Science World

Forty Years Later, US Flags Remain on Moon

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., Apollo 11 lunar module pilot stands beside the U.S. flag that he and Neil Armstrong had planted on the moon during the very visit by man to the lunar surface (Photo: NASA)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 pilot, stands beside the US flag he and Neil Armstrong planted on the moon during the very visit by humans to the lunar surface (Photo: NASA)

Some of the most iconic moments in American history occurred when the Apollo astronauts planted U.S. flags on the lunar surface in the 1960s and 70s.

It’s been nearly 40 years since Apollo 17, the  final manned U.S. mission to the moon, left the last of six American flags on the its surface.

What happened to those flags, as well as other pieces of gear left by the Apollo astronauts, is apparently the source of endless fascination for a lot of people.

Image of the Apollo 17 landing site taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Image of the Apollo 17 landing site.  LRV in photo is the Lunar Roving Vehicle “Moon Buggy” (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Questions on the topic are among the most commonly asked of the  Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) mission, which recently took  photos of the lunar surface.

Those question have now been answered by high resolution images of the six Apollo landing sites taken by the mission’s Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC).

Images captured by the LROC cameras clearly show, not only the flags, but also the LEM descent stage, the lunar rovers and tracks left on the powdery lunar surface. The flags  are still standing, casting shadows on the moon.

“Personally, I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did,” blogged Mark Robinson, the principal investigator of the LROC mission. “What they look like is another question (badly faded?).”

Apollo 12 landing site. Notice that the image also includes the Surveyor 3 unmanned spacecraft that landed on the moon April 20, 1967 (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Apollo 12 landing site. Notice the image also includes the Surveyor 3 unmanned spacecraft which landed on the moon April 20, 1967. (Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Only the flag planted by the first men on the moon, Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin , is not erect.  Back when the two men took off from the lunar surface, Aldrin noticed  the flag was blown over by the exhaust from their  spacecraft’s  engine during liftoff.

To determine whether  the flags were still standing, the LROC team examined a timed series of images taken at different periods of the day, paying close attention to the shadows  circling the flags.

The  images  also captured other signs of the astronauts’ presence on the moon, such as the LEM descent stages of the lunar landers and various pieces of equipment  used for experiments or exploration.

Among them was the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) or “moon buggy” as it was called, used during three Apollo  missions.

Also still there four decades later? Remnants of tracks marking where Armstrong and Aldrin took the first human steps on the moon.

Time lapse movie of a sequence of images highlighting the movement of the flag’s shadow at the Apollo 12 landing site. (Video: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Scientists Discover How Oceans Store Carbon

Study expedition crossing Drake Passage in the Southern Ocean (Photo: British Antarctic Survey (BAS))

Study expedition crossing Drake Passage in the Southern Ocean (Photo: British Antarctic Survey (BAS))

Scientists have discovered  how carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere and stored  deep in the ocean.

According to a new study published in Nature Geoscience, instead of CO2 being evenly absorbed deep into the water over wide areas of the Southern Ocean, it is pulled down and locked away from the atmosphere through localized pathways  created by a combination of winds, currents and  whirlpools that are 1,000 kilometers wide.

The world’s oceans help ease climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide in a process called carbon sequestration.  The Southern Ocean is considered to be one the most important carbon sinks in the world, absorbing around 40 percent of the annual global CO2 emissions.

“The Southern Ocean is a large window by which the atmosphere connects to the interior of the ocean below. Until now we didn’t know exactly the physical processes of how carbon ends up being stored deep in the ocean,” says the paper’s lead author, Dr. Jean-Baptiste Sallée from British Antarctic Survey. “It’s the combination of winds, currents and eddies that create these carbon-capturing pathways drawing waters down into the deep ocean from the ocean surface.”

Because of the Southern Ocean’s size and remoteness, researchers have only just begun to explore the mechanisms of the ocean with the help of small robotic probes called Argo floats.

The robotic probes are just over a meter in length and can dive  about two kilometers.  Eighty of these floats were set out in the Southern Ocean back in 2002  to collect information on the ocean’s temperature and salinity. Ten years of observations from these probes allowed  scientists to study this remote area of the world for the  first time.

Australian oceanographer and Southern Ocean specialist Steve Rintoul explains how the ocean absorbs CO2.
(Video: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)

The researchers were also able to gather further information, such as water temperature, salinity and pressure, by using an instrument called the CTD profiler, a cluster of sensors which records measurements as it is lowered deep into the ocean to depths of more than seven kilometers.

“Now that we have an improved understanding of the mechanisms for carbon draw-down we are better placed to understand the effects of changing climate and future carbon absorption by the ocean,” says  Sallée.”

Massive Tsunami Debris Highlights Problem of Trashed Oceans

A man looks at a 70-foot-long dock with Japanese lettering that washed ashore in Newport Oregon more than a year after a tsunami devastated Japan (Photo: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

A man looks at a 70-foot-long dock with Japanese lettering that washed ashore in Newport Oregon more than a year after a tsunami devastated Japan (Photo: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

About a year after the  Japanese earthquake and tsunami, debris from the disaster drifted across the Pacific Ocean, washing up on beaches in the western United States and Canada.

At first, it consisted mostly of  small and lightweight materials like pieces of Styrofoam or soccer balls.  After a while, the wayward debris began to get larger in size.

A hefty shipping container holding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle showed up on a Canadian beach while a 20-meter-long dock  made its way to  Oregon shores.

The arrival of the tsunami debris highlights the  global problem of marine debris.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)  Marine Debris program  addresses this growing concern.  The program supports global efforts to research, prevent and reduce the impacts of marine debris.

An example of marine debris that washed up on a shore (Photo: NOAA Marine Debris Program)

An example of marine debris that washed up on a shore (Photo: NOAA Marine Debris Program)

Nancy Wallace,  program director and division chief of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program defines marine debris as any solid material that ends up in the marine environment of oceans, lakes and other waterways that shouldn’t be there.

Wallace says marine debris is a serious issue which can impact everything from wildlife and habitat to boater safety. It can also cause economic problems.

For some time now, there have been reports of growing islands of trash and garbage floating around in the ocean. Wallace says NOAA gets questions about this all of the time.

“It’s a good thing to clarify,” she says. “There is no floating island of trash out in the ocean. There are areas where the currents come together and that’s areas where debris can end up, sort of accumulating, but there is not a big land mass of trash out there.”

One of the more infamous accumulations of marine debris is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Eastern Garbage Patch.  This  intense concentration of marine debris is located between Hawaii and California.

A sea bird dies after getting trapped in marine debris such as these old fishing nets (Photo: Ocean Conservancy)

A seabird dies after getting trapped in marine debris such as these old fishing nets (Photo: Ocean Conservancy)

Wallace describes the debris patches as, “a piece here, a piece a few yards or even miles away and a lot of it’s very, very tiny. A lot of it’s plastics that have broken up in very small pieces.”

Marine debris can do great harm to wildlife.  According to Wallace,  when fish or birds  eat it, the debris can get lodged in their digestive systems, causing a variety of problems.  Whales, marine mammals and sea turtles become entangled in debris such as fishing nets and other fishing gear.  Coral reefs and other crucial and sensitive habitats can also be harmed by  wayward trash, which in turn could harm the marine life that depends on them to order to survive.

Marine trash causes problems for boaters when pieces of it get stuck in the boat’s propeller blades.

A group of volunteers gather to clean up marine debris that washed up on shore (Photo: Ocean Conservancy)

Volunteers gather to clean up marine debris that washed up on shore (Photo: Ocean Conservancy)

Wallace also cites the economic impact of marine debris saying that people are often saddled with the costs of having to clean up the trash that washes up onto beaches and shorelines. Tourism, an industry many areas depend upon for income, can drop if too much trash accumulates along the beaches.

Marine debris, Wallace says, is for the most part, preventable.  Much of it, she says, comes from people littering, not recycling or not being careful with what they do with their trash.

NOAA’s Marine Debris program, which  is trying to raise awareness about the problem, emphasizes  that every person can have  an impact.

Nancy Wallace talks more about what NOAA is doing to address the problem  of marine debris on this week’s radio edition of “Science World.”  Check out the right column for scheduled air-times or listen to the interview with Ms. Wallace below.

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Other stories we cover on the “Science World” radio program this week include:

Space Pioneer Sally Ride Dies at 61

Sally Ride's official astronaut portrait. She joined the astronaut corps in 1978. (Photo: NASA)

Sally Ride’s official astronaut portrait. She joined the astronaut corps in 1978. (Photo: NASA)

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, died at age 61 on Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Ride shattered NASA’s gender barrier and earned her place in the history books on June 18, 1983 when she flew into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, serving as a Mission Specialist.

“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”

Born on May 26, 1951 in Encino, California,  Ride developed an early interest in science as well as a passion for sports, especially tennis.  She considered becoming a professional tennis player, especially after being encouraged by the famous tennis pro, Billie Jean King, who told Ride she was talented enough to pursue a professional tennis career.

But her love of science won out. After attending Swarthmore College and UCLA,  Ride went to Stanford University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and physics.  She continued her graduate education at Stanford earning her master’s  and PhD  degrees in Physics.

In this June 1983 photo released by NASA, astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the shuttle Challenger flight deck. (Photo: AP Photo/NASA, File)

Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot’s chair on the shuttle Challenger flight deck in June 1983. (Photo: AP Photo/NASA, File)

In 1977, the young physicist  saw an ad in the Stanford student newspaper that said NASA was looking for astronauts.  Up until then, all NASA astronauts  had  been male military test pilots, but the ad said the space agency was  looking for scientists and engineers. Women were encouraged to apply.

Armed with her degrees in physics, Ride applied to become an astronaut. So did 8,000 other people.   In January 1978, NASA selected 35 new astronaut candidates.   Ride was  part of an historic group which included six women, three African-American men, and an Asian-American man.

Even as she  prepared for her first flight aboard the space shuttle,  Ride endured sexist comments and questions, including some from members of the press.

According to a June 1983 article in People magazine, the questioning included; “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” Ride answered: “There’s no evidence of that.”

“Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” Her response: “How come nobody ever asks Rick (Frederick Hauck, the mission pilot) those questions?”

“Will you become a mother?” Smiling, Ride responded: “You notice I’m not answering.” Despite the inane and sexist questions, Astronaut Ride, according the article remained calm and unrattled.

Ride later went into space once again aboard the Challenger in October, 1984. In total, according to NASA, she spent more than 343 hours in space.

NASA Video – Sally Ride: First American Woman in Space

Ride was preparing for her third space flight when  Challenger exploded in 1986.

President Reagan named her to serve on the presidential commission  investigating the Challenger accident.

Once the  investigation was completed, NASA assigned Ride to its headquarters in Washington, DC, to lead the space agency’s first strategic planning effort.  During that time, Ride wrote a report entitled “Leadership and America’s Future in Space.” She also created NASA’s Office of Exploration.

Ride left NASA in 1987 to work at the Stanford University Center for

Former Astronaut Sally Ride speaks to members of the media in on the South Lawn of the White House in October, 2009. (Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Former astronaut Sally Ride speaks to the media at the White House in October 2009. (AP Photo)

International Security and Arms Control.

Two years later, she became a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego and was named  director of the California Space Institute.

In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science,  a company that creates educational science programs for elementary and middle school students, with a focus on girls’ involvement with science.

In February 2003, disaster struck the US Space Shuttle program again, when Colombia disintegrated during re-entry.  As with the Challenger accident,  Ride was asked to serve on the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

Over the years,  Ride  earned numerous awards, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and  had two elementary schools named in her honor.

Her survivors include Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney.

Ride’s legacy lives on through Sally Ride Science and its continuing work motivating and supporting the scientific ambitions of young girls and boys.

Bioengineered Jellyfish Could Help Heal Human Hearts

Colorized image of "Medusoid", the tissue-engineered jellyfish, "swimming" in a container of ocean-like saltwater. (Photo: Caltech and Harvard University)

Colorized image of “Medusoid”, the tissue-engineered jellyfish, “swimming” in a container of ocean-like saltwater. (Photo: Caltech and Harvard University)

By combining rat cardiac muscle cells with silicone, scientists have  bioengineered a free-swimming jellyfish which could eventually lead to improved treatment for heart disease.

Researchers from Harvard and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) say  their creation shows  it’s possible to reverse-engineer a variety of muscular organs and simple life forms, allowing for a broader definition of what counts as synthetic life.

They’re hoping their work could one day lead to medical devices, such as pacemakers, which can live independently within the human body, operating without the need for power sources such as batteries.

The jellyfish was selected for this project because it propels itself through water by pumping,  which is similar to the way a human heart moves blood throughout the body.

“A big goal of our study was to advance tissue engineering,” says Janna Nawroth, a biology doctoral student  at Caltech and lead author of the study.

Top: Comparison of real jellyfish and silicone-based Medusoid. Bottom: Comparison of muscle architecture in the two systems (Image: Janna Nawroth)

Top: Comparison of real jellyfish and silicone-based Medusoid. Bottom: Comparison of muscle architecture in the two systems (Image: Janna Nawroth)

In fashioning their faux jellyfish, the researchers replicated the functions of a jellyfish, such as swimming and creating feeding currents, instead of trying to duplicate all of the swimming creature’s biological elements.

The team studied jellyfish propulsion in depth before designing their creation, named “Medusoid,” after the Medusa jellyfish and the  snake-haired monster Medusa from Greek mythology.

Researchers discovered a sheet of cultured rat heart muscle tissue would contract when electrically stimulated in a liquid setting, making it  ideal raw material for their creation.

They fashioned a silicone polymer into a thin membrane to create the body of their creature, which looked like a small eight-arm jellyfish.

Once the rat heart muscle tissue was incorporated into its body, the artificial jellyfish was  placed into a container of electrically charged ocean-like salt water. It was shocked into swimming with synchronized muscle contractions that imitate those of real jellyfish.  According to the researchers, the muscle cells began to contract on their own before any electrical power was even applied.

“I was surprised that with relatively few components—a silicone base and cells that we arranged—we were able to reproduce some pretty complex swimming and feeding behaviors that you see in biological jellyfish,” said John Dabiri, a professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech.

The researchers aren’t done yet. They hope to design a completely self-contained system which would be able to sense and set itself into motion using internal signals, like human hearts do.  They also, eventually, would like to see their creation go out and gather food on its own.

Science Photos of the Week

Photo of Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights, taken from the International Space Station, flying an altitude of approximately 240 miles. The ISS's Canadarm2 robot arm is in the foreground. (Photo: NASA)

Photo of Aurora Australis, or the Southern Lights, taken from the International Space Station flying at an altitude of approximately 240 miles. The ISS’s Canadarm2 robot arm is in the foreground. (Photo: NASA)

Chemists from New York University (NYU) and St. Petersburg State University in Russia have discovered a wholly new phenomenon for crystal growth--a crystal that continually changes its shape as it grows. (Photo: John Freudenthal and Alexander Shtukenberg, New York University)

Chemists from New York University and St. Petersburg State University in Russia, have discovered a wholly new phenomenon for crystal growth – a crystal that continually changes its shape as it grows. (Photo: John Freudenthal and Alexander Shtukenberg, New York University)

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered an extraordinary outburst by a black hole in the spiral galaxy M83, located about 15 million light years from Earth. (Photo: NASA/CXC/Curtin University/R.Soria et al.)

A jeweled beetle Chrysina gloriosa. The enlarged image in the background shows the insect's light-reflecting structures. (Photo: Georgia Tech; photo by Gary Meek)

A jeweled beetle Chrysina gloriosa. The enlarged image in the background shows the insect’s light-reflecting structures. (Photo: Georgia Tech; photo by Gary Meek)

A cloud forms as this F/A-18 Hornet aircraft speeds up to supersonic speed. Aircraft flying this fast push air up to the very limits of its speed, forming what's called a bow shock in front of them. (Photo: Ensign John Gay, USS Constellation, U.S. Navy)

A cloud forms as this F/A-18 Hornet aircraft speeds up to supersonic speed. Aircraft flying this fast push air up to the very limits of its speed, forming what’s called a bow shock in front of them. (Photo: Ensign John Gay, USS Constellation, U.S. Navy)

NOAA divers cut a Hawaiian green sea turtle free from a derelict fishing net during a recent mission to collect marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo: NOAA)

NOAA divers cut a Hawaiian green sea turtle free from a fishing net during a recent mission to collect marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo: NOAA)

This image combines two sets of observations of the sun on from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SD) on July 12, 2012 to give an impression of what the sun looked like shortly before it unleashed an X-class flare (Photo: NASA)

This image combines two sets of observations of the sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on July 12, 2012 to give an impression of what the sun looked like shortly before it unleashed an X-class flare (Photo: NASA)

A 3-D nanostructure grown by controlled nucleation of silicon carbide nanowires on Gallium catalyst particles as seen by a scanning electron microscope. . (Photo: Ghim Wei Ho and Prof. Mark Welland, Nanostructure Center, University of Cambridge)

A 3-D nanostructure (between molecular and microscopic in size) as seen through a scanning electron microscope. (Photo: Ghim Wei Ho and Prof. Mark Welland, Nanostructure Center, University of Cambridge)

The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is rolled out by train on its way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 12, 2012. This spacecraft, launched July 15 took astronauts to the International Space Station (Photo:NASA/Carla Cioffi)

The Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft is rolled out by train on its way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 12, 2012. This spacecraft, launched July 15, took astronauts to the International Space Station (Photo: NASA/Carla Cioffi)

This image snapped by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reveals an exquisitely detailed view of part of the disc of the spiral galaxy NGC 4565, nicknamed the Needle Galaxy, because, when seen in full, it appears as a very narrow streak of light on the sky. (Photo: ESA/NASA)

This image, snapped by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, reveals a detailed view of part of the disc of the spiral galaxy NGC 4565, nicknamed the Needle Galaxy, because, when seen in full, it looks like a very narrow streak of light on the sky. (Photo: ESA/NASA)

 

Glove Improves Sensation, Motor Skills for People with Spinal Cord Injuries

The Mobile Music Touch is a wireless, musical glove that may improve sensation and motor skills for people with paralyzing spinal cord injury.   (Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology)

The Mobile Music Touch is a wireless, musical glove which may improve sensation and motor skills for people with paralyzing spinal cord injuries. (Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology)

Researchers in Georgia have developed a glove which seems to improve touch sensation and motor skills for people with severe spinal cord injuries.

The Mobile Music Touch (MMT) looks like a regular workout glove, except for the small box mounted on the back.

Along with a piano keyboard, the glove is used to help people with spinal cord injuries learn to play the piano by vibrating the player’s fingers to show which keys they should play.

Some people who used the musical glove for these specialized piano lessons experienced improved sensation in their fingers after their  sessions.

Researchers at Georgia Tech – the Georgia Institute of Technology – along with Atlanta’s Shepard Center, worked with volunteers with spinal cord injuries over eight weeks.

The volunteers suffered their injury at least a year before this study and had very little feeling or movement in their hands.

The  participants were required to practice playing the piano for a half hour, three times a week for eight weeks.  Half of them used the MMT glove to practice and the other half did not.

Researchers also had the participants wear the glove at home after or before practice, for two hours a day, five days a week, feeling only the vibration from the device.

The researchers hoped the volunteers would receive some rehabilitative effects from passively wearing the device while doing regular, everyday activities.

“After our preliminary work in 2011, we suspected that the glove would have positive results for people with SCI,” said Tanya Markow, the project leader. “But we were surprised by how much improvement they made in our study. For example, after using the glove, some participants were able to feel the texture of their bed sheets and clothes for the first time since their injury.”

(Video: Georgia Institute of Technology)

Along with the specially-equipped glove, the Mobile Music Touch system works with a computer, MP3 player or smart phone.

The system is then programmed with a song which is wirelessly linked to the glove.  As the song plays, its musical notes are illuminated on the piano keys and the device then sends vibrations to “tap” the corresponding fingers.

After the eight weeks, the researchers had their volunteers perform a number of grasping and sensation tests so they could measure for any improvement.

The researchers found that those who used the MMT system performed significantly better than the others who just learned the piano normally.

“Some people were able to pick up objects more easily,” said Markow. “Another said he could immediately feel the heat from a cup of coffee, rather than after a delay.”

Markow believes the increased motor abilities are due to renewed brain activity that sometimes can become dormant in people with spinal cord injuries.

She thinks that the vibrations produced by the MMT system might trigger activity in the hand’s sensory cortex, which leads to firing in the brain’s motor cortex.

Markow would like to take her research with the MMT further to include functional MRI results.

What They Say, and What You Hear, Can Differ

(Photo: spaceamoeba via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(Photo: spaceamoeba via Flickr/Creative Commons)

The brain isn’t always entirely accurate when it comes to processing language, according to a new study.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) finds we may not be processing every word see hear or read.

This can mean our brain doesn’t pick up on changes made to key words in a sentence, even if they change its meaning.

Consider this  example: “After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?”

Many of us pick up on words like “plane crash” and “buried,” so we may think we’re being asked where those who died in the crash should be buried, rather than realizing the question is about those who actually survived the crash.

The study shows that roughly half the people asked this question answer it as if they are being asked about the victims and not the survivors.

Or try this: “Can a man marry his widow’s sister?”

According to the study, most people answer in the affirmative, not realizing they’re agreeing that a dead man can  marry his bereaved wife’s sister.

This has something to do with what are known as semantic illusions.

(Photo: Moritz Petersen via Flickr/Creative Commons)

(Photo: Moritz Petersen via Flickr/Creative Commons)

These are words that may fit the general context of a sentence, even though they don’t actually make sense. They can challenge  traditional methods of language processing, which assumes we develop our understanding of a sentence by thoroughly weighing the meaning of each  word.

Instead, the researchers  found  these semantic illusions show that, rather than listening and analyzing each word, our language processing is based only on  shallow and incomplete interpretations of what we hear or read.

To find out what’s happening in our brains when we process sentences containing semantic illusions, Professor Hartmut Leuthold, from the Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging at the University of Glasgow, led his colleagues in research that used Electroencephalography (EEG) devices to read, measure and record ‘brain waves’.

Looking at the EEG patterns of volunteers who read or listened to sentences containing semantic anomalies, researchers found that when  volunteers were tricked by the semantic illusion,  their brains had not even noticed the unusual words.

Man wired up with electrodes for EEG monitoring (Photo: Douglas Myers via Wikimedia Commons)

Man wired up with electrodes for EEG monitoring (Photo: Douglas Myers via Wikimedia Commons)

The researchers’ analysis also showed that the volunteers used these shallow processing methods even more when they were stressed or faced more difficult or multiple tasks.

If you want to make sure that the correct message gets across to your listener or reader, the study suggests a few  tricks.

“We know that we process a word more deeply if it is emphasized in some way.  So, for example in a news story, a newsreader can stress important words that may otherwise be missed and these words can be italicized to make sure we notice them when reading,” says Leuthold.

The way we construct sentences can also help reduce misunderstandings.

“It’s a good idea to put important information first because we are more likely to miss unusual words when they are near the end of a sentence,” he says. “Also, we often use an active sentence construction such as ‘Bob ate the apple’ because we make far more mistakes answering questions about a sentence with a passive construction – for example ‘The apple was eaten by Bob’.”

Researchers believe the findings not only offer better insight into the various processes  used in our comprehension of language but also, according to  Leuthold, knowing what is happening in the brain when mistakes occur can help us to avoid the pitfalls – such as missing critical information in textbooks or legal documents – and to communicate more effectively.

Is There Another Higgs Boson Out There?

Dr. Pierre Savard (Photo: University of Toronto)

Dr. Pierre Savard (Photo: University of Toronto)

Tired, and rushing to meet a looming deadline,  Dr. Pierre Savard and his colleagues didn’t realize what they’d found when they first came across a particle that looked a lot like the long-sought-after Higgs boson.  But it didn’t take long for them to realize their hard work had paid off.

“When we looked at it, we kind of saw it,” Savard says. “It was unbelievable.”

The University of Toronto  professor belongs to ATLAS, one of two teams tasked with finding whether the mystery subatomic particle – which is believed to give all objects mass ­- actually exists.

The team’s excitement about finding the new particle grew when it discovered the second team, CMS, had found virtually the same thing.

“It’s a big thing.  Essentially, it’s as if we discovered a new fundamental force of nature,” Savard says. “So we know about, for instance, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. We know about gravity… but now we’ve found something new and it also plays a key role in our current theory for how we understand how matter interacts with particles and forces. It’s a big deal.”

The ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (Photo: CERN)

The ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (Photo: CERN)

Despite helping to find the most sought-after particle in modern science, Savard actually hopes the new discovery is not the Higgs boson.

“Many of us are hoping that it’s not exactly the particle that’s predicted by our theory, that it may be something close,” he says.

Since problems have been found with their current theory, if the mystery particle doesn’t turn out to be Higgs boson, Savard hopes the new particle  offers  hints as to “what’s out there.”

“The ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics explains a lot, but there’s a lot that it does not explain,”  Savard says.

Some  suggest there might be more than one Higgs boson and that the same theories contained within the Standard Model, could also  explain dark matter or dark matter particles.

Dark matter particles are a type of matter which cannot be seen directly but are believed to make up a great part of the total mass in the universe.

Physicist Peter Higgs arrives at a seminar at CERN where it was announced that a new subatomic particle, said be consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, had been discovered. (Photo: AP Photo/Denis Balibouse, Pool)

Physicist Peter Higgs arrives at a seminar, July 4, at CERN where it was announced that a new subatomic particle, said be consistent with the long-sought Higgs boson, had been discovered. (Photo: AP Photo/Denis Balibouse, Pool)

Even if the find is the Higgs boson, “there are still some big questions out there,” says Dr. Savard.

One problem Savard sees with the Standard Model is that it doesn’t explain the asymmetry between matter and antimatter.

“In our colliders, we produce essentially equal amounts of matter and antimatter but the universe is made up matter and the Standard Model really doesn’t explain why there’s such an asymmetry,” he says.

He’d  also like to see more research devoted to exploring dark matter, which he says is “probably carried by a particle that we don’t’ know about.”

With the mysteries of matter, antimatter and dark matter lurking, Savard says  the Standard Model explains only about a fraction of the universe. That’s why he hopes  new phenomena will be found with the LHC – the world’s largest atom smasher – which would help unlock these many mysteries of the universe.

New boson discovered at CERN 07/04/12 – (Video © 2012 CERN)

Listen to Science World’s interview with Dr. Pierre Savard here…

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Advanced Telescope Optics Spot Faraway Planets

These two images show HD 157728, a nearby star 1.5 times larger than the sun. Its light has been mostly removed by an adaptive optics system and coronagraph belonging to Project 1640. The left, image was made without the ultra-precise starlight control that Project 1640 is capable of, while the right image was made while the starlight control was in place. (Images: Project 1640)

These two images show HD 157728, a nearby star 1.5 times larger than the sun. Its light has been mostly removed by Project 1640. The left image was made without the ultra-precise starlight control that Project 1640 is capable of, while the right image was made with the starlight control in place. (Images: Project 1640)

Astronomers have a powerful new tool to help them in their search for  planets outside of our solar system.

Project 1640 is a first-of-its-kind, high-contrast imaging program which combines high-tech instrumentation and software, giving scientists the ability to spot planets orbiting distant suns in star systems outside of our solar system.

Ever since the search for exoplanets began, astronomers have relied on various indirect methods to detect them because the blinding brightness of their stars makes it virtually impossible to observe the planets directly.

The Project 1640 instrument mounted at the focus of the 200-inch Hale telescope. (Photo: © AMNH/B. R. Oppenheimer)

The Project 1640 instrument mounted at the focus of the 200-inch Hale telescope. (Photo: © AMNH/B. R. Oppenheimer)

Project 1640 uses a new technique which produces extremely precise dark holes around stars of interest. This allows scientists a look at areas surrounding the star which would normally be obscured by its intense light.

“We are blinded by this starlight,” says Ben Oppenheimer,  a principal investigator for Project 1640. “Once we can actually see these exoplanets, we can determine the colors they emit, the chemical compositions of their atmospheres, and even the physical characteristics of their surfaces. Ultimately, direct measurements, when conducted from space, can be used to better understand the origin of Earth and to look for signs of life in other worlds.”

Its creators say the system produces some of the highest-contrast images ever made, revealing objects that are one -to-10 million times fainter than the star at the center of the image.

The instrument, which started taking data last month, operates on the Hale Telescope at California’s Palomar Observatory. It’s been in development for more than six years through a collaborative effort among New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

With Project 1640 up and running, researchers searching for extrasolar planets have begun a three-year survey to image hundreds of young stars outside of our solar system.

“The more we learn about them, the more we realize how vastly different planetary systems can be from our own,” says Gautam Vasisht,  a Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer. “All indications point to a tremendous diversity of planetary systems, far beyond what was imagined just 10 years ago. We are on the verge of an incredibly rich new field.”