoplanet known as Theia, named after the mother of the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology, some 4.5 billion years ago (around 100 million years after Earth formed).

But scientists seem to differ on the ferocity of the collision. Some say that Earth grazed Theia at an angle of 45° while others, including those who have just published a new study in the journal Science, say that the collision was more of a violent, head-on crash.

The new study from an international team of scientists, led by geochemists from UCLA, examined rocks taken from the moon by Apollo astronauts and volcanic rocks from the Earth’s mantle.

Using new state of the art methods and technology, including UCLA’s new mass spectrometer, the researchers studied oxygen isotopes in both the moon and earth rocks and found that the chemical signature created from the ratio of the isotopes were the same.

“We don’t see any difference between the Earth’s and the Moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” says the study’s lead author Edward Young, a professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry at UCLA in a press release.

The new findings are different to those made in 2014 by German scientists who found that the moon had a different ratio of oxygen isotopes than Earth.

Young says that identical oxygen chemical signatures in both Earth and moon rocks supports their theory that Earth and Theia had a violent head-on collision. If the collision between the two was a glancing blow, Young says that most of the Moon would have been mostly made up of Theia.

“Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the Moon, and evenly dispersed between them,” Young said. “This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the Moon versus the Earth.”

Young says that while Theia wasn’t able to survive the violent collision intact, parts of the proto-planet do make up significant portions of Earth and Moon today. He also says that if the collision never happened, Theia would have gone onto become a full-fledged planet that would have been about the same size of Earth. Other scientists differ and say that Theia’s size would have been smaller, perhaps the size of Mars.

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.

January 2016 Science Images

Posted January 29th, 2016 at 3:55 pm (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

Small remote controlled drones have become a popular item lately but this is one is big enough to actually carry a passenger.  This is the EHang 184 that was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/6/16. (AP)

Small remote controlled drones have become a popular item lately but this is one is big enough to actually carry a passenger. This is the EHang 184 that was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/6/16. (AP)

This is the Trumpler 14 star cluster as imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  Astronomers say this cluster is one of the largest gatherings of hot, massive and bright stars in the Milky Way. (NASA & ESA, Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Centro de Astrobiología, CSIC-INTA, Spain))

This is the Trumpler 14 star cluster as imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers say this cluster is one of the largest gatherings of hot, massive and bright stars in the Milky Way. (NASA & ESA, Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Centro de Astrobiología, CSIC-INTA, Spain))

On 1/16/16 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly posted this image of an orange zinnia flower he grew in the International Space Station’s Veggie plant growth system. Kelly has been aboard the ISS since March, 2015 and is scheduled to return to Earth in two months. (NASA)

On 1/16/16 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly posted this image of an orange zinnia flower he grew in the International Space Station’s Veggie plant growth system. Kelly has been aboard the ISS since March, 2015 and is scheduled to return to Earth in two months. (NASA)

In an image released on 1/18/16, a female Aedes aegypti mosquito is seen drawing a blood meal from the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This mosquito species can spread the Zika virus, which is spreading in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. (AP)

In an image released on 1/18/16, a female Aedes aegypti mosquito is seen drawing a blood meal from the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo’s University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This mosquito species can spread the Zika virus, which is spreading in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. (AP)

Using data gathered by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, this is a composite image of the Smith Cloud that was released on 1/28/16. The Smith Cloud is an immense cloud of hydrogen gas scientists say traveled through and out of the Milky Way about 70 million years ago and is boomeranging back toward our galaxy at a speed of about 11,265,419 km/h. Scientists expect the gas cloud to collide with our galaxy in about 30 million years from now. (NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STSc) B. Saxton and F. Lockman (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and A. Mellinger)

Using data gathered by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, this is a composite image of the Smith Cloud that was released on 1/28/16. The Smith Cloud is an immense cloud of hydrogen gas scientists say traveled through and out of the Milky Way about 70 million years ago and is boomeranging back toward our galaxy at a speed of about 11,265,419 km/h. Scientists expect the gas cloud to collide with our galaxy in about 30 million years from now. (NASA, ESA,  Z. Levay (STSc) B. Saxton, F. Lockman (NRAO/AUI/NSF), A. Mellinger)

Segway, the company that brought you the odd looking, two-wheeled personal vehicle presented their new Segway Advanced Personal Robot at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/6/16.  (AP)

Segway, the company that brought you the odd looking, two-wheeled personal vehicle presented their new Segway Advanced Personal Robot at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/6/16. (AP)

Webcam screen capture of technicians at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center installing the 18th and final panel of the James West Space Telescope’s 6.5 meter primary mirror on 1/29/16. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Webcam screen capture of technicians at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center installing the 18th and final panel of the James West Space Telescope’s 6.5 meter primary mirror on 1/29/16. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Released on 1/25/16, this is a Hubble Space Telescope image of two galaxies.  The one on the left-side is the edge of the LO95 0313-192 galaxy.  The spiral galaxy on the right-side is known as [LOY2001] J031549.8-190623. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Released on 1/25/16, this is a Hubble Space Telescope image of two galaxies. The one on the left-side is the edge of the LO95 0313-192 galaxy. The spiral galaxy on the right-side is known as [LOY2001] J031549.8-190623. (ESA/Hubble & NASA)

With hoverboards all the rage lately, Egmemory showed off its latest lineup of hoverboards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/7/16.  (AP)

With hoverboards all the rage lately, Egmemory showed off its latest lineup of hoverboards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 1/7/16. (AP)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the U.S.-European Jason-3 satellite blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 1/17/16.  The Jason-3 will continue a 23-year record of monitoring global sea level rise. (NASA)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the U.S.-European Jason-3 satellite blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 1/17/16. The Jason-3 will continue a 23-year record of monitoring global sea level rise. (NASA)

Scientists from the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit, uncover remains of 3,000 year old wooden stilt houses on 1/12/16. The houses, said to be the best preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain, were found preserved in silt, in a quarry. (Reuters)

Scientists from the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit, uncover remains of 3,000 year old wooden stilt houses on 1/12/16. The houses, said to be the best preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain, were found preserved in silt, in a quarry. (Reuters)

NASA released this image of Pluto’s atmosphere in infrared wavelengths on 1/21/16. The image was created from data gathered on 7/14/15 by the New Horizons Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA released this image of Pluto’s atmosphere in infrared wavelengths on 1/21/16. The image was created from data gathered on 7/14/15 by the New Horizons Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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 Ebola Drugs Possible; New Weather Satellite; Bacteria or Virus?

Posted January 22nd, 2016 at 12:44 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (CDC/Frederick Murphy)

Colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. (CDC/Frederick Murphy)

Ebola Antibodies Could Lead to Effective Vaccines and Therapies

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the 2014 West African Ebola Epidemic killed 11,316 people with about 28,638 suspected, probable, and confirmed cases of the deadly disease.

The worst outbreak of Ebola in history prompted researchers from around the world to work on developing ways to prevent and cure this viral scourge.

Now, scientists from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Tennessee, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have isolated antibodies from Ebola survivors and found that they can kill several strains of the virus.

They say their findings could lead to exciting new therapies that can protect people from Ebola and treat those who already have the virus.

The researchers say that several experimental Ebola antibody vaccines and therapies are already in development.

Artist rendering of Jason-3 satellite orbiting Earth (NASA/NOAA)

Artist rendering of Jason-3 satellite orbiting Earth (NASA/NOAA)

NASA Launches New Weather/Climate Satellite

An international oceanographic collaboration has a new tool to help it monitor the rise in global sea level after the successful launch of a meteorological satellite.

A Space X Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Jason-3 spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California recently.

The spacecraft will help continue efforts to measure changes in global ocean height by satellite that began in 1992 with the Topex/Poseidon mission.

The Jason 3 mission is a collaboration between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the French space agency, CNES and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

Over the more than twenty years since these satellite measurements began, researchers say that the world’s sea level has risen by 70 millimeters with an annual average increase of about 3 millimeters a year. Mission officials say that the new satellite will also improve weather, climate and ocean forecasts.

Young woman expresses her aversion to getting jabbed with a needle as a medical technician draws blood (Photo: US Navy)

Young woman expresses her aversion to getting jabbed with a needle as a medical technician draws blood (Photo: US Navy)

Bacterial or Viral?  Blood Test Helps Determine Infection Type

A team of experts at North Carolina’s Duke University are tweaking a simple new blood test they’ve developed that will allow medical professionals to determine whether a respiratory illness stems from a viral or bacterial infection.

Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics which are ineffective against viral infections.

The test will help doctors pinpoint the appropriate antibiotics to fight the infection, if it’s bacterial in nature, and consider other treatments if caused by a virus.

The scientists who are developing this blood test hope that it will help stem the trend of over-prescribing antibiotics, which some say have led to an increase antimicrobial resistant bacteria strains.

One of the lead researchers, Dr. Ephraim Tsalik, M.D., PhD., an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University said that about three-fourths of respiratory patients are prescribed antibiotics despite the fact that the majority have viral infections.

Japanese researchers have come up with a way to measure heartbeats remotely, in real time, and under controlled conditions with as much accuracy as electrocardiographs. (Kyoto University)

Japanese researchers have come up with a way to measure heartbeats remotely, in real time, and under controlled conditions with as much accuracy as electrocardiographs. (Kyoto University)

New Device Measures Heartbeat from a Distance

Japanese scientists say they’ve developed new technology that will allow a patient’s heartbeat to be remotely taken and measured, without intrusive instruments such as stethoscopes and body sensors.

Working with the Panasonic Corporation, the researchers from Kyoto University Center of Innovation say under the right conditions heart information gathered with their remote sensing system is as accurate as an electrocardiograph.

The researchers say their new technology will help lead to the development of a number of similar devices that will remotely gather a wide range of medical information from patients as they go about their normal day.

Hirouki Sakai, one of the researchers who created the new device says that his team tried to come up with something that would allow people a way to monitor their body in a casual and relaxed environment.

The researchers say that remote sensing technology might encourage people to keep a constant eye on their own health.

Sounds Communicate Emotions Better Than Words

Canadian researchers have found that non-verbal human sounds of emotion such as a scream of anger or alarm, a cry of sadness or a laugh of joy are able to better communicate feelings than spoken words.

Writing in a study published by the journal, Biological Psychology, the scientists from Montreal’s McGill University also discovered that our brains respond in just one-tenth of a second to these non-spoken vocalizations.

They say our ability to quickly recognize the non-spoken sounds of emotion was a matter of human survival long before language was even developed.

Working with 24 research subjects, the scientists found that sounds of happiness such as laughter registered quicker with the volunteers than either the sounds of sadness or anger.

But, angry sounds and speech produced longer lasting brain activity in their subject’s brains than either happiness or sadness. The researchers say that this indicates the brain focuses more on the sounds of anger so it could help warn of potentially threatening situations.

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.

Scientists Find Evidence of a Giant 9th Planet

Posted January 20th, 2016 at 12:24 pm (UTC-4)
3 comments

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

This artistic rendering shows the distant view from Planet Nine back towards the sun. (Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC))

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology – Caltech -are reporting that they have found evidence of a giant planet traveling in an odd and drawn out orbit in the far reaches of the solar system.

If confirmed the newly found planet would be the solar system’s ninth planet. Pluto had that honor until it was demoted to dwarf planet status back in 2006.

The researchers say this possible new planet, they nicknamed “Planet Nine”, has a mass that’s about 10 times more than Earth and 5,000 times that of Pluto.

“Planet Nine” is thought to orbit the sun from a distance of nearly 20 times farther than Neptune, whose average distance to the sun is about 4.5 billion kilometers.

 Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of "Planet Nine". (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

Orbital paths of the six most distant known objects in the solar system (magenta) along with theorized path of “Planet Nine”. (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

The Caltech researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, who used mathematical modeling and computer simulations but not direct observations to make their discovery, figured that it would take “Planet Nine” between 10,000 and 20,000 years just to make one complete orbit around the sun.

“This would be a real ninth planet,” says Brown in a Caltech press release. “There have only been two true planets discovered since ancient times, and this would be a third. It’s a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that’s still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting.”

Brown and Batygin, who reported their findings in the Astronomical Journal, say that this new presumed planet is so large that there should be no doubt that it’s a true planet, once confirmed.

The researchers say they’re continuing to fine-tune their simulations so that they can find out more about the planet’s orbit, its impact on the outer solar system and have begun, along with others, to scan the skies for a direct look at “Planet Nine”.

Caltech Scientists Find Evidence of 9th Planet (Caltech)
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.

On Balmy, Below-Zero Day at South Pole, There’s Work to Do

Posted January 19th, 2016 at 3:46 pm (UTC-4)
Comments are closed

Refael Klein at work on the roof of the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) in the South Pole. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

Refael Klein at work on the roof of the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) at the South Pole. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

After a month at the South Pole, you begin to adapt to the frigid conditions.

Your body becomes more efficient at generating heat and your metabolism shifts into overdrive — every calorie you consume is burned.

As your tolerance of the polar environment changes, so do your perceptions of warm and cold. My first week on station was mind-numbingly chilly, temperatures hovered around minus 42 Celsius (minus -45 Fahrenheit).

This week has been delightfully balmy, with highs between minus 23 Celsius and minus 20 Celsius (minus 10 Fahrenheit and minus 4 Fahrenheit).

SOUTH POLE JOURNAL
Refael Klein blogs about his year working and living at the South Pole. Read his earlier posts here.

It feels bizarre saying that temperatures below zero are warm, but for us Polies, any climatic condition that allows you to walk on the ice without a balaclava is temperate.

When the weather is warm, we try to spend more of our time working on tasks outside. Even though it’s summer, temperatures can change quickly, and if you don’t take advantage of a pleasant day, Mother Nature seems to notice, and usually drums up a big storm in retribution.

This week, we have been working on setting up and installing a Brewer Spectrophotometer. The instrument was sent to us by Environment Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and is used for measuring ultra violet radiation (UV) and total column ozone.

The author calibrating the Brewer Spectrophotometer to line up with the sun, a difficult feat on a cloudy day. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

The author calibrating the Brewer Spectrophotometer to line up with the sun, a difficult feat on a cloudy day. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

Ozone is one of the many trace gasses that exist in the stratosphere. It is comprised of three oxygen molecules held together in double bonds and is formed when molecular oxygen and elemental oxygen react under the influence of light. Ozone absorbs UV radiation, minimizing the amount that reaches the planet’s surface, protecting biological organisms, like ourselves, from harmful wavelengths of solar energy.

The portion of the stratosphere that contains ozone in the highest concentration is known as the ozone layer. We monitor the thickness of the ozone layer using a variety of instrumentation.

At the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO), NOAA uses a ground-based, manually-operated apparatus called a Dobson Spectrophotometer and also launches weather balloons with ozone measuring devices attached to them.

Unlike NOAA’s equipment, the Brewer operates automatically and continuously measures the total amount of ozone in the atmosphere. It’s a good complement to NOAA’s suite of instruments, and allows scientists to compare results from three separate experiments.

This means greater accuracy in publications and better data for legislators to base environmental policy on.

The Brewer is comprised of three parts: a large metal tripod that everything sits on, a tracker box that controls the movement of the device, and the instrument head, which is bolted to the top of the tracker. When it is all put together, the instrument weighs about 45 kilos (100 pounds) and looks like a large white Igloo cooler.

After assembling and testing the Brewer inside, we broke it down and moved it to the roof. Skies were overcast, but it was warm, around minus 21 Celsius (minus 6 Fahrenheit). Working without bulky gloves, the installation took us little less than an hour.

The Dobson Spectrophotometer, the predecessor to the Brewer, was invented in the 1920s. The two at ARO are updated models, but work largely off the same principles as the originals. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

The Dobson Spectrophotometer, the predecessor to the Brewer, was invented in the 1920s. The two at ARO are updated models, but work largely off the same principles as the originals. (Photo by Hunter Davis)

Back inside, we monitored the instrument’s performance on a computer. The Brewer was receiving and executing commands properly, but it wasn’t perfectly aligned with the sun, a must for accurate measurements.

With the day only getting cloudier, it looked like we had lost our opportunity to calibrate its position. Oh well. We were 99 percent there and it was late in the day. I was beginning to get hungry.

I grabbed my hat and water bottle from my office, walked out the bottom floor of the observatory and began the quarter mile walk back towards the main station. As I passed the geographic pole, I felt a rivulet of sweat fall from brow to my cheek. What a bizarre feeling — to perspire when it’s below zero.

I removed my jacket and mittens and, in the stillness of the early evening, enjoyed a warmth and heat that I had not felt for many weeks. What extravagance. A smile bridged across my face. I looked north, and saw a patch of clear sky begin to form on the horizon.

Perhaps tomorrow would be as beautiful.

 

WATCH: THE BREWER SPECTROPHOTOMETER IN ACTION


Video by Hunter Davis

 

Look for Refael Klein’s weekly blogs from the South Pole every Tuesday here on Science World.

 

Refael Klein
Refael Klein is a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). He's contributing to Science World during his year-long assignment working and living in the South Pole.